Nels Cline

Interstellar Space Revisited (The Music of John Coltrane)

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Tribute albums are iffy. Cover albums, where a favorite album is reinterpreted song by song, are downright dangerous. Cover albums of beloved classics, unless the intent is to deconstruct (see Sonic Youth's much-mooted but never-released cover of the Beatles' White Album) are pretty much suicidal. And yet, guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Gregg Bendian pull off this re-imagining of John Coltrane's final album, the sax-drums duet suite Interstellar Space. Wisely, Cline and Bendian don't try to replicate the original album, or to transcribe Coltrane and Rashied Ali's parts. Instead, they use the restless, exploratory spirit of the original as a jumping-off point, and use the structures of the tunes as the basis for their own ideas. Even at his most shredding, sheets-of-sound noisiest, Coltrane's search was for beauty; Cline's tastes run more towards the Stratocaster-in-a-garbage-disposal line, which means that a lot of Coltrane fans will run in terror from displays like the near-atonal freakout at the heart of "Leo." And yet, careful listening shows that at heart, Interstellar Space Revisited (The Music of John Coltrane) isn't that far removed from the revered original at all. At best, this is a curio, but it's an interesting one for Cline and Coltrane fans alike.

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