Saturday, April 13, 2019

Sun Ra - 1957 - Jazz By Sun Ra

Sun Ra
Jazz By Sun Ra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sun Ra - 2018 - Standards

Sun Ra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sun Ra
Deep Purple (Dreams Come True)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sun Ra - 2003 - Spaceship Lullaby

Sun Ra
Spaceship Lullaby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sun Ra - 1996 - The Singles

Sun Ra
The Singles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sun Ra - 2016 - Singles The Definitive 45s Collection 1952-1991

Sun Ra
Singles The Definitive 45s Collection 1952-1991

101. Sun Ra I Am An Instrument 1:37
102. Sun Ra I Am Strange 3:13
103. The Nu Sounds With Sun Ra Chicago USA 2:56
104. The Nu Sounds With Sun Ra Spaceship Lullaby 2:19
105. The Cosmic Rays With Sun Ra And Arkestra Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie 3:08
106. The Nu Sounds With Sun Ra And Arkestra A Foggy Day 1:04
107. Billie Hawkins With Sun-Ra And His Orchestra I’m Coming Home 2:04
108. Billie Hawkins With Sun-Ra And His Orchestra Last Call For Love 2:28
109. Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Soft Talk 2:43
110. Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Super Blonde 2:37
111. Le Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Saturn 3:02
112. Le Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Call For All Demons 4:22
113. Le Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Demon’s Lullaby 2:41
114. Le Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Supersonic-Jazz 2:36
115. Le Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Medicine For A Nightmare 2:37
116. Le Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Urnack 3:50
117. The Qualities It’s Christmas Time 2:45
118. The Qualities Happy New Year To You! 1:48
119. Yochanan, The Space Age Vocalist M uck M uck (Matt Matt) 2:48
120. Yochanan, The Space Age Vocalist Hot Skillet Momma 3:14
121. Sun Ra And The Cosmic Rays Bye Bye 2:51
122. Sun Ra And The Cosmic Rays Somebody’s In Love 1:48
123. Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Hours After 2:48
124. Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Great Balls Of Fire 5:29

201. Sun Ra And His Astro Infinity Arkestra October 4:42
203. The Cosmic Rays With Sun Ra And Arkestra Dreaming 2:45
204. The Cosmic Rays With Sun Ra And Arkestra Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie 3:06
205. Hattie Randolph With Sun Ra And His Astro Infinity Arkestra Round Midnight 3:51
206. Hattie Randolph With Sun Ra And His Astro Infinity Arkestra Back In Your Own Back Yard
207. Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Saturn 3:42
208. Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Velvet 3:25
209. Yochanan, A Space Age Vocalist With Sun Ra And His Arkestra The Sun One 2:32
210. Yochanan, A Space Age Vocalist With Sun Ra And His Arkestra Message To Earthman 2:26
211. Yochanan With Sun Ra And His Arkestra The Sun Man Speaks 4:37
212. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Space Loneliness 4:35
213. Sun Ra And His Arkestra State Street 3:33
214. Sun Ra And His Arkestra The Blue Set 4:43
215. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Big City Blues 3:15
216. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Featuring Pat Patrick A Blue One 3:51
217. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Featuring Pat Patrick Orbitration In Blue 4:46
218. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Hell #1 (A.k.a. Out There A Minute) 3:27
219. Little Mack With Sun Ra And His Arkestra Tell Her To Come On Home 2:07
220. Little Mack With Sun Ra & His Arkestra I’m Making Believe 3:14

301. Sun Ra And His Outer Space Arkesta The Bridge 1:58
302. Sun Ra And His Outer Space Arkestra Rocket # 9 2:26
303. Sun Ra And His Astro-Solar-Infinity Arkestra Blues On Planet Mars 3:27
304. Sun Ra And His Astro-Solar-Infinity Arkestra Saturn Moon 2:15
305. Sun Ra And His Astro-Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra Journey To Saturn 3:46
306. Sun Ra And His Astro-Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra Enlightenment 3:28
307. Sun Ra And His Astro-Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra I’m Gonna Unmask The Batman 2:18
308. Sun Ra And His Astro-Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra The Perfect Man 5:01
309. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Love In Outer Space 3:51
310. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Mayan Temple 3:40
311. Sun Ra Sky Blues 2:44
312. Sun Ra Disco 2021 2:35
313. Sun Ra Rough House Blues 3:36
314. Sun  Ra Cosmo-Extensions 4:25
315. Sun Ra And His Outer Space Arkestra Quest 2:36
316. Sun Ra And His Outer Space Arkestra Outer Space Plateau 2:24
317. Sun Ra Arkestra Nuclear War 7:45
318. Sun Ra Arkestra Sometimes I’m Happy 4:30
319. Sun Ra Arkestra On Jupiter / Cosmo Drama (Prophetika 1) 3:12
320. Sun Ra Arkestra Cosmo Drama (Prophetika 2) 3:17
321. Sun Ra I Am The Instrument 6:59....

Ever since his death in 1993, interest in Sun Ra’s music has grown. That comes as no surprise. He was a fascinating figure, and one of most enigmatic and innovative musicians in the history of music. The man that many referred to as Mr. Mystery  is nowadays regarded as one of the most important figures in jazz. 

He was also a pioneer. Constantly, Sun Ra pushed musical boundaries as he combined Egyptian history with space-age cosmic philosophy and freeform jazz. However, Sun Ra was more than a musician, bandleader, composer He was also a cosmic philosopher, writer and poet. Sun Ra was a complex character.

Over the years, Sun Ra’s complex persona and mythology evolved. He saw himself as a pioneer of Afrofuturism, who believed he was alien from Saturn. His mission on earth was to preach peace, and the medium he used to this, was music.

The music that Sun Ra recorded covers and incorporates every aspect of jazz music, including swing and bebop to fusion. Sun Ra was the original musical chameleon, and his music continued to evolve over the course of a truly prolific career. He released over 125 albums over the course of career that spanned six decades.

Many of the albums that Sun Ra released were often pressed in small numbers, and came wrapped in a plain white cover. These have become highly collectable. So have the countless singles that Sun Ra released. They were also released in limited numbers, and are one-offs. Nowadays, they’re incredibly rare and indeed, valuable. This means they’re beyond the budget of most record collectors. However, Strut Records have collected sixty-one four of Sun Ra’s singles for a recently released box set, Singles The Definitive 45s Collection. It documents a forty year period in Sun Ra’s career.

This includes the early years of his career in Chicago. During this period, Sun Ra gave spoken word recitals, worked with various duets and small groups. Many of the singles document the evolution Sun Ra’s Arkestra. This includes its early years, right through to its heyday when it numbered thirty musicians. These singles were released between the early fifties right up until 1992. They document a large part of the Sun Ra’s career. His story began in the deep South in 1914.

Herman Poole Blount was born on 22nd May 1914, in Birmingham, Alabama. Very little is known about Herman’s’s early life. So much so, that for years, nobody knew what age Herman’s was. What is known, is that growing up, Herman immersed himself in music from an early age. 

He began to learnt to play the piano  aged five. Soon, he was a talented pianist. By the age of eleven, Herman was to able read and write music. It wasn’t just playing music Herman enjoyed. When musicians swung through Birmingham, Herman’s was there to see everyone from Duke Ellington to Fats Waller. This inspired Herman to become a professional musician.

By his mid teens, Herman was a high school student. However, music was Herman’s’s first love. Music teacher John T. “Fess” Whatley realised this. He helped Herman’s’s nascent musical career. John was a strict disciplinarian. This rubbed off on Herman. Later, he would be relentless taskmaster when he formed his Arkestra. This worked. When the Arkestra were in full flow, they were peerless. However, that was way in the future. Before that, Herman’s’s career was just unfolding.

In his spare time, Herman was playing semi-professionally. He played in various jazz and R&B groups and as a solo artist. Before long, Herman was a popular draw. This was helped by his ability to memorise popular songs and play them on demand. Strangely, away from music, the young Herman was very different.

He’s remembered as studious, kindly and something of a loner. Herman’s was a deeply religious young man. That is despite not being a member of a particular church. One organisation that Herman joined was the Black Masonic Lodge. This allowed Herman’s access to one of the largest collection of books in Birmingham. For a studious young man like Herman’s, this allowed him to broaden his knowledge of various subjects. Whether this included the poetry and Egyptology that would later influence Herman’s’s musical career.

The next step in Herman’s’s musical career came in 1934. Ethel Harper, his biology teacher from the high school, had a band. Herman was asked to join. After joining the musician’s union, Herman toured the Southeast and Midwest. Then when Ethel left the band to join The Ginger Snaps, Herman took over the band.

With Ethel gone, the band was renamed The Sonny Blount Orchestra. It headed out on the road and toured for several months. Sadly, The Sonny Blount Orchestra wasn’t making money. Eventually, the band split up. However, other musicians and music lovers were impressed by The Sonny Blount Orchestra.

This resulted in Herman being always in demand as a session musician. He was highly regarded within the Birmingham musical community. So much so, that Herman was awarded a music scholarship to Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in 1937. Sadly, he dropped out after a year when his life changed forever.

It was in 1937, that Herman experienced a life-changing experience. It’s a story he tells many times throughout his life. He describes a bright light appearing around him and his body changing. “I could see through myself. And I went up … I wasn’t in human form … I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn. They teleported me. I was down on a stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop attending college because there was going to be great trouble in schools … the world was going into complete chaos … I would speak through music, and the world would listen. That’s what they told me.” For a deeply religious young man, this was disturbing and exciting. It certainly inspired Herman.

After his “trip to Saturn,” Herman dedicated himself to music. He devoted himself to music. So much so, that he hardly found time to sleep. All Herman did was practice and write songs. The first floor of his home was transformed into a musical workshop. That’s where he rehearsed with the musicians in his band. Away from music, Herman’s took to discussing religious matters. Mostly, though, music dominated Herman’s’s life.

So it’s no surprise that Herman decided to form a new band. He decided to reform The Sonny Blount Orchestra. It showcased the new Herman’s. He was a dedicated bandleader, who like his mentor John T. “Fess” Whatley, was a strict disciplinarian. Herman’s was determined his band would be the best in Birmingham. Seamlessly, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were able to change direction, and play an eclectic selection of music. Before long, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were one of most in-demand bands in Birmingham. Things were looking good for Herman. Then in 1942, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were no more. Herman was drafted.

On receiving his draft papers, Herman declared himself a conscientious objector. He cited not just religious objections to war and killing, but that he had to financially support his great-aunt Ida. Then there was the chronic hernia that blighted Herman’s’s life. The draft board rejected his appeal. Things got worse. His family were embarrassed by Herman’s’s refusal to fight. Some turned their back on him. Eventually, Herman’s was offered the opportunity to do Civilian Public Service. However, he failed to appear at the camp in Pennsylvania on December 8th 1942.

This resulted in Herman being arrested. When he was brought before the court, Herman debated points of law and the meaning of excerpts from the Bible. When this didn’t convince the judge Herman said he’d would use a military weapon to kill the first high-ranking military officer possible. This resulted in Herman being jailed. For Herman’s, this lead to one of the most disturbing periods in his life.

So bad was Herman’s experience in military prison that he had to write to the US Marshals Service in January 1943. By then, Herman felt he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He was suffering from stress and suicidal. There was also the constant fear that he’d be attacked. Luckily, the US Marshals Service looked favourably on his letter. 

By February 1943, Herman was allowed out during the day to work in the forests around Pennsylvania. At nights, he was able to play piano. A month later, Herman was reclassified and released from military prison.

Having left prison, Herman formed a new band. They played around the Birmingham area for the next two years. Then in 1945, when his Aunt Ida died, Herman’s left Birmingham. Next stop was Chicago.

Moving to Chicago, Herman’s quickly found work. He worked with Wynonie Harris and played on his two 1946 singles, Dig This Boogie and My Baby’s Barrelhouse. After that, Herman worked with Lil Green in some of Chicago’s strip clubs. Then in August 1946, Herman’s started working with Fletcher Henderson. However, Fletcher’s fortunes were fading.

Fletcher Henderson’s band was full of mediocre musicians. The main man, Fletcher Henderson, was often missing. He was still recovering after a car accident. So Fletcher needed someone to transform his band’s fortunes. This was where Herman’s came in. His role was arranger and pianist. Herman’s realising the band needed to change direction, decided to infuse Fletcher Henderson’s trademark sound with bebop. However, the band were resistant to change. So in 1948, Herman left Fletcher Henderson’s employ.

Next for Herman was forming a trio with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and violinist Stuff Smith. This trio didn’t last long and didn’t release any recordings. Not long after this, Herman would make his final appearance as a sideman on violinist’s Billy Bang’s Tribute to Stuff Smith. After this, Herman Poole Blount became Sun Ra.

Chicago was changing. It was home to a number of African-American political activists. A number of fringe movements sprung up. They were seeking political and religious change. Herman became involved. He was immersing himself in history. Especially, Egyptology. He was fascinated with the Chicago’s many ancient Egyptian-styled buildings and monuments. This resulted in Herman discovering George G.M. James’ The Stolen Legacy. Discovering this book was a life-changing experience.

In The Stolen Legacy, George G.M. James argues that classical Greek philosophy actually has its roots in Ancient Egypt. This resulted in Herman concluding that the history and accomplishments of Africans had been deliberately denied and suppressed by various European cultures. It was as if his eyes had been opened. For Herman, this was just the start of a number of changes in his life.

As 1952 dawned, Herman had formed a new band, The Space Trio. It featured saxophonist Pat Patrick and Tommy Hunter. At the time, they were two of the most talented musicians Herman knew. This allowed him to write even more compacted and complex songs. However, by October 1952, he wasn’t writing these songs as Herman Poole Blount. No. Sun Ra was born in October 1952.

Just like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, adopting the name Sun Ra was perceived by some as Herman choosing to dispense with his slave name. Instead, he named himself after the Egyptian God of the Sun, Sun Ra. Soon, this new identity would begin to evolve. 

Sun Ra’s complex persona and mythology evolved over a period of time. He saw himself as a pioneer of Afrofuturism, who was alien from Saturn. His mission on earth was to preach peace, and the medium he used to this, was music. This some felt, was a kind of rebirth for Sun Ra. It certainly was a musical rebirth.

After Pat Patrick got married, he moved to Florida. This left The Space Trio with a vacancy for a saxophonist. Tenor saxophonist, John Gilmore filled the void. Soon after, Marshall Allen an alto saxophonist joined. So did saxophonist James Spaulding, trombonist Julian Priester and briefly, tenor saxophonist Von Freeman came onboard. Another newcomer was Alton Abraham, who would become Sun Ra’s manager. He made up for Sun Ra’s shortcomings.

While he was a hugely talented bandleader, who demanded the highest standards, Sun Ra, like many musicians, was no businessman. With Alton Abraham onboard, Sun Ra could concentrate on music. Alton took care of business. This included setting up El Saturn Records, an independent record label, which would release many of Sun Ra’s records. However, El Saturn Records didn’t released Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s debut album, Jazz By Sun Ra.

Jazz By Sun Ra was released in 1956, on the short-lived Transition Records. However, Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s sophomore album Super Sonic Jazz was released in March 1956, on El Saturn Records.  For the next few years, El Saturn Records released most of Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s albums. El Saturn also released many of Sun Ra’s singles, including those that feature on Singles The Definitive 45s Collection.

Disc One.

A total of twenty-four tracks feature on disc one of Singles The Definitive 45s Collection. They cover several different aspects of Sun Ra’s early career. 

This includes several solo recitals recorded during the early fifties. I Am Strange and I Am An Instrument are cosmo dramas, where Sun Ra accompanies himself on piano as he delivers a sermon. They would become a regular feature of Arkestra shows from the seventies onwards. Sun Ra however, wouldn’t found his Arkestra until 1956. Before that, Sun Ra would work with various musicians.

Among them, were The Nu Sounds With Sun Ra. They recorded in Chicago between 1952 and 1962. This included A Foggy Day, which was recorded at Club Evergreen, Chicago, in 1954 or 1955. It featured on the flip side of Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie, and was credited The Cosmic Rays with Sun Sun Ra.Another recording from The Nu Sounds With Sun Ra is the space bop single Chicago USA. It featured Spaceship Lullaby on the B-Side. These tracks find Sun Ra looking into the future, as his adopted hometown Chicago becomes some sort of Utopian modern city. However,  Chicago USA wasn’t released until 2005, some twelve years after Sun Ra’s death. 

By the spring 1956, Sun Ra was playing alongside Billie Hawkins. They were billed as Billie Hawkins with Sun Ra and His Orchestra. Later in 1956, I’m Coming Home was released as a singles, Last Call For Love on the flip side. Already.Sun Ra’s Orchestra was starting to take shape. 

They had already released one of their first singles. This was Soft Talk, which featured Super Blonde on the B-Side. It had been recorded during March 1956, at the Balkan Studios. When the single was released on Saturn, and was credited to Sun Ra and His Arkistra. However, when the followup was released, the Orchestra had dawned a new name.

For the first time, Le Sun Ra and His Arkistra featured on a single. This was Saturn which featured Call for All Demons on the flip-side. It had been recorded at RCA Studios, during May 1956 and was released on Saturn. So was the followup Demon’s Lullaby, which featured Super-sonic Jazz on the B-Side. It was released later in 1956.The final single Le Sun Ra and His Arkistra released on Saturn during 1956 was Medicine For A Nightmare, with Urnack on the flip-side. However, Le Sun Ra and His Arkistra wasn’t the only project Sun Ra was involved with.

Around 1957, a quartet lad by Sun Ra worked with Yochanan The Space Age Vocalist. They recorded the bluesy, but jazz-tinged single M Uck M Uck (Matt Matt), which featured Hot Skillet Mama on the B-Side. This was the first of several fruitful and memorable collaborations between Sun Ra and the leftfield R&B vocalist.

Late 1957, saw multi-instrumentalist Marshall Allen join the Arkestra. He was capable of seamlessly switching between reed instruments, and would become of one of the Arkestra’s secret weapons. So would bassist Robbie Boykins. They were part of what’s regarded as the classic lineup of the Arkestra.

