It would be impossible to describe Sun Ra in brief. The man’s musical vision was light years ahead of the curve, even by the elastic yardstick used to codify jazz music. His dedication to being “out there” is definitely his most cogent legacy.
The majority of Sun Ra’s music was released on his own label, Saturn Records, out of Philadelphia. Sadly, most of these recordings are long out-of-print, which makes this CD reissue of Disco 3000 such a cherished delight.
SUN RA: Disco 3000 (CD on Art Yard, distributed by ReR Megacorp, in USA by ReR USA, and in Japan by Locus Solus)
This 2009 CD offers 45 minutes of dazzling crazy jazz music.
This material was recorded live at the Teatro Cilak in Milan, Italy, on January 23, 1978, and featured: Sun Ra (on piano, organ, moog, rhythm machine, and vocals), John Gilmore (on tenor saxophone, drums, and vocals), Luqman Ali (on drums and vocals), and Michael Ray (on trumpet and vocals).
Keyboards and horns and drums and voices generate a host of astral crazy jazz.
But...is it really all that “crazy”? The material is melodic, and it has a beat. There’s a degree of chaos, but it’s actually quite orderly chaos. I’ve heard people call the music of John Coltrane and Can “chaotic,” but any musician worth their salt would sneer at such a blanket misnomer.
The keyboards slip and slide, holding chords in dramatic sustains. On occasions, splayed hands fumble across the keys to generate crashing noise. On other occasions, nimble fingers adroitly call forth dreamy passages that slither through the air like sinuous trails of colored smoke.
The horns blare with passion. Their melodies are frenzied, often seemingly at odds with the rest of the tune, yet this turmoil is blessed with a cosmic flair that steadily coalesces into undeniable beauty. Yet there are instances in which the brass croon with polished swing.
The drums produce combinations of beats and tempos that are simultaneously disarrayed and smoothly rhythmic. Here, the drums provide more than just locomotion, they act as a full fledged contributor to the music’s vibrant presence.
Fevered electronics cascade through the mix like flocks of crystal birds taking flight, chittering, squeaking, wailing, squealing, warbling, fascinating in their eccentric charm.
These compositions may often seem disjointed, but their arrangements are carefully crafted, with just the right amount of improvisation to enliven the music’s intentional structure. Each descent into disorder is followed by an ascent into glorious harmony.
Don’t expect lyrical vocals, for when the performers’ voices are raised it is in exultant enthusiasm.
And no Sun Ra concert is complete without a brief outbreak of “Space Is the Place,” one of his more infamous songs.
The release includes invaluable biographical notes by Michael Ray.
An interesting factoid from Saturn: the rhythm machine Sun Ra played at this concert was a Crumar Mainman, which the manufacturer has no record of ever making. (Cue the Twilight Zone theme--and let it get a little crazy-funky.)
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