Sun Ra in Chronological Order: An Arkestra Listening Thread + Related Solar Sounds

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greetings, earthlings!

we begin our adventure with sonny's "first commercial recordings" (zwed, p. 51) -- four sides as pianist for wynonie harris, recorded in nashville, 1946.
listen on youtube

i've found that this article is a supremely helpful resource for the early years. here's what campbell et al. have to say:

One transition in his career about which we can safely say that "cosmic forces" were not in control took place in January 1946, when Sonny, fed up with segregation and lack of musical opportunities, bought a one-way train ticket to Chicago. He was soon out on the road in a combo led by alto saxophonist Jimmie Jackson. For three or four months they played Club Zanzibar in Nashville, where they backed the touring blues singer Wynonie Harris. An unlikely setting, maybe. But Harris already had made several hit records on the West Coast, and a brand-new local label started by a radio announcer saw fit to capitalize. Label owner Jim Bulliet cut a deal with Harris's manager, Harold Oxley, and Harris and combo (with the old fashioned rhythm section of piano and drums) made four sides. One of them was Sonny's feature, Dig This Boogie. He'd obviously learned his blues lessons. In fact, he'd developed a few tricks of his own, like deliberately dropping beats and picking them up in the next line.

some other good links as we get started:

Sun Ra, the ultimate album guide
Sun Ra Arkive

for the most part, though, we'll be going by arkestra (usually LP) release date as listed on discogs

finally, PLEASE feel free to interject with whatever chronological arcana you feel might be applicable, or to point out discrepancies, or to suggest alternate takes, bootlegs, archival material of interest, etc. ultimately this thread is about listening to as much sun ra as possible, with a minimum of academic quibbling, but i don't see any problem with the more astute among you opening doorways to ever-deeper directions of listening, even if this thread probably can't incorporate the entirety of the sun ra omniverse.

next up: the singles

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:04 (two years ago) link


sleeve, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:05 (two years ago) link

whoops that's SZWED, as in john f. szwed, as in the author of "space is the place: the lives and times of sun ra"

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:08 (two years ago) link

thank you budo jeru for starting this up! thanks for the extra links and article excerpt in the first post, as well. i know it's more work but i loooove those extra post elements. it feels like turning the page in a magazine and finding an especially good scratch n sniff perfume ad.

i'm excited to learn a lot more about sun ra. i only know a few of what i think are his better known albums (heliocentric worlds, space is the place, jazz by / sun song, the futuristic sounds of), along with other snippets of his albums that will pop up on playlists and mixes. it's all good. even in my limited listening his versatility has become so apparent. anyway, i feel like i'm ready for a deep dive.

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:16 (two years ago) link

btw i started a spotify playlist here.

WARNING: i was just using the discogs release date as my guide, so it starts with supersonic jazz and goes forward from there. but i already added in the first song posted above, and i'll fill in the others as they get posted to keep it up to date.

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:21 (two years ago) link

I saw Karl Malone's post this morning and cued up what of his linked discogs list is on spotify. Stunned to find about 80% of it! I'm now five albums in (When The Sun Comes Out) and am loving every minute. Sun Ra has for me been an artist who I never thought I'd have to the resolve to approach systematically so I'm thankful for this thread.

Yelploaf, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:22 (two years ago) link

Thanks bodo and Karl!

Jeff W, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:30 (two years ago) link

i haven't started a new year off so right in a very long time. 2018 is going to be different. it's an even number!

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:31 (two years ago) link

Looking forward to this - great thread

raise my chicken finger (Willl), Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:37 (two years ago) link

it's an even number!
my people

weird woman in a bar (La Lechera), Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:49 (two years ago) link


Karl Malone, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:51 (two years ago) link

thanks for the spotify playlist, KM!

btw 2018 is the year of the DOG [from OE, docga] >>> D O C G A

or, AD COG (ad cogitationem, "toward reflection")

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 20:41 (two years ago) link

i dig that boogie! this is a cool thread idea ... not sure if I'll be able to do the whole thing, but will definitely be checking in.

tylerw, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 20:42 (two years ago) link

budo jeru i don't envy the task of having to decide what is "chronological". there are all these side recordings, home and rehearsal recordings, things that were recorded early but released much later. whichever way you go, i'll try to make the playlist match up where possible!

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 20:44 (two years ago) link

yeah i don't plan on sweating it too much. close enough will be fine and, like i said initially, anyone is welcome to jump in with corrections / objections.

in terms of your playlist, i'll say right off the bat that sun ra plays on all of the four last songs on that wynonie harris comp, so you might add the other three after "dig this boogie"

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 20:52 (two years ago) link

got it! i wasn't sure if you were going to go song by song or not. release by release makes sense because holy shit there's a lot.

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 20:58 (two years ago) link

stoked for this thread and ready to get schooled!

global tetrahedron, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 21:04 (two years ago) link

i think my favorite moment from this first recording session is the piano accompaniment during the trumpet solo on "my baby's barrelhouse blues" and then into the last vocal stanza or whatever.

also the lyrics !!! geez

i'm gonna snatch me a picket off o' somebody's barbwire fence,
i'm gonna beat you 'side your head until you learn some sense

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 21:28 (two years ago) link

when i first heard this early ra arrangement i said: that's so ra! but he didn't play on it so it doesn't really count here...

scott seward, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 21:55 (two years ago) link

yeah that's a killer side.

also cf. szwed:

... he began rehearsing the band for Saunders and playing in the relief band that filled in when Saunders was off. Every week Saunders handed him new arrangements for the floor show, but during rehearsals Sonny began to make small changes -- a note here and there, an alternation in a chord -- but as time went on the changes became increasingly dramatic. During rehearsal one day Saunders walked in, looked over an arrangement, and shook his head when he saw the crossed-out notes and inserted harmonies: "I give you these nice, clean arrangements each week, and look what you do with them! ... But, damn, they sure sound good, though." Sonny was now rewriting arrangements used to accompany singers like B.B. King, Laverne Baker, Dakota Staton, Joe Williams, Johnny Guitar Watson, Sarah Vaughan, and Lorenz Alexandria.

and then, on the instrumental side, there's his amazing arrangement of 'summertime' (also for red saunders)

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 22:22 (two years ago) link

Lorez Alexandria***

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 22:23 (two years ago) link

OK I'm already confused, I'll have to try and damp down my OCD in this thread

Jazz By Sun Ra/Sun Song has ten songs, but only five are in the playlist? Maybe this is a Spotify availability thing idk

Technically (at least acc. to Szwed) the tracks "Super Blonde", "Soft Talk", "Springtime In Chicago" and "Medicine For A Nightmare" were recorded in "early 1956", as opposed to the Sun Song sessions from July, so those four tracks should come before the Sun Song/Jazz By Sun Ra tracks as opposed to the rest of the Supersonic Jazz tracks

really enjoying the early records, thanks for this thread

also keep in mind that lots of the remasters are now on Bandcamp

sleeve, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 01:57 (two years ago) link

man it all goes weird when you get to "India", huh? jazz heads back then must have not known what hit 'em

I can def. hear the exotica influence on this track, Martin Denny percussion vibes

sleeve, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:05 (two years ago) link

Jazz By Sun Ra/Sun Song has ten songs, but only five are in the playlist? Maybe this is a Spotify availability thing idk

nah, i just fucked up. fixed!

i'm really getting ahead of myself anyway - i was just planning on adding to the playlist as this thread progresses, but i jumped the gun yesterday and already started adding the first few albums.

