SUN RA – EGYPT ’71 5LP Box

FROM THE MAGIC CITY TO THE RIVER NILE

Like countless others, the young Alabamian prodigy Herman Blount had been awed and beguiled by the archaeological discoveries of the early 20th Century around the Nile delta that, once again, thrust ancient Egyptian history and culture into the popular consciousness of the day.
Music was Blount’s first and abiding passion but, as a young man, he was also a voracious reader, spending hours in the Magic City’s libraries, poring over tomes documenting world history, Egyptology, poetry and numerous other subjects.

The following decades saw him develop his pianistic, compositional and band leading skills. Using his nickname ‘Sonny’ as his first stage name, he formed the sadly unrecorded ‘Sonny Blount Orchestra’, an ensemble which gained a reputation as one of the finest swing bands in Alabama.

He also began writing poetry and prose and developed a rapacious appetite for esoteric research. After moving to Chicago in 1946, he continued these polymathic activities. Although a busy arranger and accompanist for others, he envisioned leading a new kind of ensemble, one that would embody his radical philosophical and visionary compositional ideas. He concurrently developed his profound and elaborate cosmology, one that traversed the Omniverse from ancient Egypt to the multiple dimensions of outer space and which became the rubric for his entire artistic venture.

Herman Poole Blount finally rejected his given Earthly name and divined a new dualistic identity by merging his old colloquial name with that of the Egyptian solar deity. He officially became Le Sony’r Ra in October 1952 and was known as Sun Ra thereafter. The Arkestra, his vehicle for the expression of his music and research, began to take shape over the next few years. 1956 saw their first recordings and concerts, the first of many to come. In the following years leading up to 1971, Sun Ra wrote many compositions and poems specifically inspired by the ancient African Kingdoms and many, many others with associated mythological and heliocentric connotations.

A visit to Egypt and the opportunity for the Arkestra to play his music in a place that held such deep spiritual significance for him was a matter of necessity. Ra’s first ever concerts outside of the US had occurred in late summer and autumn of 1970 with performances in France, West Germany and the UK. He was now able to communicate his message directly on a world stage and, following the Arkestra’s sojourn in Oakland CA, a second European tour was arranged for the latter part of 1971.

Beginning with a concert in Denmark, the tour took them to Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, West Germany, Switzerland and concluded in France with a TV recording session and a concert at the Théâtre Du Châtelet in Paris. Just before the band was due to return home, however, Ra caught wind of cheap flights from Denmark to Cairo. With opportunistic gusto, a handful of extra concerts were set up in Denmark to finance the impromptu visit that resulted in these recordings.

This release comprises recordings made by Arkestra member Thomas “Bugs” Hunter. Hunter and Ra had first met in Chicago in 1946 when they were both members of blues/Rn’B artist Li’l Green’s band. Hunter later studied film making in Sweden and, like Ra himself, developed an interest in sound recording. Hunter was instrumental in creating the unique space echo and reverb that characterises the legendary recordings made by Sun Ra and the Arkestra at the Choreographers Workshop between 1961 and 1964, resulting in extraordinary LPs like ‘Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy’, ‘When Angels Speak Of Love’ and ‘Other Planes Of There’ and which culminated in Ra’s 1965 masterpiece, ‘The Magic City’.

Hunter rejoined the Arkestra at the start of the 1971 European tour in Stockholm as drummer, sound recordist and filmmaker. He also played alto saxophone in some of the written ‘Discipline’ pieces.

The music in this collection comes (with one notable exception; see entry for the ‘Nidhamu’ LP) from Hunter’s recordings made in the streets around the Mena House Hotel, Giza in the daytime of December 12th; from the concert held at the house of Hartmut Geerken in Heliopolis later that evening; from a live Cairo TV channel broadcast on December 16th and a concert at the Ballon Theatre on December 17th. The Arkestra played a few more gigs during their stay but recordings are not known to exist from these other dates.

Sometime in early January 1972, Sun Ra and his Astro-Intergalactic-Infinity Arkestra left the land of the Pyramids and the Valley of the Pharaohs, flew back to the USA via the Netherlands and wound up back in Oakland CA.

The impact and significance of these few weeks upon Sun Ra can be measured by the growth and development of his output over the next few years. Already a prolific polymath, the immediate post-Egypt period saw a flush of new studio and live recordings on the Saturn, Blue Thumb, Atlantic and Impulse labels; a programme of reissues by Impulse of older recordings; the ‘Space Is The Place’ movie with attendant soundtrack; an expanded edition of Ra’s poetry titled ‘The Immeasurable Equation Vol 2: Extensions Out’ and the refinement of his whole concept of Astro Black Mythology through new compositions, arrangements and ever more extravagant live shows. In addition to all of this activity, he also edited the three LPs of the ‘Live In Egypt’ series which were subsequently released on his Saturn record label and its affiliated twin, Thoth Intergalactic.

Paul Griffiths, January 2020

SUN RA MEETS SUN RA FACETS OF A VISITATION: EGYPT, DECEMBER 1971

In 1971, Cairo was a sweltering metropolis, the largest conglomeration of people In the African continent. In early December of 1971, I was driving through the Pyramid Street and its hubbub of taxis, donkeys, camels, water vendors and brown bean vendors, felaches, faces, city people, foreigners, people with carts and on bicycles, but most of them pedestrians – I was driving through a maze of sounds when I suddenly spotted a black hitchhiker indicating that he wanted to be taken along in the direction of the Pyramids. That was unusual, because the Nubians and Sudanese usually don’t hitchhike. So, I stopped and it turned out that he was American, just as I had suspected from the way he dressed. He opened the right-hand door at the back, got in and we talked about all sorts of things, probably about the December weather in Egypt and the chaos in the streets. And then he casually introduced himself, “by the way, I’m John… John Gilmore.” I turned to the right to look at him and continued to do so for longer than I should have, considering the traffic in front of us. I had never met Gilmore but I knew his name from recordings and could conjure up the sound of his horn in my mind. In other words, it took quite some time for me to tell him that my name was Hartmut Geerken (for him, of course, a nobody) but, when I added that I owned all the Sun Ra recordings with his, Gilmore’s, wonderful solos, he paused. He hadn’t expected that in the huge metropolis of Cairo he would get into a stranger’s car and be told that the driver knew him! So, I guess we were both pretty amazed and for me at least it was an epiphany; I had been a fan of Sun Ra’s music for over 10 years. John wanted to get out at the Mena House, a hotel at the foot of the Pyramids and I got out too because he told me that the Arkestra had arrived just a few days earlier.

I think December 7th, 1971, was a Wednesday. It will enter the annals of jazz as a historical date as it was the first time Sun Ra was in Egypt, arriving in the country of his spiritual origins with 21 musicians and dancers, It was to be expected that Sun Ra would visit Egypt, but it was hard to believe that he would be discovered in the Mena House.

It felt strange facing a man whose music I had listened to for years. He was sitting on a chair in the Mena House Hotel entrance hall, wearing a silver helmet and a floor-length, striped, synthetic robe and a tunic covered with hieroglyphics. The chair became a throne. Around his neck were chains and an amulet. To his left a chrome spiral cymbal, to his right a large brass star shaped like the sun and resembling a monstrance. Musicians in bright robes and exotic turbans scattered all over the hotel hall, alone or in groups. The hotel guests were in awe. They tried not to stare but they stared anyway. An African chief and his tribe? A theatre group about to rehearse a play? A magician? Someone shooting a historical film? Sun Ra wanted to demonstrate that he was different from the other hotel guests and that he didn’t feel like he belonged to this class of people. He kept aloof – in his clothing, in his gestures and when he talked.

No one knew Sun Ra here in Egypt. There was only one Egyptian who knew who Sun Ra was, Salah Ragab, with whom I had listened to Sun Ra’s music for years. Then there were maybe two or three other foreigners who knew what it meant to have Sun Ra and the Arkestra in Egypt in person.

After the last performance of his tour through Europe, in Denmark, Sun Ra suddenly decided not to fly back to New York directly but to make a detour via Cairo. A couple of the Arkestra musicians referred to this detour as a vacation.

At first, they had only wanted to stay a few days; later it turned out to be more than two weeks. There were some difficulties with the plane tickets. On several occasions I saw one of the musicians walk away with a stack of 22 plane tickets and then return with the same stack. Obviously, they had been given the wrong information in Europe. But Sun Ra didn’t lose his cool. He used the time to make a movie in the dry desert wind. The bottom part of the huge Pyramid of Giza became a stage with several layers. The temple of the pyramid on the opposite side became part of the film’s location. There was a matinee performance at the American university, which was inconsistent if one believed the legend that Sun Ra wouldn’t play the first note until the last sun rays had disappeared from the horizon.

The concert in the Ballon Theatre, a performance that Salah Ragab had negotiated with the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, was a disaster. Only the first four rows of the huge, round and

ice-cold tent were occupied. Shortly thereafter, the Ballon Theatre went up in flames and burned down to the ground. The Mena House, too, where the Arkestra had stayed. Sonny never heard about it, but the information probably wouldn’t have surprised him, because “this is not my people in Egypt now…”

During a performance in a nightclub called Versailles, Sun Ra was asked to play dance music. You can imagine how Sun Ra retaliated by playing overtones. I myself wasn’t there, but afterwards Sonny told me that one of the women in the audience became hysterical and tried to drown herself in the Nile river. It was Sonny’s confirmation that he was on the right track. I rummaged around in my old Sun Ra files and found the invitation I had sent to him on June 6th, 1971, from Cairo after having read in the German magazine ‘der Spiegel’ (a lousy article, no class whatsoever) that it was one of Sun Ra’s dreams to perform right in front of the Sphinx. Since I was living in Cairo at the time it was simply a matter of course for me to invite Sun Ra and to try to make it possible for him to play his music in the Land of the Pharaohs. At the time I was an instructor at the Goethe Institute and neither a Danish ambassador (which is what an Egyptian TV magazine said) nor a German ambassador (which is what Sun Ra said 12 years later in an interview). I made my living as the Director for German courses at the Goethe Institute in Cairo between 1966 and 1972.

This is what I wrote to Sonny:

I want Sun Ra to be my guest here in Heliopolis

I want to show Sun Ra the constellations in the sky over Heliopolis

I want to show Sun Ra the Pyramids, the Nile

I want him to listen to all of the sounds around Cairo and Heliopolis

If Sun Ra comes he is welcome, he is my guest

I never received an answer to this letter and, when I asked Sun Ra about it six months later in Cairo, he told me that he had never received any invitation from me.

