Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sun Ra - 1977 - Solo Piano at WKCR

Sun Ra 
Solo Piano at WKCR 1977

01. Bluesy Improvisation 04:44
02. St. Louis Blues 04:06
03. Sophisticated Lady 03:36
04. Another Improv Blues 04:10
05. Agitated Ostinato in Seven 04:32
06. Take the 'A' Train 04:14
07. Two-Chord Vamp 02:57
08. Trying to Put the Blame on Me 04:08
09. Quest 02:30

Recorded July 8, 1977 at WKCR Radio, Columbia University, New York

This set of Sun Ra solo piano works was performed and broadcast at WKCR Radio, on July 8, 1977. WKCR, the largely student-run station of Columbia University, has a decades-long tradition of fine jazz programming. During Sun Ra's career, he made so many appearances at the station that he probably had a front door key. Sometimes he performed (with or without members of the Arkestra), other times he would present rare and unreleased recordings. This solo piano set was rebroadcast several times over the years, and is documented in The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra (Robert L. Campbell and Christopher Trent, 2nd ed., 2000), entry #252.

The nine tracks feature three standards, two titled Ra originals, and four impromptu untitled pieces. To distinguish the unnamed works from countless other untitled Ra performance works (and for purposes of publishing registration), we have assigned titles based on Rodger Coleman's 2013 review of this set in his comprehensive Sun Ra Sundays blog series. The unnamed works are now designated "Bluesy Improvisation," "Another Improv Blues," "Agitated Ostinato in Seven," and "Two-Chord Vamp."

There were very few solo piano albums issued by Ra during his lifetime. On his own Saturn label, there were two volumes entitled Monorails and Satellites issued in the late 1960s (a third volume was posthumously discovered and issued with a 2019 reissue of volumes 1 and 2). Aurora Borealis, recorded in 1980, was issued in 1981. Two solo piano albums (one studio, one live) were issued on Paul Bley's Improvising Artists label in 1977-78.

There is a historic trajectory. In the mid-1960s Ra had begun playing more electronic keyboards in concerts, on club dates, and in the studio. For a decade his work was dominated by Minimoog, Rocksichord, Crumar Mainman, Clavioline, Farfisa, Hohner Clavinet, and other electronic instruments—with a de-emphasis on piano. In fact, after Ra moved from New York to Philadelphia around 1968, he no longer had a piano in his house.

However, in addition to Aurora Borealis and the two Improvising Artists releases, a number of recordings of late 1970s solo piano gigs have posthumously emerged, reflecting a return by Ra in this period to acoustic piano (his original instrument). There's a date recorded in Venice in 1977 (issued on CD on the Leo imprint and reissued digitally on our Enterplanetary Koncepts label), and a set of undetermined origin recorded at a Minnesota club around 1978 (slated for digital release). Adding this WKCR session to the catalog reinforces the impression that during the late 1970s, Ra occasionally seemed inclined to take a break from performing and recording with the Arkestra to go it alone, often on acoustic piano.

That said, Arkestra mainstays John Gilmore and June Tyson join in (somewhat off-mic) accompanying Ra on vocals on track #8, "Trying to Put the Blame On Me" (a.k.a. "Blame Shame").

This session has been circulating for years among Ra collectors, with varying fidelity and altered track sequences. The audio is far from ideal. Coleman laments "the hiss and crackle inevitably associated with low-watt radio broadcasts of the era." Yet for an ad hoc Sun Ra capture—especially compared to dozens of unauthorized low-grade Ra bootlegs—it's quite good (Coleman agrees). This digital release offers a modest upgrade, as artifacts have been removed, dropouts repaired, distortion lessened, hiss reduced, and other flaws fixed or minimized. There's some residual hiss, as befits a 1970s analog recording, and some ghostly high-end sonic artifacts which could not be completely removed without loss of brightness.

The final track, "Quest," was issued in 1982 on a 7" single (Saturn Gemini 1982Z), strangely credited to "Sun Ra & His Outer Space Arkestra." It was twice reissued: on Sun Ra — the Singles (Evidence, 1996) and Sun Ra Singles: The Definitive Collection (Strut, 2016). In all three cases, the audio was marred by tape flutter and wavering pitch. For this digital set, we obtained a superior transfer of "Quest" which tracks relatively in pitch.

Rodger Coleman's 2013 Sun Ra Sundays take on this session is worth quoting at length (with minor edits):

Starting off with bluesy improvisation, it’s sadly apparent that WKCR’s piano had seen better days: it’s out of tune, some of the keys are sticky, and the voicing is wildly inconsistent, dull and indistinct at one moment, shrill and piercing at another. But Ra makes the best of it, exploiting the weird resonances and at times making it sound like a funky clavinet or electronic Rocksichord. Although apparently improvised, there is an elegant structure, with a contrasting, “classical”-sounding middle section, complete with delicate trills and impressionistic arpeggios. The old stand-by, “St. Louis Blues,” is up next and it’s another barn-burning performance: three, four, five independent voices ringing out simultaneously in wildly swinging counterpoint. Ellington's “Sophisticated Lady” follows and it’s given an oblique, fractured reading, with radical, pantonal re-harmonizations and some astonishingly intricate passage work—check out Sonny’s ultra-dexterous left hand! Another blues improv again brings out Ra’s brilliantly orchestral pianism with nimble bass riffs and thrilling horn lines, his two hands amiably wandering through distant keys.

After that virtuosic display, it seems Sonny is just getting warmed up! An untitled original pits an agitated ostinato in seven against skittering right-hand flourishes and beautiful block-chord harmonies. The stuttering bass-line almost sounds familiar, but I can’t quite place it. “Take the 'A' Train” is a ruminative extrapolation on an old favorite, blithely dispensing with the clichéd familiarity and nostalgic sentimentality associated with this well-worn warhorse. His explorations of low-register tone clusters and fiery single-note runs easily rival the intensity of Cecil Taylor at his most bombastic—but no matter how “out-there” it might sound at times, Ra deftly brings it back around to the ragtime and swing which form the basis of jazz. The vast expanse of African American musical history, from emancipation through the avant-garde, is seemingly encapsulated in this four-minutes-plus version of “Take the 'A' Train.”

Another unknown title follows: a two-chord vamp with pretty right-hand melodies, a space-rhumba feel that gradually morphs into straight-ahead swing before going out. Although dreamy and eminently enjoyable, it feels more like a sketch for a potential Arkestra arrangement than a fully-fleshed composition.

“Trying to Put the Blame on Me” is a doleful, two-chord vamp over which Sonny starts to sing. There is no microphone near his mouth, so at first you can barely make out what he’s saying. But there are other voices in the background, faintly echoing Ra’s declamations: June Tyson and John Gilmore. The station engineers frantically move around mic stands and the song eventually starts to coalesce, a darkly paranoid indictment of those who would blame Sonny for … what? I’m not sure. “What’s the name of this game?,” he asks. “Cuz if I’m the cause of it all, then that makes me the boss.” Whatever it is, he sounds eager to assume the role. According to Campbell & Trent, “Trying to Put the Blame on Me” would reappear almost ten years later at a concert in Cambridge, Massachusetts on June 10, 1986 (p.491-492). Surely, this song was performed at some point in the intervening years—or perhaps not? Maybe the subject of this diatribe was so specific, it only needed performing once in a while.

The last track was deemed good enough to appear on a 1982 Saturn single titled "Quest." It's a short but intriguing tone poem, with jagged, irregular melodies, Morse code rhythms and brittle, uneasy silences.

Sonny’s performance here is extraordinary, combining the contemplative meditations of a studio session with the dazzling technical displays of a live concert. Sun Ra was not just a great composer and bandleader, he was a fluent pianist and the living embodiment of a deep-rooted tradition dating back generations, a fact that sometimes gets lost in all the big-band hoopla and space-age gobbledygook. Here's proof.

Sun Ra - 1978 - St. Louis Blues

Sun Ra 
St. Louis Blues

01. Ohosnisixaeht 5:50
02. St. Louis Blues 5:00
03. Three Little Words 5:40
04. Honeysuckle Rose 3:20
05. Sky And Sun 6:05
06. I Am We Are I 6:15
07. Thoughts On Thoth 6:27

Recorded on July 3, 1977 at Axis-in-Soho, New York City. Mixed at RPM Studio, New York.

Sun Ra was on the bill with Paul Bley in this July 3, 1977, solo performance at Axis-in-SoHo in New York. The material includes four Sun Ra compositions and an additional three classic numbers; St. Louis Blues, Three Little Words and Honeysuckle Rose.

The artistic genius of Sun Ra blossoms through his piano interpretations, which capture his universal outlook of music as a vehicle to expand one's intrinsic knowledge. The canvas is vast, but Sun Ra paints each piece quite subtly so one does not dominate the others.

A really nice live solo piano set from Ra. A few originals, a few standards, of which the originals sound like bent and twisted versions of some half-forgotten standard anyway, and the standards get bent and twisted to Ra's needs. This is maybe a little less wild overall than Monorails and Satellites though there are some really bracing moments, but there are beautiful moments in multitudes to compensate. Enjoyable for sure for Ra fans. Those less convinced of his brilliance will at least learn to accept his piano skills here, even if they're not fully converted by the end.

The second Sun Ra solo piano sets from 1977 finds the normally forbidding keyboardist digging not only into four fairly accessible originals, but "St. Louis Blues," "Three Little Words," and "Honeysuckle Rose." By this time, Ra was starting to reinvestigate his roots in Fletcher Henderson's music and in swing, but these occasionally traditional interpretations remain full of surprises. There is definitely a charm to Sun Ra's solo piano sets.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Sun Ra - 2016 - In Some Far Place - Roma 1977

Sun Ra
In Some Far Place - Roma 1977

01. Introduction 4:0502. Untitled 1 3:24
03. Spontaneous Simplicity 6:40
04. Space Is The Place 6:51
05. Calling Planet Earth 5:41
06. Outer Spaceways Incorporated 6:46
07. Penthouse Serenade 6:10
08. Untitled 2 4:23
09. Trying To Put The Blame On Me 3:44
10. Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child 5:07
11. How Am I To Know? 4:54
12. I Cover The Waterfront 4:55
13. Love In Outer Space 7:39
14. El Is A Sound Of Joy 22:33
15. St Louis Blues 7:54
16. Ladybird / Half Nelson 4:41
17. Willow Weep For Me 7:14
18. Take The 'A' Train 3:57

Drums – Luqman Ali
Piano, Organ, Synthesizer, Vocals – Sun Ra
Vocals – Thomas Thaddeus

1977 was a transitional time for jazz enigma and self-proclaimed member of an “angel race“, Sun Ra. During the Summer of 1976, he had stormed Montreux and toured West Africa with one of the greatest of his full-sized Arkestras before embarking on occasional solo concerts for the first time, emphasising his prowess at the piano. Although he had always played the blues within Arkestra sets, he now summoned up the rolling tradition of blues piano, recalling Otis Spann, Avery Parrish, stride and ricky-tick styles.

He made two solo albums for Paul Bley’s Improvising Artists label (’Solo Piano’ and ’St. Louis Blues’) before travelling to Rome. For the concert, featured here, Ra brought in drummer Luqman Ali, who had been part of the Arkestra during the band’s early Chicago years, and vocalist Thomas Thaddeus aka Eddie Thomas. Thomas was a percussionist, dancer and “incense dude“ with the Arkestra throughout the late ‚70s period. He would appear again on Ra’s ’Lanquidity’ album for Philly Jazz in ’79.

During this intimate concert, Ra takes us through piano and synthesizer renditions of Arkestra staples like ’Love In Outer Space’, ’Space Is The Place’ and ’Calling Planet Earth’ but also explores a selection of jazz standards. Among them, we hear the first ever released Ra version of the 1930s staple ’I Cover The Waterfront’ alongside a dissonant version of ’Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child’ and ’St. Louis Blues’. Ra’s ties to Italy would continue the following year as he recorded three acclaimed albums for Horo Records, run by filmmaker turned label owner, Aldo Sinesio.

Following 2014’s Marshall Allen compilation, ’In the Orbit Of Ra’ and 2015’s Gilles Peterson-curated ’To Those Of Earth… And Other Worlds’, and Sun Ra – Planets of Life or Death Strut and Art Yard join forces once more for the first release anywhere of ’In Some Far Place: Roma ’77’. Recorded direct from the sound board and mastered from first generation reel to reel tapes, this is one of the very few trio albums by Sun Ra ever to be released 

Sun Ra - 2003 - Piano Recital - Teatro La Fenice, Venezia

Sun Ra
Piano Recital - Teatro La Fenice, Venezia

01. Free Improvisation
02. Blues
03. Love In Outer Space
04. Outer Spaceways Inc.
05 Take The 'A' Train
06. St. Louis Blues
07. Penthouse Serenade
08. Angel Race
09. Free Improvisation
10. Honeysuckle Rose
11. Medley: Friendly Galaxy / Spontaneous Simplicity

Live at Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Italy, Nov. 24th. 1977

This is the hippest solo piano CD you're ever going to hear that features old time standards like "Take the A Train," "St Louis Blues" and "Honeysuckle Rose." That's because the artist involved isn't some wannabe young lion aiming for mainstream cred or a palsied trad jazz survivor nostalgically re-creating the sounds of his youth. Instead, the hoary jazz standards are slotted in among certified Saturnian melodies and improvisations by a figure who during his time on earth seemed to be part of all strands of improvised music: Le Sony'r Ra, known familiarly as Sun Ra (1914-1993).

Recorded live in Venice in 1977, these rare solo performances find Ra revisiting all facets of his career. With Ra there was never the divide between entertainment and art that marks the performances of younger, more self-conscious tone scientists, a term he preferred to musicians. Thus when he plays a simple blues he brings more dissonance to his left handed feints then you usually associate with the traditional sounds. When he performs his own "Angel Race," he begins by singing variations on the outer space theme.

As he continues playing, he works in some "I Got Rhythm" variations, showcases an allegro Afro-Cuban interlude and quotes passages from others of his compositions. In the same way "Love In Outer Space" is treated orchestrally and is lightly syncopated, with tinkling right hand tremolos meeting the theme advanced with his left hand. This is precisely the way pre-war stylists like Earl Hines treated piano showcases like his "Boogie Woogie on St. Louis Blues," which has its echoes in Ra's version of the piece, complete with strummed octaves and subterranean rumbles in left hand as the right picks out the sprightly melody. As a young pianist first in Birmingham, then Chicago, Ra (then Sonny Blount) must have heard and admired Hines' work.

It's known he was strongly influenced by Fletcher Henderson, who first employed him. His version of "Penthouse Serenade" here, which becomes a honky-tonk showcase with pumping piano chords and effervescent voicing, is probably similar to the sort of tunes he'd come up with for dance rehearsals, when he was working for Henderson in Chicago's Club DeLisa in the 1940s. In other spots, Ra uses pedal pressure to vibrate the 32 bass strings for extra oscillations and recasts a familiar pre-war melody with strong upbeats, chordal downbeats, flashing cascading chords and sharp key clips.

At one point he—in all seriousness—invites audience members to join him at a party in Jupiter sometime in the future. Reflecting the title without dispute, this CD is a valuable and rare piano recital. For Ra, myth-making and music-making were one and the same. Listen to this and learn to accept Ra on his own terms.

