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

1974 - Of Abstract Dreams

Although this was possibly recorded in 1975, and technically should be covered last for this year, I’m starting with it because the Bandcamp liner notes for the 2018 release give the best overview of the new period that we’re moving into here. The actual recording date for this session is unknown.

1974 saw the Arkestra maintain a busy performing schedule across the USA while Ra also prepared a series of Saturn LPs featuring live concert material coupled with older studio recordings. Until now, the Saturn LP ‘The Antique Blacks’, recorded at radio station WXPN FM, represented the only studio recording to have been made between the second half of 1973 and the recording of the LP ‘Cosmos’ in France in August 1976.

In his efforts to continuously document his music, Sun Ra was always looking for new recording opportunities. Ra archivist Michael D. Anderson explains; “From 1974 through 1980, The Arkestra recorded a series of recordings in the WXPN studios. WXPN is on the campus of The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Then-station manager Jules Epstein and music director Russ Woessner were instrumental in the exposure and recording of The Arkestra. As an inexpensive means to record in Philadelphia, they offered Sunny the opportunity to record in the WXPN production studios. The station was also associated with concert entrepreneur Geno Barnhart, founder of The Empty Foxhole concert collective (1969-1982). Each weekend, WXPN broadcast and recorded concerts from The Foxhole. Sadly, in the 1990s, WXPN changed its format and discarded most of the master tapes in dumpsters outside the studio.”

‘Of Abstract Dreams’ preserves a single session from this seemingly lost legacy of recordings. As with many other Sun Ra recordings, there are no documented details, and all information has been gleaned through aural detective work by Michael D. Anderson (with Irwin Chusid of Sun Ra LLC) who unearthed the tape reel and surmised that this session took place in either 1974 or 1975.

Four tracks were recorded: two chants familiar from live performances, 'I’ll Wait For You’ and ‘Unmask The Batman’; one seldom heard title, ‘Island In The Sun’ and a spontaneous composition titled ‘New Dawn’. A small Arkestra is present, made up of then-residents of the Ra house in Morton Street, Philadelphia.
Ra plays piano throughout, John Gilmore, Marshall Allen and Eloe Omoe are on reeds, Akh Tal Ebah plays trumpet and there are two dedicated percussionists, probably Eddie Thomas on kit and Atakatune on congas. Everyone adds vocals, handclaps or both.
The mono recording, dry radio room sound and bass-less ensemble gives a low key feel and sound to the session. The fire and commitment to the Omniversal moment is always there but the emphasis is mostly on cyclic groove. The tracks show the group in a less declamatory and more discursive mode.

“released December 24, 2018

All titles composed by Sun Ra © Enterplanetary Koncepts (BMI)
except 3. composed by Alton Abraham and Lacy Gibson

Probably recorded at WXPN FM Studios, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1974-1975

Sun Ra: piano (1–4), vocal (4)
John Gilmore: tenor sax (2, 3, 4)
Marshall Allen: alto sax (2, 3, 4), flute (1)
Danny Ray Thompson: Baritone sax (2, 3, 4), bongos (1), percussion 2, 4)
James Jacson: oboe (2), lead vocal (3), vocal (4)
Akh Tal Bah: trumpet (4), vocal (1)
Eloe Omoe: bass clarinet (2, 4)
Eddie Thomas: drums (1–4)
Atakatune: congas (1–4)”

sleeve, Monday, 1 June 2020 14:08 (one month ago) link

will try to spin this later today

budo jeru, Wednesday, 3 June 2020 16:22 (one month ago) link

thanks for reminding me! gonna put it on now.

sleeve, Wednesday, 3 June 2020 16:52 (one month ago) link

I love it already, real loose and jammy and relaxed

sleeve, Wednesday, 3 June 2020 17:01 (one month ago) link

also, this has the definitive version of "I'm Gonna Unmask the Batman"

sleeve, Wednesday, 3 June 2020 17:16 (one month ago) link

Oh man, I am loving this looser piano-driven version of 'Island In The Sun' and this might be definitive too, esp. with the eruption of vocalisations at 5 minutes in. Only two* other recordings of this to my knowledge for comparison though (the complete 1970 version from Invisible Shield reissue, and the 1980/12/31 version from Detroit JC Residency) - please let me know if you know of more!

