Sun Ra: Heliocentric Worlds Vol. 1 & 2 (2005)
ESP's reissue series matches two classics on one disc, Sun Ra's Heliocentric Worlds, Vol. 1 & 2. These two 1965 sessions feature the Arkestra playing out, but mostly in small units, and rarely with the quirky humor often in evidence on Ra recordings. This space seems more intimate and introspective than some other galactic narratives in the discography. While the music here sounded like incomprehensible free jazz to critics living in the age of the Beatles and Herman's Hermits, Ra probably composed more of this material than he received credit for originally.
With its tympanis, bass marimba, bass trombone, bass clarinet, and the bass of the great Ronnie Boykins, Vol 1 cruises the subharmonic. "Heliocentric opens with Boykins walking Robert Cummings' bass clarinet. Ra's bass marimba, Boykins, and tympani thunder form a trio. Marshall Allen plays the extreme antagonist on piccolo amidst bass trombone blats from Bernard Pettaway. Tuned tympani, Pettaway, and the bass marimba prepare "Outer Nothingness for Allen's alto, followed by Cummings and Ra. Ra's resonant bass marimba solo leads to a horn flurry and duet with Boykins.
Shuffling keys on acoustic piano, Ra surprises with simultaneous runs on an electric keyboard on "Other Worlds. The blistering pace he powers gives John Gilmore a good blow, before Ra returns for more two keyboard fun. Boykins plays counterpoint, then joined in a round with Gilmore and Ra's electric celeste on "The Cosmos. Johnson's cymbal work keeps the stars shining. A dreamy solo by Ra leads to worried blues by Boykins, back to Ra rocking on piano. Danny Davis' flute briefly flies out of the bass bias on "Of Heavenly things, although Boykins and the bass marimba clock most of the track. A wonderful solo by Ra, "Nebulae features the electric celeste. The short "Dancing in the Sun lets Gilmore and Allen lead the band in some sideways bebop.
Vol 2 features two long suites. Boykins again leads on "The Sun Myth. Gilmore plays some wild sax, with Chris Capers' trumpet chasing Ra's rollicking acoustic piano. Ra ends on clavoline and piano with Boykins still bowing for his life. "House of Beauty features piano and clavoline with Allen's piccolo. Still keening arco, Boykins makes it a trio. "Cosmic Chaos features some ensemble work before Gilmore goes it alone. Tympanis and percussion lead to the ensemble's frenetic coda.
Although the sound has improved on this release, a blunt murkiness remains. A Vol 3 of previously unreleased sessions has also been recently issued.
Track Listing: Heliocentric; Outer Nothingness; Other Worlds; The Cosmos; Of Heavenly Things; Nebulae; Dancing in the Sun; A Sun Myth; A House of Beauty; Cosmic Chaos.
Personnel: John Gilmore: tenor sax, tympani; Pat Patrick: baritone sax, percussion; Marshall Allen: alto sax, piccolo, bells, spiral cymbal; Bernard Pettaway: bass trombone; Danny Davis: flute, alto sax; Chris Capers: trumpet; Teddy Nance: trombone; Robert Cummings: bass clarinet, wood blocks; Ronnie Boykins: bass; Jimhmi Johnson: percussion, tympani; Sun Ra: bass marimba, electronic celeste, piano, tympani.