Sun Ra - 1978 - Unity

Sun Ra

01. Yesterdays 5:39
02. Lightnin' 2:37
03. How Am I To Know? 9:33
04. Lights 5:42
05. Yeah Man 3:01
06. King Porter Stomp 4:04
07. Images 10:31
08. Penthouse Serenade 4:10
09. Lady Bird / Half Nelson 8:00
10. Halloween 6:02
11. My Favorite Things 6:00
12. The Satellites 7:30
13. Rose Room 9:37
14. Enlightment 2:06

Alto Saxophone – Danny Davis, Marshall Allen
Baritone Saxophone – Danny Davis, Danny Thompson
Bass – Richard Evans
Bassoon – James Jackson
Drums – Luqman Ali, Thomas Hunter
French Horn – Vincent Chancey
Horn [Bass Horn] – Emmett McDonald
Keyboards – Sun Ra
Oboe – Marshall Allen
Percussion – Artaukatun, Eddie Thomas
Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet – John Gilmore
Trombone – Charles Stephens, Craig Harris
Trumpet – Ahmed Abdullah, Akh Tal Ebah, Michael Ray
Vocals – Akh Tal Ebah, Arkestra Unit, Eddie Thompson (2), June Tyson

New York - October 24/29, 1977

A live recording of a joyously swinging concert, this record finds Ra entering the final phase of his career, where he mixed his outer space/ancient Egypt inspired free jazz with the big band swing of his youth. It's a tribute to both Ra and the band that they were able to reconcile these two diametrically opposed types of music and make them work so well. Some of Ra's most steadfast sidemen are in attendance here like the saxophonists Marshall Allen and John Gilmore, along with some new additions like Michael Ray on trumpet and Craig Harris on trombone. Quite a bit of the material presented here would make for stumping "blindfold test" material, particularly when the band almost raises the roof on righteously swinging versions of Fletcher Henderson's "Yeah Man!" or the Jelly Roll Morton classic "King Porter Stomp." The group pretty much runs through the history of jazz moving from swing to bop on Tadd Dameron's "Lady Bird" and post-bop, checking in with Miles Davis's "Half Nelson" and a very Coltrane-ian run through of "My Favorite Things." It's only at the end of the concert that they leave Earth orbit with fine versions of legendary Sun Ra tunes "The Satellites are Spinning" and "Enlightenment." This one might be a bit of a bear to track down, and I'm not sure if it's still in print or not, but it is well worth the effort. This edition of the Arkestra was rock solid, and like fellow polymaths Jaki Byard and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, they had the entirety of jazz at their fingertips.

Sun Ra - 1977 - Solo Piano Volume 1

Sun Ra
Solo Piano Volume 1

01. Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child 7:32
02. Cosmo Rhythmatic 7:15
03. Yesterdays 4:17
04. Romance Of Two Planets 5:18
05. Irregular Galaxy 5:20
06. To A Friend 7:42

Recorded at Generation Sound Studios, New York, May 20, 1977

The piano was Sun Ra's primary instrument (the organ being secondary). However, he mostly performed and recorded with it surrounded by his Arkestra, in both small and large ensembles. Around 1966, Sunny recorded two sets of solo piano works, which were issued a few years later on his Saturn label under the title "Monorails and Satellites" (Volumes 1 and 2). Thereafter, Ra began to explore any electronic keyboard he could get his fingers on, including the Moog synthesizer (specifically, the Minimoog), Rocksichord, Clavinet, Gibson Kalamazoo, Farfisa, and others (including some to which he applied exotic names).

Ra and his bandmates moved from New York to Philadelphia in 1968, taking up residence at 5626 Morton Street, where they lived for the duration of Ra's active career. According to those who lived in the house, Ra didn't have an acoustic piano on the premises; he practiced and recorded exclusively with electronic keyboards (including electric pianos).

For a few years, beginning around 1977, Ra revisited the piano as a solo vehicle. He recorded two albums for the Improvising Artists Inc. label, as well as one, "Aurora Borealis," for his own Saturn label (recorded 1980, issued 1981). He also recorded a solo piano set in Venice in '77; it was posthumously released on CD (and is available digitally in our catalog).

"Solo Piano, Vol. 1," the first of Ra's two albums for IAI, features four originals, a Jerome Kern standard, and Ra's arrangement of the traditional "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child." The album was issued on LP in the US in 1977, and on CD in Italy (1992) and Japan (2004). A live set—"Volume 2" of the IAI two-album deal—was recorded in 1977 at the New York venue Axis-in-Soho and issued the following year under the title "St. Louis Blues." The Axis performance was filmed and later issued for the home video market. 

Sun Ra - 1977 - Some Blues but not the Kind That's Blue

Sun Ra
Some Blues but not the Kind That's Blue 

01. Some Blues But Not The Kind That's Blue
02. I'll Get By
03. My Favorite Things
04. Nature Boy
05. Tenderly
06. Black Magic

Recorded at Variety Recording Studio, NYC, October 14, 1977

Sun Ra: piano
John Gilmore: tenor sax
Akh Tal Ebah: trumpet
Marshall Allen: alto sax, flute
Danny Davis: alto sax, flute
James Jacson: flute, bassoon
Eloe Omoe: bass clarinet
Richard "Radu" Williams: bass
Luqman Ali: drums
Atakatune: conga

Some Blues But Not the Kind That's Blue is a Sun Ra rarity: an album recorded at a single session, with the location, date and personnel generally agreed upon by historians. It was also a fairly cohesive album, featuring small units of the larger Arkestra playing idiosyncratic arrangements of Tin Pan Alley standards. This is largely an acoustic piano album, with Sun Ra's keyboard in prominent focus, the horns and percussion serving primarily in support roles with occasional solos. There is no bass except on the opening title track, which was the only Sun Ra original to appear on the 1978 Saturn LP edition. An unreleased, untitled session outtake, a free-form collective improv, was first included as a bonus track on a posthumous CD reissue; it appears on this 2015 remastered edition with an assigned title.

While the titles and melodies of the standards are well-known, Sun Ra re-invents them in his singular fashion. Even "My Favorite Things," which in jazz lore connotes John Coltrane more than Julie Andrews, ventures into uncharted territory. The track features some plaintive tenor voicings from longtime Arkestra mainstay John Gilmore, whose 1950s stylings taught Coltrane a thing or two about modal improvisation. Ra's fingerings are unpredictable, yet instructive. A lifelong student of the art, he had a penchant for distilling the entire history of jazz piano into his style, interspersing structure with abstraction, seemingly indifferent to time signatures and conventional notions of harmony and tonality. His touch is thoughtful, rarely hurried, and exploratory. The absence of bass is compensated for by Ra's left-hand patterns. He doesn't just play these tunes—he is immersed in them.

The title of the bonus track was assigned by Michael D. Anderson (of the Sun Ra Music Archive), who played with the Arkestra sporadically during this period, and identified the piece as a developmental version of "Outer Reach Intense Energy." The title doesn't reappear in the Ra catalog until 1985, when a radically different arrangement turns up on a collection of live tracks called Stars That Shine Darkly Vol. 2. However, the provenance of those recordings is conjectural, with a strong likelihood they were made between 1975 and 1978, around the time that Some Blues was recorded.

If you enjoy Sun Ra's piano excursions in small group settings, check out Omniverse, which features five original works recorded in 1979 at Variety Studios.

Sun Ra - 1994 - A Quiet Place In The Universe

Sun Ra
A Quiet Place In The Universe

01. A Quiet Place In The Universe 6:40
02. I Pharaoh 18:52
03. Images 6:12
04. Love In Outer Space 11:46
05. I'll Never Be The Same 3:46
06. Space Is The Place 3:15

Ahmed Abdullah-tp
Akh Tal Ebah-tp, voc
Vincent Chancey-frn
Craig Harris-tb
Marshall Allen-as, pic
Pat Patrick-as
John Gilmore-ts
Eloe Omoe-bcl, fl
Danny Ray Thompson-bs, fl
James Jacson-bsn
Sun Ra-org, syn, voc;
 Luqman Ali-d
Eddie Thomas-perc
June Tyson-voc.

Unknown date and place. 1976-77
Tracks 3 to 6 appeared in a version of Live in East Berlin.

This loose concert performance is largely a waste. The nearly 19-minute "I Pharoah" is mostly a chant/recitation by Sun Ra that quickly becomes tedious. Pat Patrick's alto feature on a much briefer "I'll Never Be the Same" is OK, as is the closing "Space Is the Place" but "Images" is a rather dull duet by French horn player Vincent Chancey with Ra on organ, while "Love in Outer Space" is mostly a drum showcase. There are many better Sun Ra albums available so skip this one.

Sun Ra - 1976 - Live at Montreux

Sun Ra
Live at Montreux

01. For The Sunrise 2:00
02. Of The Other Tomorrow 7:43
03. From Out Where Others Dwell 13:25
04. The House Of Eternal Being 9:36
05. God Of The Thunder Realm 7:28
06. Lights On A Satellite 4:38
07. Piano Intro 3:50
08. Take The A Train 7:50
09. Prelude 3:12
10. El Is The Sound Of Joy 8:56
11. Encore 1 1:44
12. Encore 2 2:28
13. We Travel The Spaceways 4:11

Alto Saxophone – Danny Davis, Marshall Allen
Baritone Saxophone, Flute – Danny Thompson, Pat Patrick
Bass – Hayes Burnette
Bass Clarinet – Elo Omoe
Congas – Stanley Morgan
Drum, Bassoon – James Jackson
Drums – Clifford Jarvis, Larry Bright
Electric Bass – Tony Bunn
French Horn – Vincent Chancey
Piano, Synthesizer [Moog], Organ, Producer – Sun Ra
Soprano Saxophone – Reggie Hudgins
Tenor Saxophone, Percussion – John Gilmore
Trombone – Craig Harris
Trumpet – Ahmed Abdullah, Al Evans, Chris Capers

Live at Montreux Festival, Switzerland, July 9th. 1976.

