Holiday for Soul Dance testifies to not only Sun Ra’s originality, but also his courage when making stylistic decisions. This album, believed to be recorded sometime around 1958, casts Ra in the role of the traditionalist as the Arkestra interpret a batch of time-honored (and time-worn) standards. Surprisingly, this role fits better than one might expect. Ra always felt more affinity with Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington than he did with the bop and free jazz advocates. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the Arkestra interprets these standards in an entirely straightforward manner, without a hint of irony, sarcasm or desire to take the performances ‘out.’
The album opens with a vocal-less version Gershwin’s “But Not for Me.” Ra and the rhythm section take the first chorus, setting the stage for the group’s subdued, West-Coast-cool interpretation. The detached melancholy comes to the fore on “Early Autumn,” which vocalist Ricky Murray lavishes with his forlorn baritone. Behind him the Arkestra responds with their own distant shadows. On both pieces, the Arkestra genuinely emotes the inherent sadness of their material.
Holiday for Soul Dance also displays two overlooked strengths of the Arkestra: Ra’s creative arrangements and the individual members' soloing skills. For an example of the former, check out the intro and opening chorus of “Day by Day.” Bass and drums lay down a solid, swinging groove, and then comes a series of intertwining horn figures: trombone, trumpet, tenor and alto sax play sharp, staggered riffs that create an intriguing set up for the subsequent melody statement.
Marshall Allen on alto sax and John Gilmore on tenor dispel any notions that the Arkestra was stocked with inferior musicians. Allen confidently laces bop-inflected phrases on “But not for Me,” while Gilmore shines on every solo he takes. He plays magnificently against the bop propulsion on “Keep Your Sunny Side Up”: he lags ever so slightly behind the beat and creates a pleasurable tension while developing the melody in well-timed fits and starts.
More than anything, this album highlights Sun Ra’s ability to get listeners to return to the past and re-examine old ideas in a new light. At a time when the jazz world, and music in general, was turning towards the sweeping, dramatic gesture, Ra recorded this album of heartbreak, sadness and longing. Not only does he succeed emotionally, he manages to turn our perspective backwards, towards a time and music we thought we knew, and we come away with fresh inspiration.
Personnel: Sun Ra: piano; John Gilmore: tenor sax; Marshall Allen: alto sax; Pat
Patrick: baritone sax,bass; Wayne Harris: trumpet; Phil Cohran: conet;
Danny Thompson: alto sax; Ebah: trumpet; Carl Nimrod: space drum;
James Jackson: log drums; Robert Cummings: bass clarinet; Danny
Davis: alto sax; Ali Hassan: trombone; Ricky Murray: vocals; Robert Barry: