With last week marking the 103rd anniversary of the interstellar being Sun Ra landing on Earth from Saturn, I decided to take a look at his body of work and pick out a few favourite tracks for you to enjoy.
From 1957’s “Supersonic Jazz” through to his death in 1993, Sun Ra was certainly prolific, and when you include the numerous posthumous releases and compilations, there are over 170 LPs to choose from. With this in mind, I have gone for a small selection from the years 1978 & 1979, instead of trying to give you an overview of an almost 40 year career that took in everything from Doo Wop with the Cosmic Rays to Afrofuturism inspired Free Jazz.
“When There Is No Sun”
My introduction to Sun Ra came after inheriting a pile of a dozen or so LPs from a friends dads collection. He was heavily into the more experimental sounds, which was sonically a little overwhelming for my 18 year old self. A few years later I heard the 1978 album “New Steps”, from the Sun Ra Quartet featuring long time collaborator John Gilmore on sax and Michael Ray on Trumpet and Vocals. The track “When There Is No Sun” became and instant favourite and was also featured in OOQ pt.6
“Where Pathways Meet”
My favourite Sun Ra album has to be “Lanquidity”. Also released in 1978, it draws much more heavily on Funk and Fusion influences, using two guitars in places. The title track builds over a laid back, spacious groove and sets the tone for an amazing album. “That’s How I Feel” is another great piece of Jazz Funk, but I have chosen “Where Pathways Meet” as my pick. If the Horn lines and drums don’t get you from the first second then something is wrong.
“Door Of The Cosmos”
From naming his band the “Intergalactic Arkestra” to his seminal film Space Is The Place Sun Ra’s music and career is steeped in Cosmic symbolism. In his early 20s he described this Intergalactic experience.
“My whole body changed into something else. I could see through myself. And I went up… I wasn’t in human form… I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn… they teleported me and I was down on a stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop [attending college] because there was going to be great trouble in schools… the world was going into complete chaos… I would speak [through music], and the world would listen. That’s what they told me.”
“Door Of The Cosmos” is another funky, vocal led track from the 1979 “Sleeping Beauty” album, and was later remixed by Machinedrum on the “Views Of Saturn” series.
Led by 93 year old Marshall Allen, the Arkestra still tours to this day, 24 years after Sun Ra’s death. Check out their NPR Tiny Desk Concert from a few years back to see them in their full Cosmic glory.