If I’m not mistaken, Sun Ra and I were sitting on the terrace of the Mena House Hotel eating breakfast (Sun Ra: ham and eggs) when he showed me his Berkeley University I.D. card and proudly announced that his real name was ‘Sun Ra’, just the way it was written there and that it was the only name he had ever known. I noticed his date of birth: there it was, May 25th, 1924. ‘Myth versus reality’! it was during this breakfast that we arranged a concert that was going to take place in my house in Heliopolis the next evening. The name Heliopolis ignited Sun Ra like a spark and he immediately agreed to do the concert. I decided to invite a few paying guests to be able to pay for the concert, but Sun Ra wasn’t very interested in talking about the financial aspect. I was able to drum up 25 guests and my telephone became a ‘Sun Ra communication agency’. Each of the guests was to pay $75, which in total turned out to be a bigger fee than Sun Ra had received in the auditorium at the American university. The American officials only agreed to pay for transportation within Cairo, a total of 40 dollars for 22 musicians…

Our treck from the Mena House in Giza to Heliopolis must have looked like a taxi caravan. It was my job to pick up the Arkestra in the unfamiliar surroundings. Giza has been a tourist attraction for more than 100 years and it wasn’t difficult to find taxis. Most of Sun Ra’s instruments hadn’t passed customs. Military music instruments which had been obtained by Salah Ragab were already at my house. The slide projectors belonged to the Goethe Institute. Sonny, Gilmore, Patrick and I led the procession – they were dressed to kill. Right before Heliopolis, on the long road that leads to the airport, the exhaust pipe on my car broke off. It was burning hot but I fixed it with my bare hands. Then it broke off again and, every time I stopped, the whole caravan came to a halt which must have looked like a herd of camels stopping to rest. If I’m not mistaken, Sun Ra didn’t get upset about the difficulties I was having with my car. He was unruffled, pretending nothing unusual had happened, as if things like these were part for the course. It was my impression he thought these mishaps were not even worth mentioning. A long line of cars stopped in front of my house in the Sharia Omar Ibn el-Khattab in Heliopolis and the neighbours were amazed to see the people in their colourful robes getting out of the cars. Nothing seemed normal anymore. Our arrival was extraordinary and euphoric, like being transported to a higher sphere, everything more transparent than usual. Lighter and inspired by the exceptional…

On the way to his first concert “on the River Nile”, Sonny kept asking me whether the place we were heading to was really still called Heliopolis, whether Heliopolis was still its name today. I had installed a semi-professional tape recorder at home to record the concert. The first thing Sonny did was ask not to make any private recordings; Hunter was going to tape everything. I disassembled my machine and Hunter set up his Nagra right next to the drum kit.

What was so amazing was not that Sun Ra passed all of his instruments, including the Moogs, through the Egyptian customs (if only after the Heliopolis concert), where it took weeks for normal mortals to get their transistor radio checked, but that Bert shot a Super-8 film alongside Thomas Hunter’s 16-millimetre at the foot of the Pyramids in the desert wind that made the robes of the musicians and dancers fly and made them seem weightless like colourful birds, looking as if they had become part of the huge stone blocks and could not alight. Sun Ra, at the end of the shoot, said that he wanted to see the Super-8 film and we told him that wasn’t possible because this kind of film couldn’t be developed in Egypt, only in Europe or the States. He said that he would take care of the matter and we finally gave him the exposed film. He returned it to us three days later with a sort of matter of fact gesture. That is what was so amazing. I asked the Kodak people if there was a mobile developing machine for this kind of film. They said, “no.”

(Appendix, November 14th, 1983: quartier Latin in Berlin. Bert brings along the short film and the projector to the concert and, during the intermission, we all watch what happened in 1971 at the Pyramids. Sonny looks pleased about this unexpected surprise and the musicians who hadn’t been in Egypt are impressed by the fact that their colleagues rode camels…)

Marshall Allen checked my percussion instruments. He took one of my Byzantine bells that was more than 1000 years old from my percussion environment. I walked over to him and pointed out that these instruments were very valuable and fragile and that you couldn’t use wood or metal to make them sound. Allen stared at me for quite some time, as if he felt sorry for me and said that he had noticed, that he wasn’t an amateur and that he played every musical instrument the way that instrument deserved. He had never damaged an instrument. I will never forget the feeling of shame at that moment. How could I be so naïve. I’m still ashamed…

The concert in Heliopolis, the Pharaonian Ra’s place of worship in the ‘City of Sun’, lasted a good three and a half hours. The largest room m my house was just big enough to hold the 22 musicians, the complete instrumentarium and the same number of guests. The Arkestra’s stage appearance offered everything one could expect from Sun Ra: familiar and unfamiliar songs and non-denominational free jazz (almost all of my guests were confronted with it for the first time; it’s not too difficult to imagine the comments, especially the ones made by the official German representatives). Three drummers were simultaneously involved in the most intensive rhythms, there were three female and two male dancers, there was a lightshow, there were liquid slides, there was theatre and pantomime, everything in the smallest of space but with the same intensity as if the performance had taken place in Carnegie Hall. Sun Ra in Heliopolis! Sun Ra meets Sun Ra! The “equation” was ideal and the Arkestra rose to the occasion. Sun Ra and June Tyson, who were embraced and dancing, kept talking to the guests sitting on the floor. They would seek eye contact with different people and leaned way down to the guests, repeating the word “intergalactic” and there wasn’t a single person present who could resist the magic of the moment. The wind section grouped around the people sitting on the floor and charged them with screaming overtone orgies. The concert kept getting more and more mobile. Some musicians, especially Patrick and Allen, started moving through the house. The staircase leading to the upper part of the house became part of the action, shreds of shrill saxophone tones emerged from various rooms of the house. My house was virtually “musicalized”. A group of six transverse flute players marched out into the garden and around the house while other acoustic elements evolved inside the house. But everything seemed to have a connection.

Today I know that Sun Ra followed cosmic constellations during his wanderings and dances, movement rituals were based on astronomical constellations. Gilmore only played the drums and rarely took up the tenor sax or the flute. Words cannot describe what Gilmore was doing at the drums. Not very many people know that the tenor saxophone player Gilmore is one of the most interesting drummers in the world of jazz. Sun Ra had three instruments at his disposal: my old upright piano that I had bought in Cairo (I hadn’t had time enough to find someone to tune it and that is audible on the recordings!), on the piano a Mini-Moog which he played with outstretched arms and a rented Tiger organ.

If I’m not mistaken the Moog, a glass bowl, a spiral cymbal and stage props were the only objects that the Arkestra had brought along. Almost all of the instruments for this concert had been loaned to us by the Egyptian army. Salah Ragab was the chief of military music and had been able to arrange it. Sun Ra’s instruments were still at customs and it was only days later that he was able to get them out thanks to his impressive appearance which included a long robe, an antenna-shaped crown on his head and the name in his passport, Sun Ra.

Shortly after midnight, Sun Ra programmed an extremely loud white noise on his Mini-Moog. All of the other musicians had already disappeared to the rooms upstairs and Sonny was the only one left. Then he got up too, left the still chirping Moog and also went upstairs. The audience didn’t dare move, even when the white noise was hardly audible ten minutes later.

During the performance the kitchen was packed. The oven was running full force and the musicians were exposing their drums to the heat emerging from the oven to achieve the right tension for the skins. Other musicians had discovered some home-made jam and bread and started eating. Unfortunately, Sun Ra and I had arranged the concert at such short notice that we didn’t have enough time to cook. I still feel bad about that decades later but before I was able to keep my promise and cook a fabulous meal for all the musicians, Sonny died. Plans for their tours were always too crammed to fulfil non-spiritual needs.

While the Heliopolis concert was in full swing, two Egyptians in European clothing appeared at the door. I hadn’t seen them walk in and I didn’t recognise them but I realised immediately that they were secret service police whose job it was to observe foreigners and keep tabs on Egyptians who had contact with foreigners.

Salah Ragab was under observation because he was a high-ranking military man but preferred to be a jazz drummer and spent time at our house every day. Ultimately, he was given the fifth degree and forbidden to have contact with us. But we were able to exchange information and meet because we were more intelligent than the intelligence service. On the evening of December 12th, Salah was in my house again (which was still off-limits to him after a long period of absence) to witness the Arkestra live. He didn’t stay until the end. Maybe because of the police informers? I don’t even want to imagine what the two secret service police thought when they saw the Arkestra live…

After the concert in Heliopolis was over, everything happened noiselessly. The silence after the Moog noise seemed to continue. Everyone talked in a low voice. I had never experienced the like. The musicians and dancers cleaned up my living room with incredible discipline and, in less than half an hour, all the instruments and their cases had been stacked in a corner, including the cables, each of which was coiled up meticulously. The percussion instruments of mine that the Arkestra used were all back in place, just as the musicians had found them. It was almost morning when the Arkestra started heading back through Cairo to the hotel at the Pyramids. Patrick whispered something to me as he was leaving. He needed some liquid provisions for the drive home and added that it would be necessary for the battle with the wild animals of the night…

Salah Ragab had my percussion environment built for me in the late ‘60s. It was a structure consisting of bronzed water pipes and a cube that looked like a cage two meters long on which I could hang my percussion instruments (I had about 300 in my collection at the time). You could play them from without and from within. Sometimes up to eight or ten people would make music on them. The cube always stood in the middle of my living room and I didn’t clear it away when the Arkestra arrived for its “visitation”. Jarvis was the first one to seize his chance and built his drum set within the environment. Thus, he had an additional set to use. You can hear it on ‘Dark Myth Equation Visitation’.

On December 13th, 1971, one day after the legendary concert in Heliopolis, the manager of the German construction company Hochtief called me up (he had attended the concert) to tell me how impressed he had been by Sun Ra. Then he offered to improve Sun Ra’s fee by around $700 Dollars. He said he could officially account for it if I would confirm its receipt as the representative of the Goethe Institute. Unusual business and moral principles still applied with Sun Ra and he accepted without hesitation. The next day the money was delivered to me by a courier, I signed the bill and confirmed the receipt of the money, a donation by the company Hochtief as a “contribution to the Goethe Institute’s Christmas party”! Sun Ra looked at me in disbelief when I handed him the money as the second instalment to his fee. He seemed to be used to other modalities. The fact that someone voluntarily added additional money to the agreed fee was a novelty.

December 1971 was a cold month. Cairo is located at the edge of the desert and the temperature theresometimes reaches freezing point. Several times June Tyson, her husband Richard Wilkinson and Pat Patrick came to my house where there was a sufficient amount of Russian vodka to warm up.

We are all one family and he is something like a father, bandleader and spiritual mentor all in one.

June Tyson

Over the years I have read that alcohol was looked down on by Sun Ra. After the concert in Heliopolis, Sonny drank whiskey from a water glass with a tantric gesture – lots of it and fast. But I never saw him or any other member of the band drunk.

