John Coltrane - Sun Ship (1971), 9/10

The opening title track represents the thematic pinnacle of the record, where Sun Ship excels in wonderous complexity using the band’s impressive collective intuition to harness a truly transcendental performance worthy of its title. Beyond that initial adrenaline burst of energetic, passionate improvisation, things take on a whole new direction of a more atmospheric fashion, while still resembling the grander narrative of Sun Ship’s fantastic journey and containing interjected instances of beautifully free improvisation. While some brief passages can become frustrating, feeling either like the McCoy Tyner show, which is not such a bad thing but can become tiresome, or at times an unbalanced improvisation experiment, when Coltrane takes the wheel it is nothing short of magical. “Dearly Beloved” is a poetic comedown after "Sun Ship", still maintaining and even crafting a new brand of hypnotic yet suspenseful tension. It is surprisingly just as, if not even more, effective as the unbridled chaotic rapture of the opening title track. We then get a more traditionally aestheticized yet still technically impressive and densely flavored track in “Amen” that balances out the middle of the journey. This followed by another song filled with even more brilliant atmosphere and nuance, yet a newfound grace and delicacy in “Attaining” that uses an impressively gentle yet vehemently expressive fluidity in storytelling, perhaps the most impressive balancing act on the album. This all takes place before our final “Ascent” that soars into the spacious abyss of the unknown, a fittingly dramatic close to such a confoundingly variegated experience of an album. A seemingly infinitely energized yet strikingly mature Coltrane, Tyner, Garrison and Jones are as immersed in their improvisation, yet as generously reciprocating as ever, resulting in one of their very best recordings. They all perform with such masterful proficiency and passion that it is hard to point to any standout moments in presentation, as they are all enveloped by similarly profound displays of intensity in spirit. Sun Ship is one of the most technically impressive yet romantic, forward-thinking yet focused, and ultimately most effective instances of spiritual jazz ever recorded. Approach with an open mind and it may just reveal entirely new sonic possibilities. Stands tall among Coltrane’s best and even the best in the entire catalogue of free and spiritual jazz.