Monday, May 13, 2019

Sun Ra - Monorails & Satellites: Works for Solo Piano Vol. 1, 2 and 3 (Cosmic Myth Records, 2019)

While the great composer and keyboardist Sun Ra was primarily known as a bandleader who much like Duke Ellington "played the orchestra" in terms of writing and arranging, it is also clear that when it came to the piano he was a formidable player. This contemporary re-release pulls together all of the solo recordings that Sun Ra made for his Saturn Label in 1966 and were later released piecemeal over the years. It's a fascinating collection in which to hear with Ra hinting at piano styles ranging from stride to free, as well as the manner in which he builds his compositions and then reconstructs them via improvisation. On "World Island Festival" he has a clear and patient approach, allowing the notes and chords to ring, developing a loping theme that is pleasant, balancing bright notes against darker bass chords, then allowing everything to meld together. Developing a medium up pace, Ra deftly builds from the source material into an interesting improvisation, never staying still, always evolving the texture and pace of the music in interesting ways. Open space greets "Calundronius" with some lush and nearly ornamental playing that gains a deeper and more entrenched momentum, expanding things and moving in unexpected directions. There is a narrative depth to this performance like Ra is performing in conjunction to a silent movie or theater play, he gives the music weight and heft and a visceral presence. Developing areas of fast cascading notes, with rumbling bass beneath them and creating a kaleidoscopic two handed performance that carries on to the conclusion. "Space Towers" has a bouncing heavy chord introduction, developing the sound of the music even further, building a very intense, emotional quality with thick booming low end piano, and quick repetitive phrases, that are folded into his improvisation. This strong manner of playing is continued on "Cognition" melding the sound of the recording to his will and developing a thoughtful arc from composition to improvisation sounding very free, using clipped notes from the highest part of the piano. Experimental opportunities present themselves as the music flows ever deeper into the unknown, with Ra investigating life through the medium of the piano, with the results ever changing, and never quite what they seem to be. "Monorails and Satellites" probes the available space, with deep thick notes that are firmly placed, and gradually gather momentum, maintaining the clarity and focus of the piece even as he begins to deconstruct it. Ra diligently moves forward creating a fast complex improvisation that uses the entirety of the instrument and draws on substantial technique as a pianist and as a musical thinker, using bursts of notes and unexpected pauses to create a living performance, completely of the moment. Monorails and Satellites: Works for Solo Piano Vol. 1 2 3 -

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