Live at Montreaux” marks a slight turning point in the career of Sun Ra and his Arkestra. After playing in obscurity for decades and releasing countless albums on small labels, the late 70s found audiences finally warming up to Ra’s bizarre musical vision and opportunities for greater exposure began to come his way. Unlike some of the thrown together (yet brilliant) albums of the past, “Montreaux” comes in a nice gatefold package complete with photos and extensive liner notes. It was also one of his first albums to actually get a little promotion and visibility from local record stores. Playing and recording in front of the massive Montreaux audience was also a far cry from the little community centers Ra was used to playing.

Ra quite wisely reacted to these new opportunities by turning out one of the finest albums of his career. With such a large audience on hand, Ra is on his best behavior and cuts out some of his more indulgent humor and goes for a straight ahead sonic blast of avant-garde jazz, some of the best you will find anywhere. With the whole world watching, Ra also seems to have a point to prove about his own playing too. After a few minutes into the first side Ra takes center stage with a tour-de-force piano solo that shows why he easily ranks with some of the greatest pianists of all time. He also does not hold back with the electronics either. Towards the end of side one he brings on massive sheets of noise with a Moog and an organ run through a ring modulator. There was a time when noise meant liberation in jazz, not the sort of conformity to rock power that it has become, and no one brought the noise like Ra did with blunt harsh sounds never heard in jazz before, even amongst the Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler crowd.

Although The Arkestra is capable of almost any musical style you can name, the avant-garde side of things does dominate this album with lots of over the top “free” solos being passed around to many members of the band. Meanwhile, the band’s exotica side is represented with the quirky “Lights on a Satellite” and the bands ability to transform older jazz styles is heard on a breakneck high speed chaotic version of “Take the A Train”. Overall though, this album does not have much in the way of Ra’s signature big band arrangements, but instead features the players in ever changing smaller combinations that rely more on free improvisation rather than arrangement.

If you only own one Sun Ra record, this one might be the one to get as it offers a fairly wide picture of his career and some of his band’s most sincere and energetic performances. If you are a fan of Ra’s electronic work and piano playing, this album is probably the best showcase for his abilities in those areas too.

One of Sun Ra's best non-Saturn live sets of the 70s – a nice little record that shows the group mixing it up with equal parts avant garde and straight ahead jazz, all handled in that ever-growing large group style that made them a real force to be reckoned with in a concert setting! The album was recorded during the 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival, and has a bit more focus and polish than some of the other Arkestra live material from the time – a mature, coherent sound that almost points the way towards some of their work to come in the 80s – when Ra and the group were finally reaching the wider audience they deserved. 

The excellent Live at Montreux set from 1976 was released on vinyl by both Saturn and Inner City before disappearing from print for many years. In 2003, the set was reissued by both Universe/Akarma and P-Vine. A full 20-member Arkestra (plus dancers) turns in a typically freewheeling set. From "Take the 'A' Train" (featuring a killer solo from Marshall Allen), to the gospel-influenced "El Is a Sound of Joy," to the almost exotica "Lights on a Satellite," to the free and raucous "Gods of the Thunder Realm," and on to "We Travel the Spaceways," the Arkestra covers as much musical territory in this set as anyone would expect from a live Sun Ra show. This is considered to be another classic in a vast discography. [Completists take note: the Universe edition inexplicably fades out the last four minutes of "On Sound Infinity Spheres," which are present on the P-Vine edition.]

Sun Ra - 1976 - Cosmos

Sun Ra 

01. The Mystery of Two 05:45
02. Interstellar Low Ways 05:32
03. Neo Project No. 2 05:05
04. Cosmos 03:03
05. Moonship Journey 06:13
06. Journey Among the Stars 05:03
07. Jazz from an Unknown Planet 07:08

Sun Ra: Rocksichord
John Gilmore: tenor sax
Craig Harris: trombone
Ahmed Abdullah: trumpet
Vincent Chancey: French horn
Marshall Allen: alto sax, flute
Danny Davis: alto sax, flute
Danny Ray Thompson: baritone sax, flute
Eloe Omoe: bass clarinet, flute
James Jacson: flute, bassoon
R. Anthony Bunn: electric bass
Larry Bright: drums
Ensemble: vocals

Recorded August 1976.

COSMOS contains the only studio recordings captured in summer 1976 during the fourth European tour of Sun Ra and His Arkestra. Live recordings are known to exist from concerts in Switzerland, Italy, and France.

Cosmos was issued in France in '76 on Cobra (identified as Blue Silver on the sleeve and label), in the US that same year on Inner City, in 1991 on Buda (France), and as a bootleg edition or two. Each time it resurfaced, the audio quality changed, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. On the 1991 CD, the bass was mixed at woofer-quaking levels; the Inner City LP sounds flat.

In 2015, tape librarian/engineer Michael D. Anderson of the Sun Ra Music Archive began assembling a digital reissue. Tape could only be located for tracks 2, 3, and 4, and the various LP and CD configurations offered idiosyncratic production variants. Eventually, best quality recordings were extracted from a combination of sources: track 1 from the Inner City CD, and tracks 5, 6, and 7 from a near-mint Cobra LP. These were digitally remastered in several stages, to create an improvement over prior editions.

Though the full Arkestra was resident in Paris for two months, the lineup on Cosmos is a stripped-down dozen, reportedly due to a cramped recording facility. Three tracks ("Neo Project No. 2," "Cosmos," and Journey Among the Stars") exist on this album and nowhere else; "Jazz from an Unknown Planet" was performed on the '76 tour, but is an otherwise neglected work. "Interstellar Low Ways," "Moonship Journey," and "The Mystery of Two" re-enter the repertoire at unpredictable intervals.

The presence of the ROCKSICHORD—a slightly cheesy electronic harpsichord popular in the late 1960s with psychedelic bands and some avant-garde composers—links Cosmos with Ra's 1970 album NIGHT OF THE PURPLE MOON. Though six years apart, they are in some ways companion albums (and in some ways, not). Like Purple Moon, Cosmos features a more accessible side of Ra, a mix of relatively earthbound ensemble jazz and pan-galactic excursions. It's a more structured set than many offered by Ra during the decade, although it does not lack for adventure.

Sun Ra - 2009 - United World In Outer Space

Sun Ra
United World In Outer Space 

01. Astro Nation (Of The United World In Outer Space) 11:00
02. Enlightenment 2:10
03. Love In Outer Space 9:30
04. Theme Of The Stargazers / The Satellites Are Spinning 2:30
05. Friendly Galaxy 2 / I Am The Brother Of The Wind / I, Pharaoh 12:49
06. Synthesizer Solo 8:32
07. Sophisticated Lady 14:07

Recording is from the Waitawhile Sun Ra Archives
Recorded live in Cleveland, January 30, 1975

"Recorded live in 1975 at Cleveland's legendary Smiling Dog Saloon when Ra and his Arkestra descended on the club for a week-long residency."
(from the sticker on the sleeve)

Alto Saxophone, Flute, Vocals, Handclaps, Percussion – Danny Davis, Marshall Allen
Baritone Saxophone, Flute, Vocals, Handclaps, Percussion – Danny Thompson*
Bass Clarinet, Flute, Vocals, Handclaps, Percussion – Eloe Omoe
Bassoon, Flute, Drum [Infinity Drum], Vocals, Handclaps, Percussion – James Jacson
Congas, Vocals, Handclaps, Percussion – Atakatune, Odun
Electric Bass, Vocals, Handclaps, Percussion – Dale Williams
Piano, Organ, Synthesizer [Moog], Vocals, Handclaps, Percussion – Sun Ra
Tenor Saxophone, Vocals, Handclaps, Percussion – John Gilmore
Trumpet, Vocals, Handclaps, Percussion – Akh Tal Ebah, Kwame Hadi
Vibraphone, Vocals, Handclaps, Percussion – Damon Choice
Vocals, Other [Dance], Handclaps, Percussion – Eddie Thomas, June Tyson

Decades before his time, political and musical revolutionary, Sun Ra, developed a new plane of cultural existence where black people were all-powerful beings from outer space, sending their intergalactic message through jazz music. Recorded live in 1975 at Cleveland's legendary jazz club, the Smiling Dog Saloon, when Sun Ra and his Arkestra descended on the city for a week-long residency. You can imagine how the uninitiated's jaw must have dropped when Ra and his 15 musicians marched out onto the stage decked in glittery space costumes, playing percussion instruments and chanting. This high quality live performance is top-shelf Ra playing a kind of spaced out world music with hints of disco. Ra sings, plays the Moog, piano and organ, while everyone else plays alternately some kind of percussion or reed instrument, sings, dances, and claps hands. Check out his other-worldly version of Duke Ellington's 'Sophisticated Lady', featuring John Gilmore on sax, and his extended Moog solo!

