Monday, May 27, 2019

The Sensational Guitars Of Dan & Dale - 1966 - Batman And Robin

The Sensational Guitars Of Dan & Dale
Batman And Robin

01. Batman Theme 2:16
02. Batman's Batmorang 2:52
03. Batman And Robin Over The Roofs 6:50
04 .The Penguin Chase 2:43
05. Flight Of The Batman 2:09
06. Joker Is Wild 1:58
07. Robin's Theme 3:05
08. Penguin's Umbrella 3:05
09. Batman And Robin Swing 2:42
10. Batmobile Wheels 2:08
11. The Riddler's Retreat 2:12
12. The Bat Cave 2:47

Baritone Saxophone [Uncredited] – Pat Patrick (tracks: A1, A2, A3, B4)
Drums [Uncredited] – Roy Blumenfeld
Electric Bass [Uncredited] – Andy Kulberg
Electric Guitar [Uncredited] – Al Kooper (tracks: A5), Danny Kalb, Steve Katz
Harmonica [Uncredited] – Danny Kalb (tracks: A6)
Organ [Hammond, Uncredited] – Sun Ra (tracks: A1, A3, B1, B4)
Organ [Uncredited] – Al Kooper (tracks: A4, A6)
Tenor Saxophone [Uncredited] – John Gilmore (tracks: A1, A2, A3, A5, B4, B5)
Trombone [Uncredited] – Tom McIntosh (tracks: A1, A2, A3, B4)
Trumpet [Uncredited] – Jimmy Owens (tracks: A1, A2, A3, B4)

There is also an unidentified tenor saxophone on A1, A2, A3, B4, a female vocalist on B1 and several female vocalists on A1.
Detailed Information about the participating musicians from "The Earthly Recordings Of Sun Ra (2nd Edition)" by Prof. Robert L. Campbell and Christopher Trent (Cadence Jazz Books ISBN 1-881993-35-3).

Originally recorded by Tifton Rec. US 1966.

This novelty album, released in 1966 during the height of the Batman & Robin craze, was initially credited to the "The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale" and featured an album full of tracks based on the popular TV show like "The Batman Theme Song", "The Penguin Chase", and "The Batcave". The album is entirely instrumental, except for someone singing "Batmaaaan!" in the theme song. But the interesting thing about this album, and what makes it an absolute cult gem, are the musicians who are behind it all: basically a joint collaboration between Sun Ra's Arkestra and Danny Kalb's Blues Project (one of the first psychedelic rock bands as well as one of the world's first jam bands). "Dan and Dale" were actually blues guitarist Danny Kalb and Steve Katz (later of Blood, Sweat & Tears) on dueling guitars, while Sun Ra and Al Kooper take over organ duties (a Hammond B-3) and members of Ra's Arkestra play sax.

How's it sound? Cheesy to the max. Apparently many of the reviewers frown on cheese and it sounds like many are pretty unfamiliar with the Blues Project, a band I've liked since I got Cafe Au Go Go when I was about 17. Sun Ra I'm less familiar with but have been exploring him recently and when I saw this existed I immediately ordered it. I'm a big fan of Trane, Ayler, Miles, Monk etc as well as older stuff like Bird and Lester Young (big fan).

I imagine the Sun Ra people are looking down on this because of all the unstructured rock elements and the fact that the Sun gang isn't doing much for the most part. I'm almost all the way through it as I type. I guess the biggest disappointment is that John Gilmore isn't blowing much. Uh oh, here comes a medium tempo blues sort of like Honky Tonk. He got a little space but not much.

The improvising star here is Danny Kalb who is everywhere. I'm a big fan of those forgotten self-taught guitarists of the 60s with their own unique sounds who you could spot a mile away: Kalb, Bloomfield, Henry Vestine, Harvey Mandel among others. Kalb, as usual is frenetic and unpredictable and gets to crank it up. Unique instrumental voices are in short supply today in the blues, jazz and rock fields. It often sounds to me like people went to the same schools and learned the same scales and fingerings, Guitar Tech for the blues and rock guys, Berkeley for the jazz guys.

This really for Kalb fans, fans of 60s blues jams, fans of cheese, fans of maybe something like Songs In The Key Of Z or something like that. This isn't for the people into the heavier-thinking side of Sun or fans of post-bop sax.

I say lighten up and enjoy. Now if only Jimi had jammed with Miles and that got recorded. Serious Orgasm!

Sun Ra - 1967 - Strange Strings

Sun Ra
Strange Strings

01. World's Approaching (Stereo) 10:08
02. Thunder of the Gods (Previously Unreleased) 13:23
03. Cosmos Miraculous (Previously Unreleased) 11:09
04. Moonshots Across the Sky (Previously Unreleased) 05:41
05. Strange Strings (Mono) 12:25
06. Strange Strange (Mono) 20:02

Sun Ra - electric piano, lightning drum, timpani, squeaky door, strings
Marshall Allen - oboe, alto saxophone, strings
John Gilmore - tenor saxophone, strings
Danny Davis - flute, alto saxophone, strings
Pat Patrick - flute, baritone saxophone, strings
Robert Cummings - bass clarinet, strings
Ali Hassan - trombone, strings
Ronnie Boykins: bass viol
Clifford Jarvis - timpani, percussion
James Jacson - log drums, strings
Carl Nimrod - strings
Art Jenkins - space voice, strings
Recorded New York, 1966 except Door Squeak, 1967.

“I’m painting pictures of things I know about, and things I’ve felt, that the world just hasn’t had the chance to feel... I’m painting pictures of another plane of existence, you might say, of something that’s so far away that it seems to be nonexistent. I’m painting pictures of that, but it is a world of happiness which people have been looking for or say they wanted, but they haven’t been able to achieve it.” Sun Ra, interviewed by Henry Dumas in 1966

'Strange Strings is a somewhat legendary album from the mid-'60s. "Worlds Approaching" is a great tune, anchored by a bass ostinato and timpani and featuring several fantastic solos... Off and on throughout the tune, Bugs Hunter applies near-lethal doses of reverb, giving the piece a very odd but interesting sound. "Strange Strings" is one of those songs that is likely to inspire some sort of "you call that music?" comment from your grandmother, or even from open-minded friends. It sounds like they raided the local pawnshop for anything with strings on it, then passed them out to the bandmembers. It's difficult to tell if some of these instruments have been prepared in some way, or if they're simply being played by untutored hands. There are also lots of drums and some viola playing from Ronnie Boykins that is also treated heavily with reverb. Despite the cacophony, there is a definite ebb and flow to the piece and what seem like different movements or themes. Whatever you think of the music contained, there's no denying that it produced some of the most remarkable sounds of the mid-'60s. If you don't like "out," stay clear of this one.' Sean Westergaard[

After finishing a series of concerts of New York State colleges sponsored by ESP, Sun Ra decided to assemble a number of stringed instruments bought from curio shops and music stores. Ukuleles, Mandolins, Kotos, Koras, Chinese Lutes and 'Moon Guitars' were handed out to his reed and horn players in the belief that 'strings could touch people in a special way, different from other instruments
The point was that the Arkestra didn't know how to play them - Sun Ra called it 'a study in ignorance.

Marshall Allen said that when they began to record the musicians asked Sun Ra what they should play, and he answered only that he would point to them when he wanted them to start. The result is an astonishing achievement, a musical event which seems independent of all other musical traditions and histories.... The piece is all texture, with no sense of tonality except where Art Jenkins sings through a metal megaphone with a tunnel voice. But to say that the instruments seem out of tune misses the point, since there is no "tune", and in any case the Arkestra did not know how to tune most of the instruments...' John F Szwed

Fans of Sun Ra's Hard Space Bop and blues-based swing were in for a shock with Strange Strings (recorded in 1965—often erroneously reported as 1966—and released in 1967). This is an album without a genre, and demands an adventurous aesthetic on the part of the listener. Even in the eclectic and extensive Sun Ra catalog, Strange Strings stands alone.

After a series of concerts at upstate New York colleges, Sun Ra purchased an arsenal of stringed instruments from curio shops and music stores on the road: ukulele, mandolin, koto, kora, Chinese lutes, and what he termed "Moon Guitars." In the studio, these were handed out to his reed and horn players in the belief that "strings could touch people in a special way." That the Arkestra members didn't know how to play these instruments was not beside the point—it was the point. Sun Ra called it "A study in ignorance." To this unconventional "string section" he added several prepared homemade instruments, including a large piece of tempered sheet metal on which was chiseled the letter "X." Art Jenkins was assigned intermittent improvised vocals.

Biographer John Szwed explains what happened next: "Marshall Allen said that when they began to record, the musicians asked Sun Ra what they should play, and he answered only that he would point to them when he wanted them to start. The result is an astonishing achievement, a musical event which seems independent of all other musical traditions and histories. The music was recorded at high volume, laden with selectively applied echo, so that all of the instruments bleed together and the stringed instruments sound as if they, too, were made of sheet metal. The piece is all texture, with no sense of tonality except where Art Jenkins sings through a metal megaphone with a tunnel voice. But to say that the instruments seem out of tune misses the point, since there is no 'tune,' and in any case the Arkestra did not know how to tune most of the instruments."

The original LP version of Strange Strings was monophonic, contained three tracks, and suffered distortion in the mastering (perhaps due to the high-decibel studio performance and excessive reverb). However, at least part of the session was captured in stereo, and at least eight tracks were recorded (not including rehearsals), six of which are included on this remastered edition. No track titles appeared on the original Saturn LP cover, but the three released works were later identified as "Worlds Approaching," the LP title track, and an inversion of the title, "Strings Strange." However, the master tape box indicates the third title as "Strange Strange," the title we have used in this collection.

The LP track "Worlds Approaching," originally released in mono, appears here in clear stereo for the first time. Although there is no date on the previously unreleased "Thunder of the Gods" (found on a different tape, in mono), the style points to this work having been recorded around (and possibly even at) the same time, as the approach is identical to the Strange Strings concept.

The previously unreleased tracks "Cosmos Miraculous" (featuring Sunny on Clavioline) and "Moonshots Across the Sky" were discovered on other tapes (in mono), and also reflect the exploratory Strange Strings instrumentation. The bonus tracks complement this collection perfectly. There remains enough unreleased rehearsal material for another volume. Cosmic Myth Records plans an expanded 2-LP edition in 2018.

The stereo tapes for the tracks "Strange Strings" and "Strange Strange" could not be located, and while we had to rely on the poorly mastered LP versions, we have succeeded in rectifying some of the sonic flaws of the original pressing.

Emblematic of its title, this is one of the most unusual albums in the vast discography of visionary bandleader Sun Ra. In league with such classics as Heliocentric Worlds (ESP, 1965), The Magic City (Evidence, 1965) and Atlantis (Evidence, 1967), this obscure session focuses on similarly intense long-form improvisations. Originally recorded in 1966, Strange Strings is the culmination of Ra's most otherworldly experiments.

Pre-dating the comprovisations of Butch Morris and the game pieces of John Zorn, this is a classic example of Ra's conduction methods. With no rehearsal beforehand, ("a study in ignorance," Ra told his musicians) the results are surprisingly structured and spaciously uncluttered.

The only Sun Ra album of its kind, the title track and "Strange Strange" feature the entire Arkestra playing stringed instruments; ukuleles, banjos, mandolins, kotos, koras and more. In addition to the array of exotic strings, the ensemble features Art Jenkins uttering reverb-drenched mutterings, a huge sheet of tempered metal used as percussion, and a heady dose of intermittent reverb infiltrating everything.

"Worlds Approaching" opens the session dramatically; thundering tympani announcing an ominous, droning bowed bass ostinato, unleashing a slew of acerbic solos from Ra's front line of horn men, with Marshall Allen's fervent oboe heading the charge. Reverb, distortion and echo oscillate randomly throughout the piece, adding a truly surreal quality. Typical of this vintage, the lo-fi recording quality elicits a folksy, music vérité ambience.

"Strange Strings" and "Strange Strange" reverberate with dissonant texture and percussive clatter; the Arkestra eschews horns entirely, using the thrift store strings Ra acquired for them instead. Far less accessible than the opening tune, there is still a definite sense of episodic logic to these pieces. Similar instrumental groupings materialize with regularity, spurring on subtle shifts in sound. Punctuated by Jarvis' explosive percussion tirades, Ra's directorial hand in the proceedings is obvious.

Previously unissued, "Door Squeak" was recorded a year later. As the title suggests, it features Sun Ra playing a door with a squeaky hinge, accompanied by members of the Arkestra playing string instruments. Quieter, but similar to the previous cuts, it exudes a sparse alien sound-scape with Ra's hinge sounding uncannily Moog-like as it descends in pitch.

An anomaly even in the wildly unconventional discography of Sun Ra, this is a revealing listen for those interested in the furthest reaches of experimental music. For those unafraid to take the trip, Strange Strings will definitely take you places you have never been.

Sun Ra - 1966 - Nothing Is

Sun Ra 
Nothing Is

01. Dancing Shadows
02. Imagination
03. Exotic Forest
04. Sun Ra And His Band From Outer Space
05. Shadow World
06. Theme Of The Stargazers
07. Outer Spaceways Incorporated
08. Next Stop Mars

Re-Released in Germany in 1983 as Dancing Shadows

In 1966 Sun Ra performed a series of concerts sponsored by the New York council of Arts which were released as Nothing Is. The tunes were sequenced for LP release, but now, after extensive research, more material from the concert which took place at the St. Lawrence University in Potsdam, New York has been unearthed and made its way to CD. The extensive playing time of that medium has been put to welcome use with the addition of the last three tracks. Besides, the songs have been sequenced the way they were recorded.

Sun Ra's work on ESP not only opened the door to Europe but also to a wider audience to whom he could present his philosophy and, more importantly, his music. Helping with the latter was an outstanding band which included John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, and Pat Patrick, all saxophone players of the first order.

The band is in prime form. Sun Ra waves the flag with thunderous chords, a short statement of what is in store. The indefatigable Gilmore turns in trenchant twists and turns on the tenor, his playing tight, gnarled and pithy. As he soars and turns on the wings of his fancy, Clifford Jarvis urges and pushes on the drums before he lets the sax man hold centre stage and have his own divine, which he does with a torrent of ideas. But the clime is free and the band joins in, a raucous soar before space is given its due, the horizon widens and calm descends through the arco of Ronnie Boykins. These are moments to cherish: the music has ridden a roller coaster and then immersed in placid, translucent waters, only to be invigorated again into a collage of red hot colours. There is a lighter approach on "Dancing Shadows, which is apt for the flexible melodic line, a flit from Sun Ra with a hint of boogie. The beat is snappy and the structure tight.

Sun Ra interspersed short tunes that included song with the longer numbers, bringing an agreeable balance to the program. Before the final ninety-second bow comes "Velvet, bopping along firmly with Gilmore, who never finds unusual alleyways to slip into at the helm, with Sun Ra adding a nice interlude before the ensemble closes in. Then there's the nearly sixteen-minute long "Outer Nothingness, a free-for-all that rises on the cry of the saxophone and leads into an intense assimilation of forces that make dissonance the focal point, closed out by a great drum solo from Clifford Jarvis that drives the edge. The vitality that made this music invigorating and challenging is as palpable today as it was fifty years ago.

2005 CD edition:

01. Sun Ra And His Band From Outer Space 11:18
02. The Shadow World 4:30
03. Theme Of The Stargazers 1:48
04. Outer Spaceways Incorporated 0:32
05. Next Stop Mars 0:34
06. Dancing Shadows 9:45
07. Imagination 0:41
08. Second Stop Is Jupiter 1:21
09. Exotic Forest 9:44
10. Velvet 7:20
11. Outher Nothingness 15:43
12. We Travel The Spaceways 1:30

The label describes this 2005 edition as a "semi-restored" version of the album. It was issued with a cover sticker stating "Includes over 20 MINUTES of New Material".

Tracks 10-12 are identified with an asterisk as "Added Material".

College Tour Vol. I - The Complete Nothing Is...
2010 Edition

First Set
101. Burton Green Introduction 2:03
102. Sun Ra And His Band From Outer Space 11:59
103. The Shadow World 4:40
104. Interpolation 2:18
105. The Satellites Are Spinning 1:17
106. Advice To Medics 2:51
107. Velvet 8:16
108. Space Aura 10:26
109. The Exotic Forest 9:43
110. Theme Of The Star Gazers 1:52
111. Outer Space Ways Incorporated 2:24
112. Dancing Shadows 9:45
113. Imagination 0:40
114. The Second Stop Is Jupiter 1:12
115. The Next Stop Mars 0:41

Partial Second Set & Sound Check
201. The Satellites Are Spinning 9:08
202. Velvet 7:10
203. Interplanetary Chaos 4:35
204. Theme Of The Star Gazers #2 1:30
205. The Second Stop Is Jupiter #2 11:16
206. We Travel The Spaceways 1:42
207. Nothing Is 6:13
208. Is Is Eternal 12:37
209. State Street 8:21
210. The Exotic Forest #2 4:32

Re-released in 2017 as 1966, St.Lawrence University

Recorded live at St. Lawrence University, Potsdam, NY May 18th 1966

In 1966 Bernard Stollman sent Sun Ra and his Arkestra, along with audio engineer David B. Jones on a tour of five New York Colleges. When they returned, just 39 minutes of music was chosen to be released as the original ESP 1045 "Nothing Is...". 44 years later, after extensive research, producer and Sun Ra archivist Michael D. Anderson has pieced together the missing parts of the infamous New York College Tour. Recorded on May 18th 1966 at St. Lawrence University in Potsdam, NY, this illuminating document represents the full 70 minute first set, of which ESP 1045 "Nothing Is..." was taken, including an introduction by ESP alum Burton Greene. In addition, producer Michael D. Anderson has uncovered a partial second set from the same evening and some rare rehearsal footage recorded during a sound check before the concert. With over 90 minutes of additional material, this two disc set allows a close up look at the band's repertoire and sound over an entire evening, including the rarely performed State Street and alternate versions of Theme Of The Stargazers and The Second Stop Is Jupiter. Remastered from the original tapes and presented in superb quality, College Tour Volume One is a vivid snapshot of the mid-sixties Ra and his intergalactic band.

In Spring 1966 Sun Ra and his Arkestra embarked on a tour of five upstate New York colleges. Recorded on May 18, 1966, at St. Lawrence University, in Potsdam, NY, this illuminating collection presents the full 70-minute first set, a partial recording of the evening's second set, and some pre-concert, soundcheck rehearsal takes.

The nature of the somewhat ad hoc 1966 engineering setup prevented a best-quality audio capture, and there are technical shortcomings in these recordings. Nonetheless, this historic set offers a spectrum of the band's repertoire, arrangements, and stage virtuosity over almost an entire evening. The performance roughly coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Arkestra's debut studio sessions in Chicago, 1956. The sets include the rarely performed "State Street," as well as alternate versions of "Theme of the Stargazers," "The Exotic Forest," "Velvet," and "The Second Stop Is Jupiter." The tour reportedly included SUNY Buffalo, Syracuse University, and several other unidentified colleges.

According to longtime Ra percussionist Tommy Hunter, the Arkestra often worked with two drummers during this period. A second drummer is audible on these recordings, but he is not identified in existing tour recording documentation. Saxophonist John Gilmore suggested Roger Blank or Jimmy Johnson as the second drummer.

The set was compiled and remastered by Michael D. Anderson of the Sun Ra Music Archive from the original source tapes.
released October 24, 2017

Alto Saxophone – Marshall Allen
Baritone Saxophone – Pat Patrick
Bass, Tuba – Ronnie Boykins
Clarinet [Baritone] – Robert Cummings
Drum [Log Drum], Flute – James Jackson*
Drums – Clifford Jarvis
Horn [Sun Horn], Gong – Carl Nimrod
Piano, Lyrics By [Poems] – Sun Ra
Tenor Saxophone – John Gilmore
Trombone – Ali Hassan, Teddy Nance

There is nothing quite as breathtaking as one of the early recordings of Sun Ra and his Arkestra. After his explosive and historic recordings The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra Vol. IVol. II were first released in 1965 and 1966, modern music was never the same. It is, in fact, debatable that guitarist Jimi Hendrix was an early acolyte, as were so many musicians of the new wave who emerged after Ra. None had his antecedents—none had descended from the Egyptian pantheon, that is—none had his energy or could see and hear the music of the future as clearly and as wondrously as Sun Ra. This album, The Complete Nothing Is... with tons of undiscovered music from that sainted College tour, brought forth by music historian Michael D. Anderson for ESP-Disk, is priceless.

This album is a treasure of the new freedom that jazz had discovered in the 1960s. Ra might never have wanted to call it that, however. His music had elements of serialism from Schoenberg, mighty leaps in time and the explorations in genre defying rhythmic pulses—and quite simply wholly new worlds of musical experiences that only Ra could hear. All this and the hypnotic chant-like rhythms of the heart and soul of the African experience can be heard here. "The Exotic Forest" with its hypnotic Indian shenai that entwines the undulating bass of Ronnie Boykins and the freedom loving percussion of Clifford Jarvis with the other horns playing contrapuntal arrangements is fresh and superb. When in "Theme of the Star Gazers" the vocalists' sing of a "theme of tomorrow's world...," they were actually being prophetic. Everything that is played on this album is just so.

On "Dancing Shadows," the reeds section of tenor saxophonist John Gilmore, alto saxophonist Marshall Allen and baritone saxophonist Pat Patrick—mainstays of the Arkestra—screaming and wailing with abandon, sound like a myriad horns and give the impression of there being a whole lot more horns than just three. They dominate with fiery passion as Ra's piano and Jarvis' percussion drive the music with elastic muscularity and spatial elegance. Ronnie Boykins' solo on "The Shadow World" is inspired and magical. The frenzied wails of the horns and the plaintive bleating of the trombones make this vintage Arkestra music prophetic as well. Ra's own extraordinary bebop romp on "Outer Space Ways Incorporated" is majestic, original and memorable.

Anderson has unearthed a total of some 90 minutes of additional music that was either cut or never made it to record when the album was first released. CD2 is full of wonderful Arkestra music. The extended version of "The Satellites are Spinning," with Ra's hypnotic comping that drives the piece, and the stellar solos of Gilmore and Allen, make this album sound amazingly fresh. It is music like this and that heard throughout the album that kept the idiom alive throughout the turbulent 1960s and beyond into an indeterminate future. "Velvet" features some superb blowing by Pat Patrick and the trombone work of Ali Hassan and Teddy Nance is exquisite and human voice-like. Ra himself guides the members of his ensemble with exemplary harmonics from behind his piano.

John Gilmore's tenor saxophone receives more than its share of time to shine in the sun and his honks and bleats are outstanding in his solos, especially on "Interplanetary Chaos." The searing imagery on the extended version of "The Second Stop is Jupiter" is special. Jarvis' pulsating figures holds the music together as the reeds and winds explore the interstellar world led by Sun Ra's piano, and the moment they find their trajectory, Jarvis embarks on a masterful exposition of dazzling polyrhythmic proportions. The drummer employs lightening fast rolls and staccato stabs at various drums in his battery of percussion instruments as he creates a rhythmic edifice of astounding proportions. Later he is joined by James Jackson on log drums as well as by Carl Nimrod and the trio and the trio erects an interstellar city before Ra and the horn section return to bring them down to terra firma only to take off again, space ways. The actual track, "Nothing Is" is actually quite absorbing, but it is the extraordinary pianism of Ra on "Eternal" that has the most indelible impact on the inner ear.

"State Street" is a revelation. Here Ra's writing appears wholly driven by the tonal palettes of the instruments that he employed in the Arkestra. Pat Patrick dominates in the solo department as well as in the ensemble passages. The song's architecture is more like the music that surrounded Duke Ellington than Ra's interstellar expeditions, even though Gilmore's dry, glorious tenor soars mightily into the stratosphere. The closing moments of CD2 are given to a breathtaking version of "The Exotic Forest," which smoulders quietly as it breathes like fire and song all rolled into one. Although the song never veers too far from the Pan-Africanism that Ra also stood for, it swings seductively and is almost like a dirge like chant (although no voices are heard). This closes out one of the most valuable works of music that have even been made by a musician on this planet, no matter which planet he or she came from. It also bears out pianist Thelonious Monk's classic defence of Ra music, when it was chided for being too far out: "Yeah," said Monk, "but it swings." And even though the album ends with applause that appears to have been unceremoniously cut, it is all well worth it. This music is too valuable to be missed.

Sun Ra - 2013 - Space Aura

Sun Ra 
Space Aura 

01. Solo Piano Introduction
02 .Space Aura
03 .Song Of The Sparer
04. Exotic Forest

Sun Ra – Piano, Keyboards [Clavioline]
John Gilmore – Tenor Saxophone, Percussion
Marshall Allen – Alto Saxophone, Oboe, Flute, Piccolo Flute, Percussion
Pat Patrick – Baritone Saxophone, Flute, Percussion
Ronnie Boykins – Bass
Robert Cummings – Bass Clarinet
Clifford Jarvis – Drums
James Jacson – Drums [Log Drums], Flute, Percussion
Carl Nimrod Malone – Horn [Sun Horn], Gong, Percussion
Ali Hassan, Teddy Nance – Trombone

Recorded May 1966 at University of Buffalo.

Remarkable quartet of Sun Ra live recordings made in 1966 shortly after the Arkestra moved to New York. They’re all previously unreleased and were evidently recorded in optimal conditions at University of Buffalo – the sound is beautifully lucid and and dynamic with a real sense of space and place together with the polite applause that closes each piece. In particular, the rendition of ‘Space Aura’ really captures Ra and his Arkestra at their loosest, most attuned.

Delightful 10" from late, great jazz magician Sun Ra. It's totally enjoyable stuff, classic Ra if you will. These seem to be live recordings but were it not for the presence of applause between tracks I would not have guessed that because they're beautifully recorded.   On side A you get a piano intro and then the main attraction 'Space Aura', light bluesy jazz with a cheekily discordant harmonised sax lick leading into some crazy honking over a fast-paced walking bass which gets a moment to itself before Ra's piano brings everyone back in. There's even some so-Sun-Ra-it-hurts 'Space is the Place' style group vocals leading from the intro into this track.   On the other side you get some more thoughtful and spiritual vibes on a couple of slower-moving pieces but these are still densely arranged and weird, as you'd expect. 'Song of the Sparer' has some peculiar winding buzzy analogue synth tones alongside piano and plucked bass, while 'Exotic Forest' has bubbling percussion that sounds like a rickety cart going along a dirt track while some plaintive reedy melodies wiggle about in the near distance. This is an excellent 10", not very long but everything here is vintage Sun Ra.

Walt Dickerson and Sun Ra - 1966 - Impressions Of a Patch Of Blue

Walt Dickerson and Sun Ra 
Impressions Of a Patch Of Blue

01. A Patch Of Blue - Part 1 1:25
02. A Patch Of Blue - Part 2 4:30
03. Bacon And Eggs 5:25
04. High Hopes 5:10
05. Alone In The Park - Part 1 2:55
06. Alone In The Park - Part 2 6:30
07. Selina's Fantasy 3:58
08. Thataway 4:15

Recorded in New York City, 1965.
It is the last album Dickerson recorded before his decade long sabbatical from jazz before his comeback in the mid-1970s. The album is relatively mainstream considering the work of the contributing musicians. An interesting detail though, is that Sun Ra plays the harpsichord, an instrument rarely used in a jazz setting.

Walt Dickerson: Vibraphone
Sun Ra: Piano, harpsichord, celeste
Bob Cunningham: Bass
Roger Blank: Drums

Impressions of a Patch of Blue was the second time Walt Dickerson recorded an album of rearranged movie soundtrack pieces, following his interpretations of material from Lawrence of Arabia. Starring Sidney Poitier, A Patch of Blue was about a star-crossed pair of interracial lovers, with the twist that Elizabeth Hartman's character also happened to be blind. More important to jazz fans, though, is that the album marked one of Sun Ra's extremely rare appearances as a sideman, playing both piano and harpsichord. And he turns in a masterful supporting performance behind Dickerson, putting his own indelible stamp on the proceedings without ever overwhelming them. Witness "Bacon and Eggs," where Dickerson repeats a melodic theme for most of the piece while Ra's unorthodox reharmonizations dance about in the background. Ra's harpsichord also provides some otherworldly cascades that seem to spark Dickerson's sense of freedom, particularly on part two of "A Patch of Blue" and "High Hopes." Dickerson's own playing is most evocative on the two parts of "Alone in the Dark"; during the first, he plays frantic, jittery phrases that mimic the speech patterns of panic, and in the second he favors quick, repetitive figures that fade away like echoes or unanswered calls for help. All of that is indicative of the level of imagination with which the project is carried out, which makes it a shame that Dickerson retired from performing for a full decade following its release, leaving Bobby Hutcherson to become the most important modernist vibes player of the latter half of the '60s. Verve's 1999 CD reissue of Impressions of a Patch of Blue was a very limited edition, so don't dawdle in picking this one up.

Sun Ra - 1966 - The Magic City

Sun Ra 
The Magic City

01. The Magic City (Ra) (27:24)
02. The Shadow World (Ra) (10:59)
03. Abstract Eye (Ra) (2:45)
04. Abstract "I" (Ra) (4:01)

Line-up & Recording Date:
Track 1:
Ra-clavioline, p; Walter Miller-tp; Ali Hassan-tb; Marshall Allen-as, fl, picc; Danny Davis-as, fl; Harry Spencer-as; John Gilmore-ts; Pat Patrick-bs, fl; Robert Cummings-bcl; Ronnie Boykins-b; Roger Blank-d; James Jacson-perc.
Rehearsal, New York City, around Sept. 24 1965.
Tracks 2,3,4:
Ra-p, e-celeste, bass marimba, tympani (on Shadow World), sun harp, dragon drum (on Abstracts); Chris Capers-tp; Teddy Nance-tb; Bernard Pettaway-btb; Marshall Allen-as, picc; Danny Davis-as; John Gilmore-ts; Pat Patrick-bs, tympani (on Abstracts); Robert Cummings-bcl; Ronnie Boykins-b; Jimmy Johnson-d; "other percussions by members of the Arkestra".
Live at Olatunji's loft, New York, spring 1965

Sun Ra embodies many of the best and brightest aspects of the weird, the avant-garde, and the downright alien experimental jazz underground of the late 60s. Sun Ra effectively pushed the genre's boundaries and limitations more than any other jazz musicians could have ever hoped to. One would be hard-pressed to find a jazz musician with a catalog anywhere near as surreal, otherworldly, and varied as Sun Ra'sis. His music is characterized by the creation of otherworldly soundscapes. The focus of his music is pointed towards uncompromising improvisation and spontaneity. The Music found on this album (and many others) is predicated by his fusion of avant-garde compositional elements with freakish instrumental manipulation and improvisation. Philosophy also plays a key role in Ra's music. His music was essentially the birth of Afro-futurism. His artistic ethos was based on the readoption of technology, imagery, and genre norms from predominantly white. This idea has become the foundation of Afro-Futurism. Use his his Af his for Af for Af for Af for Af for. Afro-futurism, his his his his his for his for his for. Afro-futurism is a concept that has been explored in film, contemporary art, music and literature. Works by George Clinton, Jean Michel Basquiat, Public Enemy , and even Black Panther, ideology of Ra's intergalactic jazz.

His music during the late fifties and early sixties. This approach is deconstructionist jazz bridge can clearly be Observed on albums Jazz in Silhouette, Lanquidity, Atlantis , and in this case The Magic City . The compositions are featured on the basis of the pervasive reformation of jazz.

One of Sun Ra's bridge defining releases during his Free Jazz Era is his 1966 album The Magic City . The album's name is a reference to Ra'shome town, Birmingham, Alabama. More details on "Birmingham, The Magic City". According to John F. Szwed, author of Space is the Place: "The ae and child," Sonny could look out the window and see the Magic City. "It's rather ironic that this album is so closely related to Ra 's hometown, because it is a citizen. Saturn, an otherworldly and an angelic figure. spread his music. The Magic City is, in essence, and the reimagining of Birmingham. According to Ra, the near thirty minute title track is an attempt to depict Birmingham without a cruel, grim, and racist past. It's an attempt to grant the listener a glimpse at a city devoid of its flawed and corruption history. However, the idyllic and utopian imagery is juxtaposed by aggressive rampages of free-jazz improvisations. This creates a kind of dichotomy between Ra and his band. The album is mainly built on Ra and his ensemble. raplays longer more scripted moments that function as interludes to surreal and chaotic improvisations. He would then point to the album for the album. Juxtaposed idealized and realistic versions of this city. Ra felt that this emphasis on spontaneity would lead to more impassioned performances, and it certainly certainly did.

The Magic City is built almost completely. In essence, The Magic City is Raand his Arkestra's collective experience in Birmingham. This album brilliantly displays the potential of free jazz and avant-jazz. To me, it stands as one of the boldest conceptual experiments in the entirety of free jazz and is a personal favorite of mine. If you like Sun Ra's hectic and utterly insane jazz compositions, in the intergalactic veneer, then you'll probably enjoy this album quite a bit. If you do not like Sun, Ra and free jazz, then you will find a hellish and unpleasant experience.

