Sun Ra Disco 3000 and Media Dreams Milan 1978

 

During the winter of 1977-78, Sun Ra could be found in Italy, touring with a quartet consisting of himself, John Gilmore, drummer Luqman Ali, and trumpeter Michael Ray. The visit was incredibly prolific – as well as recording two double LPs for the Horo label and piano concert in Venice, the quartet made a number of concert tapes which were eventually used for releases on Ra’s Saturn label. These tapes became the albums Disco 3000 and Media Dreams – two astonishing sets dominated by the revolutionary intergalactic sounds of Sun Ra’s brand new Crumar Mainman synthesizer. Both recordings are here presented in full as 2CD sets. Documenting the full emotional and sonic range of Sun Ra in session, they provide a rare chance to hear Ra and company travel the spaceways in small group format. Recorded in late January 1978, this edition of Disco 3000 is dominated by a full 26-minute take of the title track, a monumental synth excursion propelling the group at warp speed across the friendly galaxies. Put to tape at another January 1978 concert, Media Dreams is an equally unmissable session, with the group’s dazzling creative interchanges set to the screams, squeals and glittering space dust Ra extracts from the Crumar. Space oscillations in complete transmission, tuned to exoplanetary wavelengths.

SUN RA DISCO 3000 Vinyl LP Edition:
Side A:
A1: Disco 3000
Side B:
B1. Third Planet
B2. Friendly Galaxy
B3. Dance of the Cosmo-Aliens

2 CD Set Edition Disk 1
1-1- Disco 3000
1-2 Sun Of The Cosmos
1-3 Echos Of The World
1-4 Geminiology
1-5 Sky Blues
1-6 Friendly Galaxy

2 CD Set Edition Disk 2
2-1 Third Planet Incl: Friendly Galaxy
2-2 Dance Of The Cosmo Aliens
2-3 Spontaneous Simplicity
2-4 Images Incl: Over The Rainbow
2-5 The Sky is a Sea of Darkness When There is No Sun to Light The Way
2-6 – We Travel The Spaceways

Personnel
Sun Ra Piano, organ, Moog synth, rhythm machine
John Gilmore Tenor sax, Drums, Vocals
Michael Ray Trumpet, Vocals
Luqman Ali Drums, Vocals

The Disco 3000 session serves as a gigantic milestone in my musical career and shock treatment indoctrination in the world of Jazz taught by the Master himself Sun Ra. To give the listener the inside scoop about the recording sessions in Italy, one would have to begin with how I met Sun Ra. While performing with John Minis’ 21-piece big band at the People’s Music Festival in Germantown. Sun Ra and the Arkestra were the headliners. I first noticed that all of the musicians had suitcases filled with music under their chairs. I introduced myself to one of the trumpet players, Ahmed Abdullah and was amazed at how much music everyone in the band had. Their performance was bizarre to say the least! With 4 brass, 7 in the reed section, 3 trap drummers and everyone in the band playing percussion with 5 beautiful dancers, Sun Ra took the audience to another level. Some weeks later I happen to see him on the trolley and told him how much I enjoyed his set. He invited me to a rehearsal and said they were headed to Egypt. Unfortunately, I had prior commitments. Months later, I saw him again and the invitation was presented again. This time I took him up on it. When I walked in the door of 5626 Morton Street my life certainly changed. Here in the middle of the room sat Sun Ra surrounded by music, keyboards, and lots of Egyptian art. He told me “I know everything you need to know about music”. He then asked me if I knew any standards. I replied “a couple”. He asked if I knew “Lady Bird”. I said yes. He replied that it has the same changes as “Half Nelson” and we proceeded to play both songs at the same time. Then in 5/4 and 6/8 and 7/4 with John Gilmore. That one song was dissected for over 3 hours. We rehearsed for 3 days in the same fashion and then opened up in NYC where all these other musicians showed up with suitcases of music. This was the first time I got a chance to hear Sun Ra play acoustic piano and when he played somewhere over the rainbow, I knew he was a master! Next I got a call from him asking if I could come to Chicago with the band for a week. Of course I said yes. We played at Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase.

The very next phone call from Sun Ra was from Rome, Italy. He asked if I was able to come to Rome to record an album. I jumped at the chance! Luckily I already had a passport from my travels with the singing pop group the Stylistics.

I had traveled to Japan and South America with them but had never been to Europe, nor recorded a Jazz album. The winter of ’78, I headed to Rome not knowing what to expect but knowing I was in good hands with Sunny (As everybody close to him called him) John Gilmore and Luqman Ali. Sun Ra would get up everyday at dawn. We would then drive over to Media Dreams, a small studio run by Andreas and Algie, very good friends of the band. Andreas was credited with the development of the Walkman, which he sold to Sony Company. It was here that most of my early dues were paid. Sun Ra would tell me “You’re playing your horn alright but try my way, unless you have some sort of mental block. Play that apple. Remember it’s round so think of 360 degrees of sound and color. It’s red which means its energy deals with the first chakra, you have to be able to play the ‘vibration’ ”. We rehearsed like this from early in the morning to late at night for days. It was like having someone erase your main frame and reboot your hard drive! Sunny always said expect the unexpected. “We might have a gig on Mars one day so you got to be swinging on your horn, because they don’t party like earthlings”. Two days before the gig Sunny decides at a production meeting that he wants to show his movie Space is the Place without the sound and have the quartet set up behind the screen playing along with the visuals of the film. Of the material played my favorite is “Dance of the Cosmo Aliens” which I went on to record with my band the Cosmic Krewe. So here you are. As a listener, you hold documentation of the cosmic conversion. Astrophysics plus Egyptian hieroglyphics equal Space is the place.

Sun Ra and Gilmore stayed in Europe and Luqman and I returned to the States carrying Ra’s keyboards and the heavy 36mm film canisters which were confiscated by Customs. When Sunny returned stateside and learned this, he went to the Customs house armed with x-rated mags and said “you have my film of beauty and art locked up and yet you sell pictures of naked pussies downstairs in your lobby” Needless to say they released his film.

Michael Ray, 2007

Originally released on The El Saturn Record label Cat#CMIJ78

Sun Ra Media Dreams Live in Italy, January 9th 1978. Matrix / Runout: CMP 1978 C-A/D-B / Vinyl LP Edition:

Side A:
A1. SaturnResearch
A2. Constellation
A3: Yera of the Sun

Side B:
B1. Media Dreams
B2. Twigs at Twilight
B3. An Unbeknowneth Love

Media Dreams 2CD Set Edition / Disk 1
1-1. Saturn Research
1-2. Constellation
1-3. Yera of the Sun
1-4 Media Dreams
1-5 Twigs at Twilight
1-6 An Unbeknowneth Love

Media Dreams 2CD Set Edition / Disk 2
2-1. Friendly Galaxy
2-2. An Unbeknowneth Love
2-3. Of Other Tomorrows Never Known
2-4 Images
2-5 The Truth About Planet Earth
2-6 Space Is The Place
2-7 AThe Shadow World

Personnel
Sun Ra Piano, organ, Moog synth, rhythm machine
John Gilmore Tenor sax, Drums, vocals
Michael Ray Trumpet, vocals
Luqman Ali Drums, vocals

At some point in time, Sun Ra or one of his associates archived the quartet recordings he’d made in Italy in 1978 with John Gilmore, Michael Ray and Luqman Ali. There were quite a few tapes, originally with good quality sound.
Time passed. Some of the music from these tapes was used for releases on Sun Ra’s own Saturn Records label, appearing on the albums MEDIA DREAM, DISCO 3000 and THE SOUND MIRROR, as well as the rare Saturn single DISCO 2100 I SKY BLUES.
Now, some original tapes of this 1978 material have surfaced, and the music can be heard again in its original contest. Art Yard has already issued one such recording as THE COMPLETE DISCO 3000 CONCERT. Here now is another, containing music from another night, probably another venue, on Sun Ra’s one and only Quartet tour, in Italy in 1978.
This particular tape contains much fine music, and clarifies some questions, establishing long suspected links between various Saturn albums. And of course, as it concerns Sun Ra, it raises as many questions as it answers.
There is an issue with sound quality with this recording. This particular tape is no longer in audiophile condition. It does appear to be the original master, rather than a copy, but is now in a poor state. Art Yard have rescued it in the nick of time and have gone to considerable lengths to improve its quality. The tape is a valuable document, preserving the music in its original concert sequence, and is also important as it turns out to be the source for some tracks from the Sun Ra albums MEDIA DREAM and THE SOUND MIRROR.
This concert recording, as it survives today, presents seven compositions:
“Friendly Galaxy”, which opens this tape, is a very different performance from that captured in Milan on January 1978. There, it was a supporting framework for “Third Planet”, here it is explored at some length, with fine solos from Sun Ra and Michael Ray. Although it’s the start of this tape, it is likely that it was not not the beginning of the concert. It’s a fine performance.
“An Unknowneth Love” originally appeared as the final track on MEDIA DREAM. Sun Ra’s piano is succeeded by Luqman Ali’s percussion, faded out on the original LP, now heard unedited in its original length.
The following piece, “Of Other Tomorrows Never Known”, was originally a highlight of the Saturn album THE SOUND MIRROR. Here is the uncut version, appreciably longer than on the LP. This version is still centred on the same key sequence: a Sun Ra keyboard improvisation succeeded by aJohn Gilmore tenor saxophone solo. As on the original LP, you can hear Sun Ra calling out verbal instructions in several places – this is instant composition rather than a pre-planned piece.
“Images” , which follows this piece, was never previously released in its entirity. However one section of it was indeed used on a Saturn album. Faded in at the start of the fabulous John Gilmore tenor solo, it became “Twigs at Twilight”, arguably the finest track on MEDIA DREAM. It is very satisfying to hear it in its complete form at last. Gilmore’s solo is preceded by fine work from Michael Rayon trumpet and Sun Ra on keyboards, afterwards there are further contributions from Sun Ra and Luqman Ali before the theme is restated.
This may be the earliest recorded version of “Bad Truth”, one of Sun Ra’s chants. Rhythmic and repetitive, the singers insist that “The Truth about Planet Earth is a Bad Truth, a Bad Truth.” Sun Ra, Michael Ray and John Gilmore all take their turn at the main stage microphone. It’s notable here how Sun Ra adapts such vocal pieces for the small group performing on this tour.
This is evident too on the succeeding pice, “Space Is The Place”. As with “Bad Truth”, there is a piano introduction, and a backing beat from Luqman Ali, but at the core of the piece are the interwoven vocal lines of Sun Ra, Michael Ray and John Gilmore. These two musicians provide both vocal and instrumental contributions here, alternating between the two roles much more frequently they would than in a larger Arkestra. Such small-group adaptations are a really interesting aspect of this Sun Ra Quartet tour.
The music then segues into the final selection, “The Shadow World” It’s incomplete – the tape runs out during John Gilmore’s solo, and it’s very likely that many minutes of this piece are missing, and it’s probable too this was not the final piece played that night.
This release is an excellent complement to Art Yard’s previous CD release THE COMPLETE DISCO 3000 CONCERT, and helps tell more of the story of this unique quartet tour of Italy in 1978. It doesn’t resolve all the mysteries – where is the master tape which contains the other four tracks of MEDIA DREAM? Which 1978 Italain concert gave rise to ‘:Jazzisticology”, issued on the Saturn album THE SOUND MIRROR? There are other live concert recordings yet to be discovered, I hope.

Chris Trent

December 2007

Special Thanks to Sun Ra, John Gilmore, June Tyson, Charles Davis, Marshall Allen, Pat Patrick, Michael Ray, Danny Ray Thompson, Knoel Scott, Elson Nascimento and The Sun Ra Alter Destiny 21st Century Epic Myth Science Cosmic Dream Arkestra band members, Thomas Jenkins Jr (Managing Director, Sun Ra LLC), Michael D. Anderson (Sun Ra Music Archives), Irwin Chusid (administrator, Sun Ra LLC), Quinton Scott at Strut, John Corbett, Paul Griffiths, Chris Trent, Hartmut Geerken, Cornelia Mueller, Val Wilmer, Francis Gooding, Siofra McComb, Edwin Pouncey, Jill Tipping, John Sinclair, Antal Heitlager at Rush Hour, Leni Sinclair, Rick Steiger, Carey Hamblett, Chris Cutler, Dave Pelts at RER Megacorp.

Vinyl Distributed by Rush Hour NL: Rush Hour

CD Distribution by ReR-Mega-Corp: ReR-Mega-Corp,

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