Sun Ra and his Arkestra delivered a sizzling performance heavy on disco-laced rhythms on January 30, 1975, in Cleveland, Ohio, which has finally surfaced for this CD release.

As with so much live material that has reached the marketplace since Sun Ra's spirit left the planet in 1993, the recording is "bootleg" in quality. But the quantity of power is not diminished by the rough mix, as Sun Ra keeps the pace hot on piano, Moog and organ.

Astro Nation (of the United World in Outer Space) is a funky masterpiece, which sets the stage for an exploration of the heart and soul in Enlightenment. The pace does not slow down for Love In Outer Space, Theme of the Stargazers/The Satellites Are Spinning and Friendly Galaxy 2/I Am the Brother of the Wind/I, Pharoah. A frenetic Moog solo by Sun Ra leads to a 14-minute closer; a classic rendition of Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Lady.

Unless another source tape surfaces, this release will be the definitive account when Sun Ra let loose on the frigid North Coast. Snow ploughs were not needed in the area for a week after this scorching show.

There's a whole slew of unreleased live Sun Ra recordings coming out at the moment. Some are patchy, some ok, some so inaudible you wonder why they bothered, but this Cleveland date is by far the best of these lost live recordings I have heard. To be honest, it's the best live Ra recording I've heard full-stop. Apart from the obligatory looooong keyboard solo, that pretty much always appear on Sun Ra's live stuff, the rest, well it's just like no live Ra I've heard before. There's electric bass used here, so it kind of has that real funk Strange Celestial Road feel to it, but minus the psychedelia. The opening track could easily be an early Funkadelic bootleg. And there's so much band vocalising/chanting too, which always adds an element of fun. Plus some cool spoken word too. Overall though, it's the bass that really makes this album. In places it's so repetitive, it becomes almost hypnotic. Check the third track in the long medley "I, Pharaoh". Wow, talk about trance educing. Very, very recommended.

Sun Ra - 1974 - Temple U

Sun Ra
Temple U (Sub Underground) (Cosmo Earth Fantasy)

01. Cosmo-Earth Fantasy 20:59
02. Love Is For Always 06:48
03. The Song of Drums 06:04
04. The World of Africa 03:00

Recorded September 20, 1974 at Temple University, Philadelphia, from a Live Session. Released under different titles as 'Temple U', 'Sub Undergound' and 'Cosmo Earth Fantasy'. Re-released 1977 with different Cover and Label drawings.

(per authoritative sources, which include guesswork):
Sun Ra: keyboards, poss. percussion
Marshall Allen: flute, oboe, strings (1), vocal (4?)
John Gilmore: tenor sax, strings (1), percussion (4)
Danny Davis: flute, strings (1)
Danny Ray Thompson: percussion (3)
Nimrod Hunt (Carl Malone): vocal (4?)
Tommy Hunter (?): drums (2)
Atakatune (?): percussion (2, 3)
Ronnie Boykins (?): bass (1)
Eddie Thomas (Thomas Thaddeus): vocal (3)
Akh Tal Ebah (?): 2nd vocal (3)
June Tyson: vocal (4)

Sun Ra wasn't concerned about discographical codification. He left it to Ra scholars to make sense of his sprawling catalog, and mysteries abound. Sub Underground (#1), released in 1974, is one of those confusing entries.

The 21-minute LP A side, "Cosmo-Earth Fantasy," was presumed recorded at New York's Variety Studio in '74 , as noted in Campbell & Trent's massive discography, The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra (2nd ed., pub. 2000). That track was coupled on side B with three tracks from a purported "live" recording at Temple University that same year. Complicating matters from a title standpoint, Sun Ra released unrelated albums tagged "Sub Underground series," and this particular album (which carried no personnel or recording info) also appeared in hand-designed sleeves under the titles Sub Underground #2, Cosmo-Earth Fantasy, and Live at Temple University 1974. If it was a live album, the Arkestra had performed before an audience possessed of such hushed reverence that they don't make a sound before, during, or after each piece. The Sun Ra Music Archive's Michael Anderson, a former Temple student, believes that the performance took place in the college chapel. Others have suggested the Temple radio station. The recordings on side B undoubtedly originated in a studio, an ad hoc studio, or—as it turns out—studios.

Enter Ra scholar Paul Griffiths, who in 2011 found an album master tape of "Cosmo-Earth" formerly owned by the late Ra business partner James Bryant. In an Art Yard CD reissue, Griffith says the words "strings bandura" are handwritten on the reel. The beginning of "Cosmo-Earth" features sounds reminiscent of Ra's singular 1967 Saturn release Strange Strings, on which Arkestrans plucked and savaged string instruments with which they were otherwise unfamiliar. The bandura, dubbed the "Space Harp," was featured on a number of Ra albums in the late 1960s. Griffith writes:

"['Cosmo-Earth'] features an opening section of music using the strange strings, including the bandura as mentioned on the tape box. As several of the string instruments were destroyed in a car accident in 1969, and the bandura itself was left in the possession of Hartmut Geerken in 1971 after the Arkestra’s legendary first Egyptian visit, this music cannot postdate these events and a revision of the recording date is needed."

Griffith further observes:

"Ra plays Hohner Clavinet on this recording in close stylistic proximity to that on the LPs Atlantis [1967], Solar Myth Approach Vols. 1 & 2 ['67-'68], and Continuation ['68]. The feel of the whole piece is very much in the style of the exploratory work undertaken by the Arkestra in the later New York period between '66 and early ’68. It is very likely that this music was recorded in 1967 or possibly early 1968 before the Arkestra moved to Philadelphia."

Griffith affirms that "Love Is For Always" and "The Song of the Drums" were indeed recorded at Temple in '74. But he reexamines "The World of Africa," stating:

"… [It] is clearly not from the same concert as its predecessors and takes us back to 1968 when vocalist June Tyson joined the band. Ra is again featured on Hohner Clavinet playing very much in the style of the small group Atlantis sessions from the previous year, with a host of Arkestra members on percussion."

Everything Griffith asserts is believable and logical. Ra was renowned for compiling LPs from unrelated sessions and different locations, with material recorded years apart and offering radical juxtapositions of style. Sub Underground is business as usual on Saturn.

In a catalog as massive as Ra's, it's natural for some releases to get overlooked. Sub Underground deserves more attention, as it's an adventurous album, and fun. The raw fidelity reflects the charming lo-fi characteristic of Sun Ra releases, or what we call "Garage Jazz." The compositions, arrangements, and mixes deliver the eccentricity expected of Ra, and there's plenty of surprises. "Cosmo-Earth" features the otherworldly "strange" strings, Sunny's Clavinet, and a xylophone and flute duet. The string passage also sounds as if Sun Ra is strumming the strings inside the piano.

"Love is For Always" is a lush, romantic ballad with John Gilmore's tenor sax providing the back rub. "The Song of Drums" features extreme stereo separation; most of the track offers exotic, improvised shout vocals (courtesy Eddie Thomas and possibly trumpeter Akh Tal Ebah) on the left channel set against distant drums, punctuated by Sunny's electronic keyboard, on the right. "The World of Africa," with its repetition of a simple melody, is Sun Ra's impression of a canon (or round). Vocalist June Tyson chants a pleasant nonsense vocal for three minutes, while the band provides a loose rhythmic foundation.

Sun Ra - 1974 - The Antique Blacks

Sun Ra
The Antique Blacks

Original 1974 El Saturn Records tracklist:

01. Song No. 1 (8:51)
02. There is Change in the Air (10:57)
03. The Antique Blacks (3:38)
04. This Song is Dedicated to Nature's God (3:57)
05. The Ridiculous "I" and the Cosmos Me (4:42)
06. Would I for All That Were (2:55)
07. Space is the Place (8:10)

2009 re-release adds an extra track:

08. You Thought You Could Build a World Without Us (9:10)

Enterplanetary Koncepts 2015 Re-release changes the order of the tracks and a bit more...

01. The Antique Blacks Suite 24:38
02. This Song Is Dedicated to Nature's God 03:55
03. The Ridiculous "I" and the Cosmos Me 04:36
04. Song No. 1 08:46
05. Would I For All That Were 02:52
06. Space is the Place 08:02

released October 30, 2015

Recorded at Temple University, Philadelphia, August 17, 1974; pressing dates 1974, 1978, maybe others

Sun Ra: Rocksichord, Mini-Moog, synthesizer, vocal
Marshall Allen: alto sax
John Gilmore: tenor sax, vocal, percussion
Danny Davis: alto sax
James Jacson: bassoon, Infinity-drum
Clifford Jarvis: drums
Atakatune: conga
Dale Williams: electric guitar
Akh Tal Ebah: trumpet, vocal

The Antique Blacks, original copies of which are quite rare, was one of those LPs that Sun Ra pressed in very limited quantities to sell at concerts and club dates. The recordings apparently originated from a 1974 Temple University (Philadelphia) radio broadcast. Like many independently pressed and self-released albums on Ra's Saturn label, it's a mixed bag of material with little continuity or consistency. That's not a bug—it's a feature. It contains a jaunty jam ("Song No. 1"), a few songs, and lots of Sunny's declamatory (and inscrutable) sermonizing.

After a 30+ year absence from the market , it was reissued on CD in 2010 by the U.K. label Art Yard, who replicated the LP sequence. In fact, due to the absence of tapes, a vintage vinyl copy was used for the reissue, which included a mono bonus track, "You Thought You Could Build a World Without Us."

After the completed CD production, Michael D. Anderson of the Sun Ra Music Archive discovered the master tapes from the date. One of the revelations was that three tracks from the LP, "There Is Change in the Air," the above-named bonus track, and the album title track, were actually part of a continuous 24-1/2 minute suite. When the original LP was compiled, some bridge material had been edited out, and three components of the suite were isolated as standalone tracks. For this digitally remastered edition, the entire suite is presented for the first time (and in full stereo). In addition, "Song No. 1," which was the opening track on the LP, has been placed where it stands in sequence on the tape, as track 4.

What sounds like an audio glitch at 7:21 in "Space is the Place" is in fact a four-second patch of tape spliced in reverse—Sun Ra's contribution to the sinister '70s practice of lyrical backmasking.

There was some speculation about the source of "You Thought You Could Build A World Without Us." Based on comments made by Sun Ra himself on WKCR in 1987 (when it was aired), Sun Ra discographers Robert Campbell and Christopher Trent speculated that the track was an outtake from the 1972 film soundtrack for Space is the Place. However, RC/CT note that electric guitarist Dale Williams did not join the Arkestra until 1974. The discovery of the master tape confirms the provenance of the performance.

Historical footnote: Producer Hal Willner claims he witnessed these sessions at Temple University. Ask him about it.

The Antique Blacks is a great live date, recorded in 1974 but not released officially until 1978. This is a smallish band, and features the first recorded evidence of prominent electric rock guitar in the Arkestra, attributed only to "Sly." "Song No. 1" is a groovy sort of space bossa nova, with Sun Ra on rocksichord supported by great percussion as the other players join in. "There Is a Change in the Air/The Antique Blacks" is a Ra poem recited with musical accompaniment as is "The Ridiculous 'I' and the Cosmos Me." "This Song Is Dedicated to Nature's God" is actually a different tune than "To Nature's God" on Live in Egypt, Vol. 1, but is the same sort of upbeat, swinging singalong. "Would I for All That Were" is a short interlude with Moog craziness over an ominous march, which leads into a rousing version of "Space Is the Place." The Antique Blacks is notable for the recited poetry, as well as for the presence of the extroverted Sly, who adds a totally new dimension to the Arkestra sound. This one will be tough to find, but well worth it.

Sun Ra - 1974 - Out Beyond The Kingdome Of (Discipline 99)

Sun Ra
Out Beyond The Kingdome Of (Discipline 99)

01. Solar Ship (Intro) 1:48
02. Discipline 99 12:19
03. How Am I To Know? 6:01
04. Keep Your Sunny Side Up 3:20
05. Out Beyond The Kingdom Of 4:30
06. Cosmos Synthesis 5:37
07. Outer Space Employment Agency 4:25
08. Journey To Saturn/Rocket #9/The Second Stop Is Jupiter 10:21

Recorded at Hunter College, New York, June 16, 1974

Sun Ra tour item. Comes in plain white die-cut jacket. Ruby colored Chicago labels. Early or first pressing.
Title of release is sometimes called "Discipline 99".
Originally released in small quantities in 1974, re-released in 2018 with different running order and artwork

Sun Ra: piano, organ, Minimoog synth, recitation
Akh Tal Ebah: trumpet, flugelhorn, mellophone, vocal
Kwame Hadi: trumpet, percussion
Marshall Allen: alto sax, flute, piccolo, oboe, percussion
Danny Davis: alto sax, flute, alto clarinet, percussion
John Gilmore: tenor sax, percussion, vocals
Danny Ray Thompson: bars, flute, libflecto, percussion
Pat Patrick: baritone sax, electric bass
James Jacson: bassoon, Infinity drum, vocals
Ronnie Boykins: bass
Clifford Jarvis: drums
unidentified: drums
June Tyson: vocals, dance

Discipline 99, a.k.a. Out Beyond the Kingdom Of, was recorded at a Hunter College, New York, performance by Sun Ra & His Arkestra on June 16, 1974. Selected titles were issued that year on LP (Saturn 61674); the album went thru several pressings with different-colored labels, at least as late as 1980. As with many privately pressed Saturns from the 1970s and '80s, the total press run is unknown, but presumably it totals in the hundreds, not the thousands, hence original copies are rare.

Some copies of D99 featured a generic "Acropolis" cover, others were hand-decorated or sported paste-on art. The cover of this digital edition, scanned from an LP sleeve in the collection of Gilbert Hsiao, features one of the best illustrations we've seen of ANY Saturn DIY release. (The artist is unknown; this illustration graced the sleeves of other Saturn releases from the period, but this particular cover had "Discipline 99" handwritten in the upper left.)

Facts and a bit of speculation about this date were chronicled in The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra, by Robert L. Campbell and Christopher Trent. At the time of the first edition of ER, a 95-minute audience tape had been identified that included most of the first set, and part of the second set (the end of the set, it turned out); by the time the book was updated in 2000, a second audience tape (recorded by a different attendee) had been located, containing 105 minutes of concert audio. From these two tapes, Campbell and Trent were able to assemble two likely (but not conclusive) set lists for the concert, including titles which were omitted from the Saturn release.

“Solar Ship," which RLC/CT believe opened the second set, includes an unidentified emcee announcing the band as "Brother Sun Ra and the Space Orchestra." However, this intro is not on either tape; it appears only on the Saturn LP, unfathomably sequenced as track 4, the final track on side A. For this digital edition, "Solar Ship" opens the album, where an emcee's introduction belongs. Is it possible this intro originated at a different concert? With Ra's penchant for intrigue, anything is possible.

From ER: "The second, longer tape indicates that 'Cosmos Synthesis' was edited on the Saturn release. Both tapes reveal that 'Keep Your Sunny Side Up' was faded [on the LP] at the end of John Gilmore’s solo (solos by Kwame Hadi, Pat Patrick, Ra on piano, and Ronnie Boykins, plus the final ensemble, were cut, probably because Hadi was off-mic during his solo). [We] identified the baritone sax soloist on this number as Charles Davis, but the electric bass line on 'Angels and Demons' would indicate Pat Patrick. A long bowed bass solo on 'Discipline 27' is the work of Ronnie Boykins, and Danny Thompson can be heard on the Neptunian libflecto during 'The Shadow World.' A second [unknown] trap drummer is audible on 'Angels and Demons.'" [These latter titles were not included on the album.]

