Sun Ra & His Arkestra – Sun Ra at Inter-Media Arts [3xLP] – New LP
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A stunning live Sun Ra event, recorded at the Inter-Media Arts Center in New York, April 20, 1991! Modern Harmonic proudly presents this very special Sun Ra recording, issued here for the first time ever! This concert was just two years before Ra's "earthly departure" -- and his keyboard work was amazingly strident and vibrant here. The Arkestra was in perfect form as well; this special night also showcased the Arkestra's vocal magnificence with selections and sections powerfully performed by June Tyson, Michael Ray, T.C. Carney, James Jacson, and John Gilmore. Rarely will you hear the Arkestra with such clarity! Many Sun Ra releases were derived from live performances, but seldom did they have the quality or sonic-punch of this recording. We'd like to extend a big thank you to the folks at radio station WNYC, for perfectly capturing this event. At Modern Harmonic, we're celebrating this evening by releasing the complete performance across three premium RTI LP pressings with configurations packaged in stunning, tri-fold chipboard jackets. Our limited edition release also features extensive liners by noted jazz writer Howard Mandel, and is wrapped in a gorgeous design by legendary album-art icon, Jim Flora.
Triple LP pressed on HQ RTI vinyl with extensive liners!
Cut by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio.
Intro / Springtime Again • Advice To Medics / Friendly Galaxy • Love In Outer Space • Hocus Pocus • The Mayan Temples • Yeah Man • Prelude To A Kiss • Space Is The Place / We Travel The Spaceways • Intro / Early Autumn • Opus In Springtime • Retrospect / East Of The Sun • Carefree • Cocktails For Two • Planet Earth Day • Space Loneliness • We Travel The Spaceways
"Between 1979 and 1981 I’d regularly go to the Squat Theatre to see Sun Ra and His Arkestra. Located on West 23rd Street in Chelsea, Squat was just below street level, with windows open to the street. It was the perfect venue for Sun Ra, and the Arkestra marching in singing "Space Is the Place" was a sight to behold. Fast-forward ten years when I had the thrill of recording Sun Ra for WNYC at the Inter-Media Arts Center in Huntington, New York. Listening to the tapes now, stripped of the Arkestra's visual theatricality, I’m reminded of how well Sun Ra synthesized so many elements of 20th century jazz, from swing to the avant-garde. But regardless of style, the joy in the music comes through with every note. This concert was just two years before Sun Ra's "earthly departure," yet his piano playing is still so vibrant and really drives the proceedings.
"Convenient, portable multi-track recording equipment was not widely available in 1991, and WNYC’s concert recordings at the time were exclusively direct to two-track mixes. (In fact, this was a digital 2-track recording using the DBX-700 digital audio processor which employed delta modulation rather than the more common PCM to convert the analog signal to digital.) At this concert one of our maintenance engineers, Karen Burdick, sat in the front row and relayed cues as to who was about to solo (we were probably mixing in the lighting booth in the back of the hall), and Michael DeMark (now Technical Director of Minnesota Public Radio's The Current) did a great mix."
This was a precarious period for the Arkestra. Sun Ra had suffered a serious stroke in November 1990, and remained in rehab until early February 1991. During his recovery the Arkestra performed a series of benefits to cover his medical expenses. Ra did not resume performing until late February. Two months later, this concert was staged. Sun Ra does not speak during the show (Michael Ray serves as the band's spokesman), but his piano playing remains idiosyncratic, and the band packs a wallop. This is as close to mainstream as Sun Ra got, yet longtime fans will hear no compromise in the master's style—which had always been more accessible than casual listeners realize.
IMAC, run by Michael Rothbard and Kathie Bodily, was a 600-seat non-profit "carved from the shabby remnants of an Art Deco vaudeville house," wrote the NY Times, who described it as "a quirky, intimate space." Bookings ranged from pop to the avant-garde—"a musical Eden," said one patron. After 26 years, it closed its doors in 2009, due to rising costs, declining public financing and competition from newer performance venues.
Label: Enterplanetary Koncepts
Sun Ra: keyboards and synthesizer
John Gilmore: tenor saxophone, clarinet, vocals
Marshall Allen: alto saxophone, flute
June Tyson: vocals, violin, dance
James Jacson: bassoon, flute, drum, vocals
Tyrone Hill: trombone
Earl “Buster” Smith: drums
Knoël Scott: alto saxophone
Jothan Callins: bass
Elson (Dos Santos) Nascimento: percussion
Charles Davis: baritone saxophone
Michael Ray: trumpet, vocals
Ahmed Abdullah: trumpet, backing vocals
Fred Adams: trumpet
Clifford Barbaro: drums
T.C. Carney ("Mr. TCIII"): vocals
Chris Capers: trumpet, flugelhorn
Teddy Thomas: percussion and dance
Recorded at the Inter-Media Arts Center, Huntington, New York, on April 20, 1991, and broadcast on WNYC on November 9, 1991. This concert was part of a series entitled the New Jazz Network Tour, produced by the New York State Council on the Arts and Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center of Buffalo.
