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Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy Import
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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.
'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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
And as you listen to this music it's easy to imagine that the Arkestra are playing along to some surreal sci-fi movie, maybe a film that only existed in Sun Ra's mind? Who knows? What I do know is this album has a timeless quality and I'll never grow tired of listening to it. Tracks 1-3 are all in a similar vein, each with slightly differing arrangements and varying amounts of delay. In fact the use of an echo box throughout the album is awesome. Check out Track 2 (Thither and Yon), Track 5 (Voice of Space) with its haunting sax solos and beautiful bass, and Track 8 (Solar Drums) a complete delay-fest extravaganza! I can't think of another artist who was creating similar `sound-scapes' at the beginning of the sixties, with the exception of early sci-fi films such as `Forbidden Planet'. Sun Ra doesn't make his presence felt (other than as producer, arranger and mixer) until Track 4 (Moon Dance). This is my favourite track, featuring some awesome organ playing from the leader and a bass riff that wouldn't sound out of place on a funk/jazz album released today. Track 6 (Cluster of Galaxies) is another excellent sound experiment, and the louder you have the volume set during Track 10 (Infinity of the Universe) the better! All in all... this is classic Sun Ra. You can even hear a telephone ringing half way through Track 3 (Adventure-Equation) and then again at the end of that track! Perhaps it was the Mother ship calling....
One thing that always strikes me when listening to this CD is how far ahead of its time it was. It anticipates the psychedelic movement of the late 60's and the fusion of the 70's, while simultaneously reaffirming Sun Ra's position as a heavyweight player in the Avant-Garde jazz scene. Trust me... You cannot overlook this album!
Whether or not this is taken literally, I have no doubt, after listening to this cd, that Sun Ra heard things his own way, and succeeded in transmitting what he heard to his Arkestra.
The music here is simultaneously primitive and ultra modern. John gilmore's solo on the third track, for example, reminds alot of Ethiopian music and even Sudanese music. The liner notes say it is the call of a Muezin. The rhythms move from sounding African to sounding solar, with surprising fluency. Some of the interplay between the horns, on a few tracks, are so creative and effective, that their effect on me is hard to describe.
I see the influence of Ra's music on so many things, such as energy music, the AACM (the way he uses space and silence), and on other styles, outside of jazz. All this while defying commercialism, staying true to his artistic vision, and maintaining wonderful orchestra's for so many years.
It is a rare priviledge for us mere mortals to listen to the music of Sun Ra, enjoy it and even write about it.
They say that for an alcoholic, one drink is too many and one thousand aren't enough. I have discovered the same to be true of Sun Ra CDs, which seem to be breeding on my wall. Hearing one is too much because once you've listened it's too late to pretend you haven't heard what you've heard. One thousand aren't enough because each is different, the product of a man who explored constantly, driven by an inspired and fearless abandon.
Sun Ra CDs seem to break down into two categories, the really sharp old school jazz CDs and the intergalactic travel CDs. While I have praised Heliocentric Worlds Volume 1 in the past, I now think this is the indispensable Sun Ra CD - the one you simply MUST own. More than any other I've heard it bridges the gap between the two worlds of Sun Ra, in fact, listening to this CD it's difficult to tell which world you're in. At times it might be Morocco, other times it might be a spaceship rounding Venus, then again, some moments feel like a Cuban nightclub in the 1950's.
Maybe that's the real poetry of Sun Ra, you can never be really sure of anything. I may be back soon to revise my opinion again, after probing deeper into the enchanted world of Sun Ra. I wouldn't be at all surprised if I were again surprised.