Friday, April 19, 2019

Sun Ra - 1966 - Rocket Number Nine / Interstellar Low Ways

Sun Ra 
Rocket Number Nine / Interstellar Low Ways

01. Onward 03:32
02. Somewhere in Space 03:01
03. Interplanetary Music No. 1 02:25
04. Interstellar Low Ways (Stereo) 08:26
05. Space Loneliness 04:34
06. Space Aura 03:11
07. Rocket Number 9 06:20

Probably recorded at Balkan Studio and Hall Recording Company between 1957-1960

Sun Ra: piano, chimes, gong
Phil Cohran: trumpet (2, 3, 5, 7)
Nate Pryor: trombone (2, 3, 5, 7)
George Hudson: trumpet (1, 6)
John Gilmore: tenor sax, percussion
Pat Patrick: percussion (4)
Hobart Dotson: percussion (4)
Marshall Allen: alto sax, flute
James Spaulding: flute (4)
Ronnie Boykins: bass, percussion
Jon Hardy: drums (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7)
William Cochran: drums (4)

Compiled from three Chicago recording sessions, Interstellar Low Ways was a showcase for Sunny's “Space Bop,” “Space Blues,” and his “New Directions” compositions. Stressing his pan-galactic persona, Sun Ra was rapidly pushing jazz farther into the Space Age in his titles, as evidenced by this album's offerings. Musically, he continued looking backward and forward simultaneously, drawing on jazz's rich traditions of swing and bebop, while adding flourishes of modernism that evolved into his unmistakable style. Around this time the Arkestra began to perform live wearing space costumes (which Sunny designed). The arrangements featured various members of the Arkestra doubling on exotic percussion. Two tracks, "Interplanetary Music" and "Rocket Number Nine," feature the band's ensemble space chants.

At this point in Arkestra history, Sunny was coaching Gilmore to play less hard bop and instead to feel his way around the compositions despite their hard bop arrangements.

Though the recording sessions were done around 1957-1960, the album was not released until 1966, under the title Rocket Number Nine. In 1969 it was reissued with the above cover and retitled Interstellar Low Ways. Other tracks from these sessions were released on Fate in a Pleasant Mood, Holiday for Soul Dance, Angels and Demons At Play, and We Travel the Spaceways.

Sun Ra - 1970 - Sound Sun Pleasure

Sun Ra
Sound Sun Pleasure

01. 'Round Midnight (vocal: Hattie Randolph) 03:50
02. You Never Told Me That You Cared 05:31
03. Hour of Parting 04:47
04. Back in Your Own Backyard (vocal: Hattie Randolph) 02:02
05. Enlightenment 05:05
06. I Could Have Danced All Night 03:09

Sun Ra (piano and celeste)
Hattie Randolph (vocal 1 and 4)
Hobart Dotson (trumpet)
Bo Bailey (trombone)
James Spaulding (alto sax, flute)
Marshall Allen (alto sax, flute)
Pat Patrick (baritone sax, flute)
John Gilmore (tenor sax)
Charles Davis (baritone sax)
Ronnie Boykins (bass)
William Cochran (drums)

Sound Sun Pleasure was recorded in Chicago at the same March 1959 sessions that produced the instrumental album Jazz In Silhouette, and features near-identical personnel. However, the recordings sat on the shelf for over ten years, finally achieving release in 1970. Whereas Silhouette was comprised of Sun Ra originals, Sound Sun Pleasure explores two works Sunny co-composed with trumpeter Hobart Dotson and four standards, two of which ("'Round Midnight" and "Back In Your Own Backyard") are sung here by Hattie Randolph (or "Hattye," as her name is spelled in Saturn LP credits), whose soulful delivery enhances the uniqueness of this recording date. As a collection of mostly familiar tunes, the short (about 25 minutes) album serves as an accessible introduction to the maestro's music for those likely to find his experimental and avant-garde work difficult to embrace.

The 1950’s were a creative and transitional period for Sun Ra and other Chicago jazz arrangers. It was during this period that Quincy Jones emerged as staff arranger for Mercury Records. Sun Ra was one of his local contemporaries, arranging for large and small bands led by mainstays like Fletcher Henderson and Red Saunders, as well as for R&B and doo-wop ensembles. While Sunny did not have the chart-topping success of Jones (who crossed over into the pop market), he was highly sought for his sophisticated and increasingly idiosyncratic jazz-tinged arrangements.

Tenor saxophonist John Gilmore's and baritone saxophonist Pat Patrick's solos give the arrangements the Chicago “Hard Bop” feel. The set displays Sunny's gentle side with a moving rendition of Thelonious Monk's classic "'Round Midnight," while the Sun Ra/Hobart Dotson collaboration "You Never Told Me That You Cared" unfolds as a majestic ballad before a sudden tempo acceleration at its midpoint. The instrumental "Enlightenment" is the same recording that appeared on Jazz in Silhouette. The reason for its overlapping appearance is unknown, but we're presenting Sound Sun Pleasure as Ra released it.

The first half-dozen cuts on Sound Sun Pleasure (1970) are thought to have been documented between 1958 and 1960, during Sun Ra and his Astro Infinity Arkestra's residency in Chicago. Although Ra's arrangements are as intricate and involved as any from the era, the song list draws heavily upon standards. That said, it might be recommended as a starting point for parties not acclimated to the artist's later and exceedingly aggressive free and avant-garde leanings. Hatty Randolph (vocals) joins the combo for a pair of refined vocals on the covers of "'Round Midnight" and "Back in Your Own Backyard." The Arkestra complement Randolph's full-bodied delivery with such finesse, it is a wonder there isn't evidence of more frequent collaborations like this. She adds a bluesy melancholia that nicely offsets the instrumentation. "You Never Told Me That You Care" -- co-written by Ra and Hobart Dotson (trumpet) -- stunningly demonstrates Ra's unmatched scoring and superlative sense of melody. The sweeping and languid tempo allows the tune to unravel organically. "Enlightenment" -- another co-composition by the pair -- is slightly more indicative of Ra's complex approach, as well as the style that would inform his later work, noted by the band's stridency around the comparatively progressive harmonics. When Sound Sun Pleasure was issued on compact disc in 1992, an additional seven selections were included. Chronologically, they are among the earliest known from Sun Ra, recorded at various times and locations between 1953 and 1956, yielding understandably sporadic sound quality. "Deep Purple" -- from a session held in Ra's apartment -- features contributions by Stuff Smith, while Wilbur Ware (bass) duets on an emotive "Can This Be Love." Arthur Hoyle (trumpet) makes one of his first Arkestra appearances on the bouncy post-bop original "Dreams Come True" that also sports a rare Clyde Williams vocal.

Sun Ra - 1959 - Jazz in Silhouette

Sun Ra
Jazz in Silhouette

01. Enlightenment (Stereo) 05:05
02. Saturn 03:41
03. Velvet (Stereo) 03:23
04. Ancient Aiethopia (Stereo) 09:17
05. Hours After (Stereo) 03:46
06. Horoscope 03:46
07. Images (In a Mirror) 03:51
08. Blues at Midnight 11:56

"In tomorrow's world, men will not need artificial instruments such as jets and space ships. In the world of tomorrow, the new man will 'think' the place he wants to go, then his mind will take him there."
— Jazz in Silhouette 1959 album notes

Recorded 1958–1959

Sun Ra (piano)
Hobart Dotson (trumpet)
Bo Bailey (trombone)
James Spaulding (alto sax, flute, percussion)
Marshall Allen (alto sax, flute)
Pat Patrick (baritone sax, flute, percussion)
John Gilmore (tenor sax, percussion)
Charles Davis (baritone sax)
Ronnie Boykins (bass)
William Cochran (drums)

If you want the most essential record reflecting Sun Ra's Chicago period during the 1950s, THIS IS IT. Recorded in Chicago in 1958 or 1959, Jazz In Silhouette essentially closes Sun Ra's bebop/hard-bop periods, as his interstellar traveler persona began to vividly evolve in the early 1960s. Once he moved to New York in 1961, he began to explore more adventurous musical terrain.

Jazz In Silhouette opens with the Ra composition “Enlightenment” (which also appears on the album Sound Sun Pleasure, which wasn't issued until 1970; all tracks from both albums were recorded at the same sessions). “Enlightenment” would remain a staple in Arkestra concerts for the rest of Sunny's life. “Saturn,” “Velvet,” “Horoscope,” “Images (In A Mirror),” and “Blues At Midnight” showcase tenor saxophonist John Gilmore and the rest of the band taking straightforward, but inventive hard-bop solos. "Horoscope" is credited to pianist Mary Lou Williams (a big influence on Sunny), from her 1945 “Zodiac Suite.” On the album closer, an extended “Blues At Midnight,” each horn soloist stretches out as in a live club performance.

