Strut / Art Yard
You know, everybody is always begging the Creator for things….. They want a job, a car, a house, good health, fortune, wealth, fame…………… Everybody is constantly asking the Creator for things………..Nobody gives the Creator anything.
So every morning…………. I give the creator …… a song.”
I tried to save the Black race………. but they wouldn’t listen…. Now I have to save the whole planet.”
Le Sonyr Ra a.k.a. Sun Ra……….. Visionary bandleader, pianist, composer, arranger, poet, guru, shaman, mentalist, scholar and Cosmo-being espoused a “mission” to speak to the peoples of planet earth. His arrival on this planet is dated as May 22, 1914.
Like the prophets who came before him……….. there was a moment of epiphany………………… an experience of profound spiritual revelation…… For Moses, it was the burning bush revelation on Mt. Sinai……….. For Mohammed, it was a visitation by the Angel Gabriel……. For the Christ, it was his Forty days in the desert culminating in a confrontation with Satan himself.
For Sun Ra, his mission was given to him in 1934 when pianist ‘Sonny Lee’ experienced what we now refer to as an “alien abduction”, whereas he was contacted by aliens who transported him to the planet Saturn, giving him the name ‘Sun Ra’, as well as a mission to prepare mankind for the space age.
He would start by offering enlightenment to so called African Americans who, after 75 years of “emancipation”, were still being dehumanized and mistreated in an America divided by race…… legislated as Segregation…… written into its noble Constitution………….. American Apartheid.
Sun Ra was charged with this mission to firstly save those who were and still are considered the mere descendants of slaves. He was to offer the true knowledge of themselves as the descendants of the Ancient Egyptians who, as brothers and sisters of beings not of Earth, were sent to this planet to create civilization.
After having done so by educating the Greeks and Romans, these Nubians of noble birth were overthrown and transported to the Americas in shackles, joining their cousins who were indigenous to those lands, as they too arrived on this planet from somewhere else.
Sun Ra’s great scholarly studies were used throughout his Life to support this assertion. His mastery of word etymology was coupled with his knowledge of the holy scriptures of at least seven of the most widespread religions, then cross-referenced with numerological analysis and uncommon sense.
He would often corroborate his “equations” by referencing the various cultural myths and legends from different peoples of the world.
I am not a part of History ……….. That’s HIS STORY.
I’m here to speak of My Story…
Some call me Mr. RA
Others call me Mr. RE
You can call me Mr. Mystery”
The aliens informed Sun Ra that he was a member of an angel race which originated in worlds beyond earth. His mission was to awaken these once and future Gods and bring them to the doors of the cosmos……a search for their true home.
This world….is NOT my home
I know that I’m a member of the ANGEL race
My home is SOMEWHERE THERE…………..Out in Outer Space”
The panorama and pageantry of the Arkestra, which he created in the early ‘50s to help carry this mission, reflect the entire continuum of Black music from Ancient Egypt to the present coupled with the sounds of nature, the sounds of the Omniverse, sounds from the future,
There are other worlds…they have not told you of………..
They wish to speak to you……………
They speak the language………….OF MUSIC”
The musicians of Sun Ra’s Arkestra became members of the RA Legion,
We hereby declare ourselves to be another “order” of “being”………. an astro nation of the united world of Outer Space”
Sun Ra believed in precision and discipline……….. He did not sleep (maybe two hours out of a day), nor did he drink, smoke, gamble or chase women……… and he expected his musicians to strive for that level of self-discipline also.
Alas! We, like the original disciples, failed miserably. But, let’s be real! Wasn’t NOBODY gonna give up sex….. especially not a musician.
Sun Ra’s greatest disciple was John Gilmore. The humble giant that awakened John Coltrane’s music shakras and concepts.
Following a period of mentorship under the great Fletcher Henderson, Sun Ra began marathon rehearsals of the musicians which would become his Arkestra……….. recording every rehearsal either on reel to reel… or later on cassette tape.
Just as many of the more advanced scientific ideas of Teslar were blocked in favor of the more commercially viable research of Edison and Westinghouse (his advances in wireless transmission in particular), Sun Ra did not find recording companies eager to record his music from the spheres.
