One biographer described Coltrane’s life as resembling the story of “The Red Shoes,” in which a woman buys a pair of red shoes that compel her to dance vigorously and won’t allow her to stop until she dies of exhaustion.
This album, recorded just a few months prior to Coltrane’s death in 1967, illustrates that the tenor sax was in effect Coltrane’s red shoes, though what possessed him was a profound spirituality. No other musician has as consistently played with such intensity and drive as he. As jazz became the language for Blacks who had little other means of free expression, the “free jazz” featured here was the ultimate culmination of the direction that jazz was taking overall. With freedom from constraints of harmonic accompaniment and little here to resemble a melody, Coltrane plays in a frenzied search for the right combination of notes and tones, as if finding them will unlock some deep, forbidden reward. He plays at break-neck speeds, covering wide intervals and every conceivable combination of notes as if trying to spill out all the emotion he has ever had with each note. He forces out honks, low growls, high screeches and explores the tone and timbre combination of one note of frantically-painted impressionistic tone painting of the planets.