Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Sun Ra & His Arkestra - Strange Celestial Road (2018)

These recordings originated at the same Variety Studio sessions that resulted in the 1979 Saturn release SLEEPING BEAUTY (a.k.a. Door of the Cosmos). Based on known departures and arrivals of various players in the Arkestra, Sun Ra historians have cited a likely recording date of June 1979. These three tracks were sold to Rounder and issued on LP in 1980; Sun Ra retained "Springtime Again," "Door of the Cosmos," and "Sleeping Beauty" for release on Saturn. 

Excerpts from the AllMusic Review by Ra authority Sean Westergaard:

The band Sun Ra had at the end of the '70s was surely the funkiest he ever had, with electric bassist Steve Clarke (in tandem with upright player Richard Williams) and the twin guitars of Taylor Richardson and Skeeter McFarland. 

"Celestial Road" kicks things off, where electric bass, arco bass and wah-wah guitar set the stage for a great June Tyson vocal, followed by solos from John Gilmore [tenor sax], Michael Ray [trumpet], Sun Ra [keys], and Damon Choice [vibes]. "Say" has a great electric bassline and joyous horn charts, and swings mightily with a vaguely Latin rhythm. There's a fine electric guitar solo, as well as some more fantastic playing from Gilmore. Ra's keyboard sounds and soloing are particularly deranged on this album, but never get into the purely noisy realm. 

"I'll Wait for You" is the real treat of this album, featuring a great mellow groove and wonderful ensemble vocals led by the beautiful June Tyson. There's plenty of fine soloing on this track as well, but the main attraction is the mix by Ra and Michael Ray. There's a dub-like element to the way the instruments and voices are treated and mixed in and out, but this is dub by way of Saturn, and the mix is at least as weird and wonderful as anything Lee Perry has done. This is an overlooked album in an unwieldy discography, but it's a real gem. Recommended.

1. Celestial Road 07:02
2. Say 12:10
3. I'll Wait for You 16:06

Recorded, mixed and mastered at Variety Recording Studio, NYC 
Probably recorded June 1979 
Engineer: Mike Dacek 
Mixed by Sun Ra, Michael Ray, Mike Smith 

All compositions by Sun Ra © Enterplanetary Koncepts (BMI)
Originally issued on Rounder Records
All rights reserved

Sun Ra: piano, electric piano, organ, synth, vocals
Michael Ray: trumpet, vocals
Curt Pulliam: trumpet
Walter Miller: trumpet
Craig Harris: trombone
Tony Bethel: trombone
Vincent Chancey: French horn
Marshall Allen: alto sax, flute
John Gilmore: tenor sax, percussion
James Jacson: flute, bassoon, Infinity-drum
Eloe Omoe: bass clarinet, flute, percussion
Danny Ray Thompson: baritone sax, flute, percussion
Kenny Williams: tenor and baritone sax, flute
Noël Scott: alto and baritone sax, percussion
Hutch Jones: alto and tenor sax
Sylvester Baton: various reeds
Skeeter McFarland: electric guitar
Taylor Richardson: electric guitar
Steve Clarke: electric bass
Richard Williams: bass
Harry Wilson: vibraphone
Damon Choice: vibraphone, vocals
Eddie Thomas: drums
Luqman Ali: drums
Reg McDonald: drums
Atakatune: percussion
June Tyson: vocals
Rhoda Blount: vocals