I roam the crowded Mohammed Ali Street where there are lots of stores that sell musical instruments, with Patrick, Tyson and Richard. Most of these instruments are used and dusty, European, Arabian and African. Patrick was especially fascinated by an Egyptian instrument, a Nubian bamboo double reed instrument called argool that is blown on both reeds. One reed produces a deep and constant general tone, the other one brings out Arabian harmonies using a similar principle to a bagpipe.

“The air pollution can only be fought by the music unions,” was something I gathered from Sun Ra’s flow of words while he and I took a walk under the palm trees of the hotel garden during the late morning hours, a kind of peripatos on a southern sand path. A discussion was virtually impossible. Sun Ra’s flow of words was manic and lasted for hours. A great power forced him to communicate. Remarks made were immediately transformed and included in the world of his ideas. Suddenly, Sun Ra stopped and drew a wide line into the sand with his plastic sandal: “this is the wall. Almost all musicians that are involved in new music are standing behind this wall and can’t cross it to the other side, where I am. But it is necessary to be on the other side.” He admired John Coltrane as a musician and the fact that he had entered a different sphere. Of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, he spoke with admiration. They had only made one mistake when they moved to Paris. That wasn’t good for them. Then he used his sandal to write a word into the sand: muth. He said it was an old Egyptian word for communication and that it was the basis for the word “myth”. He continued by saying that there was a particular explanation for all words. Words were like chemical substances. There were chemicals that didn’t show a reaction when they were brought together. Others reacted. That is how it was with words. The “equation” of words would have to be discovered. Later that evening he wrote the two words “live” and “evil” on a white paper napkin. He said it was no coincidence that, spelled backwards, they were the same word.

Once I was to meet Patrick at the Great Pyramid at 5 a. m. We climbed to the top and watched the sun go up. It was cold that morning and Pat had on a leather cap. It was the cap he wore when it was hot too. Later on, Christian arrived, the counsel for the German embassy in Cairo at the time who sold Angela Davis posters and sent her the money. Then Bert arrived, a Professor of engineering.

I will never forget how I tried to talk Sonny into going into the inside of the Great Pyramid with me. He always had some strange excuse, like it was too dangerous and that he, Sun Ra, the reincarnation of the Sun God, would be entering the Pharaoh’s inner sanctum. He seemed afraid. I tried to calm him down. I said that I had often been inside and that nothing had happened. Of course, that was naive of me! But then, a few days later, I was able to convince him and we started off with Gilmore, Allen, Patrick, Hadi, Hunter (and maybe two or three others). I was fully aware of what it meant to enter the Pharaoh’s royal chamber with Sun Ra – steep staircases, high and narrow corridors, low entrances, holes through which we had to climb on our hands and feet. The pyramid was lit for the tourists and we had no problems finding the royal chamber at its centre. An unbelievable number of huge stone blocks surrounded us. We were out of breath and standing in front of the empty sarcophagus in the middle of a relatively small room, next to the air vents that connected the royal chamber to the outside world. We hadn’t been in the Pharaoh’s chamber for very long when suddenly the light went out and we were surrounded by total darkness. Spontaneously, Sun Ra said, “why do we need light? Sun Ra the sun is here” and he turned around and started walking down the steps towards the outside. We groped around and followed him. In Downbeat magazine (1973, issue no. 21) I found the following statement by Sun Ra: “I went to Egypt the year before last and I went up into the largest Pyramid in Giza. While up there in the Pyramid of Khufu, I said the name “Ra” nine times and all the lights in the pyramid flashed on.” So, there are two versions of our visit to the great Pyramid of Giza and, strangely enough, they don’t contradict one another within the polar structure of thought that is the basis of Sun Ra’s philosophy. Whether the light went out or went on remains marginal. “You made a mistake, you did something wrong. Make another mistake and do something right!”

It must have been the afternoon of the last day. We were sitting at the hotel bar. For quite some time I had wanted to mention the German Kantian philosopher Salomo Friedlaender (1871-1946) to Sonny, whose thinking closely resembled Sun Ra’s philosophy, even though their origins were so different. In Friedlander’s philosophy mortality is also simply ignored. Every person has a “sun-ego” which must be discovered, as most people aren’t even aware of it. They are still asleep and haven’t reached a bright awakening yet. The “ego-heliocenter” (one of the most important terms in Friedlaender’s philosophy) is immortal and invincible. ‘The Magic Ego’ is the title of the last great work of this philosopher, whom Fritz Peris referred to as his one and only guru (together with his cat). But Sun Ra didn’t seem to be particularly impressed by my explanations. He kept talking about his own ideas almost obsessively. But maybe he was as close to Friedlaender as a person could come. He had to protect himself by overhearing what I had to say.

The night they were to leave I watched Sonny, the chief, sitting behind a little table in the hotel hall. A lit candle in front of him illuminated rows of numbers on a piece of paper. My first thought: magic numbers, astrology. But then I heard that there wasn’t enough money to pay the hotel bill. The telephone bill was immense, too. His 21 musicians had made lots of phone calls, as they always did when they were on tour. I know for a fact that Sonny once paid a telephone bill amounting to over $1000 Dollars with a professional tape, including the rights. Even though it was late at night, I tried to get Arabian and German friends to participate in the bill so that Sonny and his crew could leave for the airport. They had to pay to be able to leave the building. My friends were reluctant so I chipped in as much as I could, but it wasn’t enough. One of them kept sneaking outside with something and returning without whatever it was and then handing a few money bills to Sonny. Sonny would then start adding again. I think June even sold some of her jewellery. She kept laughing and saying, “that’s too much! That’s too much!” Sonny didn’t seem too upset about the precarious situation. How often had he gone through this before? The intergalactic constellation cannot be measured by the standards of earthly time. At some point Patrick arrived with a large stringed instrument, a Ukrainian bandura and extra strings to replace the lower strings, handed them to Sonny and Sonny handed them to me, as a kind of security for the money I had given to him. Some time when he had money, he said, he would ask me to return the instrument; it was his famous sun harp as featured on ‘Strange Strings’.

At some point I watched a bus full of people in bright robes and lots of instruments leaving the hotel site in the direction of the airport…

Hartmut Geerken

Excerpt from the book ‘Omniverse’, 2nd Edition published by Art Yard. Originally published in 1994 by Waitawhile

MESSAGES FROM THE O-ZONE: SUN RA IN EGYPT AND ELSEWHERE

His birthplace (his landing place on this planetary body) was Birmingham, Alabama and he died in this city too. Like an elephant who leaves when he knows he has to die, he went to the last refuge, the home of his 80 year-old sister. One week later, they took him to the hospital. Several strokes meant that, for the last four months, he could only talk with his eyes or with the pressure of his right hand, although his left hand had always been his strength. Besides an almost complete paralysis, the manic speaker must have suffered incredibly from not being able to speak any more and, for a while now, the question of what he might have heard during the last four months of his earthly sojourn has been on my mind. John Gilmore said that his death was a liberation; whether Gilmore was referring to Sonny or to himself is left open. A few members of the Arkestra were also present at the funeral on June 5th, 1993 while others didn’t have the money to get to Birmingham. A record company took over the funeral costs and, on his funeral day, a memorial concert took place at the Bottom Line in New York in the evening.

A solo piano concert by Sun Ra is taking place in my living room in Heliopolis; around twenty listeners are sitting on the floor. I arrive a little late because of a hernia operation. Sun Ra is already playing. I squat down on the floor a little awkwardly since the fresh wound still hurts. Marshall Allen is squatting in front of me. Sun Ra plays with remarkably thick gloves but you do not hear any difference in his music. He keeps trying to look at his wristwatch while playing but doesn’t succeed because of the thick gloves. His story is history but my story is mystery.

The drummer Salah Ragab told Sun Ra that he looked like an Egyptian. Sonny liked to hear that; he was happy and said, “let’s go to the streets together and see how people react.” Salah said, “but don’t speak English, otherwise you’ll give yourself away.” So, they both walked the streets of Cairo and Sonny demanded typical Egyptian food. Sun Ra called Salah Ragab ‘Saturn’. Salah was the Saturn in the band.

Where the waking state crosses over to sleep, reality doesn’t necessarily have to stop. The listener has to be able to comprehend the process Sun Ra has gone through, from great knowledge to childlike triviality but the infantility of the tone sequence and melody of Sun Ra is lost in the realm of adult criminals. I’m also sure that, in the triviality of Sun Ra, there is more depth and insight than in the whole adorno brainjerking. He was the first and only jazz musician who founded his music on a philosophical basis. Sonny never played for money.

In the years 1971-1972, it is noticeable that Sun Ra discovered the flute in addition to expansive tutti percussion sections. In the Paris concerts of those years, this is shown to its fullest advantage. During the concert in my house in Heliopolis in December 1971, six flutes went through the open terrace door, one behind the other, into the open and surrounded the house several times, playing while the rest of Arkestra continued playing inside the house. The sound of the flutes disappeared, then it reappeared elsewhere in the garden. Arabic neighbours hung out of their windows and wondered about these loud, unusual sounds. They were surprised but did not protest, although it was already late in the night. Back in the house, the flutes walked in single file up the stairs to the first floor and sent their sounds down from above to the other musicians and the audience.

When Sun Ra was in Egypt with the Arkestra for the first time in 1971 on my invitation, I made an appointment with Pat Patrick, the baritone saxophonist, who played bass guitar at the Egyptian concerts, to watch the sunrise in the desert from the top of the Cheops Pyramid at four o’clock the next morning. So, we climbed up at dawn and enjoyed the unique spectacle at a unique place. We sat on the few square meters of the pyramid’s tip, talked or were silent and when the sun got warmer, we descended. An armed Egyptian policeman or soldier or guard was already waiting below and wanted to arrest us because what we had done was prohibited. When the policeman realised that I spoke Arabic and when I gave him a bakschisch, he forgot about “arresting” us, wished us a nice day and we wished him back.

Sun Ra had penetrated his subject to such an extent that he no longer had any fear at all, not even of triviality. The surrealists did something similar. An equation opens up, the immeasurable equation and if there is one more incentive worth existing for, then it is the impossible. Try the impossible.

sed impossibilitas est ipsa vera necessitas

but just the very impossibility is the true necessity

Nicolaus Cusanus.

A lot of bawling around Sun Ra. He has, above all, a raucous audience, not a reading audience.

When I presented Sonny with my whole stack of LPs of his music to autograph in Heliopolis, he said in astonishment (which meant a lot), “I find all these records in Egypt?” How surprised would he have then been if he had found Friedlaender’s ‘Hermes Baby’ in Ouagadougou!