On Jazz in Silhouette, Sun Ra and the band radiate the period's Chicago jazz sound, with lilting melodies, intertwining chords, and surprising dynamic shifts. Sunny's compositions demonstrate his ability to write memorable songs in the jazz tradition. As evidenced by the arrangements, at this point in his career Sunny is already somewhat "out there," but it wasn't until he reached New York that he became completely untethered.

This remastered edition of Jazz in Silhouette, prepared for the Sun-tennial in 2014, includes the premiere release of four tracks in full stereo. Every prior edition of the album was 100% monophonic. One stereo session tape was discovered by Michael D. Anderson of the Sun Ra Music Archive; the album's second stereo reel, unfortunately, is damaged and cannot be reproduced.

Additional session notes on Jazz in Silhouette from The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra, by Robert L. Campbell and Christopher Trent (2nd ed., 2000):

Nate Pryor (who was supposed to be on this session but arrived too late) recalls that the studio was located off the Outer Drive, somewhere near Grand Avenue. Alton Abraham has said that RCA Victor Studios and a studio with a name like “Balladine” were used for Saturn sessions. Bill Fielder says Bo Bailey was on this session, not Julian Priester as stated on the Impulse issue. (The incorrect listing could have come about because Bo Bailey “wasn’t straight with the Union,” as Nate Pryor says). Thanks to Allan Chase for recognizing the role of the mouthpieces in “Ancient Aeithopia.” In the first edition of this discography, Sunny was credited with playing his Wurlitzer electric piano on the introduction to “Ancient Aethiopia,” but more careful listening suggests that he was emulating his Wurlitzer style on a regular piano! The wordless vocal during this same piece includes John Gilmore and Ronnie Boykins, but the most prominent voice belongs to another Arkestra member.

In the jazz universe, Sun Ra typically travels in an unknown, distant galaxy of his own. He is on the map, but understood and given his proper significance by only a loyal few. Most know his esoteric philosophising, lavish stage shows, and outward-bound music, but those features only scratch the surface of Ra’s music. Recorded in 1958, Jazz in Silhouette stands as an overlooked masterpiece, a work that shows Ra not as a mere curiosity or backwater galaxy, but as a major creative force in the jazz universe, a center of gravity around which many of jazz’s major developments have orbited.

This album simply inspires, no matter what perspective you adopt: rhythm, melody, ensemble or mood. You can listen to John Gilmore sculpt his solo on “Saturn” with sensitivity and flair, or Hobart Dotson extemporize with grace and wit on the two-beat gospel number “Hours After”.

Or you could listen to how Ra integrates all of his marvelous sidemen with the intent of creating a bold yet highly disciplined group sound. Ra ingeniously weaves together the nostalgic, almost sentimental themes and counter-themes that make up Hobart Dotson’s “Enlightenment”, and in doing so he transforms the material from the everyday to something transcendent. On “Saturn” he subtly blends the abstract melody and rapid propulsion of bebop with more conventional big band themes without sacrificing the essential character of either. The tune swings hard and the soloists still create challenging lines.

Ra and the Arkestra continually invent intriguing rhythmic ideas, like on the burning “Velvet”. The rhythm section plays in a brisk 4/4 while the rest of the ensemble deftly navigates an arrangement that seems intent on creating confusion with irregular accents and off-balance phrases. But the Arkestra plays so precisely that they create weightlessness instead, and one cannot help but be uplifted by their force.

Continuing the inventive rhythmic interplay is the dark “Ancient Aiethopia”. However, unlike the other compositions, it lacks any harmonic progression, and Ra foregrounds the varied percussion that the Arkestra was starting to utilize at this time. Most importantly, it points towards the direction the Arkestra would head in the next decade. Namely, the Arkestra begins to blur the distinction between rhythm and melody, thereby creating more freedom in the ways that both could develop. Ra himself has stated that the two are inseparable. Here, Boykins' bass, the floor toms and Ra’s left hand set up an interlocking pulse. Ominous brass figures and a percussive flute solo follow, then Dotson builds a penetrating solo on the prevailing mood of mystery and distance. Ra most distinctively blurs the rhythm/melody line in an interlude that grows out Dotson’s melodic ideas, yet still forcefully follows the pulse pattern already established.

Jazz in Silhouette shows Ra doing what he did like few others: looking at the past, present and future simultaneously while maintaining a unified musical direction. Ra’s Arkestra swings intricate big band charts worthy of Ellington, never forgetting their blues roots. They precisely play angular bop melodies in an orchestra setting. They explore the wide-open modal frontier that was opening up and also foreshadow the prominent role percussion would play in the coming years. Combine these elements with bold solos that gleam with warmth and precision, splashes of Afro-Cuban rhythms and Ra’s imaginative writing- what results is a captivating set of music that not only firmly establishes Ra in the jazz tradition, but actually puts him on its leading edge, pointing the direction forward.

One of the definitive "what the shit" experiences. Even though the songs have the sort of titles you'd expect from the space music - "Horoscope," "Saturn," "Enlightenment" and "Ancient Aiethopia" all present and accounted for - the music here is downright conventional and mostly concise, with only the two side-closers breaking the nine minute mark. I mean, for fuck's sake, "Hours After" is straight-up swing, while "Enlightenment" is pretty conventional post-bop. You might not be surprised at the lack of funk or synthesizers, given the release date and all, but there are no chants either, and the songs are mostly head-solo-head. What, you might wonder, is going on here? "Horoscope" isn't Sun Ra. "Images" isn't Sun Ra.

The thing is, it's damn enjoyable anyway, even if the only hints of "Space is the Place" come in the form of "Ancient Aiethopia." The band Ra assembled plays excellently together, frequently bolstering the melodies with sympathetic and complex horn arrangements. This is, basically, a small combo bop record arranged for big band, which means you get the best of both worlds: the terrific arrangements and easygoing spirit of the best big band matched with the psychic communication of the best small combo. "Midnight Blues" is a great example of this, as it features some great horn charts in the heads but is more interested in those solos, all of which smoke.

There are hints of what would come afterwards, though. "Enlightenment" is more about mood and groove than melody or solos, slinking around various tempos and whatnot. Unsurprisingly, it went onto become a concert favorite, and apparently the group added vocals, which probably had something or other to do with space. Or acid. Sun Ra must've been a big acid fan, right? Anyway, the other odd one is "Ancient Aiethopia," which uses odd horn motifs and a lot of low end to create the sort of unique experience Ra would later specialize in. It also features an atmospheric instrumental segment, and while it doesn't have the flow or groove of "Space is the Place," it's still a solid composition.

And you know? I think I enjoy this most out of all the Sun Ra I've heard. Now, there's some Sun Ra I haven't heard for a long time and a lot of Sun Ra I haven't heard at all, so I imagine I'll go on a Ra binge in the coming days and see if that's still the truth or not. As of now, though, this comes off as the guy's most consistent release, even though it has nothing to do with his later work. Check it out.

Sun Ra - 1969 - The Nubians From Plutonia

Sun Ra 
The Nubians From Plutonia

01. Plutonian Nights 04:22
02. The Lady with the Golden Stockings (a.k.a. The Golden Lady) 07:45
03. Star Time 04:18
04. Nubia 08:06
05. Africa 05:05
06. Watusa (a.k.a. Watusi) 02:35
07. Aiethopia 07:14
08. Images in a Mirror (Stereo, Previously Unreleased) 03:42
09. Ankhnaton (Stereo, Previously Unreleased) 04:18
10. Spontaneous Simplicity (Stereo, Previously Unreleased) 03:01
11. Black Sky and Blue Moon (Stereo, Previously Unreleased) 03:01

Recorded in Chicago 1958-59
According th Robert L. Campbell it was initially issued as Saturn SR 9956-11E/F "Lady with the Golden Stockings" in 1966 (in a generic "Tonal View of Times Tomorrow" cover). In 1967 it was given the catalog number 406. It was retitled "The Nubians of Plutonia" by the end of 1967. By the 1969 the album was given a new cover by Richard Pedreguera.

Sun Ra: piano, electric piano, Wurlitzer organ, bells
John Gilmore: tenor sax (1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 11), Nigerian bells (4, 7), percussion (5)
Marshall Allen: alto sax (1, 3, 6, 7), flute (2, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11)
Pat Patrick: baritone sax (1, 3, 7), percussion (2, 6), space lute (5, 11), vocals (5)
Charles Davis: baritone sax (3, 5, 9, 11)
James Spaulding: alto sax (2, 3, 5, 9, 11), flute (7)
Lucious Randolph: trumpet (1, 2, 3, 7)
William Fielder: trumpet (6)
Hobart Dotson: trumpet (9)
E.J. Turner: trumpet (11)
Nate Pryor: trombone (3, 5, 7)
Bo Bailey: trombone (9)
Ronnie Boykins: bass (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11)
Jim Herndon: tympani, timbales, conga (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11)
Robert Barry: drums (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11)
Additional personnel unknown

Research herewith on vocal ensembles for tracks 5 and 11, variously identified by historians as The Nu Sounds or The Cosmic Rays: These groups are not the same ensembles, nor do they have overlapping members. The actual vocalists on these tracks might not be either group (the original Saturn LP back cover says "Arkestra" on "Africa"). Lacking session logs, any identification of vocalists on these tracks is speculative. The vocalists on "Black Sky" are unknown and could have been overdubbed at a date later than the original recording. ..

