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.