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Creative music fans always somehow end up at Sun Ra’s musical doorstep. Either they follow the rock scene and are tipped off to him by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys or they are established jazz fans and his name crops up in discussions of jazz music from the 1950s through the early 1990s. Somehow Sonny Blount has effected the last fifty years of music, but his recordings were (seemingly from the beginning) collectors items. His self-produced label Saturn Records released an endless stream of discs many with hand drawn covers or no cover information at all. He also sold tapes to small labels eager to sell his music, but without the money and motivation to do so to a mass audiance.
Thank your lucky stars for the reissue series of Evidence Records and Atavistic’s subdivision, the Unheard Music Series. Reissue producer for UMS John Corbett unearthed this 1982 gem originally issued on Y Records in Italy. Consisting of 8 tracks, Nuclear War features a relatively small Arkestra of 11 musicians and singer June Tyson. The title track, a 12-inch single from 1982, repeats Sun Ra’s vocal “If they push that button, your ass gotta go – it’s a muthafucker!” Apparently the spaceman Ra was re-assessing his faith in human technolgy and therefore human nature.
Besides the popularity of the Sun Ra chant tracks, their is solid writing, arranging and soloing to be found here. He covers Duke Ellington’s “Drop Me Off In Harlem” with horns arranged straight out of the Fletcher Henderson songbook, as Sonny plays a crazy roller rink organ. June Tyson, a long time Arkestra member, may have faltered a bit in her later years, but you still feel the beauty in her voice somewhere between Billy and Sarah on “Sometimes I’m Happy” and “Smile.”
Nuclear War could have been an album of singles, and that probably was Mr. Ra’s plan. Each track (except the title track) is between 4 and 5 minutes in length, great for jukeboxes (in the hippest bar this side of Star Wars) and B-sides. The Arkestra’s final cast is all here from the tenor titan John Gilmore to altoist Marshall Allen, James Jackson, Walter Miller, Tyrone Hill, and Danny Ray Thompson. Soloists take brief and interesting solos, of note are those of John Gilmore who could have been an outsatnding leader on his own. Ra plies his quirky penchant for synthesizer and organ, exercising a shuffle blues workout on “Blue Intensity” and an off-kilter solo on “Nameless One No. 2.” < I>Nuclear War is a marvelous treasure of a find.
Track Listing: Nuclear War; Retrospect; Drop Me Off In Harlem; Sometimes I
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.