Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Volume Two of Sun Ra's Heliocentric Worlds

The second volume of The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra (ESP) takes off where volume one ended. This is more of the essential exploratory Ra with its percussive sound universes, improvisational collages of horns, individual solos against an orchestral backdrop, and various freely articulated pairings, such as electronic keyboard and bowed bass or a horn or two and percussion.

The key members John Gilmore, Marshall Allen (who currently directs the revived Arkestra), Pat Patrick and Ronnie Boykins all make their presence felt. What strikes me of these mid-'60s sides is that there were really at least two Sun Ra Arkestra identities in those early days. One was especially geared toward the live shows, the sort of campy cosmic astro-men from another planet bag and the visual carnival that went along with that. Chants, songs, and rocket thrust Ra keyboard antics were a large part of the public face of the band. And they did that quite well, of course. Then there was the second side of the Arkestra, something they did for themselves and, while inviting audiences to appreciate it, did not build their live identity around it. It was frankly experimental free jazz from the big band. And it was in the studio that Sun Ra could concentrate more of his efforts on these kinds of pieces, without the need to draw a particular audience into the picture.

Heliocentric Worlds concentrates on that latter side of the band. As mentioned in my review of volume one (see below) the band under Ra's direction was quite in advance of what any larger bands even approached in those days. Volume two is simply another installment of that music. While volume one may be the stronger of the two, both volumes should be heard together to give you a full picture of the intended effect.

Like the first volume, this one is now available in a limited collectors' audiophile vinyl edition. See the ESP website for details.

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