Sun Ra: St. Louis Blues: Solo Piano, Volume 2 (Improvising Artists, Inc.
On July 3, 1977, Sun Ra shared a bill with Paul Bley at Axis-In-Soho as
part of the Newport in New York Festival, which was recorded by Bley’s Improvising Artists
label. A portion of Sun Ra’s set was released on LP in 1978
as St. Louis Blues: Solo Piano, Volume 2
(IAI 37.38.58) and reissued on CD in
1993 (IAI 123858) (Campbell & Trent pp.236-237). If Solo Piano, Volume 1
an introspective studio album, Sun Ra is in an expansive, playful mood in front
of a live audience. As Szwed points out in his biography, “Bley was surprised
to see that once he was alone on stage, ‘Sonny was a ham who liked to clown and
surprise the audience’” (Szwed p.343) and there is a bit of that to be found here.
Ra’s passagework is startlingly virtuosic, displaying an astonishing independence
of fingers and hands and extreme sensitivity of touch, although it sometimes comes
across a bit empty and showy. “Ohosnisixaeht” is a rhapsodic blues with
impressively fleet soloing, but the music wanders rather than gets anywhere.
W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” is better, updated with a complex, polytonal arrangement.
The simple “Three Little Words,” a 1930s showtune by Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar
is given an over-the-top reinterpretation that borders on corny, full of melodramatic
glissandos and skittering block chords but always returning to that sweet,
sweet swing. Side one closes with a short, romantic rendition of “Honeysuckle
Rose” that alternates between rubato schmaltz and breezy ragtime.
Side two is more interesting, containing three originals that show off Sun
Ra’s compositional skills as well as his brilliant keyboard work. “Sky and Sun”
is onomatopoeic: drifting chords
represent the sky and
twinkling figures in the uppermost register
represent the sun. This track is really quite evocative and it sounds he could do this
sort of stuff all day long. Ra summons up an entire Arkestra on “I Am We Are,”
from rumbling bass notes, scraping “strange strings” and exquisitely voiced harmonies to outrageous,
free-jazz scree, with moments of two-fisted aggression a la Cecil Taylor—a tour
de force and probably the best thing on the album. “Thoughts On Thoth” ends the
album with a slow space groove, articulated with remarkably fluid right-hand
flourishes. It’s a brilliant display, but feels a little perfunctory to me.
Apparently, Improvising Artists released a 40-minute video of this
concert (IAI V003), which replaces “Ohosnisixaeht” with another rendition of “Sometimes I
Feel Like A Motherless Child” (the studio version can be heard on Volume 1) and
contains some other minor editing differences from the LP (see Campbell &
Trent p.237). This video was only sporadically available in the 1980s and while
“bootleg” versions circulate, I have not seen a copy. And here is an
tantalizing rumor: “According to Fred Conrad, the concert ended with “When
There Is No Sun,” on which Ra was joined by
June Tyson (voc) and John Gilmore (voc). It is not known whether this
piece was recorded” (Id.).
Suhn Rawl Sew Low Pie Ano '77
Thanks to reader, Yotte, for this link to the IAI video of this concert: