This was one of John Coltrane's last studio sessions. It is obvious here that what he had in mind in the studio was very different from what he had in mind for his live performances. The studio was a laboratory for him; he experimented constantly during recording sessions. Stellar Regions represents yet another of his studio explorations in which he stretched the neverending limits of free jazz. To be complelety honest, some of the music here is very resemblant of classical music, especially "Seraphic Light," "Iris," "Jimmy's Mode," and the title track, which is actually "Venus" from Interstellar Space (Alice Coltrane mistakenly titled it when she helped put together this posthumous release).
The music on this album gives some good clues as to what sort of stuff Coltrane may have done had he lived on into the '70s: shorter pieces, longer, more developed melodies (which he briefly explored with the tune "Living Space," from 1965), and extensive study of different modes and harmony. Of course, he was always exploring the melodic and harmonic aspects of the music, but he never focused very much on rhythm. Toward the end of his life, he said that he wanted to experiment more with rhythm and different ways to use rhythm. Rashied Ali was the perfect drummer for that. Ali developed a method of playing freely but still counting in his head; it was just brilliant. The absence of Pharoah Sanders here may also be indicative of what Coltrane had in mind. Maybe he just wanted to go back to working with a quartet in the studio, while still using an expanded lineup for live performances. Who knows what may have been in store if Trane had lived just a little bit longer. A week after Stellar Regions was recorded, Coltrane went back into the studio with just Ali to record a suite-like collection of duets honoring the cosmos (released as Interstellar Space). Who knows, maybe he was planning to record some solo performances.
As always, the music here is absolutely wonderful. This was an amazing group, and it's too bad that a lot of people bailed on Trane once he started trying new things. Every solo he does here is priceless; the same goes for the other three musicians. Also, I would like to point out an interesting thing about this album: Coltrane plays alto sax on both takes of "Tranesonic." I believe another reviewer pointed this out as well. I know that he and Pharoah received complementary altos from Yamaha during their tour of Japan, and they played them at their performances there (they can be heard on Live In Japan). Stellar Regions was Coltrane's next recording session after the tour, so I would assume that he would have wanted to use the smaller horn at least a little bit in the studio. I didn't even notice it at first, seeing as how Trane played in the high register a lot anyway, but the alto just rings differently from the tenor.
This is an amazing collection of compositions and improvisations from a master of Sound. Don't waste your money on something you won't understand, though. Only buy this if you are open to enlightenment.