Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Sun Ra Arkestra - Heliocentric Worlds 1 and 2 Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2020)

Sun Ra moved his Arkestra to New York City in the early 1960’s, recording this extraordinary pair of albums in April and November of 1965. While Ra was seen as a leader of the jazz avant-garde throughout his life, this group of recordings is unique for its use of extra, often symphonic percussion, and the stoic beauty of the performances. Volume One has seven relatively brief tracks beginning with “Heliocentric” which sets the tone immediately with it’s openness and the huge sound of Ronnie Boykins bass as the band falls in with assorted percussion instruments. This carries over into “Outer Nothingness” which is anchored by massive percussion and a wave of brass led by urgent saxophone and drums. The dynamism of the group plays with expectations as vivid sections of torrid collective improvisation give way instantly to lone bowed bass or long evolving tones. “Other Worlds” has Sun Ra using his electronic celesta to inject randomness into the proceedings with scattered notes leading to the group erupting into a rampaging full band blowout, with Ra subtly twisting the keyboard as the band rages around him. He stays on this electronic instrument with Boykins' bowed bass for accompaniment on “The Cosmos” developing intricate interplay as the band builds in and the tempo begins to increase. This sounds more like a El Saturn Sun Ra release, with percussive cymbals dancing around the electric keyboard and bowed bass and reverberating deep drums adding texture and context. “Heavenly Things” has the great tenor saxophonist John Gilmore doubling on tympani, adding a new dimension to the music as horns and flute swoop and dive over a thicket of brass and percussion. Volume Two opens with the epic track “The Sun Myth” where bassist Ronnie Boykins, the unsung hero of these sessions, plays and exquisitely mournful opening that is soon met by several band members with percussion instruments. The switch to horns keeps the emotion level high, with complex interactions developing between the saxophones, bass clarinet and trumpet. There’s a subtle arrangement that keeps things moving and avoids a pileup while allowing for wrenching dynamic shifts and a thoughtful deployment of musicians for maximum return. “House of Eternity” is a short piece showing Marshall Allen on piccolo and flute, juxtaposing him against the bass along with baritone saxophone and bass clarinet for a wide dynamic range. The album concludes with the lengthy “Cosmic Chaos” which hits the listener with a lot, opening at full volume, followed by a wonderful tenor or baritone saxophone saxophone solo encouraged by slashing drums and aggressive Ra piano comping. Huge slabs of full band power alternate with percussion sections, and a final dynamic shift from crushing volume to quiet bass clarinet and bowing. These albums were originally released in 1965 on the ESP label, and this re-issue is part the the HatHut ezz-thetics line with an excellent remastering job leaving the music sounding as good as anyone could reasonably expect. These records are integral to the development of American avant-garde jazz, and having them on this one disc remastered edition is a boon that should not be missed. Sun Ra Arkestra - Heliocentric Worlds Vol. 1 and 2 Revisited - Squidco

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