July 26, 2009

Sun Ra Sunday

Released in 1968, Saturn 3066 is a seven-inch 45rpm single consisting of two tracks recorded at Sun Studio in 1967 and is available on The Singles (Evidence ECD 22164). “The Bridge” is an accompanied recitation of Sun Ra’s poem, “The Fire and the Dry Weeds,” which was later published in the 1972 edition of The Immeasurable Equation. Ra begins with spindly, echoing chords on electric organ and tremulous Clavioline until the horns and percussion enter with squalling, distorted space chords, tautly controlled by Ra’s conducting. Mobarak Mahmoud (an aspiring actor then residing with the Arkestra) dramatically declaims the poem, his voice swathed in claustrophobic, bathroom reverb. At the climactic line, “They must walk the bridge of the cosmic age!” the rest of the band joins in staggered, variously impassioned exclamations of “They must walk the bridge! They must walk the bridge!” Hmm. Some more keyboard noodling and a final, blasting space chord wraps things up in suitably enigmatic fashion. Curiously, “The Bridge” was reissued as a one-sided single in 1982, indicating that Ra considered the work to be of some inscrutable, talismanic importance. The flip-side, “Rocket #9,” finds the Arkestra re-tooling the all-purpose space chant with a radically slowed tempo, transforming it into a kind of funky march from the boiling, big-band swing of the original version heard on Interstellar Low Ways (Saturn 203/Evidence ECD 22039). Ra leads the Arkestra from the delicate electronic celeste, spelling out melodic figures to be taken up by the horns. Unfortunately, the track abruptly cuts off before the bridge or solo sections. Incidentally, Terry Adams claims that he was given a copy of this single by Sun Ra himself and it is this riff-happy arrangement of “Rocket #9” that was adapted by NRBQ on their debut album in 1968.


Song of the Stargazers (Saturn 487 or sometimes 6161) was released in 1979 and is mostly a hodgepodge of various live recordings from the nineteen-seventies. But one track was obviously recorded much earlier, probably in 1967 or 1968, according to Prof. Campbell. Performed in a large, reverberant space in front of a sizable and enthusiastic audience, “Cosmo Dance” is an interesting quasi-modal composition featuring some evocative flute and oboe. Clacking wooden sticks set up a simple, repetitious rhythm with Boykins's bass and Pat Patrick’s “space lute” plucking out a droning three-note groove. Low horns and bowed bass enter with convulsively heaving whole-note fourths while flute and oboe and bass clarinet dance a medieval round. Flute and then oboe embark on expansive, Middle-Eastern sounding solos over the clacking sticks and throbbing bass/space lute, the audience bursting into spirited applause after each. Finally, the low horn/bowed bass whole-note fourths return, repeating several times before ending to more justifiably hearty ovation. Ra himself is not heard playing on this track, but the murky sound quality makes it hard to clearly make out who is doing what. Campbell says Marshall Allen is playing both flute and oboe, but that is impossible since both instruments are heard simultaneously during the ensemble section. So, is it Danny Davis on flute? It certainly sounds like him. There is also some talking barely audible throughout – is that Sun Ra lecturing the crowd or just random audience noise? In any event, this is a beautiful, prototypical Sun Ra composition of the period, perfectly realized by his Arkestra.

1 comment:

Sam said...

That's by far my favorite version of "Rocket #9"--I love the slightly dissonant horn lines, and all the drum breaks (Jarvis, right?) are ingenious. A classic!