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:06 (two years ago) link

Technically (at least acc. to Szwed) the tracks "Super Blonde", "Soft Talk", "Springtime In Chicago" and "Medicine For A Nightmare" were recorded in "early 1956", as opposed to the Sun Song sessions from July, so those four tracks should come before the Sun Song/Jazz By Sun Ra tracks as opposed to the rest of the Supersonic Jazz tracks

on this though, i have to make clear upfront that i probably won't be this meticulous. i don't have the szwed book so i was just planning on placing the albums/singles into the playlist in full as we cover them in this thread, according to their release date, rather than splitting them up in the playlist according to their recording date.

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:09 (two years ago) link

haha that's fine, unless you looked at everything in advance I'm sure we'd miss some (for example, we've already missed some tracks that appeared much later on "Purple Night". we can note tracks w/different/older dates when we get to those albums in order of release.

now I need to go back and listen to those other five tracks! thanks.

sleeve, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:17 (two years ago) link

there's also this recent find from the archives, which is great and not on Youtube unfortunately:

recorded 1955

sleeve, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:22 (two years ago) link

I was just reading his wiki bio and had not realized he was buried in Birmingham. I guess I'd assumed he was buried in Philadelphia. I think I'll try to make a brief pilgrimage to his grave in 2018.

WilliamC, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 03:02 (two years ago) link

the magic city

the late great, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 03:24 (two years ago) link

So this thread could potentially go on forever, right?

At least it's good music and not greatest outtakes of The Eagles or some such.

Moodles, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 03:39 (two years ago) link

i'm on board though as always spotify is out for me. are we going to cover the doo-wop stuff at all? because man i love his doo-wop stuff, and if we're getting into his mambo i want to talk about "teenager's letter of promises".

bob lefse (rushomancy), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 03:45 (two years ago) link

sleeve: thanks for your diligence. it's sure to be useful at almost every point (i'll do my best, too). and yeah, pointing out discrepancies as they come up between release / recording date -- that's what i had in mind. otherwise i'd just feel incapacitated. we'll sort it all out as we go.

rushomancy: we'll definitely cover the doo wop stuff. re: listening, since KM is doing spotify, i'm trying to post youtube links as we go along. there's also the (official, more or less) sun ra bandcamp: (and that material is also available on itunes)

So this thread could potentially go on forever, right?


budo jeru, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 04:17 (two years ago) link


the late great, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 04:50 (two years ago) link

interlude, 1948-1954

most of this information and ALL of the quoted text comes from this article, which i HIGHLY recommend for its exhaustive coverage of sun ra's chicago period through 1961: From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra: The Chicago Years

1. the "deep purple" duet with stuff smith, recorded in 1948 and first made available in 1973 on saturn 485
listen on youtube

On his very first tape machine, Sonny recorded Stuff Smith and himself playing in his tiny apartment at 5414 South Prairie Avenue. They performed a duet featuring the Solovox, a primitive electronic instrument that Sonny had picked up back in 1941, while still in Birmingham. Sonny had a thing about purple (he thought people would be healthier if they ate more purple food). He released Deep Purple nearly a quarter century later on his Saturn label, and the tune remained in his repertoire for the rest of his career. It would be featured on his very last recording session, when he accompanied Billy Bang for Soul Note in 1992.

2. solo church organ recording, 1948

3. piano accompaniment for the dozier boys
listen on youtube

In October 1948, Sonny became the music director of a successful medium-sized band. Bassist Gene Wright, at the tender of age of 23, was simultaneously running a big band and a 10 or 11 piece aggregration called the Dukes of Swing (two previous incarnations of the Dukes had been in operation in 1943 and 1946). For a while, the big band was upstairs in the Pershing Ballroom while the Dukes held the gig at the Beige Room (as the basement club in the Pershing Hotel was then known). During most of the engagement, the Dukes worked with a vocal-instrumental quartet called the Dozier Boys. Sonny composed or arranged the Dukes' entire book. Many of these pieces were of a strictly functional nature (floor shows again) but their theme number was a suite based on the theme from Spellbound, an ambitious work by composer Miklos Rozsa. If only we were lucky enough to have that on record....

The engagement with the Dukes did bring Sonny some recording work, first as session pianist for the Dozier Boys, then with the entire band. Both sesssions were done for the fledgling Aristocrat label. It was the Doziers who came to the company's attention first, courtesy of bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon.

4. various solo, duet, and trio recordings made at home w/ the ampex. many featuring the nu-sounds of the solovox. most of these recordings are available on the norton and transparency labels (see article linked at beginning of post for specifics). some of these recordings document SR's first compositions, performed by his proto-arkestra small combo.

In 1950 or 1951, he started a band to play his own, frankly far-out music. He called it the Space Trio: one charter member was Laurdine "Pat" Patrick (1929 - 1991), who played alto and baritone sax. The drum chair was occupied on some occasions by Tommy Hunter. On other occasions it was taken by Robert Barry, who would soon emerge as a leading bebop drummer in town.

5. arrangements and accompaniment for the red saunders orchestra, 1948-1953 (see szwed quote upthread). red saunders backed joe williams (see scott's post above), lavern baker, jo jo adams, and dorothy donegan.

1953 was the year of the arrangements. Sunny was making no commercial recordings of his own, and probably didn't feel that his experimental ensemble was ready to make them. But he was willing now to put his stamp on arrangements written for others, to a degree not previously heard. His name did not appear on a single record label in 1953—in one case the band's didn't either—but Red Saunders was now recording his aggressively "modern" arrangements: "Voodoo Blues," "It's Raining Again," "Summertime." And the opening bars of "Call My Baby" announce, for all who care to hear, that Sun Ra has arrived.

6. six cuts with coleman hawkins, rec. 1953 and released in 1955 on savoy

7. possible arrangement for king kolax, 1954
listen on youtube

There is no need for Sun Ra arrangements (or anybody's arrangements) on generic jump band-style R&B like "Right Now," "What Have You Done to Me?," or "Goodnite Blues." However, "Vivian" (presumably named after Vivian Carter of Vee-Jay) is a mysterioso Latin number with percussion breaks built right into the theme. Off the beaten path for King Kolax, but straightforward for Sun Ra at this time. Harold Ousley did not want to rule out "Vivian" as a Sun Ra arrangement either: "Kolax wrote a lot himself, but he also used a lot of other people's stuff."

