Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Sun Ra - 2000 - Cymbals / Symbols Sessions

Sun Ra
Cymbals / Symbols Sessions

01. The World of the Invisible 06:51
02. Thoughts Under a Dark Blue Light 16:32
03. The Order of the Pharaonic Jesters 07:24
04. The Mystery of Two 07:34
05. Land of the Day Star 03:56

06. The Universe is Calling 04:10
07. Space Landing 07:15
08. Of Drastic Measures 04:50
09. Of Otherness 07:31
10. Myth Evidential 13:20
11. Destination of the Known Unknown 09:36

Recorded at Variety Studios, New York, 1973

LP1 is the first legitimate release of Cymbals on vinyl, LP2 contains some previously unreleased material.

Sun Ra: organ, Minimoog, Rocksichord
Akh Tal Ebah: trumpet
Danny Davis: alto sax
John Gilmore: tenor sax
Eloe Omoe: bass clarinet
Ronnie Boykins: bass
Harry Richards: drums
Derek Morris: conga

In early 1973, thanks to the intrepid persuasion of jazz producer Ed Michel, Sun Ra signed a licensing agreement with the prestigious jazz imprint Impulse (then part of ABC/Paramount Records) to reissue catalog titles from Ra's proprietary Saturn label, as well as some new Arkestra recordings. Michel had produced Ra's most commercially successful album, Space is the Place, in 1972 for Blue Thumb Records, and he figured Ra was finally primed for a wider Earthly audience. The Impulse deal struck with Ra and manager Alton Abraham specified a cap of 50 albums — ten annually for five years — although all masters were subject to approval by Impulse and theoretically less than 50 could be issued.

William Ruhlmann at AllMusic notes, "This was Ra's first association with something like a major record company, and though it resulted in ten actual releases, it didn't last long; another 12 planned releases were cancelled." Eight (egregiously remixed and/or remastered) existing Saturn titles were repackaged; on other planets, extraterrestrial jazz scholars refer to the Impulse period as "Ra's Quadraphonic Years."

Besides the reissues, two newly recorded albums were released—Astro Black and Pathways to Unknown Worlds. Another pair, Cymbals and Crystal Spears, recorded in 1973, were assigned catalog numbers before being shelved. They must have been rejected quickly, because that very year three Cymbals tracks were incongruously grouped with some of Ra's earliest 1940s & '50s recordings on a Saturn LP entitled Deep Purple.

The Cymbals sessions took place at one of Ra's most favored recording venues, Variety Studios, in New York. Other than the three tracks on Deep Purple, the Cymbals (a.k.a. Symbols) sessions were unissued during Sun Ra's lifetime. Five tracks from these sessions (tracks 1 thru 5 on this 11-track complete edition) were posthumously issued on a 2-CD set by Evidence in 2000 under the title The Great Lost Sun Ra Albums (which included Crystal Spears). The Evidence CDs had to rely on substandard source tapes, which at the time were the only tapes available.

This 2018 double album on Modern Harmonic used session master tapes from Michael D. Anderson's Sun Ra Music Archive, and represents the complete Cymbals/Symbols sessions.

Cymbals constitutes an intimate gathering by Arkestra standards. Although eight musicians were involved, nothing larger than a sextet and often only a quartet plays on any one track. Ra's illustrious tenor saxophonist John Gilmore only performs on one title (“Thoughts Under A Dark Blue Light”), and Danny Davis plays alto on another ("Land of the Day Star"). Cymbals is notable for being one of the few ensemble albums in Sun Ra's vast catalog that does not feature Arkestra mainstay Marshall Allen.

As Bro. Cleve writes in the liner notes to the LP and CD editions of the Cymbals/Symbols packages, "The ABC/Impulse deal imploded, due to disappointing sales. The cut-out albums were dumped into bargain bins. Curiosity seekers heard Sun Ra, perhaps for the first time, for a dollar a disc. Sadly, the band made no money from sales of these LP’s. Ra returned to Saturn … Records, that is."

A lost slice of work from Sun Ra's early 70s years on Impulse Records – one of the few new recordings created for his association with that label (most of the titles were reissues of earlier Saturn albums) – but one that was never issued at the time! Cymbals saw some release later, during the 90s – but this package really expands on that album by adding in a whole extra set of recordings from what appear to be the same sessions – and which really flesh out the vibe of the performance! The core group is a sextet – with Ra at the helm on some of his cool electric keyboards – including minimoog, rocksichord, and Gibson Kalamazoo – with acoustic work from Eloe Omoe on bass clarinet, Tal Ebah on trumpet, Ronny Boykins on bass, Harry Ar on drums, and Derek Morris on congas. Much of the core music explores a tension between Ra's cosmic keys and the more earthy sound of the acoustic instruments – but the added material here opens up some nicely different moods, and makes the whole thing explode with deep colors.

1 comment: