January 13, 2013

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Astro Infinity Arkestra:
Cosmo Earth Fantasy: Sub Underground Series Vol. 1-2 (Saturn/Art Yard CD)

Just when I thought the Art Yard label was defunct, with no new releases in over a year and some titles quietly going out of print, here they are with a new Sun Ra disc, Cosmo Earth Fantasy: Sub Underground Series Vols.1-2.  This one gathers together various tracks that were scattered across a couple of different Saturn LPs, including Sub Underground and What’s New? (and some versions of The Invisible Shield). None of this material (recorded from 1962-1975) has ever been officially released on CD, making this Art Yard edition a most welcome release. Hooray!

Detailed liner notes by Paul Griffiths attempt to clear up some of the considerable discographical confusion surrounding this music. The original reel-to-reel tape of “Cosmo Earth Fantasy” was recovered in 2011 and while information on the label is “scant,” Griffiths points out that two handwritten words appear: “strings bandura.” Indeed, the opening portion of this epic, 22-minute track has a distinct “Strange Strings” sound, making the previously assumed date of 1974 highly unlikely. Given that most of the exotic stringed instruments were destroyed in an automobile accident in 1969 and the “Space Harp” (bandura) was given away in 1971, Griffiths posits “Cosmo Earth Fantasy” was “likely…recorded in 1967 or possibly early 1968, before the Arkestra moved from to Philadelphia.” I agree.

Sadly, the tapes from the Temple University concert on September 20, 1974 are apparently still missing, so “Love is for Always” and “The Song of Drums” (and, I believe, the rest of the CD) are taken from clean LP pressings and digitally restored. Griffiths points out that “The World of Africa” is “clearly not from the same concert…and takes us back to 1968 when vocalist June Tyson first joined the band.” Again, I think he is correct. Of course, the What’s New? material is from the magical Choreographer’s Workshop period, circa. 1962—the stuff that made me start Sun Ra Sunday to begin with—so it’s wonderful to have this stuff in such good quality on an “official” release. Finally, the concluding “Space Is the Place>We Roam the Cosmos” remains a mystery, although the liner notes suggest a possible recording date of May 23, 1975 at an unknown venue.  It’s another shouty, distorted “cosmo drama,” so who really cares where it’s from? Ha ha—just kidding (sort of).

This new Art Yard disc has reignited my enthusiasm for Sun Ra’s music, collecting as it does some impossibly rare stuff, much of it absolutely essential and previously only available (to me) as dodgy “needle-drops.” But there’s still so much more still left in obscurity! What happened with Atavistic? John Corbett’s “Unheard Music Series” resurrected a bunch of primo Sun Ra titles and promised an expanded reissue of Continuation back in like 2007 or something. That is one of the all-time great Sun Ra records and needs to come out! Come on! Give it to Art Yard if you have to, but let’s go! 

Ahem. Please excuse my enthusiasm. Look for more Sun Ra Sunday next week.


Matt said...

Hi Rodger,

This is Matt from Philly, I've been avidly following your blog for Sun Ra Sunday for awhile and am glad you're back to semi-regular posting.

I too have been waiting for eons for the Continuation reissue...there was a piece in the Chicago Reader in May of last year indicating that John Corbett has an imprint through his Corbett vs Dempsey gallery that is producing limited run reissues (they've already issued some Joe McPhee hatHut titles), with Continuation slated to be released with additional contemporaneous material. Exciting news if it ever materializes!

Anyway, keep traveling the spaceways...


Sam said...

I too am glad to see Sun Ra Sundays return! Rodger, as far as you can tell, is there anything on this Art Yard disc that was unreleased by Saturn? I'm guessing not, since I'm pretty sure you would have mentioned it.

Rodger Coleman said...

@ Matt - Thank you for the tip re: Corbett vs. Dempsey - I will be keeping an eye out for "Continuation!"

@ Sam - No, there is nothing previously unreleased on this. Here is the full tracklist:

"Sub Underground":
1) Cosmo Earth Fantasy
2) Love is for Always
3) The Song of Drums
4) The World of Africa

"What's New?":
5) What's New
6) Wanderlust
7) Jukin'
8) Autumn in New York
9) //Space is the Place>
We Roam the Cosmos

TT = approx. 66 mins

Jean K said...

Yes - welcome back Sun Ra Sunday!