Indeed, many musicians were outright hostile to his “advanced” and innovative approach to melody, harmony and rhythm….. although ‘Jazz in Silhouette’ (1955) could be considered as big band BeBop of flawless precision.
Sun Ra’s method of dealing with an industry not quite ready for his world view, equations and music was to forge an association with a group of Chicago “businessmen” that shared a deep affinity for Sun Ra’s mission.
This group, under the leadership of Alton Abraham, was a partner to Sun Ra’s organizational structure, providing technical, logistical and financial support for Sun Ra’s project, especially in times of crisis.
With this partnership with Alton Abraham, Sun Ra personally recorded, pressed, manufactured and distributed his own music, producing over 200 LPs on his El Saturn record label, becoming one of the first musicians to do so (possibly preceded only by Charles Mingus’ Debut label which released ‘Jazz At The Massey Hall’ in 1951).
Sunny took this to another level by even painting and having musicians in the Arkestra paint the album covers of over 1000 LPs over time (from 1955 to 1975) then, during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, using prefab Egyptian labels or even just the white cover with nothing on it.
The musicians of the Arkestra were encouraged to become Tone Scientists….. a motion away from the materialistic concerns of regular musicians……. technique, money, women, conventional musical excellence…….. Sun Ra would exhort his musicians to play the sounds of nature, the sounds of the celestial bodies…….. to project their SPIRIT through sound,
I do not want your pretty notes, your music theory, your instrumental technique……..I want your SPIRIT”
The Master Tone Scientist from Saturn
This “Spirit” approach did include playing with the other musicians in your particular section as one horn, of playing the desired phrasing with precision…… just as the stars and planets in the sky are in precise relation to each other, so must your part be in precise relation to the rest of the band.
Sun Ra’s use of the Arkestra as his instrument in an onslaught of sound, color and movement was for the purpose of stimulating and even shocking the senses, the shakras and kundalini of audience participants onto a higher plane of spirit consciousness. Indeed many of the audience would find themselves in trance-like states of euphoria during the Ra experience. This was reinforced by his poetry, lyrics and extemporaneous lecture declaration vocalised during this concert.
As we listen to the opening track ‘Enlightenment’….. we hear clear enunciation of Sun’s goal for the evening,
The sound of thought is enlightenment
The space vibe truth…… is enlightenment
Space FIRE, Sometimes it’s music… strange mathematic…. rhythmic equations
the song is sounds of enlightenment…. the magic light of tomorrow
Backward…. are those of sadness
Forward and onward… are those of gladness
Enlightenment is…. our tomorrow… it has no plane…. of sorrow
Hereby, our invitation… we do invite you…. Be of our Space World
The sunny sounds of enlightenment
The fiery truth of enlightenment
Vibrations, sent from the space world
Are of the cosmic starry dimensions
Enlightenment is my tomorrow
It has no plane, of sorrow
Hereby, our invitation, we do invite you
Be of our Space World”
In other words Jazz is the Music of Enlightenment. Open your mind and receive it.
Sun Ra’s multi-dimensional cosmology involved word etymology, numerology, astrology, astronomy, and biblical and scholarly research correlated to sound, color, symbology and movement. In effect a modern adaptation or even continuation of the cosmology of the Ancient Egyptians (brilliantly described in ‘Her-Bak’ Vol 1 and 2 by Isha Schwaller de Lubicz).
David danced before the Lord with all his might
Throughout the many cultures on planet Earth… dance is considered the highest form of praise……….
The second track ‘Love in Outer Space’ is a rare instrumental version performed here as a vehicle for the space dancers, Wisteria Moodew (Judith Holton / Mendez), Cheryl Banks, June Tyson, Ruth Wright and Hazome…. Close your eyes and imagine these space dances writhing across the stage in celestial homage – riding the rhythmic ecstasy of the Arkestra as you hear the cosmic love washing the atmosphere. Now rise and give yourself to this spirit sound and dance.
Of particular note here is the amazing cowbell work of Marshall Allen, who is the present Director of the Sun Ra Arkestra at age 90.
Selection 3 is Sun Ra’s ‘Lights On A Satellite’…….. His frequent feature for the tenor sax of the great John Gilmore (who devoted his almost entire of his career to Sun Ra’s music).
This rendition focuses on the compositional beauty of this piece, whilst still showcasing John’s spirit sound, as he renders the melody in a most lyrical way……. in unison with trumpeter Kwame Hadi. You have to listen attentively to hear Kwame’s horn. The entire reed section is walking in a star circle playing their flutes as the counter horn line is repeated over and over by Ahk Tal Ebah. The layers of tonal texture surely sends one’s senses towards those lights in the sky.
‘Discipline 27-II / What Planet Is This’, the last number on this album, begins as an unaccompanied keyboard solo (on Farfisa organ before Mr. Ra switches to the Mini Moog synthesizer, sometimes playing both instruments simultaneously – the very first synthesizer created by Robert Moog was given to Sun Ra). He is joined by Sunny’s primary bassist Ronnie Boykins and Kwame Hadi on trumpet and then Ahk Tah Ebah on French horn. The Arkestra joins with the accompaniment of ‘Discipline 27-II’ as Mr. Ra and vocalist June Tyson articulate the Sun Ra soliloquy… WHAT PLANET IS THIS… Is this a planet of life or death?
This concert in a way coincided with the first transatlantic supersonic flight of the Concorde from DC to Paris. As such innovations would be just the beginning of the Space Age developments we now take for granted in the 21st century, it stands to note that all of these developments were heralded by this Angel from Saturn over 50 years beforehand.
And even now, a new generation (actually, the third to experience Sun Ra’s music) is growingly aware and appreciative of the declarations in Music, Word and Dance by this great visionary and ambassador.
Knoel Scott, November 2014
Sun Ra: electric piano, Mini-|Moog synthesiser, vocals.
Akh Tal Ebah, Kwame Hadi: trumpet, flugelhorn.
Marshall Allen: alto sax, flute, piccolo, percussion.
Danny Davis: alto sax, flute.
John Gilmore: tenor sax, drums, vocals.
Danny Ray Thompson: baritone saxophone, flute, percussion.
James Jacson: bassoon, flute, percussion.
Eloe Omoe: bass clarinet, flute, percussion.
Ronnie Boykins: bass.
Alzo Wright: cello, viola, percussion.
Thomas Hunter: drums.
Roger Aralamon Hazoumé: percussion, balafon, dance.
Odun, Shahib: percussion.
Math Samba: percussion, dance.
June Tyson: vocals, dance.
Space Ethnic Voices: Judith Holton, Cheryl Banks, Ruth Wright: vocals, dance.
Recorded at Maison de la Culture, Amiens, France on 21st October 1973.
ENLIGHTENMENT 2.24 Written by Hobart Dotson and Sun Ra. Published by Enterplanetary Koncepts
LOVE IN OUTER SPACE 17.08 Written by Sun Ra. Published by Enterplanetary Koncepts
LIGHTS ON A SATELLITE 3.53 Written by Sun Ra. Published by Enterplanetary Koncepts
DISCIPLINE 27-II / WHAT PLANET IS THIS 23.47 Written by Sun Ra. Published by Enterplanetary Koncepts
On Friday 19th October, 1973. Sun Ra and his Arkestra completed a residency at the legendary Gibus in Paris, finishing with a midnight to 3 a.m. performance. Two days later on Sunday 21st October, they played an afternoon show at the Maison de la Culture, Amiens. This recording is from the surviving reel to reel tape from that event, labelled ‘Sun Ra Dimanche’, and is previously unreleased.
Chris Trent, August 2013
Digital Download link: Sun Ra And His Intergalactic Research Arkestra Planets of Life or Death: STRUT123: Sun Ra Planets of Life Or Death
Sun Ra Arkestra, Berliner Jazzstage, Berlin, Germany November 1971. Dancer Ife Toyo, Kwame Hadi & Akh Tal Ebah.
Front Cover Photograph © Jan Persson – Jan Persson Photography.
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