Saturday, June 22, 2019

Sun Ra - 1968 - A Black Mass

Sun Ra
A Black Mass (with Imamu Amiri Baraka 

01. A Black Mass
02. A Black Mass

Narrator – Bob Washington
Orchestra – Sun Ra Myth-Science Arkestra
A Black Mass A Play By – Imsmu Baraka (Leroi Jones)*
Voice Actor [Beast] – David Shakes
Voice Actor [Eulalie] – Jacqui Bugg
Voice Actor [Jacoub] – Carl Boissiere
Voice Actor [Nasafi] – Yusef Iman
Voice Actor [Olabumi] – Elaine Jones
Voice Actor [Tanzil] – Barry Wynn
Voice Actor [Tiila] – Sylvia Jones

Originally released by Jihad Productions in 1968.

A Black Mass is a curious piece that was extremely limited when it was first released in 1968 on Leroi Jones' (Amiri Baraka) Jihad records. Recorded at Spirit House, Jones' house/theater in Newark, this live performance of Jones' dramatic piece dedicated to Malcolm X -- and to a lesser extent, the Nation of Islam -- would have originally only been found in black nationalist bookstores in a few cities. Fans of Sun Ra & the Arkestra may be disappointed, as Ra and company never play more than a few notes here and there. Unfortunately, it's difficult to make out certain key elements of the dialogue, obviously essential to grasping the full understanding of Baraka's play. This is more a historical literary piece than a musical one, just as worthy of serious examination, albeit with strained ears.

Originally issued in 1968, A Black Mass was personally distributed by Baraka via a network of radical Black literature bookstores and was not commonly found in the channels that records of the time moved in. As a result, it has enjoyed a mystical status for the better part of its 30+ year existence, and many hard-core Ra completists have never seen a copy. A strange and revolutionary play by Baraka, with musical interludes by the Myth Science Arkestra. Very, very historic. "The play A Black Mass was written in Harlem in 1965, much of it probably at my desk at The Black Arts Repertory Theater School at West 130th Street and Lenox (now Malcolm X. Blvd.). It was first performed at the RKO Proctors Theater, Newark as a companion piece to J-E-L-L-O, a satire on the Jack Benny show where Rochester turns militant. The reason it was Newark is because late in 1965, I decided to walk away from the BARTS because with the mounting internal strife, the phenomenon of 'diminishing returns' had set in so disruptively that the vision of bringing Black Art into the community and creating what we were later to understand as Cultural Revolution could no longer succeed at that venue. Black Mass shows the heavy influence of the Nation of Islam even though, after Malcolm's murder, I became alienated from that Nation, essentially as a means of registering my allegiance to Malcolm. Even the Jacoub story I had gotten from Malcolm when he was still more directly motivated by Elijah Muhammad's teachings. Sun Ra was one of the most consistent and supportive artists associated with the BARTS. He was there several days a week, teaching all who would listen. At any rate, when I conceived of doing Black Mass to music, Ra was the only musician in my mind. Not just because of the 'otherworldliness' of the tale, but the sensuous 'outness' I knew Ra, with his Myth Science Arkestra, would bring, which I felt would give a material life to the text. The work was recorded in The Spirit House, on the first floor theater we had created by tearing down the walls of my rented one-family house, just as we had done at The Black Arts. With Sylvia Robinson (Amina Baraka, a Newark artist who would shortly become my wife), Yusef Iman (a BARTS original), Newark's Marvin Camillo (he and Yusef are both gone now), and Barry Wynn (Amun Ankra), we tried to recreate the staged version which we had just done. And while there is something to be desired in our collaboration, the recording stands not only as a record of what The Black Arts was doing, but points I think into the future of the spoken word and the possibility of expanding what can be recorded and what kind of collaboration between word and music can come. The theme 'The Satellites Are Spinning' is the dramatic musical mise-en-scène throughout, though close listeners will hear some of the music which characterized the Myth Science Arkestra rising and falling through the mainly improvised music-drama. In total, the music is rich and evocative by itself. Heard with the text of The Black Mass, both connect and extend each other with a dramatic gestalt of Myth-Science music and the mythologized history deepens our emotional perception of what is being told. For me, re-heard with the benefit of study and another kind of thoughtfulness, it even projects a rationale that's more scientifically based, 'search-lighting' some evasive facts of human history as well as projecting the premise which I have long held, that art is creation, and that we must oppose the 'creation of what does not need to be created.' -Amiri Baraka, 9/6/99

Amiri Baraka, also called Imamu Amiri Baraka, original name Everett Leroy Jones, called Leroy Jones, Leroy later changed to LeRoi, (born October 7, 1934, Newark, New Jersey, U.S.—died January 9, 2014, Newark), American poet and playwright who published provocative works that assiduously presented the experiences and suppressed anger of black Americans in a white-dominated society.

After graduating from Howard University (B.A., 1953), Jones served in the U.S. Air Force but was dishonourably discharged after three years because he was suspected (wrongly at that time) of having communist affiliations. He attended graduate school at Columbia University, New York City, and founded (1958) the poetry magazine Yugen, which published the work of Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac; he edited the publication with his wife, Hettie Cohen. He began writing under the name LeRoi Jones in the late 1950s and produced his first major collection of poetry, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, in 1961. His first significant play, Dutchman (1964; film 1967), which recounted an explosive confrontation on a train between a black intellectual and a white woman who murders him, won the 1964 Obie Award for best Off-Broadway American play.

Following the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, Jones became increasingly focused on black nationalism, That year he left his white Jewish wife and moved to Harlem. There he founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre, which staged many of his works prior to its closure in the late 1960s. In 1968 he adopted the name Amiri Baraka, and his writings became more divisive, prompting some to applaud his courage and others to deplore sentiments that could foster hate. In the mid-1970s he became a Marxist, though his goals remained similar. “I [still] see art as a weapon and a weapon of revolution,” he said. “It’s just now that I define revolution in Marxist terms.” His work from this period was seen by some as becoming increasingly homophobic and anti-Semitic. His position as poet laureate of New Jersey was abolished after he published the searing 2001 poem “Somebody Blew Up America,” which suggested that Israel had prior knowledge of the September 11 attacks in the United States.
Among Baraka’s other works are Blues People: Negro Music in White America (1963), Black Magic: Collected Poetry 1961–1967 (1969), The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka (1984), and the piercing Tales of the Out & Gone (2006), a fictional social commentary. Baraka taught at Columbia, Yale University, and, from 1979, at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where at the time of his death he was emeritus professor of Africana studies. S O S: Poems 1961–2013 (2015) was a posthumous collection containing a wide selection from his oeuvre, including some previously unpublished verse.

Sun Ra - 2008 - Newport Jazz Festival 1969 / The Electric Circus 1968

Sun Ra
Newport Jazz Festival 1969 / The Electric Circus 1968

101. Unidentified Title
102. Unidentified Title
103. The Shadow World
104. Prepare For The Journey To Other Worlds
105. Velvet
106. Outer Space (Is A Pleasant Place)
107. Unidentified Processional
108. Watusa
109. Enlightenment
110. Somebody Else's Idea
111. Sun Ra And His Band From Outer Space

201. Lights On A Satellite
202. Unidentified Title
203. Friendly Galaxy
204. The Satellites Are Spinning
205. Untitled Improvisation
206. Calling Planet Earth
207. Somebody Else's Idea
208. Spontaneous Simplicity
209. Space Aura

The performance at Newport Festival is from July 3rd. 1969.