In mid-1958, Sun Ra was about to work on several projects. This included recording Sun Ra and The Cosmic Rays’ single Bye Bye, which featured Somebody’s In Love. It was released later in 1958 on Saturn. By then, Le Sun Ra and His Arkistra had recorded and released their single Hours After. Tucked away on the flip-side was a reinvention of Great Balls Of Fire. It’s just one of the tracks that signalled that Sun Ra and His Arkestra were about to hit a rich vein of form.

Between 1958 and 1959, Sun Ra and His Arkestra released two classic albums, The Nubians Of Plutonia and Jazz In Silhouette. Both albums featured the classic lineup of the Arkestra. However, very little is known about another recording that took place between 1956 and 1960.

This was The Qualities’ Christmas single, It’s Christmas Time. It featured Happy New Year to You! on the flip-side. There’s uncertainly as to who played on the single, and when it was recorded. That however, was the case with many of Sun Ra’s recordings. The lineup of his bands and Arkestra were constantly evolving. That was the case throughout his career.

Disc Two.

Rather than picking up where disc one picked off, disc two of  Singles The Definitive 45s Collection goes back in time to 1959. That’s when Sun Ra and His Astro Infinity Arkestra recorded the single October. It was released eight years later, in 1967 with Adventure in Space on the B-Side. Both sides show Sun Ra and the Arkestra maturing as they create ambitious and innovative music. This were pioneers, who would influence a future generation of musicians.

There’s some debate when The Cosmic Rays with Sun Ra and Arkestra recorded the single Dreaming, and the B-Side Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie. With details somewhat sketchy about the sessions, it’s thought that the two tracks were recorded in either 1955 or 1959. Regardless which date it was, these two track among the finest tracks The Cosmic Rays with Sun Ra recorded. Dreaming was released as a single on Saturn, and finds The Cosmic Rays with Sun Ra at their very best.

Another artist Sun Ra worked with, was vocalist Hattie Randolph. They recorded the single Round Midnight on 6th March 1959. Tucked away on the flip-side was the hidden gem Back In Your Own Back Yard. Round Midnight was released on Saturn later in 1959 as Hattie Randolph with Sun Ra and His Astro Infinty Arkestra. Hattie Randolph was just the latest artist to work with Sun Ra.

A years later, in 1960, Yochanan The Space Age Vocalist was reunited with Sun Ra and His Arkestra. They recorded the single Message to Earthman, with The Sun Man Speaks featuring on the B-Side. It was released on Saturn in 1961 as Yochanan The Space Age Vocalist with Sun Ra and His Arkestra. This was another fruitful collaboration. These two tracks were reissued in 1986, with The Sun Man Speaks becoming the single and Message to Earthman being relegated to the B-Side. By then, Sun Ra was one of the elder statesmen of jazz, and a prolific recording artist.

That had always been the case. Le Sun Ra and His Arkestra had recorded throughout the second half of the fifties. They recorded Saturn and Velvet during a session on 6th March 1959. This was the same session that Hattie Randolph recorded with Sun Ra and His Astro Infinty Arkestra. They’re on good form on Saturn which was meant to be released as a single. Alas, the single was never released, and these two joyous tracks where Le Sun Ra and His Arkestra stretch their legs, never found the audience they deserved. That’s a great shame, as the Arkestra’s classic lineup was established, and hd entered a fruitful period of their career.

This two classic albums, The Nubians Of Plutonia and Jazz In Silhouette were proof of this. On 14th June 1960, Sun Ra and His Arkestra entered the studio and recorded two singles that would be released later in 1960. The first was Space Loneliness, which featured State Street on the B-Side. It was followed up by The Blue Set, with Big City Blues on the flip-side. Both singles featured a tight septet, who began to explore new ways to playing. This they called “tone science,” and lead by Sun Ra, John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, Ronnie Boykins and Phil Cohran embarked upon a musical adventure. One of the earliest fruits of this adventure was the bluesy Magnus Opus, Space Loneliness. It’s one of the finest moment from a session that produced twenty tracks. However, a year after the sessions that produced Space Loneliness, Sun Ra and His Arkestra were on the move.

Sun Ra and His Arkestra decided to move from the Windy City to New York in 1961. Early in 1962, Sun Ra and His Arkestra headed to the Choreographers Workshop, where they were joined by Pat Patrick. They recorded the single A Blue One, Orbitration In Blue on the B-Side. It was released on Saturn in 1964. This was one of just six single released during the seven years Sun Ra and His Arkestra were based in New York. By then, the focus was much more on albums.

Another single recorded at the Choreographers Workshop, in New York, was Tell Her To Come On Home, It was recorded during 1962 and featured vocalist Little Mack Gordon. For the flip-side, I’m Making Believe was recorded. The single was then released on Saturn. However, another track recorded the Choreographers Workshop wasn’t released until much later.

This was Hell #1 (A.k.a. Out There a Minute). It was recorded between 1962-1964 at the Choreographers Workshop. However, the track lay unreleased un 1989, when it was released on E.P. given away with the New York based Chemical Imbalance magazine. This Sun Ra and his management hoped, would introduce his music to an even wider audience. By then, Sun Ra’s popularity had increased and his music was appreciated by a much wider audience.

Disc Three.

Disc three is the final disc in the Singles The Definitive 45s Collection box set. It picks up where disc two left off.

In 1967, Sun Ra and His Arkestra were recording at Sun Studios, New York City. They recorded the angle The Bridge, and its B-Side Rocket # 9. By then, Sun Ra had decided that lyrics were part of his ‘sound’. Often, he used these lyrics to pass on a social messages, or tell what be believed to the truth about a subject. Other times, the meaning of the message was so well hidden or complex that it passed most people by. These Sun Ra considered to be a message from Saturn. One of the singles to feature a ‘message’ is The Bridge, which nowadays, is a real rarity. It shows Sun Ra’s music continuing to evolve.