Originally titled The Lady With The Golden Stockings (released 1966), The Nubians of Plutonia (as it was retitled in the ca. 1967-69 reissue) was compiled from tracks recorded in Chicago in 1958 and 1959. Sunny was still in his Space Bop phase, although mystical overtones begin radiating through the jazz. The revised album title cleverly juxtaposes ancient Egypt with outer space—the primitive with the futuristic, characteristics reflected in the compositions and arrangements. The album is redolent with percussion, often played by Arkestra brass or reed players providing a simple, quasi-Latin or African rhythmic foundation behind solos. (Having everyone in the band play percussion remained a longstanding Arkestral tradition.)

Like dozens of Sun Ra tracks recorded in Chicago in the late 1950s, this material was released in the late 1960s (long after Sunny had left Chicago) on the Saturn label, and reflected musical styles Sunny had long since transcended (but never abandoned).

These Saturn LPs were pressed in limited quantities and sold at Arkestra concerts, many of which presented new material radically at odds with the post-swing and hard bop contained on the vinyl. These LPs were also distributed by mail order and tucked in the bins of independent record stores who could get their hands on stock.

Some tracks on Nubians echo the then-prevailing Exotica aesthetic of Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman and Les Baxter (the latter a personal favorite of Sunny—see the Modern Harmonic 2017 compilation EXOTICA). "The Golden Lady" (a.k.a. "The Lady with the Golden Stockings) features an exquisite alto solo by James Spaulding. "Watusa" (a.k.a. "Watusi") became a staple in the Arkestra repertoire. "Aiethopia" is a remake of "Ancient Aiethopia" (Ethiopia), which appeared on Jazz in Silhouette.

Also included on this digital edition are four unreleased stereo recordings from the period: "Images In A Mirror" (different from the version on Jazz in Silhouette), "Ankhnation" (a.k.a. "Ankhnaton"), "Spontaneous Simplicity," and "Black Sky and Blue Moon," which features an unknown vocal ensemble (see personnel notes below).

Trying to keep track of Ra's recordings gives me a headache. What was recorded when under what original title with whom, in Chicago, New York, or on Saturn, how many times was the original broken down into later-released, differently packaged fragments in editions of twelve copies each with wrongly attributed credits before getting paired with another patched-together album from a different era with different unknown musicians...

In this case, the later title Nubians of Plutonia is much more endearing, and much more in keeping with Ra's colorful outer space conceits, but I'm documenting it under Golden Stockings, because that's how it came out initially.

Anyway, more relevantly, it's my favorite Ra. It's got the earthy Afro and Afro-Cuban percussive sound he had begun to use in late '50s Chicago, prior to his going full bore esoteric, which moving to New York seemed to do to him (not an uncommon outcome for those who move to New York, I suppose). And yet there's enough residual boppiness and remnant strands of big band corniness to keep it varied while his influences are all flashed.

I find it more adventurous and less predicta-boppy than Jazz in Silhouette, which is many Ra fans' reference point for his early outings. In fact, while Golden Stockings (Nubians) seems to be a minor diversion in the ears of many Ra lovers, it tops his prolific pile for me, blending all his elements into the ultimate Duke Ellington Docks at an Abandoned Space Station with a Tribe of African Drummers on his way to visit the Great Pyramids blended set.

Sun Ra - 1966 - Visits Planet Earth

Sun Ra
Visits Planet Earth

01. Planet Earth (Stereo) 04:57
02. Eve 05:51
03. Overtones of China 04:19
04. Reflections in Blue 06:20
05. Two Tones 03:40
06. El Viktor 02:30
07. Saturn 03:53

Tracks 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 probably recorded at Universal Recording, Chicago, 1956
Tracks 1 and 3 recorded late 1957 or early 1958, Chicago

Sun Ra: piano, solar electric piano, Egyptian Sun Bells, Chinese Solar Gong
John Gilmore: tenor sax (1, 4, 7), Solar Bells (1), tambourine (1), solar drum (3)
Pat Patrick: alto sax (2), baritone sax (5, 7), Rhodesian Bells (1), solar drum (1, 2), Space Lute (3)
Lucious Randolph: trumpet (1)
Dave Young: trumpet (7)
James Spaulding: alto sax (1)
Marshall Allen: flute (1, 3)
Nate Pryor: trombone
Jim Herndon: timbali (1, 2, 3, 6), tympani (1, 3, 4, 6), boo-bams (2)
Art Hoyle: trumpet (4, 6, 7)
Charles Davis: baritone sax (4, 5)
Victor Sproles: bass (2, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Ronnie Boykins: bass (1, 3)
William Cochran: drums (2, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Robert Barry: drums (1, 3)

Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth was compiled from two studio sessions recorded from 1956 to 1958. Befitting the title, the A side of the LP presented a mystic travelogue in which the band descended on “Planet Earth,” time-traveled to the Garden of Eden to encounter “Eve,” and then zoomed to the Far East to explore "Overtones Of China."

The side B tracks were recorded in 1956 and represent some of the first Arkestra sessions, showcasing Sun Ra's emerging Hard Bop Space Book. These sessions were produced by Tom Wilson for his Transition label, and many tracks were issued in 1968 under the album title Sound of Joy by Delmark. Planet Earth, which coupled tracks from the two unrelated sessions, was commercially released on Ra's Saturn label in 1966.

Planet Earth's title track is a different take than on Sound of Joy, and appears here for the first time in stereo. "Overtones of China" is a radically different (and longer) arrangement than the Sound of Joy version. "El Viktor," "Two Tones," and "Reflections in Blue" are the same takes as on Sound of Joy, but Planet Earth's 2014 digital transfers from the master tape offer greater clarity and higher fidelity. Planet Earth's "Saturn" is eight seconds shorter than on Sound of Joy because on the Delmark reissue, the tape machine ran noticeably slow, causing pitch problems. These flaws were avoided for this digital release. Before its inclusion on Planet Earth, "Eve" had not previously been released, but dates from the Wilson sessions.

An alternate view on the pieces offered on (the later released) Sound of Joy, and one that sounds like a more cohesive album in this incarnation. Here the sides are more sharply divided up between the more idiosyncratic Ra compositions on the A side, and the more typical swing/be-bop based, albeit presented through Ra's inimitable style, on the B side.

The late '57 re-recordings of Planet Earth and Overtones of China aren't necessarily better than the Sound of Joy (December '56) versions, just different. Marshall Allen is now in the band and his flute adds an extra dimension to proceedings. Eve is an unused piece taken from the Sound of Joy sessions, and showcases Ra's rather classically-leaning piano improvisations.

The second side swings from start to finish, and is much more what you might expect from a 'jazz' record. All the soloists shine and is a bit of a romp, truth be told. These four pieces can all be found on Sound of Joy, but the different order here really helps - the energy level just keeps on rising. On a personal note, I think the absence of the rather lethargic 'Ankh' really helps matters!

Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth is another one of the great albums dating to the Chicago period in the mid- to late '50s. Assembled from two recording sessions, Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth is an excellent snapshot of this early period. The first four tunes are all from the earlier session (1956) and feature the Arkestra playing what might strike many listeners as fairly conventional material. The remainder of the tunes are from a 1958 session, and show the band moving away from straight bop and swing towards a more unique sound using much more prominent percussion and an increasing use of dissonance, along with instruments like solar bells and space lute. Most of these tracks were recorded a number of times in the '50s (check Sound of Joy), but arrangements and players vary from take to take. This album is a good example of how the Arkestra sounded just prior to (figuratively) blasting off into outer space.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Sun Ra - 1966 - We Travel The Space Ways

Sun Ra
We Travel The Space Ways

01. Interplanetary Music 2:40
02. Eve 3:08
03. We Travel The Space Ways 3:21
04. Tapestry From An Asteroid 2:06
05. Space Loneliness 4:48
06. New Horizons 3:00
07. Velvet 4:36

1, 3, 4, 7 recorded Chicago, 1960
2, 5 recorded Chicago, 1961
6 recorded Chicago, 1956

