SUN RA, IN SOME FAR PLACE: Roma ’77 2LP/2CD.
1977 was a transitional time for jazz enigma and self-proclaimed member of an “angel race“, Sun Ra. During the Summer of 1976, he had stormed Montreux and toured West Africa with one of the greatest of his full-sized Arkestras before embarking on occasional solo concerts for the first time, emphasising his prowess at the piano. Although he had always played the blues within Arkestra sets, he now summoned up the rolling tradition of blues piano, recalling Otis Spann, Avery Parrish, stride and ricky-tick styles.
He made two solo albums for Paul Bley’s Improvising Artists label (’Solo Piano’ and ’St. Louis Blues’) before travelling to Rome. For the concert, featured here, Ra brought in drummer Luqman Ali, who had been part of the Arkestra during the band’s early Chicago years, and vocalist Thomas Thaddeus aka Eddie Thomas. Thomas was a percussionist, dancer and “incense dude“ with the Arkestra throughout the late ‚70s period. He would appear again on Ra’s ’Lanquidity’ album for Philly Jazz in ’79.
During this intimate concert, Ra takes us through piano and synthesizer renditions of Arkestra staples like ’Love In Outer Space’, ’Space Is The Place’ and ’Calling Planet Earth’ but also explores a selection of jazz standards. Among them, we hear the first ever released Ra version of the 1930s staple ’I Cover The Waterfront’ alongside a dissonant version of ’Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child’ and ’St. Louis Blues’. Ra’s ties to Italy would continue the following year as he recorded three acclaimed albums for Horo Records, run by filmmaker turned label owner, Aldo Sinesio.
Following 2014’s Marshall Allen compilation, ’In the Orbit Of Ra’ and 2015’s Gilles Peterson-curated ’To Those Of Earth… And Other Worlds’, and Sun Ra – Planets of Life or Death Strut and Art Yard join forces once more for the first release anywhere of ’In Some Far Place: Roma ’77’. Recorded direct from the sound board and mastered from first generation reel to reel tapes, this is one of the very few trio albums by Sun Ra ever to be released and is exclusively available for Record Store Day 2016.
– first issue of anywhere of this 1977 recording from Rome. – official release mastered from first generation reel to reel tapes.
– Photographs © by H.L. Lindenmaier, sleeve notes by the Arkestra’s Knoel Scott. Cover design featuring work by Lewis Heriz.
A1. INTRO AND UNIDENTIFIED ORIGINAL 4.07
A2. SPONTANEOUS SIMPLICITY 6.40
A3. SPACE IS THE PLACE 6.50
A4. CALLING PLANET EARTH 5.41
B1. OUTER SPACEWAYS INCORPORATED 6.45
B2. UNIDENTIFIED ORIGINAL (2) 4.23
B3. TRYING TO PUT THE BLAME ON ME 3.43
B4. SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD 5.07
C1. HOW AM I TO KNOW? 4.56
C2. I COVER THE WATERFRONT 4.55
C3. LOVE IN OUTER SPACE 7.38
D1. ST LOUIS BLUES 7.53
D2. LADY BIRD / HALF NELSON 4.41
D3. WILLOW WEEP FOR ME 7.14
D4. TAKE THE ‘A’ TRAIN 3.56
Recorded Live In Rome, 1977
Sun Ra: piano, organ, synthesizer, vocals
Luqman Ali: drums
Thomas Thaddeus: vocals
Here we have a rare occasion within Sun Ra’s incredible journey on Planet Earth. The genius of Le Sony’r Ra, who arrived on this planet over 100 years ago, was manifest for the edification, education and enlightenment of the peoples of this troubled planet in his numerous roles of scholar, poet, bandleader, teacher, composer, arranger, multi-keyboardist, Master Tone Scientist, guru, Mentalist, self-proclaimed Ambassador of the Intergalactic Regions of Outer Space and prophet of present / future past. On this small codification of his immense body of work, we have an opportunity to fully appreciate his genius at the piano in particular as well as with electronic keyboards and Mini-Moog synthesizer. From the ‘70s to the ‘90s, Sun Ra and His Arkestra found widespread appreciation throughout the European continent and this recording captures Mr. Mystery during one of his rarely performed solo piano concerts, recorded Live in Rome in 1977 during a brief tour which included concerts in Venice (also recorded and released on a double CD by Leo Records). Subsequent comparison of these recordings will leave one truly amazed at the wealth of creativity which flowed out of this great visionary. Songs which were dear to him like ‘St. Louis Blues’ were played throughout his career, yet each rendition is strikingly different from the preceding and anteceding ones, each as individual and beautiful as one diamond from another.
“Listen to the birds. They never repeat themselves… Why should I repeat myself?” Sun Ra “IN SOME FAR PLACE…”
As we listen to the opening song of the recital heralded by the drums of Luqmqn Ali, Mr. Ra states a simple theme followed by an almost childlike modal interplay as if to say, “Yes, my music is quite different but entirely accessible to your own musical sensibility.” Perhaps taking us to the heart of his musical self, Mr. Ra takes us to his roots, to the melodies, harmonies and rhythms of the Deep South starting with the evangelical grooves he must have heard each Sunday in his weekly visits to the local Baptist church during his youth. The rendition morphs into the juke joint jump blues romp, ‘Sunny’, which he would play during his early dance hall days in Calumet City, cutting a blues-drenched groove as dancers snaked cross the floor. This was the music of the black social clubs of the Deep South and Midwest where chorus lines would accompany rehearsals at the Club DeLisa in Chicago and where the then Sonny Blount would play and arrange for the dance show routines. These dance routines were the origin of the ‘Soul Train’ ‘70s TV show line formations. Like the other jazz greats of his era, Sun Ra’s music remained close to the blues for his entire career. Claiming W.C. Handy as a fellow Alabaman, Sun Ra frequently played the composer’s immortal ‘St Louis Blues’, as you will hear during the second set. ‘Spontaneous Simplicity’ is a Ra standard that would often feature Sun Ra Arkestra Director Marshall Allen on flute during the ‘70s and ‘80s. The solo rendition here opens with Mr. Ra on Farfisa organ, switching to Mini Moog then moving to the piano with subtle accompaniment by Luqman Ali, a former Nation of Islam Minister who left the folds of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad to travel the spaceways with Sun Ra. This is followed by a jaunty version of ‘Space Is The Place’ on piano. You can hear Sonny clearly articulate the words of the song on the piano keys:
“There’s no limit to the things that you can do…..
There’s no limit to the things that you can be…………
Your mind is free and your life is worthwhile.
Space is the Place Space is the Place…………
Space is the Place……
Yeah, Space Is The Place”
Of strange note here is the clear similarity in the sounds Sun Ra produces on his emphatic cry, “Calling Planet Earth……. Calling Planet Earth…” with what youtube calls the “song” of the Comet 67P which was recorded by the Rosetta spacecraft as it tracked the comet passing close to this planet in 2014!! Small wonder that government agencies kept tabs on Sun Ra for years as it was believed that he was actually communicating with extra-terrestrials. 100 years after his arrival on this planet, was Sun Ra making a reappearance? PLANET EARTH????????????????? Within the album, Le Sony’r Ra then announces, “If you find Earth boring… just the same ol’ same thing… c’mon and sign up with….. Outer Spaceways Incorporated.” The music is the message and the message is the music. Listen to Sonny’s touch on the piano. In my humble opinion, he had no peer in that regard. Then listen to Luqman follow his Master in a solo reminiscent of the great Max Roach. ‘Untitled 2’ brings us back to an age when angels walked the earth… often disguised as musicians. ‘Trying To Put The Blame On Me’ is an introspective number. We find Sonny lamenting his total disconnect with the rites of men. His alienation was due to his 24/7 commitment to his mission which included his total insomnia (he would crash for several hours maybe one day out of a week). The rest of the time he was awake at least 22 hours out of a day, writing, reading, rehearsing, composing, researching. This regiment often made him a very lonely person since NO ONE could keep up with him. This song is a Ra lament of loneliness and alienation from the desires and motives of most men. Why should I have to make such sacrifice for the betterment of Humanity? Why me? Why must this planet be in such a terrible condition… making me so necessary for this planet? We then turn full circle as Sunny returns to his gospel / blues roots once more. The motif starts as an old gospel shout:
“I’m gonna tell ………… I’m gonna tell……… My big brother on you” ….. morphing into that classic song of black alienation, ‘Sometimes I feel……like a motherless child’ Listen closely and you will hear the similarity between ‘Motherless Child’ and ‘Space Is The Place’, as both songs share the same notes for their motifs.
The second LP begins with ‘How Am I To Know’, one of Sonny’s favorite standards and often used as a feature for the great baritone / tenor saxophonist Charles Davis throughout his intermittent tenure with the Arkestra. Here, the song features the vocals of a young Eddie Tohmas (Thomas Thaddeus)*. We then move to a truly rare instance of Sonny playing ‘I Cover The Waterfront’ – this is the first time any version by Sonny has been released. In this jaunty interpretation we can hear the influence of his mentor Fletcher Henderson as well as variations in harmony and color not unlike his pianistic colleague Mary Lou Williams.
