In December 1986, the Sun Ra Arkestra performed at the 13th International Jazz Piano Festival in Kalisz. The Arkestra was making its first ever appearance in Poland and the historic occasion was duly recorded for posterity. The tapes, however, languished in a basement, unloved and forgotten, until they were unearthed over three decades later. Thanks to vinyl specialists Lanquidity Records, they have been remastered and releasedon striking yellow vinylfor the first time. The sound quality isn't always perfecta couple of soloists are miles from the nearest micbut this is still a fascinating document of the Arkestra in swinging mode.
In time-honored Arkestra fashion, the concert begins with the rhythms of James Jacson
's Egyptian Infinity Drum, which segues into "Discipline 27-11" by way of Tyler Mitchell
's unaccompanied bass. John Gilmore
's reedy-sounding clarinet forges a plaintive course over percolating percussion and Tyrone Hill
's waspish trombone slurs. Marshall Allen
takes over the lead on flute before the full voice of the Arkestra rises in a heady, free-spirited cacophony. During the chaos, however, blasts of tightly rehearsed ensemble lines speak of an underlying discipline at play. Allen, who overblows wildly on alto saxophone, stands alone at the end, sustaining an impossibly high note which resembles a whistling kettle. Pat Patrick
's riffing baritone saxophone introduces "Children of the Sun," a clapalong swing number with peppy solos, built around a cheery Arkestra call and response chant. Ra obliges the organizes of the piano festival with a fascinating unaccompanied spot, his improvised solo one of contrasting tones. Dark gives way to light, rhythmic impulses flit in and out, as do thunderous chords, but this is still, essentially, an exercise in unabashed romanticism.
Elsewhere Ra pays homage to his mentors. There's a stonking Fletcher Henderson
-inspired version of Noble Sissle
's "Yeah Man!" Ra played in Henderson's band for six months in 1946-47, and his love for Henderson's energetic brand of swing is palpable here. Likewise, Duke Ellington
's "Prelude to a Kiss" is treated tenderly. Inevitably, the Arkestra puts its own stamp on the old ballad, with Allen's overblowing-dappled blues solo and Ra on electric piano riding an impeccable arrangement for horns.
There are hints of Jelly Roll Morton
, Ellington and Thelonious Monk
in Ra's playing on "I'll Never Be The Same," another rousing Arkestra swing- fest, peppered with feisty bebop solos. A second improvised number begins, as before, with Ra unaccompanied at the piano, though this time the leader plies a more angular path. His restless stirrings on piano and synthesizer are not without their beauty, however, and contrast with the wild blowing of tenor and alto saxophones on an otherwise stripped backed arrangement.
A joyous blues with gospel-like trappings brings New Orleans guitarist Carl LeBlanc
into the frame, though his biting solo is a little lost in the mix. Fun too, is Louis Armstrong
's "Mack the Knife," with Tyrone Hill on vocals doing a good imitation of Pops. Beginnings and endings were one and the same for Ra, and a hearty drum solo from Earl "Buster" Smith ends the concert as it began.
Enjoyable as it is, the Kalisz concert is a fairly straight-ahead performance by the Sun Ra Arkestra's standards, with an emphasis on the blues and swing arrangements that dominated Ra's final years. Poland then was still behind the Iron Curtain, though the writing was on the wall for the Communist bloc. "Things ain't never gonna be like they used to be. A different kind of day is on its way..." the Arkestra chants on "Children of the Sun." Maybe Ra knew already.
Danny Ray Thompson: bassoon; alto saxophone, Fender bass; John Gilmore: clarinet; James Jacson: Egyptian Infinity
Drums; Leroy Taylor: alto & bass clarinet; Sun Ra: synthesizer.