OKAY! that gets us into 1954/1955, so next we'll move onto the nu sounds / cosmic rays stuff and the rest of THE SINGLES

budo jeru, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 07:56 (two years ago) link

That Red Saunders "Summertime" is Ra all over.

WilliamC, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 14:00 (two years ago) link

oh man, this is a good batch of stuff! the meager musical critical sensibilities i have fall to the wayside when i hear early 1950s music. just about everything of the period sounds good to me.

i updated the playlist where i could - red saunders "summertime", "riverboat", and the red saunders orchestra's "honky tonk train blues". but spotify is missing the sun ra releases that feature a lot of his early recordings through the late 40s and early 50s - Deep Purple (or Dreams Come True) - as well as most of saunders' other recordings. and no dozier boys or king kolax, sadly.

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 15:31 (two years ago) link

man it all goes weird when you get to "India", huh? jazz heads back then must have not known what hit 'em

"Sun Song" gets there first imo

(the blues version in his Broadway show) (crüt), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 15:50 (two years ago) link

OK I'll give that a closer listen, thanks! I was making dinner for some of the Spotify playlist last night and I think that's one of the tracks that Karl added later

sleeve, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 15:55 (two years ago) link

yeah, it's definitely a work in progress! and any track in the playlist beyond what budo jeru has posted here is very, very provisional.

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 16:17 (two years ago) link

those Red Saunders tracks are so good

Brad C., Wednesday, 3 January 2018 20:23 (two years ago) link

wow, that version of "deep purple" with stuff smith from 1948 is so good. it has a lovely, meandering melancholy sound. stuff smith is good!

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 20:36 (two years ago) link

This is a great thread, I'll be here for the ride.

♫ very clever with maracas.jpg ♫ (Le Bateau Ivre), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 20:37 (two years ago) link

(also ty for spotify playlist km!)

♫ very clever with maracas.jpg ♫ (Le Bateau Ivre), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 20:37 (two years ago) link

no prob! i just hope no one skips ahead of the thread and thinks that the next songs on the playlist represent the correct order! i'm just kinda searching for songs that I think will be upcoming and adding them in the generally correct area of the playlist, but as the thread progresses I'll keep adjusting things to match it.

the solo church recording from 1948 youtube posted above is really good, too. in the midst of these more traditional sessions with other musicians, it shows that he was already interested in going on cosmic voyages in his own work

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 20:44 (two years ago) link

more youtube links:

Andy Tibbs Dozier Boys with Sax Malllard's Combo + Sun Ra on piano, recorded nov 1948, released dec 1948: In a Traveling Mood (just the first song)
Andy Tibbs & the Dozier Boys + Sun Ra on piano, recorded nov 1948, released jan 1949: In Every Man's Life

Dozier Boys with Eugene Wright + Sun Ra on piano and arrangements, recorded dec 1948, released Sept 1949: Music Goes Round and Round
(couldn't find "Pork n Beans" or "Dawn Mist", from the same session)

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 21:04 (two years ago) link

after some searching, i found the 6 tracks that Sun Ra/ Blount played on The Hawk Returns (search for "Sun31" here on the amazingly exhaustive Chicago Years link posted above: . They were included on the Confessin': The Astounding Coleman Hawkins comp, which is on Spotify.

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 21:46 (two years ago) link

Sun Ra studies should be a standard department at universities

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 21:47 (two years ago) link

Not to be too much of a party pooper, but is the idea of the thread to listen to all the stuff that's been posted so far and then discuss at some point? Or are we going to go song by song like the Billy Joel thread?

Moodles, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 21:56 (two years ago) link

(looking forward to 1965 -- "cosmic chaos" is my jam)

reggie (qualmsley), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 22:15 (two years ago) link

not sure! personally i'd rather go release by release since there are around 125 LPs to go through, not even counting other releases.

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 22:16 (two years ago) link

this one I know. The most distinctive thing that leaps out about it to me is honestly Calvin Newborn's guitar playing. I'm not sure what confluence of events led such an R&B/blues-steeped player to Sun Ra, but he does some great relatively straight-ahead jazz guitar work here.

Οὖτις, Thursday, 6 February 2020 15:55 (two weeks ago) link

also one of a long line of Ra records that just feature downright odd mixing decisions. It's not that stuff is recorded badly per se, but so often things are foregrounded or obscured in unpredictable ways. You end up with these mixes, like on Friendly Galaxy, where the rhythm section and piano sound like they're in another room, muffled and muted, while the flutes are out front, clear as day. Tends to emphasize the otherworldly quality of the compositions as well, because it doesn't sound quite like a "live" recording nor does it sound like a carefully engineered studio session, it's some sort of strange mixture.

Οὖτις, Thursday, 6 February 2020 16:01 (two weeks ago) link

yes there's a specific Szwed quote about that that I considered typing in, I'll dig that up for tomorrow. "calling attention to the recording process"

let's talk about gecs baby (sleeve), Thursday, 6 February 2020 16:02 (two weeks ago) link

huh listening more closely I realize that Newborn's p much only audible on that one track Flight to Mars...? which wasn't even on the original album

Οὖτις, Thursday, 6 February 2020 21:12 (two weeks ago) link

1962-63 - What’s New/The Invisible Shield

The tracks from this era make up parts of the ultra-rare Saturn label releases covered here, two LPs not released until 1974-75 and then in a bewildering hodgepodge of different pressings, swapping out material between them (to make it even more confusing, there are also “hybrid” LP mixups with sides from Invisible Shield and Space Probe out there):

The Invisible Shield is on Bandcamp with extensive notes (again with goodies - an extended version, three stereo mixes replacing previous mono, and one unreleased track), but I wish they had talked more about the discrepancy between their edition and the Szwed book, which credits the original LP B-side (tracks 7-9) as being from 1970. Apparently now the date has been revised to the 1961-1963 range (based on things like identifying the instruments and playing style, then cross-referencing with Arkestra membership or session dates). So I’m including them here… but the title track is gonna come later, they now say “recording location and date unknown, ca. 1966–68, possibly live concert excerpt.” A fitting mystery.

The record itself is another lovely romp, again cf. Bandcamp:

The Invisible Shield is an extremely rare LP. It was never officially released on El Saturn (tho it did have a catalog number—529), and just a few hundred LPs were pressed around 1974 and sold at concerts. It never even had a standardized, printed cover—each copy was hand-designed. Several tracks appeared on such other releases as Janus, What's New, Satellites Are Outerspace, and A Tonal View of the Times.

The A and B sides of the LP traced a mind-scrambling excursion from Earth to Elsewhere. The first side offered rowdy, early 1960s post-bop renditions of Tin Pan Alley favorites arranged for quartet (2) and quintet (3, 4, 5, 6), along with a well-crafted original, "State Street," for full band—a fairly mainstream outing by Arkestra standards. Side B opened with a locked-in Latin groove ("Island in the Sun"), before segueing into two jarring and uncompromising electro-acoustic soundscapes, probably recorded five years apart.

