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.

Still the Arkestra – which continues to tour extensively years after Ra has returned to his purported birth place of the planet Saturn – confirms its peerless individuality on every track here. For instanced the contrapuntal nasality of the oboe of Marshall Allen, who now leads the band, can be heard in broken octave concordance with wiggling electric piano lines or interrupting the flams and rebounds of the band’s three percussionists. Meanwhile the coarse cries and irregular vibrato of John Gilmore’s tenor saxophone slice through slurping brass and reed harmonies and toughens vocal chants which plead “UFO UFO/Take me where I wanna go”. A brassy obbligato from Michael Ray’s trumpet sustains fanfares as female vocalists suggest “Knocking on the door of the Cosmos”, then add punctuation to rhythmic clapping.

With James Jacson’s bassoon provide the bottom on piano Ra can sound like Errol Garner one moment and Cecil Taylor the next. High-class Arkestra work, if these CDs have any drawbacks it’s that each times out at approximately 30 minutes and could easily have been combined.

— Ken Waxman

— For Whole Note Vol. 14 #2