Sunday, May 5, 2019

Sun Ra - 1970 - Holiday For Soul Dance

Sun Ra
Holiday For Soul Dance

01. But Not For Me
02. Day By Day
03. Holiday For Strings
04. Dorothy's Dance
05. Early Autumn
06. Porgy
07. Body And Soul
08. Keep Your Sunny Side Up

Alto Saxophone – Danny Davis, Danny Thompson, Marshall Allen
Baritone Saxophone, Bass – Pat Patrick
Bass Clarinet – Robert Cummins
Cornet – Phil Corhan
Drum [Log Drums] – James Jacson
Drum [Space Drums] – Carl Nimrod
Drums – Bob Barry
Piano – Sun Ra
Tenor Saxophone – John Gilmore
Trombone – Ali Harsan
Trumpet – Ebah, Wayne Harris

"Early Autumn" recorded at Wonder Inn, Chicago 1960.
The rest of the tracks were recorded at Elks Hall, Milwaukee June 14, 1960.

Note that the personnel on the cover is known to be incorrect (dating from the mid-to-late 60s Arkestra).

Holiday For Soul Dance is as close to the jazz mainstream as any Sun Ra album. A rarity in that it contains no original compositions by the leader, Holiday offers seven Tin Pan Alley standards (two by Gershwin), as well as a new work ("Dorothy's Dance") by Arkestra trumpeter Phil Cohran.

Compiled from recordings made in Chicago around July 1960, it was released on Saturn a decade later. The album title, in fact, was configured from words plucked from the track listing. The release was one of five to include songs captured in a marathon 1960 recording session at RCA Studios (and/or possibly Hall Recording) before Sunny's departure for New York. Like most of these delayed releases, Holiday for Soul Dance was less a planned album than a collection of songs that fit thematically.

The LP back cover lists 14 musicians, but in fact the personnel appears to consist of a tight septet of Arkestra mainstays, minus the larger rotating musical family. The song choices reflect a nightclub set, and affirm Sunny's enduring fondness for traditional bandstand repertoire. The Arkestra interprets these standards with respect and dignity, offering few hints of the pan-galactic notions swirling in the bandleader's mind at the time. Yet the arrangements—particularly on the uncharacteristically stringless "Holiday for Strings"—display Sun Ra's typically masterful craftsmanship. To the discerning ear, idiosyncrasies abound, yet Sunny refuses to sacrifice accessibility. Solos by the band's brass and reeds are tasteful and restrained, but charged with emotion as the compositions require. "I Loves You Porgy" and "Body and Soul" demonstrate Sun Ra's tender way with ballads, while the rest of the tunes swing—the juxtaposition of styles providing the "soul" and "dance" respectively. He even manages to namedrop himself in the final track.

"Early Autumn" features the robust baritone vocals of Ricky Murray, who later made an encore cameo on The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (Savoy, 1961), singing the standard "China Gate."

There’s much beauty to be found in this collection of jazz standards mostly performed in quartet and quintet settings, with the occasional septet.

John Gilmore’s tenor playing has started to enter new rhythmic territory, and he mostly seems to focus on the upper register of his instrument during his solos. Marshall Allen finally gets promoted to alto sax after mostly playing flute since joining the band in early ’58, and we get to hear his sometimes gentle, sometimes swooping approach for the first time, and he’s clearly got a lot to say.

Whilst most of this album is played straight there are some unusual touches, for example the re-structuring of the melody of ‘But Not For Me’, the horns introduction to ‘Day By Day’ and their arrangement on 'Early Autumn'. Personally I'm not really a fan of Ricky Murray's voice on that latter track, the only vocal track here, but it's a lovely album.

Sun Ra - 1965 - Fate In Pleasant Mood

Sun Ra
Fate In Pleasant Mood

01. The Others In Their World
02. Space Mates
03. Lights On A Satellite
04. Distant Stars
05. Kingdom Of Thunder
06. Fate In A Pleasant Mood
07. Ankhnation
08. Lights on a Satellite (Single Version)

Alto Saxophone, Flute – Marshall Allen
Bass – Ronnie Boykins
Drums – Eddie Skinner
Piano – Sun Ra
Tenor Saxophone – John Gilmore
Trumpet – George Hudson, Phil Cohran

Also released as Saturn LP 202, Impulse AS 9270 (1974) and Evidence (CD, 1993).

Most of the tracks were recorded at a marathon session of between 30 and 40 songs, either at the RCA Studios or possibly at Hall Recording Company (both in Chicago), around 17 June 1960. Other albums to include tracks from the session include Interstellar Low Ways, Holiday for Soul Dance, Angels and Demons at Play and We Travel The Space Ways.