Sun Ra - 1966 - The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra

Sun Ra 
The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra 

Sun Ra
The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume One

01. Heliocentric 04:18
02. Outer Nothingness 07:37
03. Other Worlds 04:35
04. The Cosmos 07:30
05. Of Heavenly Things 05:45
06. Nebulae 03:20
07. Dancing in the Sun 01:55

Sun Ra's pivotal recording Heliocentric Worlds, Vol. I is one of those efforts that any fan of challenging improvised music should own. Done in the spring of 1965, it parallels many of the more important statements of the time, like John Coltrane's movement toward unabashed free jazz, the developed music of Ornette Coleman, emerging figures like Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, and a fully flowered Albert Ayler. The Solar Arkestra was a solid 11-piece group, with hefty contributions by saxophonists Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Danny Davis, and Robert Cummings, lone trumpeter Chris Capers, trombonists Teddy Nance and Bernard Pettaway, and the exceptional bassist Ronnie Boykins, playing strictly instrumental music, with no chants or vocal space stories. What is most intruguing about this Ra band is that the leader plays very little acoustic piano, choosing to focus his attention primarily on the bass marimba, and to a lesser extent an electrically amplified celeste. It's the prelude of his move to a raw but technologically driven sound as the synthesizer would come into his arsenal of instruments shortly after this. There's the deep blues of "Heliocentric," low key until lion-roaring horns enter, but the rip-snorting attitude of "Outer Nothingness" changes the tone, as multiple layers of improvisation build only to a mezzo forte level, with a collective percussion solo and the deeply hued, resonant, wooden bass marimba as played by the leader. Ra returns to his plucky sounding acoustic piano for the improvised "Other Worlds," then moves to the shimmering celeste while Boykins leads the charge of the full ensemble with a scattershot, fiery, chaotic, mad free bop. Perhaps a track that most perfectly represents the democratic nature of the Arkestra, "The Cosmos" features many segments stitched together, whether it be the bowed bass of Boykins stringing tied notes in seconds and thirds, Ra's galactic celeste, or bits and pieces of the horn section stepping up and out, with the final note struck by Jimhmi Johnson's royal tympani. An Egyptian, march-implied theme ruminates through "Of Heavenly Things" with the bass marimba and Allen's piccolo in the middle, "Nebulae" is a feature for the dense celeste of Ra played alone, and the conclusionary "Dancing in the Sun" is a two-minute burst of free bebop with Ra back at the piano. What makes this music so joyful and even organized is the way that individual voicings are able to both stand on their own, and work in context improvisationally. Though not quite the full-blown, magnum opus, operatic space drama the band would eventually conceive, the planted seeds from the huge tree of what they were about to accomplish are sown in this truly remarkable effort, still an event, and a turning point for early creative music.

Sun Ra
The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume Two

01. The Sun Myth
02. A House Of Beauty
03. Cosmic Chaos

Also known as "The Sun Myth" on some releases, named for the first track.

According to Geerken/Trent's Omniverse, there are three distinct mixes of The Sun Myth:
Version one has African voices very audible throughout and "ESP 1017A 152 DBH" in the runout of side A.
Version two has no voices and "ESP 1017-A ORT-2 DBH" in the side A runout.
Version three as the voices mixed very low, audible at the beginning and end with "ESP 1017A(68) AM967 DBH" in the runout.

Version two seems to have become the standard for later reissues.

Although the "Vol. 2" in the title insinuates some degree of continuity with its predecessor, this is a bit of a misnomer as the only acknowledged connection with The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 1 (the volume number only indicating the order in which they were issued). Due in part to the wider exposure and distribution of the ESP label, enthusiasts and critics were unanimous in their recognition of this masterpiece of free jazz -- or, as Ra called it, "space jazz." The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 2 is comprised of three unique compositions: "The Sun Myth," "A House of Beauty," and "Cosmic Chaos." Sun Ra's work with an ensemble often presents a stated emphasis on the percussive nature of solos as well as within the group context. The underlying freeform anti-structure allows defining contrasts that ultimately establish the progressing sonic sculpture. "The Sun Myth" showcases Ra's definitive capabilities to guide his assembled musicians from anywhere within said group. He is heard on this recording initiating improvisational exchanges on tuned bongos -- for a portion of the track -- rather than from his customary keyboards. The resulting interactions include mesmerizing bass solos from Ronnie Boykins as well as some impassioned alto sax work from Marshall Allen. Directly contrasting the works that surround it is "A House of Beauty." The emphasis shifts, juxtaposing Allen's unfettered piccolo solos with Ra on piano and Robert Cumming on bass clarinet. Of particular note here are Ra's achingly lyrical piano runs and chord progressions, which weave between the light percussion beds and the dominant woodwind section. "Cosmic Chaos" is the final and most archetypal of the ensemble works that Ra and his various Arkestras would produce throughout the '60s. The extended piece begins with rush upon rush of aggressive counterpoint, building into unreserved group crescendos that are likewise punctuated by various woodwind soloists.

Sun Ra
The Heliocentric Worlds Of Sun Ra Volume Three - The Lost Tapes

01. Intercosmosis
02. Mythology Metamorphosis
03. Heliocentric Worlds
04. World Worlds
05. Interplanetary Travelers

Baritone Saxophone – Pat Patrick (tracks: 1-1 to 2-3)
Bass – Ronnie Boykins (tracks: 1-1 to 2-3)
Bass Clarinet – Robert Cummings (tracks: 1-1 to 2-3)
Bass Trombone – Bernard Pettaway (tracks: 1-1 to 1-7)
Bells – Marshall Allen (tracks: 1-1 to 1-7)
Cymbal [Spiral Cymbal] – Marshall Allen (tracks: 1-4)
Flute, Alto Saxophone – Danny Davis (tracks: 1-1 to 1-7)
Marimba [Bass], Celesta [Electronic Celeste] – Sun Ra (tracks: 1-1 to 1-7)
Percussion – Jimhmi Johnson* (tracks: 1-3, 1-4), John Gilmore (tracks: 2-1 to 2-3), Pat Patrick (tracks: 1-1, 1-2, 1-4 to 2-3), Pat Patrick (tracks: 2-1 to 2-3), Robert Cummings (tracks: 2-1 to 2-3), Roger Blank (tracks: 2-1 to 2-3)
Piano, Bongos [Tuned], Synthesizer [Clavioline] – Sun Ra (tracks: 2-1 to 2-3)
Piccolo Flute, Alto Saxophone, Bells – Marshall Allen (tracks: 1-1 to 2-3)
Tenor Saxophone – John Gilmore (tracks: 1-1 to 2-3)
Timpani – Jimhmi Johnson* (tracks: 1-4), John Gilmore (tracks: 1-1, 1-5), Sun Ra (tracks: 1-2)
Trombone – Teddy Nance (tracks: 1-1 to 1-7)
Trumpet – Chris Capors* (tracks: 1-1 to 1-7), Walter Miller (tracks: 2-1 to 2-3)
Wood Block – Robert Cummings (tracks: 1-1 to 1-7)

Volume One: RLA Sound Studios, NYC, April 20, 1965
Volume Two & Three: RLA Sound Studios, NYC, November 16, 1965.

Marshall Allen described the recording of the album in John F Szwed's biography of Ra, Space Is The Place;

"Sun Ra would go to the studio and he would play something, the bass would come in, and if he didn't like it he'd stop it; and he'd give the drummer a particular rhythm, tell the bass he wanted not a 'boom boom boom,' but something else, and then he'd begin to try out the horns, we're all standing there wondering what's next...

"I just picked up the piccolo and worked with what was going on, what mood they set, or what feeling they had. A lot of things we'd be rehearsing and we did the wrong things and Sun Ra stopped the arrangement and changed it. Or he would change the person who was playing the particular solo, so that changes the arrangement. So the one that was soloing would get another part given to him personally. 'Cos he knew people. He could understand what you could do better so he would fit that with what he would tell you." Marshall Allen

Each of the three Heliocentric volumes were performed and recorded in the span of less than a year, between April and November of 1965. Ra was accompanied by the same 12 musicians for both dates, among them multi-instrumentalist Marshall Allen (probably most famous for his sax playing), bassist Ronnie Boykins, and baritone sax player Pat Patrick (Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's father). Roughly 19 instruments find their way onto the record, including tuned tympani, bass clarinet and bass trombone, the clavioline, tuned bongos, bass marimba, and an electronic celesta. Band size, instrumental choices, excellent performances, unclassifiable sounds, and the improvisational structure of all three volumes have earned these records an important place in the history of free jazz, as well as a legendary status. They were performed and released before John Coltrane's Ascension, broke strongly with the turbulent and wilder styling of Ornette Coleman's double quartet, and showcased an altogether different sound for the Arkestra, which had just released a string of excellent, but more readily digestible records, including Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy. Along with The Magic City, The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra most strongly define Ra's New York period sound and represent some of his most enduring ideas as a composer and band leader. Whether or not they can be classified as free jazz is another question entirely.

