Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Sun Ra - Crystal Spears (Sundazed / Modern Harmonic, 2019)

Released as part of a multi-pronged attack to re-issue the music of the great composer, bandleader and keyboardist Sun Ra, this album finds the great man in full on mid seventies experimental mode, not long after the filming of the Space Is the Place movie. Ra is dealing from a stacked keyboard deck that includes rocksichord, marimba, minimoog, electronic vibraphone and gong and he has a powerhouse medium sized unit of Arkestra lifers and new blood making up the band such as John Gilmore on tenor saxophone, Danny Ray Thompson on baritone saxophone, Danny Davis on alto saxophone, flute and percussion, Marshall Allen on flute, piccolo flute and oboe, Kwame Hadi on trumpet and percussion, Eloe Omoeon bass clarinet, Clifford Jarvis on drums and Atakatune and Odun on percussion. "Crystal Spears" opens the album with some savage keyboard panned hard into the right channel in a disorienting fashion creating swathes of sound that are eventually met be percussion, then the horns glide in giving the music a further exotic and unexpected feeling. All of these levels come together quite well for a full group improvisation that a quite interesting with Ra inserting science fiction theremin like sounds into the mix, as they approach for landing. "The Eternal Sphynx" uses horn riffs and percussion to recall earlier Sun Ra performances from the classic Jazz in Silhouette album as the drums and multiple percussion set out an interesting grove for an angular and taut saxophone solo improvisation, with the leader taking over for a short keyboard excursion of his own, playing with tact and patience, then yielding to the horns to restate the theme. "The Embassy of the Living God" evolves slowly with organ like keyboard tones and horns weaving a complex theme and improvisation. Again the keyboard is panned hard right, while the horns and percussion are jammed in the left speaker, with solos gradually filling in the middle of the sound stage. Gilmore's lush tenor saxophone, and some sharp toned trumpet playing off against Ra's long drones. Horns take over unaccompanied by improvising in space, raw saxophones, pinched oboe, hollow bass clarinet, fascinating stuff, with Ra re-takes command for a cascading section of electric keyboard led improvisation. The massive twenty minute "Sunrise in the Western Sky" uses oboe and percussion to set a reflective mood, gradually evolving through tones and hues, especially tenor saxophone, framed by gentle keyboard effects. Long peals of saxophone sent into space like an intergalactic probe, with epic tenor saxophone from John Gilmore, and a strong bed of percussion and drums create a memorable long form performance. Crystal Spears -

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