Fate in a Pleasant Mood was recorded in Chicago in 1960, but not released until 1965. It was the last album featuring Sunny's band from Chicago. After a decade and a half in the Windy City, tired of local indifference by fans and the press, Sun Ra decided to take his music elsewhere—briefly to Montreal, then New York, where he settled for seven years.

Stylistically, Fate in a Pleasant Mood veers from ballads to bebop, from free jazz to Ellington-inflected voicings, from the 12-bar blues to strains of crime jazz and cha-cha. In his Sun Ra biography Space is the Place, John Szwed says of the album's offerings: "To a seasoned jazz listener at the time they might seem either slightly out of kilter or evidence of a band with a hidden agenda." Suspicions aside, Fate in a Pleasant Mood is an accessible album by the era's standards, and full of delights. Of particular note is the imaginative drum solo (probably by Jon Hardy) on "Space Mates"—a restrained touch at odds with the prevailing hard bop emphasis on funkiness and speed. Indeed, there are a lot of unusual percussion textures throughout the set (e.g. on "Kingdom of Thunder," which approximates a Saturnesque take on the late '50s exotica of Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman).

Sun Ra discographer Robert L. Campbell wrote: "In 1967 the album was given the catalog number 202. The spine of the Saturn LP, but not the front or back cover, rendered its title as it may have been intended originally, 'Faith in a Pleasant Mood' (the spine also said "Saturn Vol. 2," without indicating what Volume 1 was, and gave the number as 9956-2-B)."

This digital collection includes the unreleased 45 rpm single version of "Lights on a Satellite," which features the engineer's title cue at the head followed by the album performance drenched in heavy reverb.

Tthere came a point in my development as a sometimes-consumer of psychedelic drugs when I realized I could maximize my enjoyment by taking small, gentle doses - that I don't necessarily need to max out my senses by pushing them to this throbbing carnival firework limit, that I can just eat a pinch of mushrooms on a sunny day and go for a quiet stroll in a public garden and just have this like transcendentally -pleasant- experience. 

"Fate in a Pleasant Mood", for me,  is that garden stroll rendered musically.  It's psychedelic without a phased-out guitar ripping a mixolydian solo right at you and daring you to take it, jazz quirk without skronk or menace.  It's the garden where you look behind a nice flower and see that it goes on a lot further than you would've thought... still pleasant, but 4-D and base 12 and governed by a crazy physics that holds together just as well as our own.  There's no one element to pinpoint for the weirdness, it's just how this universe organizes itself.  This record is made by extra-dimensional geniuses trying to create some easy swinging jazz, but try as they might for the Earthly verisimilitude they just can't help but have some of their own realm rub off on it.

The ballad "Space Mates" is a personal favourite, with wonderful piano playing by Sun Ra running for the duration.  I feel that in all the deserved hype about Ra as a brilliant bandleader, his role as one of the great pianists of his era can sometimes be downplayed (by who, right?  what am I reacting to?).  But damn if the acoustic piano isn't a direct line to the man's brain here, and it sounds like during these sessions that brain was a great place to be.  It stumbles and takes unexpected pauses and comes at chords from bizarro angles until you realize that this isn't accident or improv, this is dialect. 

"Kingdom of Thunder" is also terrific, a military march for peace.  The drums are highlighted here in a series of whimsical fills.  How can something be so simple, so catchy and so recognizable, but so far away from cliche?

Not that highlighting those two songs says anything relative to the others.  This record is hits all the way through.  Each piece has a melody that you can -almost- hum, until the inevitable weirdo turnaround - and each inevitable weirdo turnaround plays so song-appropriately you wonder why no one's thought of them as the sort of idiomatic thing you'd learn in a Mel Bay "how to play jazz" book.  It seems so simple on the surface.  It's all coming from some joyful place between Duke Ellington and Moondog.  Is that place "New York"?  Maybe I ought to check it out?

Fate In A Pleasant Mood combines some beautiful melodies over jazz ballad forms or mid-paced swing with some unusual approaches to arrangement and with some very angular melodic content. Jon Hardy uses beaters on his drums on several of the tunes, giving the album less of a jazz feel.

Space Mates is a good example of the approach: essentially a jazz ballad, it is bookended by some unusual improvisation by Sun Ra on piano and Jon Hardy with his beaters. Distant Stars is the exception, as it tears along in fine style, very enjoyable fast swing but with a strange melody. Overall you're left with a fairly plaintive feel, but most definitely wanting more.