Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sun Ra - Unity (Horo, 1979)

A live recording of a joyously swinging concert, this record finds Ra entering the final phase of his career, where he mixed his outer space/ancient Egypt inspired free jazz with the big band swing of his youth. It's a tribute to both Ra and the band that they were able to reconcile these two diametrically opposed types of music and make them work so well. Some of Ra's most steadfast sidemen are in attendance here like the saxophonists Marshall Allen and John Gilmore, along with some new additions like Michael Ray on trumpet and Craig Harris on trombone. Quite a bit of the material presented here would make for stumping "blindfold test" material, particularly when the band almost raises the roof on righteously swinging versions of Fletcher Henderson's "Yeah Man!" or the Jelly Roll Morton classic "King Porter Stomp." The group pretty much runs through the history of jazz moving from swing to bop on Tadd Dameron's "Lady Bird" and post-bop, checking in with Miles Davis's "Half Nelson" and a very Coltrane-ian run through of "My Favorite Things." It's only at the end of the concert that they leave Earth orbit with fine versions of legendary Sun Ra tunes "The Satellites are Spinning" and "Enlightenment." This one might be a bit of a bear to track down, and I'm not sure if it's still in print or not, but it is well worth the effort. This edition of the Arkestra was rock solid, and like fellow polymaths Jaki Byard and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, they had the entirety of jazz at their fingertips.

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