On 22nd September 1968, Sun Ra and His Arkestra returned to Sun Studios. They cut the single Blues On Planet Mars, with the hidden gem Saturn Moon relegated to the B-Side. Blues On Planet Mars was released as a single in 1969. Both tracks would feature on another of Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s classic album, Atlantis. It featured what Sun Ra dubbed his “solar sound instrument.” In reality, it was a Hohner Clavinet and would become an important component of his ‘sound’. Atlantis would be one of the final Sun Ra and His Arkestra recordings in New York for a while.

After seven years in the Big Apple, Sun Ra and His Arkestra moved to Philadelphia. Sun Ra’s House would become a makeshift studio, and where many recordings would be made. This included 

Sun Ra And His Astro-Solar-Infinity Arkestra single Journey To Saturn, which  featured on the B-Side Enlightenment. Both sides featured the vocal prowess of June Tyson. She had joined the Arkestra in 1968, and her role was to communicate Sun Ra’s message. The way she did this, was via space age songs, poetry recitals and the ritualistic echoing of Sun Ra’s message. June Tyson’s addition brought a new dimensions to Sun Ra And His Astro-Solar-Infinity Arkestra.

By the time Sun Ra And His Astro-Solar-Infinity Arkestra entered Variety Recording Studio, in New York, there was no sign of June Tyson. That day, The Perfect Man was recorded. It became the B-Side I’m Gonna Unmask The Batman, which was recorded at WXPN radio station, Philadelphia, 4th July 1974. Again, there was no sign of June Tyson, with Sam Bankhead adding the vocals. Later in 1974, the radio broadcast pf I’m Gonna Unmask The Batman was released on Saturn, and became the latest Sun Ra single. He was by then, one of the most prolific recording artists.

There was no sign of Sun Ra slowing up. Sun Ra And His Arkestra recorded the single Love In Outer Space during 1975. 

Where the track was recorded is unknown. However, the B-Side Mayan Temple was recorded at Variety Recording Studio, New York City, 27th June 1975. It presents Sun Ra’s philosophy for the future, and the this is delivered by Harlem poet David Henderson. His addition results in a beautiful and heartfelt version of Sun Ra’s utopian vision. Sadly, when Love In Outer Space was released, it as a limited edition and very few copies of the single exist. It’s a real rarity, and its addition on Singles The Definitive 45s Collection box set is a welcome one.

So is Sun Ra’s live version of the single Sky Blues. It was recorded live at at a solo concert at Teatro Ciak, Milan, on the 23rd of 1978. Later in 1978, Sky Blues was released as a single on Saturn, with Disco 2021 on the B-Side. Both sides show Sun Ra’s determination to ensure that his music continues to remain relevant. 

That was the case throughout Sun Ra’s career. In early May 1979, Sun Ra travelled to Montreal, Canada to play another concert with his Arkestra. Instead, he was accompanied by just a drummer. He features on Rough House Blues and Cosmo-Extensions, which are essentially captivating duets between Sun Ra’s synths and the drums. Later in 1979, Rough House Blues was released as a single by Saturn, with Cosmo-Extensions featuring on the flip-side. Both sides showed another side of Sun Ra, as he continues to innovate.

He had been innovating throughout his career. Especially with the Arkestra, which had changed its name several times. By the 8th of July 1977, it was billed as Sun Ra and His Outer Space Arkestra. They were due to feature on WKCR-FM, in New York City on 8th of July 1977. That day, they recorded Quest, would be released as a single five years later. On the flip-side was Outer Space Plateau, which was recorded at Sun Ra’s house in 1982. Later that year, Quest became Sun Ra and His Outer Space Arkestra latest single, as they move in a a new direction, constantly pushing music to its limits and way beyond. 

In September 1982, Sun Ra and His Arkestra headed to  Variety Recording Studio, New York City to record a single for Columbia. They recorded the two tracks that became their latest single, Nuclear War and the B-Side, Sometimes I’m Happy. It features June Tyson, whose vocal plays an important part in the sound and success of the song. Sun Ra and His Arkestra had recorded two of their best songs of recent years.

Nuclear War was a single that could’ve crossed over. With its call and response style, it was catchy and one of Sun Ra’s most commercial singles. It was pressed on 45, but as a 12 inch single This should’ve introduce his music to a much wider audience, including DJs. However, when Sun Ra delivered the single to Columbia there was a problem. The repeated use of the oath MF proved problematic. There was no way Nuclear War would get radio play. Sun Ra was shown the door, and his time at Columbia was over.

After the controversy of Nuclear War, Sun Ra and His Arkestra returned to playing live and recording. They records On Jupiter during a live performance in Philly during 1978. This track wasn’t released until 2014, when it featured on the Norton Records’ single Sun Ra Centennial 1914-2014. On the flip-side was Cosmo Drama (Prophetika 2), which was recorded in New York in 1979. Both sides are a tantalising taste of Sun Ra and His Arkestra live during the late-seventies.

The final in disc three of Singles The Definitive 45s Collection, is I Am An Instrument. It was recorded at Sun Ra’s home in 1991. By then, he was recovering from a stroke he had suffered in 1990. Despite this, Sun Ra courageously continued his career, and delivered a recitation whilst accompanying himself on thrash harp and toy piano. Sadly, I Am An Instrument wasn’t released until it was released in conduction with the May 1994 edition of The Wire Magazine. Sadly, by then, Sun Ra had passed away a year earlier.

On May 30th 1993, Sun Ra passed away aged seventy-nine. That day, music lost a true visionary. He had spent the last six decades releasing groundbreaking music. Constantly, Sun Ra pushed musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes way beyond on the 125 albums he recorded. That’s not forgetting the countless singles that Sun Ra released. A tantalising taste of these singles feature on the Singles The Definitive 45s Collection box set, which was recently released by Strutb Records. This is a lovingly curated compilation that will appeal to veterans of Sun Ra albums, and newcomers to his music. Sun Ra was one of most enigmatic and innovative musicians of the 20th Century. That’s no exaggeration.

Many artists are described as innovative. However, very few really are. Sun Ra is one of the exceptions. From the moment he dawned the role of Sun Ra, his music was transformed. It became much more complex. This was only possible because Sun Ra found liked minded musicians. Among them were Pat Patrick, Tommy Hunter, John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, James Spaulding, Julian Priester and Art Yard. They became Sun Ra’s legendary Arkestra.

