There is something frenetic in the last year of John Coltrane‘s life.
The two-year renewal with Impulse!, the birth of his third child by his wife Alice, the knowledge that he would not live much longer because of liver damage that actually caused his premature death, at only 40 years in July 1967.
In the first months of that year, seriously ill, he recorded the material that flowed into Expressions and finally into Interstellar Space that is not only a testament but a viaticum and a manual: a marked path in which he takes the listener’s hand guiding him, anticipating him towards the destiny to which we are all expected. Superlative work, exalting and poetic, published posthumously in 1974 by Alice Coltrane who found herself prematurely managing the enormous cultural heritage of her husband.
While religions suffer from an apparent anemia, our life seems to be dominated by the goddess of rationality, deluding us to have conquered nature with the help of reason alone.
Attempting a Jungian reading, which seems to fit this record perfectly, the primordial symbols of the unconscious seem to have abandoned our everyday life, imprisoning the men-gods in cavernous recesses among the dusty relics of our history, forced to a morbid and lightless existence.
And it is right at the center of this vortex that John Coltrane gives life to a cosmic symbolism capable of reactivating archaic contents that are anything but indifferent to man’s life. Meaningful sound, evocative and emotional perception: the keystone towards the navigation of that Eternal that lies just beyond the rings of Saturn, beyond the unknown of our unconscious, the seat of the soul.
But the journey begins about 25 minutes before Saturn, with ceremonial bells on the bloody ground of Mars. Mars is the planet of war, of the inner struggle that leads to the individuation of the true self, Jung would say. It is the initiatory crisis that detaches us from the ego, from externality.
The fast and tight scales, the redundant obsessive and excited phrasing with a strong and at times apneusic breath, are the necessary laceration of the personality: an inner friend in warlike and hostile guise who surprises us in our warm bed. An initial disturbance that is actually the “call” to the desperate struggle with the Angel from which we will come out, like Jacob, “blessed”, but definitively marked, broken, no longer whole.
Sound and rhythm alternate as in a primordial litany, earth and air: Rashied Alì interweaves his plots with complicity, contributing to weave an imaginative plot on which and from which Coltrane’s hieratic voice can fulfill its function.
We are still in the middle of the transport when the bell warns us that this effort is about to end, preparing us for the next stage: the meeting with Venus, the feminine inside each one of us, the Jungian soul.
Let’s forget that even the most loving expression can still be declined in Coltrane in something that is not Free. From “Ascension” onwards the attraction towards that world, thanks to his pupil Pharoah Sanders and the influence of Ornette Coleman, becomes fatal, with no possibility of return. It is therefore suitable for the ultimate journey: Free Jazz as an exhausting and hopeful vocabulary. Definitive.
Yet Venus contains and carries a seductive and frenetic lyricism, even heartbreaking, well present and decipherable among the numbers and the grammar of the new language as in a morse code.
It is even fluent, fluid, made of inlays, the combination of rhythm and sound that becomes one: velvety (the cymbals), often elusive, never indecipherable, never fragmented.
Coltrane here is a new sibyl, a new Dante Alighieri’s Beatrice who appears to lead us to a higher form of life.
The sought-after sobriety and “free” coldness, moreover, definitely prevent the degeneration of frequencies in a negative relationship that would place the listener in an illusory, oppressive or even gloomy “sentimentalistic” dimension; alienating him in a depiction devoid of truth in which he would be powerless like a sailor in front of the sirens’ song.
An “inner radio” is here tuned to the frequencies suitable to access the most integral voice of our interiority.
In the last two tracks the brushes of Rashied have the function of introduction, as if they wanted to start again from the earth, from the rhythm, from the basic pulsations that through this very modern drummer are able to lead a complex game that must remain accessible port, clean of intellectualism.
If the integration of feminine qualities occurs in Venus, in Jupiter the complementary path is realized: the strength of wisdom from maturity, of courage, of objectivity. The god Jupiter and his thunderbolts, developing a muscular phrasing, tight and never frantic.
Especially recognizable here is the architectural base on which the scales move (in particular the rain of “descendants”) and the tonal centers in their transpositions (a discourse that starts from Giant Steps); a construction that has become an authentic signature.
Here resides the Jungian “Animus”, closing the circle Anima-Animus, feminine and masculine.
Masculine as a synonym of determinateness, of the capacity to conclude a project, of fatality, ineluctability, irreducibility: “Incomprehensible paths trace our irreducible, irreducible, irreducible life at last… What has to happen happens“ Giovanni Lindo Ferretti, singer and philosopher, used to psalmody.
Decisive in this work, in fact, is the friendship cultivated in his last years with the composer and musician Ravi Shankar: his spiritual poetics of acceptance gave Jupiter strength and resolution in death, which Coltrane saw as close and to which he never tried to escape, refusing treatment since the first diagnosis, years before.
Jupiter and its fullness are necessary to access the saturnalia, the unconscious.
A lively drumming (saturnale in fact) introduces us to the final stage of a navigation that exploits the tides of our waking life, creating a vector microcosm in which Coltrane still enters without the ritual introduction of the bells: it is the last stage, the moorings are broken, the rituals are abandoned.
Saturn is the passage through the darkness (Hades), it is the mystery, the shadow. Our unconscious as a lunar landscape, real but with indefinite colors of which we as modern “Pierrot Lunaire” suffer inert influences despite the self-proclaimed rational independence.
An illusion that Coltran’s playing exorcises by touching all the points of his own personal tonal history: like a writing with a Schoenbergian concept, to integrate light and shadow, to arrive whole and fulfilled at the threshold of the definitive journey, at the threshold of the infinite Interstellar Space.