Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sun Ra - Sun Sound Pleasure (Saturn, 1953-60)

This record (also released on compact disc through the Evidence label) documents some of the earliest commercial recordings of the Sun Ra Arkestra. Recorded when the band was based in Chicago, this has highly arranged orchestral jazz which might surprise those who only know Ra as a Saturnian wild man. Beginning with a swanky version of Monk's "Round Midnight" with Hattie Randolph on vocals, the band moves into "You Never Told Me That You Care" a languorous, full-figured arrangement. The pace picks up about 2/3 of the way through the performance with some very nice trumpet playing for Hobart Dotson. "Hour of Parting" has a mild arrangement, but things really fall into place with "Enlightenment," a future Ra standard which opens with a blast of gong and then some excellent baritone saxophone by Pat Patrick on the memorable melody. "I Could Have Danced All Night" ends the proceedings with a more percussive feel, foreshadowing the adventurous music to come on future records. There's a strong full band intro with heavily comped piano from Ra, and a touch of exotic flute in the improv section. This was an auspicious start for the Sun Ra Arkestra, walking a fine line between composition, arrangement and improvisation. This album would make excellent blindfold test material when mixed amongst comparable big band recordings of the era.

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