Saturday, May 19, 2018

Sun Ra - The Cymbals​/​Symbols Sessions: New York, 1973 (Modern Harmonic, 2018)

After a long time scuffling and building an audience, the great composer and keyboardist Sun Ra was finally recognized with a major label contract in 1973. His agreement with Impulse! Records, was supposed to release a wide range of material, but it was curtailed after just a few years. This is a two disc set, has the album Cymbals on the first disc and previously unreleased material from the same sessions on the second. Cymbals was never released by Impulse!, but it did come out on Evidence as part of the The Great Lost Sun Ra Albums package (along with Crystal Spears.) Regardless, this is a very good session with Ra playing his own open ended compositions with his group playing in quartet and sextet formations. "Thoughts Under a Dark Blue Light" is the longest track on the album, and it offers thick acoustic bass and splashy cymbals amidst Ra's electric keyboard and riffing horns. Gritty tenor saxophone branches out for a distinctive solo framed by the organ and keyboards and strong rhythmic support. The great saxophonist John Gilmore gradually takes his solo farther out, testing the boundaries of the music, while maintaining the raw soulfulness at the core of his sound. He really hits his stride about six minutes in with torrid runs of emotionally resonant sound that is something to behold. Ronnie Boykins' bass playing is the lynch pin of this whole session, and he is utterly unperturbed by the chaos around him, as he anchors the music to the ground. Sun Ra adds swaths of organ crystallizing around hand percussion and bass, while punchy trumpet from Akh Tal Ebah emerges late in the piece, increasing the tempo and leading to the fade out. "The Mystery of Two" has epic grinding organ that prog rockers could only dream of as Harry Richards's cymbals slash underneath. Strong bass and trumpet fill out the sound and create a strong edifice that supports a relentless trumpet solo over swelling organ, drums and stoic bass. The shorter "Land of the Day Star" initially sounds like Chicago era Sun Ra with the wonderful bowed bass and riffing horns, but it's the leader's exotic keyboard that makes it thoroughly of its time, as saxophone billows out and drums push the music forward. "The Universe Is Calling," a quintessentially Ra title, mines a nice organ groove with taut and citrus alto saxophone from Danny Davis stretching out into the cosmos, increasing the elasticity of the continuum of music that the band explores. Ra opens up, riding the bubbling bass and percussion as Elmoe Omoe's bass clarinet burbles underneath. Sci-Fi keyborards and a full compliment of horns clear the path for "Space Landing" with raw saxophone and strong drums making this one of the freest performances on the album, looking to transcend the boundaries of jazz and improvised music. "Of Otherness" develops a bright and bouncy feel, with Ra's organ pinwheeling around the band, threatening to cheese out but then always pivoting in a direction you don't expect, and the track "Myth Evidential" takes this even further. Ra's mines the possibilities of the electronic keyboards for all they are worth, moving from krautrock to post-bop and beyond. It's classic Sun Ra, and the restlessness and refusal to be categorized that makes it so appealing today, is probably what doomed it to be unreleased in its time. Regardless, this is an excellent album with some relatively unknown players joining Ra stalwarts to create some very memorable music. The Cymbals - Symbols Sessions - amazon.com

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