It's not within my modest talents to describe this in the proper jazz terminology, but suffice to say these two albums catch Sun Ra and his Arkestra performing with otherworldly experimental zeal.
There's a discernable difference between the two albums, but essentially they both push the boundaries of music with real exuberence, but tempered with ever-present musical discipline.
The five tracks which make up 'Cosmic Tones...' sound to me like the sound effects track on a 50s sci-fi B-movie, which sounds insulting but it's not intending to be. 'Art Forms...' also features some highly experimental material together with some more conventionally melodic moments, such as with 'Lights on a Satellite' and 'Ankh', but even then it still sounds other-worldly.
At its most extreme, I could completely understand it if someone said when hearing it that it was just random noise, but to me, it's perfectly possible to hear the music within it, and the duelling and interweaving of different instruments, and also the blistering solo passages, are simply accomplished musicians performing at the very edge of creativity and musicality.
At its height, it's so revelatory that sometimes when listening to it i feel I might as well throw away everything else in my collection, because it just makes it all redundant.
All of which sounds very pretentious, i'm sure, but the best thing to do is listen and judge for yourself.
on 24 July 2015
Two astonishing records brought together on one C.D. to the confusion and delight of this reviewer. Having convinced myself over the years that much of Ra's output fitted more or less into jazz traditions, I am at a loss to fit this into any category or tradition at all. The best way to listen to this music is to forget about antecedents or classifications and just let the music wash over you. The music, whatever its background, is a simple delight.
'Cosmic Tones' takes up the first five tracks and dates from 1963. The band consists of Ra on various organ and percussion instruments but no piano, six reed players, not all of whom play on each track and who spend much of their time on various woodwinds rather than saxophones, the superb Ronnie Boykins on bass, and various assorted percussionists, with no brass at all. So, the sound is light and airy, with carefully controlled percussive effects contributing both rhythm and melody to most tracks. John Gilmore plays no saxophone but solos extensively and successfully on bass clarinet, Marshall Allen plays oboe as well as his usual alto, but Pat Patrick redresses the balance with some muscular baritone sax. This is carefully controlled music and not some form of hippy freakout. It is also attractive music with immediate appeal and despite its sometime complexity not at all forbidding.
'Art Forms' from 1961/2 occupies the final seven tracks. The band consists of Ra, this time playing piano and various percussion, trumpet (on two tracks only), trombone, the three saxophones and bass and drums. The band sound is still stripped down, but thicker than on the 1963 tracks. Gilmore is featured extensively on tenor, taking a fine solo on 'Kosmos In Blue' and an attractive ballad solo on 'Lights On A Satellite' and Patrick is featured in an aggressive solo on 'Ankh' along with Ali Hassan on trombone. The rhythm is more direct here than on the 1963 tracks with good performances from Boykins and Clifford Jarvis who add rhythmic impetus to all tracks (and two mobile bass solos by Boykins on 'Kosmos'). The saxophone sound is dominant and unfortunately Clifford Thornton, a truly revolutionary trumpeter present on one track is little featured.
Altogether a pleasingly varied issue from two smaller versions of Ra's band
on 24 March 2015
Did anybody at that time ever really heard this? I started loving jazz when I was a teenager late '70 in Italy and I remember the comments on Sun Ra, most of the times he was described as a joker. Compare Cosmic tones with whatever you want recorded in 1965 , including Ayler, Coleman, Coltrane etc.and tell me where this is coming from. Of course, given the in home distribution of the Saturn LPs it is likely that very few persons outside USA were exposed to Sun Ra music. Cosmic tones is remarkably weird music even for the today standards but if you , for example, loved Bennie Maupin's The jewel in the lotus or even Vulcano the Bear's Classic Erasmus fusion and lastly last year Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble Intergalactic Beings, this fits perfectly for you. This is chamber cosmic music. For true lovers of music adventures and if you want to discover the genius of the man from another planet
on 18 April 2015
One of the strangest things I've heard in a while...and I regularly listen to Coil and Nurse with Wound! Very odd and echoey...as you might expect from the album's title, perhaps. The liner notes say this was recorded in 1963. It was decades ahead of its time. Superb. And if you happen to know Tom Waits' Such a Scream, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he was influenced a bit by track 4 on this Sun Ra album.