Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sun Ra - Of Mythic Worlds (Philly Jazz, 1980 / Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2018)

Recorded during Sun Ra's tenure in Philadelphia, and now getting a much needed wider release after originally coming out on a very small label in 1980, this might be one of the albums which is perfect for enticing a neophyte into Ra's particular universe. It has a well known melodic standard, free jazz, ballads and blues, vocals and chanting, basically encapsulating Sun Ra ethos in one excellent album. They open with a blast of Ra exotica called "Mayan Temples" that begins in ritualistic fashion with organ, flute and low reeds creating a hypnotic medium tempo groove. Swirling flute and organ obit a slow tribal beat, with thick grounding bass keeping the proceedings from flying off into the ether. The music is continually atmospheric and impressive in its patience as it is exploring the upper regions of air beyond the clouds. The standard "Over the Rainbow" is the perfect vehicle for Ra to explore, ostensibly cheese, but with the kernel of an idea that he can use for his own ends. Like opening with a massive blurt of drums and horns, before dropping back into solo piano where he incorporates stride like elements which provide the momentum for the music to move inexorably forward. He can move from abstract to melodic at the drop of a hat, ranging from a haunting melodic statement to the howl and clang of pure freedom. "Inside the Blues" showcases Ra absolutely romping around the piano, with some of his most joyful playing on record. Bass and drums fall into line, building an epic foundation for the leader to ripple the keys over, urging everything forward and communicating his worldview through the form of the blues. Things get a little more outside with the medley "When There Is No Sun / Space Is The Place," with Sun Ra's piano developing an oriental tinge to it, and then gradually folding in vocal harmonies like a master chef. The horns riff and the vocals grow until the Ra showstopper "Space is the Place" is in full bloom. High pitched trumpets and vocals create a wonderful refrain, dropping out to feature waves of piano that gives the whole performance a rhapsodic feel. Finally, there is another melody which closes the album in fantastic fashion, melding "Door Of The Cosmos / Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here / We Travel The Spaceways" in a kaleidoscopic manner, with the band chanting to open the door moving beautifully into a call and response section of lighter voices answering the lower ones. Bright piano notes and rumbling bass chords restate Ra's authority, moving improbably to the shout about the gang being here before finally falling perfectly into one of his finest space chants "We Travel the Spaceways." This was an absolutely stellar Sun Ra album, one of many good ones he made in Philadelphia, and one that also focuses one his excellent piano playing. This one is a keeper, don't pass it by. Of Mythic Worlds (Remastered 2018, download only) - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.