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Sun Ra And His Astro Infinity Arkestra: Pathways To Unknown Worlds

Ian Patterson By

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To make sense of Sun Ra's teeming discography would require a forensic sensibility. The Alabaman's output was vast, reissues on multiple labels numerous, and the provenance of much of his studio work—the dates, location, personnel etc—is often uncertain. This reissue of Pathways to Unknown Worlds, first released in 1975 on ABC/Impulse!, is a case in point.

It's not the first CD reissue of Pathways to Unknown Worlds. In 2000, Evidence released a version that included an untitled five and a half minutes missing from the original vinyl. The folk at Modern Harmonic have identified that particular mystery piece as part of "Extension Out," and it appears here in its thirteen-minute entirety for the first time. Two extra tracks, "Intrinsic Energies" and "Of Mythic Worlds," previously appeared on Of Mythic Worlds (Philly Jazz, 1980). Then, their source was unknown, but they've since been confirmed as part of the 1973 Variety Recording Studios session in New York that rendered Pathways....

What is new is the inclusion of the previously unreleased "View from a Mountain Top"—a low-key, somber vignette from the same Pathways... session. Annoyingly, the piece is truncated just as the confluence of reeds, percussion and Ra's keys threaten to gel. Where on earth the rest of the number wound up is anybody's guess, but it would be no major surprise if some future reissue of Pathways... presented the missing music. Such is the world of Ra.

This recording captures Sun Ra's thirteen-piece Astro-Infinity Arkestra on a stirring free-jazz date. A studio outing it may be, but the music bristles with the visceral energy of a live blow-out. Saxophonists John Gilmore, Marshall Allen and Danny Davis squeal, bray and generally over-blow bullishly, notably on "Extension Out," on the torrid mid-section of "Cosmo Media" and on the heady blowout that is "Of Mythic Worlds." But there are also more subtle currents at play beneath the maelstrom.

Trumpeters Akh Tal Ebah and Lamont McClamb play with equal passion, but less stridently than the saxophonists. At the other extreme, there's a gently lowing quality to Leroy Taylor's bass clarinet and Allen's occasional oboe. It's in the bottom end, however, particularly in bassist Ronnie Boykins inventive playing and in Ra's probing comping, where some of the most compelling music resides. These two provide the ballast in the midst of the most cacophonous passages, where horns flail over the tumult of Clifford Jarvis' drums and assorted percussion.

Conducting proceedings is Ra, who veers between minimalist, painterly dabs and more expansive forays. From his Yamaha YC 45D combo organ he draws a truly impressive array of sounds and textures, embracing bell-like clarity at one extreme and woozy psychedelia at the other. Chief architect on the percussion-driven "Intrinsic Energies," Ra's searching playing sounds like a cross between a xylophone and a steel drum and serves as a fine example of his unique musical personality.

Whereas the original vinyl clocked in at a fairly miserly twenty-six minutes, an additional thirty minutes of material has now been added/restored to this potent entry in Sun Ra's oeuvre. A must for Ra acolytes but should also be of interest to anyone drawn to creative music of original stamp.

Track Listing: Pathways to Unknown Worlds; Extension Out; Cosmo-Media; View from a Mountain Top; Intrinsic Energies; Of Mythic Worlds.

Personnel: Sun Ra: keyboards; John Gilmore: tenor saxophone, percussion; Marshall Allen: alto saxophone, flute, oboe; Danny Davis: alto saxophone; Danny Thompson: baritone saxophone, bassoon; Akh Tal Ebah: trumpet, mellophone; Lamont McClamb: trumpet; James Jacson: percussion; Leroy Taylor: bass clarinet; Russell Branch: percussion; Stanley Morgan: percussion, congas; Eugene Brennan: congas; Ronnie Boykins: bass; Clifford Jarvis: drums.

Title: Pathways To Unknown Worlds | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Modern Harmonic

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