Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sun Ra - Featuring Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold (ESP, 2009)

Keyboardist and bandleader Sun Ra moved his troupe, The Arkestra, to New York in the early 1960’s to look for recording and performance opportunities. While things began slowly and the band scuffled for a while, by the time this concert was recorded on New Years Eve 1964, things were looking up. What makes this interesting among the legion of Ra recordings being reissued, is the absence of Arkestra mainstay John Gilmore who was temporarily working for some more mainstream bandleaders like Art Blakey to make a little extra money. In his place was the very young (and temporarily homeless) saxophonist Farrell (Pharoah) Sanders, just shy of his breakthrough with John Coltrane, and the enigmatic flautist Black Howard. The title of this album is really something of a misnomer, as both Sanders and Howard get very little solo space on the record. What is interesting, however, is hearing the Arkestra in a live setting, playing some of their most angular and free music. Highlights of the album are the massive track “The Other World” which includes a fiery overblown Sanders solo and a lengthy interlude for several band members in percussion. The medley of “The Voice of Pan” and “Dawn Over Israel” gives Howard his moment in the spotlight with a breathy and ethereal flute interlude. A few of Ra’s “space chants make an appearance, with “Second Stop is Jupiter” and “Rocket Number Nine” losing a little of their punch due to muddy recording. The sound quality can be a little rough at times, with a section of the concert in mono and another in stereo, but it is nothing veteran Ra listeners can’t handle. This historical recording will probably best be appreciated by fans of the band, and newcomers may be better off with the Evidence sampler Greatest Hits for Intergalactic Travel or the incomparable Jazz in Silhouette. Regardless, it’s a very interesting peek into a corner of Sun Ra’s universe.

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