October 17, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Arkestra: [Unknown Venue, Circa. 1972] (AUD CDR)

Here's another mysterious concert fragment recorded (in mono) from the audience at an unknown location sometime in 1972. The sound quality is typically awful: warbly, hissy, and distorted. Only about thirty-seven minutes long, there’s hardly enough here to even consider. What’s remarkable is how many more audience recordings were being made during this period. Portable recording devices were still primitive, bulky and very expensive in the early-seventies, requiring serious devotion on the part of the intrepid recordist. So, we should be thankful for their work, even if the results are sometimes, as here, virtually unlistenable. There are, as usual, some moments of brilliance buried in the noise.

The tape picks up in the middle of the set, cutting in on an improvisation already in progress, Eloe Omoe squealing and squawking on the bass clarinet. After some group skronk, John Gilmore takes off a cappella; it’s the usual tour de force, but the sound is so distorted it’s hard to appreciate. But then some eerie, otherworldly vocalizing follows, similar to what was heard at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival in September. Presumably one of the Space Ethnic Voices, this is singing so extreme it makes Yoko Ono’s screech seem like a lullaby. At times sounding like a Theremin’s electric whine, or at other times spitting out guttural woofs, whoever this is, she has a superhumanly extended vocal technique. Despite the poor sound quality, this brief segment is still quite impressive. A jaunty “Enlightenment” emerges from stunned applause with “Space Is the Place” right behind. It’s the usual stuff with Akh Tal Ebah sharing the vocal duties with June Tyson and Marshall Allen delivering a tasteful solo on alto. “Love In Outer Space” quickly descends into an extended percussion workout which is rendered as an impenetrable wall of noise on tape. As the audience starts to get restless, you can hear people talking in the background—and when a man close to the microphone says, “Hey, what’s happening brother?” it’s startling and funny like some kind of homemade musique concrète. As the Arkestra settles into the heavenly quietude of “Lights on a Satellite,” the sound quality improves considerably. After an organ intro, Ra moves to acoustic piano to support the delicate arrangement of flutes and trumpets, with Gilmore taking the lead on low-register tenor sax. “Lights on a Satellite” is one of my favorite Ra compositions and this performance is nearly perfect, the interlaced ensemble floating peacefully above a gentle space-rhumba groove. The audience likes it and responds with a sincere round of applause. “The Shadow World” starts up from a dead stop with Sonny banging out the angular rhythmic figure on piano and it sounds like it’s going to be a good one as the ensemble begins to execute the hocketed melodies with terrific precision. Sadly, the tape cuts off after only a minute and a half. Oh well.

While this is a typically fine performance by the Arkestra, the tape doesn’t really have a whole lot to recommend it considering the bad sound quality and constricted running time. The outrageous glossolalia segment and the always beatific “Lights On a Satellite” are worth hearing, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek this one out. Nevertheless, I thank our anonymous recordist for making the effort.

No comments: