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Jazz - Released October 30, 2020 | Strut

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Gone—or more likely just moved into a higher orbit—since 1993, Herman "Sonny" Blount, aka Sun Ra, began life as a musical prodigy and doo-wop devotee before he fashioned an inimitable personal and musical mythology. With a showman's eye for outlandish Egyptian-themed capes and headdresses, he inhabited the roles of Nubian avatar, Space Age visionary from Saturn, and experimental and prolific jazz storyteller, who wrote primarily for piano, sticks and reeds in a number of musical contexts, none more celebrated than his Arkestra. Now led by original member, 96-year-old alto player Marshall Allen, the 15-piece Arkestra has released their first album in 20 years. Recorded in Philadelphia at Rittenhouse Studios by Peter Tramo who captures the band's mélange of sound in decent detail and separation, the aptly-titled Swirling, has nothing in common with the tired retreads of the zombie big bands still alive under the Ellington and Basie names, nor the modern impressionistic splashings of the current big band revival of Darcy James Argue or John Hollenbeck. Inspired by Ra's layered, blues-based large ensemble jazz, Swirling is a greatest hits revisitation into the magical music, methods and madness of this otherworldly maestro. As astral as Ra's uplifting "equations" can be, his art is always grounded in earthly rhythms as in the '70s era composition, "Sea of Darkness / Darkness" which opens with a cappella voices chanting/singing before giving way to the pulsing ebb and flow of the baritone sax. This melds into a perky, deep funk version of Ra's trip-to-Venus groove, "Rocket No. 9." Afro-Cuban rhythms, accented with the late Stanley "Atakatune" Morgan's congas, sax skronking from Allen, and a final, loud goodbye kiss make "Angels and Demons at Play" a highlight. Embodying a smoother tone, a steady cymbal beat and a more traditional notion of band sections playing together (albeit atonally) is the Allen-penned title track which features the hop-skip-jump piano joyousness of Farid Barron, a played-it-straight solo by tenor player James Stewart and singer Tara Middleton scatting. Carrying on the legacy of original Arkestra vocalist/oracle June Tyson, Middleton who joined in 2012, shines best in opener "The Satellites Are Spinning / Lights on a Satellite," where she gives full voice to Ra's hopeful poetry: "The satellites are spinning/ A better day is breaking/ The galaxies are waiting/ For planet Earth's awakening." Equally compelling, horn flutters and twinkling piano keys imitate a spinning Sputnik while a wheezing, rhythmic drone underpins this classic example of the Arkestra's ragged charms. While the vibe here seems routinely loose, a jam session full of tossed off ideas and instrumental flourishes lurching towards cacophony, it's actually a universe forming, a cyclonic testament to the continuing power of Ra's positive vision that creativity and enlightenment are as limitless as the cosmic mysteries of space. © Robert Baird/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released September 15, 2020 | Strut

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Jazz - Released August 11, 2017 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

While one can't quite call it the Sun Ra dance album, this 1978 recording, made for a tiny Philadelphia record label, finds the Sun Ra Arkestra's rhythm section settling into a steady groove on each of the lengthy tracks, while horns, reeds, guitars, and Sun Ra's keyboards solo in overlapping patterns on top. The title number recalls Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" in its slow pace and elegiac tone, while the middle three tracks have livelier beats with playing that often answers to the style of fusion played by many jazz groups in the late '70s. "There Are Other Worlds (They Have Not Told You Of)," the nearly 11-minute concluding tune, is the closest to more familiar 1960s and early-'70s Sun Ra, with its less cohesive lead work and the "ethnic voices" that speak, sing, and whisper about outer space. Lanquidity was extremely rare in its original vinyl pressing. It was reissued by Evidence Music on September 26, 2000, with liner notes in which John Dilberto discussed Sun Ra's 25-year residence in Philadelphia and Tom Buchler, who organized the recording session, discussed the making of the album. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Contemporary Jazz - Released November 24, 2017 | Modern Harmonic

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Jazz - Released January 5, 2015 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

Originally released in 1984, Celestial Love was recorded at Variety Studios in New York City in September of 1982, and was Sun Ra's last studio album to be released by El Saturn Records. Much of the album's content also appeared on the full-length Nuclear War record which was issued in Europe by post-punk label Y Records in 1984. Far from the brash, apocalyptic radicalism of the single "Nuclear War," this set is closer to the more straightforward end of the Arkestra canon. As with much of Ra's later, Philadelphia-period work, this release incorporates earlier jazz and swing tunes as well as his own compositions, linking jazz's past with its present and future. Duke Ellington is paid tribute in the form of two tracks, "Sophisticated Lady" (which starts out slow and blue, then emerges swinging at full power) and a truly cheerful "Drop Me Off in Harlem." Both of the numbers sung by June Tyson are, of course, absolutely delightful. "Sometimes I'm Happy" (which appeared as the B-side of the "Nuclear War" single) balances Tyson's heartfelt crooning with freewheeling horns that edge in the direction of free-form chaos, but stay reined in just enough to keep the song straight on the path. A rendition of the Charlie Chaplin standard "Smile" is nothing short of inspirational, just pure, unbridled optimism. The rest of the tracks are Ra originals, including "Interstellarism," a swaying remake of his 1959 piece "Interstellar Low Ways," and two versions of "Nameless One," with some smoking synth work on "Nameless One No. 3." The entire set is thoroughly invigorating, simply a pure expression of joy and positive energy. © Paul Simpson /TiVo
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Jazz - Released December 1, 2017 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

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Jazz - Released March 4, 2016 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

A hard-to-find, alternately chaotic and tightly organized mid-'70s session that was issued on the Cobra, and then Inner City labels. Sun Ra provided some stunning moments on the Rocksichord, while leading The Arkestra through stomping full-band cuts of atmospheric or alternately hard bop compositions, peeling off various saxophonists for skittering, screaming, at times spacey dialogues. © Ron Wynn/Michael G. Nastos /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 15, 2015 | 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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Bebop - Released November 29, 2019 | Modern Harmonic

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Jazz - Released April 1, 2013 | ESP-Disk

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Jazz - Released August 11, 2017 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

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Jazz - Released December 1, 2017 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

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Jazz - Released November 28, 2014 | MPS

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Jazz - Released March 17, 2015 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

Sunrise in Different Dimensions features a live concert by Sun Ra & the Arkestra in Switzerland. The only fault to the set is that the two drummers (Chris Henderson and Eric Walker) fail to swing and often sound wooden on the vintage standards, which might be due to the lack of a bassist. However, the nonet (which also includes Ra on piano and organ, tenor great John Gilmore, altoist Marshall Allen, baritonist Danny Thompson, the reeds of Kenneth Williams and Noel Scott, and trumpeter Michael Ray), despite its slightly odd instrumentation, is heard throughout in excellent form. In addition to eight diverse and generally adventurous untitled originals by Ra, the ensemble performs ragged and eccentric versions of such 1930s pieces as "'Big John's Special," "Yeah Man," "Queer Notions," "Limehouse Blues," and "King Porter Stomp." For the remainder of his life, Sun Ra would alternate between reinventions of swing tunes and his outer space originals; despite the drummers, this was one of the better examples of his late-period band. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 24, 2018 | Modern Harmonic

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Jazz - Released March 15, 2015 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

Fantastic. Another rare Saturn release makes its way into the digital realm. This time, it's Some Blues But Not the Kind That's Blue, a nice 1977 date that's heavy on standards. Aside from the two Sun Ra tunes (one of which had been unreleased prior to this), this is a pretty inside date with some major statements from Ra on piano and John Gilmore on tenor. Everyone gets a bit of solo room, and the flutes and bass clarinet add some really nice colors, especially on "My Favorite Things," a song so closely identified with the John Coltrane Quartet that this version is almost startling in its contrast to Coltrane's myriad versions. Aside from the title track and the two earlier bonus takes of "I'll Get By," there is no bass player present, the low end falling mostly to Ra's piano. Luqman Ali's drumming, as always, is remarkable in its tasty understatement. The bonus tracks are a wonderful addition. "Untitled" was recorded at the same 1977 sessions but didn't make the album cut. The other tracks are rehearsals, presumably from the Ra house on Morton St. in Philadelphia. They're two takes on "I'll Get By" with Ra on organ and the great Ronnie Boykins on a particularly well-recorded bass with Akh Tal Ebah on trumpet on one take and John Gilmore on tenor on the other. It's interesting to hear these rehearsals in relation to the same song's arrangement from a few years later. Although recorded about a decade apart, Some Blues But Not the Kind That's Blue is of a piece with Blue Delight: mostly standards albums that really put the spotlight on Sun Ra's piano playing and the tenor artistry of John Gilmore. Although the Arkestra is notorious for its outside playing and cacophonous tendencies, this album shows they could play it straight as well as anyone in the game. Wonderful stuff. © Sean Westergaard /TiVo
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Jazz - Released August 11, 2017 | Cosmic Myth Records

My Brother the Wind is actually more a companion piece to Night of the Purple Moon than its Vol. 2 namesake. My Brother the Wind, Vol. 2 is split between Ra's solo Moog workouts and full Arkestra proceedings, while My Brother the Wind shares the same lineup as Night of the Purple Moon, with Marshall Allen's alto, piccolo, and flute substituting for Stafford James' electric bass. Ra plays two miniMoogs instead of miniMoog and Rocksichord, with Danny Davis on alto and clarinet and John Gilmore on drums. But while the focus on Night of the Purple Moon was on composed numbers, My Brother the Wind is a much freer session. The title cut is just Ra on his two miniMoogs and Gilmore on drums. One Moog has a bass type setting, while the other sounds something like whistling white noise (wind?). "Intergalaxtic II" is a full freakout session, with both altos going crazy in the right channel, Gilmore's drums in the left channel, and the miniMoogs in the center. "To Nature's God" is just Ra and Gilmore again. "The Code of Interdependence" has Ra really putting the Moogs through their paces, although Gilmore also gets some tenor space (with Danny Davis moving to the drums, presumably). If you're into the "out" side of Sun Ra, and like his singular and unorthodox Moog playing, try to find a copy of My Brother the Wind. © Sean Westergaard /TiVo
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Jazz - Released July 7, 2016 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

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Jazz - Released April 24, 2018 | Modern Harmonic

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Jazz - Released November 16, 2015 | Enterplanetary Koncepts

Sun Ra and His Arkestra at Inter Media Arts, April 1991 is a very good live date from late in the bandleader's career. At this point in 1991, Sun Ra had suffered a stroke. He was confined to a wheelchair and didn't sing any longer, but his keyboard skills and ability to lead the band seem undiminished. It's a typically wide-ranging set list with chestnuts from Ellington and Fletcher Henderson mixed in with space chants and other Arkestra fare. The band sounds fantastic, with John Gilmore getting solo spots not only on tenor but some nice clarinet as well and, as usual, Marshall Allen tears up "Prelude to a Kiss." The sound quality is excellent (this was originally a radio broadcast), as is the set list. It's a shame Ra was no longer able to speak and sing at this point, as that was always a special part of any Arkestra show, but this recording proves that he was absolutely driven musically up until the end. This isn't the place to start your Sun Ra collection, but it's a great set that fans are sure to enjoy. © Sean Westergaard /TiVo