Soundtrack to Space Is The Place [Evidence, 1972]
Space Is The Place [Blue Thumb/Impulse!, 1972]
Concert for the Comet Kohoutek [ESP, 1973]
Cosmos [Cobra/Inner City, 1976]
Media Dream [Saturn, 1978]
Disco 3000 [Saturn, 1978]
Lanquidity [PhillyJazz, 1978]
On Jupiter [Saturn, 1979]
Sleeping Beauty [Saturn, 1979]
Strange Celestial Road [Rounder, 1979]
Sun Ra (Le Son'y Ra, Herman Blount) was a musical giant, the undisputed high priest of Kozmigroov. His recorded output (more than 125 records over a 45 year period) is only just beginning to gain the respect he was denied during his lifetime. Even his obituaries in May 1993 wrote of him as a "nutter" [The Independent]; that his music was "galactic gobbledegook" [Daily Mail]. This sloppy, unenlightened surmising neglected to communicate Sun Ra's legacy - a legacy which left behind the most forward-thinking body of work in jazz since John Coltrane and Albert Ayler left the planet early. Fortunately, Sun Ra had a full crack of the whip. John Szwed wonderfully describes Sun Ra's intentions in his must-read biography "Space Is The Place:"
"Sun Ra's concern was the confusion and disorder which waste the potential for beauty and happiness in our world, and the possibilities for seeing beyond the limits of anger, immediate gratification, and even death."
A huge amount of indepth information can be found at the Sun Ra hub elsaturn.com. It would be lazy and unhelpful to split Sun Ra's music into "straight jazz"/"funky"/"freak-out" and list all the "spacey funky" tracks below. To understand Ra it's necessary to hear the full story. So, I list below a handful of personal favourites from Sun Ra's output because it's all Kozmigroov.
NOTE: Sun Ra released lots of his LP s on his own El Saturn label: handmade sleeves, small presses of 50. These are highly prized in collectorville and eBaydom. Luckily, Evidence Records began reissued lots of El Saturn albums on 2-on-1 CDs in 1992. There are around 15 twofer CDs and the 2xCD "Singles" set - which collects all of Sun Ra's 7"s (another story!). However, there are many fantastic El Saturn LPs still languishing unreleased...
Angels & Demons At Play (El Saturn LP, 1960; Evidence CD, 1993)
A great introduction to Sun Ra (this was my introduction). The tracks "Tiny Pyramids" and "Angels and Demons At Play" are deep, spiritual jazz with hypnotic Ronnie Boykins bass vying with Ra's crisp piano and Marshall Allen's flute. The album evokes Egypt, not in a third-hand, touristy way, but more "I'm inside a pyramid, it's BC, and they're sacrificing a goat..." Mighty, mighty work. Other tracks ("Plutonian Nights") are prime examples of Ra's skewed take on big band jazz. Sometimes lazily referred to as "Duke Ellington on acid".
My Brother The Wind volumes 1 and 2 (El Saturn, 1969/70 [volume 2 released on Evidence CD])
Some of the first Mini-mooging. Gershon Kingsley programmed Ra's prototype Mini-moogs on the fly as Ra played and the tape rolled. Volume One, financed by philanthropist T. S. Mims, features a cut-down Arkestral quartet - and lots of very free Mooging. Volume Two features the wonderful "Somebody Else's World" - with June Tyson's distinctive singing, almost exotica male chorus singing, lovely congas, and Ra's unmistakeable otherworldly organ.
Dark Myth Equation Visitation (El Saturn LP, 1971) [also known as "Live in Egypt vol.1" and "Nature's God"]
Recorded with one microphone in Egypt, 1971 - this El Saturn LP (long unavailable in any form) creates an unparalleled atmosphere of magic music - the kind of which it's hard to believe exists. The beautiful chanted hymn "To Nature's God"; the ethereal "Friendly Galaxy"; what I think of as Ra's theme tune "Discipline 27-II"; and "Why Go To The Moon?" make up Side B - all performed with rare grace and freed imagination. One of my favourite LPs. The A-side is a lecture with solo Moog improvisations that took place on the same visit to Egypt.
Space Is The Place (Blue Thumb LP 1973, Impulse CD 1998 - [not to be confused with the Evidence CD "Soundtrack to the film Space Is The Place" which is a completely different set of Sun Ra recordings])
Features the glorious 26 minute version of Ra's anthem "Space Is The Place" - maybe the most sumptuously recorded Sun Ra music ever, recorded by Ed Michel (inbetween recording Alice Coltrane's Impulse albums) - this long track is a hugely ambitious, hugely successful, layered MONSTER. Akin to Mtume's "Alkebu-Lan: Land Of The Blacks" and Alan Silva's 3xLP BYG/Actuel for sheer scale.
The Antique Blacks (El Saturn LP, 1974)
Another rare El Saturn LP not in print. Very unfortunate, because this LP's "Song No. 1" is one of Sun Ra's most joyous pieces and contains a ridiculously beautiful John Gilmore solo amongst rolling congas and Ra's lovingly mischievous organ.
Nuclear War (various releases on El Saturn as "A Fireside Chat With Lucifer" amongst other titles, 12" single in UK on Y Records)
Recorded in 1982, Ra recorded a fantastic track called "Nuclear War" containing the half-sung rap, "Nuclear War, it's a motherfucker, don't you know?, if they push that button, your ass got to go". Convinced he had a hit record he approached Columbia Records, they weren't interested (too busy grooming Lionel Richie), eventually he found a willing label in the UK, with the fly-by-night "Y Records" who issued it as a 12" for DJs... and it sank without trace.
There are another 30-40 albums I could write about as enthusiastically as those above. I hope the records mentioned will lead some folk on a journey. Sun Ra said "Music is a journey, and the journey is endless.", and he wasn't just talking about his own records... [NW]
I'm the 3rd Generation,finally stepping into the light!...after 40 yrs.in Music,visit me http://www/last.fm/user/bonesjones1
Hahahaha. Im not too birght today. Great post!
Yesterday 4-30-07, enjoyed seeing the Man himself, Sun Ra, on You tube with several videos. I still have his 70's appearance on Saturday Night Live.
here's an interview with him from 1990. very interesting.
Exactly how many versions to people know have been recorded of Space is the Place? Aside from the album version, I've heard about 3...all by him and quite different!
Nice intro to Sun-Ra. It think it's impossible to cover all of his accomplishments with any defining stroke. He was just too prolific and unique. I esp. like the Szwed bio thought. Nonetheless, here is an interesting link to notes on Sonny (?) by famed producer Ed Mitchell http://www.edmicheljazzproducer.com/WRITINGS.html
Many of his recordings (thought not neccesarily his best) are now re-issued on Evidence and ESP, quite widely (These days you can even find them in Virgin Megastores!).
Disco 3000 and Media Dream have been re-released on vinyl in the UK and Sleeping Beauty is to follow
i been living here in israel for the past 32 yrs. i was in the arkestra 68-70 i met sunny in 63 in chgo please feel free to contact me.