Saturday, February 04, 2006

Black History Month: A Quiet Place in the Universe

Black History Month continues at HurdAudio with a focused listen to A Quiet Place in the Universe by the other-worldly Sun Ra & his Arkestra recorded live in 1976-77. This is a particularly interesting period of Sun Ra's multi-faceted creative output. And typical for a recorded document of Ra's incredibly inspired arranging prowess this one proves to be bit rough around the edges in production quality.

This set presents some unusual arrangements and instrumentations of some otherwise familiar Sun Ra compositions along with some works I haven't heard elsewhere.

"...A Quiet Place In Outer Space" is a moody, introspective (yet loud) opener featuring John Gilmore on tenor sax along with a substantial wind ensemble. This one is the highlight of this CD and it's the track I come back to for orchestration ideas. It's not the cleanest recording. But this is a great texture and a rich sound if you focus on the substance of this work.

"I Pharaoh" is a long backdrop for a distorted recitation by Sun Ra. The poetry that unfolds highlights the persona of the author and focuses on the Pharoah figure as a key part of Ra's self identity. The easy cries of "pharaoh" from the ensemble add a great dynamic as this work transitions from a vamp into a silky texture of flutes, horns and voices. It's an attractive transformation that begs for an updated interpretation if anyone could fill those extra terrestrial shoes of the narrator.

"Images" is a duet between Sun Ra on synth and Vincent Chancey on French horn with some backing from members of the Arkestra. This is a glimpse of an early collaboration between these two souls that would expand from this point.

"Love in Outer Space" is my favorite Sun Ra composition and this arrangement is quite unlike any version I've heard of it. It takes a full ten minutes for the melodic theme and bass line to emerge as the rhythmic impulse of this great modal work forms the basis for nearly the full duration of this drums and percussion showcase.

"I'll Never Be The Same" briefly pulls this nightclub set back into some comfortable jazz standards territory with Pat Patrick lending a great solo on the alto sax.

Things conclude with a quick dose of "Space is the Place" to close things out. Sun Ra had a knack for great melodic lines with incredible hooks and this one is a classic example. It's hard not to be humming this one for days after listening to it.

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