Outer Space, Knitting Factory Works CD KFW 183,
Raw Ra, rah!
"I view the work of Sun Ra as essential, as an
essential component that must be experienced as part of
moving into the construct of the next thousand
What, asks Myth-Sciences founder Reuben Radding,
happened to the music of skewed mystic band leader Sun Ra?
Why isnt it performed today like the music of Monk,
Ellington or Mingus? Why not, indeed? For my part, Im
hard pressed to name a Ra tune, let alone hum a few bars.
The critics are little help. In James Lincoln
Colliers The Making of Jazz: A Comprehensive
History, Ra merits hardly more than a footnote in which
Collier concedes that Ra is "sometimes considered a
jazz musician." On the other hand, John Corbett, a
regular contributor to Downbeat and Option,
weighs in with, "In a just world,
the musical significance of Sun Ra and his Arkestra would be
beyond dispute." Whom are we to believe? Surely the
meter swings less wildly on the subject of Ellington or
Ras own unconventionalityhis claimed Saturn
citizenship and insistence that he was not from this
placedid little to advance his cause (although the
same gig worked wonders for George Clintonno one took
him seriously). And maybe he just hasnt
been gone long enough yet for us to celebrate his music
without guilt for not rewarding him while he was here (Ra
died in 1993 at the age of 79).
Thankfully, Reuben Radding and Myth-Science brood less
on the subject, and instead have done something about it.
Radding assembled what he calls this "kind of strange
bar band" to play Sun Ra compositions simply because he
loves the music. He goes to pains to let us know that this
is not a tribute band. This no Arkestra recreation complete
with costumes, chant and dance. It is simply a collection of
strong musical personalities dedicated to the singular sound
of Sun Ra.
This recording captures the band live at the Knitting
Factory in New York City, Halloween 1995 before what sounds
like a small, but appreciative crowd. The sound is raw and
real, somewhere between a you-are-there ambience and a board
tape. True to form, the quintet does not sound like the
Arkestra. This is no big band. The textures are limited to
the instruments on handno familiar piano, brass,
synthesizers or jungle drums.
What you get instead is the Ra vibe, and plenty of it.
The players are energetic, inspired, and they sound like
theyre actually having funhonest fun, no
self-deprecating irony here. Saxophones take flight over
thumping bass grooves, while a truly fascinating Anthony
Coleman stuccos the place on the organ. The tunes reach back
to 50s era Ra covering swing, bop and ballad and, of
course, just flat out space. Theyre all performed with
a 90s edge, giving the whole thing the feeling of
black-and-white footage shot through modern lenses, then
antiqueddeliberately dated, yet crisp.
The performances are reverent, but never cautious. Tenor
and alto saxes Tim Otto and Briggan Krauss do not hesitate
to blow. They make joyful, unrestrained noise. And on that
subject, special mention goes to organ player Anthony
Coleman. More than anyone, Coleman is responsible for
putting the space in the arrangements. As Radding says in
the liner notes, Coleman can be a "big band, a train, a
horn, a drum or a whole history of jazz, salsa and surf
organ styles." I cant argue with that. Coleman
squeezes from the organ some of the most interesting sounds
Ive ever heard.
Radding can now add me to the list of people that
Myth-Science have turned on to the music of Sun Ra.
Theres enormous territory to explore, and an excellent
place to start is John Corbetts book Extended
Play: Sounding Off From John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein
(Duke University Press, 1994). Corbetts essay and
interview with Ra provide some helpful guideposts for
tackling the enormous recorded output of Sun Ra and the
Arkestra. Jason Staczek
Glenn Brooks says... Jason definitely knows
whereof. Anthony Colemans bi-tonal scorched-earth
organ is downright lethal!
Reuben Radding, acoustic bass; Tim Otto, tenor sax;
Anthony Coleman, organ; Briggan Krauss, alto sax; Ed Ware,
Recorded live at the Knitting Factory Tap Bar, October
7-8, 1995. Produced by Reuben Radding and Brett Heinz;
engineered by Brett Heinz; mixed by Reuben Radding and Brett
Discipline (Children of the Sun) Love In
Outer Space Kingdom of Not Love on a
Faraway Planet Space Loneliness
Springtime in Chicago Space Fling
of related interest
Find out more about Myth-Science at
the Knitting Factory web site.
Sun Ra (and His Arkestra)
With Evidence Records re-releasing his great
self-produced recordings, there are, amazingly, over thirty
Ra albums now in print. Where to start? Try these.
Jazz in Silhouette, Evidence CD ECD 22012-2,
The Arkestra comes together for one of their early,
The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 1,
ESP CD 1014, 1965
Often considered the best Ra, for those who like their
Monorails and Satellites, Evidence CD ECD
22013-2, 1966 (32:19)
This solo piano recording effectively demonstrates
Ras influences, from boogie to swing to Latin and