In 1984, Sun Ra wanted by all means to be accommodated in a hotel in Heliopolis during his stay in Cairo and Salah Ragab put the entire Arkestra into the Hotel Heliopolis. In Pharaonic times, Heliopolis was the place of worship of the sun God Ra. Sun Ra also asked Salah, who bred pigeons, to look for a house in Heliopolis so that he could stay in Egypt. When Sun Ra got out of the car in front of my house, he asked astonished, “are we really in Heliopolis?”

American shamans included Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus, Albert Ayler, Sunny Murray, Jackson Pollock, Sun Ra, Shannon Jackson, John Gilmore, Malachi Favors, Eric Dolphy, Bud Powell, Hal Russell, Cecil Taylor….

Salah Ragab told me that Pat Patrick was with him in Cairo in the Eighties. However, one day when he found out that Sun Ra was coming to Cairo with the Arkestra as well, he fled. He justified it by the fact that Sunny did not like married men.

“He seemed to be caught up in another world, like a man from the moon. I mean, he really had the innocence and wonder of someone who had never been on earth before and he radiated a type of ‘otherworldly clarity’”

Robert Lax

When Sun Ra played at the Jazzhaus in Lustenau, Austria on October 19th, 1985, he took the opportunity to buy embroidered fabrics. Many African dealers and private people had been buying fabrics from the embroidery manufacturers in Lustenau for years. Everywhere in the streets of the small town you could see black people walking around in their African costumes so it was obviously an insider’s tip for textiles with an African touch.

Sun Ra’s initials corresponded to those of Salah Ragab and Ragab begins with “Ra”. This has never been an issue between the two, says Salah.

A beam at an inclination of 80 degrees hisses down on the full parking lot in Birmingham, Alabama. A black man of plump stature stands between the cars. He puts his arms close to his thighs, lifts his chin and gets sucked up at an indeterminable speed. Above there he is in the company of old aliens and, in the same way, he is blown back to the parking lot with an ear full of orders for the world.

Salomo Friedlaender’s sun stopped shining physically when Herman Poole Blount’s sun rose. Their lives overlapped for 32 years without one knowing about the other.

Salah Ragab said, “I remember one night after we finished our session, Sonny looked at me and said, ‘your drumming is different. Your way of swinging is like galloping. I feel like riding a horse.’”

Sonny’s last appearance in the Village Vanguard was a contemporary myth. Buster without a tooth in his mouth, the blind dwarf Anderson, Sonny half paralysed in a wheelchair, Gilmore with emphysema, I don’t know how old and shaky. When writing these words, the island wind whirls the paper around me and I am not listening to the Village version of ‘Round Midnight’ but one by the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, where Famoudou works on the Kamsar balafon, with which we baffled Tchicai Lolu in Africa.

The film which Thomas Hunter made in Egypt in 1972 is said to have been lost in Sweden. Two suitcases in a storage room (or something like that). Hunter is said to have received money to somehow look for it soon afterwards. However, it turns out that the film is not in Sweden at all, but in Nigeria. Bugs forgot it there, unexposed.

The Sun Ra beams are comparable to the reflexes of Jakob Böhme’s tin plate or the channels that Hildegard von Bingen had to the upper spheres. Sun Ra’s lips are not Ernst Bloch’s ‘Das Prinzip Hoffnung’ but the insatiability. How pleasant it is to be able to finish a sentence from its beginning to its end from time to time without having a beginning and end in mind but out from a centre.

If you tell the truth all the time you have no energy flow.

And under Dylan’s ‘Under Milk Wood’, Sun Ra’s spherical sound is clearly audible.

‘The Immeasurable Equations’ were published by Waitawhile. The polemical broadsheets and street corner leaflets shortly afterwards by Whitewalls. The freeloaders are on their way!

This is the song of the caretaker and this song is dedicated to nature’s call. Trudy Morse spins the juicy cashew fruits around herself and cackles “niceness” all the time.

Fred Adams first found his place in my brain when I saw how boggled he seemed to be with his sunglasses on, blowing wonderfully insubstantial solos and finally not really knowing what to do with himself. The deep warmth then when we met each other. The loving embrace and the smile without the dark glasses. Nothing remained of him, boggled and almost handicapped, reminiscent of the deeply intuitional inuit gestures of a monk.

Yahya Abdel Mejid said, “thank you, Sir” when I got him a chair after inviting him to sit at our table. It hit me hard and I felt the shadows in his black psyche. He talked about how Sonny had once received a score from Skriabin; he had taken a look at it and had started to hum it in four parts at the same time. Four parts! “A mysterious thing,” Yahya added, “it has disappeared into the depths of space.” Has he now flogged off Gilmore’s horn or not?

I didn’t recognise Bobby Few at first after 35 years. The alcohol had drawn terrible furrows, a face like old Ezens, but the essence of the warm fingers was still the same. “I’ll never be the same again…” we sang in a duet on the piazza of Poschiavo. He already started reading Sun Ra’s poems before the microphone was switched on. That’s how important it was for him to get an immeasurable equation.

Art Jenkins’ father spoke fluent Yiddish and German. Why he spoke German, Art did not know. He learned Yiddish at a Jewish bakers, where he took care of the crickets. Art himself held hands with Billie Holiday at the age of 14.

Yesterday and tomorrow are different if they are in their own spheres but if every tomorrow is the same as every yesterday, then every tomorrow is not a real tomorrow, because it is just a repetition of all the past yesterdays.

“Stop it,” said Sonny but Gilmore kept praying and what did he get out of it? The next day, lightning struck his mother’s house and Sonny grinned with Lucifer… and Simenon jumped off the pedestal & Hale-Bopp stinks of rotten eggs.

All the questions that journalists put to Sun Ra miss his answers by a hair’s breadth.

He will never forget the experience of death. In Heliopolis, he ended up doing what he strictly forbade his musicians to do – he drank when everyone was gone and I was standing alone with him at the Tiger organ. Whiskey out of a water glass.

When Sun Ra was in Cairo in 1984 with the Arkestra, they lived in a big flat in the Samalek quarter. One morning at around 4 a.m., Danny Ray Thompson phoned up Salah Ragab and asked him to come to Samalek immediately. “Don’t ask!” He set out at the crack of dawn and, when he got there, he saw that a camel had been slaughtered in the street right in front of the house where the Arkestra was staying. Blood was flowing everywhere. It was an offering from a rich man to the poor and the slaughtering had to be done before sunrise, in accordance with Islamic law. Sun Ra and the members of the band were very upset and shocked. They had been woken by the screams of the people and the camel and could not

understand what was happening. Reproachfully, they asked Salah why the camel could not have been slaughtered in the slaughterhouse. An American in Cairo is even more transparent than an American in Paris.

Marshall lovingly caressed ‘The Immeasurable Equation’ when I presented it to him. After reading the dedication, Marshall said, “there is one missing.” I asked, “who?” and he pulled out a letter from Danny Thompson from his pocket. It said that Jothan Callins had died three days earlier.

A black guy lay on the street in front of the nightclub, neutered, his tongue removed, his ears cut off. He had fucked a white woman. So, Sun Ra brought Bugs to safety by personally putting him on the plane to NYC the next day.

The Horo albums, I was told at some point or read somewhere, were recorded in a hotel room. This I can well imagine, with the scratches in the grooves of Italy.

In the evening, Bobby Few (more or less Few) was supposed to join the Arkestra but he was too drunk. It was a pity that the event did not take place. The grand piano was ready, the towel to wipe the sweat from his forehead, a glittering cape. Vincent Chauncey with his head resting in itself. “You’re a man with a vision,” he said. A very long hug with Marshall. His thin arms.

In the month in which ‘Mynona’ was born, Sun Ra died.

In the night before no point, there was a television broadcast about Ra and how the soul of the Pharaoh flew through the air shaft of the pyramid, which I showed Ra in 1971, towards Orion or wherever else.

While I am writing this, the Ukrainian bandura is lying in front of me on the table and immediately I see Sonny in long robes shortly before Christmas ‘71 in the Mena House at the Pyramids of Giza in the night before the departure of the Arkestra when the boss, father, bandleader didn’t have enough money any more to pay the hotel bill. As always, I paid what was still owed from the immense phone bill amassed by his 21 disciples and he gave me his sun harp for it, which can be heard on many Saturn records and which can be seen on the sleeve of ‘Holiday For Soul Dance’. Sonny sat all alone, at a small table in a corner of the hotel hall, adding columns.

Sun Ra never used a theremin because this instrument didn’t fit in with his ideas of precision and discipline. They talk about chaos and have no idea of discipline.

22 compositions in Sonny’s handwriting faxed to Salah in Egypt: ‘Walking On The Moon’, ‘Theme On The Stargazers’, ‘Tapestry From An Asteroid’, ‘Bimini’, ‘Bassism’, ‘Astro Black’, ‘Call For All Demons’, ‘Somebody Else’s World’, ‘Love In Outer Space’, ‘When Angels Speak Of Love’, ‘Watusa’, ‘The Blue Set’, ‘Space Is The Place’, ‘Enlightenment’, ‘Discipline 99’, ‘Angels And Demons At Play’, ‘Abstract I’, ‘Plutonian Nights’, ‘Nature’s God’, ‘Music From The World Tomorrow’, ‘Lemuria’ and ‘Interplanetary Music’. This could be called a historic day.

For many years. I had heard about space fire troupes, then I read it right: space fire truth. But the wrong version is almost nicer than the right one.

Village Vanguard ‘91. The master almost eighty. He’s completely present with his electronic fingertips without any fear of being pulled apart. One of the best fools of the last century.

Sonny’s day of death is certain. His birthday was controversial for a long time, as if it was important to know when someone was born. No shaman knows. “When were you born?” “Actually I don’t know. I don’t remember. I have no record of that.”

In Salzburg, Tyrone Hill pours three plastic cups full of tap water into the golden opening of his instrument and disappears into the shithouse with it. He had the same trombone teacher as Trummy Young.

I say to June Tyson, “come on, let’s go out for dinner.” June would have liked to have accepted my invitation straight away but she had to get permission from Sonny first. She went into the ring and came back with sad eyes. The master had forbidden it because he wanted to hold together the full energies of all the musicians for the evening. In exchange, Grandma Tyson proudly showed me photos of her grandchildren. In some of my lyrics, I have captured my love for June.

I saw the singer, who Sun Ra had forbidden to dine with me, at her last concert in Tübingen. Death was already looking at me from her eyes.

When the ‘Pleiades’ double CD came out on Leo, an R. Singh was playing on the tabla and when Sunny was on his intergalactic processions, I was so annoyed about the dilettantism of this T. Singh that I gave him a fantasy name in a review of this recording as punishment. On a gut feeling, I simply called him ‘Talveen Singh’ without knowing his real first name. Years later, I discovered that I had given him the right name in a kind of clairvoyance, however he spells his name ‘Talvin’.