The performance at the Electric Circus, New York City is from early 1968.

Disc 1 Tracks 1-15: Sun Ra, Kwame Hadi, Akh Tal Ebah, Marshall Allen, Danny Davis, John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Danny Ray Thompson, James Jacson, Robert Cummings, Alex Blake, Nimrod Hunt, William Brister, Lex Humphries, Clifford Jarvis, June Tyson. Disc 1 Tracks 12-15 and

Disc 2: Sun Ra, possibly Al Evans, Jothan Collins, Ali Hassan, Bernard Pettaway, Robert Northern, Marshall Allen, Danny Davis, John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Danny Ray Thompson, James Jacson, Robert Cummings, Alan Silva, Ronnie Boykins, Clifford Jarvis and others.

The sound quality on Live at the Electric Circus/Newport Jazz Festival suggests the performances were recorded by a band or audience member on home equipment. Some tracks are untitled and the sometimes speculative personnel listings lack instrument identifications. However, the late '60s was an important period for the band: the New York milieu of experimentation tended to press the band's expressionist creativity while downplaying some of the theatrical elements. The 11 short tracks from the 1969 Newport concert are clipped and fragmentary, but it's a rare performance by the Arkestra in the heart of the jazz establishment, with some unbridled wailing by John Gilmore and Marshall Allen, spacey keyboard by Sun Ra and dense African-inspired percussion on "Watusa," as well as a few vocals like "Enlightenment". Let loose in the psychedelic ambience of the Electric Circus, the band responds with a more satisfying performance, including a 25-minute collective improvisation with some fine trombone work (likely Bernard Pettaway) and a reed blowout on "Calling Planet Earth" that's a musical highlight. It's worth seeking out, despite the sound. 

The Sun Ra reissue train keeps on rolling, and most recently it has produced two albums that could not be more different. The Transparency label has been unearthing reams of never-before-heard concerts, and now it gives us a great double-CD: Sun Ra's set at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival and a 1968 show in New York. Throughout the 1969 show, Sun Ra pierces the eardrums with his synthesizer noodlings while the band blows, grooves, and chants behind him. By Newport standards, this must have been anarchy. Several of the songs are "unidentified," and that's part of the charm. So is the fact that the list of personnel is shaky; the qualifier "possibly" appears before the lineup of musicians. "On Jupiter," which finally brings a gem to CD, is quite the opposite. Though it clocks in at under a half-hour, the album perfectly captures Sun Ra's band - identified here as the Intergalactic Myth Science Solar Arkestra - in 1979, negotiating the wide swath between postbop and funk. There are just three cuts: the brief title track; the long closer, "Seductive Fantasy," an unusually tender number that features Sun Ra playing beautifully on the piano; and the meat of the set, "UFO," where serious disco-funk takes over.

Sun Ra - 1971 - My Brother the Wind Volume II

Sun Ra
My Brother the Wind Volume II

01. Otherness Blue 4:46
02. Somebody Else's World 3:59
03. Pleasant Twilight 3:38
04. Walking On The Moon 6:13
05. Somewhere Else 4:30
06. Contrast 2:52
07. The Wind Speaks 3:50
08. Sun Thoughts 2:33
09. Journey To The Stars 2:54
10. World Of The Myth "I" 1:32
11. The Design-Cosmos II 2:21

Alto Saxophone, Clarinet [Alto], Flute – Danny Davis
Alto Saxophone, Oboe, Flute – Marshall Allen
Baritone Saxophone, Flute – Danny Thompson, Pat Patrick
Bass – Alejandro Blake
Drums – Clifford Jarvis, Lex Humphries
Drums [Hand] – Nimrod Hunt
Oboe, Percussion – James Jackson
Percussion – Robert Cummings, William Brister
Tenor Saxophone, Percussion – John Gilmore
Trumpet – Ahktal Ebah, Kwame Hadi

Tracks 1 to 6 recorded in NYC in 1969.
Tracks 7 to 11 recorded in NYC in 1970.
Originally released on El Saturn LP 523.
Track 4 is a previously unreleased unedited version.

With Sun Ra you get everything but consistency and predictability. My Brother the Wind Vol. II is no exception. On the original 1971 Saturn LP, side one consisted of sizzling Afrosoul, highlighted by June Tyson's vocals and Sunny's simmering "intergalactic organ" (a Farfisa). Ra discographer Robert Campbell calls it "spaced-out barbecue music," and it's one of the most accessible outings in the artist's first post-Chicago decade. Side two is a non sequitur, consisting of Sun Ra giving a new Minimoog a workout. Artist's prerogative — two Sun Ra's in one (often the case with his oddly juxtaposed LP tracks). 

The ensemble pieces (1-6) were recorded at Variety Studios, probably in early 1970. This is a tight band, and with the exception of "Contrast," these tracks feature something not found on many studio recordings by Ra in the 1960s—a groove, one closer to roadhouse R&B than jazz. There's a bit of Memphis blues, a touch of Booker T & the MGs, albeit with Sun Ra's usual disregard for Top 40 niceties. The horns contribute some characteristically spirited solos. 

However, nothing foreshadowed what awaited the listener who flipped the platter. 

In 1969, Sun Ra had recorded on Moog synth modules at the New York midtown studio of Gershon Kingsley. Those recordings were issued on My Brother the Wind, Vol. 1 (although it was not titled "Vol. 1"— it only achieved that reference after "Vol. 2" appeared). The following year, drummer Tommy Hunter arranged a meeting between Sun Ra and synth pioneer Robert Moog in upstate Trumansburg, New York, to demonstrate the new Minimoog. Tracks 7 thru 11 were reportedly recorded at this demo session (see notes below), after which the inventor offered Sunny one of the first Minimoogs to take on the road. It was a custom model, and may have been handed off just before the unit appeared on the consumer market. 

Because of the ad hoc nature of the session, the Moog works, though titled, sound improvised, as Sunny tests the keyboard action, seeks chromatic capabilities, and adjusts tones and timbres. Fans of Switched-On Bach may be horrified (just as many fans of Bach were horrified by Switched-On). With the Moog, Sun Ra was not looking to reproduce existing music; he was exploring the unknown, tapping into the future, levitating thru the cosmic flux, as the titles indicate. 

Because of sub-optimal recording conditions, the tracks are lo-fi and several display severe distortion. We have elected to leave in some of the distortion (particularly on tracks 10 and 11) because suppressing it would have removed a significant part of the audio signal. This is, in fact, how the originals sound on the tapes and on original Saturn LPs. We do not believe this distortion was caused by tape aging or poor storage. This is what Sun Ra recorded and commercially released. The results may not be sonically pristine, but they do reflect historic early encounters between an adventurous musician and a new music-making technology, one that Sunny would use often in concerts and recording sessions over the next few years. 

Sun Ra - 1970 - My Brother The Wind

Sun Ra 
My Brother The Wind 

01. My Brother The Wind
02. Intergalactic II
03. To Nature's God
04. The Code Of Interdependence

Alto Saxophone, Clarinet – Danny Davis
Oboe, Piccolo Flute, Flute – Marshall Allen
Synthesizer [Moog] – Sun Ra
Tenor Saxophone, Percussion – John Gilmore

MY BROTHER THE WIND, released by Sun Ra in 1970 (but recorded in 1969) is one of several albums that showcase Sun Ra's initial reckonings with the then-recently introduced Moog synthesizer. Within a few years this chapter of Ra's legacy included My Brother the Wind Vol. 2, The Night of the Purple Moon, Space Probe, and The Solar-Myth Approach, Vol. 2. Although the Astro Infinity Arkestra is credited on most copies of the original LP sleeve for My Brother the Wind, in fact only three sidemen were on the session—Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, and Danny Davis, with Moog performance pioneer Gershon Kingsley serving as synth programmer and technical consultant. 

