March 1, 2009

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Arkestra Featuring Pat Patrick: “A Blue One” / “Orbitration in Blue” (Saturn SRA-999)

Recorded at the Choreographer’s Workshop, New York City, early-1962.
Originally released late-1964.

This super-obscure seven-inch 45-RPM single was discovered too late to appear on Evidence’s The Singles (ECD 22164) (1996) and that’s too bad because it’s a stunner and it remains sadly out of print. Note that Arkestra stalwart, Pat Patrick receives a rare co-billing on the disc’s label; well, his spectacular baritone saxophone playing on these two Choreographer’s Workshop tracks suitably justifies the honorific.

Laurdine “Pat” Patrick was born November 23, 1929 in East Moline, Illinois and was the first of several graduates of Captain Walter Dyett’s DuSable High School who would fall in with Sun Ra in Chicago after around 1950. (For more information on Captain Dyett, see Szwed, pp.87-89, 94 and George E. Lews, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (Chicago, 2008).) Ra biographer John Szwed aptly sums up the importance Ra’s early association with the youthful Pat Patrick:

Pat Patrick [was] a baritone saxophonist of enormous resources, a prodigy; a
humorous but highly organized person, whose playing reflected both qualities: “He’d be playing and suddenly this note would come from nowhere, and sound wrong,” said bassoonist James Jacson, who played with Sonny many years later; “but as he went on you’d see how it was deceptive…it fit perfectly.” […] Patrick was something special, a musician of the right spirit, intelligent, honest, serious. He saw to it that Sonny was protected, and was quick to help any other members of the band in trouble. Patrick was the best musician Sonny ever had in any of his bands. He got the point of ideas and music immediately (“You got it down, Pat,” Sonny always said). He had great hopes for him, and felt that with Pat he had the basis for a band capable of executing the music he had been working on for over ten years
(pp. 87-88).
Patrick was a charter member of Sun Ra’s Space Trio, the Arkestra’s precursor, and a 1951 home recording entitled, “Treasure Hunt,” documents Patrick’s already full-bodied sound and smooth, thoughtful invention. Patrick would remain committed to Sun Ra until the end of his life in 1991, but he also worked with such luminaries as Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Mongo Santamaria, with whom he co-wrote the 1963 hit, “Yeh Yeh.”

The A-side of this little gem, “A Blue One,” is a rollicking mid-tempo Ra blues, with a simple pssh-tap-bang rhythm and stolid walking bass that sets up a subtly killing groove. Ra takes a brief turn on the piano before Patrick enters with a burbling bari-sax solo that ranges freely from the resonant growls of the lowest registers to high-register wails and cries, with astonishingly fleet passagework full of widely spaced intervals and intricate legato runs. Boykins takes the lead with some funky, stop-start bass before fading out. This should have been a hit! The B-side, “Orbitration in Blue,” is a bluesy, drummer-less ballad featuring another wild excursion on bari-sax. Incongruously opening with some honking low notes, Patrick’s playing is simultaneously suave and smooth and rough and edgy. At about 1:44, he blasts out one of those seemingly “wrong” notes that Jacson mentions, full of buzzing squeaks and harmonics that somehow manages to resolve itself beautifully as the piano and bass navigate the lush chord changes. Patrick concludes his solo with a flourish and the track quickly fades out. Far out!

Pat Patrick once said, “Sun Ra was another kind of being. He was educational, he helped you to grow and develop. He was a black self-help organization run on a shoe-string…If he could’ve had the resources, the planet would be a better place. That’s all he’s done: tried to make life better” (quoted in Szwed, p. 89). This single is brimming with high-spirited and uplifting swing and inspired improvisation. Listening to it does make the planet a better place -- for a few minutes anyway.


Pat Patrick is also the father of Massachusetts’ Governor, Deval Patrick. The Governor discusses the complicated relationship with his largely absent father in this Boston Globe article from March, 2007:


Big thanks again to Sam Byrd for his assistance with this post!


Photo of Pat Patrick, 1958, from The Cry of Jazz. (See From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra: The Chicago Years.)

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