Reviews that mention Sun Ra

April 6, 2013

In Print

Always in Trouble: An Oral History of ESP-Disk, the Most Outrageous Record Label in America
Jason Weiss (Wesleyan University Press)

By Ken Waxman

Visionary, charlatan, crook, naïf – these are just a few of the epitaphs applied to Bernard Stollman who founded the legendary ESP-Disk record label in the early 1960s. Interviewing Stollman and almost three dozen ESP artists, Jason Weiss tries to make sense of its history.

An attorney with aspirations towards art and entrepreneurship, Stollman made ESP a full-fledged imprint after hearing tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler. By chance he had stumbled upon a fertile jazz scene, rife with players who lacked recording opportunities. Soon ESP provided many of the era’s most important musical innovators with the freedom to record without interference. ESP jazz artists included Ayler, Burton Greene, Milford Graves, Paul Bley and Sun Ra plus rockers such as The Fugs and Pearls Before Swine. MORE

December 15, 2012

Pharoah Sanders

In the Beginning 1963-64
ESP-Disk ESP-4069

Pierre Favre

Drums and Dreams

Intakt CD 197

Connie Crothers - David Arner

Spontaneous Suite for Two Pianos

Rogueart R0G-037

Various Artists

Echtzeitmusik Berlin

Mikroton CD 14/15/16

Something In The Air: Multiple Disc Sets for the Adventurous

By Ken Waxman

Defying doomsayers who predicted the death of the LP, the CD’s disappearance appears oversold. True music collectors prefer the physical presence and superior fidelity of a well-designd CD package and important material continues to released. Partisans of advanced music, for instance, can choose any one of these sets. The only saxophonist to be part of saxophonist John Coltrane’s working group, tenorist Pharoah Sanders is celebrated for his own highly rhythmic Energy Music. In the Beginning 1963-64 ESP-Disk ESP-4069, a four CD-package highlight his steady growth. Besides Sanders’ first album as leader, very much in the freebop tradition, as part of quintet of now obscure players, the other previously released sounds capture Sanders’ recordings in the Sun Ra Arkestra. More valuable is a CD of unissued tracks where Sanders asserts himself in quartets led by cornetist Don Cherry or Canadian pianist Paul Bley. The set is completed by short interviews with all of the leaders. Oddly enough, although they precede his solo debut, Sanders’ playing is most impressive with Bley and Cherry. With more of a regularized beat via bassist David Izenson and drummer J.C. Moses, Cherry’s tracks advance melody juxtaposition and parallel improvisations with Sanders’ harsh obbligato contrasted with the cornetist’s feisty flourishes; plus the darting lines and quick jabs of pianist Joe Scianni provides an unheralded pleasure. Bley’s economical comping and discursive patterning lead the saxophonist into solos filled with harsh tongue-twisting lines and jagged interval leaps. With Izenson’s screeching assent and drummer Paul Motion’s press rolls the quartet plays super fast without losing the melodic thread. Sun Ra is a different matter. Recorded in concert, the sets include helpings of space chants such as “Rocket #9” and “Next Stop Mars”; a feature for Black Harold’s talking log drums; showcases for blaring trombones, growling trumpets; plus the leader’s propulsive half-down-home and half-outer-space keyboard. Sharing honking and double-tonguing interludes with Arkestra saxists Pat Patrick and Marshall Allen, Sanders exhibits his characteristic stridency. Enjoyable for Sun Ra’s vision which is spectacular and jocular, these tracks suggest why the taciturn Sanders soon went on his own. MORE

August 6, 2012

In Print

Music in My Soul
Noah Howard (Buddy’s Knife)

By Ken Waxman

Metaphorically, alto saxophonist Noah Howard’s musical life mirrored the history of jazz. Born April 6, 1943 in New Orleans, the music’s purported cradle, before his death on Sept. 3, 2010 in Belgium, Howard had travelled to San Francisco and New York, recorded for small labels like ESP-Disk, expatriated overseas, toured Europe, Africa and India, while developing ties with emerging local players. Completed just days before his death from a cerebral hemorrhage, Music in My Soul is written in the artless but competent prose of a constantly working musician with some haziness in chronology, spelling and details. MORE

