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The Northern Star of Avant-garde Jazz

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The Northern Star of Avant-garde Jazz

06.12.2017

Text: Haluk Damar
Illustration by: Saydan Akşit

John Coltrane’s most impressive period was under which record label?

This question is one of the highly debated topics of jazz history. Even though the answers usually revolve around Impulse and Prestige, one important detail that people tend to overlook is Coltrane’s creative perfection in the second half of 60’s after he stopped being an accessible musician. And one of the most important fruits of this creativity is certainly the Interstellar Space album that was recorded in 1967 and released in 1974. 

Coltrane is a tough musician to analyze because of his wide sphere of influence. On the other hand, it is very easy to understand how inspiring Interstellar Space is, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, by looking at the musical production of 70’s in all genres. Can you imagine this free jazz masterpiece that hints some Rock’n Roll sounds, as an inspiration for MC5 or The Strokes?

One of the essential strengths of Interstellar Space is drummer Rashied Ali. This fact is also proved by Ali’s solo in the track ‘’Saturn’’ that Coltrane allowed to. An important mistake to avoid about the album is comparing Ali to Coltrane’s legendary drummer Elvin Jones. I call this a mistake, because for this album Coltrane needed a drummer who followed his lead rather than challenging him. If we consider how far Coltrane pushed his musical quality during the recording sessions for Interstellar Space, we can easily understand why Ali was the right man for the job. 

One of the driving forces of Interstellar Space was Coltrane’s desire to move on from his 1965 album, A Love Supreme. And his decision to go to space to move on was a great gain for music history. So much so that Coltrane, who released the map to multidirectional music with this album, keeps shining a light on today as an avant-garde prophet. 

Coltrane’s last few albums that he recorded before his death (1965-1967) certainly carry an unprecedented emotional expression that comes from his personal spiritual journey. This period, which started by his discovery of Indian and African music, resulted in with the discovery of an emancipating musical language. It is no surprise that Interstellar Space is a referral source for many musicians who pursue the inexpressible. 

If we were to look at the musicians that used Coltrane’s map to its fullest, we can understand how the challenge of expressing the inexpressible pushes the musicians in a creative sense. For example, one half of legendary electronic music duo Pan Sonic, Mika Vianio, who we lost recently, defined Interstellar Space as ‘‘grindcore jazz’’. 

J Dilla, the ruler of 90’s underground scene, is perhaps the person who reflected the spirituality of Interstellar Space in the most inspiring way. Dilla, a Coltrane fan, fell ill with a terminal disease while he was on the peak of his musical career. While performing on stage during his illness, he changed the lyrics of a song he recorded earlier from ‘‘is that real’’ to ‘’is death real’’, which is one of the most special reflections of the spiritual side of Interstellar Space. 

If we look at the musical output of the younger generations, the artist who refers to this album the most is definitely Flying Lotus. As a very dedicated and attentive jazz listener, Fly Lo applied Coltrane’s Interstellar Space to his generation’s music not only as a musical concept but also as a philosophy. If you want proof, check out the music and innovation output of the names signed to Flying Lotus’ record label: Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, The Gaslamp Killer and of course the close friend of this bunch, Kendrick Lamar.

On its 50th anniversary, Interstellar Space still shines as an album that serves heavy, wild, solid and most importantly brilliant performances. I would also like to emphasize that I have never used ‘‘chaos’’ as a definitive term for this artistic masterpiece, which influenced music culture in various ways.

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