"Discipline 99" (the track) starts as a recurring "Discipline" dirge (a cryptically numbered series of Ra compositions), but after a few minutes of ensemble play it segues into a lovely and unpredictable 7-minute solo piano odyssey. In this era—mid-1970s—Ra more commonly performed and recorded with an arsenal of electronic keyboards. He never abandoned the piano, and during this period tracks featuring piano were scattered throughout many recording projects (live and studio). But it wasn't until 1977 when Ra recorded two solo albums for Paul Bley's Improvising Artists label that he gravitated back to acoustic piano for full sessions. His piano chops were showcased on such late-'70s releases as Some Blues But Not the Kind That's Blue (1977), God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be (1979), Omniverse (1979), and a 1977 solo concert in Venice, Italy, that was recorded and posthumously released. While no statement from the artist exists for this career arc, it's well-known among Ra scholars that after he moved to Philadelphia in the late 1960s, Ra no longer had an acoustic piano in his living quarters-cum-rehearsal space.

The standard "How Am I To Know" (lyrics by Dorothy Parker) opens with an extended solo piano passage, after which Gilmore enters with a soulful tenor serenade. With drums and bass barely audible due to ad hoc mic placement, the recording essentially qualifies as a duet.

"Out Beyond the Kingdom Of" is also based on the Discipline template, with June Tyson repeating for emphasis Ra's declamations about the world having ended 3,000 years ago. The second (after Ra) declarative male voice on "Outer Space Employment Agency" and "Journey to Saturn" belongs to horn player Akh Tal Ebah, with responses by a vibrant June Tyson (who regrettably is not well-miked on these recordings).

The overall audio quality is so-so, but for Sun Ra, sonic deficiencies were always secondary to artistic intent. A close listening will reveal some very artful performances on Discipline 99, especially by Ra and Gilmore.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Sun Ra - 2015 - Planets Of Life Or Death Amiens '73

Sun Ra
Planets Of Life Or Death Amiens '73 

01. Enlightenment 02:24
02. Love In Outer Space 17:07
03. Lights On A Satellite 03:52
04. Discipline 27-II / What Planet Is This 23:46

Alto Saxophone, Flute – Danny Davis
Alto Saxophone, Flute, Piccolo Flute, Percussion – Marshall Allen
Baritone Saxophone, Flute, Percussion – Danny Ray Thompson
Bass – Ronnie Boykins
Bass Clarinet, Flute, Percussion – Eloe Omoe
Bassoon, Flute, Percussion – James Jacson
Cello, Viola, Percussion – Alzo Wright
Drums – Tommy Hunter
Electric Piano, Synthesizer [Mini-Moog], Vocals – Sun Ra
French Horn – Brother Ahh
Percussion – Odun Shahib
Percussion, Balafon, Other [Dance] – Roger Aralamon Hazoumé
Percussion, Other [Dance] – Math Samba
Tenor Saxophone, Drums, Vocals – John Gilmore
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Akh Tal Ebah, Kwame Hadi
Vocals, Other [Dance] – June Tyson, Ruth Wright
Voice [Space Ethnic Voices] – Cheryl Banks, Judith Holton

Recorded at Maison de la Culture, Amiens, France, 21st October 1973.

A previously unreleased Sun Ra concert from Amiens, France in 1973. At times intense, ritualistic and visceral, the recording features the glistening ‘Lights On A Satellite’ featuring the spiritual tenor sax of John Gilmore and a rare instrumental version of ‘Love In Outer Space’

Pretend you know nothing about Sun Ra. Imagine that all you know about him is, well, a colourful pile of nothing. You casually attend a Record Store Day in your city and pick up the only copy (amongst the very few sold exclusively on that day) of this vinyl they have. You’re intrigued by the cover, the name, your very inexperience, and while you leave the premises with yet another Radiohead album under your arms, you forget about the bucks and quid that other album cost you until you sit on your favourite armchair in the comfort of your mortgaged house. Your partner, whose affection for you is somehow stronger than the decades-long relationship you have chosen to entertain with your favourite financial institution, is away, so you’re left in the house to fend for yourself. Well, then what? What happens once Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Research Arkestra fill every corner of the room with waves of afrofuturism? How ready were you for the magic that is -- by now -- bursting at the seams right when “Love in Outer Space” flourishes, shines and withers in a time that is more or less equivalent to In Rainbows’ Side A.

You see, this is absolute music; an abstraction of the abstraction and nothing else. There is no explanation, no discipline and we are left fewer and fewer coordinates. Therefore plenty of them! One might hear Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma (“Love in Outer Space”), Mulatu Astatke’s Ethio-jazz, Magma, Ornette Coleman, John Cage and even some Radiohead. Another will appreciate the simplicity of cacophony in all its splendour, the contrast between harmonies (the vocals on “Enlightenment”), the beauty of percussion and the charm of a Sunday afternoon in Amiens, France in 1973.

Same as you, who knows if the audience was expecting this, or if someone was disappointed to see that the canons of jazz were being torn to pieces right before their eyes. Maybe not, I’d like to think. But this accurate recording (captured right off the mixer) depicts an ensemble at its zenith and an artist who was already somewhere else far, far away. John Gilmore’s sax sinuously progresses through “Lights On A Satellite”, but it is with the instrumental “Love In Outer Space” that the magnitude of Sun Ra’s experimentalism intensifies, ripping apart the structure, bouncing through the obsessiveness of the percussive elements and the illogical cleverness of a legendary free spirit.

This album follows 2014 collection put together by Arkestra’s Marshall Allen (In The Orbit Of Ra), and is the joint effort of two of the most recognisable labels of the underground, Strut and Art Yard, and is enriched with rare images from that very tour taken by Jan Persson.

Whatever your reaction, Planets of Life or Death: Amiens '73 is a genuine, unaltered picture that is definitely worth a listen, both if you already know what to expect or if this is your sonic baptism with Sun Ra’s music. Whatever your starting point, this record will not go unnoticed. It embodies cosmic jazz as seen by a visionary and the end result is a beautifully confused, layered little gem.

Sun Ra - 1993 - Concert for the Comet Kohoutek

Sun Ra
Concert for the Comet Kohoutek

01. Kohoutek Intro 1:10
02. Astro Black 1:50
03. Variations Of Kohoutek Themes 5:12
04. Journey Through The Outer Darkness 9:25
05. Enlightenment 2:02
06. Unknown Kohoutek 7:16
07. Discipline 12:39
08. Outer Space E.M. (Emergency) 7:48
09. Space Is The Place 7:56

Live at Town Hall, New York City, December 22 1973. 

Composer, keyboardist and bandleader Sun Ra's intimate connection with the cosmos is well documented, but it was rare that Ra was given cause for real celestial celebration. That opportunity did come in 1973 however, when Ra and his orchestra played a show in celebration of Kohoutek, a comet whose sighting was billed as the "Comet of the Century." Though the comet was ultimately a visual disappointment, the concert was an aural success; the Arkestra is in a loose and comfortable realm on Concert for the Comet Kohoutek, whose release only came in the early '90s before being reissued.
The crowd's enthusiasm toward Ra is palpable even before he gets on stage—the M.C. is amicably disposed of in favor of the Arkestra—and it is with this energy that Ra's band (the personnel of which is unfortunately unlisted) jumps into the funky vocal workout of "Astro Black." Likely it is Space is the Place's (Blue Thumb, 1973) June Tyson leading the proceedings here as she guides the chaotic horn lines of the intro into a mellow groove whose rhythmically textural mysticism paves the way for the fifteen minute free workout of "Discipline 27 (Part 1)." Starting out in Ra's typical big band mode, with rich arrangements and a distinctly Ellingtonian sense of harmony, the work soon dissolves under crushing electronic synthesizer tones and horn blasts that build to become some of the most overtly chaotic and outright weird material that Ra would put to tape before erupting in a wash of kinetic celebration.
"Enlightenment" provides respite with another vocal number before the celebratory poly-rhythmic jaunt, "Love in Outer Space," if slightly laboriously, grooves along. The aptly titled "Kohoutek" opens with a Ra keyboard improvisation, again featuring his markedly fried synthesizer sounds. Still, the piece maintains a relative sense of stability with consistent backing work and a tight-knit big band opening. It's length soon provides the means to loosen as well. However, before it's finished, the piece dissolves into crumbling synth textures and harmonic dissonance that still manages to maintain its sense of direction.
Again, Ra organizes the show's pacing by inserting another lyrical number, "Discipline 27 (Part 2)," to settle the groove. The crowd's enthusiastic game of call and response is surely aided by the kazoos they were given at the start of the show. The closing rendition of "Space is the Place" is a heavy affair, with thick low end synthesizer harmony lines that hearken in Tyson's vocals and the rest of the band's taught interaction. It is a fitting end to a night that saw Ra and his Arkestra doing what it does best—if a little sloppily at times—for a cause that could not be better situated for their unique mode of performance.

