Interstellar Space, the series of duets John Coltrane recorded with drummer Rashied Ali in 1967, was the saxist's mesmerizing, harrowing final statement--and it sounded so alien that the folks at Impulse! didn't get up the nerve to release it until seven years after his death. Though the idea to cover the whole thing started as a one-liner cracked during a rehearsal for something else, drummer Gregg Bendian and guitarist Nels Cline applied themselves to the task with mad-scientist focus on last year's Interstellar Space Revisited: The Music of John Coltrane (Atavistic), studying the record thoroughly, transcribing portions of it, memorizing its leaps and twists and turns, and finding ways to depart from it on flights of their own. Bendian, who was backing Cecil Taylor at the tender age of 23, is the more accomplished free-jazz player of the two. But the participation of Cline--who's probably best known for his rock-oriented collaborations with Mike Watt and the Geraldine Fibbers and has claimed the key to his inventive style is that he's "too stupid to play bebop"--makes things especially interesting. Cline occasionally mimics Coltrane's sax with his guitar, but more often he uses a crackling, pulsing tone shadowed by feedback to get beyond the limits of the hands' articulation--in what's probably a truer tribute to Coltrane's idiosyncratic genius. On the quieter pieces, like the lovely "Venus," his echoes and trembles convey a sense of awe at the vastness of space and hint at a comparable sense of surrender. I'm still not completely persuaded that it "works" in every sense, but it's nervy, exciting, and thought-provoking, and hence more worthwhile than something tame flawlessy executed. The duo will play the album in its entirety here; Scarnella, the improvisatory project of Cline and the Fibbers' Carla Bozulich, opens. Tuesday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, Chicago; 773-276-3600. --Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Silvia Acosta.