For nearly forty years, Sun Ra and His Arkestra pushed musical boundaries. Sun Ra was a perfectionist and relentless taskmaster. With some of most talented, inventive and adventurous musicians of their generation, Sun Ra set about honing the Arkestra’s sound. He was demanding and exacting standards. Second best was no use to Sun Ra. What he was after was an Arkestra who were innovators and musical adventurers.

Sun Ra was never content to stand still musically. Similarly, he was always striving to reinvent his music. The original version of a song was merely the starting point. What it became, was anyone’s guess? Sun Ra was forever determined to innovate. When he reinvented a track, he took the music in the most unexpected direction. He combined Egyptian history and space-age cosmic philosophy with freeform jazz. This innovative fusion transformed the career of the man born Herman Poole Blount.

Eventually, Sun Ra became a giant of jazz. This took time, patience and dedication. He had come a long way since his early days in Birmingham, Alabama. Sadly, very little is known about Sun Ra’s early year. This just adds to the man many called Mr. Mystery.

So does his alleged ‘trip’ to Saturn, which changed Sun Ra’s life forevermore. Thereafter, Sun Ra became added philosopher to his C.V. However, it was music which made Sun Ra famous. 

That music is celebrated on Singles The Definitive 45s Collection box set, where Sun Ra combines Egyptian history with space-age cosmic philosophy and freeform jazz. Sun Ra was more than a musician, bandleader, composer. He was also a cosmic philosopher, writer and poet. Despite his many talented, Sun Ra is best remembered for the music he produced over a career spanning six decades. The music Sun Ra wrote and recorded was innovative, inventive and influential, and is why nowadays, he is regarded as one of the most important figures in jazz. 

Sun Ra departed Earth on May 30, 1993, just days after the 79th anniversary of his arrival. (One doesn’t talk about Ra in terms of “birth” and “death,” but more on that later.) He left behind a massive, convoluted musical legacy—including at least 120 full-length albums, one of the world’s largest known discographies—and perhaps an even bigger mystery. Who was this jazz composer/arranger/bandleader/pianist, who insisted that he was a native of the planet Saturn and espoused a philosophy that blended science fiction, Biblical texts and ancient Egyptian history and mythology (wearing costumes that also expressed that combination)? And what were we to make of his music, which ranged from big-band swing to bebop to avant-garde and fusion?

Twenty-three years later, we have some answers. It’s only in that time, for example, that Sun Ra has been revealed to be the former Herman Poole “Sonny” Blount, born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914. A small army of researchers has made some sense of his discography as well, assigning session dates and personnel to previously un-annotated tracks. Many of the Sun Ra Arkestra’s albums were ex post facto compilations of disparate sessions and lineups. Still, there are a number of holes and gray areas, and perhaps always will be. But with Strut Records’ release of Singles: The Definitive 45s Collection—an assemblage of one of Ra’s most overlooked bodies of work—the picture becomes a bit more complete.

“It’s a very interesting and singular perspective on the Sun Ra story,” says Paul Griffiths, the London-based music writer who compiled Singles. “It will be a huge listening experience, and, I think, quite a revelation.”

We don’t often think about post-World War II jazz in the context of singles; almost as soon as long-playing records were introduced in 1948, jazz and its often lengthy improvisations proved uniquely suited to the format. The 45 rpm market, ideal for jukeboxes and radio stations, was reserved for pop songs. But Sun Ra was never interested in convention. With his idiosyncratic vision, he and his business manager Alton Abraham—with whom he founded his El Saturn Records label—wanted to share it with the world.

“Singles were popular at that time. Singles were how you got attention,” says Irwin Chusid, administrator of Sun Ra LLC (the arm of Sun Ra’s estate that controls his catalog). “And putting out albums was a lot more expensive than putting out singles. So I think it was the economics of the music at the time that necessitated dealing with seven-inch singles. Alton Abraham wanted to make money, to sell records, so what do you do? You put out singles!”

Marshall Allen, longtime alto saxophonist for the Sun Ra Arkestra (and its leader since 1993), agrees that the singles were probably a business decision rather than a creative one. Certainly the musicians were never told that they were specifically making record sides. “At any session, Sun Ra would have so many tunes for us to do, and we’d go into the studio and make whatever,” he says. “And then he and, maybe Alton, would decide what to do with it afterward. We’d find out about it when it came out, just like everybody else.”

Small independent labels weren’t a rare commodity in the 1950s and ‘60s; they came and went frequently. But like most of them, Saturn wasn’t really plugged into the major distribution channels. “They probably just took them around to the stores and said ‘Here, would you carry our records?’” says Chusid. “Maybe they sold them at gigs, or through the mail. But there was no wide distribution of the records, which is why these records are so rare.”

The rarity of the records allowed many of them to slip through the historical and musicological cracks. Indeed, this is not the first collection of Sun Ra’s releases on 45. Evidence Records, the last label to which Sun Ra signed in his lifetime, put out a compilation in 1996 among a bevy of Ra releases. But that release was flawed on many levels. For one thing, it contained 49 tracks to the new collection’s 63.

“The old Evidence CD had quite a few gaps in it,” says Griffiths. “[It didn’t include] things that have been released posthumously, things that were not even known about from the Saturn catalogue that were just only discovered after the release of this. There’s a single called ‘Orbitration in Blue,’ which was only discovered after the Evidence thing came out. And this has got an extended version! So this new release has some music that even the most ardent Ra-o-philes won’t own. It’s a whole different listening experience, because you’re getting a really in-depth version of the story.”

“In-depth” is an apt term. Commissioned by Sun Ra, LLC, this music comes not from secondhand sources, like record collectors, but from the original session reels. Ra had given these to Michael D. Anderson, former percussionist in the Arkestra (now executive director of the Sun Ra Music Archive). Chusid has been able to help restore them. In other words, not only is there more music to be heard, but the previously available music now sounds substantially better.

"That’s the other big thing about the Evidence set: It wasn’t very well mastered,” says Griffiths. “The mastering was done from very lo-fi single pressings. But this set is going to sound fantastic, because of what Irwin Chusid and Michael Anderson, who’ve got access to the extended master tapes, have done.”

