Saturday, February 19, 2005
Sun Ra: Sound Sun Pleasure!!
Black History Month continues at HurdAudio with an aural visit to Saturn's own Sun Ra and the 1991 Evidence Records release of Sound Sun Pleasure!! which is a reissue of the Sound Sun Pleasure LP from circa 1958 - 1960 and Deep Purple (originally released in 1973), which is believed to be the earliest Sun Ra recordings in existence dating back to 1953.
I've come to regard Sun Ra as the Beethoven of jazz (and vice versa, just to beat the euro-centric racket I'll call Beethoven the Sun Ra of Western highbrow art music). Musicologists will typically speak of three periods of Beethoven as his creative output spanned (and bridged) the transition from the classical era to the romantic era. I tend to regard Sun Ra as having three distinct periods as well as his output spanned the transition jazz made over the course of the twentieth century from popular music to art/avant. Sound Sun Pleasure!! is a great representation of early "first period" Ra. Much of this period was recorded while this visitor from the planet Saturn was staying in Chicago.
Sound Sun Pleasure!! is a treasured listening experience. The opening arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" with vocalist Hatty Randolph is completely amazing. I'm enormously particular when it comes to vocals. I rarely seek out songs and this is one of just a few exceptions for me. Randolph's exquisite intonation and timbre balances perfectly against Ra's orchestration of this familiar standard.
"Enlightenment" is a favorite Sun Ra composition for me and the early arrangement found on this disc is satisfying to my ears. It's a treat to hear Stuff Smith's violin on "Deep Purple." The solo "Piano Interlude" sheds some light on how deeply evolved Sun Ra's compositional approach was at this early period and shines as a brief sonic gem in its own right. "Dreams Come True" is a Sun Ra original with vocals by Clyde Williams that represents the early period Ra that beautifully captures the song style of the era. The optimism of the poetry makes me smile.
The persona thing is unique. Moondog is the only other complete persona I can think of in my music collection. There's never really been an effort to hide or subvert the fact that Sun Ra was born Sonny Blount on planet Earth. But after spending some time listening and learning about Sun Ra I've come to the conclusion that he fully earned the right to redefine himself as completely as he chose to. So as far as I'm concerned he's actually from Saturn. Not because he is an extra terrestrial being in fact, but because he earned the principle of it. His artistic perrogative is unbounded. I view it as empowering and a means of transcending the ugliness of racism and bigotry in this world by radically redefining his own identity as something that was literally out of this world.