Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sun Ra - College Tour Vol. 1: The Complete Nothing Is (ESP 1966, 2010)

In 1966, avant-garde jazz composer and bandleader Sun Ra took his Arkestra on a tour of North Country colleges and upon returning released the ESP live album Nothing Is. Archivist Michael D. Anderson has added over an hour of previously un-released material for this expanded reissue. This gives a fascinating glimpse of the Arkestra live in concert in the mid '60's with a fine mix of space chants, extended improvisation and fine solos. Ra sticks to piano throughout and he takes a number of solo spots that display a complex Monkish sensibility, especially on "It Is Eternal" and "State Street." He builds the opening "Sun Ra And His Band From Outer Space" from a hokey lounge sing along to a torrid full band improvisation, adding pieces and deploying his musicians strategically for maximum impact. Two versions of "The Exotic Forest" show band members doubling on percussion and developing a complex fascinating rhythm. Ra's unbeatable saxophone trio of John Gilmore on tenor, Marshall Allen on alto and Pat Patrick on baritone is on display throughout the album taking excellent solos and riffing enthusiastically. Everybody chips in singing along on Ra space standards like "The Satellites are Spinning" and "Second Stop is Jupiter." It is a very good concert, with the band playing like a well oiled machine throughout. There are a few hiccups in the sound, but they don't disrupt from the flow of the music to any great extent. It would be interesting to know the response of the students to this singing, dancing and playing juggernaut that was the Sun Ra Arkestra. The applause ranges from the polite to the enthusiastic, but the the quality of the music never lags, making this a great addition to the already massive Sun Ra discography. College Tour Vol. 1 - amazon.com

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