Saturday, June 22, 2019

Sun Ra - 1969 - Atlantis

Sun Ra  

01. Mu
02. Lemuria
03. Yucatan (Saturn Version)
04. Yucatan (Impulse Version)
05. Bimini
06. Atlantis

Alto Saxophone, Oboe, Flute [Jupiterian] – Marshall Allen
Baritone Saxophone, Flute – Pat Patrick
Bass Clarinet – Robert Cummings
Drums – Clifford Jarvis
French Horn – Robert Northern
Organ [Gibson Kalamazoo], Keyboards [Clavioline] – Sun Ra
Slit Drum [Log Drum] – James Jacson
Trombone – Ali Hassan, Charles Stephens
Trumpet – Akh Tal Ebah, Wayne HarrisN
Alto Saxophone – Danny Davis, Danny Thompson

The Atlantis LP, recorded in New York in 1967 and 1968, was in effect a pair of EPs, as the two sides radically differed. Side one (tracks 1–5 on this digital release), recorded at Sun Studios, consisted of short rhythmic works arranged around the Hohner Clavinet, which Ra dubbed the "Solar Sound Instrument." This keyboard had only been on the market about a year before Sunny adopted it as a featured instrument, pairing its electronic pulses with saxophone and African-style percussion.

The version of "Yucatan" that appeared on the Saturn LP was the first half of a longer, two-part work. An edited portion of the second half, different from the first but similarly titled "Yucatan," appeared on a 1972 Impulse! LP reissue in place of the Saturn LP version. For this remastered edition, we have included both versions, herein titled "Yucatan I" and "Yucatan II" (which appears here in full, two minutes longer than the Impulse! track).

Side two of the LP featured the title track — an epic, 22-minute sonic tapestry, built around Sunny's aggressive free (or "Space") jazz keyboard improvisations, with the band sporadically joining the fray. It was recorded at the Olatunji Center of African Culture at 125th Street and Lexington Avenue, in New York, in August 1967. During this period, the Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji and Sun Ra had become friends and often shared ideas on music and African culture.

"Atlantis" is an overpowering—and at times frightful—assault which refuses to coalesce into any conventional structure, and augurs Sun Ra's increasingly adventurous performances in the 1970s. The keyboards used were a Clavioline and a Gibson Kalamazoo Organ (which Ra re-christened the "Solar Sound Organ"). During this performance, according to biographer John Szwed, "Sun Ra rolled his hands on the keys, pressing his forearm along the keyboard, played with his hands upside-down, slashing and beating the keyboard, spinning around and around, his hands windmilling at the keys—a virtual sonic representation of the flooding of Atlantis." It is an uncompromising work by an artist unafraid to challenge his audience. The original 45-minute performance was projected for a full album, running across two sides. However, it was edited to fit onto one side of an LP, and is here presented in its commercially released form. A release of the complete recording is in our project queue.

With Mars now in sight with the naked eye, no time is better than the present to turn to the planets. During his tenure on Earth, Saturnian Sun Ra created some trailblazing sounds that helped to change not only the sound of jazz, but several other genres as well. Herman Blount, better known as Sun Ra, would take a listener from the New Orleans style jazz right into trippy grooves. His space sounds helped to create the experimental music known as psychedelic and its '70s offshoot, space rock. With Atlantis, Sun Ra shows both sides of his personality, offering a side of smaller cuts and one long solid jam that helped define the sound of space jazz.

Atlantis is the first of Sun Ra's ' and probably the first jazz record as well ' to feature the brand new clavinet (dubbed the 'solar sound instrument'). Later on, musicians as diverse as Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock would create some of their finest compositions using the instrument. But here Sun Ra had introduced the solid funk groove of the clavinet to jazz. On Atlantis he gives an entire side to short compositions written exclusively for the instrument, including the conga-driven 'Mu' and the classic 'Yucatan' (both Impulse! and Saturn versions are featured on this CD, which underwent reissues by Impulse! in 1973 and Evidence in 1993).

His style changes give an introspective view of where Sun Ra was going with musical ideas. 'Mu' shows his interest in social, technological and musical diversity by building a track around acoustic and electronic instruments while having tenor-sax man John Gilmore lay out a raga styled solo. On the 21 minute title track, Sun Ra cuts one of his finest free (or space) jazz compositions ever. Atlantis is an amazing opus that features a larger band than the opening five tracks. Here Ra builds a masterpiece that twists and turns through many soundscapes and gives the whole track a diversity that stands apart from all of Sun Ra's other records.

Combing through Sun Ra's catalogue, there are many records that contain sounds that are so unique and original that it makes it almost impossible to choose a favorite based its ideas alone. Atlantis is not only one of Ra's most eclectic albums, but overall is one of the finest he ever released.