There's no stylistic bridge between the material. Sun Ra fans of the period were accustomed to new albums which were in fact compilations of older, previously unreleased material, often from different, unrelated sessions. The common denominator was the bandleader, who saw no need to stylistically unify the product. These albums were like samplers: Try this (hard bop), and if you like it, you might also like this (lunar beeps) by the same artist.

Sooooo… I don’t know what’s up with the digital rights to the Art Yard label, but the four tracks that were “originally” on the A-side of What’s New (rec. 1962-63, rel. 1975) are only available on a physical CD released in the UK by Art Yard, and not on digital media that I could find.

I managed to find three of the four tracks on Youtube - all but “Jukin’”

What’s New


Autumn In New York

These are lovely, fairly straight readings of classic small-unit jazz, sweet and sentimental. I wish they were more widely available!

I’ve added the Invisible Shield tracks to the Spotify playlist, but I really recommend checking out the What’s New tracks linked above.

Regarding the weird mixing decisions discussed yesterday, here’s that Szwed quote:

“…Sun Ra began to regularly violate [recordings conventions] on the Saturn releases by recording live at strange sites, by using feedback, distortion, high delay or reverb, unusual microphone placement, abrupt fades or edits, and any number of other effects or noises which called attention to the recording process. On some recordings you could hear a phone ringing, or someone walking near the microphone. It was a rough style of production, an antistyle, a self-reflexive approach which anticipated both free jazz recording conventions and punk production to come.”

On these tracks, that’s only really evident on the outer-limits echofest of “Janus”, but there will be a lot more to come!

Gonna take a break until Monday and then fully move into 1963 (by our best guess, anyway) with one of my favorites.

let's talk about gecs baby (sleeve), Friday, 7 February 2020 14:37 (two weeks ago) link

huh yeah my ID tags on these tracks have them from 1974, but they do definitely sound like they're from an earlier era. I hadn't really bothered to dig into the details prior to this thread.

Οὖτις, Friday, 7 February 2020 16:54 (two weeks ago) link

man the title track is definitely from later, there were no synths like that in the early 60s

Οὖτις, Friday, 7 February 2020 17:34 (two weeks ago) link

totally, wild shit there but absolutely not from the 1963 era.

let's talk about gecs baby (sleeve), Friday, 7 February 2020 17:44 (two weeks ago) link

secrets of the sun is one of my favorite ra LPs, i just love the crazy reverbed-out psychedelic ambience, such great tunes too, friendly galaxy, space aura, love in outer space, all total standards... is this the first "love in outer space"?

you know my name, look up the number of the beast (rushomancy), Saturday, 8 February 2020 02:42 (one week ago) link

I believe so, yes

let's talk about gecs baby (sleeve), Saturday, 8 February 2020 04:30 (one week ago) link

1962 (addendum)

Weekend bump: I added some tracks from the Singles compilation that were also recorded in 1962, to wrap that year up. The first one ("Blue One/Orbitration In Blue") is a single that wasn't even discovered until 1997. Then there's a track from the aforementioned Out There A Minute compilation and a single they did backing up R'n'B singer Little Mack Gordon.

Although not much is for sure with any of these release dates, the next record was at least partly recorded in 1963.

let's talk about gecs baby (sleeve), Sunday, 9 February 2020 17:23 (one week ago) link

1962 - When Sun Comes Out

I was wrong, I think we’re still in 1962 :) The first of the NYC Choreographer’s Workshop (CW henceforth) recordings to be released in more or less a contemporary timeframe, this was recorded in either April or November 1962 (newer sources differ, but Szwed says ’63!! who the fuck knows.) and released as an LP on Saturn later in 1963.

Szwed on that year:

Off and on for the next year the Arkestra found work at pianist Gene Herris’s Playhouse, a MacDougal Street coffeehouse where they often played to an empty room. It was there that Sonny first met Farrell “Little Rock” Sanders, who sometimes was working as a waiter.[…] Sun Ra gave him a place to stay, bought him a new pair of green pants with yellow stripes (which Sanders hated but had to have), encouraged him to use the name “Pharoah,” and gradually worked him into the band. [not until 1964 though] […]The title song [“When Sun Comes Out”] introduced a second alto saxophonist into the band, Danny Davis, a seventeen-year-old from downtown […] saxophone duels would become a nightly showpiece for the Arkestra […] Sun Ra pushed the idea further, having the players mime the battles physically, jumping at each other or rolling on the floor.

As per Bandcamp, again the definitive issue in terms of sonics:

When Sun Comes Out is percussion-centric, and not just as backdrops—on many tracks whatever's being hit with a stick (or palms) is on top of the mix. Sun Ra's piano, some brass, and a quartet of saxophones compete for airspace with an arsenal of drums, congas and bongos, bells and cowbells, shakers and gongs (a good deal of it handled by the reed section). In fact, the mix often defies professional engineering standards, as musical hardware that usually provides the foundation occasionally dominates the lead instruments.

The horns are more aggressive than in the Chicago years, Sunny experiments with atonality on the keyboard, and on many tracks he dispenses with conventional structure. The Arkestra here includes four saxophonists (John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, Pat Patrick, and newcomer Danny Davis, then just 17), who take liberties to extend the instrument's vocabulary, their solos often independent of the rhythm bed. Sun Ra was traversing the universe, and there's a lot of space out there. On this album the explosive drummer Clifford Jarvis makes his recording debut with the Arkestra, a relationship that would extend on and off for a decade and a half. There's also a fun ensemble vocal—identified as having been performed by "Arkestra Unit"—on a remake of "We Travel the Spaceways."

This remastered edition includes a number of sonic treats:

• The complete version of the opening track "Circe" (featuring wordless vocals by Theda Barbara); the Saturn release omitted most of the introductory gong sequence (by Tommy Hunter).

• The LP's side two tracks (here 6 – 9) in stereo from the master tape. All known pressings of the LP were in mono.

• The previously unreleased part two of the percussive composition "The Nile," featuring a haunting flute solo by Marshall Allen.

• The complete "Dimensions in Time," recorded at the Choreographer's Workshop around this time but released only in an abridged version (and titled "Primitive") on the mid-1970s hybrid release Space Probe.

So yeah, parts of this (tracks 6 & 7 especially) are serious skronkfests, but they are held together by new drummer Clifford Jarvis and his urgent, nimble pulse running through it all.

I love the way this records sounds, the semi-ritualistic percussive aspect to it, the opening vocals (presaging June Tyson’s involvement), the overall vibe. Definitely in my top 5 NYC 60’s recordings of his. I was previously unfamiliar with it until I started diving back into Sun Ra as a result of this thread, now over two years old. And don’t miss the rest of the session, which wasn’t released until much later as shown below.

The last track (“Primitive”) is from this era but wasn’t released until much later as part of the Space Probe LP, along with “The Conversation Of J.P.” included here in an abridged version (from the Exotica set) as the digital rights are with Art Yard and the full length 13-minute version is CD-only. The Art Yard CD version has a few additional tracks from these sessions. I love these two “outtakes”, percussion jams with 1 or 2 instruments over the top, mesmerizing.