In the great orchestral masterpieces of Alan Silva, Sun Ra’s green blood flows. You have to acknowledge the extravagant as equal opposed to the reasonable.

A Sun Ra researcher, who came to me every few years to exchange our latest findings, always brought his wife along with him. She was fundamentally repugnant to me. However, the exchange with the man was so important to me that I tolerated the woman, even though she was constantly under pressure to talk, stringing together one triviality after the other. As each sentence gushed out of her, her husband only said, at almost regular intervals, “hm, hm”. But, left alone with the man from time to time, when the woman had to go to the toilet for instance, we immediately went to medias res and Sun Ra was immediately present. When the two left my house after many hours, I sat down with a bottle of red wine in my garden and listened to the birds singing.

Sun Ra once said to me that Lucious Randolph had played the trumpet with Louis Armstrong. But there are other strange constellations, for example Chris Anderson played the piano with Sun Ra.

When Sun Ra started playing in my living room in Heliopolis, I cried but nobody noticed.

Now I have got the cymbals from June Tyson’s daughter.

Every time you lent money to Sun Ra, he would ask, “is this a donation?”

Before Sun Ra started the concert, he burned two things on stage. One was thick as cardboard, folded and brown. It burned very long. The others were really two things, similar to the first, but made of paper and burning like straw fire, quickly collapsing into ashes.

Probably there are only a few privileged ones who see more than others, who can see through things.

I can’t just give the vinyl, the plastic, the iron oxide and the paper of Sunny to the primitive USA. Would I have sent the estate of Salomo Friedlaender to Nazideutschland in a black arse-chive?

June Tyson told me in 1988 that Eloe Omoe, whose real name was Leroy Taylor, had died. Marshall Allen told me in 1992 that Pat Patrick had died. Someone called to tell me that June Tyson had died. Another that Sun Ra had said goodbye. June Tyson danced past me in Tübingen with a hip swing and a wink that signalled her end. We had met in Heliopolis almost every day for a vodka in the Winter among the twittering of sparrows.

They’re walkin’, they’re walkin’, they’re walking on the moon. If they wake up now it won’t be too soon.

“Sun Ra carried a pistol in his left armpit,” says Salah. “I am wanted,” said Sun Ra. “But what did he do during the body check at the airport,” asks Chris Trent. “We overlook that,” says the security officer. “He’s the chief,” he adds.

The Arkestra today is like the Ellingtonians when I saw them in the Sixties: only primary rocks. All embraces feel good but especially those with Marshall, Gilmore, Tyrone, Fred Adams, not to mention those with June!

Pure hell was caused by the religions on this blue planet.

With beautiful love, it doesn’t matter to Sonny at all if you don’t hear his voice in the wild maze of proper instruments. Sun Ra was a fighter, an intergalactic fighter, in spite of being whacked out in the outer space. How many marches he wrote and played! Even ‘Enlightenment’ is one. Even with these marches overflowing with joy an enemy, or at least an opponent, is assumed. Joy is always at the expense of an opponent.

In Ray Draper’s tuba solos in ‘Dance Of Innocent Passion’ and ‘In A Joyful Noise’, you can see him.

Sun Ra’s ‘Heliocentric Worlds’ and Salomo Friedlaender’s ‘Ich-Heliozentrum’, Sun Ra’s ‘The Magic Eye’ and Friedlaender’s ‘Das Magische Ich’.

In the intensive care unit, Sonny was connected to all kinds of machines and hoses to agonisingly prolong his life. This was the wish of the family and the doctors. Trudy demanded that he be allowed to die in peace but she couldn’t assert herself because she didn’t belong to the family. But Trudy accompanied Sun Ra to his death. At his deathbed, he held her hand very tightly while she read the poem ‘This World Is Not My Home’ to him. At the end of the poem, Sonny wanted to say something but he could only make animal sounds that nobody could understand. His eyes were like glowing charcoals, all red.

If I win, I win and if I lose, I win too.

When the impurity, the sketchy, the wavering, the spontaneous and yet unexecuted came into the performing arts, when the Dadaists in Zurich smashed language with the help of drums and bells, when the social systems got all mixed up, jazz was also in its cradle. The medium of music seems to lag behind the arts. It was only in the ‘50s that Sun Ra introduced impurity into jazz, at about the same time as Monk. The so-called “classical music” and its sterile offshoots haven’t understood this even until today. With Sun Ra it is striking that despite the impurity, despite overdriving and acoustic feedback, despite late entries and unclean choreography, everything is perfect.

The Egyptians called the Helios “Ra” and said he was born from an opening lotus flower. The Egyptians called Zeus “Amon” and Hermes “Thoth”, the divine ruler of the universe. Sonny’s label, independent since the Fifties, was called Thoth at the beginning of the Seventies, where for example ‘Live In Egypt Vol. 1’, also under the title ‘Dark Myth Equation Visitation’, appeared. But Thoth was always in the entourage of his father Ra and travelled with him in his ship across the horizons. Thoth alone is initiator and guarantor of human art, human knowledge of law and justice and eternal life, so the Egyptologists say.

“You have the biggest museum in the world and you sleep” was Sonny’s comment on the Egyptians of today.

Only Sun Ra’s cigarette hole in my settee will stand out among all other scratches as unique.

In ‘Aus den Sieben Tagen’, Stockhausen is often close to what jazz musicians take for granted. But he can’t overcome the barrier. On the other hand, Stockhausen is ahead of jazz in spiritual terms. Sun Ra was the only one to whom what Stockhausen was striving for was self-evident. What Stockhausen had in terms of spiritual power, Sun Ra introduced so consistently to jazz for the first time.

No band has played such slow titles as the Art Ensemble Of Chicago and as fast as Sun Ra.

On the island there are two shops and eleven houses. When you turned around, you could see all around the perimeter of the island and nothing could be seen up to the circular horizon except water in blue and green, shallow with plants and fish and sand. Where have I landed in the past? The lead-grey light over the lake. Sonny must have had something like this in front of his eyes when he had ‘Saturn Moon’ in his head and Saturn’s rings resulted out of it.

Anyway, Sun Ra had a textbook of Maya grammatics in his library.

My brother the wind and my sister the fart. The atmosphere of the earth star cooled down.

Sonny had promised Jarvis’ father to take care of Clifford’s drugs, etc. After 1983, Clifford was no longer in the Arkestra. He was dismissed by Sonny for narcotics and violence against Gilmore. For Sonny, a difficult decision.

Marshall Allen is thin, almost toothless, sunken, beard stubble, thin arms and brittle voice. The eyes shine like a young star and, after the ‘Prelude For A Kiss’, he is out of breath. I call Marshall across the room, he looks at me briefly, then I fall into the thin arms. I feel almost nothing of his body. His little flute case is stuck together with leucoplast, in use probably since the first note. He says, “we play as well as we can, according to the feeling, according to Sonny’s feeling.” His horn flies and he hangs behind and one day he falls off like a carrier rocket.

Has anyone ever heard that Sonny’s vocal intonation is very similar to that of Mose Allison?

Matthew Brown is the tailor of the band and sewed the costumes for the Arkestra. Sun Ra himself had chosen the fabrics in Lustenau, whereby the choice of colours played a big cosmic role. The songlines were written in Sonny’s face, for example in the song ‘I Dream Too Much’. Just as one never finds a lost aborigine, Sun Ra was just as unerring in his music. He dyed his beard red to sensitize himself for his destiny and his path on this planet.

When I take a deep breath, the face of Sun Ra smooths out on my chest. It is certain that only the unspent senses are hard enough to penetrate reality.

The o zone, the zone o, the zone zero, the no point, the zero area, the zero point, the area o, the area with the sun in the middle, in the zero, in the o zone over ground zero.

I feel pretty good on this planet being a total failure.

Sun Ra was like the ancient Chinese, where the wise men said of themselves, “happy is he who has no disciples.”

Marshall Allen sees a man beating his wife on the street in Cairo and wants Salah to intervene. But Salah says, “don’t worry about it.”

John Tchicai drank as much whiskey in Greece before ‘Continent’ as Sun Ra drank in Heliopolis after ‘Nidhamu’.

Sun Ra brought great orchestral jazz to an end in one direction. Gil Evans in the other.

In around 1968, Marion Brown, one of the few intellectual hopes of advanced American music who, after brain surgery, spent decades vegetating in a home for mentally handicapped people, sent me a 15 cm 4-track tape with recordings of the following Saturn LPs: ‘Interstellar Low Ways’, ‘The Nubians Of Plutonia’, ‘Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy’, ‘We Travel The Spaceways’, ‘The Magic City’, ‘Super Sonic Jazz’, ‘When Angels Speak Of Love’, ‘When Sun Comes Out’ and ‘Secrets Of The Sun’ from the USA to Cairo. The tape box, without any packaging or address or comment, was handed over to me by an Egyptian secret service agent at the office of the Goethe Institute. On the back of the box, Marion had written, “Sun Ra. Hartmut here are the tapes. Marion.” This was my first deeper contact with Sun Ra’s cosmos, whose music I had been listening to for about ten years.

The numbers of my birthday add up to 10, like those of Sun Ra and Stockhausen.

Sun Ra cleaned his glasses like my mother. First breathe on the back and front, then polish. So, he could have been my son, whom I had treated badly in a former life, as Gabi Geist read out of his horoscope, and for which I am trying to make up for in this life.

The Kairo nightclub was first called El Boko and later, after being rebuilt, El Capo. The manager was an Argentinian who knew what good jazz was. The club hasn’t existed for a long time.

In an Arabic restaurant in Cairo, Sun Ra was treated in a very rude manner by a waiter. He probably thought that the dark-skinned Sun Ra was from upper Egypt. In Cairo, the people of this region, the Nubians, are often treated with arrogance. The waiter slammed the plate down on the table. Sun Ra became very angry and wouldn’t calm down. He left the restaurant and went to a different one. The next day he had a gig at the El Boko nightclub. Before starting the concert he swore at the Egyptian audience in no uncertain terms. Then he sang, “this is not my people in Egypt now…”

Art Jenkins doesn’t stop talking and therefore gets a single room. Maybe he talks so much so that he gets a single room.

Is this religion or simply Sun Ra’s obstinacy around discipline & precision?

Those who have experienced Sun Ra alive belong today to the group of the blessed like those who sprinkle their urine by slitting the urethra.

When Sonny, already half paralysed in a wheelchair, was asked by Kumpf during a European tour if this wasn’t too exhausting for him, he replied, “why? It’s only the same planet!”

Clifford Jarvis showed Egyptian girls pornos at the bar of the hotel. Then he pissed on the street. Sonny was beside himself.

