Sun Ra: Nothing Is... (2005)
In 1966 Sun Ra performed a series of concerts sponsored by the New York council of Arts which were released as Nothing Is. The tunes were sequenced for LP release, but now, after extensive research, more material from the concert which took place at the St. Lawrence University in Potsdam, New York has been unearthed and made its way to CD. The extensive playing time of that medium has been put to welcome use with the addition of the last three tracks. Besides, the songs have been sequenced the way they were recorded.
Sun Ra's work on ESP not only opened the door to Europe but also to a wider audience to whom he could present his philosophy and, more importantly, his music. Helping with the latter was an outstanding band which included John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, and Pat Patrick, all saxophone players of the first order.
The band is in prime form. Sun Ra waves the flag with thunderous chords, a short statement of what is in store. The indefatigable Gilmore turns in trenchant twists and turns on the tenor, his playing tight, gnarled and pithy. As he soars and turns on the wings of his fancy, Clifford Jarvis urges and pushes on the drums before he lets the sax man hold centre stage and have his own divine, which he does with a torrent of ideas. But the clime is free and the band joins in, a raucous soar before space is given its due, the horizon widens and calm descends through the arco of Ronnie Boykins. These are moments to cherish: the music has ridden a roller coaster and then immersed in placid, translucent waters, only to be invigorated again into a collage of red hot colours. There is a lighter approach on "Dancing Shadows, which is apt for the flexible melodic line, a flit from Sun Ra with a hint of boogie. The beat is snappy and the structure tight.
Sun Ra interspersed short tunes that included song with the longer numbers, bringing an agreeable balance to the program. Before the final ninety-second bow comes "Velvet, bopping along firmly with Gilmore, who never finds unusual alleyways to slip into at the helm, with Sun Ra adding a nice interlude before the ensemble closes in. Then there's the nearly sixteen-minute long "Outer Nothingness, a free-for-all that rises on the cry of the saxophone and leads into an intense assimilation of forces that make dissonance the focal point, closed out by a great drum solo from Clifford Jarvis that drives the edge. The vitality that made this music invigorating and challenging is as palpable today as it was almost forty years ago.
Track Listing: Sun Ra and His Band From Outer Space; The Shadow World; Theme of the Stargazers; Outer Spaceways Incorporated; Next Stop Mars; Dancing Shadows; Imagination; Second Stop is Jupiter; Exotic Forest; Velvet; Outer Nothingness; We Travel the Spaceways
Personnel: Sun Ra: piano; John Gilmore: tenor sax; Marshall Allen: alto sax; Pat Patrick: baritone sax; Robert Cummings: baritone clarinet; Teddy Nance: trombone; Ali Hassan: trombone; Clifford Jarvis: drums; Ronnie Boykins: bass and tuba; James Jackson: log drum and flute; Carl nimrod: sun horn and gong.