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Sun Ra & His Astro-Ihnfinity Arkestra: The Intergalactic Thing

Mark Corroto By

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If you are a Sun Ra devotee, let's not use the terms "fanatic" or "zealot," you probably measure your collection in board feet instead of inches. Unlike many jazz legends of the 1950s, and 1960s, Herman Sonny Blount had the foresight to record his ensemble's rehearsals and concerts. He even established his own label El Saturn Records in 1957. Yes, nineteen-fifty-seven, when other jazz giants were bound to onerous contracts with major labels, Ra was producing what we now have as hundreds of studio, concert, and rehearsal recordings.

The Intergalactic Thing, a 2 LP release (with downloads) is a collection of rehearsals taped in the fall of 1969 at Ra's home studio in Philadelphia. The studio was also his home and the home of most of his Arkestra, here called the Astro- Ihnfinity Arkestra. Note the spelling. Earlier in the year, most of this ensemble performed at the Newport Jazz Festival and the National Jazz Festival. The subsequent releases by his Astro-Infinity Arkestra, on his El Saturn Research Records, included the noteworthy discs Atlantis (1969), My Brother The Wind (1970), and Sound Sun Pleasure!! (1970).

These rehearsal tapes are anything but demo recordings. They are the building blocks for live performances, extended arranged samples. While a hip-hop artist today might loop 10 seconds of a riff, these pieces are lengthier riffs, the longest being "Discipline Of The Pharaohs," at 9:50 and the shortest, "Moon Over Saturn," 1:56. In those short 2 minutes, Doug William's trumpet plies out a delicate trumpet solo over Ra's organ accompaniment.

Sun Ra's constant rehearsals were more than just practice. The music here is meditative, soul nurturing medicine. Just about every musician from the Arkestra, even the renowned saxophonists John Gilmore and Marshall Allen, doubles on percussion. There are pieces, like "Principles Of The Pharaohs," which are dominated by percussive rhythm with just a hint of flute (is that Marshall Allen or Danny Davis?) in which we hear Ra giving spoken direction. We hear the classic pieces "The Second Stop Is Jupiter" and "Spontaneous Simplicity," both reworked, as they would be constantly throughout Ra's career. Interestingly, much of the music heard here was never performed on stage. The great man loved to tinker with new ideas, trying out themes and testing them out. Rumor has it, there are hundreds of unpublished pieces stuffed in drawers and boxed up at his Germantown address.

The LPs boast a good sound. We heard Sun Ra on Farfisa organ and Hohner clavinet. With his and the Astro-Ihnfinity Arkestra's solos abbreviated, the listening experience compresses seventeen different pieces into a one and a half hours of meditative listening.
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