January 20, 2012

Rhapsody's 2011 Jazz Critics' Poll

Individual Ballot
From Ken Waxman

1) Your name and primary affiliation(s) (no more than two, please)

2) Ken Waxman

Jazz Word (www.jazzword.com )

3) Your choices for 2011's ten best new releases (albums released between Thanksgiving 2010 and Thanksgiving 2011, give or take), listed in descending order one-through-ten.

1. World Saxophone Quartet Yes We Can Jazzwerkstatt JW 098

2. Gerald Cleaver Uncle June Be It As I See It Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT-375

3. Hubbub Whobub Matchless MRCD 80 MORE

July 17, 2011

Traveling the Spaceways

Sun Ra, the Astro Black and other Solar Myths Paper Edited by John Corbett, Anthony Elms and Terri Kapsalis
White Walls/University of Chicago Press

Music Is Rapid Transportation

Edited by Daniel Kernohan

Charivari Press

To be informative and useful, books on music must be conceived of through a combination of enthusiasm and expertise. Too much of the former and the publication slides into salivating hagiography; too much of the later and it becomes a dry, pedagogical discourse. Luckily both these volumes avoid the obvious pitfalls, but there are times when extraneous or superfluous material affects both. MORE

May 16, 2011

In Print: Traveling the Spaceways

Sun Ra, the Astro Black and other Solar Myths Edited by John Corbett, Anthony Elms and Terri Kapsalis
White Walls/University of Chicago Press

By Ken Waxman

Sun Ra would probably have thought it was fittingly appropriate if too long overdue, but Traveling the Spaceways is a well-researched compendium of information about jazz’s only bandleader to have his origin on the planet Saturn. The 14 chapters, gathered from on two-day symposium on the music, philosophy and influence of Ra (1914-1993), AKA Herman Poole Blount of Birmingham, Ala., deal with the music, art and long-lasting influence of the enigmatic band leader, positioning his astro-futurist philosophy within the major currents of African American thought. Profusely illustrated with vintage Ra photos, album cover and label art, ephemera from the collection of Ra and his associates, plus visual artists’ often full-color representations of the man and other mid-century Black trends, the book does a masterful job of outlining the pianist/bandleader’s importance. MORE

May 16, 2011

Lest We Forget:

Clifford Jordan (1931-1993)
By Ken Waxman

Two of the milestone discs featuring tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan can serve as a summation of his musical life. The first, Blowing In From Chicago (1957, Blue Note), split with tenor man John Gilmore, played up his home town legacy. The second, These Are My Roots: Clifford Jordan Plays Led Belly (Atlantic 1965), featured Jordan’s highly personal rearrangement of some of the Texas songster’s uncompromising hollers, chain gang laments and folk songs for sextet augmented by a vocalist and a guitarist. Notwithstanding Jordan’s presence in ground-breaking ensembles such as bassist Charles Mingus’ sextet with Eric Dolphy and pianist Jaki Byard plus pianist Randy Weston’s African-oriented band, his talents were most comfortably expressed through the mainstream bop, blues and ballads that characterized his Windy City youth. “Bearcat”, one of his best-known compositions, first recorded in 1961 on the Jazzland album of the same name, could easily have fit in with among the blues-influenced tunes of his post-war Chicago. MORE

December 9, 2010

Sun Ra

The Heliocentric Worlds
ESP-Disk 4062

Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet +1

3 Nights in Oslo

Smalltown Superjazz STSJ197CD

Anthony Braxton/Gerry Hemingway

Old Dogs (2007)

Mode Avant 9/12

Rivière Composers’ Pool

Summer Works 2009

Emanem 5301

Something in the Air

By Ken Waxman

Boxed sets of recorded music have long been a holiday gift. But sophisticated music fans won’t settle for slapped together “best of” collections. Boxes such as these, collecting multiple CDs for specific reasons, should impress any aware listener. MORE