Listening to Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, I focused immediately on their fragmented, frequently clumsy ensemble and solo passages. Boykins, percussionists Jimhmi Johnson, Pat Patrick, and Roger Blank, and the rest of the Arkestra spend much of their time stumbling over (and sometimes through) their instruments, producing atonal passages of a childish quality with seemingly little attention paid to structure, melody, or rhythm. Nothing I'd heard or read before could help me get inside the tympani and bass duets of "Heliocentric" or the drunken clavioline and piano fights on "Nebulae." The best I could muster was a feeble comparison to early Nurse with Wound records, because Ra's sudden tempo changes and unusual instrumentation produced effects and contrasting textures that reminded me of the tape collages Stapleton produced. After listening more closely and reading some helpful articles, I was clued into the structure hiding behind the chaos, and subsequently into the beauty and originality of the Arkestra's sound.

Ra would conduct his large group by pairing instruments together and providing them loose rules. For instance, Boykins would be instructed to bow his bass, or trombonist Teddy Nance would be told to play long, whole notes against a contrasting rapidly moving flute solo, and both would be paired with seemingly unrelated percussion solos, wood blocks, or bass marimba. Each group of musicians would solo together, but only as Ra conducted them to do so and only according to a mood or idea Ra was exploring. So in one instant trombone and sax are playing together, and then the wood block and bass, and at any moment the whole band could erupt in a fit of excitement and noise, each with a wave of Ra's hand. The results are bizarre or surreal duets, trios, or ensemble movements with instruments that either contrast each other strongly or blend in awkward and glaring ways. My favorite example is when Ra pairs Robert Cummings' woodblocks and his own bass marimba with Boykins' already prominent acoustic bass. These two or three instruments fuse almost completely and very nearly produce the illusion of a single instrument, but their distinct timbres and colors keep them from having an entirely happy marriage.

I originally thought Sun Ra was seeking to create or highlight diversity and disparity in his music. The failure of his instruments to blend completely emphasized that, but so did the clumsy melodic phrases and tottering rhythms. Time, greater familiarity with Ra's music, and a little studying have changed my mind, and I now think the opposite is true. Boykins' bass playing on "The Sun Myth" is like nothing I've heard in jazz; it resembles the bowing of a bass in a classical orchestra more strongly than anything in jazz. And the loud percussion passages sound like a child's first drum lesson, but the Arkestra manages to force these two unlikely partners into a striking, if coarse, unity. Elsewhere, Ra pits shrieking saxophones against a background of swirling cymbals and buzzing electronic tones. Convention suggests these elements can't or shouldn't be paired, but the Arkestra miraculously draws them together. Their success depends both on Ra's guidance and on each musician's finely honed abilities; such abstract and spontaneous playing is neither easy nor natural. The resulting moods are sometimes tense, other times meditative, and frequently humorous or playful. Only rarely can the Arkestra be said to play as a band in any traditional sense. Parts of the third volume, as well as "Cosmic Chaos" and "Of Heavenly Things," feature a tighter logic and more coherent sense of counterpoint, so those songs make a more immediate kind of sense. But, for much of the record, we listeners are required to explore the depths of their expectations and interpretive skills in order to encounter the Arkestra's power and philosophy fully.

That's one of several reasons these records have taken such a hold on me. Their fluid character is another. Written and performed in the middle of New York City during the 1960s, Ra was automatically placed among the free jazz moguls of the time, but very few of these songs sound like jazz compositions at all, free or otherwise. I do hear fragments of jazz's past, but classical music, noise, tape collage, and other early electronic phrasings and expressions are present, too . I can't offer a better categorization, but I tend to agree with the theory that these records were filed under free jazz because nobody knew what else to call them.

Unfortunately, ESP Disk has done little to support the wonder and depth of Ra's music. This three disc set promises a lot and pretends to make good on them with an attractive outer sleeve and smartly distributed index of songs. Each of the three volumes gets its own disc, meaning none of them are muddled by bonus songs and none of them flow into each other unnaturally. When a disc ends, the album ends, too, and I applaud ESP's decision to keep each record distinct in that way. The original artwork for each album is also represented, although they're all tucked away beneath transparent CD trays. Still, unfolding the box set reveals a neat and simple layout. It's not the most attractive presentation in the world, but it functions well and I'm not sure how I would change it to make it any better. However, there's no booklet included with this set, and that's the first big problem I have with it. Extensive liner notes are nowhere to be found and only the most meager information about these records is provided on the back panel. Considering Sun Ra's ever-increasing popularity and the scope of the Arkestra's history, I'm surprised there wasn't more information provided up front. Things continue to deteriorate as I scan what little information is provided. Sun Ra's electronic keyboard, the "clavioline," is misspelled "clavoline" and the song "Of Heavenly Things" is misprinted as "Oh Heavenly Things." Additionally, "piccolo" is spelled as "picolo" on the back cover. These are small complaints, but they make the package feel cheaper and more hastily assembled than it should.

An impressive lineup of bonus features could make up for these mistakes, but calling any of the extras a bonus would be stretching it a bit.The first disc contains a roughly 16-minute "documentary" titled Spaceways. It's less a documentary film and more a piece of propaganda for Sun Ra's philosophy and ideas. If any of the bonuses are going to appeal to a Sun Ra fan, this is the one, but much of what Ra has to say can be found in books about him or in articles easily found on the Internet. Furthermore, the quality of the audio and video is low, probably because it was pulled from the original film without any effort given to improving its sometimes murky dialog and overall grainy picture. The second disc contains a "Sun Ra Photo Archive" that is little more than 12 JPEG files. A few of those files are images of the album covers, which are widely available everywhere and featured prominently in the set's artwork already. The other images may have their own value, but hardly constitute an archive. The critical writings "archive" on the third disc is a collection of Acrobat files containing reviews from publications large and small, including a Rolling Stone interview, a couple of brief mentions in The New York Times, and liner notes for all three volumes. Two of the reviews are very well written, reproduced clearly, and provide helpful information about the Heliocentric recordings. The remainder are poor scans of newspaper articles. The Rolling Stone feature could be a good read, but features tiny text and fuzzy image quality, which makes reading it tedious. Worse yet, the liner notes for each record, which should have been printed in a separate booklet (or at least somewhere in the box set itself), are included as part of this "archive." This isn't just cheap, it's insulting. ESP are basically lying to their audience about the content of their bonus material by including basic and necessary information for any good box set as a "bonus" feature. That's a lot like giving a giant middle finger to the consumer.

Having some of Sun Ra's best music made more readily available is truly exciting and a blessing. So much of his music is rarer than it should be. But the artwork, details, and presentation of that music should be treated with as much reverence and care as the music itself is.

Sun Ra - 1966 - Other Planes of There

Sun Ra 
Other Planes of There 

01. Other Planes of There 22:06
02. Sound Spectra / Spec Sket 07:35
03. Sketch 04:54
04. Pleasure 03:12
05. Spiral Galaxy 10:04

Sun Ra: piano
Walter Miller: trumpet
Ali Hassan: trombone
Teddy Nance: trombone
Bernard Pettaway: bass trombone
Marshall Allen: alto sax, oboe, percussion
Danny Davis: alto sax, flute
John Gilmore: tenor sax
Pat Patrick: baritone sax
Robert Cummings: bass clarinet
Ronnie Boykins: bass
Roger Blank: drums
Lex Humphries: drums

Recorded at the Choreographer's Workshop, New York, 1964

Other Planes of There (recorded 1964, released 1966) could be mistaken for an artifact of the "free jazz" movement that was gaining a foothold in New York during the early 1960s. Artists like Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, and Ornette Coleman were advancing the frontiers of jazz in a way that excited many, while alienating an equal number. Audiences were often perplexed—sometimes infuriated—at the brutality, lack of traditional structure, and unpredictability of the new music. Pioneering bebop drummer Max Roach, after witnessing a performance by Coleman at the Five Spot jazz roost, followed the saxophonist off-stage and punched him in the mouth. Trumpeter Roy Eldridge thought Coleman was "jiving, putting everybody on." Yet in retrospect there's no denying the new music's historic impact on jazz evolution.

Sun Ra shared stages, dressing rooms, and newsprint with these contemporaries. His music often sparked similar reactions—positive and negative. Yet despite stylistic similarities between Sun Ra and the above mavericks—composing and performing works which were irregular, asymmetrical, and seemed to lack a center—Sunny rejected the "free" label. "I don't play free music, because there is no freedom in the universe," he told an interviewer in 1970. "If you were to be free you could just play no matter what and it doesn't come back to you. But you see, it always does come back to you. That's why I warn my musicians: be careful what you play … every note, every beat, be aware that it comes back to you. And if you play something you yourself don't understand, then that's bad for you and for the people too."

Like many Sun Ra albums, Other Planes of There offers a musical portrait of where Sun Ra and his Arkestral entourage find themselves during a given period. Exposed to new ideas on a daily basis, challenged to excel by competitors on the downtown scene, Sun Ra might not have considered his music "free," but he benefited from a community which respected and encouraged musical free-thinking. This support allowed him to experiment and grow, to challenge his audience, and to risk rejection if listeners and critics didn't like (or couldn't understand) each progressive musical mutation.

