Sun Ra – When Angels Speak of Love (Saturn/Evidence 1963/2003)
According to Evidence Records, this is one of the rarest Sun Ra records ever made. In fact, they were not able to locate the original master tapes and had to rely on some clean copies kept by vinyl collectors. Ra wasn’t exactly a sticker for sound quality anyway, so the music does come out a little muddy. It doesn’t detract from the music however; this is an interesting slice of the Ra band as they moved from a swing influenced group into a more avant-garde setting.
The first track “Celestial Fantasy” begins with a stark horn opening using echo to create a very spooky effect. Drums slowly enter and everything is drenched in echo. “Idea of it All” has some fractured swing with Ra’s piano leading the way and some very up-font drumming, heavy on the cymbals. A tenor saxophone solo from John Gilmore takes things more “out” and the music gets quite intense with Ra’s percussive comping prodding everyone on. The leader gets a solo backed by some fast paced drumming sounding almost like Cecil Taylor before the band finally re-enters for a run through of the theme.
A brisk drum beat opens “Ecstacy of Being” with a sharp sounding tenor saxophone joining the fray. A trumpet enters at exactly the four minute mark and then the echo experiments start again, interesting stuff. The whole band enters at the very end with an ominous theme, very dark and brooding. The title track has John Gilmore playing at a ballad tempo with piano comping gently underneath. The veritable calm before the storm.
The final track on the album is a Ra epic entitled “Next Stop Mars.” Given the nature of the music, the trip to Mars must be one heck of a ride! Beginning with chanting vocals, the music builds with free playing tenor and piano into a full scale cacophony. The echo affect is back with a spooky solo leading into an intense tenor saxophone solo raw and the real deal. This is a fascinating transitory album which catches the Ra band moving into some experimental playing with electronics and free jazz.
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In Performance: Conrad Tao
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