Sun Ra: College Tour Vol. 1
There is nothing quite as breathtaking as one of the early recordings of Sun Ra and his Arkestra. After his explosive and historic recordings The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra Vol. IVol. II were first released in 1965 and 1966, modern music was never the same. It is, in fact, debatable that guitarist Jimi Hendrix was an early acolyte, as were so many musicians of the new wave who emerged after Ra. None had his antecedentsnone had descended from the Egyptian pantheon, that isnone had his energy or could see and hear the music of the future as clearly and as wondrously as Sun Ra. This album, The Complete Nothing Is... with tons of undiscovered music from that sainted College tour, brought forth by music historian Michael D. Anderson for ESP-Disk, is priceless.
This album is a treasure of the new freedom that jazz had discovered in the 1960s. Ra might never have wanted to call it that, however. His music had elements of serialism from Schoenberg, mighty leaps in time and the explorations in genre defying rhythmic pulsesand quite simply wholly new worlds of musical experiences that only Ra could hear. All this and the hypnotic chant-like rhythms of the heart and soul of the African experience can be heard here. "The Exotic Forest" with its hypnotic Indian shenai that entwines the undulating bass of Ronnie Boykins and the freedom loving percussion of Clifford Jarvis with the other horns playing contrapuntal arrangements is fresh and superb. When in "Theme of the Star Gazers" the vocalists' sing of a "theme of tomorrow's world...," they were actually being prophetic. Everything that is played on this album is just so.
On "Dancing Shadows," the reeds section of tenor saxophonist John Gilmore, alto saxophonist Marshall Allen and baritone saxophonist Pat Patrickmainstays of the Arkestrascreaming and wailing with abandon, sound like a myriad horns and give the impression of there being a whole lot more horns than just three. They dominate with fiery passion as Ra's piano and Jarvis' percussion drive the music with elastic muscularity and spatial elegance. Ronnie Boykins' solo on "The Shadow World" is inspired and magical. The frenzied wails of the horns and the plaintive bleating of the trombones make this vintage Arkestra music prophetic as well. Ra's own extraordinary bebop romp on "Outer Space Ways Incorporated" is majestic, original and memorable.
Anderson has unearthed a total of some 90 minutes of additional music that was either cut or never made it to record when the album was first released. CD2 is full of wonderful Arkestra music. The extended version of "The Satellites are Spinning," with Ra's hypnotic comping that drives the piece, and the stellar solos of Gilmore and Allen, make this album sound amazingly fresh. It is music like this and that heard throughout the album that kept the idiom alive throughout the turbulent 1960s and beyond into an indeterminate future. "Velvet" features some superb blowing by Pat Patrick and the trombone work of Ali Hassan and Teddy Nance is exquisite and human voice-like. Ra himself guides the members of his ensemble with exemplary harmonics from behind his piano.
John Gilmore's tenor saxophone receives more than its share of time to shine in the sun and his honks and bleats are outstanding in his solos, especially on "Interplanetary Chaos." The searing imagery on the extended version of "The Second Stop is Jupiter" is special. Jarvis' pulsating figures holds the music together as the reeds and winds explore the interstellar world led by Sun Ra's piano, and the moment they find their trajectory, Jarvis embarks on a masterful exposition of dazzling polyrhythmic proportions. The drummer employs lightening fast rolls and staccato stabs at various drums in his battery of percussion instruments as he creates a rhythmic edifice of astounding proportions. Later he is joined by James Jackson on log drums as well as by Carl Nimrod and the trio and the trio erects an interstellar city before Ra and the horn section return to bring them down to terra firma only to take off again, space ways. The actual track, "Nothing Is" is actually quite absorbing, but it is the extraordinary pianism of Ra on "Eternal" that has the most indelible impact on the inner ear.
"State Street" is a revelation. Here Ra's writing appears wholly driven by the tonal palettes of the instruments that he employed in the Arkestra. Pat Patrick dominates in the solo department as well as in the ensemble passages. The song's architecture is more like the music that surrounded Duke Ellington than Ra's interstellar expeditions, even though Gilmore's dry, glorious tenor soars mightily into the stratosphere. The closing moments of CD2 are given to a breathtaking version of "The Exotic Forest," which smoulders quietly as it breathes like fire and song all rolled into one. Although the song never veers too far from the Pan-Africanism that Ra also stood for, it swings seductively and is almost like a dirge like chant (although no voices are heard). This closes out one of the most valuable works of music that have even been made by a musician on this planet, no matter which planet he or she came from. It also bears out pianist Thelonious Monk's classic defence of Ra music, when it was chided for being too far out: "Yeah," said Monk, "but it swings." And even though the album ends with applause that appears to have been unceremoniously cut, it is all well worth it. This music is too valuable to be missed.
Tracks: CD1: Burton Greene Introduction; Sun Ra and his Band From Outer Space; The Shadow World; Interpolation; The Satellites Are Spinning; Advice To Medics; Velvet; Space Aura; The Exotic Forest; Theme of the Star Gazers; Outer Space Ways Incorporated; Dancing Shadows; Imagination; The Second Stop Is Jupiter; The Next Stop Is Mars. CD2: The Satellites Are Spinning; Velvet; Interplanetary Chaos; Theme of The Star Gazers #2; The Second Stop Is Jupiter #2; We Travel The Spaceways; Nothing Is; Is Is Eternal; State Street; The Exotic Forest #2.
Personnel: Sun Ra: piano; John Gilmore: tenor saxophone; Pat Patrick: baritone saxophone; Robert Cummings: baritone clarinet; Teddy Nance: trombone; Ali Hassan: trombone; Clifford Jarvis: drums; Ronnie Boykins: bass, tuba; James Jackson: log drum, flute; Carl Nimrod: sun horn, gong.