Rehearsing and recording at the Choreographer's Workshop gave ample time to develop ideas without a nudgy A&R exec watching the clock or chiseling the budget. This self-controlled environment (and the usual ad hoc recording quality) marks Other Planes. The arrangements breathe, they evolve unhurriedly, and there's much open space. This is music by process. In contrast to the muscularity of free jazz, Sun Ra's leader-directed improvisations have an orchestrated feel, a pace that juxtaposes the pastoral with sporadic bursts of frenzy and much rhythmic variety. Sunny's love of percussion permeates these sessions. The works proceed with great deliberation, but they move. That's no accident. "No matter how far out my music may be," Sun Ra once explained, "you can always dance to it."

If you started your explorations of Sun Ra with Jazz in Silhouette or Bad and Beautiful, Other Planes of There might be a good follow-up before you dive into his more spaced-out (or outer-space) records, simply because despite the title, it's still more "here" than "there", and still largely free of the electronics that would soon become the Arkestra's trademark.

Track one (or side A) is very free jazz, but surprisingly sparse and much closer to Ornette Coleman than to Saturn; the rest of the material is four rather compact pieces that are exploratory without losing their earthly footing and clear-cut structures. Recorded by a large ensemble including three trombonists, two flutists, two drummers and the two well-seasoned saxophonists John Gilmore and Pat Patrick (both as always in excellent form), Other Planes is something like Ra's Symphony for Arkestra, an extremely accomplished suite that will challenge fans of free jazz without completely freaking out those still more accustomed to post bop. It comprises influences from America to the Orient and from Earth to Saturn; not an easy listen, but a hugely rewarding one.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Sun Ra - 1966 - When Angels Speak of Love

Sun Ra
When Angels Speak of Love

01. Celestial Fantasy 5:52
02. The Idea Of It All 7:30
03. Ecstasy Of Being 9:50
04. When Angels Speak Of Love 4:32
05. Next Stop Mars 17:55

Sun Ra: piano, Clavioline, gong
Walter Miller: trumpet
Marshall Allen: oboe, alto sax, percussion
Danny Davis: alto sax
John Gilmore: tenor sax, percussion
Pat Patrick: baritone sax, percussion
Robert Cummings: bass clarinet
Ronnie Boykins: bass
Clifford Jarvis: drums
Tommy "Bugs" Hunter: drums, percussion, tape reverb, engineer
Ensemble: vocals

When Angels Speak of Love, released in 1966 on Sun Ra's Saturn label, is a rarity, there having been limited pressings (150 copies, by one estimate), which were sold thru the mail and at concerts and club dates. The tracks were taped in New York during two 1963 sessions at the Choreographer's Workshop, a rehearsal space/recording den with warehouse acoustics. Ra spent countless hours at the CW from 1961 to 1964 sharpening the Arkestra during exhaustive musical huddles. John Corbett calls this "one of the most continuous, best-documented periods of Ra's work"; much tape from these seminal sessions has survived and been issued on LP, CD and digitally.

Following the musical trajectory Ra launched shortly after his 1961 exodus from Chicago to New York, the works on When Angels Speak are less composed than directed. Despite the seemingly unbound playing, it is an orderly chaos. Ra rejected the term "free jazz." (His views on freedom generally are, to put it kindly, complex; he referred to his band as "the Ra Jail," explaining, "my jail is the best jail in the world, they learn things in my jail.") Yet there is undeniable liberation in this music. There's also, thanks to Tommy Hunter's freestyle tape reverb, a pre-psychedelic quality.

Ra biographer John Szwed observed in his book Space is the Place: "When Angels Speak of Love was considered a bizarre record when it was heard even three years later, made more bizarre by extreme echo, horns straining for the shrillest notes possible, rhythms layered, their polyrhythmic effect exaggerated by massive reverberation (which was abruptly turned off and on). 'Next Stop Mars' is the album centerpiece, a long work which opens with a space chant, followed by Marshall Allen and John Gilmore taking chances on their horns beyond what almost any other musician would dare at that time. Sun Ra played behind them, relentlessly spinning around a single tonal center with two-handed independence, then rumbling thunderously at the bottom of the keyboard against Ronnie Boykins's bass, a clangor made heavier by electronic enhancement."

William Ruhlmann at AllMusic observed, "Sun Ra's music is often described as being so far outside the jazz mainstream as to be less a challenge to it than a largely irrelevant curiosity. But When Angels Speak of Love is very much within then-current trends in jazz as performed by such innovators as John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. Walter Miller's trumpet on 'The Idea of It All,' for example, indicates he'd been listening to Miles Davis, even as John Gilmore's squealing tenor suggests Coltrane; and, on 'Ecstasy of Being,' what John Corbett calls Danny Davis' 'excruciated alto' suggests Coleman. Ra himself plays busy, seemingly formless passages that are reminiscent of Cecil Taylor. This is a Sun Ra album that is more conventionally unconventional than most, with tracks you could program next to those of his 1960s contemporaries and have them fit right in."

Known Saturn LP copies of When Angels Speak were pressed in mono (as was a CD on Evidence), but stereo versions of three tracks have surfaced. Two (the title track and an abridged version of "Next Stop Mars") were included on a 1989 Blast First/Restless Records release. In 2016, a stereo "Celestial Fantasy" was discovered in Michael D. Anderson's Sun Ra Music Archive on a session reel.

The mono version of "Next Stop Mars" clocks in at 18 minutes, but the stereo version just 12. Rather than having been cut for space constraints (Ra would have scoffed at the notion that space has constraints), the abridgment might be Ra revisionism. The bandleader was involved with the BF/RR project, having provided tapes (the whereabouts of which are now unknown). The fade is organic, occurring during a rumbling piano sustain after the band stops playing. Perhaps Ra exercised a composer's prerogative, having decided that from a vantage point of 26 years' reflection, the piece had climaxed at the 12-minute mark (or that by 1989 advanced interplanetary rocketry had helped the Arkestra more quickly reach Mars).

We found pitch and speed differences between mono and stereo mixes. In fact, there were pitch variations within particular versions—the mono "Celestial Fantasy" alters pitch in the final 40 seconds. For this digital edition, all pitch variants have been roughly normalized (if the word "normal" can apply to anything associated with Sun Ra). But we extend a caveat: if you're hypersensitive to pitch, don't listen to Sun Ra. We prescribe Mel Tormé.

An interesting session from 1963. The 17+ minute "Next Stop Mars" is the earliest extended work I've heard by Sun Ra, and is a pretty wild track with lots of overdriven saxophones. The echo/reverb effects used on the superb Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy make appearances here and are used sparingly enough that they create a nice variety. But the session, while enjoyable, is a little samey overall. Gilmore and Pat Patrick are, as always, a treat to listen to, especially once the Arkestra began exploring "free" music like some of these pieces, but some of this album, such as "Ecstasy of Being" doesn't knock me out the way other contemporary sessions from Sun Ra do. Part of this is that the Arkestra was in an unusually well-documented patch here, and the minute variations integrated into each successive album don't really register much when the work is taken in toto. In short - while this is a fun listen, with a particular nod to the excellent "The Idea of It All," and there's nothing here that's less than well-done and enjoyable, there are other more dynamically exciting albums from this period. Try Cosmic Tones first and get to this shortly thereafter.

Sun Ra - 1967 - Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy

Sun Ra
Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy

01 And Otherness
02 Thither And Yon
03 Adventure-Equation
04Moon Dance
05 Voice Of Space

Sun Ra: Hammond B-3 organ, Clavioline, celeste, percussion
Marshall Allen: oboe, percussion
Danny Davis: alto sax, flute
John Gilmore: bass clarinet, percussion
Bernard Pettaway: bass trombone
Pat Patrick: baritone sax
Robert Cummings: bass clarinet
Ronnie Boykins: bass
Clifford Jarvis: drums
James Jacson: percussion
Tommy Hunter: percussion, reverb

Tracks 1 and 2 recorded at the Choreographer's Workshop, March 1963
Tracks 3, 4, 5 recorded at the Tip Top Club, Brooklyn, 1963
Tracks 6 recording location unknown, ca. late 1964–early 1965

Recorded in 1963 but not released until 1967 on Sun Ra's Saturn label, Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy is one of the more notorious of the artist's early New York releases. It near-completely rejects existing notions of jazz in favor of conducted chaos, offering a template for the unknown. Therapeutic for some, electroshock for others. In its lysergic abstractness, Cosmic Tones prefigures by a few years the outer dimensions of psychedelia (which was inspired by psychosis-replicating chemicals), and foreshadows some of the wilder studio escapades of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. (Early in their careers—though a decade apart—Zappa and Sun Ra shared a producer: Tom Wilson.)

