Joe Pierre | Los Angeles, CA United States | 05/03/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Hmmmm... it looks like this one is back in print and available. Here is my review from back in 2000:
This is my favorite Sun Ra album, featuring a 10 person ensemble with Sun Ra sticking to mostly piano and including the essential Marshall Allen (alto, oboe, and flute) and John Gilmore (tenor, clarinet, flute). It is from a live concert in Switzerland recorded in 1980 and originally released as a double LP. The recording quality is excellent, and much better than the usual Sun Ra fare. The music includes a mix of standards (Take the A Train, King Porter Stomp, Round Midnight, etc.) with some freer orginals (Light From a Hidden Sun, Disguised Gods in Skullduggery, etc.) along with a requisite June Tyson vocal number (On Jupiter). The performances are excellent and provide a nice example of a latter day Sun Ra live set. I have heard some people pan the version of Round Midnight here, but I find it outrageous and quite enjoyable.
I have awaited the re-release of this on CD for years, but unfortunately two numbers, "Provocative Celestials" and "Love in Outer Space" were deleted to fit the concert on a single CD. The former features some bombastic free jazz with an extraordinary solo of upper register wailing (Allen on oboe?), while the latter is a classic ethereal number with Sun Ra on organ. I can't bring myself to purchase the CD knowing that these performances are missing!
And now the update... I finally picked this up on CD recently since the price had come down, so here are some updated thoughts... First, Amazon still has the track listing wrong, as it did with the old version. My CD (from the limited edition 2001 pressing) has only 15 tracks. There are 3 omitted numbers (compared to the original 2LP release), not just two, and they include "Provocative Celestials" and "Love in Outer Space" as well as "On Jupiter." You'll notice that the Amazon listing erroneously includes "On Jupiter" and also lists repeats of both "Lightnin'" and "A Helio-Hello..." The total CD playing time is 71.04, so in actuality there is room, under today's CD capacities, to at least re-insert "Love in Outer Space" and "On Jupiter," and I still wish they would.
"Love in Outer Space" is something of an Arkestra anthem and during this concert is the only track on which Sun Ra leaves the piano in favor of his playful merry-go-round/circus style organ. I still miss it. "On Jupiter" is also something of a concert staple, since the Arkestra often played a vocal space chant during their live shows (such as "Sunset on the Nile" or "Next Stop Mars"). The chants are perhaps an acquired taste, but there is some great soloing on top of it. And then there's "Provocative Celestials," which features some apocalyptic free horn soloing by Gilmore and then Allen for some ridiculously high octave sax - by far the best track from the concert, but not on the CD.
As for the music that did make it on the CD, the opening number "Light From a Hidden Sun" is an acoustic piano solo from Ra that really showcases his talent unlike anything else I've ever heard from him. In less than 4 minutes, he displays a delicate, lyrical touch in some places, and in others he pounds away in a fashion barely distinguishable from Cecil Taylor. What a great opener -- this, as well as the rest of the album, reminds me what an under-recognized pianist Ra was. "Pinpoints" also starts with Tayloresque soloing, but quickly incorporates the band and highlights Michael Ray on trumpet, who plays some echo-ey vamps, with the other horns joining in. Things really take off in earnest on "Silhouettes" with some incediary tenor sax soloing by Gilmore, and then some extended high-register alto by Allen that just blows me away. This is the same kind of stuff on the omitted "Provocative Celestials" that I miss so much, but somewhat more tame. After those 3 originals, the Arkestra pays tribute to Ra's roots with 5 oldtimer big-band standards, one free original ("Disguised Gods...") and then 5 more standards before the concluding number. This programming, along with Ra on piano, gives the overall album less of a spacey feel (which, the liner notes tell us, is also why the producer chose to omit those particular 3 `missing' tracks), but that doesn't mean the playing is retro. On top of the standard rhythms, there is plenty of amazing individual free soloing by Allen, Gilmore, and Ray that sounds like they're spitting hellfire. No one else plays like this anymore -- check out the horn pyrotechnics on "Silhouettes," Gilmore bringing "'Round Midnight" to a close, Allen's oboe on "Disguised Gods...," and then Gilmore, Ray's upper register trumpet, and Ra's McCoy Tyner-like playing on "Lady Bird." On other numbers, the group's in tight big-band unison, weaving seamlessly between rollicking melody and joyful, blustery free territory -- as on "'Round Midnight," "Lady Bird/Half Nelson," "Yeah Man!" and "Take the `A' Train." The last track (preceded by "On Jupiter" on the LP) is a kind of throwaway, spastic way of saying goodnight - about as free as free jazz gets.
All in all a fantastic album, with the Arkestra in a scaled down ensemble with Ra at the acoustic helm. I'm not going to stop complaining about the missing tracks, but you won't notice, so pick it up anyway while it's still in print.
Brilliant live from Switzerland by the Space Maestro
Jostein Berntsen | Porsgrunn, Norway | 01/10/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Here is great live concert from Switzerland from the 70's by the brilliant and always exploring artist Sun Ra. The previous reviewer says it all, and I wholeheartedly agree, This is a must.
One of his most spritzy song titles is here: "Disguised Gods in Skullduggery Rendez Vous", as well as a wonderful mix of many of his own works with jazz standards.
Very nice packaging and liner notes by HatArt too. This one is worth the price and more."