Sun Ra: piano, cosmic tone organ (1)
Phil Cohran: violin-uke (1), vocal (1, 3), trumpet (4, 7)
Marshall Allen: percussion (1, 3), alto sax (2, 3, 4, 5, 7)
George Hudson: trumpet (3)
John Gilmore: percussion (1, 3, 6), vocal (1, 3), tenor sax (2, 3, 4, 5, 7)
Ronald Wilson: baritone sax (4)
Walter Strickland: trumpet (2, 5)
Art Hoyle: trumpet (6)
Julian Priester: trombone (6)
Dick Griffin: trombone (2, 5)
James Scales: alto sax (6)
Pat Patrick: baritone sax (6)
Wilburn Green: electric bass (6)
Ronnie Boykins: bass (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7), vocal (1, 3), percussion (3)
Robert Barry: drums (6)
Jon Hardy: drums (3, 4, 7)
Billy Mitchell: drums (2, 5)
William Cochran: drums (1)

We Travel The Spaceways (sometimes spelled "Space Ways") ranks as an essential Sun Ra collection. It's brief (less than 25 minutes), and though it was recorded in three separate, unrelated sessions over a five-year-span (making it a compilation rather than an album), it's chock full of "hits"—or what would be chart-toppers in the perfect Sun Ra universe. Alternate versions of all seven tracks appeared on other Ra albums; a number of these titles became perennial club and concert favorites; and Spaceways contained two of Sun Ra's beloved Arkestra "chants"—"Interplanetary Music" and the title track. The recordings were made in Chicago from 1956-1961, but the album was not released on Ra's Saturn label until 1966 , long after Sunny and his band had relocated to New York and zoomed light years beyond the forms etched in the grooves of that platter.

In retrospect, every period in Sun Ra's career seems transitional, but 1959-1961 especially so. It was during these years that he began to musically stray from his Chicago haunts and navigate through the weightless cosmos. In the mid- and late-1950s Sunny had begun to incorporate Egyptian and Ethiopian themes into a music that already drew on American and European traditions. Like many musical pilgrims, he was creating hybrids that would decades later be trivialized with the pretentious (and Eurocentric) marketing term "World Music." By 1959, Sun Ra was creating Other-World Music. Four titles on Spaceways—and arguably a fifth, "New Horizons"—are not of this Earth.

In the bebop/hard-bop periods, there was a movement from traditional pulse-driven jazz to abstract forms more suitable for concert halls than dance halls. Gunther Schuller defined Third Stream as "located halfway between jazz and classical music." Figures like George Russell, Charles Mingus, and Stan Kenton pioneered the field, which had a huge impact on 1950s jazz (and on classical). Sun Ra has never been considered an exemplar of Third Stream, but clearly he was influenced—and in some ways, perhaps, liberated—by this adventurous hybrid. Then again, Sun Ra, like Ellington, was sui generis. The marketing tags never quite applied.

Sun Ra's increasingly ambitious projects in Chicago foreshadowed the New York Choreographer's Workshop period, during which he often seemed to abandon jazz altogether. But then, jazz was born on Earth. By the time We Travel the Spaceways was released, Sun Ra was an ambassador to other planets. Martians, Venusians, and denizens of distant spheres hear things differently. Some have more than two ears. Sun Ra was exploring new ways to communicate.

A few notes on the tracks:

Another version of "Interplanetary Music" appears on Interstellar Low Ways, recorded at a different session. The Spaceways take is delivered with greater gusto. The thin audio quality of this recording exists on the tape, and every released format of this track over a half-century reflects the same limited spectrum. The performance, however, more than compensates. (The rest of the album offers richer fidelity.)

"Eve" with its ternary counterparts paints a musical portrait of a beautiful, exotic temptress (perhaps luring Sunny towards a Big Apple). A version from a different session appeared on Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth.

"We Travel the Spaceways" also appeared on When Sun Comes Out, but from a different session.
Discographer Robert Campbell wrote: "The bizarre whirring and quacking heard at the end of 'We Travel the Spaceways' comes from a toy robot with flashing lights; John Gilmore [said] that around this time the Arkestra would release the 'robots' into the audience during their performances. The band also used mechanical 'flying saucers' as props."

"Tapestry from an Asteroid" also appeared on The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra, recorded later in New York by Tom Wilson and released on Savoy.

"Space Loneliness," a blues that veers towards crime jazz, also appears on Interstellar Low Ways, but this version picks up the tempo a bit.

“New Horizons” comes from the 1956 RCA studio sessions for Jazz by Sun Ra, produced by Tom Wilson and released on his Transition label.

"Velvet" (a different version appears on Jazz in Silhouette) is a reversion to hard bop, and points less to where Sun Ra was going than what he was leaving. Nevertheless, over the years Sunny would periodically return to his jazz roots. He never fully abandoned traditional forms, which were an intrinsic part of his musical soul.

Sun Ra - 1968 - Sound of Joy

Sun Ra 
Sound of Joy

01. El Is a Sound of Joy 04:04
02. Overtones of China 03:24
03. Two Tones 03:41
04. Paradise 04:30
05. Planet Earth 04:24
06. Ankh 06:31
07. Saturn 04:00
08. Reflections in Blue 06:21
09. El Viktor 02:33
10. As You Once Were 04:20
11. Dreams Come True 03:49

The cover states this was recorded in November 1957. However, in the Sun Ra Omniverse book, Robert L. Campell wrote that this was recorded "toward the end of 1956."
This material was originally recorded for the Transition label, but they folded before the album could be released.
Six of these compositions were first released on Visits Planet Earth in 1966. Tracks A3, B2, B3 and B4 are the same recordings as on that LP. Tracks A2 and A5 are present in different recordings from another session on that LP.

Sun Ra: piano, Wurlitzer electric piano
Art Hoyle: trumpet, percussion
Dave Young: trumpet
John Avant: trombone
Pat Patrick: alto sax, baritone sax, percussion
John Gilmore: tenor sax, percussion
Charles Davis: baritone sax, percussion
Victor Sproles: bass
William Cochran: drums
Jim Herndon: tympani, timbales
Clyde Williams: vocals (10, 11)

The history of the record - Ra recorded it in 1957 for Transition, but they went out of business and it didn't come out until 1968. Transition did release a Ra album in 1956, "Sun Song", before they went under. So Ra had practically no visibility in the consumer market until the late 60's, while making incredible music. He released two albums on his own Saturn label (small-scale)in 1956 and 57, "SuperSonic Jazz" and "Jazz in Silhouette", and later released many sessions from the late 50's on his Saturn label; these are now available on CDs on the Evidence labels. One Saturn that he put out in 1967 (before this material had been issued by anyone) contained 4 of the tracks recorded here ("Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth", Side B of the Saturn LP and tracks 1 - 4 of the must-have Evidence CD).
The session here is a good one though I feel the mastering is not as good as on the louder Evidence releases (the 4 tracks lifted from here sound stronger on "Visits Planet Earth", with all frequencies boosted). Had this been released in 1957, it could have and should have been well acclaimed and might have thrust Ra into the limelight. The tracks are lovely orchestrated big-band jazz.

Recorded in December 1956, the second album Ra recorded for Tom Wilson’s label is a much more sedate affair than Jazz by Sun Ra and Supersonic Jazz, both recorded earlier in the year. The frantic pace of some of the first album is mostly absent, as are the more typical big band arrangements. The first half focuses more on Ra’s idiosyncratic compositions, which do not sound like the jazz music of the day and some have taken to comparing to the type of music known as ‘exotica.’ The band are clearly having a lot of fun with these pieces, and it’s hard not to burst out laughing with all of the daft ‘chinese-isms’ of ‘Overtones of China’, assisted and abetted by one member of the band clearly going beserk with a bunch of gongs.

Side A includes one fairly typical hard bop tune composed and performed by the two baritone sax players in a quartet setting, and the second side focuses on more typical ‘jazz’ like sounds. Unfortunately, I find the second side’s opener, ‘Ankh’, to somewhat drag for the first half, and I find it really doesn’t help the flow of the album. It’s a corny sounding melody over a fairly slow swing beat. Perhaps Ra himself sensed this, as when it’s his turn to solo he delivers one of his most bonkers sounding solos yet and thereafter a second theme is introduced by the horns and the piece is much improved. ‘Saturn’ and ‘El Viktor’ are wonderfully convoluted jazz performed at a cracking pace, although the former isn’t quite as energetic as the version recorded and released earlier in the year as a single.

The playing is a lot looser here than Sun Song too, the Arkestra feel a lot more at ease and you can hear all the performances come through. This improved dynamic allows Sun Ra's piano to come out in a way that's really gorgeous--it's something I often miss on his other albums (though check out his live 77 solo piano performance!)

It's worth mentioning that a lot of the Sun Ra standards are here (Two Tones, Ankh, Saturn, Reflections in Blue...plenty of songs will hear again in different iterations.) What we end up with then is an early collection of some of Ra's best songs with some really solid performances that actually swing!

With Sound of Joy, everything just seems to be right. I think Angels and Demons may be a stronger release as far as pushing the arkestra ahead musically, but being progressive isn't all that counts. Sound of Joy finds the middle ground and makes a small masterpiece out of it.