The album—or at least its title—may have originated when Sun Ra's manager Alton Abraham arranged a performance for patients at a Chicago psychiatric facility. Biographer John Szwed, in his definitive Ra bio Space Is the Place, describes the scene:

"The group of patients assembled for this early experiment in musical therapy included catatonics and severe schizophrenics, but Sunny approached the job like any other, making no concessions in his music. While he was playing, a woman who it was said had not moved or spoken for years got up from the floor, walked directly to his piano, and cried out, ‘Do you call that music?’ Sunny was delighted with her response and told the story for years afterwards as evidence of the healing powers of music."

The openers, "And Otherness" and "Thither and Yon," were recorded at the Choreographer's Workshop (where the Arkestra regularly rehearsed from 1962 to 1964). "Adventure Equation," "Moon Dance," and "Voice of Space" were recorded at Brooklyn's Tip Top Club, reportedly at 10 a.m., an off-hours booking facilitated by drummer Tommy "Bugs" Hunter, who gigged there at night with Sarah McLawler's trio. The acoustics are ad hoc, and on "Adventure Equation" the club's phone can be heard ringing during two passages. The reverb overload on "Thither and Yon" and "Voice of Space" were the handiwork of Hunter, who jerryrigged cables on his Ampex 602 tape recorder and controlled the echo by adjusting the output volume.

Arkestra saxophonists John Gilmore and Marshall Allen are present, but playing bass clarinet and oboe respectively, while sax is covered by Pat Patrick and brash newcomer Danny Davis. Sunny plays Clavioline and percussion (as do others), but no piano. The Arkestra rarely plays in ensemble mode, but instead alternately deploys in smaller configurations, almost chamber-style.

Although most of the album is a disjointed improvisational tapestry, "Adventure Equation" displays rhythmic cohesiveness, as does "Moon Dance," a jaunty exercise in "Latin voodoo" with a groove that won't quit. The track features Sunny on the Tip-Top's Hammond B-3 organ.

The distorted saxophone passages on "And Otherness" exist in that condition on the master tape. These artifacts cannot be removed without altering the documented performance. However, on Cosmic Tones, this may be a feature, not a bug.

"Twilight," a previously unreleased recording that might have originated at the Tip-Top Club, is marred by significant noise, possibly from poor storage, tape degradation, or sub-par recording conditions. The track may have appeared on an obscure Saturn release or demo, as the surface noise sounds like a poor vinyl pressing or an acetate cutting. The instrumentation sounds like celeste, oboe, French horn, and percussion. Sunny had just two regular French horn players over the years, and Vincent Chancey wasn’t yet on the scene. That leaves Robert Northern as the only other possibility, which would date the track to late 1964 or early 1965.

Fuck me. Sun Ra knocked it out of the park with this one. Barely registering on the jazz spectrum, this album could be more aptly described as 'groovy free improvisation' if there ever was a thing.
The out-of-worldly feel is achieved and then some, especially with relation to the percussion and song structure. Every song is like another world, conjuring up vastly different images and employing new techniques and sounds. Sun Ra is oddly absent from most of this album, and utilizes himself as another sound in his arsenal rather than a central figure, taking on the role of conductor. The two sides of this LP are also noticeably different, as though they were separate statements, but still manage to tie together cohesively.

The first side focuses heavily on improvisation, seemingly with little conceived notion of composition. Adventure-equation is perhaps the most jazz-like track, with bass clarinet and saxophone improvising over a cathartic drum track. Moon Dance, starting side 2, is a highlight featuring a steady, groovy bassline foundation which is constructed upon by the Arkestra. The last song is like a proto Can Aumgn, with a very dragged out spacious feel, and drums teetering on the edge of destruction. Easily one of my favourite Sun Ra pieces to date, and not one to miss out on.      

Sun Ra - 1963 - When Sun Comes Out

Sun Ra
When Sun Comes Out

01. Circe
02. The Nile
03. Brazilian Sun
04. We Travel The Spaceways
05. Calling Planet Earth
06. Dancing Shadows
07. The Rain-Maker
08. When Sun Comes Out

Sun Ra: Piano, Electric Celeste, Percussion
Walter Miller: Trumpet
John Gilmore: Tenor Sax, Drums, Percussion
Teddy Nance: Trombone
Bernard Pettaway: Trombone
Marshall Allen: Flute, Alto Sax, Percussion
Pat Patrick: Baritone Sax, Bongos, Drums on "We Travel The Spaceways"
Danny Davis: Alto Sax
Ronnie Boykins: Bass
Clifford Jarvis: Drums
Lex Humphries: Drums on "Calling Planet Earth"
Tommy Hunter: Gong, Drums, Tape Effects
Theda Barbara: Vocal on "Circe"

Recorded at The Choreographers Workshop, New York, November 1962

When Sun Comes Out was the first release on Sun Ra's Saturn label to be recorded in New York. Released in 1963, it was preceded by The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra, which had been recorded in Newark, New Jersey (and produced by Tom Wilson, who issued it on Savoy in 1961). When Sun Comes Out was also the first release to contain recordings set down at the Choreographer's Workshop, which served as a longtime rehearsal space for Sunny & the Arkestra. The venue would be a rich source of historic material for future albums.

Stylistically, the move to New York marked Sunny's journey beyond swing, bebop, hard bop, and R&B. This advance is abundantly reflected on When Sun Comes Out. After being neglected by fans and press in the final stages of his Chicago period, Sun Ra responded to the New York jazz community's embrace by pushing the form in new directions—often to the point that what he was playing wasn't jazz. But the only category that mattered to Sun Ra was music.

When Sun Comes Out is percussion-centric, and not just as backdrops—on many tracks whatever's being hit with a stick (or palms) is on top of the mix. Sun Ra's piano, some brass, and a quartet of saxophones compete for airspace with an arsenal of drums, congas and bongos, bells and cowbells, shakers and gongs (a good deal of it handled by the reed section). In fact, the mix often defies professional engineering standards, as musical hardware that usually provides the foundation occasionally dominates the lead instruments.

The horns are more aggressive than in the Chicago years, Sunny experiments with atonality on the keyboard, and on many tracks he dispenses with conventional structure. The Arkestra here includes four saxophonists (John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, Pat Patrick, and newcomer Danny Davis, then just 17), who take liberties to extend the instrument's vocabulary, their solos often independent of the rhythm bed. Sun Ra was traversing the universe, and there's a lot of space out there. On this album the explosive drummer Clifford Jarvis makes his recording debut with the Arkestra, a relationship that would extend on and off for a decade and a half. There's also a fun ensemble vocal—identified as having been performed by "Arkestra Unit"—on a remake of "We Travel the Spaceways."

This remastered edition includes a number of sonic treats:

• The complete version of the opening track "Circe" (featuring wordless vocals by Theda Barbara); the Saturn release omitted most of the introductory gong sequence (by Tommy Hunter).

• The LP's side two tracks (here 6 – 9) in stereo from the master tape. All known pressings of the LP were in mono.

• The previously unreleased part two of the percussive composition "The Nile," featuring a haunting flute solo by Marshall Allen.

• The complete "Dimensions in Time," recorded at the Choreographer's Workshop around this time but released only in an abridged version (and titled "Primitive") on the mid-1970s hybrid release Space Probe.

A consistently excellent Ra album, which is a little unusual, as most of his albums do have some major low points on them. Side a is particularly good, and very listenable too, not a term so readily associated with a Sun Ra album. This side tends to be really low key, quiet, brooding and mainly just percussive. There's even a vocal number on this side "We Travel the Spaceways". I say vocal, until June Tyson joined them, vocal numbers were always more of a chanting/talking affair. The B side is quite standard mid to high tempo bop. There's some excellent squawk/noise fest stuff at the end of "Calling Planet Earth". This album is well worth investigating, and a pretty decent introduction to anyone who's new to, but daunted by the mighty Ra discography.

The New York period saw Ra focusing far more on percussion backdrops as opposed to horn arrangements (virtually everyone on the album gets a percussion credit), and everything from the percussion to the horn solos to Ra's piano playing took a more aggressive stance. John Gilmore's tenor solo on "Calling Planet Earth" throws the bop rule book out the window, and he is heard developing a more extended vocabulary of skronks and squeals. This track exemplifies the change in sound and focus from the Chicago days.... When Sun Comes Out is a first glimpse into an era that would culminate in some of the Arkestra's most renowned recordings.