July 24, 2009

Sun Ra

Featuring Pharoah Sanders & Black Harold
ESP 4054

Ronnie Boykins

The Will Come, Is Now

ESP 1099

Reissued and newly discovered sounds by composer/bandleader Sun Ra [1914-1993] are helping to fill gaps in his massive oeuvre and present a more complete picture of his activities. These two exceptional discs for instance, recorded a decade apart by a distinct Ra Arkestra and a valued member of his organization reveal additional – and unexpected – facets of Ra’s musical life.

Paradoxically, each suggests that despite his extraterrestrial trappings, the loquacious Ra may have actually been only as avant-garde as Duke Ellington, who similarly was never at a loss for words. Featuring Pharoah Sanders & Black Harold for example, combines previously un-issued and spottily distributed 1964 tracks that showcase musicians who otherwise didn’t play with the Arkestra. In this way the sessions are not unlike radio air checks that capture the work of unrecorded Ellington bands of the 1940s. Similar to what those slabs of the Ducal canon also reveal, the tracks prove that no matter how powerful the presence of tenor saxophonist Sanders – subbing for John Gilmore who had joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers – and log drummer/flutist Black Harold (Murray) – who would reappear for a time in the 1990s in Chicago’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble – is, their contributions don’t really modify Ra’s singular and mercurial vision. MORE

July 24, 2009

Ronnie Boykins

The Will Come, Is Now
ESP 1099

Sun Ra

Featuring Pharoah Sanders & Black Harold

ESP 4054

Reissued and newly discovered sounds by composer/bandleader Sun Ra [1914-1993] are helping to fill gaps in his massive oeuvre and present a more complete picture of his activities. These two exceptional discs for instance, recorded a decade apart by a distinct Ra Arkestra and a valued member of his organization reveal additional – and unexpected – facets of Ra’s musical life.

Paradoxically, each suggests that despite his extraterrestrial trappings, the loquacious Ra may have actually been only as avant-garde as Duke Ellington, who similarly was never at a loss for words. Featuring Pharoah Sanders & Black Harold for example, combines previously un-issued and spottily distributed 1964 tracks that showcase musicians who otherwise didn’t play with the Arkestra. In this way the sessions are not unlike radio air checks that capture the work of unrecorded Ellington bands of the 1940s. Similar to what those slabs of the Ducal canon also reveal, the tracks prove that no matter how powerful the presence of tenor saxophonist Sanders – subbing for John Gilmore who had joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers – and log drummer/flutist Black Harold (Murray) – who would reappear for a time in the 1990s in Chicago’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble – is, their contributions don’t really modify Ra’s singular and mercurial vision. MORE

June 18, 2009

Sun Ra

Live in Cleveland 1975
Golden Years of New Jazz GY 29

Sun Ra

Secrets of the Sun

Atavistic ALP 266 CD

Sun Ra’s near-cultish status among some fans, means that, unlike the fanatical disciples such as Dean Benedetti, who preserved non-commercially released work of Charlie Parker and other major jazz figures, Ra material-hoarders number in the hundreds. Consequently previously unknown – or un-circulated – material turns up with increased regularity. Both of these sessions fit into that category. MORE

June 18, 2009

Sun Ra

Secrets of the Sun
Atavistic ALP 266 CD

Sun Ra

Live in Cleveland 1975

Golden Years of New Jazz GY 29

Sun Ra’s near-cultish status among some fans, means that, unlike the fanatical disciples such as Dean Benedetti, who preserved non-commercially released work of Charlie Parker and other major jazz figures, Ra material-hoarders number in the hundreds. Consequently previously unknown – or un-circulated – material turns up with increased regularity. Both of these sessions fit into that category. MORE

October 8, 2008

Sun Ra

On Jupiter
Art Yard CD 004

Sun Ra

Sleeping Beauty

Art Yard CD 003

Unlike many committed sonic experimenters, keyboardist/composer/band leader Sun Ra (1914-1993) never denigrated any type of music – he used them for his own ends.

