John Coltrane recorded a LOT in 1965, and so some listeners might wonder whether Living Space is worth picking up -- especially since it wasn't released during Coltrane's lifetime, and two of the tracks aren't even titled. The answer is definitely yes, particularly for two tracks that rank among the best Classic Quartet recordings from 1965.
"Living Space" is unusual in a few respects; it's the last time Trane played soprano on a studio recording (at least as far as we know), but doesn't have much in common with his other soprano features, which tended to be catchy waltzes. ("My Favorite Things", "Afro Blue", "Chim Chim Cheree", "The Inch Worm", etc.) Also, Trane overdubbed his playing at the beginning and end of the tune; the two (?) soprano saxophones are slightly out of sync, creating a very eerie and trippy sound. It's interesting to hear Trane apply his increasingly free playing to the soprano, especially since he focused on the tenor almost exclusively (in the studio) from '64 onward.
The second essential tune is the second of the "Untitleds" (track #4). Even as Trane's music became more free and avant-garde in the first half of 1965, the rhythm section often played "straight-ahead" swing under Trane's challenging and exploratory improvisations. Here they move away from that -- Tyner, Garrison and Jones abandon "time keeping" and essentially improvise collectively throughout the track. But Trane and McCoy's solos are focused enough, and the group so tightly integrated, that the result never rambles and maintains powerful forward momentum. The last section of the track, with McCoy laying down ominous chords to prepare for the saxophone's re-entry, and then Trane unleashing an incredible scream to open his final solo, is phenomenal. This tune looks ahead to some of the music on the quartet's final studio recordings (Sun Ship and First Meditations) as well as to the music Trane would make once Tyner and Jones left the band.
The rest of the music isn't quite at this level. The best of the rest is the 1st "Untitled", #2, which again features some intense playing by Trane but this time over a more traditional backing -- Garrison laying down a walking bassline, Elvin Jones playing in a more swinging fashion. "Dusk Dawn" is kind of disappointing -- it has a long Jimmy Garrison solo in the middle and Coltrane doesn't play except in the opening and closing ensembles. (This tune, along with an alternate take, is also available on Kulu Se Mama.) "The Last Blues" (at five minutes, much shorter than the other 4 tracks) is almost a throwaway -- not bad by any means, but not adding much to the listening experience.
If you're exploring the Classic Quartet's final recordings, I'd say to get Sun Ship, First Meditations, the live version of A Love Supreme, Transition, and The John Coltrane Quartet Plays before this album. But in a period of time where Coltrane was pushing the boundaries of jazz every other week with memorable and exciting results (Ascension was recorded shortly after these sessions), Living Space is definitely worth picking up.
John Coltrane (ss, ts) McCoy Tyner (p) Jimmy Garrison (b) Elvin Jones (d)
Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 16, 1965
John Coltrane (ts) Jimmy Garrison (b) Elvin Jones (d)
Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 10, 1965