Sun Ra was not seeking to reproduce existing music with the Moog; he saw the device (and electronic instruments generally) as futuristic, offering ear-opening—and galaxy-traversing—possibilities. In 1969 Apollo 11 had landed on the moon; Sun Ra made alternate travel arrangements. "I wasn't using any gasoline. I'm using sound," he explained (about his mythic Black Space Program). "You haven't reached that stage on this planet yet where you can use sound to run your ships and run your cars and heat your house. Your scientists haven't reached that yet. But it will happen. Where you can take a cassette and put it in your car and it will run it—with the right kind of music, of course. And it won't explode." 

The Moog would help Sun Ra achieve lift-off. 

With the Arkestra Sunny could occasionally revisit and reinvent music of yesterday; the Moog was about tomorrow. This approach ran counter to the initial commercial trend of the instrument. During the late 1960s and early 1970s countless high-profile LPs featured Moog-based interpretations of everything from the Beatles to Bach to Bacharach. There were exceptions (e.g., Paul Bley, Caldera, Perrey & Kingsley, Beaver & Krause, even the Monkees), but the prevailing aesthetic was to apply this novel instrument to familiar melodies. Although such albums took minimal risk, they helped popularize the invention by adapting hits and standards, thus broadening the otherworldly Moog's appeal. 

Sun Ra had broader horizons. Given access to a Moog modular system in 1969, he went into Kingsley's New York studio, punched the record button, and embarked on a sonic adventure. The resulting LP was entitled simply My Brother the Wind. There was no "Volume 1," a designation which was retroactively applied after Ra released "Volume 2" shortly thereafter. (Volume 2, which was not an all-Moog outing, contained several Moog solo tracks recorded at the R.A. Moog factory, in Trumansburg, New York, during Sun Ra's visit in summer 1970.) 

The original My Brother the Wind LP on Saturn (catalog 521) featured four tracks, properly sequenced here on as tracks 1–4. For this expanded release, tracks 5–7 feature three complete session takes of "The Perfect Man." The third and final complete take was issued in 1974 on Side B of Saturn 45 rpm single ES 537, reissued in 1983 on Saturn 9/7474, and included on the Evidence 2-CD set The Singles in September 1996. The alternate takes have not been previously issued. 

Track 8 features the monumental "Space Probe," a solo Moog work recorded around the same time—and possibly performed on a Minimoog. This track was originally released in 1974 on the Saturn LP Space Probe, which appeared in a number of hybrid configurations during the 1970s. On at least one iteration, taped to the generic back cover was a typewritten card which claimed "Space Probe," described as a "moog [sic] solo," had been "recorded in Chicago, 1960's"—a fanciful claim at best. 

Sun Ra - 1999 - Janus

Sun Ra

01. Island In The Sun 5:23
02. The Invisible Shield 5:43
03. Janus 6:59
04. Velvet 7:22
05. Joy 9:15

1 Island In The Sun
Alto Clarinet – Danny Davis
Bass [Prob.] – Ronnie Boykins
Flute – Marshall Allen
Percussion – John Gilmore
Percussion [Prob.] – Pat Patrick
Piano – Sun Ra
2a The Invisible Shield
Alto Saxophone – Danny Davis, Marshall Allen
Bassoon [Neptunian Libflecto (modified Bassoon)] – Danny Ray Thompson
Drums [Prob.] – Clifford Jarvis
Organ, Synthesizer [Mini-moog] – Sun Ra
2b Janus
Alto Saxophone, Percussion – Danny Davis
Bass – Ronnie Boykins
Bass Clarinet [Prob.], Percussion [Prob.] – Robert Cummings
Bongos [Prob.], Percussion [Prob.] – Pat Patrick
Effects [Reverb], Percussion – Tommy Hunter
Gong, Clavinet, Directed By – Sun Ra
Piccolo Flute – Marshall Allen
Tenor Saxophone, Bells – John Gilmore
Vocals, Percussion – Art Jenkins
3 Velvet
Alto Saxophone – Danny Davis, Marshall Allen
Baritone Saxophone – Pat Patrick
Bass – Ronnie Boykins
Drums – Clifford Jarvis
Drums [Log Drum], Flute – James Jacson
French Horn – Robert Northern
Performer [Solos] – Pat Patrick, Robert Northern, Sun Ra
Piano – Sun Ra
Tenor Saxophone – John Gilmore
Trombone [Prob.] – Bernard Pettaway
4 Joy
Alto Saxophone, Percussion – Danny Davis, Marshall Allen
Baritone Saxophone, Percussion – Pat Patrick
Bass – Ronnie Boykins
Drums – Clifford Jarvis
Drums [Log Drum] – James Jacson
French Horn – Robert Northern
Piano, Keyboards [Clavioline] – Sun Ra
Tenor Saxophone, Percussion – John Gilmore
Trombone [Prob.] – Bernard Pettaway
Companies, etc.
Licensed To – 1201 Music, Inc.
Manufactured By – 1201 Music, Inc.
Recorded At – Variety Recording Studio
Recorded At – Sun Studios, New York
Recorded At – Choreographers Workshop
Composed By – Sun Ra
Layout, Design – Ric Simenson
Liner Notes – Robert L. Campbell*
Photography By – Michael Wilderman
Track 1 - Variety Recording Studio, NYC, between 1968 and 1970.
Track 2a - Recorded mono, probably at a live performance, 1970.
Track 2b - Recorded at Sun Studios, NYC, 1967 or '68 (Sun Ra solo) / Recorded at Choreographers' Workshop, NYC, 1963 (group).
Track 3 - Recorded in early 1968; it is different from a live recording from 1969 previously known to discographers.
Track 4 - Recorded live in NYC, early 1968.

"The Invisible Shield" and "Janus" are listed as two separate tracks on the cover but are joined as one track on the disc.

The credits for track 2b, credit Sun Ra with "gong or clavinet".

"Sun Ra must have planned Janus as an entity in 1970 or 1971. But it was never released on LP. The first three tracks eventually appeared on one side of some obscure Saturn LP pressings; the last two are just now being issued, allowing us to hear Sun Ra's original conception for the first time."

In the mid and late 1960's, Sun Ra would often quote a familiar composition as a theme just at the beginning or end of a series of free improvisations. The final 3 minutes of Joy could be more free improv., or they could move into the theme of El Is a Sound of Joy or possibly another Sun Ra tune like Tapestry from an Asteroid. (When the words to this composition are sung, the last two words are "space joy").

This compilation of rare material from the Sun Ra Arkestra draws from tapes recorded between 1963 and 1970, and the space-age jazz shaman conjures up a variety of styles and moods along the way. A balmy tropical vibe greets the ears with the opener ("Island in the Sun"), but it doesn't take long for Ra to set his controls for the stratosphere, and soon, distorted gongs, haunted house organ, and homemade instruments are exploring African mysticism on the title track. "Velvet" is a more traditional hard bop cut, but some gleefully manic saxophone and French horn work lends a cartoonish anarchy to the tune. Chaos is certainly the form for the finale, "Joy," as Ra directs his boys to get free, and the musicians coast through gale wind discord into a calm, disturbing breeze. It all winds down to a lonely drummer whose solo (and the album) meets an abrupt end mid-lick. Taken from both live and studio performances, the tracks may once have been intended as a complete album, but they haven't been available previously except scattered between a few rare Saturn sides. Janus is hardly essential for anyone still combing through Ra's voluminous catalog of unique releases, but the hardcore contingent won't be disappointed.

