It is appropriate that this double album is being released by Leo Records' Golden Years imprint. Recorded in New York in July, 1973, it features as large an Arkestra as any that Sun Ra put together and includes all of his key collaborators. What Planet Is This? comes from the crucial period when Sun Ra had progressed from cult status to wider recognition, a process aided by a strange alliance with the MC5. But unlike the '50s and '60s (which are well-documented, particularly by the reissue programme on Evidence) or the late '80s and early '90s (covered well, not least by Leo), this period is not well-served by current releases. All of that makes this a welcome issue.
The sound quality is generally good (not always true of Leo's past Sun Ra releases), although some of the balance is rather eccentric; for instance, on "Space Is The Place, the vocals are far forward and the band sounds very distant. In fact, given the instrumentation (thirteen reeds and brass!) the band doesn't sound nearly as powerful as it could or should.
By contrast, the ten-minute version of "Love in Outer Space really captures the majestic power of the band in full flight, driven along by Ra's surging organ, wild, free-blowing horns and massed percussion that creates a massive polyrhythmic groove that is sure to move anyone with a pulse. Just as impressive is a twenty-minute version of "The Shadow World that features a barnstorming big band (again, with percussion aplenty) interspersed with more incredible Ra organ and free-blown improvisations on saxophones and tuba, the latter providing a rich, fruity bass line.
Special mention must go to vocalist June Tyson, whose vocals are pure-toned and powerfully soulful throughout. Her call-and-response "declamations (an appropriate term; "vocals doesn't do them justice) with Ra himself on the title track turn it into a space-age revivalist meeting. Extraordinary.
Another valuable piece in the ever-evolving Sun Ra jigsaw.
Track Listing: Untitled Improvisation; Astro Black; Discipline 27; Untitled Improvisation; Space Is The Place;
Enlightenment; Love In Outer Space; The Shadow World; Watusa, Egyptian March; Discipline
27 II including What Planet Is This? / The Universe Sent Me To Converse With You / My
Brother The Sun.
Personnel: Sun Ra: piano, mini-moog, organ, declamation; John Gilmore: tenor sax, percussion, voice;
Marshall Allen: alto sax, oboe, flute, percussion, cowbell, voice; Danny Davis: alto sax,
flute, percussion, voice; Larry Northington: alto sax, percussion, voice; Eloe Omoe (Leroy
Taylor): bass clarinet, bassoon (also with French horn mouthpiece), percussion, voice;
Danny Ray Thompson: baritone sax, flute, percussion, voice; Pat Laurdine Patrick: baritone
sax, eb, voice; James Jacson: bassoon, flute, percussion, voice; Akh Tal Ebah (Douglas E
Williams): trumpet, flugelhorn, megaphone, percussion, voice; Kwame Hadi ( Lamont F
Williams): trumpet, percussion, voice; Dick Griffin: trombone, percussion, voice; Charles
Stephens: trombone, percussion, voice; Hakim Jami: tuba, percussion; Alzo Wright: cello,
percussion; Ronnie Boykins: bass; Lex Humphries: drums; Aye Aton (Robert Underwood):
drums; Atakatune (Stanley Morgan): congas, tympani; Odun (Russell Branch): congas;
Harry Richards: percussion; June Tyson: vocal, declamation, percussion, dance; Judith
Holton: vocal, dance; Ruth Wright: vocal, dance; Cheryl Banks: vocal, dance.
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone. Feet in the dirt, or barefoot on a stage with sequins--it's soul beats in my chest.
I was first exposed to jazz while others listened to surf music in the '50s and '60s, it was Monk, Miles, Satchmo and Ella, Rosemary Clooney and Julie London followed. Margaret Whiting, Les McCann, Willie Bobo, Andy Simpkins, Snooky Young, Bill Basie and Helen Humes. The first time I heard Topsy, Take 2, I about passed out at the age of ten.
I've hung with Les McCann who more than 30 years after our first meeting became my duet partner on my CD, Don't Go To Strangers. Karen Hernandez from the start, Jack Le Compte on drums, Lou Shoch on bass, Steve Rawlins as my arranger and pianist, Grant Geissman - guitar genius, Nolan Shaheed, Richard Simon, and more. The big boys. My Red Hot Papas. The best show I ever attended was...
I met Helen Humes first back in 1981 and helped turn one Playboy Jazz Festival night into her tribute, bring the Basie Band to stage, her joy boys. Before she took the stage for the last time to sing, If I could Be With You One Hour Tonight thousands of copies of the newspaper I wrote for carried her story. It was kismet, her being held by Joe Williams backstage. Soon in my life were the great Linda Hopkins who told me I sang the song she wrote better than her, which floored me of course, the energizing Barbara Morrison and the stellar Marilyn Maye who guided me professionally.
My advice to new listeners... let your backbone slip and feel your body stripping back the barriers that prevent us from being one with the music.
Remember none of us are strangers, we just haven't met yet.