The final stage in Coltrane’s career starts around 1957 when he suffered a near fatal overdose of heroin. In the liner notes for the 1964 album A Love Supreme he will claim to have had “a spiritual awakening” upon which he realized there was more to life than smack and that he should get back to the business of making music clean and sober. Coltrane kicked his habit and moved into a phase that would change the jazz world forever.
During the early 60’s the label – impulse! – had sought out musicians like Coltrane who were expanding and experimenting in ways where a normal musician wouldn’t tread. The Avant-garde was a new frontier and it was met with much resistance, so when Coltrane jumped to the label and began talking with Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra a change was coming.
To be honest with you, Avid Reader, this type of jazz called Free Jazz can sound like chaos and noise to the untrained ear and it takes time to get used to it. The idea that Trane improved upon was a collective improvisation leading to a joined melody — and then it would descend back into chaos. Miles Davis thought this type of jazz was awful, yet in the 70’s he would go on to pioneer the hybrid of rock and jazz called Fusion which sent the world on its ear again.
To get the fullest idea of Trane’s goal I would suggest you listen to Ascension which can only be described as “a staggering work” to listen to. There are two 40-minute tracks; the players start screeching away and each gets a solo. Toward the middle there is a bit of unity within their improvisation as they hit on a single piece, then it all fades back to improvisation as it closes out. This is one of the toughest albums to listen to and you better not be doing anything else while this is playing because it sucks you right in from the moment it starts.
Not everything Trane released at this time was so chaotic; he did have plenty of live material for i!, and the album Interstellar Space is Trane and a drummer on some of the best music he’d laid down to tape. The final recording that was ever captured of Trane, and that I came across not long ago after years of digging, is The Olatunji Concert, his final live performance a few months before dying of liver cancer. This is another tough listen but well worth the search if you can find it as Trane and his final band are in rare form.
To round this out I would also suggest the compilation The House that Trane Built to give you an idea of other members on the impulse! label. Trane was a master and he left this world too soon at 40 years old but his music will live on and you should get wrapped up his world.