John Coltrane
Interstellar Space



by ValiumMan USER (17 Reviews)
April 1st, 2007 | 10 replies

Release Date: 1967 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Noisy, abrasive, violent. But it's the tight playing and the remnants of melody that give Coltrane's only duo recording its unique character.

John Coltrane is one of my favorite jazz performers, if not my overall fave. His mesmerizing sax playing, combined with his talent for improvisation (and finding the right players to improvise with) and a good deal of manic creative energy and forward thinking make him stand out from the horn-playin’ crowd. Seriously, I’ve listened to like 10 of his albums now and he’s never disappointed me a single time. One of his albums I hold dearest to my heart is Interstellar Space. This is one of his last recordings, made the year of his sudden (and too early) death in 1967 and not officially released until the mid 70’s.

What do you do when you’re a (avant-minded) jazz performer and you’re gonna record a near-free improv session and you completely lack not only chordal instruments, but also a proper rhythm section? Or, more precisely, what do you do when you have only a tenor sax player and a drummer? Well, if your name is John Coltrane, you just unleash sheets of abrasive noise, combined with “the occasional melody” from your horn. If you go by Rashied Ali on the other hand, you just bang all parts of your drum kit at the same time like there’s no tomorrow. And if you’re both, you just kick up a tightly-played ***in’ storm.

Each of the four lengthy improvisations on here (plus one bonus track on the CD reissue) largely follows the same scheme: They all start out with some sort of bell-like shaker thingy and a bit of drumming, which is followed by Trane playing something you could almost call a “melody” on his tenor and the whole thing gradually turns into an insane free-form sax tour de force, wrapped in a hurricane of percussion that totally defies any normal sense of rhythm. Seriously, this Ali guy is ***ing insane! He plays the drum kit like a solo instrument, hitting like all of his drums at once! Granted, Coltrane and Ali take down the pace a little on Venus and Saturn, making for something slightly less violent, but it’s still not even close to being “quiet” or “lyrical” or any other term you use when it comes to music for sissies (no, no, just kidding of course!).

Now this sounds like some completely random-sounding “free jazz” album (like Sun Ra’s Heliocentric Worlds) you have to listen to two years straight to even get a notion of what’s going on, right? In the harsh reality of our world though, this is pretty much the exact opposite of random. And it’s a unique chance to hear and actually understand free-form interplay. First of all, there’s just two instruments, obviously, so you have absolutely no distraction from the exchanges of the two. Secondly, if you listen to this a few times (and by listening I mean concentrating), you’ll find out that the playing is ultra-tight and that the two show no sign of dicking around. You’ll see how Ali almost magically responds to each of Trane’s odd speed runs and crazy overblowings by always bashing on the right amount and type of drums at the right speed, and never failing a single time. As I said though, the drums are handled like a solo instrument, so get rid of your pathetic little notion of percussion as some sort of human metronome. Just dig the lengthy drum solo that ends the album’s first track, Mars, and you’ll see what I mean. Ali displays a beyond-polyrhythmic range usually not found in jazz drummers.

But Ali’s performance is still only the vehicle for Trane’s exploratory, uncompromising and dominant playing that really makes this album shine. As I said earlier, there’s lots of abrasive overblowings here, alternating between unnerving, high screeches and low, grinding sounds. Of course it’s nowhere near the grungy noise assault of, say, Pharoah Sanders (who Johnny C’s played with a coupla times), but what Trane lacks in ugliness, he makes up in pace and relentless ferocity. You get plenty of semi-atonal lightspeed runs on Interstellar Space’s two “heaviest” tracks, Mars, and the fairly brief Jupiter, sounding a bit like a mutant version of his late 50’s hard-bop era “sheets of sound” soloing. Some pretty aggressive stuff right there.
But another aspect that makes the sax work on here intriguing is the fact that it’s not all noise and speed. Little sequences of typical 60’s Trane melodies are strewn across the whole time span of the album and the closer Saturn actually comes relatively close to “tonal” most of the time. And even though you may not initially notice those small melodies, they’re the stuff that gives Interstellar Space a unique sorta character. Those tiny little melodies poppin’ outta the vortex of violence and noise and bashed-to-all-hell drums make you feel strangely warm and fuzzy inside, add cohesion and make this album a lot less alienating than it could have been if it completely sacrificed any sense of conventional playing.

All in all, Interstellar Space is a violent, heavy, frighteningly tight, masterfully performed series of duo improvisations that uniquely fuses noise and abrasiveness with small remnants of conventional play melody to create a gripping listening experience from start to finish. Definitely one of my jazz faves.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
Tv Party
April 1st 2007


I need some more of Coltrane's later works so I've been looking for this and Stellar Regions lately. Jupiter is awesome.This Message Edited On 04.01.07

April 1st 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

I love this, "Venus" and "Jupiter" rank among Coltranes best stuff.

April 1st 2007


Nice review, I've heard bits and pieces of this and its definitly up my alley. Have you heard Nels Cline and Gregg Bendian's reinterpritation of this, and if so is it any good?

April 1st 2007


Album Rating: 4.5

I haven't heard of the reinterpretation, but it sounds quite interesting. Might download it some time in the near future.

I find it kinda strange that everyone (well, two people) seems to love Jupiter so much. I actually think Mars is the strongest track one on here, but that might be because I have a penchant for the abrasive.This Message Edited On 04.01.07

May 11th 2007


Album Rating: 4.5

Are you saying they should reference this album or something?

May 11th 2007


I like how whenever somebody needs to reference "out there" jazz they mention Sun Ra, often derogatively.

I assume if a lot of people do it, it has some merit behind it. I can't attest to it seeing as I haven't heard it, but still, don't condescend the review for one simple remark.

Digging: Storm and Stress - Under Thunder and Fluorescent Light

May 12th 2007


he wasn't referring to sun ra in a derogatory manner

October 17th 2007


Album Rating: 4.5

I know this is a bit old now and stuff, but I just discovered this, and I'd like to clarify that I totally love Sun Ra and the Heliocentric Worlds album(s), I was just trying to express (in a very hyperbole way) that it sounds very "random" at first listen and that it takes some time get the underlying structure. It wasn't meant to be derogatory at all.

August 8th 2009


Album Rating: 4.0

Excellent review ! ^^

This give me the motivation to give another try to this album (I've listen to "Medidations" and "Olatunji concert" so far, and I prefere those albums than "Intersellar Space").

April 27th 2014


Not sure whether you'll see this or not, but nonetheless I just have to say that this is one of the absolute best reviews I have ever read. Beautiful

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