Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Sun Ra Arkestra - Kosmos In Blue: A John Gilmore Anthology, Vol. 1 (Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2017)

John Gilmore was a great jazz saxophonist who spent most of his career with keyboardist and bandleader Sun Ra. He was a superb and unique player, equally at home playing music from swing to free, and would probably have become much more well known if he struck out for a solo career. This album is a collection of mostly small band Sun Ra performances from the mid fifties to sixties that feature Gilmore in a soloing context, and it is a fine collection, demonstrating not only his prowess as an instrumentalist, but also serving as a pithy introduction to Sun Ra's music as a whole. "Search Light Blues" concludes the album with a thoughtful mid-tempo performance, with Sun Ra playing piano with bass and drums, and setting the stage for a beautifully lyrical saxophone solo. This may be one of the purest distillations of Gilmore on record, patiently building a solo filled with heart, soul and gritty determination. The standard "Sometimes I'm Happy" begins with an unusually florid Ra introduction on piano, but when the song licks into gear it allows Gilmore to stretch out and take a lyrical and spirited solo, one that shows his roots in bop and blues, but never gets bogged down in cliche. Ra bounces out, leading the core trio through a swinging interlude with taut bass and snappy drumming, before Gilmore glides back in easing the song to a fine and thoughtful conclusion. The title track "Kosmos in Blue" builds a powerful rhythmic sensibility with Ra locking in with the percussive bass and drums to carve a solid foothold that Gilmore is able to use in his own solo, one that comes nearly three minutes into the performance but is worth the wait. He develops a steely tone and slices through the accompaniment and less than optimal sound quality like a duelist looking for his next opponent. The full quartet takes a spirited collectively improvised section, making the most of one of Ra's more open ended themes and allowing a nod to the bassist and the drummer, before the saxophonist re-emerges to take the tune out. "Space Aura #2" has a larger horn section which Gilmore quickly lifts off from weaving from lumbering section play to quicksilver soloing in a dynamic fashion. He trades phrases with another saxophonist, probably Marshall Allen, creating a very exciting texture for the mid sized band to elaborate upon. One of Ra's more well known themes is "A Call For All Demons" with its memorable melody and riffing horn section that disgorges Gilmore for a short but memorable solo. The thick bass and Ra's percussive piano playing are equally well played on this track. All in all, this is a fine addition or beginning to a Sun Ra collection, and also serves as a much needed reminder of Gilmore, who John Coltrane famously said "got the concept," of playing rhythmically and melodically at the same time. Kosmos in Blue: John Gilmore Anthology, Vol. 1 - amazon.com

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