*I believe the 'Janus' version is just a cut of the complete Invisible Shield version with a flatter mix (it is probably in fact the edit that was issued on the original Invisible Shield LP but I don't have a copy of that for a listen and I can't find a resource with track lengths to confirm).

A little digging has also turned up a tight little version by Nostalgia 77 & The Monster from their 2014 release 'Measures' that ain't half bad.

I think you're right about Janus vs. Invisible Shield versions there, I was pretty familiar with Janus before hearing the latter.

also thanks for being here!

this one was really great and I might even buy the LP

sleeve, Wednesday, 3 June 2020 21:16 (one month ago) link

this looser piano-driven version of 'Island In The Sun'

yes ! and the hand claps are lovely, too

budo jeru, Wednesday, 3 June 2020 21:43 (one month ago) link

kind of lanky and airy

budo jeru, Wednesday, 3 June 2020 21:43 (one month ago) link

So because I do love a treasure hunt, a non-exhaustive investigation into what versions of Unmask the Batman are out there:

Chicago Blues guitarist, Lacy Gibson was the brother-in-law of Sun Ra and co-wrote 'I Am Gonna Unmask The Batman' with Sun Ra's business manager, Alton Abraham.

*Lacy Gibson - 1969 Single Version

* Lacy Gibson - Extended Version of the above released on the Rocket Ship Rock compilation (assume this was recorded in 1969 as well)

*Sun Ra And His Astro-Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra 1974 Single Version

* Sun Ra Trumper Player Akh Tal Ebah shouts his way wildly through a home recorded (?) version collected on the Rocket Ship Rock compilation (19??)

* Sun Ra - Of Abstract Dreams version here - 1974 or 1975 - definitive as Sleeve suggests with James Jacson growling out the vocals

*Sun Ra & Arkestra - 1990 live version(?) - I do really enjoy the crowd interaction at the end of this 10min+ version purported to be from a 1990 date at Nightstage, Cambridge, MA that has popped up recently on Youtube.

* The Sun Ra Arkestra - 21 May 2014 Babylon Club, Istanbul (released on the deluxe Babylon Live) - they’re having fun with this messy blues boogie, great vocal interplay between Tara Middleton and Marshall Allen to start it off and then the sax takes over

*The Barrence Whitfield Soul Savage Arkestra - Songs From The Sun Ra Cosmos - Tribute Album - far from essential but check out those noisy breakdown sections.


Karl Malone, Thursday, 4 June 2020 00:39 (one month ago) link

1974 - I’m Gonna Unmask The Batman/The Perfect Man 7”

Repressed twice in the 70’s, and there are actually copies for sale on Discogs! Over $200, but yeah.

This is an A+ fucking sweet classic, funky and fun. Included on the Singles anthology and well worth your time.

sleeve, Thursday, 4 June 2020 19:27 (one month ago) link

heck yeah

budo jeru, Friday, 5 June 2020 04:32 (one month ago) link


So I did a little more digging and found four more Batman's on some bootlegs of varying quality (28 October 1984, 1 Jan 1985, 5 Jan 1985, 25 October 1985).

On the two early '85 ones the bass is high in the mix with Rollo Radford getting lots of freedom to play around. The mix on the New Year's day recording is pretty poor, bordering on unlistenable, and Rollo's not sounding 100% on it. These issues, however, are not present on the 5 January 1985 version which I've uploaded to Youtube for your aural pleasure. This might be my favourite the way it comes together post-bass explorations - joyous vocals.

very cool, thanks Finn.

re: batman '74, from the campbell / trent disco:

Alton Abram claims Chicago as the location, but according to Terry Adams, Hal Willner was working at a small radio station in Philadelphia when this number was broadcast live from the studio. Jules Epstein says it was WXPN and questions whether July 4 was the actual date. [Vocalist Sam] Bankhead identified by Abraham. According to Bill Boelens, Aye Aton (aka Robert Underwood), who worked with the Arkestra from 1972 through 1976, has confirmed his presence on this date [on drums]. Other personnel identified by [Robert Campbell]. Thanks to Mike Fitzgerald for pointing out that Sunny himself was responsible for the bass line, and for identifying Sunny's keyboard (not a Mini-Moog or a Clavinet, but an RMI instrument, perhaps an Electra-Piano and Harpsichord Model 368, but probably Sunny's Rocksichord).