Sun Ra - 1974 - The Invisible Shield

Sun Ra
The Invisible Shield

01. State Street
02. Sometimes I'm Happy
03. Time After Time
04. Time After Time
05. Easy To Love
06. Sunny Side Up
07. I sland In The Sun
08. The Invisible Shield
09. Janus

Sun Ra: keyboards, electronics, percussion
John Gilmore: tenor sax (1, 2, 4, 7), percussion (9)
Walter Miller: trumpet (1, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Pat Patrick: baritone sax (1), percussion (9)
Al Evans: flugelhorn (1)
Ali Hassan: trombone (1)
Michel White: violin (1)
Danny Davis: alto sax, alto clarinet (7)
Marshall Allen: flute (7), alto sax (8), piccolo (9)
Danny Ray Thompson: Neptunian libflecto/adapted bassoon (8)
Ronnie Boykins: bass (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
unidentified: bass (9
Clifford Jarvis: drums (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, prob. 8)
Tommy "Bugs" Hunter: percussion, tape reverb (9)
Art Jenkins: space voice (9)

All tracks produced by Sun Ra
Tracks 1–7 and 9 recorded 1961-1963 at the Choreographer's Workshop, New York.
Track 8 recording location and date unknown, ca. 1966–68, possibly live concert excerpt.

On The Invisible Shield, you get two (maybe even three) Sun Ra's for the price of one. Although many fans admire everything the maestro produced, some prefer his idiosyncratic take on jazz forms, while others thrill when Sunny dispenses with tradition and transmits killer sound waves from space. The Invisible Shield has something for both camps. There's big-band swing, propulsive hard bop, lounge jazz, and hypnotic Latin exotica. The counterpoints are lease-breaking skronk, destabilizing electronic alchemy, and pan-galactic sonic emissions. 

The Invisible Shield is an extremely rare LP. It was never officially released on El Saturn (tho it did have a catalog number—529), and just a few hundred LPs were pressed around 1974 and sold at concerts. It never even had a standardized, printed cover—each copy was hand-designed. Several tracks appeared on such other releases as Janus, What's New, Satellites Are Outerspace, and A Tonal View of the Times. 

The A and B sides of the LP traced a mind-scrambling excursion from Earth to Elsewhere. The first side offered rowdy, early 1960s post-bop renditions of Tin Pan Alley favorites arranged for quartet (2) and quintet (3, 4, 5, 6), along with a well-crafted original, "State Street," for full band—a fairly mainstream outing by Arkestra standards. Side B opened with a locked-in Latin groove ("Island in the Sun"), before segueing into two jarring and uncompromising electro-acoustic soundscapes, probably recorded five years apart. 

There's no stylistic bridge between the material. Sun Ra fans of the period were accustomed to new albums which were in fact compilations of older, previously unreleased material, often from different, unrelated sessions. The common denominator was the bandleader, who saw no need to stylistically unify the product. These albums were like samplers: Try this (hard bop), and if you like it, you might also like this (lunar beeps) by the same artist. 

This remastered edition includes one unreleased track ("But Not For Me"); three stereo tracks ("Time After Time," "Easy to Love," and "Sunny Side of the Street") which had appeared in mono on the LP; and the full ten minutes of "Island in the Sun" (only half of which appeared on the LP). 

If you're fond of hyperactive kick drums, the explosive Clifford Jarvis is in the house. Few tape decks were able to withstand his thunderous pedal action, as evidenced on tracks 3 thru 6, and his well-timed bombs no doubt jolted many a turntable stylus. 

Sun Ra - 1974 - A Tonal View Of Times Tomorrow

Sun Ra
A Tonal View Of Times Tomorrow

01. The Conversion
02. The Primevil Age
03. Space Probe

Sun Ra - Synthesizer [Moog], Piano, Instruments [Intergalactic Instruments]
John Gilmore - Bass Clarinet
James Jacson - Drum [Log Drum]
Nimrod Hunt - Drums [Hand]
Marshall Allen - Flute
Thea Barbara - Vocals

The CD starts out with the seventeen-minute "Space Probe," the first test recording of Ra on Moog synthesizer, recorded way back in 1969. This early electronic masterpiece is a gorgeous explosion of sound, a strangely beautiful mechanical flowering. According to the liner notes, the music reflects "a spaceship in outer space looking for a landing place." Certainly the song is that, but it's many other things as well: telepathic birds, machines discussing philosophy, video games playing video games — it's whatever you can hear. The magic of Ra on synthesizer is that even the most mechanical sounds have a strange warmth and beauty, and his innate musicality infuses the song with a satisfying cohesion. "Space Probe" is Ra at his experimental best, exemplifying his unique way of making people hear and feel in new ways. 

"Earth Primitive Earth" and "The Conversation of J.P." are also from the original Space Probe. The former features the great John Gilmore on bass clarinet, and the latter features the great Marshall Allen on flute, plus Ra's joyful keyboards. Both tunes have spare, urgent percussion, exemplifying Ra's deep connection to African music as well as the burning political situation of the time. There are also five additional tunes, including two rare pieces with vocalist Thea Barbara: the tiny 47-second "Circe" and the longer "Recollections of There." Among the extra tracks, "Solar System II" is a particular pleasure; Ra's quirky dissonance on keyboards is reminiscent of Monk, but unlike Monk this tune is backed by raw, archetypal percussion, including cans, cowbells, and sticks. 

So on one album, released 37 years ago, Ra explored the ancient sound of reeds and drums, and simultaneously reached forward into the world of machines. He was a man with an astoundingly broad vision, and he was never experimental just to be experimental: Ra's work was always part of a prophecy for humanity, a vision of love and unity that did not stop at our planet. Space Probe is yet another invitation from the great master to enter his vision, and possibly even make it one's own. 

"A transition classic. Recorded mostly in the early ‘60s with Ra, Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, James Jacson, Nimrod Hunt and Thea Barbara, Space Probe explores stripped back forms and colour combinations that are far from jazz – or that attempt, very successfully, to take jazz into wholly new territories. Especially notable is the extraordinary Conversation Of J.P. for piano and percussion which, along with the opening track - an 18-minute Moog solo, probably recorded in 1970, just after Ra had newly acquired the instrument and was still putting it through its paces - make this an essential release in the Ra canon. As a whole, there is an impressive palette of ideas and experiments here, situating Ra at the heart of the musical revolution that was overturning orthodoxies in every field of musical endeavour at this time. The title track is notable as documenting Ra's early exploration (his first released) of the unworldly potential of a newly-acquired Mini-Moog –a prototype, in fact, given him by Robert Moog to test. Moog always claimed afterwards that he never understood exactly where some of those sounds came from – suspecting he (Ra) might have modified the instrument in some way."-Chris Cutler

Sun Ra - 1989 - Out There A Minute

Sun Ra
Out There A Minute 

01. Love In Outer Space 5:03
02. Somewhere In Space 8:07
03. Dark Clouds With Silver Linings 4:53
04. Jazz And Romantic Sounds 4:41
05. When Angels Speak Of Love 4:24
06. Cosmo Enticement 3:05
07. Song Of Tree And Forest 3:08
08. Other Worlds 4:50
09. Journey Outward 4:23
10. Lights Of A Satellite 3:02
11. Starships And Solar Boats 7:32
12. Out There A Minute 3:20
13. Next Stop Mars 11:59

Love in Outer Space (Ra) (5:02)
Ra-rocksichord; Danny Davis-acl, cga; Stafford James-eb; John Gilmore-d. Alternate take from the sessions of Night of the Purple Moon, Philadelphia or New York, 1970.

