January 31, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra: Intergalactic Research (The Lost Reels Collection Vol.2) (Transparency CD)

Campbell & Trent describe two performances at The Native Son in Berkeley, California on June 19 and July 14, 1971 which were recorded by Sun Ra and sold to Black Lion in the infamous tarmac transaction later that year, but never issued (pp.171-172). What’s the deal there? Has anyone heard these? Our intrepid discographers list tantalizing titles such as “Sun-Earth Rock” and “Cosmic Africa.” Huh?! If these tapes still exist, they need to be released! Come on, folks, let’s get busy!

In the meantime, Transparency has released a twenty-five minute fragment purportedly recorded at The Native Son around this time period on Intergalactic Research (The Lost Reels Collection Vol.2). The sound quality is actually quite good; in fact it sounds to me like a low-generation soundboard tape. Which makes me wonder -- could this be from that stash of unissued recordings sold to Black Lion? Who knows? The provenance of Transparency’s releases is sketchy at best.

While mostly a continuous performance, it is cleverly edited, opening with the audience stamping and cheering which is overlaid with music, fading in on an untitled improvisation. John Gilmore launches into a typically marvelous tenor saxophone solo, full of twisty scales and impossible stacks of harmonics and multiphonics. Wow, this is truly an astonishing tour de force. Incredible! It sounds to me like there are two bassists here, one of whom is unmistakably Ronnie Boykins. Perhaps Alzo Wright is playing cello? Whoever it is, he bows away with a maniacal, Strange Strings-like abandon. Oboes and flutes join in the fray, weaving webs of spindly counterpoint until June Tyson enters with mumbling glossolalia, chanting “Strange Worlds” over the reedy din. Gilmore quickly joins in to sing “It’s After the End of the World” and the bumptious “Outer Spaceways Incorporated,” which is anchored by Boykins’s wildly inventive but rock-solid bass. Ra then asks the rhetorical question, “Why Go to the Moon?” while chirpy oboes and a swooping slide-whistle (!) provide gently mocking commentary. An open improvisation follows with the bassists (or bass and cello) engaging in a throbbing duet until someone (perhaps James Jacson) enters with a blisteringly overblown solo on the Neptunian libflecto. This is greeted with a huge round of applause followed by two minutes of stamping and cheering…in fact this is the same stamping and cheering that begins the segment, creating a neat, infinite loop effect. I suspect this particular concert fragment was compiled by Sun Ra himself to be released as an album side. Which begs the question: What did the other side sound like? Will we ever know? Oh, the mysteries of Mr. Ra!


The rest of this CD is taken up with a thirty-two minute concert fragment recorded at an unknown venue on an unknown date circa. 1972. We’ll listen more carefully in due course, but I will note here that it is another decent-sounding board tape containing some very adventurous music. Bootleg or not, this is a must-have disc for the hardcore Ra fanatic.

1 comment:

Sam said...

Meant to mention--can't wait to see your write-up for "Universe in Blue"--I know that's coming up soon. There's some amazing Gilmore on that LP.

I've go to listen to this release more closely--I completely missed the applause loop you refer to. I just remember this being probably the overall strongest of the Lost Reels series.