also worth checking out the 1968 lacy gibson original, with buddy guy on guitar (and evidently without ra's involvement):

budo jeru, Saturday, 6 June 2020 23:10 (one month ago) link

very cool, thanks

I really do love the sound of that keyboard

sleeve, Saturday, 6 June 2020 23:18 (one month ago) link

1967/1974 - Sub Underground/Lost Ark Series/Temple University

STOP THE PRESSES AGAIN we have two more earlier tracks that got missed. From the liner notes to the 2014 Bandcamp reissue:

Sun Ra wasn't concerned about discographical codification. He left it to Ra scholars to make sense of his sprawling catalog, and mysteries abound. Sub Underground (#1), released in 1974, is one of those confusing entries.

The 21-minute LP A side, "Cosmo-Earth Fantasy," was presumed recorded at New York's Variety Studio in '74 , as noted in Campbell & Trent's massive discography, The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra (2nd ed., pub. 2000). That track was coupled on side B with three tracks from a purported "live" recording at Temple University that same year. Complicating matters from a title standpoint, Sun Ra released unrelated albums tagged "Sub Underground series," and this particular album (which carried no personnel or recording info) also appeared in hand-designed sleeves under the titles Sub Underground #2, Cosmo-Earth Fantasy, and Live at Temple University 1974. If it was a live album, the Arkestra had performed before an audience possessed of such hushed reverence that they don't make a sound before, during, or after each piece. The Sun Ra Music Archive's Michael Anderson, a former Temple student, believes that the performance took place in the college chapel. Others have suggested the Temple radio station. The recordings on side B undoubtedly originated in a studio, an ad hoc studio, or—as it turns out—studios.

Enter Ra scholar Paul Griffiths, who in 2011 found an album master tape of "Cosmo-Earth" formerly owned by the late Ra business partner James Bryant. In an Art Yard CD reissue, Griffith says the words "strings bandura" are handwritten on the reel. The beginning of "Cosmo-Earth" features sounds reminiscent of Ra's singular 1967 Saturn release Strange Strings, on which Arkestrans plucked and savaged string instruments with which they were otherwise unfamiliar. The bandura, dubbed the "Space Harp," was featured on a number of Ra albums in the late 1960s. Griffith writes:

"['Cosmo-Earth'] features an opening section of music using the strange strings, including the bandura as mentioned on the tape box. As several of the string instruments were destroyed in a car accident in 1969, and the bandura itself was left in the possession of Hartmut Geerken in 1971 after the Arkestra’s legendary first Egyptian visit, this music cannot postdate these events and a revision of the recording date is needed."

Griffith further observes:

"Ra plays Hohner Clavinet on this recording in close stylistic proximity to that on the LPs Atlantis [1967], Solar Myth Approach Vols. 1 & 2 ['67-'68], and Continuation ['68]. The feel of the whole piece is very much in the style of the exploratory work undertaken by the Arkestra in the later New York period between '66 and early ’68. It is very likely that this music was recorded in 1967 or possibly early 1968 before the Arkestra moved to Philadelphia."

Griffith affirms that "Love Is For Always" and "The Song of the Drums" were indeed recorded at Temple in '74. But he reexamines "The World of Africa," stating:

"… [It] is clearly not from the same concert as its predecessors and takes us back to 1968 when vocalist June Tyson joined the band. Ra is again featured on Hohner Clavinet playing very much in the style of the small group Atlantis sessions from the previous year, with a host of Arkestra members on percussion."

Everything Griffith asserts is believable and logical. Ra was renowned for compiling LPs from unrelated sessions and different locations, with material recorded years apart and offering radical juxtapositions of style. Sub Underground is business as usual on Saturn.

With this in mind, I put the two 1960’s tracks in the Spotify playlist right after Atlantis, the rest is in 1974.