Somewhere in Space (Ra) (8:08)
Ra-p; Marshall Allen-as, fl, perc; John Gilmore-ts, perc; Pat Patrick-bs, fl, perc; Ronnie Boykins-b; probably C. Scoby Stroman-d; Art Jenkins-space voice. Recorded maybe at the sessions of Secrets of the Sun, Choreographers' Workshop, New York, 1962.

Dark Clouds with Silver Linings (Ra) (4:53)
Ra-p; John Gilmore-ts; Marshall Allen-as; Pat Patrick-bs; Ronnie Boykins-b; C. Scoby Stroman or Tommy Hunter-d. Probably Choreographers' Workshop, New York, 1962.

Jazz and Romantic Sounds (Ra) (4:41)
Ra-org; Marshall Allen-as; Danny Davis-as; Pat Patrick-bs; Clifford Jarvis-d. New York or Philadelphia, 1969.

When Angels Speak of Love (Ra) (4:25)
Taken from the LP When Angels Speak of Love.

Cosmo Enticement (Ra) (3:06)
Percussion track from the album Continuation, originally entitled Earth Primitive Earth. Ra-space gong; Marshall Allen-Jupiterian fl; other members of the Arkestra- sun harp, koto, scrapers, etc.

Song of Tree and Forest (Ra) (3:08)
From the album Continuation, with Ra-p; Marshall Allen-piccolo; Danny Davis or Pat Patrick-fl; Robert Cummings-bcl; Originally entitled New Planet

Other Worlds (Ra) (4:51)
Ra-electronic celeste, p; Chris Capers-tp; Teddy Nance-tb; Bernard Pettaway-btb; Marshall Allen-picc, as; Danny Davis-as; John Gilmore-ts; Pat Patrick-bs; Ronnie Boykins-b; Jimmy Johnson-d. New York, spring 1965, sessions of Magic City.

Journey Outward (Ra) (4:23)
Ra-p; Al Evans-tp; John Gilmore-bcl; Marshall Allen-morrow; several percussionists. Choreographers' Workshop, New York, 1961 or 1962.

Lights of a Satellite (Ra) (3:03)
Taken from the LP Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow

Starships and Solar Boats (Ra) (7:32)
From Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow, original title Kosmos in Blue. The second tenor solo by Gilomre didn't appear in the saturn version.

Out There a Minute (Ra) (3:24)
Ra-p, introduction; Marshall Allen-as, fl; Danny Davis-as, fl; John Gilmore-ts; Pat Patrick-bs; Ronnie Boykins-b; Clifford Jarvis-d. Choreographers' Workshop or Sun Studios, New York, 1962-1964.

Next Stop Mars (Ra) (12:00)
From the LP When Angels Speak of Love; edited version with several minutes removed.

A nice collection of "rare Arkestra recordings from the late 1960's, made in and around 42nd Street, New York City, Planet Earth." Sketchy details on personnel and dates but that hardly matters - "Somewhere in Space" with its "underwater" vocal and great Gilmore solo, plus the closing "Next Stop Mars" and the psychedelically reverbed piano on "Song of Tree and Forest" make this worthwhile in itself, but the rest of the tracks range from interesting to really good as well, and nothing is less than enjoyable here. Not an easy one to find these days, and nothing I'd say is so essential that you *need* to seek it out, but snap it up if you come across it.

The 13 selections on this CD by a small group taken from Sun Ra's Arkestra are generally both explorative and introspective. The combo includes tenor-saxophonist John Gilmore, altoist Marhsall Allen, baritonist Pat Patrick, an occasional trumpeter and trombonist (the personnel is not listed), Ra's organ, piano and primitive electric keyboards plus a bassist, drummer and some percussionists. The performances are mostly short sketches that set spacey moods and then fade out; Ra's piano sounds surprisingly like Thelonious Monk in spots. The odd echo devices and spooky keyboards give this eccentric music much atmosphere. The violent ensemble number "Other Worlds" and the lengthy "Next Stop Mars" are changes of pace (sounding like the 1966 John Coltrane Quintet) while many of the other pieces would work well as soundtracks to a science fiction movie. Although not essential, these futuristic sounds from the past hold one's interest.

Sun Ra - 1969 - Atlantis

Sun Ra  

01. Mu
02. Lemuria
03. Yucatan (Saturn Version)
04. Yucatan (Impulse Version)
05. Bimini
06. Atlantis

Alto Saxophone, Oboe, Flute [Jupiterian] – Marshall Allen
Baritone Saxophone, Flute – Pat Patrick
Bass Clarinet – Robert Cummings
Drums – Clifford Jarvis
French Horn – Robert Northern
Organ [Gibson Kalamazoo], Keyboards [Clavioline] – Sun Ra
Slit Drum [Log Drum] – James Jacson
Trombone – Ali Hassan, Charles Stephens
Trumpet – Akh Tal Ebah, Wayne HarrisN
Alto Saxophone – Danny Davis, Danny Thompson

The Atlantis LP, recorded in New York in 1967 and 1968, was in effect a pair of EPs, as the two sides radically differed. Side one (tracks 1–5 on this digital release), recorded at Sun Studios, consisted of short rhythmic works arranged around the Hohner Clavinet, which Ra dubbed the "Solar Sound Instrument." This keyboard had only been on the market about a year before Sunny adopted it as a featured instrument, pairing its electronic pulses with saxophone and African-style percussion.

The version of "Yucatan" that appeared on the Saturn LP was the first half of a longer, two-part work. An edited portion of the second half, different from the first but similarly titled "Yucatan," appeared on a 1972 Impulse! LP reissue in place of the Saturn LP version. For this remastered edition, we have included both versions, herein titled "Yucatan I" and "Yucatan II" (which appears here in full, two minutes longer than the Impulse! track).

Side two of the LP featured the title track — an epic, 22-minute sonic tapestry, built around Sunny's aggressive free (or "Space") jazz keyboard improvisations, with the band sporadically joining the fray. It was recorded at the Olatunji Center of African Culture at 125th Street and Lexington Avenue, in New York, in August 1967. During this period, the Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji and Sun Ra had become friends and often shared ideas on music and African culture.

"Atlantis" is an overpowering—and at times frightful—assault which refuses to coalesce into any conventional structure, and augurs Sun Ra's increasingly adventurous performances in the 1970s. The keyboards used were a Clavioline and a Gibson Kalamazoo Organ (which Ra re-christened the "Solar Sound Organ"). During this performance, according to biographer John Szwed, "Sun Ra rolled his hands on the keys, pressing his forearm along the keyboard, played with his hands upside-down, slashing and beating the keyboard, spinning around and around, his hands windmilling at the keys—a virtual sonic representation of the flooding of Atlantis." It is an uncompromising work by an artist unafraid to challenge his audience. The original 45-minute performance was projected for a full album, running across two sides. However, it was edited to fit onto one side of an LP, and is here presented in its commercially released form. A release of the complete recording is in our project queue.

With Mars now in sight with the naked eye, no time is better than the present to turn to the planets. During his tenure on Earth, Saturnian Sun Ra created some trailblazing sounds that helped to change not only the sound of jazz, but several other genres as well. Herman Blount, better known as Sun Ra, would take a listener from the New Orleans style jazz right into trippy grooves. His space sounds helped to create the experimental music known as psychedelic and its '70s offshoot, space rock. With Atlantis, Sun Ra shows both sides of his personality, offering a side of smaller cuts and one long solid jam that helped define the sound of space jazz.

Atlantis is the first of Sun Ra's ' and probably the first jazz record as well ' to feature the brand new clavinet (dubbed the 'solar sound instrument'). Later on, musicians as diverse as Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock would create some of their finest compositions using the instrument. But here Sun Ra had introduced the solid funk groove of the clavinet to jazz. On Atlantis he gives an entire side to short compositions written exclusively for the instrument, including the conga-driven 'Mu' and the classic 'Yucatan' (both Impulse! and Saturn versions are featured on this CD, which underwent reissues by Impulse! in 1973 and Evidence in 1993).

His style changes give an introspective view of where Sun Ra was going with musical ideas. 'Mu' shows his interest in social, technological and musical diversity by building a track around acoustic and electronic instruments while having tenor-sax man John Gilmore lay out a raga styled solo. On the 21 minute title track, Sun Ra cuts one of his finest free (or space) jazz compositions ever. Atlantis is an amazing opus that features a larger band than the opening five tracks. Here Ra builds a masterpiece that twists and turns through many soundscapes and gives the whole track a diversity that stands apart from all of Sun Ra's other records.

Combing through Sun Ra's catalogue, there are many records that contain sounds that are so unique and original that it makes it almost impossible to choose a favorite based its ideas alone. Atlantis is not only one of Ra's most eclectic albums, but overall is one of the finest he ever released.

Sun Ra - 1974 - Outer Spaceways Incorporated

Sun Ra 
Outer Spaceways Incorporated

01. Somewhere There 15:10
02. Outer Spaceways Incorporated 7:02
03. Saturn 6:08
04. Song Of The Sparer 4:22
05. Spontaneous Simplicity 7:56

Alto Saxophone – Danny Davis
Baritone Saxophone – Pat Patrick
Bass – Ronnie Boykins
Bass Clarinet – Robert Cummings
Drums – Ahk Tal Ebah, Ali Hassan, James Jackson, John Gilmore, Kwame Hadi, Marshall Allen, Nimrod Hunt, Pat Patrick, Teddy Nance
Flute – Danny Davis, James Jackson, Marshall Allen, Pat Patrick
Oboe – Marshall Allen
Percussion – Clifford Jarvis
Piano, Electric Piano [Clavioline] – Sun Ra
Trombone – Ali Hassan, Bernard Pettaway, Teddy Nance
Trumpet – Ahk Tal Ebah, Kwame Hadi

Recorded in New York City, 1968. Track B3 courtesy of Saturn Records.

You never know what you are going to get with Sun Ra: this was recorded live somewhere in New York in 1968, released in 1971 as Pictures of Infinity, later re-released as Outer Spaceways Incorporated, which was already the title of another 1970s Sun Ra album, so you can't even be sure what album you are listening to. And the music: listen to the long Somewhere There, it begins with a chaos of horns, hard core 1960s avant garde jazz, and then out of this primal soup comes Marshall Allan's alto, flipping and flopping like a fish on the beach, gasping for life, screaming out because it is living, then some pleasant drums come in, a relaxed interlude, but the drumming goes on for another 5 minutes before the horns scream in again and we wonder where this is going, but we go back to the drums for another 5 minutes and what we thought was a pleasant interlude in the aggressive assault turns out to be the main feature. So it is with the other tracks, they never do what they promise to do at the beginning, always changing directions, metamorphosing into something unexpected. And part of the weirdness is that it isn't all weird: the opening track could be a 1950s big band track with John Gilmore’s tenor sounding like 1950s John Coltrane. And all the way through the rhythm section is fairly conservative, Ronnie Boykins bass playing straight lines, as though it is pointing to clear paths through the dense undergrowth. (At times it sounds as though a mad professor was taken the rhythm section of the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra and bolted the horn players from the Art Ensemble of Chicago to it.) This album is wondrous and extraordinary, but also somehow unsatisfying, spinning off into too many directions without finding any destinations..

Sun Ra - 1970 - Continuation Volume I & II

Sun Ra 
Continuation Volume I & II

The Original LP
101. Biosphere Blues 5:06
102. Intergalactic Research 8:13
103. Earth Primitive Earth 3:11
104. New Planet 3:22
105. Continuation To Jupiter Festival 20:16

Volume 2
201. Blue York 2:49
202. Meteor Shower 3:30
203. The Myth 4:05
204. Infinity 2:49
205. Conversation Of The Universe 3:56
206. The Beginning Of 3:43
207. Endlessness 4:37
208. Red Planet Mars 4:54
209. Cosmic Rays / The Next Stop Mars 9:45

Alto Saxophone, Clarinet, Percussion – Danny Davis
Alto Saxophone, Oboe, Percussion – Marshall Allen
Baritone Saxophone, Clarinet, Percussion – Pat Patrick
Bass – Ronnie Boykins
Bass Clarinet – Robert Cummings
Drums, Percussion – Tommy Hunter
Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet, Percussion – John Gilmore
Trombone – Ali Hasaan
Trumpet – Walter Miller
Vocals, Percussion – Art Jenkins

Recorded March 10th, 1963, Choreographer's Workshop, New York City.

"Hyper-rare El Saturn LP, recorded in 1963, early in the Arkestra's NY period, paired with a full CD of extra material. Loaded with John Gilmore, one of the greatest & rarest slabs of Sun Ra vinyl, on disc for the first time!"

Continuation 2 would surprise Sun Ra, because he never released any such album. Around 1970 he did release Continuation, a limited-pressing LP of recordings whose origins have confounded experts. The Robert Campbell-Christopher Trent discographic atlas, The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra (2nd edition, pub. 2000), provides some guidance on personnel, but the citations contain many question marks. Several authorities believe these sessions date from 1968 or '69, yet they echo recordings made in the early 1960s at the Choreographer's Workshop. That location (and the year 1963) was cited on a limited-pressing Corbett vs. Dempsey 2CD set of Continuation, linking it with early '60s recordings on Secrets of the Sun and Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow. In 2014, Campbell-Trent offered a reconsideration: "normally dated 1968-69, but on stylistic grounds an earlier date is likely for these tracks."

Sun Ra Archives Executive Director Michael D. Anderson, who transferred these tracks from undated master tapes, insists they originate from '63 and were recorded at CW. That venue was a longtime Arkestra rehearsal space and ad hoc recording studio, a residency that began shortly after their 1961 arrival in NYC following the formative Chicago years.

The recordings on Continuation Vol. 2 (all in full stereo) feature small ensembles of between six and eight players, typical of CW recordings from the early '60s. At the time, Sun Ra was working largely with musicians who had come east with him, along with a handful of New York recruits. One of the few clues that argues against CW is the absence of the harsh warehouse acoustics characteristic of the Workshop basement. These recordings have a warmer studio feel, though they still reflect a low-rent setting.

Stylistically these works bridge the Chicago post-big band sound (the soulful ballad "Blue York" and the languid "Ihnfinity") with the bold, experimental direction of Sunny's 1960s NYC recordings ("Meteor Shower" and "Conversation of the Universe"). Perhaps a clue can be found in track 7, a medley of sorts entitled "Cosmic Rays/The Next Stop Mars." The latter was first recorded in 1963 and released in 1966 on When Angels Speak of Love.