One caveat for the collector: about half the tracks here are also collected on the Evidence CD 'Visits Planet Earth / Interstellar Low Ways', so if you already have that disc, this might be a tough purchase. Unfortunately, one of my favorite songs here doesn't make it on to the Evidence disc.

Sun Ra - 1957 - Super Sonic Jazz

Sun Ra
Super Sonic Jazz

01. India
02. Sunology
03. Advice To Medics
04. Super Blonde
05. Soft Talk
06. Sunology - Part 2
07. Kingdom Of Not
08. Portrait Of The Living Sky
09. Blues At Midnight
10. El Is A Sound Of Joy
11. Springtime In Chicago
12. Medicine For A Nightmare

Sun Ra (piano, electric piano, Wurlitzer, Space Gong, percussion)
John Gilmore (tenor sax and/or percussion 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12)
Pat Patrick (alto & baritone sax and/or percussion 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12)
Arthur Hoyle (trumpet 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12)
Charles Davis (baritone sax 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
Julian Priester (trombone 4, 5, 12)
James Scales (alto sax 4, 5, 11, 12)
Ronnie Boykins (bass 1, 2, 6, 7)
Victor Sproles (bass 8, 9, 10)
Wilburn Green (electric bass 4, 5, 11, 12)
William Cochran (drums 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9,10)
Robert Barry (drums 4, 5, 11, 12)
Jim Herndon (a.k.a. Hernden) (tympani and timbali)

Recorded at Balkan Studio and RCA Studios, Chicago, 1956

Recorded in 1956, but released in 1957, Supersonic Jazz is arguably the first long-playing album by Sun Ra and His Arkestra on his Saturn label. However, it was not recorded as a debut. Rather, the album was assembled from tapes recorded during a number of sessions at two Chicago studios (RCA Victor and Balkan), and several tracks had been released as singles before their inclusion on this album. (Sunny's first fully realized commercial album was 1957's Jazz by Sun Ra, produced by Tom Wilson for the soon-defunct Transition label.)

Before these sessions, Sunny was still arranging for the Red Saunders Orchestra and singer Joe Williams, in addition to arranging for and coaching doo-wop ensembles. As Sunny's ambitions achieved liftoff, the Arkestra coalesced, began building a repertoire (mostly of the leader's originals), and made forays into studios. Deciding it was time for commercial releases, Sunny and business partner Alton Abraham launched Saturn (sometimes called El Saturn) as a record company in 1956.

As a first offering, Supersonic Jazz is a pinnacle Sun Ra release. While reflecting many prevailing bebop, Latin, and R&B conventions of the mid-1950s, it's evident that Sun Ra's musical voice and vision were starting to propel him away from the jazz mainstream. Biographer John Szwed finds on these recordings "characteristics which seemed alien to swing, bebop, or the new, more soulful and hard-edged music which was coming to be called hard bop."

"India," "Sunology," and "Portrait Of The Living Sky" delve into the mystic rhythms of an ancient Egyptian style. Jim Herndon and his tympani add a unique flair to the arrangements alongside other Arkestra members doubling on percussion. There are, in fact, a number of flavors on the album that seek an East-meets-West fusion, a virtual "Ancient Exotica."

Some titles such as "Portrait of the Living Sky" and "Kingdom of Not" appear on Supersonic Jazz and nowhere else; they do not recur in the massive Ra discography of studio, club, and concert recordings.

"Advice To Medics," which sounds like a living room recording, was captured during a 1957 rehearsal with vocalist Clyde Williams (who is not heard on the track). Some Ra scholars have speculated that the recording was reproduced at the wrong speed—recorded at 3¾ IPS, but played back at 7½ IPS. "Blues At Midnight," the first recorded rendition of this timeless Ra standard (a longer version appears on Jazz in Silhouette) allows the band, who were the cream of Chicago’s bebop stalwarts, a chance to stretch out.

This is the first album issued on Sun Ra's El Saturn label, and one of the very best of his 1950s Chicago period. Recorded in '56, the prescience of some of these performances is amazing. The solo electric piano piece "Advice to Medics" and the modal "India," with gongs aplenty, simply have no precedent except for Earl Hines' 1940 electric keyboard workout "child of a Disordered Mind." More importantly, all the music is terrific, including the straight bebop workout "Super Blonde." Ra's horn writing shows individuality and Ellington roots. Soloists include Pat Patrick (mostly on Jackie-esque alto here), John Gilmore, Julian Priester, and Chicago legend Art Hoyle on trumpet. A bonus is the album's original liners, perhaps written by Alton Abraham or Ra himself, plus excellent new notes by Tom Moon.

Sun Ra had only been heading his Arkestra for a couple of years when they recorded the 12 songs featured on this 1956 session. But while the arrangements, ensemble work, and solos are not as ambitious, expansive, or free-wheeling as they became on later outings, the groundwork was laid on such cuts as "India," "Sunology," and one of the first versions of "Blues at Midnight." Ra's band already had the essential swinging quality and first-class soloists, and he had gradually challenged them with compositions that did not rely on conventional hard bop riffs, chord changes, and structure but demanded a personalized approach and understanding of sound and rhythm far beyond standard thinking. You can hear in Ra's solos and those of John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Charles Davis, and others an emerging freedom and looseness which would explode in the future.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Sun Ra - 1957 - Jazz By Sun Ra

Sun Ra
Jazz By Sun Ra

01. Brainville 4:29
02. Call For All Demons 4:30
03. Transition 3:40
04. Possession 5:00
05. Street Named Hell 3:55
06. Lullaby For Realville 4:40
07. Future 3:15
08. New Horizons 3:05
09. Fall Off The Log 4:00
10. Sun Song 3:40

Recorded July 12, 1956 Universal Recording Studio, Chicago.
Originally issued by Transition Records #J-10.

Alto Saxophone – James Scales
Baritone Saxophone – Pat Patrick
Bass – Richard Evans
Drums – Robert Barry
Electric Bass – Wilburn Green
Piano – Sun Ra
Tenor Saxophone – John Gilmore
Timpani, Timbales – Jim Herndon
Trombone – Julian Priester
Trumpet – Art Hoyle, Dave Young

'Jazz By Sun Ra' was the debut album length recording by Sun Ra. The LP originally appeared on the short-lived and pioneering label Transition Records,which was headed by the young Tom Wilson, and released a number of unique jazz albums in this period by the likes of Cecil Taylor and Donald Byrd. Transition releases tended to include elaborate if home made looking packaging more perhaps in tune with today's buyers and artists than those of the 1950s, When originally released, 'Jazz By Sun Ra' came with an extensive booklet featuring words and photos of Sun Ra and his Arkestra. from which we excerpt Sun Ra's own comments on the album contents. Wilson was to continue in an extensive and successful career as a major label A&R man/producer, with a range from Bob Dylan's 'Like A Rolling Stone' to the first 2 Velvet Underground albums and way beyond...he was to remain close friends with Sun Ra, re-entering the story on a number of occasions in years to come. The LP features original compositions by Sun Ra along with one by Arkestral bassist Richard Evans. The single non-Arkestral composition is Possession, by Harry Revel, which had been written for Les Baxter's slightly bizarre Exotica album oddity Perfume Set to Music, which shows just how wide ranging Sun's listening and how open his mind was to the unusual even in the 1950s!!. Remastered original 1955 recording of Sun Ra's earliest released LP.

This essential title is also available under the moniker of Sun Song (1956). Regardless of its name, this long player contains some of Sun Ra's most complex but most accessible efforts. Ra had been an active performer since the late 1940s, recording with his various combos or "Arkestra(s)," as he dubbed them. Since this was the first widely distributed platter that the artist cut, it is often erroneously referred to as his debut. The tracks were documented by then-unknown Tom Wilson. If the name rings a bell, it may be because Wilson would go on to produce such rock luminaries as Frank Zappa, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, and the Velvet Underground, among others. Ra's highly mathematical approach to bop was initially discounted by noted jazz critic Nat Hentoff as "repetitious," with phrases "built merely on riffs with little development." In retrospect, however, it is obvious there is much more going on here. Among the musical innovations woven into the uptempo "Brainville" and "Transition," are advanced time signatures coupled with harmonic scales based on Ra's mathematical equations. Not to be missed is the lush elegance within the delicate, if not intricate arrangements heard on "Possession," as well as the equally involved "Sun Song" -- both of which take on an air of sophistication in their deceptive simplicity. Ra's original LP jacket comments can be found within the liner notes of the Sun Song compact disc. This is noteworthy as one of the rare occasions that Sun Ra sought to explain not only his influences, but his methods of composition and modes of execution as well. Jazz is arguably the most accessible work in the Sun Ra catalog, as well as one of the most thoroughly and repeatedly listenable.