A few other 1974 Temple University recordings are on the out-of-print Lost Ark Series, you can listen at the link below:

I’m pretty unimpressed with the sidelong track, but “The World Of Africa” might actually be the first recorded appearance of June Tyson? And it’s a good track as well.

sleeve, Monday, 8 June 2020 14:07 (one month ago) link


sleeve, Monday, 8 June 2020 14:08 (one month ago) link

wow I'm listening to the 1974 tracks now and their version of "Love Is For Always" is just gorgeous, slow and stately and introspective. I assume it's a jazz standard?

sleeve, Monday, 8 June 2020 16:29 (one month ago) link

Yes, gorgeous is the right word. I'm not aware of any standard by that name and I can't find anything additional info on the track, or any other recordings. Seems to have deserved better!

6/16/1974 - Out Beyond The Kingdom Of/Discipline 99

A rare one, only reissued via Bandcamp in April 2018 after almost 40 years of obscurity.

Discipline 99, a.k.a. Out Beyond the Kingdom Of, was recorded at a Hunter College, New York, performance by Sun Ra & His Arkestra on June 16, 1974. Selected titles were issued that year on LP (Saturn 61674); the album went thru several pressings with different-colored labels, at least as late as 1980. As with many privately pressed Saturns from the 1970s and '80s, the total press run is unknown, but presumably it totals in the hundreds, not the thousands, hence original copies are rare.

Some copies of D99 featured a generic "Acropolis" cover, others were hand-decorated or sported paste-on art. The cover of this digital edition, scanned from an LP sleeve in the collection of Gilbert Hsiao, features one of the best illustrations we've seen of ANY Saturn DIY release. (The artist is unknown; this illustration graced the sleeves of other Saturn releases from the period, but this particular cover had "Discipline 99" handwritten in the upper left.)

A sad Discogs review notes “Sound quality isn't the greatest on this one.”

Some interesting observations from Sun Ra Sundays:

The first thing you notice is the school has provided Sonny with a decent grand piano, and he relishes in the opportunity to tickle the ivories… An obsessive collector in the year 2011 will have heard these routines many times before, but in 1974, live recordings were scarce. Sonny was shrewdly filling the gap, documenting the Arkestra’s current show for eager fans. Considered in that light, Out Beyond The Kingdom Of was exactly what it needed to be: a souvenir you could take home with you from the Cosmo Drama.

I like this alternate cover as well:

sleeve, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 17:11 (one month ago) link

really dig the sparse vocal / percussion / keyboard track "the song of drums" from "sub underground #1" with these two:

Eddie Thomas (Thomas Thaddeus): vocal (3)
Akh Tal Ebah (?): 2nd vocal (3)

and then just BOOM right into the funk with "the world of africa"

stoked for OBTKO / D99

budo jeru, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 17:35 (one month ago) link

^^ yeah I posted that for the "Sub Underground" entry, can't check right now but maybe that design was used on multiple releases?

sleeve, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 17:45 (one month ago) link

firing this new one up now

it is such a typical Sun Ra mess-with-yr-head thing that the intro was lifted from a totally different show!

sleeve, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 18:06 (one month ago) link

the grand piano sounds really great on this one, no idea what all the whining about "sound quality" is on about

sleeve, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 18:17 (one month ago) link

maybe it's because my brain is mush, but this "discipline 99" sounds so very different than the ones we've heard before. sounds very very indebted to ellington, beautiful dense harmonies with the swelling propulsion

budo jeru, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 23:41 (one month ago) link

xxxp to myself

oops sorry I posted that cover way back under "What's New/Invisible Shield", damn hybrid releases

sleeve, Wednesday, 10 June 2020 00:47 (one month ago) link

August 17th, 1974 - The Antique Blacks

Another originally-rare one pressed to sell at shows that has gone through several updates/permutations. Today is it probably the best known of the 1974 recordings I think? Originally released on Saturn in 1974 with the cover art posted by budo jeru above:

and a number of variants:

The Antique Blacks, original copies of which are quite rare, was one of those LPs that Sun Ra pressed in very limited quantities to sell at concerts and club dates. The recordings apparently originated from a 1974 Temple University (Philadelphia) radio broadcast. Like many independently pressed and self-released albums on Ra's Saturn label, it's a mixed bag of material with little continuity or consistency. That's not a bug—it's a feature. It contains a jaunty jam ("Song No. 1"), a few songs, and lots of Sunny's declamatory (and inscrutable) sermonizing.

Then, as usual, 35 years went by until Art Yard reissued it on 2009.