The now out-of-print package by Corbett vs. Dempsey packaged both albums under the title Continuation. Strangely the raw tape transfers were not digitally repaired by the label, resulting in such preserved (and unwanted) artifacts as volume disparities, audio dropouts and gaps, transient noises, and excessive hiss. Granted, on many Sun Ra albums those are features, not bugs; yet today's digital audio software can overcome—or at least minimize—many of the technical flaws of vintage recordings.

For this remastered edition, we have undertaken meticulous digital restoration to remove these flaws as much as possible. These recordings are not—and never will be—pristine. Recordings made 50 years ago, preserved on audio tape which was subjected to haphazard storage over the decades, cannot be perfected. However, when remastering Sun Ra recordings, such a goal is a fool's errand. In the process of trying to achieve perfection, we would likely remove layers of soul.

Sun Ra - 2019 - Monorails and Satellites Vols. 1, 2 and 3

Sun Ra
Monorails and Satellites Vols. 1, 2 and 3 

     Volume 1
101. Space Towers 3:36
102. Cogitation 6:30
103. Skylight 3:56
104. The Alter Destiny 3:06
105. Easy Street 3:34
106. Blue Differentials 2:51
107. Monorails And Satellites 5:32
108. The Galaxy Way 3:21

   Volume 2
201. Astro Vision 3:17
202. The Ninth Eye 9:09
203. Solar Boats 4:59
204. Perspective Prisms Of Is 6:22
205. Calundronius 8:11

     Volume 3 (Stereo)
301 Soundscapes 3:27
302. The Eternal Tomorrow 5:49
303. Today Is Not Yesterday 7:14
304. World Island Festival 6:20
305. The Changing Wind 3:59
306. Don't Blame Me 4:43
307. Gone With The Wind 4:10
308. How Am I To Know 5:23
309. Yesterdays 4:13

Piano, Producer [Original Sessions Produced By] – Sun Ra

 "I have always thought orchestra. I play that way, even when playing the piano." — Sun Ra 

Monorails and Satellites were two volumes of solo piano works recorded by Sun Ra in 1966. Volume 1 was issued on his Saturn label in 1968, volume 2 the following year. They were the first commercial LPs of the artist's solo keyboard excursions. Vol. 1 featured seven idiosyncratic Sun Ra originals and one standard delivered in Sunny's singular manner. Vol. 2 consists entirely of original compositions. A tape of a third, unreleased volume was discovered posthumously by Michael D. Anderson of the Sun Ra Music Archive. Released here for the first time, it consists of five originals and four standards, and was recorded in stereo. 

Despite Sun Ra's obsession with the future, Monorails and Satellites is something of a nostalgia trip. As a youth in Birmingham, Alabama, the man who became Sun Ra—Herman Poole Blount—spent hours at the Forbes Piano Company, amusing himself (as well as staff and customers) at the showroom keyboards. He practiced standards, emulated his piano heroes, played the latest pop songs, and improvised. The idyllic reveries which the teen experienced in those formative years were no doubt recaptured during the Monorails sessions. 

The playing here speaks less of a style, and more of a collection of statements. Some of the tunes, with their odd juxtapositions of mood, could be mistaken for silent film scores. Perhaps they were audio notebooks, a way to generate ideas which could be developed with the band ("I think orchestra"). Regardless of any secondary (and admittedly speculative) intent, they serve as compelling standalone works. The fingering reflects Sun Ra's encyclopedic knowledge of piano history as his passages veer from stride to swing, from barrelhouse to post-bop, from march to Cecil Taylor-esque free flights, with a bit of soothing "candelabra" swank thrown in. Sunny's attack is mercurial, his themes unpredictable. His hands can be primitive or playful, then abruptly turn sensitive and elegant. As with the whole of Sun Ra's recorded legacy, you get everything but consistency and predictability. 

The listener also experiences something rare in the Sun Ra recorded omniverse: intimacy. His albums, generally populated by the rotating Arkestral cast, are raucous affairs. With the Monorails sessions, we eavesdrop on private moments: the artist, alone with his piano. These are brief audio snapshots of what was surely a substantial part of Sun Ra's life, infinitesimal surviving scraps of 100,000 hours similarly spent, most lost to posterity. 

Sun Ra as a pianist could be in your parlor, entrancing you with all manner of wistfulness, star-gazing, even a dash of the down-and-dirty via some dusty blues or off-kilter, angular, jagged afterthoughts. In this two-disc solo piano set, the nine selections that make up disc two bring it all back home, the music coalescing in sometimes strange and wonderful ways that, perhaps, give a more intimate look into the man's musical heart. Ending with an at-times dreamy then jaunty, rambunctious then mysterious visit to Jerome Kern's haunting "Yesterdays," Ra is, in a sense, looking back, feeling back. We are close. 

Monorails & Satellites Volumes 1 and 2 were recorded in 1966 and released two years later. The subsequent but previously unreleased additional material from those sessions (Volume 3) are now included in this two-CD set. A three-LP edition is also available, both of which include liner notes from noted pianist Vijay Iyer, jazz historian Ben Young and producer Irwin Chusid. 

Other visits include memorable takes on other standards such as "Don't Blame Me" and "Gone With The Wind." Like Thelonious Monk, Sun Ra's interpretations are highly idiosyncratic, full of personality even as they stay close to the melody. You know who the pianist is, what the song is, and you pretty much know where the music is going. Sort of. 

That's always been the charm of listening to artists who kind of play it straight, but not really. And, like Cecil Taylor, Monk and Ra can be heard as pianist/orchestra conductors of their primary instrument. Everything is there. Nothing is missing. Virtuosos ... probably not; at least not in the Van Cliburn sense of the word. 

Which is what makes packages like this so damn interesting. Sun Ra is known primarily as a bandleader and composer/orchestrator. And for good reason. His primary instrument, as with Duke Ellington, was the assorted groups of musicians he led over the decades. His work at the keyboard was secondary, whether electric or acoustically employed. And yet, some of the best passages on any of the various Arkestra titles comes when the band lays out and we get to hear the man do his thing, usually with basic rhythm accompaniment. The opening track to 1957's Sound Of Joy (Delmark), "El Is A Sound Of Joy, is a prime example. Ra's brief opening piano solo is the epitome of swing, mystery and joy. It's simple, evocative, ruminative, full of blues feeling. And, it's part of a give and take with another soloist (probably tenorist John Gilmore), not just a one-up, one-out. Humble and deep. 

The thing about this piano music from Sun Ra that sticks to you like the salt off a favorite crunchy. It's non-virtuosic virtuosity. Like Ellington, Ra's piano brings you in. An amazing technique isn't the thing; it's the weirdness of something that feels very common, everyday. 

Disc One is intimate in a different way. "Cognition" takes a choppier, attacking and unsettled vibe and follows it by way of a more familiar one with the serene, gentle "Skylight.," The earth and sky shift back and forth, in and out, up and down, the material not necessarily having anything to do with melody or conventional song structure. Think more exploratory, expansive, further dimensions of the piano, the piano as platform, a launching pad. And without all the bells and whistles. Not so much trippy as trip-like. Modest with outsized energies. Chords and lines within a certain tonality. 

