3 Album Reviews: Free Jazz (Space, More Space, Alabama)


John Coltrane – Interstellar Space (1974) – A-

This shouldn’t have surprised anyone who had been paying attention to his long-form attacks over increasingly minimal tactics; it certainly wasn’t the first time he’s done an extended drum-saxophone duet (ie. “Vigil” on Kulu Sé Mama; a large chunk of “One Down, One Up” from the live album with the same name)… merely the first time he’s done it over the course of an entire album. What results is maybe John Coltrane’s most interesting record (would have liked to have been there for when Rashied Ali asked a smirking Coltrane where the rest of the band was), but definitely not in my top ten Coltrane. By definition of this sort of approach, there’s less scope both in sound and emotion (ie. “Venus,” the only one that resembles a ballad, ends up in the same space (heh) as everything else here). Not saying that I need a McCoy Tyner solo in my John Coltrane album (well, who doesn’t need one?), but when Coltrane starts the wavering intro to “Venus”, my mind runs to how much better it sounded with Alice Coltrane on “Stellar Regions.” Or when he does the “raining stars” bit (no idea how else to describe it) in the middle of “Mars” (with its apt subtitle), my mind runs to how much more intense it sounded on Expressions’ “Offering.” That being said, there’s no denying how immense all of it sounds: John Coltrane returning to the theme of “Jupiter” just to decimate it; the shrapnel flying off Rashied Ali’s cymbals throughout – it’s just a clear example of an album where the totality of the experience matters more than the specifics.

Sun Ra – Strange Strings (1967) – C+

They unearthed (unspaced?) another two tracks from around the same time and made them available this year, as if the previous excavation (“Door Squeak”) was at all worthwhile. The tagline is that Sun Ra bought a bunch of second-hand string instruments and handed it to people who had never tuned, let alone touched a string instrument before. John F. Szwed has the highest praise about this one, calling it “perhaps the most completely improvised but organic piece in the history of jazz, with no prepared rhythm, melodic, or harmonic material, performed by players on instruments foreign to them.” Um, great, I guess, except someone who could actually play strings might’ve given us something better than that wet blanket of a backdrop on “Worlds Approaching” or the fiddling around behind Art Jenkins’ vocal thing via a metal megaphone on the title track (that goes on for far too fucking long). And Sun Ra fucks around on “Strange Strange” and aforementioned bonus cut “Door Squeak” by playing non-instruments; waving around a metal sheet on the former and turning a door ajar over and over on the latter (for 10 minutes) on the latter. All of that being said, I have visited “Worlds Approaching” a few times because of how gutteral it sounds (in part because of the thick reverb production); that’s the only plus.


Arthur Doyle – Alabama Feeling (1978) – B+

Like presumably a lot of people, I came here from Thurston Moore’s shoutouts (“Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream” from the underrated Sonic Nurse; describing this record as “Mystic music which took on the air of chasing ghosts and spirits through halls of mirrors (!)” in his list of Top Ten Free Jazz Underground); shit, even the cover looks more like a no wave deal than it does a jazz one. And, I was not disappointed: when Arthur Doyle is doing his shamanistic saxophone screaming, and Richard Williams’ bass is a guttural roar and Charles Stephens is trying to play something resembling jazz and the two drummers are bashing away, this album is ON, an all-out attack like none other. No wonder he couldn’t remember what happened that day in November – he must’ve been zonked out of his mind. But that’s actually a small percentage of the album, and Doyle’s playing is one-trick and grows wearying over the course of the album, even if he switches to flute on the closer. Best moment: when he and Charles Stephens vaguely harmonize into something resembling a dying elephant in the back-half of “A Little Linda, Debra, Omita, Barry & Maria” (more name-drops than Slint on Tweez). It makes sense that Sun Ra would want to recruit him for the Arkestra (likely got the connection through Charles Stephens, who played with Sun Ra); it makes sense that Arthur Doyle would turn him down – more earthbound.

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