After a 30+ year absence from the market , it was reissued on CD in 2010 by the U.K. label Art Yard, who replicated the LP sequence. In fact, due to the absence of tapes, a vintage vinyl copy was used for the reissue, which included a mono bonus track, "You Thought You Could Build a World Without Us.”

But last year it got updated again, as per the 2019 Bandcamp remaster/revision:

After the completed CD production, Michael D. Anderson of the Sun Ra Music Archive discovered the master tapes from the date. One of the revelations was that three tracks from the LP, "There Is Change in the Air," the above-named bonus track, and the album title track, were actually part of a continuous 24-1/2 minute suite. When the original LP was compiled, some bridge material had been edited out, and three components of the suite were isolated as standalone tracks. For this digitally remastered edition, the entire suite is presented for the first time (and in full stereo). In addition, "Song No. 1," which was the opening track on the LP, has been placed where it stands in sequence on the tape, as track 4.

What sounds like an audio glitch at 7:21 in "Space is the Place" is in fact a four-second patch of tape spliced in reverse—Sun Ra's contribution to the sinister '70s practice of lyrical backmasking.

There was some speculation about the source of "You Thought You Could Build A World Without Us." Based on comments made by Sun Ra himself on WKCR in 1987 (when it was aired), Sun Ra discographers Robert Campbell and Christopher Trent speculated that the track was an outtake from the 1972 film soundtrack for Space is the Place. However, RC/CT note that electric guitarist Dale Williams did not join the Arkestra until 1974. The discovery of the master tape confirms the provenance of the performance.

Historical footnote: Producer Hal Willner claims he witnessed these sessions at Temple University. Ask him about it.

sleeve, Monday, 15 June 2020 14:24 (four weeks ago) link

sleeve, Monday, 15 June 2020 14:24 (four weeks ago) link

interesting theories from Sun Ra Sundays on this one:

On August 9, 1974, Richard M. Nixon resigned as President of the United States. I imagine this extraordinary event was on Sun Ra’s mind when, a week later, he assembled a small Arkestra for a live radio broadcast at Temple University in Philadelphia on August 17 [FN1]. While not making any direct references to Nixon, Ra took the opportunity to sermonize at length and he felt strongly enough about the performance to edit the recording for an LP entitled, The Antique Blacks, released on his own Saturn label later in the year (Saturn 81774). Ra clearly felt he had to get his message out. In actuality, this record was pressed in vanishingly small editions, sometimes re-titled, Interplanetary Concepts or There Is A Change In The Air and with various covers, including a generic “Acropolis” sleeve (see Campbell & Trent, pp.212-213). Like the mystical texts in his personal library, The Antique Blacks was probably made available to only initiates or persons Ra felt could decode his deeper, spiritual meanings. The ever-resourceful Art Yard label has reissued the album on CD with a bonus track recorded at the same session—but beware: Ra’s philosophizing is as inscrutable as ever, making this a strange and difficult listen for the casual fan. Keep in mind: it was a different era.

sleeve, Monday, 15 June 2020 14:31 (four weeks ago) link

v interesting

budo jeru, Monday, 15 June 2020 14:36 (four weeks ago) link

whoa the electric guitar 3 minutes in is nuts

sleeve, Monday, 15 June 2020 14:54 (four weeks ago) link

I miss Outic and Kate’s reliable input on these, but I’m glad there are still people following along.

September 6th, 1974 - Wake Up Angels disc 2 (Ann Arbor Jazz & Blue Festival)

The last set included in the Art Yard double CD, once again John Sinclair has staggeringly extensive liner notes. Here’s a small excerpt, all typos in the original:

