March 17, 2013

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra LPs

Thanks to reader Mark R, I was reminded of a vinyl-only reissue of The Soul Vibrations of Man, which happens to be the next item in the discography. Since this record had never been officially released on CD (and my “needledrop” of an original pressing is a crackly mess), I decided to check it out. I had seen some of these Saturn LPs floating around the record bins, but was unsure of their provenance—were they merely bootlegs of the Evidence CDs? However, it appears that El Saturn Research is now owned by Universal Music Group and these vinyl reissues are legit—almost two dozen so far and three titles (My Brother The Wind Volume 1, Universe in Blue and The Soul Vibrations of Man), which have been out of print for decades in any format. Additionally, there’s a recent vinyl-only reissue of Of Mythic Worlds, a super-scarce LP originally released by Philly Jazz in 1978. All are pressed on 180-gram vinyl, housed in sturdy cardboard jackets and very reasonably priced—a no-brainer for the turntable-enabled Sun Ra fan.

Intrigued, I decided to investigate some of the other Saturn titles in order to compare them to the Evidence CDs, which suffer from some rather heavy-handed noise reduction and compression. Other Planes of There, one of my favorite recordings from the magical Choreographer’s Workshop era, sounds quite a bit more open and dynamic than the CD, leading me to believe it was taken from the original, un-futzed-with tapes. That was all I needed to know: I’m going to have to get the rest of them while they are still available. A look at my playlist from last week will show you how far I’ve gotten on this project and more should be arriving this week. The problem is: where will I put them? Well, there are far worse problems to have.

Incidentally, I wound up spending some time on eBay trying to track some of this stuff down and was amazed to see a large collection of incredibly rare, mint condition Saturn LPs up for auction in the UK. I knew albums like Invisible Shield and A Fireside Chat with Lucifer would attract a lot of bids, but I was not prepared to see these dozens of titles finally sell for such astonishing sums of money: from $600 to over $1300 a piece! Apparently, two collectors got into a bidding war at the last minute, with the victor spending many thousands of dollars to obtain these obscure Sun Ra records. Obviously, there is a market for these things—so, how about it Universal? Why not reissue the rest of the El Saturn catalog? Of course, the schism that developed between Sun Ra and Alton Abraham during the 1970s means that the Phildelphia Saturns are not owned by Universal and are likely stuck in perpetual legal limbo along with the rest of Sonny’s estate. Even so, there are still plenty of Chicago Saturns left behind—like Continuation. And, speaking of Universal, they also own the Impulse! catalog, which includes Astro Black, another classic Sun Ra album that is impossible to find in decent condition for a reasonable price. Come on, folks! Let’s go!

I’ll be back with a detailed examination of The Soul Vibrations of Man next week. In the meantime, go out and grab yourself a copy—it’s a good one.

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