Heliosonic Tone-tette

Heliosonic Toneways Vol. 1
ScienSonic Laboratories SS10

Recorded on the same date as the 50th anniversary of the studio creation of The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra in 1965, the Saturian-American bandleader/keyboardist’s most influential and radical disc, Heliosonic Toneways Vol. 1 is an auspicious salute to that LP. Organized by reedist Scott Robinson who composed the heads and plays a music store’s worth of instruments here, Heliosonic was recorded by Richard Anderson, who also engineered Heliocentric, and features Arkestra leader Marshall Allen on piano and bass marimba as well as his expected alto saxophone and EVI. While Allen is the only holdover from the 1965 LP, among the other participants are those whose experience is on improvised music most exploratory side – with or without Sun Ra – baritone saxophonist/flutist Danny Ray Thompson, bassist clarinetist JD Parran and trombonist Frank Lacy, for instance; plus other accomplished contemporary jazzers such as trumpeter Philip Harper, alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry, percussionist Matt Wilson, bassist Pat O'Leary and bass trombonist Tim Newman.

Avoiding an imitation or recreation of Ra’s music, playing on four more tracks than the original session, and with one fewer musician on board, Heliosonic becomes a work onto itself. In the main it’s a sonic encounter between every manner of drums – all the players double on percussion – and the intentionally spacey textures of first-generation, electronic-like instruments such as Wurlitzer electronic piano, Theremin and Faventia barrel piano. With a communal musical ethos similar to Ra’s, the 11 tracks are primarily organized as group interpretations; whether using electronic or acoustic instruments, the solos are brief and to the point. Most sequences are doubled or tripled by other motifs as well. Should one reedist start soloing as on “Heliotone 1B” for instance, then almost immediately that timbre is combined with resonating cymbal splashes and wave-form oscillations that shimmer like Hawaiian guitar strokes. Should measured drum beats and double bass power thumps move another piece forward, then almost immediately capillary and slithery snorts and snarls from the brass and reed sections decorate the theme with a mesh of additional pitches and colors.

“Heliotone 3B”, whose textures seesaw more pointedly through replications of 1960s-styled electronic pulses, not only further expands the sound palate with reed bites and split tones, but in the course of heading towards a crescendo isolates the plunger capabilities of Newman and Lacy’s slide strategies. Displayed on the currents from what Ra called the space organ unfettered snarls from Terry are correspondingly heard. Oddly enough, with many of the other tracks nearly spheroid with the shuffles, raps and pops from the percussion contingent coming up against jagged and dissonant horn explorations, Allen’s measured piano playing on two other tracks provides the most linear statements. By “Heliotone 4B” warm trombone and saxophone output joins to approximate exotic passion. With the mood eventually shattered by a dissonant tutti freak-out, which Ra dubbed space chords, the program climaxes. These contrasts between processed wave form and the horns slurps, sighs and whistle eventually blend with textures both spacey and soothing. “Heliotone 7” is the inevitable coda, unrolling over a powerful bass line. Overall this confirms that the Tone-tette is as versatile and unconventional as the Arkestra is and was.

Since this disc is labeled Vol. 1, does that mean that subsequent volumes, like Ra’s extension of Heliocentric Worlds will be more exploratory? That question deserves to be answered soon.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Heliotone 1A 2. Heliotone 1B 3. Heliotone 2A& 4. Heliotone 2B 5. Heliotone 3A 6. Heliotone 3B^ 7. Heliotone 4A* 8. Heliotone 4B* 9. Heliotone 5B 10. Heliotone 6 11. Heliotone 7

Personnel: Philip Harper (trumpet); Frank Lacy (trombone); Tim Newman (bass trombone); Marshall Allen (alto saxophone, EVI, Casio VL-tone, piano*, bass marimba+); Yosvany Terry (alto saxophone, woodblocks, bells); Danny Ray Thompson (baritone saxophone, flute, bongos, space sound tube); JD Parran (bass clarinet); Pat O'Leary (bass, waterphone); Scott Robinson (bass marimba, Wurlitzer electronic piano, tenor sax, piccolo, timpani&, model 201 Theremin, power bore bugle, Faventia barrel piano, treichel bell, soundsheet, dragon drum, space magnets); Matt Wilson (drums, timpani, Korean gong, dragon drum^)