Meanwhile, In Windsor. Sun Ra & the Arkestra took the stage at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival in exile following an Introduction by Bobby Bass of WJZZ-FM and-as the evidence on this disc Indicates-turned the place upside down. A long passage of introductory music improvised by Ra and the ensemble is followed by a seamless program of some of the Arkestra’s greatest hits – -Discipline 27″ and -27-11: ‘Love In Outer Space,” -The Shadow World: -Space Is The Place.- “Second Stop Jupiter: “What Planet Is This: “lmages,” “Watusi- and the closing “Sun Ra and His Band From Outer Space”-plus one number which is thought to have previously been unrecorded, the daring anthem titled ‘It Is Forbidden: The ranks of the Arkestra Included Ra’s greatest reed section ever, with Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, Elo Omoe, Danny Davis, James Jacson and Danny ‘Pekoe” Thompson. plus Kwame Hadi and Akh Tal Ebah on trumpets, Dale Williams on electric guitar, Detroit’s own Reginald –“Shoo-Bee-Doo” Fields on bass. Clifford Jarvis at the drums and Stanley “Atakatune” Morgan on congas. June Tyson and the Space Ethnic Voices, Judith Holton and Cheryl Banks, strutted and crooned out in front of the band, framing the mind-boggling keyboard improvisations and fierce chanted philosophy of their undisputed leader, the great Sun Ra. The multi-track master tapes of the Arkestra’s performance were quite reasonably withheld by recordist Chuck Buchanan when it became clear that he could not be paid for his work. and they’ve never been seen again. What remains is the cassette tape recorded from the board mix during the performance, now transferred Into the digital realm and available again on this two-disc set from Art Yard.

Once again there is some excellent historical context here:

Bandcamp link here:

sleeve, Friday, 19 June 2020 14:10 (three weeks ago) link

i too miss the thoughtful contributions of shakey and Kate. hopefully they'll both be back at some point.

that ann arbor sun scan is fantastic: DO NOT BRING YOUR STASH ACROSS !!

i'd recommend to anybody who's interested to read john sinclair's full liner notes to the art yard release: it's a fascinating bit of history of the white panther party's evolution into the rainbow people's party and its efforts organizing the AABJ, with some behind-the-scene peaks at DIY booking + promoting, and also drug deals gone bad and conflicts with the squares on the city council.

i've really enjoyed all the ann arbor sets so far, will probably shell out for the 2xCD.

don't have much to comment on the music specifically except that i find this great. we've moved into an era where it feels like the music is almost uniformly exceptional and we're hearing so many re-workings of a core set of compositions that it's hard for me, as a layperson, to say articulate or meaningful things about a lot of what i've been listening to.

budo jeru, Friday, 19 June 2020 19:37 (three weeks ago) link

things are gonna change up again soon enough, the late 70's are a whole other world as I'm sure you know.

1975 and 1976 have a LOT less in terms of releases recorded in that time period, we're heading into a sparse zone.

sleeve, Saturday, 20 June 2020 23:39 (three weeks ago) link

May 1975 - What’s New (“We Roam The Cosmos”)

The sole Sun Ra recording available from this year, amazingly. We’ve been through the earlier 1963 tracks on the A-side of the rare 1975 Saturn LP What’s New, but some even rarer versions came with this side-long B-side, “Live recording possibly May 23rd 1975 unknown venue”.

You can listen to this via the Bandcamp reissue page for the LP and associated tracks:

sleeve, Tuesday, 23 June 2020 14:48 (three weeks ago) link

forgot to spin this — will check back in tomorrow !

budo jeru, Thursday, 25 June 2020 03:19 (two weeks ago) link

my apologies, that's not the Bandcamp link and you can't stream it

here's the Youtube:

sleeve, Thursday, 25 June 2020 20:04 (two weeks ago) link

whoa, intense one

sleeve, Thursday, 25 June 2020 20:12 (two weeks ago) link

this is awesome.

budo jeru, Thursday, 25 June 2020 23:58 (two weeks ago) link

this is one of the ones i heard about but never managed to track down back in the day... eventually art yard put out "i roam the cosmos" and i sort of gave up. glad it's findable now, this is indeed an awesome and powerful variation on "space is the place".

Kate (rushomancy), Sunday, 5 July 2020 17:45 (one week ago) link

1976 - Live At Montreaux


“In the summer of 1976 the Arkestra began their fourth tour of Europe with twenty-eight people and ended with fourteen, playing all the major festivals, Paris, Montreux (where they recorded Live at Montreux), Pescara, Nimes, Northsea, Juan-les-Pins, and Arles, and were greeted everywhere as celebrities. Yet once they returned home to Philadelphia, they still sank back into semiobscurity, the band playing down the block at the Red Carpet Lounge to a neighborhood audience of twenty, or at outdoor free concerts in the parks of North Philadelphia, to which sometimes no one came (p.341).

