Friday, March 2, 2018

Sun Ra: The Work Continues

Major props to three record labels continuing the hard and much-appreciated work of spreading the legacy of Sun Ra: Art YardCorbett v. Dempsey, and Bandcamp, the latter through the aegis of Sun Ra LLC, with its ongoing fostering of the Ra archives by Michael D. Anderson and Irwid Chusid.

Discipline 27-II, the latest release from Corbett v. Dempsey, is the album's first appearance on CD. It's a major upgrade from previously-circulating vinyl rips, remastered from the original tapes and sounding crystal-clear. This clarity strengthens the multi-layered nature of the music. The bonus track is an 8-minute extravaganza from the same 1972 studio session, a free-wheeling improvisation from the full Arkestra at the height of its powers.

Art Yard has been cranking out high-quality Ra reissues and original releases for many years now. I am anxiously awaiting the release later this month of Of Abstract Dreams: a previously unreleased Philadelphia radio station set from 1974. Judging from the single track streaming now ("Unmask the Batman," with a great Gilmore solo), it's gonna be killer!

The Bandcamp Sun Ra site has been tireless in all kinds of  releases: digital-only, LP, and CD reissues of classic albums as well as newly-released live albums and thematically-arranged compilations. It's a goldmine. For my brief thoughts on Taking a Chance on Chances and the two CD releases The Magic City and My Brother the Wind Vol. 1, see here and here.

I like the idea of compilations as a way to introduce a lot of Ra's music in different contexts. Case in point: Sun Ra Exotica. For more experienced listeners, the major draw for this release is the presence of three previously unissued tracks: a 1962 "April in Paris" and two originals: "Cha-Cha in Outer Space" (1962) and "Star Bright" (1965). One question, though: the most obvious choice for this compilation would have to be "Exotic Two," from Bad and Beautiful ---why would they leave that one out? Too obvious? It's certainly squarely in the exotica vein.

And something else: there are obviously tons of unreleased Ra tracks from over the years. While I am happy to hear them in any way I can, it is a bit frustrating to keep up with them all as they get released in dribs and drabs over a plethora of thematic compilations and as bonus tracks of already-released albums. I'd love to see major compilations of unreleased tracks, preferably chronologically (rather than thematically) arranged. This isn't a complaint; it's more of a plea from a long-term fan who has very much gotten used to Ra's discography being in a scattered state, and who does really appreciate whatever he can get.

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