Released in the early '90s, Concert for the Comet Kohoutek captures a typically inspired night by Sun Ra & the Intergalactic Space Research Arkestra. Recorded in late 1973, on this date the Arkestra is guided by a musical theme composed around the idea of the Comet Kohoutek, which was passing close to Earth at the time. Typically, the release vaults between cosmic vocal songs that speak of Truth and other such brashly capitalized affairs (such as "Astro Black"), almost straight-ahead big-band jazz arrangements ("Variations of Kohoutek Themes"), and frighteningly evil free explorations ("Journey Through the Outer Darkness"). Much of the Arkestra's appeal lies in its ability to navigate gracefully through these moods. Unfortunately, the balance is too even here, and the band doesn't commit to any of the ideas. There isn't enough free music to let the listener become lost, the few Sun Ra compositions (in the traditional sense) that appear are too undeveloped and sloppy to truly appreciate, and the cosmic platitudes always worked better in their purely instrumental forms. An enjoyable listen, but not an important date.

Sun Ra - 2006 - What Planet is This

Sun Ra
What Planet is This

01. Untitled Improvisation (Ra) (5:30)
02. Astro Black (Ra) (3:04)
03. Discipline 27 (Ra) (7:29)
04. Untitled Improvisation (Ra) (28:18)
05. Space is the Place (Ra) (10:27)
06. Enlightenment (Ra - Dotson) (3:39)
07. Love in Outer Space (Ra) (10:29)
08. The Shadow World (Ra) (20:42)
09. Watusa, Egyptian March (Ra) (8:54)
10. Discipline 27-II (incl. What Planet is This? / The Universe Sent me to Converse with You / My Brother the Sun (Ra) (17:39)
11. Line-up & Recording Date:

Recorded live in New York, July 6, 1973

Sun Ra (piano, mini-moog, organ, declamation)
John Gilmore (tenor sax, percussion, voice)
Marshall Allen (alto sax, oboe, flute, percussion, cowbell, voice)
Danny Davis (alto sax, flute, percussion, voice)
Larry Northington (alto sax, percussion, voice)
Eloe Omoe (bass clarinet, bassoon, percussion, voice)
Danny Ray Thompson (baritone sax, flute, percussion, voice)
Pat Laurdine Patrick (baritone sax, oboe, voice)
James Jacson (bassoon, flute, percussion, voice)
Akh Tal Ebah (trumpet, fluegelhorn, megaphone, percussion, voice)
Kwame Hadi (trumpet, percussion, voice)
Dick Griffin (trombone, percussion, voice)
Charles Stephens (trombone, percussion, voice)
Hakim Jami (tuba, percussion)
Alzo Wright (cello, percussion)
Ronnie Boykins (bass)
Lex Humphries (drums)
Aye Aton (drums)
Atakatune (congas, tympani)
Odun (congas)
Harry Richards (percussion)
June Tyson (voice, declamation, percussion, dance)
Judith Holton (voice, dance)
Ruth Wright (voice, dance)
Cheryl Banks (voice, dance)

It is appropriate that this double album is being released by Leo Records' Golden Years imprint. Recorded in New York in July, 1973, it features as large an Arkestra as any that Sun Ra put together and includes all of his key collaborators. What Planet Is This? comes from the crucial period when Sun Ra had progressed from cult status to wider recognition, a process aided by a strange alliance with the MC5. But unlike the '50s and '60s (which are well-documented, particularly by the reissue programme on Evidence) or the late '80s and early '90s (covered well, not least by Leo), this period is not well-served by current releases. All of that makes this a welcome issue.
The sound quality is generally good (not always true of Leo's past Sun Ra releases), although some of the balance is rather eccentric; for instance, on "Space Is The Place, the vocals are far forward and the band sounds very distant. In fact, given the instrumentation (thirteen reeds and brass!) the band doesn't sound nearly as powerful as it could or should.

By contrast, the ten-minute version of "Love in Outer Space really captures the majestic power of the band in full flight, driven along by Ra's surging organ, wild, free-blowing horns and massed percussion that creates a massive polyrhythmic groove that is sure to move anyone with a pulse. Just as impressive is a twenty-minute version of "The Shadow World that features a barnstorming big band (again, with percussion aplenty) interspersed with more incredible Ra organ and free-blown improvisations on saxophones and tuba, the latter providing a rich, fruity bass line.

Special mention must go to vocalist June Tyson, whose vocals are pure-toned and powerfully soulful throughout. Her call-and-response "declamations (an appropriate term; "vocals doesn't do them justice) with Ra himself on the title track turn it into a space-age revivalist meeting. Extraordinary.

Another valuable piece in the ever-evolving Sun Ra jigsaw.

Sun Ra - 2014 - Sign Of The Myth

Sun Ra
Sign Of The Myth 

01. Sign Of The Myth 16:12
02. The Eye Of Horus 6:54
03. Hidden Cosmic Treasures 10:32
04. The Truth Of Maat 12:51

Alto Saxophone – Danny Davis
Alto Saxophone, Oboe – Marshall Allen
Baritone Saxophone – Danny Ray Thompson
Bass – Ronnie Boykins
Bass Clarinet, Percussion – Eloe Omoe
Congas – Atakatune
Drum [Ancient Egyptian Infinity Drum] – James Jackson*
Drums – Clifford Jarvis
Keyboards – Sun Ra
Mellophone, Percussion – Akh Tal Ebah
Tenor Saxophone – John Gilmore
Trumpet, Percussion – Kwame Hadi

Edition of 1,050 copies.

Recorded 8 March 1973 at Variety Recording Studios, NYC.

In 1973, Sun Ra inked a high-profile deal with ABC / Impulse, bringing his recorded work to the widest audience he’d had to date. A slew of Saturn back catalog titles and two newly-recorded albums (Astro Black, Pathways To Unknown Worlds) were issued before ABC cancelled the contract, dumped the records into the cut-out bins, and left the unreleased albums to languish. Now, over four decades later, Roaratorio is proud to offer one of the lost Impulse recordings for the first time. Sign Of The Myth hails from the same studio session as Pathways, and shares its emphasis on guided improvisations. With a constantly shifting palette of Moog textures, Ra tosses off a dazzling array of ideas throughout, supported by the usual Arkestra stalwarts; in particular, bassist Ronnie Boykins and drummer Clifford Jarvis are in shining form here, giving shape and solidity to these pieces. Sign Of The Myth is a welcome augmentation to an especially fertile period from Sun Ra’s time on Earth.

Sign of the Myth originates from the Pathways To Unknown Worlds sessions and like In the Orbit of Ra, maybe the best of all 2014 releases, it also captures the brilliant and underestimated bass work of Ronnie Boykins – while Ra concentrates on spooky, spacey and psychedelic synthesizer sounds, which are like an electric carpet contrasting the wave of percussion and the free jazz reeds lines of the reed section consisting here of Eloe Omoe, Danny Ray Thompson, Kwame Hadi, Akh Tal Ebah, Marshall Allen, Danny Davis, and John Gilmore.  With a constantly shifting array of Moog horror movie sounds, Ra structures the pieces, for example the title track, which can keep up with the best Arkestra tracks. Ra, Boykins and the percussion section start off before the saxes fall in trying to take control of the improvisation but in the end it is Boykins’s walking bass and Ra’s synth lines which prevail and even give an outlook to where the Arkestra was heading with Disco 3000 only five years later.