We now enter the brief “Inner City” era, a US label that released the studio LP Cosmos in 1976, and later reissued this LP in 1978. This 1975-76 era is the most under-documented period we’ve seen since the late 50’s, only a handful of releases over the two years. Then things explode again in ’77, but we have one more to go.

Sun Ra Sundays:

“While very little documentation survives of this tour, Live At Montreux was to become a watershed album for Ra. Recorded for a state television broadcast at the legendary Swiss jazz festival on July 9, 1976, it was first issued as a two-LP set as Saturn MS87976 and reissued by Inner City as IC1039 in 1978 (Campbell & Trent, pp.222-224). Live At Montreux would be one the few Sun Ra records to be widely available in the late-1970s and early-1980s and it was, for many people my age, their first (and perhaps only) exposure to his music. But what a great record it is! Ra was provided a decent piano and he makes good use of it (along with his battery of electronic keyboards), guiding the Arkestra through a remarkably inventive setlist. The enormous band includes many returning alumnus, including Pat Patrick on baritone sax and flute, Chris Capers on trumpet and Craig Harris on trombone, and their performance is uniformly first rate. Moreover, the sound quality is excellent—a blessed relief after all the grungy bootlegs we’ve been listening to lately. In fact, it might be one of the best-sounding releases in Ra’s enormous discography. In many ways, Live At Montreux is the definitive Sun Ra album.”

Unfortunately, this one isn’t on Bandcamp/Spotify, but there are some scattered Youtube links to parts of it:

Dig this A+ version of ‘Take The A-Train” which I believe La Lechera used in her music class!

Sorry for the short week, will try to post more next week.

sleeve, Friday, 10 July 2020 14:18 (four days ago) link

oh FFS I didn't fix my title typo, yes it is "Montreux"

sleeve, Friday, 10 July 2020 14:19 (four days ago) link

here's a familiar release !

v happy to re-visit this today

budo jeru, Friday, 10 July 2020 14:58 (four days ago) link

huh, i never noticed before that sunny calls ellington the composer of "take the a train"! well he was always more into fletch...

Kate (rushomancy), Friday, 10 July 2020 15:17 (four days ago) link

on side 4 now, I have a US Inner City 2LP that survived an initial (ill-advised) purge of my Sun Ra section and has been in my stacks for decades now. yeah, this one has it all.

sleeve, Friday, 10 July 2020 22:46 (four days ago) link

1976 - Cosmos

Originally released on the French Cobra label, the following year on Inner City in the US, and then on a series of ill-fated reissues with screwed up sound, some bootlegs, and finally a real Bandcamp remaster in 2016.

From Sun Ra Sundays:

While on their fourth tour of Europe in August 1976, the Arkestra (a portion of it, anyway) entered Studio Hautefeuille in Paris to record an album for the French Cobra label, which released later in the year as Cosmos (COB 37001).

Some notes from the Bandcamp remaster:

Each time it resurfaced, the audio quality changed, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. On the 1991 CD, the bass was mixed at woofer-quaking levels; the Inner City LP sounds flat.

The presence of the ROCKSICHORD—a slightly cheesy electronic harpsichord popular in the late 1960s with psychedelic bands and some avant-garde composers—links Cosmos with Ra's 1970 album NIGHT OF THE PURPLE MOON. Though six years apart, they are in some ways companion albums (and in some ways, not). Like Purple Moon, Cosmos features a more accessible side of Ra, a mix of relatively earthbound ensemble jazz and pan-galactic excursions.

This one is totally new to me but I am way down for a new studio session, time to cue it up.

sleeve, Monday, 13 July 2020 14:09 (yesterday) link

oh see also this intriguing quote from SRS:

But as great as the band sounds on this date, it is Ra’s electric keyboard that makes this such a delightfully engaging record for me. Throughout the album, Ra’s Rocksichord has this weird, wire-thin, reedy sound quality, upon which he pours some molasses-thick phase-shifter that hisses away incessantly in the background. Now, in anyone else’s hands, this would be unbelievably cheesy, even amateurish. Yet Ra guilelessly tackles the wide variety material and, through his visionary technical abilities, miraculously balances the seemingly limited electronic keyboard textures with the expansive, acoustic Arkestra to create a decidedly strange, but appropriately otherworldly ambience.

sleeve, Monday, 13 July 2020 14:11 (yesterday) link

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