Sun Ra's first album was produced in 1956-57 by Tom Wilson for the legendary—and short-lived—Transition Records label. Wilson was fresh out of Harvard (he graduated cum laude in 1955) and launched the Cambridge-based label with audacious early recording dates by Donald Byrd, Cecil Taylor, Jay Migliori, Doug Watkins, Paul Chambers, Pepper Adams, Curtis Fuller, and Louis Smith. (Not all recordings were issued at the time.) How he hooked up with Ra—then based in Chicago and virtually unknown elsewhere—is a bit of a mystery.

The set was recorded in July 1956 and issued in 1957. Sun Ra had only recently formed and named the Arkestra, although he had been working with these players on and off for a number of years. The styles shift from hard bop to Third Stream, from Exotica to Ra's emerging concept of Space Jazz. Although the album received very little notice at the time of its original release, it served as a foundational statement for Sun Ra and hints at what was to come.

Transition went out of business in 1958, the recorded masters were sold to various established labels, and Wilson went on to a legendary career as a producer at Savoy, United Artists, Columbia, and MGM-Verve. Along the way he produced the first two albums by both the Mothers of Invention and the Velvet Underground, as well as the debut of Simon and Garfunkel and four Bob Dylan albums

This album is a tricky one. If you'd no knowledge it was Sun Ra, no clue as to what was to come, Sun Song would probably never register as anything beyond a pleasant late big-band romp. Certainly next to Davis' work during this period (Milestones, 'Round about midnight) feels like just 'so much more of the same', though still a very enjoyable listen. That isn't to say that aren't clues that something is amiss. Side one (I have the vinyl) contains a few moments that suggest the vastly more sophisticated and at times borderline experimental approach we'd see on Angels and Demons at Play. There's also familiar numbers--passages that would grow into monsters down the road.

Contrasting Sun Ra to Davis is a weird sort of thing, because while Davis pushed the envelope of jazz hard, Sun Ra moved too quickly. The leap between Sun Song and Angles and Demons at Play is massive while still only one small step compared to the leap to albums like Secrets of the Sun or Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy--and even then, the distance is little more than a couple years. Even with a good label and distribution, I'd doubt the jazz world could have kept up: If Davis was a race car pushing jazz forward, then Sun Ra was a rocket ship, and pretty soon he'd be too far out of the stratosphere to even bear much comparison to what had been jazz.

With Sun Song we hear a really good but unsurprising album; he'd not even begun to redefine jazz and there's no real hint of his afro-cosmology. Regardless, it's always good to hear Sun Ra play more standard, melodic fare, and he's a good and talented composer--making this a good one to have around, albeit not a particularly overwhelming release by the man from Saturn.

Sun Ra - 2018 - Standards

Sun Ra

01. Can This Be Love?
02. Sometimes I'm Happy
03. Time After Time
04. Easy To Love
05. Keep Your Sunny Side Up
06. But Not For Me

Bass – Ronnie Boykins (tracks: 2 to 6)
Drums – Clifford Jarvis (tracks: 3 to 6)
Piano – Sun Ra
Tenor Saxophone – John Gilmore (tracks: 2 to 6)
Trumpet – Walter Miller (tracks: 3 to 6)

Track A1 Recorded around 1955 in Sun Ra's Chicago apartment. Originally released on Sun Ra - Dreams Come True.
Tracks A2-B3 Recorded at the Choreographer's Workshop rehearsal space late 1962 or early 1963. Tracks A2-B2 originally released on Sun Ra And His Intergalactic Research Arkestra - The Invisible Shield. Track B3 is included on the 2014 reissue Sun Ra And His Intergalactic Research Arkestra - The Invisible Shield.

Sun Ra, the extraordinary, outlandish, and sometimes controversial pianist, is often described as an “acquired taste”, with a massive and diverse catalog. This release is a good place to start for uninitiated or dismissive listeners. The album showcases Ra’s grounding in the jazz tradition, with unique takes on standards like “Time After Time,” “Easy to Love,” and “But Not for Me”. Not unordinary for Sun Ra, the recording process was informal; “Can This Be Love?” was recorded in his Chicago apartment in 1955; he is accompanied only by the great Wilbur Ware on bass. The other five tracks, which feature, among others, Ra’s longtime associate John Gilmore on tenor saxophone, were recorded at the Choreographer’s Workshop rehearsal space in 1962 and 1963. The album is finally receiving its first ever vinyl release with a psychedelic color pressing, exclusively for Record Store Day 2018.

A really unusual setting for Sun Ra – given that the legendary jazz figure is working here on a host of American songbook standards – and not the cosmic tunes of his own creation! And yes, as you might guess, there's an offbeat feel to almost all the performances here – which stand as a great way of illustrating the deep respect for jazz history that Ra had, even though he was always pushing the music in different directions! There's a number of moments that are quite respectful of the melodies, while others are a bit more offbeat 

Jazz great Sun Ra (born Herman Blount) has an imposing reputation as the iconoclastic purveyor of wildly unusual and unconventional music. His influence is felt far beyond the confines of jazz, and that influence encompasses more than music: his attitude, his onstage sartorial choices and his self-mythologizing were all part of what made Sun Ra important.

No one know how many albums Sun Ra recorded and released; informed estimated put the number at well over 100. Many of those were in pressings of a mere 75 copies. And his interstellar preoccupation is well-documented on many records. But one of his more unusual – and, paradoxically, one of his most conventional – releases is Standards. Like any Sun Ra LP, it’s tough to definitively peg its release date, but it seems to have first come out on CD in 2001.

Standards is drawn from at least two distinct performance. The recording of “Can This Be Love?” dates from 1955 and feature Sun Ra on piano with Wilbur Ware on upright bass, captured on tape in the pianist’s Chicago apartment. Though the fidelity is quite similar (and fine at that) the remaining tracks date fomr the middle of the 1960s, and feature a small ensemble of Sun Ra plus longtime associate John Gilmore and Walter Miller, Ronnie Boykins and Lex Humphries or Clifford Jarvis on drums.

The faithful and tuneful readings of well-knows standards – an uptempo run-though of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s “Time After Time,” George Gershwin’s “But Not for Me” and so on – may shock and surprise Sun Ra aficionados weaned on a diet of discs like Super-Sonic Jazz and We Travel the Space Ways, but Standards shows an accessible side of the man, a characteristic not often explored.

Standards is recommended for those wanting to get into the music of Sun Ra, but they should do so with the understanding that – wonderful as it is – it’s not representative of his body of work as a whole. The Record Store Day 2018 release — the album’s first-ever on vinyl — features new cover art and off-white swirl vinyl that may bring to mind a tasty dish of strawberry ice cream.

A terrific document: the highly eccentric, controversial pianist performs standards under the most informal circumstances. "Can This Be Love?" was recorded in Ra's Chicago apartment in 1955; he is accompanied only by the great Wilbur Ware on bass. The other five tracks, which feature, among others, Ra's longtime associate John Gilmore on tenor saxophone, were recorded at the Choreographer's Workshop rehearsal space in 1962 and 1963. The recording quality is more than passable, and the music is swinging from beginning to end. "Time After Time," "Easy to Love," and "But Not for Me" are all played faster than usual.

Those who dismiss Ra's original music will need to digest these recordings, which clearly demonstrate Ra's (and Gilmore's) grounding in the tradition. Admittedly, however, Ra is a bit all over the map during his solo on "But Not for Me." 

Sun Ra - 1973 - Deep Purple (Dreams Come True)

Sun Ra
Deep Purple (Dreams Come True)

01. Deep Purple
02. Piano Interlude
03. Can This Be Love?
04. Dreams Come True
05. Don't Blame Me
06.' S Wonderful
07. Love Come Back To Me
08. The World Of The Invisible
09. The Order Of The Pharaonic Jesters
10. The Land Of The Day Star

Sun Ra: Piano, Vocals
Stuff Smith: Violin ( 1)
Wilbur Ware: Bass (3)
Pat Patrick: Alto Saxophone (4)
John Gilmore: Tenor Saxophone (4, 8-10)
Art Hoyle: Trumpet (4)
Vic Sproles: Bass (4, 5-7)
Robert Barry: Drums (4, 5-7)
Clyde Williams: Vocals (4)
Tito: Congas (5-7)
Hattie Randolph: Vocals (5-7)
Kwame Hadi (Lamont McClamb): Trumpet (8-10)
Akh Tal Ebah (D. E. Williams): Trumpet (8-10)
Marshall Allen: Alto Sax (8-10)
Eloe Omoe: Bass Clarinet (8-10)
Ronnie Boykins: Bass (8-10)
Harry Richards: Drums (8-10)
Derek Morris: Drums, Percussion (8-10)

This LP was also released under the title "Dreams Come True."

