Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sun Ra and His Arkestra - To Those Of Earth... And Other Worlds (Strut Records, 2015)

Last year there was a two disc compilation of Sun Ra’s music called In the Orbit of Ra, curated by the Arkestra saxophonist turned bandleader Marshall Allen. This time the baton is handed to British DJ and crate digger Gilles Peterson for a journey through familiar Ra music and some surprises as well. Peterson is partial to music in the Ra canon that has chanting or singing, often incantations evoking space, Egyptology or Afrofuturism. With this in mind he opens the music with a Ra standard “Calling Planet Earth” then delving into his early music from the 1950’s culminating in the beautiful “India.” Peterson turns over some very interesting stones like the exotic “Brazilian Sun” and the synth driven “My Brother the Wind.” “Watusa” was seemingly made for dancing (Sun Ra had to play for dancers when he first moved from Birmingham to Chicago.) Peterson ends each disc in the digital version with a DJ set of his own favorite moments of the Ra catalog, in this case “To Those Of Earth... And Other Worlds (Continuous Mix 1).” Disc two moves into the later period of Ra’s career, presenting a patient and airy song called “Sleeping Beauty” along with the beautiful meditation “There Are Other Worlds (They Have Not Told You Of).” A studio reading of “We Travel the Spaceways” leads into two very powerful live recordings, “Astro Black” from Zurich and then “Somebody Else’s Idea” from Paris. The brilliant vocalist June Tyson never got her due as a jazz singer, but she had great emotional range and depth and really drives these songs with part chanting and part singing which spearheaded Ra’s search for the meaning of life in the universe and freedom from the race hatred that black men and women faced every day. The album proper ends appropriately with a righteous version of the Ra classic “Space is the Space” before we move into seventy plus minutes of another DJ set, “To Those Of Earth... And Other Worlds (Continuous Mix 2).” The highlight of this mix is Ra ranting about putting the White house on the moon! Overall this is a very interesting collection of Sun Ra material. Perhaps not for the newbie, but fans and dabblers should have a ball picking through the tracks and critiquing Peterson’s DJ mixes. To Those of Earth & Other Worlds -

Send comments to Tim.