Sun Ra conducted his Arkestra with similar professional hand movements as the men who wave cars into the ferries.

The music world has not yet grasped what Sun Ra and the Art Ensemble of Chicago had kicked off.

There are only three melodies since bebop: ‘Round Midnight’, ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘Odwalla’.

When I shouted into the microphone in Copenhagen, “you made a mistake, you did something wrong, make another mistake and do something right”, Vincent

Chauncey turned around and shouted into my microphone, “some call me Mister Ra, some call me Mystery” and both of us in chorus, “you can call me Mister Mystery.” After the concert, Vincent said, “I am a whore of the music.”

Sun Ra and Fela Anikulapo Kuti taken together would have been a sole mystery.

The soft and the constant form the works and the artist discharges his pressed head rhythmically, musically into the outer darkness of the omniverse.

Without the brutality of irreverence and blasphemy, life is dead.

Betty Carter’s bebop tongue down to her rosy uvula didn’t know what time it was when she demonised Sonny and the Art Ensemble Of Chicago.

Sun Ra has elevated triviality to noble art and to the depths of philosophy.

I don’t want words to fulfil a certain function. I want words to stay with themselves and not gain meaning, i.e. free from misunderstandings. Competence and commitment, discipline and precision (Ra) are the four pillars of pure chaos. Ask me stupid questions, get stupid answers. I answer serious questions seriously.

Danny Thompson lured me to his baritone and apologised to me for what had happened earlier (I had not been with Ra at the Pyramid of Giza et al).

When I went for a walk in the morning sun with Sun Ra in the palm gardens of the Mena House hotel at the foot of the Cheops Pyramid there was a multitude of birdcalls from the tops of the palms. Sun Ra stopped still and said, “can you hear them? The birds are doing what we are trying to do all the time.” He saw men as birds without wings and the terminology of his poems repeatedly revolved around the picture of the bird, of flying, of feathers, the nest, the wings, ornithopoetry!

Franz Mon and Marshall Allen both have their birthday on the same day.

I am the pillar of the firmament, even in times of darkness

June Tyson.

Trumpeter Fred Adams, in golden robes and with his gestures, is my favourite (how his whole body stomps, his head lowered).

Sonny’s record title ‘Children Of The Sun’ goes back to the Dogon, who know themselves as children of the sun. It is said that the Dogon were the first Pharaohs to be banished from lower Egypt and settled in Bandiagara, Mali.

Every melody of Sun Ra seems to be drawn out of the cosmic chaos, like out of a barrel of honey. There is still a fine thread of honey to it.

The beauty hides in the chaos.

In the noise jungle of the Moloch, Cairo, Sun Ra is hidden everywhere. The mobile phones in immediate proximity, the car horns at the crossroads and the occasional ambulances with their synthesizer solos. Closest and loudest, however, are the super-imposed muezzin.

Sinking down from celestial heights is a thing in itself. Most of mankind feels at home on Earth and forgets the heights or thinks that they are an abnormal interruption of their habitual, dull existence. But from time to time it’s the other way around; the heights become the norm and memory while the spirit reigns and depth, habit, body and soul are subjugated, nothing but a matter of condescension, a foot-stool. Indeed, there are few people who experience the sun as their home, not the earth. They don’t see the sun above themselves, but the earth below.

Salomo Friedlaender ‘Mynona’

Hartmut Geerken, September 2019
Author of ‘The Immeasurable Equation’ and ‘Omniverse Sun Ra’

SUN RA AND HIS ASTRO-INTERGALACTIC-INFINITY-ARKESTRA – DARK MYTH EQUATION VISITATION / NATURE’S GOD (Live in Egypt, Vol. 1)

Discipline No. 27 (3.55)

Solar Ship Voyage (2.33)

Cosmo-Darkness (2.08)

The Light Thereof (5.12)

Friendly Galaxy No. 2 (10.16)

To Nature’s God (9.05)

Why Go To The Moon? {2.39}
Originally released in 1972 on Thoth Intergalactic (KH-1272)

Side 1: TV broadcast, Cairo, Egypt, 16th December 1971
Side 2: Recorded at the house of Hartmut Geerken, Heliopolis, Egypt, 12th December 1971.

Produced by Ihnfinity Inc. Engineered by Tam Fiofori

The first of the trilogy of LPs, ‘Dark Myth Equation Visitation’ / ‘Nature’s God’ (‘Live In Egypt, Vol. 1’) was released in 1972 on Thoth Intergalactic KH-1272 and repressed later as Saturn 1272. This LP features music from the live Cairo TV broadcast on Side 1 and music from the concert held at the house of Hartmut Geerken in Heliopolis on Side 2.

‘Discipline 27’ cuts in with the band already deep in the groove and trumpeter Kwami Hadi soloing over Ra’s interlocking horn riffs. Following Hadi’s boppish lines, the warm, lugubrious theme is played and the band winds the piece down, riffing darkly over solo hand drumming.

A portion of TV host Samir Sabri’s interview with Sun Ra follows. Sabri asks him about the “special instrument” that he plays. Ra describes its sonic capabilities following which Sabri asks to hear it. Ra’s improvised demonstration was later titled ‘Solar Ship Voyage’ for the LP release. Ra plays what he refers to in the interview as “all the languages of sound, space sound, the wind, the rain…” A brief spoken exchange brings the interview to its conclusion, after which ‘Cosmo Darkness’ explodes into being with a “space chord”, followed by Ra and the saxophones creating fiery, twisting lines before a short organ blast concludes this wonderful two minute burn out.


‘The Light Thereof’ is one of the many Ra compositions that was played just once and then never returned to again. It resembles the mood of the many ‘Discipline’ pieces that were composed and played at this time. Ra’s organ intro begins with portentous chords then abruptly switches to a brief burst of energy before the dark-toned theme is played by winds and brass supported by arhythmic percussion. The flutes and reeds tangle in an improvised tapestry above congas and shekere and John Gilmore intercedes with a short solo tenor display of discipline and fire. The ensemble sounds a final extended space chord to conclude.

‘Friendly Galaxy No.2’, a languid space waltz, was then a relatively recent composition. Congas and drums keep a polyrhythmic undertow while Ra plays a hypnotic but taut two bar piano phrase and Hadi’s trumpet phases in and out of the riff. The whole reed section switches to flutes to realise Ra’s densely written score that emerges and disappears in waves throughout the piece. Piano, conga drums and claves spin out a contemplative coda with Ra’s lovely upper register figures at their most wistful.

A very different waltz follows in the form of ‘To Nature’s God’, Ra’s paean to the natural beauty of the Creator’s Earthly works. June Tyson and John Gilmore share the exuberant lead vocals.
June Tyson joined the Arkestra in 1968 while the Arkestra was still based in New York.
Ra recognised that she not only had an extraordinary and singular voice but also a unique sensibility and charisma and it was during this period in the early ’70s that she truly came into her own as a compelling performer, supreme interpreter of Ra’s lyrics and melodies and onstage foil to Ra in his ‘cosmo drama’ orations. She later added the violin to her musical palette and became both a central figure within the life of the Arkestra and one of Sun Ra’s closest confidantes.

A brief, swinging version of ‘Why Go To The Moon?’ rounds out the album with the whole Arkestra following Tyson in a vibrant, interplanetary vocal call and response feature over drums and percussion.

SUN RA AND HIS ASTRO-INTERGALACTIC-INFINITY-ARKESTRA – NIDHAMU (Live in Egypt, Vol. II)

Space Loneliness No. 2 (11.41)

Discipline No. 11 (9.39)

Discipline No. 15 (2.44)

Nidhamu (13.12)

Originally released in 1974 on El Saturn Records (77771)

Side 1, tracks 1-3: Recorded at the Ballon Theater, Cairo, Egypt, 17th December 1971
Side 2: Recorded in Oakland, California, 18th June 1971

Produced by Ihnfinity Inc. And The East

Engineered by Tam Fiofori.

The second compilation of recordings titled ‘Nidhamu’ followed in 1972 on Thoth Intergalactic 7771 with represses in 1974 (Saturn 77771) and 1978 (Saturn 7771).
The ripples from the impact of the arrival of this strange group of musicians from the US had reached the attention of the Egyptian Ministry Of Culture and, with their assistance, a concert was scheduled for Sun Ra and His Arkestra at the Ballon Theatre, a performance space within a giant inflatable balloon-like tent. Tommy Hunter again recorded the event, replete with its rather booming, cavernous acoustics and the first side of the ‘Nidhamu’ LP comprises edited sections of music from this event.

An unnumbered piece from the ‘Discipline’ series begins with oboe, flutes and tenor saxophone playing strange and alluring melodies under which Sun Ra begins another electronic keys solo. This time however, Ra veers away from the white noise and portamento cosmic swoops that characterised many other such solos in favour of a kind of futuristic blues-boogie, similar to his work on the then recent ‘Night Of The Purple Moon’ LP. Toward the end of this passage Ra switches to Rocksichord and sketches the outline of a very different slow spiritual blues, ‘Space Loneliness No.2’. This piece was first recorded in June 1960 in Chicago and issued later that year as a Saturn 45 single resulting in a concise, sparse small band masterpiece. This Egyptian version is again a masterpiece, but one that is a galaxy away from the original.

Ra slows the pace right down and the Arkestra play a two chorus “head” with bleak, aching soulfulness; a sonic reflection of what was defined in the film ‘The Cry Of Jazz’ as “the futureless future”. A single chorus of blues form ensues without soloing, just a fragmentary riff from the horns and a smattering of Rocksichord. Ra plays a plaintive two-note phrase on the Moog synth, holding the synthesizer tone as the horns and rhythm section subside and Ra’s blues phrases on Rocksichord conclude stoically but with defiance.

The journey continues with ‘Discipline No.11’, a brief tone poem in which the high register woodwinds and trumpet form a sonic way station where the Arkestra pause to view the depth and strange beauty of another unknown realm of the cosmos. A highly reverberant solo flute passage is followed by more solo Ra. Moog, organ and Rocksichord converse, clash and conclude just as the tape fades.

‘Discipline No.15’ is magisterial and magical. Beginning with a hymn-like chorale over echoing drum rolls, each harmonised phrase asks question after sublime question until the drums gain momentum. A yearning, impassioned alto saxophone solo testifies over the elegiac harmonies and tumbling percussion until all the strands gather together on a final point of ambiguous stasis and solemn drum rolls draw the piece to a close. It is simultaneously both sorrowful and uplifting, tranquil yet turbulent and is a high-water mark in Ra’s vast cosmos of music.

Ra’s recorded legacy is wonderfully vast but also a notorious discographer’s nightmare. Saturn and Thoth LPs would regularly be issued with incorrect recording dates, locations or personnel. Ra would edit together music for LP release from different sessions, sometimes years or decades apart or hybridise different sides from existing records and give them new titles.
Such an example exists on side two of the original ‘Nidhamu’ LP, which was taken up by the title track, a thirteen minute solo keyboard piece played on Moog and Rocksichord. The title ‘Nidhamu’, the Swahili word for ‘discipline’, suggests a singular branch of the concurrent ‘Discipline’ series of compositions of this era and the placement of this solo Ra work on the second ‘Live In Egypt’ LP suggested that it was recorded at the 12th December 1971 concert at the house of Hartmut Geerken. This assumption however, is not correct. To quote Sun Ra archivist Michael D Anderson, “the song ‘Nidhamu’, the version on the ‘Nidhamu’ album, was not recorded in Egypt. This incorrect version of ‘Nidhamu’ was recorded on 18th June 1971 in Oakland, California. The correct name of the recording is ‘The Outer Darkness’ and Sun Ra mentions the 18th June date and location at the beginning of the recording. With various overdubs, the music was intended to be the background music for the poem ‘The Outer Darkness’. The actual recording of this poem was released on Volume 3 of the Norton Sun Ra poetry LP series ‘The Outer Darkness’ (Norton ED-367), produced in 2010.”

Existing in its own right without the poetry and overdubs heard on the track ‘The Outer Darkness’, ‘Nidhamu’ is a singular and deeply spiritual piece of work, quite unique in the Ra cosmos. It feels more akin to some of his more contemplative piano solo pieces despite the otherness of the electronic tones and, as such, acts as an extraordinary continuation of the mood and spirit of the original LP’s first side.

To keep the integrity of the LPs as originally edited by Sun Ra, this track is presented with its original placement and title, despite its non-Egyptian origins.

SUN RA AND HIS SOLAR ARKESTRA – HORIZON

Starwatchers / Theme Of The Stargazers (1.20)

Discipline No. 2 (5.28)

Shadow World (13.31)

Third Planet (5.00)

Space Is The Place (3.26)

Horizon (7.49)

Discipline No. 8 (8.29)

Originally released in 1973 on El Saturn Records (1217718) Recorded at the Ballon Theatre, Cairo, Egypt, 17th December 1971

‘Horizon’, sometimes titled ‘Starwatchers’ was released as Saturn 1217718 in the mid 1970s. Unlike the first two volumes which compiled sides from various dates, this album features music exclusively from the concert at the Ballon Theatre.

Thomas Hunter’s spoken introduction starts the first LP side which contains the unedited first portion of the concert.

Ra picks out stark notes on the Rocksichord ushering in ‘Starwatchers’ / ‘Theme Of The Stargazers’. Marshall Allen takes a brief and customarily tempestuous solo turn before the Arkestra play ‘Discipline No.2’. Long dirge-like tones are interrupted by a short, dancing melodic statement leading to a swarm of alien flutes buzzing and darting. A solo flute leads the concluding passage over quiet drums, horns and counter phrases from Hadi’s trumpet. This is the only known recording of this particular ‘Discipline’.

Ra improvises a chaotic meteor storm of sound which leads into ‘Shadow World’. First appearing on 1965’s ‘The Magic City’ LP, this track became a regular feature in the Arkestra’s concert repertoire thereafter. This epic rendition has an updated arrangement from the 1965 version. After the terse convolutions of the main theme, a second unison saxophone passage is heard during Kwami Hadi’s solo. This arrangement was used only for a short time and disappeared from use soon after.

Ra’s organ solo is the sound of solar fire. No other player in the history of the instrument has ventured this deep into the potential of its sound. This fire becomes an inferno as the Arkestra join in, led by Danny Davis’ and Marshall Allen’s duelling altos. The conflagration subsides and makes way for another celestial tenor solo by the incomparable John Gilmore over baritone riffing, percussion and Ra’s foggy chords. Gilmore is left alone to contemplate the cosmos through pure sound before the drums and roaming baritone saxophones of Pat Patrick and Danny Ray Thompson reappear and drum solos conclude.

As one of Sun Ra’s most played pieces, this version stands as perhaps one of the most extraordinary. It is “Fire Music” on a whole other level, Ra’s often quoted “precision-discipline” principle in full and overwhelming effect. Although Saturn was the planet that he claimed as his true home, Ra composed many songs, themes and chants about Earth, the planet on which he had been unwillingly deserted.

‘Third Planet’ is a modal, hard bop number featuring solos form Hadi and Ra again over the expansive rhythm section who swing hard throughout. The drummers Lex Humphries and Clifford Jarvis were both very active players in the ’60s and ’70s who constantly merged the fields of post-bop rigour with new thing/vanguard energy. This very infrequently performed composition captures their combined power and drive.

The very first versions of what would become Ra’s most ubiquitous song, ‘Space Is The Place’ were performed on the tour of late 1971. Here, the vocal chant just loops the title phrase. Sun Ra would later develop a full set of lyrics for June Tyson along with the myriad of vocal counter-rhythms and cross-phrases, all heard to glorious effect on the definitive recording of this piece on the 1972 ‘Space Is The Place’ LP on the Blue Thumb label. After introducing the main riff on organ Ra lays out while the Arkestra chant and parade in the “ring shout” formation. Allen takes another blistering outing on alto saxophone before the dancers return and the groove is once again foregrounded.

‘Horizon’ is the title given to this concert’s Moog solo. Again, we are taken on a vast cosmic exploration of sound and texture until the Arkestra join for the last couple of minutes creating another dense block of sound that finally disintegrates leaving ominous chords from the organ. The title, ‘Horizon’, is a key word for Sun Ra. From the Pyramids, the view away from the modern city of Cairo would have presented an inspiring desert horizon but for Ra the word also depicts the line between two phenomena, a point of intersection where pathways meet and the place of the dual change.

‘Discipline No.8’ is built around a single rhythmic riff but occupies a very different space to the joyous grooves of, say, ‘Space Is The Place’ or ‘Angels And Demons At Play’. Dark, ominous and very slow, it is a piece that perhaps reveals something of Ra’s more vexatious views of humanity. It uses a bluesy swing riff slowed down to the point where it becomes a primal moan. The theme heard briefly at the start is quizzical but offers no easy solutions. Eloe Omoe plays the first solo on bass clarinet using extended techniques and overblowing to create yet more howling unease. Danny Davis follows in a similar manner on Alto with Marshall Allen, Hakim Rahim and Larry Northington joining in in a frenzy of chattering altos. Hadi’s trumpet solo searches for solace as the riff returns, ebbing and flowing over the undertow of drums.

IN HELIOPOLIS: UNRELEASED RECORDINGS

Next Stop Mars (6.27)

Pleiades (1.59)

We’ll Wait For You (8.39)

The Bridge (4.50)

Nidhamu (Part 1) (13.31)

Nidhamu (Part 2) (6.04)

Discipline No. 27 (1.16)

They’ll Come Back (0.43)

Side 1 tracks 1-4  and Side 2 tracks 1-2 recorded at the house of Hartmut Geerken, Heliopolis, Egypt, 12th December 1971

Side 2 tracks 3-4 recorded on the streets of Heliopolis, Egypt, 12th December 1971

The remaining tracks are, with one exception, released here for the first time. The first six titles are from the Heliopolis concert of 12th December 1971.

On the day planned for this event at the home of Hartmut Geerken, much of the Arkestra’s equipment was still being held by Egyptian customs officials. Salah Ragab, Brigadier, head of military music and avid jazz drummer stepped into the breach and provided the Arkestra with instruments to use from his ensemble. Geerken also offered the Arkestra use of his extensive collection of gongs and percussion from around the world. No replacement for Ra’s Spacemaster Organ was located and so a Tiger organ was hired. This instrument cues the Arkestra percussion and vocals into ‘Next Stop Mars’. After a brief chant, Marshall Allen delivers a burst of fiery alto saxophone before a drum solo leads back to the concluding chant.

During the drum solo you can hear Sun Ra telling the musicians to get ready to perform ‘Pleiades’. This Sun Ra composition, inspired by a star cluster in the constellation of Taurus dates back to 1948 but was seldom played during the 1950s and ‘60s. It became a more regular feature for flute ensemble in Arkestra shows through the ‘70s and ’80s and was given an orchestral arrangement in a concert in Orleans, France in 1990. In this version the flute ensemble is augmented by a counter line from Ra on the organ.

A dark and ruminative organ solo acts as a prelude to the vocal proclamation ‘We’ll Wait For You’. Now the Arkestra fully catch fire for the first time. Horns, reeds and percussion create a melée of points and swirls in space giving way to drums and shards of organ. The call is heard for another “Space Chord” bringing the horns back before everyone lays out for Ra to conclude with more roiling organ textures.

Ra’s poem ‘The Bridge’ is collectively declaimed over swoops of bass from Pat Patrick before a dense passage of drums and organ brings it to a close. ‘The Bridge’ appears under the title ‘The Fire And The Dry Weeds’ in Sun Ra’s poetry anthology ‘The Immeasurable Equation’ while a 1967 recording appeared on a Saturn label 45 single in 1968 and was reissued by Saturn in 1982.

Following the discovery of the true recording date and location of the Oakland CA recording on the ‘Nidhamu’ LP discussed earlier, archivist Michael D. Anderson re-ascribed the name ‘Nidhamu (Part 1)’ to the 13-minute solo Ra piece that he actually did play in Heliopolis and also to the following ‘Nidhamu (Part 2)’ improvisation. In Part 1, Ra takes us through the unique sound cosmos that only he could conjure from the Mini-Moog, evoking both Earthly sounds of nature and deep space vibrations. A textural percussion ensemble takes over for Part 2 using Geerken’s collection of bells, cymbals, drums and other instruments to create a unique Arkestral soundscape. John Gilmore steps in signalling the percussion to withdraw. Again, he demonstrates his singular and extraordinary tenor saxophone discipline with a solo that explores the outer, extended ranges of his instrument and following which drums return to bring this 19 minutes of sonic exploration to a close.

Before the main concert recordings were undertaken, Thomas Hunter had already begun archiving the Arkestra’s movements in Cairo. He shot several reels of film, a few minutes of which has been edited and widely circulated, though without sound. A few fragments of the verité soundtrack from these movies have been found which capture conversations, the sounds of the streets of the Egyptian capital and Ra’s musicians singing, playing and rehearsing.

Two short rehearsal fragments are included here: ‘Discipline No. 27’ featuring percussion, horns and flutes and ‘They’ll Come Back’, again with percussion but this time accompanying the sublime June Tyson. Along with the final two tracks at the end of this collection, these miniatures give a brief window into the day to day life of the band and a little of the atmosphere of the city.

LP 5 EGYPTIAN OASIS: UNRELEASED RECORDINGS

Calling Planet Earth (2.51)

Imagination (1.19)

Discipline (3.47)

Angels and Demons At Play (3.12)

We Sing This Song (5.44)

Space Is The Place (5.14)

Organ Interlude (1.16)

Angels And Demons At Play (13.34)

Egyptian Oasis 1 (3.06)

Streets Of Heliopolis, 12.12.71

Side 1 tracks 1-5 recorded at the house of Hartmut Geerken, Heliopolis, Egypt, 12th December 1971

Side 1 track 6: TV broadcast, Cairo, Egypt, 16th December 1971

Side 2 tracks 1-2 recorded at Ballon Theatre, Cairo, Egypt, 17th December 1971

Side 2 tracks 3-4 recorded on the streets of Heliopolis, Egypt, 12th December 1971

All tracks composed and arranged by Sun Ra except Side 1 track 4 and Side 2 track 2 composed by Sun Ra and Ronald Boykins

Published by Enterplanetary Koncepts

The Heliopolis concert continues with heterophonic voices announcing Ra’s composition ‘Calling Planet Earth’. The chant is superseded by high register winds, brass and percussion while Elo Omoe’s bass clarinet trawls the low register. A collective improvisation heralds the recitation of another poem. Ra himself intones ‘Imagination’, a poem recorded live five years earlier on the ‘Nothing Is’ LP, recited on that occasion by John Gilmore.

A powerful space chord leads into a number from the ‘Discipline’ series of compositions.
Ra began composing this series of works earlier in 1971 while residing in Oakland CA. Numbering 1 to 99, a handful of the ‘Discipline’ compositions were played many times over the years while others were, like many Ra compositions, played once before disappearing off the set list. Some ‘Disciplines’ were studies in groove, interlocking rhythms, riffs and multiple metres while many others were mysterious space dirges. This unnumbered ‘Discipline’ comes from the latter category, numinous, tremulous and filled with clouds of spectral chords looming over multiple percussion layers and crashing cymbals.

Next comes an incomplete version of Arkestra bassist Ronnie Boykins’ and Ra’s composition ‘Angels And Demons At Play’. Ra, now on piano, kicks up the bass line with Pat Patrick on bass guitar and the battery of percussion lock in to the 5/4 groove. Marshall Allen sketches a brief version of the melody on flute before going a little off mike for his solo. Just as an alto sax seems to be picking up the lead, the tape ends. The final track from this concert, ‘We Sing This Song’ / ‘The Satellites Are Spinning’, is something of an outlier. It first appeared on a relatively obscure Saturn compilation LP known as either ‘Outer Spaceways Inc.’ or ‘A Tonal View Of Times Tomorrow, Vol.3’ and was reissued on a CD titled ‘Spaceways’. The provenance of the music was a matter of conjecture until research into the archives revealed that it was part of the Heliopolis concert. It begins with June Tyson singing the final part of ‘The Satellites Are Spinning’ but the bulk of the piece is a Ra piano solo that intersperses intense, rapid exchanges between upper and lower registers with impressionistic lyrical pauses and fleeting allusions to stride motifs.

The second version of ‘Space Is The Place’ in this collection is from the TV broadcast made on 16th December 1971, the material from which forms Side 1 of the ‘Dark Myth Equation Visitation’ LP. This version starts with a rolling gospel piano and drums feel and, like the version on ‘Horizon’, uses just the four-bar cyclic chant of the title phrase. After a short drum interlude Ra switches to organ and there is a brief burst of spiralling alto from Danny Davis before Ra brings the vocal back and winds the number down.

Moving back to the Ballon Theatre concert, a short ruminative and blues inflected ‘Organ Interlude’ serves as a introduction to ‘Angels And Demons At Play’. Marshall Allen plays the opening flute theme followed by a lyrical, singing solo over Pat Patrick’s bass guitar line and skittering drums. The percussionists converse with call and response exchanges before Danny Davis begins a terse, urgent solo in stark contrast to the lyricism of the beginning. As his solo becomes increasingly wild he is augmented and ultimately overwhelmed by a barrage of percussion. Ra returns on organ to ground the groove again just as, once more, the tape runs out shortly before the end.

We return to the day of the Arkestra’s arrival in Cairo for the concluding two tracks. Like the brief rehearsal fragments heard earlier, these were recorded by Thomas Hunter concurrently with film footage. They are, however, recorded in a quieter location, perhaps a hotel room, away from the bustle of the streets heard in the earlier fragments.

The first half of ‘Egyptian Oasis 1’ is a duet featuring a bandura (a form of harp/zither from the Ukraine) and a darbuka (an Egyptian goblet-shaped drum). Exactly who is playing here is a matter of conjecture. The sound is reminiscent of ‘Strange Strings’ and ‘Cosmo Earth Fantasy’ where the bandura or, as Ra renamed it, the “Space Harp”, is heard prominently. It is possible that Sun Ra himself is playing the Space Harp while the darbuka could be being played by pretty much any member of the Arkestra. A metal percussion instrument takes over the duet with the darbuka in the second half of the piece. This is the final time that the beguiling sound of the bandura would be heard in the Arkestra’s music as Ra, in trying to raise money for the band’s journey back to the US, left the instrument with Hartmut Geerken as collateral for money that he loaned to Ra for the flights. The instrument remains with Mr Geerken to this day.

Closing the set is ‘Egyptian Oasis 2’, a similar duet to Part 1 but, this time, John Gilmore takes a rare solo flute outing. There are many occurrences of Marshall Allen playing in a setting such as this but Gilmore’s distinctive phrasing is unmistakeable. There is also a brief section in the existing film footage shot by Thomas Hunter showing Gilmore playing solo flute. Maybe one day these precious film and sound fragments from the ever-expanding archive of the incomparable work of Sun Ra and His Astro-Intergalactic-Infinity-Arkestra might be pieced together.

Personnel:

Sun Ra – Intergalactic Farfisa Organ, Tiger Organ, Mini-Moog Synthesizer, Rockichord Electric Harpsichord, Piano, Vocals

Kwame Hadi – Trumpet, Congas, Vocals

Marshall Allen – Alto Saxophone, Flute, Oboe, Percussion, Vocals
Larry Northington – Alto Saxophone, Congas

Danny Davis – Alto Saxophone, Flute, Percussion, Vocals

Hakim Rahim – Alto Saxophone, Flute, Percussion, Vocals

John Gilmore – Tenor Saxophone, Flute, Percussion, Drums, Vocals

Pat Patrick – Baritone Saxophone, Flute, Bass Guitar, Percussion, Vocals

Danny Thompson – Baritone Saxophone, Flute, Vocals

Eloe Omoe – Bass Clarinet, Flute, Percussion, Vocals

Clifford Jarvis – Drums, PercussionLex Humphries – Drums, Percussion

Tommy Hunter – Drums, Alto Saxophone, Percussion, Sound and Film Recordings

June Tyson – Vocals, Dance

Cheryl Banks – Vocals, Dance

Wisteria El Moondew (Judith Holton) – Vocals, Dance

Richard Wilkinson – Light Show

ANOMALIES AND MYSTERIES…

There are credits on the original Saturn LP sleeve of ‘Dark Myth Equation Visitation’ for ‘Tam Fiofori – recording engineer’ and for ‘Sam Bankhead – photography’. Tam Fiofori is a photographer, filmmaker and writer who spent a good deal of time with Ra and the Arkestra during the ’60s and ’70s following and documenting the Arkestra’s moves. He was involved in organising the 1970 tour but no other mention of his name comes up in regard to the 1971 tour and these recordings were definitely not made by him.

Sam Bankhead is a singer who occasionally performed with the Arkestra, appearing on record on the Saturn single ‘I’m Gonna Unmask The Batman’ from 1974 and in the 1972 movie ‘Space Is The Place’. Again, there is no other reference to him being involved in this tour.

Alongside the principal Arkestra vocalist and dancer June Tyson, some sources name Gloristeena Wright (Ife Tayo) and Verta Grosvenor as the other dancer/vocalists for the Egypt shows. Promoters for the earlier European concerts state that these two dancers were not present but that Cheryl Banks and Wisteria El Moondew (Judith Holton) were. Film clips from Thomas Hunter’s footage and photos from the Cairo TV session confirm that Ms. Banks and Ms. El Moondew were indeed the dancers present for the Egypt concerts.

Robert Campbell and Chris Trent point out in their Ra discography, The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra – 2nd Edition, that Hartmut Geerken counted 22 musicians and dancers performing at his house in Heliopolis on 12/12/71. The personnel list, as it stands, numbers 17 including the light show designer Richard Wilkinson. This discrepancy still has yet to be clarified.

Archive research and tape transfers by Michael Anderson and Irwin Chusid at Sun Ra Archive

All recordings licensed courtesy of Sun Ra LLC

LPs 4 and 5 compiled by Paul Griffiths

Liner notes by Hartmut Geerken and Paul Griffiths

Track notes by Paul Griffiths

Mastering and vinyl cut by Peter Beckmann at Technology Works

All photographs reproduced courtesy of Hartmut Geerken

Cover design font by Lewis Heriz

Package graphic design by Matt Thame at Studio Auto

Release co-ordinated by Quinton Scott and Peter Dennett

SUN RA EGYPT 1971 IN HELIOPOLIS: UNRELEASED RECORDINGS

Next Stop Mars (6.27)

Pleiades (1.59)

We’ll Wait For You (8.39)

The Bridge (4.50)

Nidhamu (Part 1) (13.31)

Nidhamu (Part 2) (6.04)

Discipline No. 27 (1.16)

They’ll Come Back (0.43)

SUN RA EGYPT 1971 EGYPTIAN OASIS: UNRELEASED RECORDINGS

Calling Planet Earth (2.51)

Imagination (1.19)

Discipline (3.47)

Angels and Demons At Play (3.12)

We Sing This Song (5.44)

Space Is The Place (5.14)

SUN RA EGYPT 1971 EGYPTIAN OASIS: UNRELEASED RECORDINGS

Organ Interlude (1.16)

Angels And Demons At Play (13.34)

Egyptian Oasis 1 (3.06)

Egyptian Oasis 2 (3.33)

P 2020 K7 Music GmbH / C 2020 K7 Music GmbH

Compositions and Arrangements by Sun Ra Published by Enterplanetary Koncepts BMI.
All Rights Reserved 2020 © Sun Ra LLC.

www.strut-records.com
Strut is part of the !K7 label group

You Can Follow Art Yard on Face Book – FB and listen to some audio previews on – Soundcloud.

More from Strut Records: http://www.strut-records.com / https://www.facebook.com/StrutRecords

More from The Sun Ra Arkestra: http://www.sunraarkestra.com