Greatest Hits - Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel
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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
Top Customer Reviews
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...Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The unique music of a unique mind, Sun Ra's material here varies between the earlier Ellingtonian material to atonal tone poems not suitable for the waiting rooms of medical... Read morePublished on April 27, 2011 by A. Huntington
I've heard a few Sun Ra songs from free downloads and You Tube viewings, and the songs and Sun Ra's reputation are intriguing. Read morePublished on August 18, 2007 by Anthony Cooper
I bought this CD after watching several videos of Sun Ra that were made later in his career, including Space is the Place, an appearance on Night Music the TV show, and a... Read morePublished on April 30, 2003 by thomasrodd