Sunday, July 20, 2014

2014 Sun Ra Centennial Remastered Classics Series


iTunes has recently released remasters of many key Sun Ra recordings. Several of these titles include bonus hitherto-unreleased tracks. Here's a report on some of my purchases; I also posted this to the Saturn listserv, but posts there aren't showing up on the website, so I thought I'd include this here too.​​

I am focusing mainly on the bonus material here, but in general, these all sound fantastic to my ears (I am no audiophile) . These are just quick notes that hopefully will help others decide if these bonus cuts are worth it (I have to say: yes!). For the individual tracks, I don’t have any detailed info that the liner notes that are album-only might have. Any further info would be appreciated!

In addition to the unreleased tracks, this marks the first official release in any form of "Astro Black" since it first came out on Impulse in 1972. This alone is a major, major release. "Astro Black" is in my top five all-time Ra faves list. The reissue sounds the best I’ve ever heard it. Crystal clean. Probably Ronnie Boykins' best Ra performance. Killer Gilmore ("Discipline 99") and beautifully subtle moog (the title track). Highly recommended!

“Nubians of Plutonia” bonus tracks:
1. Black Sky Blue Moon (3.02)  Haven’t done an exact comparison, but this sounds the same as the “Spaceship Lullaby” version, with the horns up in the mix.
2. Spontaneous Simplicity (3.01) Electric piano, drone-y bass, percussion. Bottle or something loud in the mix. More prominent bass line than closest contemporaneous version (on “Music from Tomorrow’s World”).
3. Ankhnaton (4.19) Faster, Latin beat, prominent baritone sax.  Flute solo. Nice Gilmore solo. Really nice!
4. Images in a Mirror (3.42) More commonly known as just  “Images.” This version is peppy and deeply swinging. More “big band” than the “Jazz in Silhouette” version.

"When Sun Comes Out" bonus track:
1. The Nile part 2 (5:47) Fades in pretty much where “The Nile” fades out (if a bit slower?), with the bass line quickly dropping out for a 3-minute restrained, melodic drum solo before the bass comes back in under a simmering Eastern-style flute and gently plonking piano.

"Bad & Beautiful" bonus track:
1. Street of Dreams (5:49) (Not a Ra composition) A nice piano intro takes us into “Search Light Blues” territory, a piano/bass/drums trio until Pat Patrick comes in around halfway through with a beautiful baritone sax solo.

"Cosmic Tones" bonus track:
1. Twilight (2.02) This is really special. Celeste, oboe, and French horn? (these are guesses) play otherworldly, subdued, interweaving lines that don’t really go anywhere, but just float there.

Universe in Blue (Remastered 2014) [feat. June Tyson, John Gilmore, James Jacson, Danny Davis & Marshall Allen], Sun Ra & His Blue Universe Arkestra

“Universe in Blue” bonus track:
1. Calling Planet Earth—We'll Wait For You (Bonus Track, Stereo) 23:31

“a previously unreleased sonic tapestry from the same tape as track 1. It's a labyrinthine 23-­minute ‘space suite,’ full of bluster, unexpected dynamic twists, and a vocal centerpiece by June Tyson and the band.”--liner notes

--after the incantation, full-bore group improv
3:36-ish: unaccompanied solo: baritone sax? bass clarinet?
6:56-ish different unaccompanied baritone sax (Patrick?)
9:27-ish: organ solo
11:12-ish: June Tyson: We’ll wait for you
12:07-ish: full band
13:14-ish: moog solo *hot
20:57-ish: full band, slower chords, written passages, “Discipline” feel → end

The highlight of this piece for me is the moog solo--it’s killer!

Strange Strings (Remastered 2014) [feat. Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, Danny Davis & Pat Patrick], Sun Ra & His Astro Infinity Arkestra

“Strange Strings” bonus tracks (all from same or related 1966 sessions):
1. Thunder of the Gods (Mono, Previously Unreleased) (13:23)  Definitely “Strange Strings” territory here. Lots of scraping. Beautiful!
2. Cosmos Miraculous (Mono, Previously Unreleased) (11.10)  “Strange Strings,” with clavioline! Sublime.
3. Moonshots Across the Sky (Mono, Previously Unreleased) (5:41) “Strange Strings,” more zither-oriented.

