January 29, 2012

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Châteauvallon, France 8-25-76 (AUD 3CDR)

At a little over three hours, the second concert in Châteauvallon on August 25, 1976 is almost twice as long as the previous night's performance and was again recorded from audience, possibly by the same person. Unfortunately, the copy which circulates contains several glaring errors in the text file and it took me several listens just to sort it all out. So, here is the actual running order and timings for all three discs:

Disc 1 (70:57): 1.Opening improvisation (12:12); 2.Out Where Others Dwell (5:57)> 3.Images (piano intro) (3:10)> 4.Images (9:48); 5.Spontaneous Simplicity (13:34); 6.Satellites Are Spinning (7:27); 7.Rose Room (9:30); 8.Velvet (9:18).

Disc 2 (75:07): 1.Angels & Demons At Play>Watusi (24:24); 2.Unknown title (7:43); 3.King Porter Stomp (3:46); 4.Slippery Horn (3:45); 5.Opus in Springtime (10:21); 6.El Is a Sound of Joy (7:11); 7.Taking a Chance on Chancey (5:19); 8.Face The Music (7:48)> 9.Don’t Blame Me (4:47).

Disc 3 (48:24): 1.The Shadow World (23:33); 2.Enlightenment (2:17); 3.Astro Nation>We Travel The Spaceways>Second Stop Is Jupiter (22:33).

As you can see, that is a lot of music! Sound quality is marginally better than the previous show, with more defined bass and drums and slightly less hiss and distortion—but it’s still pretty rough going. And, although you can hear female singers in the background, I do not think June Tyson is present since John Gilmore once again leads the choir. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic performance from start to finish, from the opening improvisation (featuring Marshall Allen’s keening oboe) to the closing space chants. The ensembles are spirited and tightly disciplined while all the soloists are in fine form, especially Gilmore, who simply plays his ass off all night long. Take “Velvet,” for instance: this is an outstanding example of Gilmore at his absolute best. I know I’m always saying this or that solo is “incredible,” but that’s not just hyperbole—it’s true! Gilmore was one of the finest tenor saxophonists of his generation and nowhere is this more apparent than here. More mind-blowing Gilmore can be heard on “Images”; “Satellites Are Spinning”; “Spontaneous Simplicity”; and “Face The Music”—not to mention his usual antics on “The Shadow World” or the big band classics, “Rose Room”; “King Porter Stomp”; and “Slippery Horn,” where he again plays clarinet. This is Gilmore at the peak of his powers, no doubt about it, and Sonny has given him free reign to blow his brains out on this night. "Incredible" is simply the only best word to describe John Gilmore.

Ra is provided a piano and plays a romantic yet aggressive, Cecil Taylor-ish intro to “Images,” but abandons it later on for organ and Rocksichord (both with and without the whooshing phase-shifter). Perhaps there were technical problems with the acoustic instrument, but it sounds fine to me. Oh well. Regardless, his playing is inspired throughout, with his buzzing and whirring electric keyboards giving the old-timey numbers a modern edge while propelling tracks like “The Shadow World”; “Angels & Demons At Play”; and “Watusi” into the stratosphere. These last two tunes could sometimes drag on a bit—but not here! On “Angels,” Ra whips up a “mad-scientist” organ blast to accompany Gilmore’s solo and he gets the tenor saxophonist barking like a dog through his horn. Totally outrageous! There is one mystery tune that is particularly intriguing (disc 2, track 2). Is this a composition or an improvisation—or both? It starts out with modal arpeggios on the Rocksichord and Gilmore hazily outlining a descending melody amidst disorienting flurries of notes, false harmonics and altissimo squeals. Ra takes over for a bit, the harmony wandering further and further afield until Vincent Chancey comes in on his precariously intonated French horn. Then Ra pushes a button, thinning the electronic texture and starts comping a swinging vamp—and the rhythm section comes in with a cha-cha! Huh? Chancey continues his balancing act until Ra brings the piece to a close with a dissonant false cadence. Very beautiful, but what exactly is this? Who knows?! Another wonderful Ra moment comes after “Face The Music,” when Sonny launches into the 1933 McHugh/Fields pop song, “Don’t Blame Me,” on solo organ. Just lovely.

A five-thousand word blow-by-blow of this epic show seems like a pointless exercise (or maybe it's beyond the limited number of words in my vocabulary). It’s a stunningly great performance; just take my word for it. If you can tolerate the less-than-great sound quality, it is a richly rewarding listen—if only to hear Gilmore at his finest. According to Prof. Campbell, “Rose Room” and “Satellites Are Spinning” appear on the 1978 double-LP, Unity (Horo—Italy HDP 19-20) (see pp.226-227). Frankly, I’m not so sure about that—we’ll have to try and figure it out when we get there. But, if true, it means a high-quality recording of this concert is possibly stashed away in the Sun Ra archives somewhere. An official release of this complete show (or whatever is extant) would certainly be a worthy addition to the discography—are you listening, Art Yard? Ah well, one can dream, anyway, right? In the meantime, this “bootleg” recording will have to do.


Speaking of Art Yard, they have recently released a new two-CD set entitled, Wake Up Angels: Live At The Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972-1973-1974 (Art Yard CD12). According to the description on Downtown Music Gallery’s website, there is supposedly additional material included on this edition not included on the original releases on Total Energy (now out of print)—but I don’t see how that is possible, given that the number of discs has been reduced from three to two. Anyone out there know for sure what the deal is with this? Please let me know!


Sam said...

Great write-up of this outstanding show! Yeah, Gilmore's on fire...you can't exaggerate that.

Yes, "Rose Room" and "Satellites" definitely appear on "Unity"--but don't get your hopes up on a superior sound source. As I recall, they don't sound much better there.

Re: "Wake Up Angels"--maybe DMG got too high on all the exclamation marks they use. As far as I can tell from a cursory glance at the lineup (at http://fatteningblogsforsnakes.blogspot.com/2011/12/sun-ra-and-his-arkestra-live-at-ann.html), there's no extra material here. However, like they say, "It Is Forbidden" is indexed, so that's cool. I'll try to dig around more on this...maybe somebody out there has it and can confirm one way or the other.

yotte said...

Hi Rodger,

No extra material as far as I can tell. In fact, two tracks from Life Is Splendid have been omitted to allow for the 2 CD release (Love in Outer Space & Watusi). Most of the liner notes are culled from the Blast First releases. As usual with Art Yard, the packaging is gorgeous.

Rodger Coleman said...

Hi, Yotte,
Thanks for the info. I guess I can pass on the Art Yard, then.