Tracks on side A recorded between 1949 and 1955 in Chicago.
Tracks on side B were recorded at Variety Studios, New York, in 1973, as part of the CYMBALS sessions intended for release on (but rejected by) Impulse Records. The complete Cymbals sessions (11 tracks) were issued on Modern Harmonic in 2018.

Track A1-A7 are Sun Ra's earliest known recordings, first released in 1973 as the A-side of "Deep Purple" (El Saturn 485). Recording dates and personnel for these tracks are speculative. Track A1 was recorded between 1953 and 1954. Tracks A2 to A7 are thought to have been recorded in 1955. They were reissued as bonus tracks on? Sound Sun Pleasure!! on Evidence (5) Records ?(ECD 22014-2, 1991)

The earliest known Sun Ra recording, later released under his own name, was captured on July 29, 1948 at his flat on his Ampex reeltoreel tape recorder as he jammed on 1933 hit "Deep Purple" with jazz violinist Stuff Smith. Sounding like an ancient transmission, the song shimmers with arcane crackle as Smith's creaking violin dances with Ra's eerie Hammond Solovox, a primitive electronic instrument he'd acquired in 1941. "Deep Purple" eventually became title track of a 1973 Saturn album

Wait, this is Sun Ra? I'd scarcely believe it if having heard. No big band freak-outs, no cosmic prayer, no electric keyboard madness: this is, for the most part, a dark and smoky vocal jazz album consisting mostly of covers, with the Arkestra supposedly providing the backing. Hatty Randolph's singing sounds alluring and sensual yet all the while sounding slightly disinterested, and the rather low fidelity producting shrouds both her and the Arkestra in a cloud of dense smoke. For those wondering where the weirdness listeners had come to associate with Sun Ra thus far,"The World of the Invisible" is one of the more conventional Ra tracks on here, with some furious skronk laid down by his brass section and some more powerful and jaunty electric keyboard melodies courtesy of the man himself while the band plays away in the background, though it never really reaches the chaotic heights of some of Ra's other albums. Closer "Land of the Day Star" picks things up with a heavy, sawing string melody lurking in the background while halfway through the song a soulful saxophone solo swings through Ra's domineering keyboard and the crashing drumming to take centre-stage before the song simply fades out, ending the album. This is certainly something different from Ra, and the A-side is easily one of the more conventional pieces Sun Ra has ever done, making this bona-fide standards record an excellent starting place for Ra's latter day works.

Sun Ra - 2003 - Spaceship Lullaby

Sun Ra
Spaceship Lullaby

01. The Nu Sounds Spaceship Lullaby 2:19
02. The Nu Sounds Stranger In Paradise 2:57
03. The Nu Sounds Just One Of Those Things 1:58
04. The Nu Sounds Honky Tonk 2:44
05. The Nu Sounds Haunted Heart 2:30
06. The Nu Sounds Evelyn 1:54
07. The Nu Sounds Honeysuckle Rose 2:10
08. The Nu Sounds Honey 2:50
09. The Nu Sounds Black Sky & Blue Moon 1:05
10. Sun Ra / Roland Williams Ra Coaching Roland Williams 1:17
11. The Nu Sounds Holiday For Strings (Ra Dynamics Demo) 1:14
12. The Nu Sounds Holiday For Strings 1:00
13. The Nu Sounds I Fall Asleep Counting My Blessings 0:50
14. The Nu Sounds Nice Work If You Can Get It 1:45
15. The Nu Sounds Somebody Loves Me 3:09
16. The Nu Sounds Chicago USA 2:55
17. The Nu Sounds Chicago USA 2:48
18. The Lintels C'est Si Bon 0:49
19. The Lintels Blue Moon 1:32
20. The Lintels Baby Please Be Mine 1:16
21. The Lintels Blue Skies 1:45
22. The Lintels My Only Love 2:28
23. The Nu Sounds A Foggy Day 0:56
24. The Nu Sounds A Perfume Counter 1:27
25. The Nu Sounds Love Is... 1:22
26. The Nu Sounds Wordless Piece 0:52
27. The Nu Sounds I Was Wrong 1:40
28. The Nu Sounds Louise 1:07
29. The Nu Sounds St. Louis Blues 1:41
30. The Nu Sounds The Wooden Soldier & The China Doll 1:24
31. The Cosmic Rays Africa 1:40
32. The Cosmic Rays Somebody's In Love 2:11
33. The Cosmic Rays Bye Bye 3:15
34. The Cosmic Rays Black Sky & Blue Moon 2:55
35. The Cosmic Rays Honey 3:18
36. The Cosmic Rays With Sun Ra And The Arkestra Honey 4:04
37. The Cosmic Rays Come Rain Or Come Shine 3:26

Alto Saxophone – James Spaulding (tracks: 31 to 37)
Alto Saxophone, Flute – Marshall Allen (tracks: 31 to 37)
Baritone Saxophone – Pat Patrick (tracks: 17, 37)
Bass – Ronnie Boykins (tracks: 31 to 37)
Drums – Robert Barry (tracks: 1 to 17, 31 to 37)
Electric Piano [Wurlitzer] – Sun Ra (tracks: 31 to 37)
Piano – Sun Ra
Tenor Saxophone – John Gilmore (tracks: 31 to 37)
Timpani – Jim Herndon (tracks: 31 to 37)

Subtitled "the vocal groups - featuring Nu Sounds, The Lintels & The Cosmic Rays. Chicago 1954-1960".
Part of Atavistic's Unheard Music Series. A compilation of obscure recordings from the mid-1950’s, featuring Ra’s work with several vocal ensembles from the period. The recordings were not well documented at the time of recording, so not all the musicians featured on this release are known...
Tracks 1 to 17 and 18 to 22 are home recordings, circa 1955.
Tracks 23 to 30 are home recordings from the mid-50s.
Tracks 31 to 37 are rehearsal recordings, circa late-50s to 1960.

Fifty years ago Jimi Hendrix dismissed "Heroes and Villains" as "psychedelic barbershop music".  It's 2019 and people are still making the same criticisms of vocal and harmony-based music.  I think it's high time doo-wop came in for a re-evaluation, and this is just the place to start.  These rehearsal recordings, although like many Sun Ra records suffering from poor sound quality, are both soulful and sophisticated, and are great in their own right as well as providing insight into the roots of Sun Ra's music-craft and cosmic philosophy.  From that perspective, the best track is the opener and title track, which featured musical motifs that would later appear in "Interplanetary Music" and "Rocket #9".  But the arrangements of vocal and jazz standards of the day are equally inspired and engaging, and are worth a listen, although not everything here is up to the same standard, admittedly.  Probably my favorite track on the album, "Black Sky and Blue Moon", appears in two versions, although disappointingly both are of subpar sound quality compared to the bootleg tape of the composition I have from a 1987 WKCR Ra marathon.  It is both haunting and deeply unconventional, even, yes, otherworldly, on a par with Secrets of the Sun, and showcases Ra's melodic gift at its best.

Evidence Records' Singles collection was the first inkling for many that Sun Ra had rehearsed and led vocal groups during his Chicago phase. Now Atavistic is shedding considerably more light on the subject with the release of Spaceship Lullaby, a collection of rehearsals Ra held with the Nu-Sounds, the Lintels, and the Cosmic Rays. The first batch of tunes are the Nu-Sounds with Ra on piano and Robert Barry on drums. Barry demonstrates once again what a masterful drummer he is, and listeners are treated to three previously unheard Sun Ra compositions: "Spaceship Lullaby," "Black Sky & Blue Moon," and "Chicago USA." "Spaceship Lullaby" contains lyric fragments that would later be incorporated into both "Rocket No. 9" and "Interplanetary Music," and "Chicago USA" was written as an entry in a contest to come up with a new official song for the city (it should have won). The Lintels sound like a considerably less professional group, and it is unknown whether Ra worked with them beyond this session. There's another set with the Nu-Sounds and just Ra on piano, but the best is probably saved for last with the Cosmic Rays rehearsing with the full Arkestra. There's a bit more distortion on these tracks (the rest sound remarkably good for home rehearsals), but it's worth hearing if only for the vocal version of "Africa," which appeared on Nubians of Plutonia. There are some flaws in the tapes, but given the rarity of this material, that's a minor quibble. Sun Ra fans will be thrilled that this material exists at all to be heard, and the chance to hear Sun Ra giving directions is like a peek behind the curtain. Excellent.

Taken on its own terms, Spaceship Lullaby accomplishes its goals, shedding further light on Ra’s only previously rumored work guiding various vocal collectives. As precious little aural evidence, save for two singles, has come to light, Ra’s vast universe continues to expand with this collection of fresh material. He is heard working in rehearsal settings with three ensembles: the Nu Sounds, The Lintels, and The Cosmic Rays. The sessions are loose and the sound quality is far from optimal; the selections focus on the “pop tunes of the day” – jazz standards, boogie woogie and early R&B – with varying degrees of success. The draw, though, is clearly Ra’s piano and the few tracks with the Arkestra, as the vocal groups range from neophytes to moderately talented performers.