Some of the music might sound like thinking out loud, scattershot with nothing but a turnaround to show for it. The outward-bound, reverb-laden "Astro Vision" plays like a kind of cosmic/Outer Limits intrusion alongside Ra's more saloon-like ivory tickling. And one can only speculate as to what was going through Ra's mind on his manic-sounding juggernaut excursions through the nine-minute "The Ninth Eye" and "Solar Boats." But then, a seemingly wayward tune like "The Alter Destiny" suddenly becomes another parlor song of sorts, the followup standard "Easy Street" only enhancing what came before with it's gentle, relaxed stride and pretty melody, reminding us once again of Ra's deep roots in the jazz tradition. 

Sun Ra the pianist was Sun Ra the Arkestra in miniature. Modest in magnitude.

Sun Ra - 1962 - Monorails And Satellites Volume 2

Sun Ra
Monorails And Satellites Volume 2

01. Astro Vision 3:10
02. The Ninth Eye 9:00
03. Solar Boats 5:00
04. Perspective Prisms Of Is 6:20
05. Calundronis 8:00

Piano, Text By [Poems] – Sun Ra

Recorded at the Choreographer's Workshop, New York, 1966

More than a quarter-century after his death, there’s still a legitimate debate over whether Sun Ra was a genius or a charlatan. That question arises again with the reemergence of his slim body of solo work. His identity was so tied up in his big bands that an album of solo piano pieces seems shocking. Sun Ra (né Herman Blount) made these recordings in an unknown location, probably his home, on inferior equipment in 1966 (you can hear a telephone ringing on one track). 

No one would ever mistake Sun Ra for Art Tatum or Erroll Garner, or even Thelonious Monk. His approach favors minor-key block chords, spiky notes, and jackhammer repetition. At times, one can almost hear him searching for the proper harmonizing chord, suggesting a deliberate nature that’s missing from both his synthesizer explorations and his swing-band deconstructions.

His originals incorporate blues, bop, balladry, and the avant-garde, sometimes all at once. The weirdest song here is “The Ninth Eye”: nine minutes of staccato chords and prickly clusters that start, stop, circle back on themselves, and rumble, with occasional suggestions that a blues might emerge. His renditions of the standards are melodically faithful, but he makes them his own rhythmically. The weakest of these, “Solar Boats,” is nothing more than five minutes of brutal banging around on a four-note motif.

Is Sun Ra’s larger-than-life persona the reason we enjoy this collection so much? If this were a new recording by a young pianist, would we dismiss it? Is this a great work of art or was Sun Ra putting one over on us? After repeated listens, these questions are still hard to shake.

Sun Ra - 1968 - Monorails And Satellites

Sun Ra 
Monorails And Satellites

01. Space Towers 3:34
02. Cogitation 6:29
03. Skylight 3:54
04. The Alter Destiny 3:03
05. Easy Street 3:34--
06. Blue Differentials 2:49
07. Monorails And Satellites 5:30
08. The Galaxy Way 3:15

2014 Reissue
09. Soundscapes (Previously Unreleased) 3:25
10. The Eternal Tomorrow (Previously Unreleased) 5:42
11. The Changing Wind (Previously Unreleased) 3:51
12. World Island Festival (Previously Unreleased) 6:17
13. Don't Blame Me (Previously Unreleased) 4:36
14. Today Is Not Yesterday (Previously Unreleased) 4:08

Piano, Text By [Poems] – Sun Ra

Recorded at the Choreographer's Workshop, New York, 1966

Some vinyl bootlegs began to appear during 2000. They are said to come from UK.

Although Sun Ra's catalog of available recordings numbers into the hundreds, there are very few solo entries. Monorails and Satellites (1966) is among the earliest -- if not the first -- long player to consist of strictly piano solos. While Ra's various Arkestras became infamous for their highly skilled and emotive bombast, these recordings prove that the bandleader easily retains his highly advanced and passionate echelon of intensity. The vast majority of the disc consists of original compositions with the sole exception being the Alan Jones' pop standard "Easy Street." Right out of the gate, Ra's trademark aggressive and highly advanced arrangements drive the motorized churn of "Space Towers" which features some distinct improvisations that build off of the central repetitive and industrial feeling progression. "Cogitation" provides a playful contrast while projecting a more scattered counterpoint which transmutes the melodic direction into an ethereal noir of childlike staccato. Both "Skylight" and "Blue Differentials" are entrancingly beautiful blues. Here Ra demonstrates his keen sense of melodic and harmonic structures. The former contains some of this efforts' most hauntingly memorable progressions, while the latter is equally captivating as it centers on a potent walking or stride style of blues delivery which at times borders on barrelhouse. Particularly notable is the charming resolution that concludes "Blue Differentials" with a grace that forgoes the otherwise slightly askew tune. The interpretation of "Easy Street" is relatively straightforward and retains much of song's amicable nature. About halfway through the performance Ra breaks into a lilting swing that complements the roly-poly nature featured in the introduction. The title track is one of the more introspective and pensive pieces on the album, sounding more like a personal statement rather a musical projection or interpretive effort. The chords build incrementally, weaving a languid sonic pastiche of varying styles and temperaments. For both the seasoned listener as well as the interested enthusiast, Monorails and Satellites allows for a wide variety of sonic horizons to explore.

Sun Ra - 1975 - What's New?

Sun Ra
What's New?

01. Whats's New?
02. Wanderlust
03. Jukin'
04. Autumn In New York
05. We Roam The Cosmos

None of the Sun Ra discographies previous to Robert L. Campbell's 1st edition (1994) mentioned this version of the «What's New ?» album. Even the listing in Mr. Campbell's preliminary (to the 1st edition) discography (on which the discography on the Saturn home-page is based) known copy with one label orange, the other black. Since then, a few copies have been discovered, including this one. It is reasonable to assume that the copy here is the 1st original version, since both its labels are black «El Saturn» with the Chicago adress and the same «752» catalogue number and both sides have the «SRA 53275» matrix number. The labels give no track listing, only «Sub Underground Series … volume____». Side A has four tracks (What's New?, Wanderlust, Jukin' and Autumn In New York, recorded in New York in 1962), while the Side B has one single track, the cosmo-drama «We Roam The Cosmos» (named after the first exclamation following the fade-in of the end of Space Is The Place), recorded live in 1975. This track is unlike anything else in Sun Ra's discography : the band members are truly in trance and the energy unbelieveable … the vocals are occasionally overmiked / in the red 

The cover is one with the eagle motif on the front and the Acropolis on the rear, the paper lightly textured. This is certainly the original cover of this particular edition, as I know a second copy exactly like this one.

The cover is quite clean and has virtually no surface-/ring-wear, only a hint of tanning and a few aging spots on the upper right corner, near the opening (see scan). On that same corner, there is a small sticker with a tiny photo of planet earth and a previous owner's name. The seams are fragile : they are split about ½" at the opening - also both the upper and bottom seams are split in the middle, but these, especially the upper one, are not so noticeable. So overall probably at least VG++. The vinyl is clean for a 30 year old LP and has only light and very superficial signs of having been handled and played (barely visible light paper-sleeve marks, ...). None have an impact on the LP's playing. This copy's pressing is quite nice by Saturn standards, but keep in mind that even an excellent Saturn pressing will play almost silently for much of the record but still have some surface noise in places (here quite mild, mostly at the beginning of each side). So overall EX to EX+. While in my posession, this copy has been kept in a poly-lined innersleeve, handled with great care and played only a few times on a high-end turnatable.

Even the hybridized version of this album is rarely seen and a copy has recently reached $230