Here’s the Youtube playlist for those CD-only tracks including the full-length “Conversation”

let's talk about gecs baby (sleeve), Monday, 10 February 2020 14:48 (one week ago) link

this was the earliest Ra record I got on vinyl and it definitely feels like the *beginning* of an era

Οὖτις, Monday, 10 February 2020 16:22 (one week ago) link

1963 - When Angels Speak Of Love

One of the rarest Saturn releases (estimated 150 copies pressed), I thought now would be a good time for this Szwed excerpt:

”Early in the 1960s Sun Ra was in Audiosonic, an independent recording studio in the Brill Building near Times Square, when he ran into one of their engineers, Fred Vargas. Vargas was a Costa Rican who had worked his way up from the garment district to a job in the REL labs with General Edwin Howard Armstrong, the inventor of FM radio, and then on to becoming a recording engineer. Shortly after, Audiosonic was turned into Variety Recording Studio on 225 West 46th Street when it was bought out by Vargas and Warren Smith, an English teacher in Connecticut. Vargas and Smith were intrigued by Sun Ra’s music, and they began to record his small groups […] They extended him long-term credit, living with occasional bounced checks, and helped him cut costs (Sonny often saved fifty dollars by sticking his own blank labels on the records, keeping his cost for a 12-inch LP to 99 cents). Vargas and Smith allowed Sonny to press as few as 100 copies of a record at a time, when most recording companies had a minimum of 500. By handprinting the covers they could avoid printing costs altogether […] For the next thirty years (emphasis mine) Vargas recorded much of Sonny’s music, editing the tapes with him, mastering them, and helping him get his records pressed. He introduced Sonny to people on show business, like Gershon Kingsley […] who later helped Sonny program his first Moog.”

Can we get a hand for Fred Vargas, everyone?

This explains a lot about the territory we’re getting into, where some small-press vinyl editions were not rediscovered until years or decades later, and even then sometimes the recordings themselves predate the time of original release. We’ll get further into that later on in 1964, at the end of the CW era, when we discuss the loose ends.

Bandcamp intro:

When Angels Speak of Love, released in 1966 on Sun Ra's Saturn label, is a rarity, there having been limited pressings (150 copies, by one estimate), which were sold thru the mail and at concerts and club dates. The tracks were taped in New York during two 1963 sessions at the Choreographer's Workshop, a rehearsal space/recording den with warehouse acoustics. Ra spent countless hours at the CW from 1961 to 1964 sharpening the Arkestra during exhaustive musical huddles. John Corbett calls this "one of the most continuous, best-documented periods of Ra's work"; much tape from these seminal sessions has survived and been issued on LP, CD and digitally.

This release wasn’t reissued until last year!! I hadn’t listened until now, as I’m writing this up. It’s way more enjoyable and inventive than I was expecting. I though it was gonna be totally out there like we’re gonna get in the near future, but the real excursions are mostly saved for the epic B-side track. The first track in particular grabbed me, again a very sparse and arresting vibe like the beginning of yesterday’s When Sun Comes Out.

The Bandcamp edition has some newly-discovered stereo versions and a Sun-ra-created stereo edit of the 18-minute “Next Stop Mars.”

AMG review as per Bandcamp:

William Ruhlmann at AllMusic observed, "Sun Ra's music is often described as being so far outside the jazz mainstream as to be less a challenge to it than a largely irrelevant curiosity. But When Angels Speak of Love is very much within then-current trends in jazz as performed by such innovators as John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. Walter Miller's trumpet on 'The Idea of It All,' for example, indicates he'd been listening to Miles Davis, even as John Gilmore's squealing tenor suggests Coltrane; and, on 'Ecstasy of Being,' what John Corbett calls Danny Davis' 'excruciated alto' suggests Coleman. Ra himself plays busy, seemingly formless passages that are reminiscent of Cecil Taylor. This is a Sun Ra album that is more conventionally unconventional than most, with tracks you could program next to those of his 1960s contemporaries and have them fit right in."

cf. Szwed: “The record jacket carried a poem by Sun Ra […]”


When Angels speak
They speak of cosmic waves of sound
Wavelength infinity
Always touching planets
In opposition outward bound

When Angels speak
They speak on wavelength infinity
Beam cosmos
Synchronizing the rays of darkness
Into visible being
Dark Living Myth-world of being

let's talk about gecs baby (sleeve), Tuesday, 11 February 2020 14:33 (one week ago) link

a lot of "when angels speak of love" was on the blast first "out there a minute" comp, though, right?

you know my name, look up the number of the beast (rushomancy), Tuesday, 11 February 2020 14:40 (one week ago) link

no, just the title track and the 12-minute stereo version of "Next Stop Mars" as far as I can see.

let's talk about gecs baby (sleeve), Tuesday, 11 February 2020 15:33 (one week ago) link

Szwed lists the unreleased tracks from that comp in his discography, but I did not actually realize it had previously-released tunes on it!

let's talk about gecs baby (sleeve), Tuesday, 11 February 2020 15:35 (one week ago) link

this is the kind of thing I was expecting to not be available tbh. I have Out There a Minute but am otherwise unfamiliar with these tracks.

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 11 February 2020 16:04 (one week ago) link

1963 - Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy

Fairly well-known, recorded in late 1963 but not released on Saturn until 1967. Repressed several times in the 60s and again in 1973. Later it was part of the Evidence twofer reissue series of the early 90’s, which is where I first heard it (paired with Art Forms Of Dimensions Tomorrow). This one gets out there, but still stays fairly sparse and restrained for totally free music - Szwed refers to “the chamberlike quality.” The second half was recorded live at 10 in the morning at the Tip Top Club in Brooklyn, where Sun Ra could use their Hammond B-3. cf. Szwed “The acoustics are ad hoc, and on "Adventure Equation" the club's phone can be heard ringing during two passages.”

from the Bandcamp version writeup:

“Arkestra saxophonists John Gilmore and Marshall Allen are present, but playing bass clarinet and oboe respectively, while sax is covered by Pat Patrick and brash newcomer Danny Davis. Sunny plays Clavioline and percussion (as do others), but no piano. The Arkestra rarely plays in ensemble mode, but instead alternately deploys in smaller configurations, almost chamber-style.

Tracks are remastered, but no other extra goodies to speak of this time around. For some reason the Bandcamp version does tack on a bonus track recorded a year later, we’ll get to that at the proper time. On to 1964!

sleeve, Wednesday, 12 February 2020 14:51 (one week ago) link

amazing posts, sleeve, thank you.

But guess what? Nobody gives a toot!😂 (Karl Malone), Wednesday, 12 February 2020 15:57 (one week ago) link

had this one for ages - the juxtaposition of sparse instrumentation that sounds at once both composed and improvised was not what I expected from "free jazz" when I first heard this record. It's creaky and shambolic and full of space and silences but it also sounds very intimate.