Thus these notable 1979 sessions, recorded when his Intergalactic Myth Science Solar Arkestra numbered 20 plus musicians, do more than promulgate Ra’s usual mixture of Black Pride and Science Fiction in an improvised jazz context. The compositions add elements of impressionistic moodiness, gospel harmonies, doo-wop vocals, solo piano blues and big band riffs. Furthermore, post-production processing plus the distortions available from electrified guitar, bass, piano and organ also bring out echoes of rock, R&B and even disco. MORE

May 3, 2008

Sun Ra

The Complete Disco 3000 Concert
Art Yard CD 001

Sun Ra & His Outer Space Arkestra

Some Blues But Not The Kind Thats Blue

Atavistic UMS ALP 265 CD

Nearly 15 years after his death – oops, leave-taking for another planet – reissued, unknown and newly discovered sessions by keyboardist/composer/band leader Sun Ra (1914-1993) continue to appear. With the facilities of his own Saturn label plus whichever label(s) he was signed to at the time available to him, Ra evidently recorded just about every scrap of sound involving him and his band. MORE

May 3, 2008

Sun Ra & His Outer Space Arkestra

Some Blues But Not The Kind Thats Blue
Atavistic UMS ALP 265 CD

Sun Ra

The Complete Disco 3000 Concert

Art Yard CD 001

Nearly 15 years after his death – oops, leave-taking for another planet – reissued, unknown and newly discovered sessions by keyboardist/composer/band leader Sun Ra (1914-1993) continue to appear. With the facilities of his own Saturn label plus whichever label(s) he was signed to at the time available to him, Ra evidently recorded just about every scrap of sound involving him and his band.

Furthermore, although Ra was first and foremost a large ensemble specialist – he directed the last constantly working big band – if the occasion demanded, he fronted small groups as well – as these fascinating documents attest. As tradition-oriented as he was futuristic, Ra’s set list was as colossal as it was unpredictable. Thus these discs recorded in 1973, 1977 and 1978, contain not only new material such as both CDs’ title tracks, but a mixture of Ra “hits” such as “We Travel the Spaceways” and “Sun of the Cosmos” and standards such as “My Favorite Thing” and “Nature Boy”. MORE

October 10, 2005

The Velvet Lounge: On Late Chicago Jazz

by Gerald Majer
Columbia University Press

By Ken Waxman
October 10, 2005

A non-faction memoir of tales that may or not have happened, this volume is, to overstate the case a bit, sort of an American À la recherche du temps perdu. Gerald Majer, an English professor at Villa Julie College in Baltimore, utilizes his listening experiences involving major Chicago jazz musicians, as an entrée to his ruminations and meditations on growing up in that Midwestern city.

Don’t be fooled by the photograph of tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson on the cover or the two-page discography at the end of the volume however. Although Majer deals, in greater or lesser degrees, with the sounds of, among others, tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons, Anderson, bandleader Sun Ra, multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Art Ensemble of Chicago members Roscoe Mitchell and Malachi Favors, this is no music encyclopedia or a collection of album and CD reviews. MORE

July 1, 2005

Hallwalls' New Home

For CODA

A unique arrangement between an American folk-punk singer-songwriter and a longtime bastion of experimental arts means that Western New York’s centre for creative music will have a new, architecturally impressive home in downtown Buffalo by October, 2005.

Hallwalls, a nonprofit arts organization, which for more than 30 years has been the place where innovative art, film and music – especially non-mainstream jazz – has been presented, moves into the expanded first-floor and basement-level facilities in a historically preserved church as a tenant of Righteous Babe Records (RBR). RBR is the folk-punk mini conglomerate that has grown out of the successful career of singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, a Buffalo native, will have its offices on the second floor. MORE

March 8, 2004

SUN RA

Spaceship Lullaby: The Vocal Groups: Chicago 1954-60
Atavistic Unheard Music Series UMS243CD

Undoubtedly one of the most -- if not the most -- bizarre items in the massive Sun Ra discography, this CD showcases the pianist and infrequently members of his Arkestra backing up three pro-am Chicago vocal groups.

While there’s some grotesque fascination in listening to some of the 37 [!] songs the three sets of singers -- the Nu Sounds, the Lintels and the Cosmic Rays -- perform, you have to realize that many of the 74 plus minutes of music are merely of rehearsal tape quality. Plus true appreciation of the results must come with a certain tolerance for schmaltz. Before he took his band and cosmic visions to New York and later Philadelphia, Sun Ra was very much part of Black show biz in the Windy City. Thus much of the singing is given over to a cross section of pre-rock’n’roll standards and originals, some as cringe-inducing as “A Perfume Counter (in Paris)” and “The Wooden Soldier & The China Doll”, both sung by the Lintels. MORE

December 15, 2003

SUN RA

Solo Piano Recital - Teatro La Fenice, Venezia
Golden Years of New Jazz GY 21

This is the hippest solo piano CD you’re ever going to hear that features “Take the A Train”, St Louis Blues” and “Honeysuckle Rose”.

That’s because the artist involved isn’t some wannabe Young Lion aiming for mainstream cred or a palsied Trad Jazz survivor nostalgically re-creating the sounds of his youth. Instead the hoary jazz standards are slotted in among certified Saturnian melodies and improvisations by a figure who during his time on earth seemed to be part of all strands of improvised music: Le Sony’r Ra, known familiarly as Sun Ra (1914-1993). MORE

December 30, 2002

SUN RA

Music From Tomorrow's World
Atavistic Unheard Music UMS/ALP 237CD

Analogous to hearing Count Basie's band at Kansas City's Reno Club in 1935 or Charlie Parker's legendary stand at New York's Famous Door in 1953 with Thelonious Monk on piano, these newly unearthed tapes offer 17 Chicago performances from 1960 by Sun Ra's then tiny Arkestra.

Their fascination lies more in what the Arkestra isn't then what it is. Not yet the familiar, well-organized band of a dozen musicians plus, instead these tracks feature both a sextet and an octet, working through -- sometimes for the first time -- newly recorded or soon to be taped Ra compositions. Some of the tunes would become Arkestra classics; some would never be recorded or heard again. Additionally, since the first seven selections were taped at Ra's regular gig at the Wonder Inn at Cottage Grove and 75th on Chicago's South Side, you get to hear how the band functioned in a non-listening room circumstance. Mixing familiar show tunes, light classics, jazz syncopation and Ra inventions, the band showed that schtick and showmanship were upfront more than 40 years ago. MORE

December 18, 2001

LANDING ON THE WRONG NOTE

By Ajay Heble
Routledge

The most recent schism inside the warring Baltic states that make up the landscape of much of present-day jazz, involves the neo-conservatives verses the experimenters.

Neo-cons, characterized by their champion, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, insist that the music must follow a set of rules and regulations that includes a background in the blues and the necessity of swinging every time a musician plays. Experimenters, among which can be found some of the readers of this magazine, are less doctrinaire. Their playing and compositions welcome other influences, and they aren’t obsessed with producing the “correct” note every time. MORE

November 28, 2000

SUN RA

The Great Lost Sun Ra Albums: Cymbals and Crystal Spears
Evidence ECD 22217-2

SUN RA
When Angels Speak of Love
Evidence ECD 22216-2

SUN RA
Pathways to Unknown Worlds/Friendly Love
Evidence ECD 22218-2

SUN RA
Lanquidity
Evidence ECD 22220-2

SUN RA
Greatest Hits: Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel
Evidence ECD 22219-2

Visionary, throwback, shaman, naïf, scholar, student, tyrant, freedom fighter, traditionalist, futurist: Sun Ra was all that and more. Jazz's first space age avant gardist and synthesizer pioneer, he was also the last of the big band leaders.

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