Produced for radio by Eileen Delahunty
Engineers: Edward Haber (technical director), Michael DeMark (mix engineer), and Karen Burdick
Executive producer for WNYC: Allison Chernow
Prepared for digital release by Irwin Chusid for Sun Ra LLC
Cover art by James Flora/JimFlora.com, adapted design by Irwin Chusid
Special thanks to Andy Lanset, Irene Trudel, David Garland, Christopher Trent, and Thomas Jenkins, Jr.
All performance rights ℗ and © Sun Ra LLC, with special thanks to WNYC
All titles composed by Sun Ra © Enterplanetary Koncepts (BMI)
except "Hocus Pocus," "Yeah, Man!," "Prelude to a Kiss," "East of the Sun," and "Cocktails for Two" (all copyright control)
MODERN HARMONIC issued SUN RA AT INTER-MEDIA ARTS on vinyl and CD with extensive annotation and photos.
VILLAGE VOICE: If there’s an overused word of the day, it’s “genius.” Everyone’s a genius: overlooked, mad, Mac — or, if they’re legitimate and lucky, MacArthur.
And then there’s Sun Ra. Born in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, in 1914, he absorbed the big-band sounds of Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson (whom he would later join) but spun their influences into something entirely new and bold to become a singular American figure — even if he maintained that he was from Saturn.
Now, with Sun Ra and his Arkestra: At Inter-Media Arts, April 1991 (Modern Harmonic), a 25-year-old concert just released on double-CD and triple-vinyl, the bandleader’s — yes — genius is on full display yet again. If Other Music on East 4th Street, a virtual shrine to the iconoclast, hadn’t sadly closed earlier this year, they might’ve thrown a record-release party on account of this.
The stirring performance was recorded at the now shuttered Huntington, New York, nonprofit arts center — a blue dot in a red county in the Bush Sr. era. Ra was two years from his death at 79 and, unbelievably, according to Howard Mandel’s valuable liner notes, recovering from a stroke just two months earlier. Ra’s piano playing — chameleon, off-kilter — is on fine display, even more surprising since, according to his biographer John Szwed, his left hand was at least partially paralyzed by that stroke.
The two-hour set opens with a version of the Sun Ra-penned “Springtime Again,” both hopeful and, in June Tyson’s vocal rendition, mournful. (As Mandel reveals in the liner notes, she had recently been diagnosed with cancer and would succumb to it less than two years later.) If you didn’t know what you were listening to, you might mistake it for Kamasi Washington’s own triple album from last year, the through-line clear.
Tyson, like the rest of the Arkestra — on this night, eighteen strong, and many living together in a house in Philadelphia — has been perennially underrated. Ra’s band was not “tight” in the conventional sense; rather, they were so well schooled, disciplined, technically gifted, and versatile that their imprecision was in fact precise.
The set varies between the traditional — after all, Sun Ra was steeped in black musical tradition — and the outlandish; kitsch and edge. “Hocus Pocus” is a swing number that shows off the superlative talent of John Gilmore, but on clarinet, not his usual tenor saxophone. “The Mayan Temples” thrashes and crashes with percussion on top of percussion and not one but two improvising flautists. (Who has two flautists in his band?) Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss,” in the Arkestra’s hands, turns into honking avant-balladry.
After the intermission, it’s more swirling tempest and drive (“Planet Earth Day” and “Carefree,” Sun Ra breaking out the synthesizer on both) alternating with woozy sweetness (as on Johnny Mercer’s “Early Autumn”) as well as the downright goofy, like “East of the Sun,” a tune written in the 1930s for a Princeton University a cappella group.
This irreverence, the hallmark of Ra’s radical career, was a blessing and a curse. He was allergic to trends and movements — to a fault, commercially. But he became a pillar of Afrofuturism, a proto-fusionist, a precursor to free jazz. He anticipated r&b and funk. He did everything, and often before anyone else. (He used an electric piano, for instance, more than ten years before Miles Davis.) He was outré, even in the freewheeling jazz world, which often shunned him. His influence can be seen in musicians as varied as Anthony Braxton and George Clinton, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Maurice White. He wrote poetry and recited it to music — maybe he was the first MC — and was political in those words, and in stance and gesture.
This 1991 set was Sun Ra, late-career but at his finest, traversing his interests and time itself. It was neither his last concert nor his best. It was simply a riveting two-hour performance from a man, and his collective, who never compromised, never pandered, was always fresh, exacting, and revelatory. There’s a word for that.