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Sun Ra: At The Showcase (Live In Chicago, 1976-1977)

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Sun Ra: At The Showcase (Live In Chicago, 1976-1977)
Describing the music of Sun Ra is always challenging—perhaps even more so when it is documented on a live recording. A case in point is this offering from the Jazz Detective label, a substantial slice of Ra taken from two concerts at Chicago's Jazz Showcase in the mid-'70s. It can be dense and opaque, even impenetrable at times. But it also swings mightily, with a generous big-band sound which should appeal to all but the most closed-minded jazz listeners. It is a captivating recording and a worthy entry in the already massive catalog of one of jazz's most idiosyncratic figures.

The concerts are presented out of chronological order, with the first recorded in November 1977 and the second in February 1976. Producer Zev Feldman's logic seems to involve capturing something of a full Sun Ra concert experience, with the first set coming from the beginning of the 1977 concert while the second is from the closing portion of the 1976 show. The tentative opening of the first set, "New Beginning," bears out this wisdom, as it is a somewhat shambolic group improvisation which meanders a bit, while the "View From Another Dimension" which follows it starts to find a more focused purpose—albeit with enough of Ra's otherworldly keyboard interjections to keep things unsettled. But, once we get into the remaining tracks, the band truly comes alive, with tenor saxophonist John Gilmore in particular unleashing some ferocious blowing, and the rest of the ensemble rock-solid in support. Interestingly, much of this material comes from earlier periods in the band's repertoire, with "Akhnaton" and "Velvet" dating back to the '50s, and "Rose Room" going back even further, having been popularized by Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman in the '30s. In Ra's hands these pieces have all the cosmic flair one would expect, while remaining firmly within the jazz universe. Sandwiched in the middle is "Moonship Journey," which was first found on Cosmos (Cobra, 1976); its contagious groove and loping group chant clearly energize the crowd.

The second set is much briefer, with the standout track being the lengthy, almost eighteen-minute, "Calling Planet Earth/Shadow World," a dynamic show-stopper with more of Ra's inimitable keyboard work and tight ensemble passages for the horns, not to mention some exceptional unaccompanied solos, including a scorching one from alto saxophonist Marshall Allen. Of course, we also get a superb version of "Space is the Place," Ra's classic Afrofuturist anthem, which elevates the mood in the room still higher, the audience responding rapturously. Although not everything here is equally riveting—one could perhaps do without Akh Tal Ebal's inscrutable screams and vocalizations on the penultimate track, for instance—when the concert reaches its conclusion, led by Ra's invocation, "There's only twenty-four years from the century of 21," and the audience joins in the chant, one is compelled to recognize the peculiar and powerful magic this group could generate.

As always, credit is due to the fabulous production team at Jazz Detective; not only does the music possess all the immediacy one could want from a live recording, but also the well-chosen extras go a long way toward putting the music in context. John Corbett's lead essay is invaluable, as are the reminiscences from Marshall Allen, Jack DeJohnette, David Murray, Matthew Shipp, Dave Burrell and others. Taking it all in, one is reminded that Sun Ra represented more than a distinctive musical moment in jazz history; he led a movement, and its reverberations are still felt, even well into the twenty-first century he heralded at these concerts.

Track Listing

CD1: New Beginning; View From Another Dimension; Synthesis Approach; Ankhnaton; Rose Room; Moonship Journey; Velvet. CD2: Calling Planet Earth & The Shadow World; Theme of the Stargazers; Space is the Place; Ebah Speaks in Cosmic Tongue; Greetings from the 21st Century.

Personnel

Sun Ra
piano
John Gilmore
saxophone, tenor
Marshall Allen
saxophone, alto
Danny Davis
flugelhorn
Eloe Omoe
clarinet, bass
Danny Thompson
saxophone, baritone
Michael Ray
trumpet
Vincent Chancey
french horn
Dale Williams
guitar, electric
Luqman Ali
percussion
Eddie Thomas
percussion
James Jacson
bassoon
June Tyson
vocals
Elo Omoe
saxophone, alto
Danny Ray Thompson
saxophone, baritone
Richard Allen Williams
bass, acoustic
Additional Instrumentation

Sun Ra: Electric Keyboards. Marshall Allen: Alto Sax; Flute; Kora. Elo Omoe: Bass Clarinet. Danny Ray Thompson: Flute. Vincent Chancey: French Horn. Eddie Thomas : Vocal. James Jacson: Ancient Ihnfinity drum; oboe. Atakatune: Congas.

Album information

Title: At The Showcase (Live In Chicago, 1976-1977) | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Jazz Detective


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