February 5, 2012

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Rehearsal, Unknown Location 9-76 (SBD? CDR)

This thirty-minute rehearsal tape, recorded at an unknown location in September, 1976, was played on WKCR-FM’s Sun Ra memorial broadcast in 1995 (Campbell & Trent pp.227-228) and circulates widely amongst collectors. There is a small audience present, indicating this was actually a soundcheck at a venue, rather than a rehearsal proper and, accordingly, there is neither in-depth working out of arrangements nor any verbal instruction whatsoever from Ra, unlike what we’ve heard in other rehearsal tapes. Instead, we get a miniature three-song set, presented as a contiguous performance, just as it would have been in concert. Sound quality is pretty good, with a strikingly close-up perspective, possibly recorded from the stage but more likely from the soundboard (bass and vocals are notably way up front while drums sound distant and indistinct). Perhaps this comes from Sonny’s personal stash of tapes? Who knows?

After a bit of hand percussion, June Tyson briefly leads the singalong on “(The World Is Waiting) For The Sunrise” before Danny Ray Thompson charges into the bari-sax riff of “Discipline 27.” The ensemble sounds a bit shaky and out of tune, eventually devolving into some skronky group improvisation and culminating in an a cappella tenor solo from John Gilmore—nothing special so far. After a quick space chord, Sonny enters with “The Shadow World” ostinato on organ, but soon drops out as the head commences. Meanwhile, everyone gets to take a solo (both with and without accompaniment) across its twenty-three minute duration: Marshall Allen and Danny Davis on alto saxophones, Elo Omoe on bass clarinet, Ra on “mad scientist” organ and Abdullah on trumpet. Even Tony Bunn gets a turn on fuzz bass followed by Dale Williams on distorted electric guitar, giving this a particularly rocked-out feel. While that might look good on paper, this is not the most compelling version of this showpiece, with the soloists sounding a bit listless (aside from Ra himself, who plays brilliantly as usual) and the ensembles failing to cohere. Well, it is a rehearsal and/or soundcheck after all.

While the unusually decent sound quality makes this an enjoyable listen, it is ultimately not very satisfying; a curious bit of filler that will be of interest only to the most committed Sun Ra completists.


Sam said...

Huh. It's interesting how the same recording can illicit different responses. I found this performance to be rally energetic and strong, with well-recorded solos from everyone, all played at a high and consistently engaging manner, not listless-sounding at all, but in fact a really strong representative sampler. I was surprised to read your take on this one! (Sorry for the late response, sometimes it takes me a while...)

Rodger Coleman said...

@Sam: Maybe it's just me that's listless!...My enthusiasm for this project is definitely flagging. That said, I actually wanted to like this more than I did. It just didn't stand up to repeated listenings for me. But hey, it's just a 30-minute fragment and the sound quality is good, so I'm glad to have it!

Sam said...

I hope you can build back up your enthusiasm somehow, since there's some GREAT stuff coming up, and we definitely need to read your takes on all of this!