The rendition here of ‘Love In Outer Space’ is full of rhythmic complexity, rooted in the polyrhythms of the African continent. This percussive interpretation also references the piano stylings of Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) and Randy Weston, even the “jungle grooves” of Duke Ellington. The percussion of Luqman Ali is totally responsive to Sonny’s touch. Mr. Ra’s use of compound triplets, closely voiced chords and a rolling bassline span the breadth of his music background from the southern churches to sub-Saharan Africa. Sun now transmolecularises into the outer reaches of the Cosmos, beginning on his Farfisa organ and moving on to duet with his Mini-Moog with sounds later heard in the movie ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. As you listen to this intergalactic soliloquy, the influence of Sun Ra’s music on Sci-Fi cinema music scoring cannot be exaggerated, a full decade ahead of time. Now Mr. Ra returns to the piano in a throwback to his blues roots with his rendition of the classic ‘St. Louis Blues’, a song Sunny would play regularly throughout his stay on this planet. We can imagine the smokefilled room of a juke joint or club that would hire Sonny throughout the South during his early days as a pianist. Like the other jazz masters of his era, Sun Ra was a master of the blues. Here you can hear the affinity of Sonny and his friend and practice mate, Avery Parish, composer of the blues standard ‘After Hours’. Later, Sun Ra would record his own version of ‘After Hours’ in clear homage to his early friend and associate. ‘Willow Weep For Me’ marks an introspective turn and continues to speak in the language of the blues. My own experience tells me that the blues is first and foremost personal. Is this Sonny’s cry for the people of Planet Earth, as he encourages the audience to participate? One thing is for sure – it is a musical sermon of great depth.
Duke Ellington was a composer / bandleader whose works would always feature in Sonny’s concert repertoire, usually with a twist of some sort. Here, Sun Ra takes Billy Strayhorn’s composition ‘Take The A-Train’ (forever associated with Duke) into 3/4 time in this exhortation of the joy of Harlem, when it was the centre of black culture in the U.S. The angels (and demons) that walk the streets of Black America were creating a beauty of Life as Art and Art as Life which continues to capture the appreciation of the entire planet.
We now find that, long after this recording has finished playing, the music of this great Angel of jazz whirls around our consciousness, washing away the dust of this mundane world and splashing our minds, hearts and souls with a truly celestial joy. Such is the music of Sun Ra.
Knoel Scott, The Sun Ra Arkestra
CD:1 – Track list
2: Untitled 1
3: Spontaneous Simplicity
4: Space Is The Place
5: Calling Planet Earth
6: Outer Spaceways Incorporated
7: Penthouse Serenade
8: Untitled 2
9: Trying To Put The Blame On Me
10: Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
CD:2 – Track list
1: How Am I To Know?
2: I Cover The Waterfront
3: Love In Outer Space
4: El Is A Sound Of Joy
5: St Louis Blues
6: Lady Bird / Half Nelson
7: Willow Weep For Me
8: Take The ‘A’ Train
* Thomas Thaddeus, aka Eddie Thomas, Eddie Tahmahs, Pharaoh Abdullah was a percussionist, vocalist, dancer and “incense dude” with the Arkestra in the late 1970s. He featured as a percussionist on the ‘Lanquidity’ album (Philly Jazz, 1979) and is the featured vocalist on a Philadelphia recording of ‘How Am I To Know’ from 29th April, 1977.
Digital Download : Sun Ra In Some Far Place : Roma ’77: STRUT122CD / LP Sun Ra In Some Far Place Roma 77
All Tracks Licensed to Strut / IK7 courtesy of Art Yard Limited.
Liner notes by Knoel Scott of the Sun Ra Arkestra.
Recording credits, performance notes and research by Chris Trent.
Mastering and vinyl cut by Peter Beckmann at Studio Technologyworks. / www.technologyworks.co.uk
Front cover design by Lewis Heriz / www.lewisheriz.com
Package Graphic Design by Matt Thame at Studio Auto / www.studioauto.co.uk
Cover photograph by H.L. Lindenmaier.
Produced by Quinton Scott and Peter Dennett. All Rights Reserved 2017 © Art Yard Ltd. Published by Enterplanetary Koncepts BMI.
More from The Sun Ra Arkestra: http://www.sunraarkestra.com