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Free Jazz & Avant-Garde - Released September 22, 2014 | Strut

Distinctions Sélection JAZZ NEWS - Pitchfork: Best New Reissue
As the longest-tenured member of the Arkestra (55-plus years and counting as of 2014), there is no one with a deeper understanding of the music of Sun Ra than Marshall Allen, and that's part of what makes In the Orbit of Ra such a special collection. The Arkestra's long history is often divided into musical/geographic periods or spoken of as a progression from inside to outside playing. This set spans from the late '50s to the late '70s but the non-chronological sequencing shows how artificial those stylistic boundaries are. The tracks chosen show how many of the elements of their more outside material were present even back in the late '50s and there was quite clearly a strong, coherent musical vision in place from the beginning (but most audiences probably weren't ready for it yet). There are a few signature tunes here, but this isn't really a greatest-hits collection. Instead, it's a guided tour from Marshall Allen deep into Sun Ra's music. Each track leads the listener a bit further so by the time Art Jenkins' space voice enters at the end of disc one, it makes perfect sense instead of just being "weird" in a different context. "Solar Differentials" is the perfect setup for the second disc (starting with the hypnotic "Astro Black," replete with industrial drill sounds), which continues the journey with more of a focus on vocal pieces over the years, ultimately leading us back full circle to the beginning in Chicago. In addition to the unreleased tracks "Reflects Motion, Pt. 1" and "Trying to Put the Blame on Me" (a wonderful solo piano piece), there's an unedited "Islands in the Sun" and a bunch of great photos by Val Wilmer. Then there's the remastering: this is easily the best sound most of these tracks have ever had before, on CD or LP. There are any number of great performances here, but Ronnie Boykins' work on bass really stands out with the new remastering. Despite the fact that most of this material was already available, In the Orbit of Ra is close to essential for fans and a pretty good place to start for the curious Sun Ra novice. He really was writing music for the 21st century. © Sean Westergaard /TiVo

Free Jazz & Avant-Garde - Released November 25, 2016 | Strut

Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music
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The immense output of Sun Ra and his many backing bands, coupled with the limited production of many of his releases has long defied dedicated collectors. Parallel to a vast list of LP releases, Sun Ra released numerous 45 RPM singles; one-off meteorites from his prolific cosmic journey. Working closely with Sun Ra LLC and Art Yard Records, it is with great pride that Strut presents a definitive collection of the rare singles released by Sun Ra across his illustrious career, spanning 1952 to 1991. Released prolifically during the 1950s and more sporadically thereafter, primarily on the Saturn label, the 45s trace the development of Sun Ra’s forward-thinking “Space-Bop” and his unique take on jazz and blues traditions which remains unlike anything else from the period. As with his LPs, most 45s were only pressed in small runs and have since become extremely rare and sought after. Some have only been discovered in physical form in recent years; some were planned and penciled but allegedly never made it to vinyl and some appeared as one-off magazine singles and posthumous releases.
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Jazz - Released March 28, 2006 | Charly Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
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Jazz - Released May 14, 2021 | Strut

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The ocean of music recorded by jazz pianist, composer, and Saturn's best-known expat Sun Ra contains so many different style variations, creative directions, and eras, that it's often impossible to comprehend where in that vastness you find yourself at any given time. The musician born Sonny Blount probably wanted it that way. Yet there are good reasons that 1978's Lanquidity has long served as one of the anchors to Ra's 40-plus-year catalog, an album for those curious enough about this unique improviser and bandleader to enter his wide world, and for the discerning fans to pause and take note. One of a handful of late-'70s sessions that Ra and his Arkestra recorded with famed New York producer/engineer Bob Blank (who gravitated towards artists with one foot in the avant-garde and the other in a Downtown New York disco) Lanquidity is a Sun Ra record that grooves like the tides—effortlessly, thoughtfully and at times chaotically; it's free jazz as dance music. The album's beauty hinges on the Arkestra's ability to travel the farthest reaches of Ra's sonic universe while establishing a groove so tight it'd burn a hole in your shoes. But it's also how Blank's recording forwards the band's bedrock rhythm-a-ning courtesy of Richard Williams' bass and the interlocking percussion of drummers Luqman Ali, Atakatune and Michael D. Anderson, and how the Arkestra's soloists at the time, an all-star cast including trumpeter Eddie Gale, guitarist Slo Johnson (who also went by Disco kid), and baritone saxophonist Julian Pressley embrace that funk. There is no better place to begin dancing than on its most famous cut, "Where Pathways Meet,” which conjures a mid-tempo boogie that sounds like it belongs in a classic Blaxploitation film score—interweaving brass lines, one a low-end churn, the other a melodic uplift. Great proof of what you could do with eight horns/woodwinds in a band. Or, for the more dub/skank-minded, there is "Twin Stars of Thence,” which builds on an interplay between Ra's electric piano and synth, with the bass/drums corps, in a fashion that is at once extravagantly funk and minimalist, before the individual horns bring the weird bop. Strut's deluxe 2021 reissue also adds alternate versions of all five originals, for variations on the dance groove. © Piotr Orlov/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released September 14, 2010 | ESP Disk'

