April 21, 2013

Sun Ra Sunday

Living By Lanterns - "New Myth/Old Science"
Living By Lanterns: New Myth/Old Science (Cuneiform CD)

I’ve recently been filling some holes in my collection of Mary Halvorson and Ingrid Laubrock discs and came across this one, which I had somehow missed when it came out last year. Sun Ra afficianadoes will definitely want to check it out:

Living By Lanterns is a group convened by Chicago drummer Mike Reed vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, in order to fulfill a commission by the Experimental Sound Studio (ESS) to create a performance based on material contained in the Sun Ra/El Saturn Audio Archive at ESS. The archive contains dozens of master tapes and rehearsal tapes as well as recordings of Ra’s poetry and lectures and “audio research” such as a television documentary about Duke Ellington and a radio talk show discussing the benefits of self-hypnosis (a jaw-dropping work-in-progress catalog of the archive’s holdings can be found here). Reed was provided an iPod with 700(!) hours of material culled from over 400 reel-to-reel and cassette tapes recorded from 1948 to 1985 and Adasiewicz, chose “Reel 43” to work with, an hour-long rehearsal tape labeled “NYC 1961,” which features Ra on electric piano, John Gilmore on tenor saxophone and Ronnie Boykins on bass.  Reed describes the tape as “a stream-of-consciousness songwriting session with few details worked out but many ideas played through” (quoted in Terri Kapsalis’s liner notes). Adasiewicz isolated themes and harmonic sequences and, with Reed, developed new compositions for an all-star nine-piece band, featuring Greg Ward on alto saxophone, Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, Ingrid Laubrock on tenor saxophone, Tomeka Reid on cello, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. Beautifully recorded at ElectricalAudio in Chicago on September 3 & 5, 2011, the results were released in October 2012 on the venerable Cuneiform Records label as New Myth/Old Science.

Sonny’s voice can be heard admonishing and lecturing on the opening sound collage, “New Myth,” with Laubrock’s long split-tones and wispy melodic figures blowing in and out of the sonic landscape. Then it’s right into “Think Tank,” the longest and most viscerally intense track on the album. After a majestically rubato ensemble section, Halvorson delivers a blistering guitar solo full of metallic distortion and massive power chords over a propulsive, double-drum groove. “2000 West Erie” is built around a twisty, post-bop head and yields an incredible tenor solo from Laubrock over a swinging rhythm section and scrabbling guitar. Although sounding nothing like him, Laubrock is clearly Gilmore’s heir as master of the tenor saxophone. “Shadow Boxer’s Delight” more overtly evokes Sun Ra’s unique style, with spacey electronics, a loping ostinato in 7/4 and a vaguely Egyptian-sounding theme. “Forget B” is another updated post-bop number with another astonishing solo from Laubrock while “Grow Lights” moves back to a leisurely space-groove kind of thing, with Abrams taking the lead on upright bass with Boykins-like authority. The album concludes with “Old Science,” an up-tempo rocker with another outrageous solo from Halvorson.

New Myth/Old Science is an intriguing album: rather than presenting Sun Ra’s music as a mere repertory project, sketchy, raw material has been transformed into entirely new, original music, performed by the leading lights of 21st Century jazz. It’s a fitting tribute to Ra’s genius and continuing influence—plus you get to hear some of Mary Halvorson and Ingrid Labrock’s finest playing on disc. Good stuff!


Another interesting item from the Sun Ra Audio Archive, ESS and ThreeWalls Gallery is Black Utopia, an extremely limited edition 2-LP/DVD set compiled by filmmaker Cauleen Smith, documenting her two-year residency and research on Sun Ra for her exhibition, “The Journeyman,” which the gallery describes as “an installation, recording studio and library about artistic process.” The recording contains music and other material from the Sun Ra Archive as well as original pieces created for the exhibit. Although I suspect they are all sold by now, I was able to order a copy online directly from the gallery—I’ll let you know when/if it arrives.

Who knows what else from this stash of rare Sun Ra material will see the light of day?

1 comment:

Sam said...

Exciting times. That ESS finding aid---whoa. Release it!

The Living by Lanterns disc sounds incredible....totally under my (admittedly limited) radar. Oh well, another one for the master list!