Sun Ra LLC also has a library of work from the many historians and discographers in the years since the artist’s departure. Griffiths is one of these historians. “I’m a big fan with a rather large scholarly knowledge of the workings of it all,” he says. “They trusted my expertise and knowledge of what is a very, very complex discography to say the least.” He assembled a more-or-less chronological sequence of tracks out of that knowledge, and annotated them extensively.

Played end to end, Singles sounds much like the great Sun Ra albums. (Many of these singles were ultimately included on his albums.) Like them, it draws from a wide range of times (though about half are from his Chicago period of the 1950s, they continued all the way up to a 1991 CD single) and places—recording studios, rehearsals, club gigs, his house. There are sides by big band, small groups, and at least two (versions of “I Am an Instrument,” recorded four decades apart) featuring solo Sun Ra.

Most interestingly, though, the collected singles engage in the usual panoply of styles, from swing to experimental freeform, to R&B—and doo-wop. He shares the bills with several vocal acts, including the groups the Nu Sounds and the Cosmic Rays, as well as a Memphis-bred R&B belter called Yochanan, the Space Age Vocalist.

It’s unknown how these artists came into Sun Ra’s orbit. “I’m sure that Alton Abraham was at least partly involved in finding these musicians, maybe hooking them up with [Sun Ra],” says Chusid. “Or these musicians came to his attention, he maybe saw them in the club. But he began working with them. Coaching these singers, helping them with their harmonies, their arrangements, providing musical backdrops to their vocals.”

“He would find places where there was a piano, it might be somebody’s basement or it might be anywhere,” Allen recalls. “And he would just work with these guys. Sometimes he would put us on the record with them.”

But these vocal groups are enigmas in their own right, adding to Sun Ra’s mystique. “He might have given them names, or he might have changed their names, assigned them a name for a record and they didn’t exist as an actual vocal group that was out there performing,” says Chusid. “Some of the same singers that were part of the Cosmic Rays might also have been in the Nu Sounds. The Nu Sounds who sang on one recording may not have been the same Nu Sounds who sang on another recording. These are part of the mysteries of that period.”

Singles, then, represents a crucial piece of the puzzle—but not the last piece. According to Allen, there are perhaps thousands of hours of unheard recordings. “He recorded everything, good or bad,” says Allen. Every day we would rehearse for hours, seven days a week, and he would record it. For thirty-four years.”

The whole picture will probably never be clear—and if Sun Ra truly did return to Saturn after departing his earthly body, as he always claimed, he is probably quite satisfied with that. “I think he wanted us to keep digging through the myth and the facts and the speculation,” says Chusid, “and to spend centuries piecing together an accurate chronicle.” By itself, Singles: The Definitive 45s Collection offers enough wonderful music for years of close examination.

Strut offers a richly researched and smartly sequenced compilation of all of Sun Ra's singles, offering a compelling and unique look at the cosmic jazz innovator’s genius. 
How do you pin down Sun Ra? The cosmic jazzman laid down so much music it would take a warehouse of full-time historians working round-the-clock hours to figure it all out. Albums were often hastily assembled from his prolific sessions, packaged with DIY artwork and sold at gigs for quick cash. Thousands of hours of unheard recordings are rumored to exist. Maybe he stacked boxes of magnetic tape on far-away planets too, such was his connection to the stars.

If it’s even possible to traverse the vast Sun Ra universe on board a single starship, then Strut Records’ new compilation Singles: The Definitive 45s Collection offers a compellingly sturdy vessel.  It’s a 65-track set of 7-inch fragments of the celestial god, sent to earth to help us map out details of his galaxy that the albums could not. There are no wasted motions here: Each flat, wax disc represented another bright star in the constellation Ra. 

The name of his birth certificate read Herman Poole Blount. Born in Alabama in 1914, the mysterious musician showed up in Chicago in 1946 with little more to his name than a jail record picked up for refusing to fight in World War II for ethical reasons. The jazz scene was primed for revolution and Blount moved to a different beat, driven by a journey to Saturn he claimed he made years earlier while in deep spiritual concentration.

The star man would later take up the name Sun Ra, form his ever-changing band the Arkestra, and spend a lifetime teaching the world Afrofuturism, a complex ideology of Black nationalism, Egyptian myth, scientific discovery, science fiction movies and the other-worldly fashion choices he’d flaunt on-stage. Forget “Disco 2000”; Sun Ra was envisioning to the paranoid blips and beeps of “Disco 2021” some 30 years before Pulp showed up. He mastered the electro squiggles of “Planet Rock” prior to the birth of hip-hop, and forged his own form of analogue cyberpunk as Philip K. Dick sat as his typewriter laying out his own dark vision of the future. Singles preserves all that for future generations.

It’s said when you watch classic movies like Citizen Kane today, it’s important to bare in mind that these movies were writing the rules of filmmaking that we now take for granted. Sun Ra’s music somehow doesn’t require that kind of explanation. As soon as the needle drops, it sounds like scripture—a key testament that formed a building block of a half-century of music. Everyone from George Clinton to OutKast read from The Book of Ra. 

And yet, on paper the project seems an odd prospect. Sun Ra was a lot of things—pianist, bluesman, bandleader, arranger, interstellar poet, multiverse traveller—but he’s never been accused of being a singles artist. Because of the format, Singles eschews his lengthier wigouts for shorter vignettes. You might not get the 20-minute avant-garde virtuosity of “Space Is the Place,” but you do get jaunty holiday jingle “It’s Christmas Time.” That might seem less crucial, but when grappling with Ra’s slippery legacy, nothing here feels disposable.

For the fanatics, Singles will offer little they’ve not heard before. While the original 45 versions of a lot of these songs, many of which were released on Ra’s own El Saturn Records, are rare (or, in some cases, completely lost), they’ve all cropped up in other places, including a similar-but-less-expansive compilation put out by Evidence Records in 1996. Still, there’s undoubted power in hearing Ra’s career laid out like this.

Arranged chronologically (or as close to it as possible—Ra wasn’t exactly pedantic when it came to labeling his sessions) and with about half the songs recorded during his 1950s Chicago period, Singles captures the genesis of his forward-thinking space-bop. Fittingly, the opening two tracks, “I Am an Instrument” and “I Am Strange,” both spoken-word numbers, predict his metaphysical interests. “I belong to one who is more than a musician/He is an artist,” he says on the former. His voice is tuned low and grave, as though foreshadowing a seismic event.

Whether he’s envisioning a playful, pamphlet-utopian version of the city on the Lieber-Stoller-esque “Chicago USA” or mixing experimental rhythms with dense and fractured chants on “Spaceship Lullaby” (both recorded with the Nu Sounds, an important precursor to the Arkestra), it’s thrilling to hear Ra connect Chicago’s timeless jazz scene to his increasingly wild tinkerings. Even the earliest material on Singles is the sound of a bandleader confidently wielding his arsenal for maximum purpose.

It’s not just Ra that gets shine. Singles captures The Arkestra at their finest. John Gilmore, a chief lieutenant in the group for almost 40 years, blusters with his tenor saxophone on the peppy “Soft Talk,” recorded in his first few years alongside Ra. The gentle horn riff of “Space Loneliness”—from 1960, Ra’s final year in Chicago—pulls you towards the void of the outer cosmos before blissful and delicate solos from Phil Cohran (cornet) and Marshall Allen (alto sax) chime in. 

Given the nature of the format, Singles also showcases Ra’s pop instincts. Whether it’s the smooth doo-wop of “Daddy’s Gonna Tell You Know Lie” (of which there are two versions), the wild-man energy of singer Yochanan on blistering R&B number “Hot Skillet Momma,” or Hattie Randolph’s sweet rendition of jazz standard “Round Midnight,” it’s a thrill to hear Ra carve out lean jukebox jams. On “Bye Bye,” the sweet harmonies of the Cosmic Rays are drowned out by short, sharp skewering of double bass that tears through the final few seconds. Recorded a decade before George Martin was doing that sort of thing, it confirms that even in the pop realm, Ra was a daring futurist.

The later work sees Ra fully exploring the outer realms of his own talent. “Disco 2021” sounds like an android’s fever dream. A doomed but dinky organ holds hands with a Gilmore-led wind quartet on the ugly-beautiful “Outer Space Plateau.” Ra incorporates a Moog synth into “The Perfect Man”; probably recorded in mid-1973, he deploys a bluesy horn riff as the bedrock before running wild with the synthetic instrument. It’s a strange mismatch, but “The Perfect Man” feels like a rare link between dapper nightclub blues and the space-bound sounds of new wave, disco and early hip-hop. The song encapsulates Sun Ra’s freewheeling, alien brilliance. 

The London-based Strut Records has long been prolific in unearthing and reissuing old music and has gotten pretty damn good at it. The three-disc CD and LP releases of Singles: The Definitive 45s Collection includes a lot of the trimmings you might expect: rare photos, artwork, sleeve notes and an interview with El Saturn Records founder Alton Abraham. There’s also detailed track-by-track and session notes by project compiler Paul Griffiths that you’ll open up a lot as you grapple with this set. Strut is experienced in dusting off old recordings, so the remasters sound crisp—particularly when played back-to-back with versions that cropped up on other compilations—but without suffocating that rich 45rpm flavor.

 In addition to the CD and digital releases, Strut is putting out 20 cuts from the collection in two 45s box sets (Volume 1 released this month, Volume 2 released in March 2017) in a limited 500 copies run for the dedicated looking to fully immerse in the spirit of their original releases. For newcomers here for spiritual guidance, broaching Sun Ra’s seismic life work can be daunting. To penetrate the outer atmosphere and splash down into an unknown world; to crawl into a mind of a man with the power to transport his consciousness across our solar system. Singles offers a wide-ranging but accessible route to his unearthly sounds.

In addition to hundreds of studio albums, live recordings, and compilations, the Sun Ra discography also contains dozens of singles, many of them dating from the early days of the artist's career, before he really took off for the outer cosmos. His singles have been collected before, particularly on the 1996 double CD The Singles, issued by Evidence Records. Strut's 2016 collection contains three discs' worth of material, but it isn't just a reissue of the previous set with a bonus disc tacked on. This one includes recordings that were unearthed since the '90s, including plenty of spoken word pieces. (Norton Records has released several LPs and singles of Ra's "Space Poetry" since the 2000s.) Not everything from the previous set is included -- the older one had a few more alternate versions as well as songs recorded with singer Juanita Rogers and bluesman Lacy Gibson (Ra's brother-in-law) that are missing here. Everything that is included, however, is completely essential.

Beginning with some of Ra's early spoken pieces, the set moves into several doo wop and rhythm & blues singles he recorded with vocal combos such as the Nu Sounds and the Cosmic Rays. The songs already touch on outer space themes, even if the music itself is often relatively straightforward. Ra did work with plenty of more bugged-out vocalists, however, including swing singer Billie Hawkins and the incomparable Yochanan ("The Space Age Vocalist"). There's also the weirdo Yuletide classic "It's Christmas Time" by the Qualities. On the more straightforward side, there are two lovely renditions of Thelonious Monk tunes sung by Hattie Randolph, including a perfect "'Round Midnight." By the time the set reaches the mid-'60s, Ra and his Arkestra were recording skronky avant-garde pieces. Obviously, the single format doesn't have room for the lengthy freakouts of the Arkestra's concerts, but there are a few tastes of that madness here. There are also some of Ra's more well-known tracks, including the single version of his signature tune, "Rocket #9," which is much slower and bumpier than the fast version on the Space Is the Place album. During the '70s, Ra explored the possibilities of electronic keyboards, resulting in bugged-out electro-funk like the nearly Raymond Scott-sounding "The Perfect Man." While most of the tracks on this collection originate from 45s, thankfully the infamous "Nuclear War," released as a 12" single by post-punk label Y Records in 1982, is also included. The set ends with more spoken intergalactic wisdom and space poetry, including "I Am the Instrument," recorded at home near the end of Ra's life and posthumously released as a CD single packaged with a VHS tape.

The set contains much of Ra's more accessible work, making it an excellent (and very generous) introduction for newcomers, but there's also plenty of material that might've escaped notice from longtime fans.