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Greatest Hits - Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel

4.3 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 26, 2000
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description



Sun Ra didn't really have "greatest hits," or hits at all to speak of, producing scores of LPs on his own Saturn label in editions numbering in the hundreds, primarily for bandstand sales. These albums sported cover art handcrafted by band members, and the records have become rare collector's items. Whatever the title, Jerry Gordon, the person responsible for Evidence Music's ambitious reissues of the Saturn recordings, has constructed an excellent introduction to Sun Ra's cosmic empire of big-band swing, free-jazz improvisation, electronic sound effects, science fiction, and ancient Egyptian mysteries with this Greatest Hits.

While the strange trappings of Sun Ra and the Arkestra--the names, costumes, homemade percussion, and space rap that seemed suspended between vaudeville and cult--remained constant, the music was always in development, picking up approaches from the surrounding world and the inner workings of its own processes. The 18 tracks here are drawn from 15 Saturn LPs, a film soundtrack, and two 45 rpm singles, and they range from the earliest Sun Ra recordings in 1956 to 1973, covering the band's odyssey from Chicago to New York to Philadelphia. It was a period that saw the Arkestra evolve from a hard-swinging, modern-jazz big band that was already rhythmically and tonally adventurous to a unique orchestra incorporating large-scale collective improvisation and ritual, then moving on further to a multilayered transformation of funk.

Through it all, Sun Ra maintained a nucleus of brilliant and loyal musicians, with a saxophone section that rivaled Ellington's for durability and sheer brilliance, however different the musical context could be. Its members--including John Gilmore on tenor, Marshall Allen on alto and oboe, and Pat Patrick on baritone--supply highlights throughout this collection. Virtually every track is of special interest, another dimension of Sun Ra's fertile creativity. Trumpeter Hobart Dotson adds a crisp brassiness to the intensely swinging "Saturn," and there are Ellingtonian touches in the plunger-muted trombone of "Medicine for a Nightmare." Early versions of "'Round Midnight," with a vocal by Hattie Randolph, and "I Loves You, Porgy" show Sun Ra's faithful and moving handling of other people's music. The episodic space chant "Rocket Number Nine," from 1960, has a Gilmore tenor solo that parallels period Coltrane and a Ronnie Boykins bass solo that uses bowed upper harmonics in a way that was otherwise unheard of at that time. Sun Ra's lyrical solo piano on "The Alter Destiny" compresses his decades of jazz experience (he began playing with Fletcher Henderson), while "Yucatan" is an episode of dense, propulsive drumming. The concluding "A Perfect Man," originally a 1973 Saturn 45, sounds like a slightly tilted theme for an espionage thriller. For those seeking entry into the sometimes daunting world of a great original, this CD is a good first choice. Identification of key soloists in the liner notes, though, would have been a nice touch. --Stuart Broomer

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Saturn
  2. Kingdon Of Not
  3. Medicine For A Nightmare
  4. Enlightenment
  5. 'Round Midnight
  6. Velvet
  7. Rocket Number Nine Take Off For The Planet Venus
  8. I Loves You, Porgy
  9. We Travel The Spaceways
  10. When Angels Speak Of Love
  11. Thither And You
  12. Pleasure
  13. The Alter Destiny
  14. Yucatan
  15. Otherness Blue
  16. We'll Wait For You
  17. The Order Of The Pharaonic Jesters
  18. The Perfect Man

Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 26, 2000)
  • Original Release Date: September 26, 2000
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Evidence
  • ASIN: B00004XSLI
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #256,334 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
First off, i must state that I LOVE Sun Ra, and own 25 or more of his reissued CDs. (I named my cat after him, too.)

Second, I *applaud* Evidence records for all their many great reissues of Sun Ra, and for even attempting to do a "Greatest Hits" CD retrospective. In some ways they succeed: they've compiled in one CD one track from almost each full length CD they've reissued. And you really can hear a WIDE variety of the many sounds & styles by Sun Ra & his Arkestra.

However, eh. The success of pulling a track from so many styles and eras ends up sounding too disjointed (if that is possible for Sun Ra). Evidence does a fine job reissuing often two original Saturn recordings on one CD, and they pay attention to the moods of each album and always pair them with like moods. I don't want to discourage anyone from buying this if it is the only way they'll discover Sun Ra. I guess i just want to say that a better way to discover his music would be to listen to several albums in their entirity (go to the library and check them out for free if you don't want to invest $ yet.) Best ones to try first :

"Angels & Demons At Play/Nubians of Plutonia" - A good beginner's CD. more straightforward but not straight. For those who either love jazz already or are indie pop/post-rock fans wanting to dip into Sun Ra.

"Super-Sonic Jazz" - also a great beginner's CD, (not too wildly chaotic but early in Ra's career. Still contains brilliant pieces which aren't 'straight.'

"Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth / Interstellar Low Ways" - another good start, but if you have and enjoy the above, why not try something a bit more out there, like the following...
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods; Germantown is one of the more celebrated ones. Known for its cobblestone streets and historic buildings, Germantown has grown tough and dangerous over time. Our Bicentennial year found me driving a cab there twelve hours a day, six days a week, a rugged job with few perks. One of the best was the opportunity to catch a glimpse of Sun Ra and members of his Arkestra having a bite to eat at the local McDonald's. If this idea is not improbable enough, bear in mind that he was invariably dressed in full Saturnalian regalia.

Sun Ra looked then, as he always did, like a visitor from outer space, quite happily out of context, oblivious to acceptance or the lack of it. This, I think, is ultimately the force of Sun Ra. However much critics desire to dismiss him as a quack, charlatan, or vaudevillian, he himself was utterly sincere. When you buy CDs by almost all musicians, you buy entertainment - predictable entertainment. When you buy a Sun Ra CD, you are purchasing a key to an alternate dimension.

While Sun Ra recorded almost obsessively, he certainly didn't have "hits," unless there's a radio station on Saturn, in which case everything he did is a hit. Most of his records were self-produced and it's a minor miracle that we have them at all. I prefer the subtitle of this CD, Easy Listening For Intergalactic Travel. For novices and devotees alike, this CD offers a very agreeable trip into the world of Sun Ra, from swing and bop into the celebrated interstellar travelogue material for which Sun Ra is best known. It is a particularly good CD for neophytes, because it won't scare them away.
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Format: Audio CD
If you find your self a little interested in Sun Ra, Maybe the name hit you out of the air from a friend or the radio actually played one of his songs(abonafied rarity)then pick it up. You will find songs of order out of his most chaotic (Philadelphia)period. If your already a serious fan ov Sun Ra then you will not find anything new sadly but a well programmed disc to take you to the quieter side of the universe.
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Format: Audio CD
This is as good an introduction to Sun Ra's music as one could possibly wish for. The collection has many things going for it: a very generous selection (18 tracks, 78 minutes - it justifies the disc's steep price) organized chronologically, which amply showcases the evolution of the Arkestra's work; Evidence has culled the 18 tracks from 18 of their Sun Ra reissues, so if the listener has some favorites (s)he can then easily find the album they originated from. Among the highlights, I'd personally mention the jaunty 'Kingdom of Not', perhaps the collection's most accessible instrumental piece; the strange, fascinating and unique 'Rocket #9', whose successive episodes both contrast and complement each other; the moving piano solo 'The Alter Destiny', full of delicate melodic touches by Sun Ra; the spare and percussive 'Yucatan'. The Arkestra's listeners will not merely hear a band play music, but literally live it; music here becomes a ladder towards the transcendent.
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