Sun Ra claimed he was an alien from Saturn on a mission to preach peace, and once he adopted his new name (after the Egyptian god) he denied all knowledge of the man formerly known as Herman.
He’s got to be the jazz man for people who think they don’t like jazz; he reminds us most of space rock bands like Hawkwind who mix various genres as they see fit; Sun Ra himself went from swing to bop to free jazz, and even soul/pop. There’ a tribal feel to a lot of the music; we always think that while he was writing to the jazz form, in his head was a massive rhythm section playing throbbing African percussion. As well as mixing music, he also, Hawkwind-style, took in science fiction as inspiration. Some new-age music comes close, too.
However: this new box set (mainly his Chicago and New York periods, we think) should carry a warning for jazz fans: there are no sleeve notes to speak of, so no list of players, and albums are crammed on two per CD. You want cheap, you pay the price.
The set opens with Jazz By Sun Ra, the debut album, and it’s complex, but recognisable as jazz, and followed by The Sound of Joy (from track 11).
Next up is Super-Sonic Jazz, where the sound starts to develop, with less adherence to the norm, clear from the off with opener India. One of our favourite Sun Ra tracks, Kingdom of Not, is on here. Interstellar Low Ways is next, showing how far Sun Rah had come: it features space chants. Interplanetary Music and Rocket Number Nine take off for the Planet Venus follow, the former sounding a bit dated, the latter with sterling and sax drum work and solar bells, solar drum and space lute.
Jazz in Silhouette is said to be one of his best from the Chicago period, while The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra is a bit more out there — it was produced by Tom Wilson, later famous for producing albums for Frank Zappa. When Sun Comes Out sees Sun developing the percussion as opposed to horns leading the music.
CD4 is (we assume) all the singles and stuff, and ranges from the chanted space rock of We Travel The Spaceways to more straight bop of Dancing Shadows to what could be doo wop/rock n roll chart hits, such as Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie and the slick crooner ballad Bye Bye.
Out on the Enlightenment label, EN4CD9145.