Monorails and Satellites, Vol. 1 (Remastered 2014) [with Bonus Tracks], Sun Ra

“Monorails and Satellites Vol. 1” bonus tracks:
(Note: I find it hardest to write about Ra solo piano pieces...I just don’t have the piano-writin’ chops or vocabulary...sorry)
1. Soundscapes (Previously Unreleased) 3:25 bass line, high-octave ruminations
2. The Eternal Tomorrow (Previously  Unreleased) 5:42 pretty, provocative
3. The Changing Wind (Previously Unreleased) 3:51 quiet
4. World Island Festival (Previously Unreleased) 6:17 contemplative
5. Don't Blame Me (Previously Unreleased) 4:36 nice, florid
6. Today Is Not Yesterday (Previously Unreleased) 4:08  2-chord in part, similar in feel to “Angel Race”?

“Invisible shield” bonus tracks:
1. But not for me (6:48)  I’m pretty sure this is the same track that appeared on “Standards”
2. Islands in the sun (10:23) --1st 5 min. is released part...then comes really nice piano solo, nice bass clarinet and flute work, same groove. New part basically more of same.

Explore the Cosmos, Vol. 4: Piano & Organ, Sun Ra

Bonus tracks from “Explore the Cosmos” collections, as identified by Irwin Chusid (not marked as such on iTunes):
Vol. 4 - Piano and Organ
1. April in Paris - Choreographers Workshop rehearsal tape (3:56)  Nice solo piano rendition, joined midway through by bongos. 
2. Rhythm & Romance - organ tapes (2:45) Organ, accompanied by tentative drumming. Sounds later than most of the late-’40s-early ‘50s organ stuff on the “Eternal Myth” box set.
3. Gone with the Wind (4:08) Solo piano, nice. What period? Who the hell knows? Maybe late ‘70s Improvising Artists era?
4. My Dreams Tell Me (Part 1) - organ tapes (3:43) Solo organ. A Ra original? This sounds older, more in line with some of the solo organ stuff on the box set.
5. Piano Interlude (1949) (0:40) Just that. Short, contemplative. Ends with phone ring! Similar to some of Monorails bonus tracks.

Vol. 6 - The Blues
1. Dawn (excerpt) - Strange Strings session tapes (6:19) Wow, I was expecting a strange strings instrumentation thing, but this is more like a late slow-blues ‘50s composition, similar in feel to “Space Loneliness.” Piano, electric piano, bass, drums, trumpet, sax, flute, trombone (at least). String of solos: trombone, oboe, electric piano, baritone sax, fade. A gem!
2. Blue York (1961) (3:46) - Bad & Beautiful session tapes (different version than on Continuation Vol. 2): Nice, bluesy baritone sax, piano. Rawer than the “Continuation” track.

Vol. 9 - Vocals
1. Dreams Come True: the sample sounded extremely similar to versions on box set. Didn’t buy.
2. Memories of You (1949) (1:40) Ra crooning over sultry piano. Very similar to “Smile” from box set.
3. Recollections of There (4:52) w/Theda Barbara. Cecil-ish piano, abstract, questing, with cymbal flourishes. Theda Barbara comes in with wordless vocalizing. Excellent! 
4. Smile (1949): same as on box set.
5. Perfidious Lover: Box set has “version 2.” Sample sounded just like that version. Didn’t buy.
6. The Living Myth (1976) (3:53) w/June Tyson. A band arrangement for the last part of “Along Came Ra,” with June Tyson. Gilmore (?), and others on vocals, taken at a slow pace. After the vocals, the band blossoms out into a set of baritone sax-anchored flourishes that sound conducted. Excellent!


  1. Thanks for this, Sam! Are these available as Apple Lossless files? I am loathe to pay money for MP3s. Astro Black seems like a must-have if no physical release is forthcoming.

  2. You know, I have never brought anything from iTunes do you tell? I didn't see anything anywhere that actually says what format the files are in. I am woefully ignorant about this. Irwin Chusid, the co-producer of these along with Michael Anderson, says on the list that after December some of this stuff may come out on vinyl or CD, but there's nothing definite yet.

  3. Well, I went ahead and bought "Astro Black" (but have not listened to it yet). It is a 320kHz MP3 which is...acceptable, I guess, if WAY overpriced. I am intrigued by some of these bonus cuts but am going to take a wait-and-see approach at this point.