The first seventeen tracks, as well as a second set of eight, feature Ra (with drummer Robert Barry on the first set) backing the Nu Sounds, a quartet lead by his friend Roland Williams. The highlights include the opening cut, “Spaceship Lullaby,” a swinging number with humorous, space-centric lyrics, as well as the two versions from a City of Chicago contest, “Chicago USA.” However, “Stranger In Paradise” is cosmic schmaltz at best, a description which also categorizes the second relatively rigid and forgettable set of tracks. Likewise, the commonplace doo-wop sounds of the Lintels (tracks 18-22) present Ra with essentially a collection of novices. Worth hearing, though, for Ra nuts, is the way in which Ra works with these youngsters.

The strongest tracks are the last seven, which feature Ra with the Arkestra and the Cosmic Rays. From the outset, the vocal quartet demonstrates its potential with the full band on “Africa,” although several tape splices diminish the full experience. “Somebody’s In Love” and “Black Sky & Blue Moon” present the group in a pop mode, the former featuring the Arkestra’s subtle colorations. Perhaps saving the best for last, the full Arkestra versions of “Honey” and “Come Rain Or Come Shine” are valuable, the latter featuring expressive opening words from Pat Patrick.

While Spaceship Lullaby is quite a discovery, in the end the target audience is certainly not newbies – and Ra fanatics are likely the only ones who will find lasting value here. This music exudes a perverse sense of joy and offers a welcome snapshot of both Ra’s development and the depth of his musical cosmos.

Sun Ra - 1996 - The Singles

Sun Ra
The Singles

101. The Nu Sounds A Foggy Day 1:03
102. The Cosmic Rays Daddy's Gonna Tell You No Lie 1:49
103. The Cosmic Rays Dreaming 2:43
104. The Cosmic Rays Daddy's Gonna Tell You No Lie (Alternate Version) 3:03
105. The Cosmic Rays / Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Bye Bye 2:49
106. The Cosmic Rays / Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Somebody's In Love 1:47
107. Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Medicine For A Nightmare 2:35
108. Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Saturn 3:00
109. Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Supersonic Jazz 2:33
110. The Qualities Happy New Year To You! 1:48
111. The Qualities It's Christmas Time 2:43
112. Yochanan Muck Muck (Matt Matt) 2:46
113. Yochanan Hot Skillet Mama 3:12
114. Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Great Balls Of Fire 5:28
115. Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Hours After 2:45
116. Juanita Rogers / Lynn Hollings Teenager's Letter Of Promises 3:42
117. Juanita Rogers I'm So Glad You Love Me 3:05
118. Yochanan / Sun Ra And The Arkestra The Sun One 2:30
119. Yochanan / Sun Ra And The Arkestra The Sun Man Speaks 4:34
120. Yochanan / Sun Ra And The Arkestra The Sun Man Speaks (Alternate Version) 3:49
121. Sun Ra And His Astro Infinity Arkestra October 4:40
122. Sun Ra And His Astro Infinity Arkestra Adventure In Space 1:53
123. Yochanan / Sun Ra And The Arkestra Message To Earthman 2:23
124. Yochanan / Sun Ra And The Arkestra Message To Earthman (Alternate Version) 2:22
125. Sun Ra And The Arkestra State Street 3:31
201. Sun Ra & His Myth Science Arkestra The Blue Set 4:40
202. Sun Ra & His Myth Science Arkestra Big City Blues 3:13
203. Little Mack Tell Her To Come On Home 2:07
204. Little Mack I'm Making Believe 3:14
205. Sun Ra And His Outer Space Arkestra The Bridge 1:57
206. Sun Ra And His Outer Space Arkestra Rocket #9 2:23
207. Sun Ra And His Astro-Solar-Infinity Arkestra Blues On Planet Mars 3:25
208. Sun Ra And His Astro-Solar-Infinity Arkestra Saturn Moon 2:13
209. Lacy Gibson The Sky Is Crying 2:50
210. Lacy Gibson She's My Baby 2:07
211. Lacy Gibson I Am Gonna Unmask The Batman 2:44
212. Lacy Gibson I Want An Easy Woman 2:44
213. Sun Ra And His Astro-Galactic Infinity Arkestra I Am Gonna Unmask The Batman 2:19
214. Sun Ra And His Astro-Galactic Infinity Arkestra The Perfect Man 4:54
215. Sun Ra And His Astro-Galactic Infinity Arkestra Journey To Saturn 3:43
216. Sun Ra And His Astro-Galactic Infinity Arkestra Enlightenment 3:26
217. Sun Ra Love In Outer Space 3:49
218. Sun Ra Mayan Temple 4:14
219. Sun Ra And The Arkestra Disco 2100 2:43
220. Sun Ra And The Arkestra Sky Blues 2:34
221. Sun Ra Rough House Blues 3:35
222. Sun Ra Cosmo-Extensions 4:24
223. Sun Ra And His Outer Space Arkestra Quest 2:38
224. Sun Ra And His Outer Space Arkestra Outer Space Plateau 2:22.

Compilation of rare Sun Ra 7" singles originally on the El Saturn label and pressed in very small quantities between 20 - 100 copies.
Styles range from doo wop, novelty pop, rhythm n' blues, straight-ahead jazz - plus early strains of the free-synth skronk that Ra would later explore in the '60s and '70s. 

Hard to get your head around the whole double cd as the tracks are all quite short and fly by pretty quickly. Needs a bit of intensive listening. 
The Perfect Man is a masterpiece of blurting synth and funky drums - a bit like a forerunner of Blow Your Head by Fred Wesley & the JBs perhaps. That's about my favourite discovery at the moment.

Trying to collect these on original 7" would be a tricky task to say the least - so kudos to the compilers for making this stuff accessible to all. Great sleeve-notes too.

Sun Ra maintained a big band from 1955 until his death in 1993, even though he was even further out on the fringe of the music industry than Charles Mingus, who only held onto smaller groups. Sun Ra consistently maintained he came from another planet-and his taste in clothes and harmonies lent some credence to the claim-but he also felt he could connect with a broad terrestrial audience, which is why he continually released singles on his Saturn label. Some of these singles were his trademark space-jazz, but most of them were more down-to-earth-doo-wop, blues, R&B vocals, swing standards, novelty songs and big-band dance numbers. Yet they all had the Sun Ra touch, which made them weird and worldly all at once. --Geoffrey Himes

I realliy do think that if you're going to start anywhere with Sun Ra, this is the place.  Well, maybe not if you're a deep and abiding free jazz fan, as there's pretty much no material here from between 1962 and about 1970, which happens to be the time he recorded the stuff that has brought him his widest popular acclaim among free jazz aficionados (the ESP stuff in particular), but I can't imagine someone being a devoted and committed free jazz fan and not having heard any of his ESP records.  I also can't imagine someone whose musical tastes were such that they'd only be interested in free jazz and not in any of the myriad other styles on display here.  In fact, I'd say this could serve not just as an overview of the many kinds of music Sun Ra produced, but as an overview of Black music from 1954-1982.  (Sun Ra continued recording for another decade or so after 1982, but didn't issue any singles after that time; in my opinion no huge loss as after about that point his work stopped being as consistently brilliant.)  There is doo-wop, blues, jazz, funk, R&B, and more to be found here.  There are recordings of many of his standards, such as Rocket Number 9, Enlightenment, and Love in Outer Space.  There are representatives of little-known but awesome Sun Ra periods, for instance the single version of "Disco 3000" from the month he spent in Italy in '78 which produced some of his finest LPs and the amazing doo-wop groups he was involved with under the name of "Lucifer" (which since has been documented more fully on the 2004 release "Spaceship Lullaby", which is a must-listen and highly recommended in its own right). 

1. The sound quality on some of the tracks ("Enlightenment" for instance) is pretty ropey.  This is a known hazard of Sun Ra albums, though; they're not all audiophile experiences. 
2. It's not quite comprehensive, as there is one extremely rare Sun Ra single (Orbitation in Blue/A Blue One) that either was not known about or could not be located at the time this was compiled.  (By "extremely rare" I mean there is, I believe, one copy known to be in existence.)  There are a couple of other minor guest works with limited Ra involvement that aren't here either.  Some of these, like the Wynonie Harris cuts he made his first ever recordings as a sideman on, are pretty great in their own right, but don't really belong here, IMO. 
3. There are plenty of great Sun Ra standards that aren't featured here- no version, for instance, of Watusa, or Nuclear War, or of Shadow World.  But honestly, Sun Ra had so many standards you couldn't feature them all even on a 2CD set. 

Anyway, if you want to spring for a 2CD set, I'd take this one over "Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel", which does an OK job and all but there's too much to Sun Ra to be summed up in one CD.