The number of recordings featuring Sun Ra as a sideman can easily be counted one hand and this disc’s near legendary status in the fringes of jazz folklore stems largely from his presence here in just such a capacity. Dickerson’s sparse 60’s discography is even greater reason to celebrate the reissue of this previously scarce material. Add to these factors the strange nature of the music itself, a series of improvisations based on the score to a relatively obscure film starring Sidney Poitier, and the sum total is something to marvel at and ponder at length. Ra and Dickerson collaborated again on the latter’s 1978 album, “Visions,” for Steeplechase. This disc carries the edge over that later meeting not only for its vintage, but also from the addition of Ra’s regular sideman Blank and the versatile Bob Cunningham, whose facility with fingers and bow are amply applied. A welcome extra is the opportunity to witness that rarest of musical creatures - the Ra harpsichord.
The opening “Patch of Blue” begins with a brief, lopingly melodic theme statement, before Ra enters in a shower of signature piano clusters. Dickerson’s ethereal lines dodge and weave, continually aiming at and hitting the bullseye for maximum luminosity. Cunningham walks a firm rhythm atop Blank’s iridescent brushes. Later the bassist deftly unsheathes his bow and devises a melancholic arco solo, whilst Ra’s harpsichord delivers metallic flourishes to Dickerson’s resonating tones.
“Bacon and Eggs” bubbles along at a shuffling gait and features some sensitive, but nonetheless grooving interplay between Dickerson and Ra. Cunningham again crafts a deep throbbing sound from his strings that carries the tune’s center. “High Hopes” displays Ra at his most lyrical and Dickerson at his most ruminative. Both men twist gossamer ropes of sound around the piece’s haunting melody once again anchored in Cunningham’s almost subterranean pulse. On “Alone in the Park” the versatile bassist constructs a granite-like edifice of rhythm phalanxed by Blank’s loose cymbals and drums. Dickerson really opens things up on this one, his mallets radiating lucent halos of sonic electricity. “Part 2” slows to an undulating drawl and again Ra’s harpsichord rears its quixotic head as Dickerson’s restless mallets posit a fractured message of unease. “Selina’s Fantasy” thrives on more angularity while serving as the leader’s finest moment in a program blessed with many rivals. Throughout the entire disc Dickerson’s humming, wordless vocals are audible over his phosphorescent vibes and his frequent use of his elongated sustain contributes to the spherical warmth of his improvisations.
Reissued as part of Verve’s Elite series, the disc is strictly limited edition and consequently carries a steep price tag. Don’t let the expenditure required dissuade you. The first rate packaging, copious liner notes, and most importantly the music make this one to acquire before the finite supplies are depleted.
Track Listing: A Patch of Blue (Part 1), A Patch of Blue (Part 2), Bacon & Eggs, High Hopes, Alone in the Park (Part 1), Alone in the Park (Park 2), Selina
Personnel: Walt Dickerson- vibraphone, Sun Ra- piano, harpsichord, Bob Cunningham, double bass, Roger Blank, drums, tympani.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.