July 18, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra: The Universe Sent Me (Lost Reel Collection, Vol.5) (Transparency CD)

Between the Arkestra’s appearances at Slug’s Saloon in June and August, they also performed en plein air at the South Street Seaport Museum in lower Manhattan on July 9, 1972. Twenty minutes of this concert was recorded from the audience and the tape was recently exhumed and released on Transparency’s Lost Reel Collection, Vol.5 CD. What’s most notable about this recording is that it is in stereo (still a rarity in 1972) and the outdoor ambience makes for very enjoyable sound quality indeed—for as long as it lasts anyway.

The tape picks up mid-set with a smattering of applause and Sun Ra’s organ introduction to “Outer Spaceways Incorporated.” Tyson and the guys chant the song a handful of times while Gilmore adds some scribbly saxophone obbligato. Then Sonny cues a big blasting space chord that launches the pummeling free-jazz group improvisation led by Jarvis’s hyperkinetic drums and the two high-wire trumpeters, Hadi and Ebah. After a few minutes of this sort of thing, Sun Ra cues a break and takes over with low-register synth and organ squiggles with Gilmore providing out-cat commentary. Eventually, Gilmore is left alone a cappella to deftly wield his knife’s edge tone and execute massive, teeth-rattling multiphonics on his ostensibly monophonic horn. Classic Gilmore solo! After another quick organ interlude and reed-splitting libflecto outing from Thompson, we get another early performance of “Discipline 27-II.” Basically consisting of the main riff from “Discipline 27” slowed down to a dreamy sway, the ensembles gradually metastasize through endless repetition. Usually this was accompanied by a hortatory declamation from Ra (e.g. “What Planet Is This?” and/or “Life is Splendid”), but here we have a purely instrumental rendition and the spacious stereo recording allows one to really hear the subtle shape-shifting of the instrumental textures. Unfortunately, after about seven minutes of bliss, our recordist experiences technical difficulties and the sound quality deteriorates markedly, with suddenly distant sound and intermittently violent tape warbles. It could be the venue itself was experiencing electrical problems as someone right up next to the microphone says, “He ain’t got no power either! The music—.” A few seconds later the tape cuts off. Not sure what happened there, but oh well. So it goes with Sun Ra’s “unofficial” discography!

The remainder of the Lost Reel Collection, Vol.5 is redeemed by a fifty-minute audience recording from Paris on September 8, 1973. It sounds pretty good but we’ll get to that one in due course.

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