Οὖτις, Wednesday, 12 February 2020 17:29 (one week ago) link

1962-1964 - Choreographer’s Workshop loose ends (excerpts from The Solar Myth Approach)

These reissues (originally issued as a double LP set) actually came out LAST WEEK, since I started this thread back up, as a definitive new remaster on Bandcamp. I’m going to forego c&p-ing the whole insane BYG/Charly/lack-of-documentation-or-provenance story (which you should all read), and give excerpts below.

BYG/Actual were ill-fated, it seems _ I didn’t know any of this previously:

Since the demise of BYG, the Solar-Myth Approach albums have been reissued without legitimacy in a series of ever worsening-quality packages in various formats. The Charly reissues were inferior to the BYG originals (and displayed different cover art), and a dreadful off-pitch, out-of phase 2-CD bootleg appeared on the Fuel label in 2001.

On a qualitative level, this 2020 Cosmic Myth remastering from best-available sources (tapes and discs) constitutes an upgrade.

With regard to today’s listening, four of the tracks from the double LP set are (by best guess) from this era. Essentially, most people used to think these tracks were contemporary to the 1969-70 era, but current research and deep listening has led people-who-should-know to draw new conclusions, dating four of the tracks on these two 1971 LPs to the CW years, 1962-64. Specifically:

Michael D. Anderson of the Sun Ra Music Archive believes (and we concur) that "They'll Come Back" (from Vol. 1) and "Ancient Ethiopia" (from Vol. 2) were recorded either in Chicago, or at the Choreographer's Workshop in the first years after Ra settled in New York. Compared to everything else on the Solar-Myth Approach, the tight arrangements of "They'll Come Back" and "Ancient Ethiopia" are outliers. They do not sound like anything Sun Ra produced in the late 1960s—but they do sound comparable to his arrangements from the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Reconsidering "They'll Come Back" in 2019, Campbell remarked, "I’d say Choreographers Workshop 1963–1965." […]Anderson also believes that "Realm of Lightning" (Vol. 1) and "The Utter Nots" (Vol. 2) originated at Choreographer's, in 1962 and 1964 respectively.

So, like the Out There A Minute release, the Solar Myth albums are grab bags of tapes, best illustrated by this excerpt from the Bandcamp writeup:

In a 2019 conversation, Ra historian/authority John Corbett explained that when Sun Ra and the Arkestra toured in the late 1960s and '70s, the bandleader often lugged along a cumbersome tape deck and a suitcase of open-reel tapes, which he would review during leisure time on the road. These tapes were a smorgasbord of styles, sessions, and band configurations from random periods in Ra's recorded history. According to Corbett, in several highly likely instances during overseas tours, Ra needed funds for return airfare or travel expenses, and would sell such tapes (or copies thereof) to European labels—a quick hand-off deal. Tape documentation could be scarce-to-non-existent, which would prompt labels to guess dates, titles, and personnel, or rely on skimpy (or fabricated) info provided by Ra. It's highly possible that BYG acquired the Solar-Myth tapes in this fashion.

This also accounts for the era-jumbled messiness of e.g. the Pictures Of Infinity LP on Black Lion, among others. I’ll try to slot the various tracks from these into the playlist where I can, given the sources available for dating them.

I’ve added the four tracks discussed above to the Spotify playlist. We’ll keep going into 1964 tomorrow, with the major work of the year.

sleeve, Thursday, 13 February 2020 14:44 (one week ago) link

the BYG/Actuel editions of vol 1 and 2 were some of the first vinyl Ra albums I was able to get (after Heliocentric Worlds, which always seemed to be in print) so they shaped my earliest impressions of Ra's ouevre. Had no idea any of these tracks dated from the early 60s though!

Οὖτις, Thursday, 13 February 2020 16:10 (one week ago) link

love the celeste (?) intro/interludes on "They'll Come Back". just an instrument I always love to hear.

Οὖτις, Thursday, 13 February 2020 16:17 (one week ago) link

1964 - Other Planes Of There

In Szwed’s book it refers to the original cover being the pink/blue color scheme above, but none of the early Discogs listings show that. What the hell, I like to imagine this was how it was first issued.

Recorded in early 1964 at the CW, released as an LP on Saturn in 1966. Only repressed once, that same year, and then out of print until the 1992 Evidence CD.

I got this a few years back when I went on an LP buying spree triggered by those newer cheap (bootleg?) Scorpio reissue pressings (they are $12 each new at my local store), but I think I played it once to rip it and then filed it, feeling unimpressed. On probably my second listen, it’s hard for me to see it as anything other than “The Magic City: Take One” as it follows the same format of a side-long 1st track and then a few (mostly long) tracks on the B-side. The 22-minute title track seems kinda unfocused to me, like a collection of solos strung together. Then a long mostly percussive improv, and a small-unit track called “Sketch” that’s really close to the earlier post-bop sounds. There’s a brief respite from the free swirl with the seasick quasi-ballad “Pleasure”, then “Spiral Galaxy,” a long (seemingly latin-influenced? I’m not a theorist) stately march-type thing to round it off - I much prefer the B-side tracks but I might just need more time with the epic. The Bandcamp version is remastered, but no extra tracks or anything. They say:

Rehearsing and recording at the Choreographer's Workshop gave ample time to develop ideas without a nudgy A&R exec watching the clock or chiseling the budget. This self-controlled environment (and the usual ad hoc recording quality) marks Other Planes. The arrangements breathe, they evolve unhurriedly, and there's much open space. This is music by process. In contrast to the muscularity of free jazz, Sun Ra's leader-directed improvisations have an orchestrated feel, a pace that juxtaposes the pastoral with sporadic bursts of frenzy and much rhythmic variety. Sunny's love of percussion permeates these sessions. The works proceed with great deliberation, but they move.

The cover most people know (and the one I have) is this one:

On June 15, 1964, Sun Ra and a 15-piece band (the largest he had played with since Chicago) were booked at the Cellar Cafe, a coffeehouse on West 91st Street. Per Szwed:

“The crowd which turned out for this concert and one by Archie Shepp encouraged Dixon to stage a four-night festival of “the new thing,” a music still too new to be named or defined, but which was audaciously emerging in the face of a resistant jazz mainstream.”

This results in the formation of the Jazz Composers Guild, and some fortuitous connections will come from that later on.

sleeve, Friday, 14 February 2020 14:43 (one week ago) link

ha that pink and blue sleeve always makes me think of the eye-bleeding color schemes of early Stereolab sleeves

Οὖτις, Friday, 14 February 2020 16:06 (one week ago) link

1964 - Judson Hall, New York, Dec. 31, 1964 (Sun Ra With Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold)

Recorded as part of the “Four Days In December” concert series put on by the short-lived Jazz Composers’ Guild, released as an LP on Saturn in 1976, after two previous failed attempts to issue it. Some wild piano flourishes lead into a full fledged horn battle, and the music remains mostly free.

The Bandcamp version has what I think is the complete show, or near to it, with a lot of extra material added, as well as exhaustive notes on the gig. I was previously unfamiliar with this one. Clifford Jarvis continues to be a total badass on drums. John Gilmore was working somewhere else during this gig (see Bandcamp writeup) and is not present.

Important side note: In the audience at this gig was ESP label boss Bernard Stollman, and he liked what he heard. Soon he would put out the first non-Saturn LP since 1961.

sleeve, Monday, 17 February 2020 14:42 (four days ago) link

before the reissues pharaoh sanders and black harold was one of the hardest ra albums to find bootleg copies of - as far as the "free jazz" era is concerned this is one of my favorite documents of it

Kate (rushomancy), Monday, 17 February 2020 15:01 (four days ago) link


"Twilight" - 1964-65

"Twilight," a previously unreleased recording that might have originated at the Tip-Top Club, is marred by significant noise, possibly from poor storage, tape degradation, or sub-par recording conditions. The track may have appeared on an obscure Saturn release or demo, as the surface noise sounds like a poor vinyl pressing or an acetate cutting. The instrumentation sounds like celeste, oboe, French horn, and percussion. Sunny had just two regular French horn players over the years, and Vincent Chancey wasn’t yet on the scene. That leaves Robert Northern as the only other possibility, which would date the track to late 1964 or early 1965.

Bandcamp link (track 6)

sleeve, Tuesday, 18 February 2020 05:53 (three days ago) link

this sounds fine to me, and is lovely to boot

sleeve, Tuesday, 18 February 2020 05:54 (three days ago) link

hey everyone I'm taking a break today, also I still need to listen to the last half of the Judson Hall concert

sleeve, Tuesday, 18 February 2020 15:31 (three days ago) link

thank you! i'm doing some massive catching up

But guess what? Nobody gives a toot!😂 (Karl Malone), Tuesday, 18 February 2020 16:03 (three days ago) link

never heard Twilight or the Judson Hall show before

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 18 February 2020 16:14 (three days ago) link

Solar Myth Approach Vol. 1 is an old favorite of mine. Adventures of Bugs Hunter! Great news about the new remasters.

J. Sam, Tuesday, 18 February 2020 22:47 (three days ago) link

this "Discipline 9" from the Judson Hall show is very pleasing, it's long and spacy. Karl asked earlier what the setlists were like, well this is the earliest example I know of - the next live things come in '66.

sleeve, Wednesday, 19 February 2020 05:28 (two days ago) link

forgot to post before I left the house and my post is at home in a text file.

so everyone gets one more day of listening before starting 1965.

sleeve, Wednesday, 19 February 2020 15:44 (two days ago) link

"Magic City" not on Spotify :(

Hongro Hongro Hippies (Myonga Vön Bontee), Thursday, 20 February 2020 00:55 (yesterday) link

Filed under "Sun Ra & His Arkestra"

J. Sam, Thursday, 20 February 2020 01:16 (yesterday) link

we're not there yet! :D

sleeve, Thursday, 20 February 2020 02:17 (yesterday) link

(Heliocentric comes next, it was completed in April and Magic City wasn't finished until May)

I'm gonna go ahead and post that in an hour or two, still not home.

sleeve, Thursday, 20 February 2020 02:19 (yesterday) link

1965 - The Heliocentric Worlds Of Sun Ra


After meeting Bernard Stollman during the October Revolution, Sun Ra asked him to come and hear the Arkestra at a loft in Newark, and once he did, Stollman quickly agreed to record them.

I don’t think Ra was quite finished with The Magic City when this session took place, so I’m starting 1965 here. I can’t pin down an actual release date for the LP on ESP, but I think it was earlier in 1965.

I was previously unfamiliar with this one, although it is one of the best known as far as I can tell. Again, lots of emphasis on percussion and space.

From the “Sun Ra Sunday” blog:

Heliocentric Worlds Vol. 1 is rightfully considered a landmark recording and belongs in every serious record collection. It has remained pretty much consistently available (either legitimately or on bootleg editions) since the day it was released and its appearance transformed Sun Ra from the obscure Lower East Side eccentric into his rightful role as the globe-trotting emissary of interplanetary music. Heliocentric Worlds, Vol. 1 is, in a word, a masterpiece, but just one of a series of extraordinary recordings that Ra would make during this period.

sleeve, Thursday, 20 February 2020 04:29 (yesterday) link

after my third time through, I finally realized... there isn't really a drummer here! just various members on timpani, bells, wood block, "cymbal [spiral]," and "percussion" (by Jimhmi Johnson on tracks A3 and B1 only). still lots of space, though.

sleeve, Thursday, 20 February 2020 06:08 (yesterday) link

1965 - The Magic City

A personal side note: Although I think the first Sun Ra I heard was Blue Delight, this was one of the first as well, a friend gifted me the 1973 Impulse reissue back in like 1992 (it turns out that it is more of the reprocessed-stereo garbage that is typical of the Impulse reissue series, see the earlier “Black Beauty” entry). But that 1973 edition still has my favorite cover design, hey why not hotlink them both:

Recorded in April-May (side 2) and Sept. 24th (side 1) of 1965, released as a mono LP on Saturn in 1966, repressed twice (on Saturn and “subsidiary” label Thoth) in the 60s, reissued as part of the Impulse reissue program of the early 70s, again via the Evidence CD reissues in the 90s, and now finally in a definitive 21st century stereo version (see below).

What this most reminds me of is a symphony. It is so meticulously organized (is it composed? I’m not sure), it has so many moods. Is it jazz? I guess so, but largely because of the instrumentation used to make the music. Basically, what we are hearing in these recordings is musical telepathy by people who had been playing together for years.

Obviously this record is a goddam masterpiece, but all of you absolutely need to listen to the new STEREO remaster that the Bandcamp/Enterplanetary people put out in 2017:

"With supplemental material from the original tapes, the best possible sound and detailed research, this could be the single-disc reissue of the year." — NYC Jazz Record, Oct. 2017

In fact, I’m just gonna C&P most of the Bandcamp writeup:

Sun Ra albums like THE MAGIC CITY prove the categorical futility of "File Under: Jazz." When assessing the post-Chicago (1960–on) work of Ra, "jazz" turns out to be less a genre than a journalistic and marketing convenience. Jazz has a glorious tradition. Sun Ra was schooled in it, emerged from it, and grew to transcend it (though he never abandoned it). Even the cheeky term "Space Jazz" cannot frame the extremes to which Ra pushed his art in the mid-1960s. In this regard, THE MAGIC CITY was a pinnacle.

1965 was a turbulent year for the Arkestra and its leader, and many consider THE MAGIC CITY a flashpoint for that upheaval. Arkestra drummer Tommy Hunter, quoted in John Szwed's 1997 Ra bio SPACE IS THE PLACE, describes a typical performance of the period: "It was like a fire storm coming off the bandstand."

On the original 1965 THE MAGIC CITY LP, issued on Saturn, the monster 27-1/2 minute title track sprawled across side A. The "Magic City" to which Ra refers was his birthplace—Birmingham, Alabama. The term was the town's motto, emblazoned on a billboard by the train station near Sunny's childhood home, intended to reflect the city's explosive growth as a Southern industrial epicenter after the discovery of iron ore, coal, and limestone deposits. Birmingham was a place about which Sun Ra felt and expressed ambivalence: an outpost of racial segregation and grim smokestack-pocked landscapes, yet a city for which he felt twinges of nostalgia and affection. (His heirs still live in the area.)

Ra customarily supervised the Arkestra's improvisational process via keyboard cues or hand signals. He was always in charge—hence critic Simon Adams describing the title track as "27 minutes of controlled freedom." "The Magic City" was never performed in concert; saxophonist John Gilmore said it was "unreproducible, a tapestry of sound."

Although shorter in scope than side A's magnum opus, the four works on THE MAGIC CITY's flip side reflect the same improvisational approach, spatiality, and lack of structure. One session outtake, "Other Worlds," an alternate version of "Shadow World," is included as a bonus track. Also included are the final 90 seconds of the mono version, which were curiously omitted from Ra's own stereo version. .


First-generation Saturn pressings of The Magic City were monophonic. The album was reissued on CD by Evidence in 1993 with the title track in mono and the LP side B tracks in stereo. A full stereo version had been issued on Sun Ra's Thoth subsidiary label sometime after 1969; however, it suffered from a technical flaw that prevented many copies of the LP from tracking cleanly through the first cut on side B. A 1973 gatefold LP reissue on Impulse featured reprocessed stereo, and a cheap, terrible-sounding bootleg LP—on a badly replicated "Saturn" label—has circulated in recent years. For this definitive reissue, Cosmic Myth Records used stereo sources which are superior to the Thoth pressing.

The “Sun Ra Sundays” blog (recommended reading, I’m gonna try to link/excerpt going forward) also has some good notes:

Ra had been working with the material that would become “The Shadow World” at least as far back as “The Outer Heavens” (on Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow) and it appears in rough form on Sun Ra Featuring Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold (there titled, “The World Shadow”). Here, the fiendishly difficult composition gets its first complete performance. A complex unison melody for saxophones is set off against a 7/4 rhythm and Ra’s contrary, angular piano. After a brief series of solos, saxophones return with the melody while trumpet states the counter-melody originally intimated by the piano. Szwed writes: “Sun Ra took considerable pleasure from the agitated difficulty of the piece, and noted that once during a rehearsal for a French TV show the producer was so disturbed by it that he threatened to cancel the show if they insisted on playing it” (p. 215). “The Shadow World” would become a fixture of the Arkestra’s live sets going forward, often performed at impossibly fast tempos.

sleeve, Thursday, 20 February 2020 14:50 (yesterday) link

for some reason Magic City is one I never got around to before. Heliocentric Worlds I know v well, in contrast.

Οὖτις, Thursday, 20 February 2020 16:36 (yesterday) link

Thanks for the Magic City spotify link upthread; I was searching for the studio "Shadow World" last month but could only find the College Tour live version...? I see the 2017 version has an alternate take of "Other Worlds", from the Heliocentric sessions.

Very enjoyable thread btw, valuable info.

Hongro Hongro Hippies (Myonga Vön Bontee), Thursday, 20 February 2020 19:29 (yesterday) link

thank you! nice to see you in here.

sleeve, Thursday, 20 February 2020 19:34 (yesterday) link

also Myonga there is a Spotify playlist for the whole thread:

sleeve, Thursday, 20 February 2020 19:35 (yesterday) link

Thanks sleeve!

Hongro Hongro Hippies (Myonga Vön Bontee), Thursday, 20 February 2020 21:58 (yesterday) link

1965 - The Heliocentric Worlds Of Sun Ra Vol. 2 (and Vol. 3, and The Sun Myths)

Moving on into 1965, remember that The Magic City hadn’t been released yet. Also, everyone should listen to it! But at this time, Heliocentric Vol. 1 had just come out and was making waves.

Recorded in November, I assume this was a followup to the relative success of the first? From the Szwed book:

As soon as the ESPs were issued, Willis Conover, a Voice of America disc jockey, began to play them nightly on his jazz show aimed at Europe, where an intensely loyal following began to develop. […]And then out of the blue Alton Abraham suddenly released a flood of Saturn records which had been recorded over the last few years - Angels and Demons at Play, Fate in a Pleasant Mood, Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow, and Secrets of the Sun.

To go along with that, here is a flood of material, three albums worth (with one long track in different versions). I am gonna dive into this stuff over the weekend.

Detailed “Sun Ra Sundays” notes on Vol. 2 are here:

and regarding Heliocentric Worlds Vol. 3:

In 2005, ESP-Disk’ released Heliocentric Worlds Vol.3: The Lost Tapes, purported to be unreleased material recorded at the November 16, 1965 session that produced Heliocentric Worlds Vol.2. After some close listening, I am pretty certain this date is incorrect, although some of this material might have been recorded at the April 20th session for Heliocentric Worlds, Vol.1 (but then again, maybe not). Confusing? Yes! But these are the eternal mysteries of Mr. Ra! Nevertheless, the discovery of previously unheard music from the nineteen-sixties makes this CD essential listening for the Ra-fanatic.[…]

Is it possible that Heliocentric Worlds Vol.1, side-2 of The Magic City and tracks 2-5 of Heliocentric Worlds Vol.3 were all recorded at the same session on April 20, 1965? For that matter, is it possible that When Angels Speak of Love was also recorded during this time period? NARRATOR: I don’t think so The stylistic resemblances are striking and, taken together, all of this music demonstrates how intently Ra was developing his composed improvisational approach in the mid-nineteen-sixties. Heliocentric Worlds Vol.3 adds another fascinating piece to the puzzle, yet ultimately raises more questions than it answers.

Then we have the alternate takes and outtakes collected on the Bandcamp release “Sun Myth (African Chant)”:

A quartet of rare 1965 tracks from the Sun Ra Music Archive. The early version of "The Sun Myth," featuring a soundtrack of African chanting underneath the Arkestra's studio performance, appeared on the first pressing of The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 2. However, the chant is absent from the more commonly known commercial mix of the title. In fact, before it was removed from the mix entirely, the chant was mixed lower on the album's second pressing; it could be heard, but distantly. On the third pressing — no chant! How it came to be included in the first place was presumably Sun Ra's decision, and anybody's guess why. The origins of the recording are unknown, and as to why it was removed — see previous sentence. No documentation has been found explaining the evolution of the respective mixes.

Also note:

After the digital release of Sun Myth (African Chant) in 2016, further research affirmed that "Interplanetary Travelers" had originated from the sessions for the album The Magic City, and the track was included on the definitive Cosmic Myth Records 2017 LP/CD reissue of that classic 1965 Sun Ra title.

Over the weekend I’m gonna try and write something more about late 1965 to early 1966, there’s a lot of stuff that happened during this time frame, plus some side projects.

sleeve, Friday, 21 February 2020 14:49 (six hours ago) link

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