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Jazz - Released October 30, 2015 | Strut

Following Strut's essential 2014 Sun Ra compendium In the Orbit of Ra, curated by longtime Arkestra leader/musician Marshall Allen, the U.K.-based label tapped influential BBC disc jockey Gilles Peterson to mix a follow-up volume. To Those of Earth... and Other Worlds is a double-CD montage of nearly three-dozen selections from numerous lineups of the Arkestra, including a handful of unreleased live cuts and several more rarities. As with In the Orbit of Ra, this isn't meant as a definitive survey or a greatest-hits anthology (there's no way to boil down the essence of any artist with over a hundred albums to a single release, let alone an artist whose discography is as vast and mythical as Sun Ra's). Instead, it's another dense, thrilling journey into the daunting catalog of the most intergalactic musician of all time. The continuous mix format provides immediacy, sometimes excerpting only a minute or two from much longer pieces, swiftly segueing between active, busy passages of music rather than extended atonal jams or freakouts. (Don't expect anything from, say, Strange Strings or Atlantis on this one.) The emphasis is placed on vocal-driven cuts, so it's an accessible entry point for Sun Ra novices. Even the most out-there selections (such as the echo-drenched "Adventure-Equation") are generally melodic and grounded in rhythm, even if it's loose and abstract. The set ends with a few of the best examples of Sun Ra's cosmic philosophy ("you made a mistake, you did something wrong, now make another mistake, and do something right!"; a stripped-down live version of signature tune "Space Is the Place"), spreading his eternal messages of universal love and harmony. © Paul Simpson /TiVo

Jazz - Released January 4, 2014 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

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Sun Ra's Angels & Demons at Play is a diptych created by merging two recording sessions. The first is a laid-back introspective affair ("angels?") recorded in 1960. Even frolicsome, these bouncy melodies follow the percolating rhythms with a gently leading reed, as Marshall Allen exemplifies on flute in "Tiny Pyramids." Also dating from before the truly experimental Sun Ra period, the last three tracks were recorded at RCA Studios in Chicago in 1956. Still very accessible, here several horns, among them reaching trumpets ("demons?"), trade briskly back and forth in solid and lively big band arrangements. © Tom Schulte /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 1, 2014 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

Throughout their mid-to-late-'50s stay in Chicago, Sun Ra (piano) and his Arkestra established themselves as formidable purveyors of a new strain or sub-genre of jazz. Having evolved from elaborate reworkings of familiar standards, Jazz in Silhouette (1959) presents a collection of originals, building upon Ra's abilities as a consummate multi-tasker -- writing, arranging, scoring parts for his band, in addition to performing. He stretches the boundaries of the music to suit the Arkestra, simultaneously progressing his distinct sound. Seminal readings of the quick and complex "Saturn" and "Velvet" are offered with unmatchable dexterity and precision. The latter title comes off like a confused version of "Jeepers Creepers" as Hobart Dotson (trumpet) prominently displays his unquestionable tonality. "Ancient Aiethopia" is one of the more involved works, both in terms of length -- running over nine minutes -- and the Arkestra's capacity for Ra's compositions. "Blues at Midnight" is another expansive (nearly 12 minutes) outing that, by contrast, is for the soloists rather than full ensemble. John Gilmore (tenor sax), Ronnie Boykins (bass), Pat Patrick (baritone sax), and Marshall Allen (alto sax) all shine behind William Cochran's (drums) solid contributions. Equally significant is the running dialogue Ra maintains during other musicians' leads, directing the ebb and flow with an uncanny fusion of melody and rhythm. Undoubtedly, this is a factor in the freshness the material retains. It is also a prime example of Ra and company in a transitional phase, prior to their full-fledged explorations into the avant-garde. © Lindsay Planer /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1962 | Savoy

Sun Ra's only release for the Savoy label is a gem. Recorded in October of 1961, this is probably the first recording the Arkestra made after arriving in New York. As such, you're dealing with a smallish Arkestra (seven main instrumentalists, joined by vocalist Ricky Murray on "China Gate") that's still playing the boppish, highly arranged music characteristic of the Chicago years (1954-1961). Ra sticks to acoustic piano for the entire session, but various percussion instruments are dispersed throughout the band, giving a slightly exotic flavor to some of the tunes. John Gilmore plays bass clarinet on a couple tunes (as well as some great tenor solos), and Marshall Allen's flute playing is excellent, as always. This album was produced by Tom Wilson, who also produced the first Sun Ra LP, Jazz by Sun Ra (1956) for the Transition label, later reissued by Delmark as Sun Song (Wilson later went on to sign the Mothers of Invention to Verve and "electrified" Bob Dylan). With the exception of "The Beginning," all the tunes are very accessible. This is one to play for the mistaken folks who think the Arkestra did nothing but make noise. Excellent. [The 2003 mastering job sounds great.] © Sean Westergaard /TiVo
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Classical - Released November 27, 1993 | Delmark

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Jazz - Released April 2, 2014 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

In the late '50s, Sun Ra emerged from big band to modern/progressive big band status, began to employ electronics, and used a more Afro-Centric percussive focus. This recording perfecly demonstrates those qualities, and more. There are several definitive themes from The Arkestra included, such as "Plutonian Nights," "Nubia," "Africa," "Watusa" and "Aethiopia." Dig for this one on vinyl from the Impulse LP reissue if you can (the cover art is stunning,) but it is nigh impossible to find on Saturn Research. If not, the Evidence CD combined with "Angels & Demons At Play" (containing the original graphics) will suffice. © Michael G. Nastos /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 3, 2014 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

Sun Ra had only been heading his Arkestra for a couple of years when they recorded the 12 songs featured on this 1956 session. But while the arrangements, ensemble work, and solos are not as ambitious, expansive, or free-wheeling as they became on later outings, the groundwork was laid on such cuts as "India," "Sunology," and one of the first versions of "Blues at Midnight." Ra's band already had the essential swinging quality and first-class soloists, and he had gradually challenged them with compositions that did not rely on conventional hard bop riffs, chord changes, and structure but demanded a personalized approach and understanding of sound and rhythm far beyond standard thinking. You can hear in Ra's solos and those of John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Charles Davis, and others an emerging freedom and looseness which would explode in the future. © Ron Wynn /TiVo
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Jazz - Released June 1, 2012 | ESP-Disk

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Jazz - Released April 1, 2014 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

Featuring the Astro Infinity Arkestra, Atlantis reveals two very distinct sides of Sun Ra's music. The first consists of shorter works Ra presumably constructed for presentation on the Hohner clavinet. Not only is the electric keyboard dominantly featured, but also it presumably offered Ra somewhat of a novelty as it had only been on the market for less than a year. The second side consists of the epic 21-minute title track and features an additional seven-man augmentation to the brass/woodwind section of the Astro Infinity Arkestra. Tracks featuring the smaller combo reveal an almost introspective Arkestra. The stark contrast between the clavinet -- which Ra dubbed the "Solar Sound Instrument" -- and the hand-held African congas on "Mu" and "Bimini" reveal polar opposite styles and emphasis. However, Ra enthusiasts should rarely be surprised at his experiments in divergence. "Mu" is presented at a lethargic tempo snaking in and around solos from Ra and a raga-influenced tenor sax solo from John Gilmore. "Bimini" is actually captured in progress. The first sound listeners hear is the positioning of the microphone as a conga fury commences in the background. Likewise, on "Yucatan (Impulse Version)" a doorbell quickly impedes what might have been a more organic conclusion to the performance. The original issue of Atlantis was on the small independent Saturn label. Thus the composition titled "Yucatan (Saturn Version)" appeared on that pressing. When the disc was reissued in 1973 on Impulse!, the track was replaced by a completely different composition -- as opposed to an alternate performance of the same work. The second side contains one of Ra's most epic pieces, which is free or "space" jazz at its most invigorating. While virtually indescribable, the sonic churnings and juxtaposed images reveal a brilliant display of textures and tonalities set against an ocean of occasional rhythms. Its diversity alone makes this is an essential entry in the voluminous Sun Ra catalog. © Lindsay Planer /TiVo
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Jazz - Released November 13, 2014 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

This one is quirky, even in the Sun Ra catalog. Ra fronts a quartet playing nothing but miniMoog and Rocksichord, along with Stafford James on electric bass, Danny Davis on alto, clarinet, flute, and bongos, and John Gilmore on drums! Gilmore has a skittering approach to the drums, which are curiously mic'ed with the hi-hat being especially prominent. Ra's playing doesn't get too far out, although the tones of the Rocksichord and miniMoog are rather humorous, and most of the tunes are quite playful. Davis provides some fine alto, clarinet, and a number of freak-outs, with James anchoring the proceedings. Davis and Gilmore switch roles for "Impromptu Festival" for a taste of Gilmore's tenor while "Dance of the Living Image" has Gilmore on drums and Davis on bongos. The best point of reference for this album is "The Perfect Man" off the Singles compilation, except "The Perfect Man" uses miniMoog exclusively, and Gilmore is a more solid drummer than Danny Davis. Lots of fun and slightly goofy, Night of the Purple Moon is an entertaining curiosity within a singularly unique discography. © Sean Westergaard /TiVo

Jazz - Released January 25, 2019 | Cosmic Myth Records

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Jazz - Released November 9, 2014 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

This release was remastered and co-produced by Michael D. Anderson (of the Sun Ra Music Archive) and Irwin Chusid, under the auspices of Sun Ra LLC, the heirs of the late music legend. Original session tapes were used when available and sound quality should surpass all previous CD/digital editions. © Rovi Staff /TiVo
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Jazz - Released October 14, 2016 | Sundazed Music, Inc.

Although The Space Age Is Here to Stay is technically a compilation, chances are good some of these tracks will be new to even the most serious Ra fans, as six of the 16 tracks are previously unreleased and those that have been released are largely from lesser-known albums. The tracks span from 1958 to 1985, with each decade represented by at least two tunes. The songs range from jazz standards to space declamations to pseudo-gospel call-and-response stompers, and feature not only Sun Ra but the great June Tyson, John Gilmore, and others. By and large, these tracks are on the obscure side and the songs that may be familiar are represented by different versions. "Enlightenment" gets a circus organ arrangement and vocals by Gilmore and Tyson. "Nuclear War" here is a live PG-rated version instead of the original 12" version. Even "Space Is the Place," probably the best-known track on the album, is not the better-known version from the album of the same name, but an excellent take from The Other Side of the Sun. Even if you have heard many of these tunes, you probably haven't heard them sound this good before. These masters come from the Sun Ra Archive, where Michael D. Anderson and Irwin Chusid have been doing remarkable restoration work. © Sean Westergaard /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1973 | Impulse!

Space Is the Place provides an excellent introduction to Sun Ra's vast and free-form jazz catalog. Typical of many Sun Ra recordings, the program is varied; earthbound songs, like the swing number "Images" and Egyptian exotica piece "Discipline," fit right in with more space-age cuts, like the tumultuous "Sea of Sounds" and the humorous "Rocket Number Nine." Sun Ra fuses many of these styles on the sprawling title cut, as interlocking harmonies, African percussion, manic synthesizer lines, and joyous ensemble blowing all jell into some sort of church revival of the cosmos. Throughout the recording, Sun Ra displays his typically wide-ranging talents on space organ and piano, reed players John Gilmore and Marshall Allen contribute incisive and intense solos, and June Tyson masterfully leads the Space Ethnic Voices on dreamy vocal flights. This is a fine recording and a must for Sun Ra fans. © Stephen Cook /TiVo
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Jazz - Released March 20, 2020 | Cosmic Myth Records