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Sun Ra: God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be

Karl Ackermann By

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Herman Poole Blount, contrary to some urban myths, didn't claim to be born on the planet Saturn but had purportedly been transported there—and back—in his teens. A life shrouded in mystery, it isn't entirely clear when Blount became Sun Ra but it's estimated to be in the early 1940s when he was active on the Chicago jazz scene. Ra was a prodigy, playing piano and composing before he was in his teens. In his lifetime, he released sixty-eight studio albums and fifty-six live recordings; throw in another two-dozen posthumous releases and compilations and you have a snapshot of one of the most prolific artists of the twentieth century.

A little-known but enthralling Sun Ra recording was recently reissued by Cosmic Myth Records. Particularly interesting is that God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be is a trio album and the only such recording that Ra had been involved in. With the exception of three solo piano releases, Monorails and Satellites Vol. 1 (Saturn Research, 1973), Monorails and Satellites Vol. 2 (El Saturn Records, 1974), and Solo Piano (Improvising Artists, 1977), Ra's massive catalog was dominated his various Arkestras. The trio album, with Hayes Burnett on bass and Eric Walker (aka, Samarai Celestial) on drums, was recorded in a one-day session in 1979 and issued that year under the title Days Of Happiness (El Saturn Records). Both Burnett and Celestial had played for several years with the Arkestra but not always on the same recordings.

Much of the material on this album is uncharacteristically groove-oriented. Not that Ra hadn't gone there before but pieces such as "Days of Happiness" and "Magic City Blues" have an ear toward bebop and hard bop with Burnett and Celestial a tightly aligned rhythm section. "Tenderness" is the closest to a straight-out avant-garde number and "Blithe Spirit Dance" occasionally references Ra's signature spaciness but most of the ten-minute piece is variations of bop. The title track closes the album in the vein in which it opened but with some of Ra's weirdness for accents. All-in-all, there is a personal touch to these pieces that is lost in Ra's orchestral circus-like atmosphere.

Ra's Arkestra was inconsistent both in style and the quality of recordings, especially live releases. While he was a visionary throughout his career, his quixotic approach could manifest itself as free jazz, peculiar chants, strangely conceived swing, Afrofuturism, or reimagined Disney tunes. The same erraticism was true of his few solo piano projects. There are very few instances in his catalog where Ra can be appreciated as an instrumentalist and that's unfortunate because God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be gives us a taste of the Ra that we'll never have the opportunity to explore further. An excellent and timeless album.

Track Listing: Days of Happiness; Magic City Blues; Tenderness; Blithe Spirit Dance; God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be.

Personnel: Sun Ra: piano; Hayes Burnett: bass; Samarai Celestial: drums.

Title: God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Cosmic Myth

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