Sunday, March 21, 2010
I've mentioned before that there is nothing like seeing The Sun Ra Arkestra live, even if you're accustomed to the shrieking unpredictability of the "avant garde". I've had the privilege of seeing them only once, on Halloween in 1998 in Kansas City, and they were, to put it lightly, smoking. It is the only concert I've ever attended that truly transcended the concert setting. I saw college professors, community leaders, businessmen, music geeks, and art students get down that night like it truly was after the end of the world and I was surprised that the party didn't spill out of the theater and into the streets, filling the rest of the world with all the love and harmony and peace and whatever that Sun Ra wanted us to feel. Keep in mind, this was five years after Sun Ra's death and three years after John Gilmore's passing. I can't imagine what they were like in the 1960s and 70s, at the height of Ra's popularity and creativity. In retrospect, I guess it's kind of understandable why all those stupid Woodstock assholes believed that they could change the world with music. I mean, come on, with Sun Ra and Jimi Hendrix on the same planet I suppose anything seemed possible.
So I thought for this installment in the Sun Ra series I'd post some live stuff from the Arkestra in their hey-day(s). There are a lot of purists out there that will tell you that it's just not jazz unless it's live, and that the studio built the museum which built the hall of fame which is just a big tombstone anyway and that rock and roll has suffered the same fate. And I suppose you can count me among that group. But I've gone off topic, as I am prone to do (thank you very much Pabst Blue Ribbon)... so, focus, I'll get back to the task at hand.
Nothing Is... was recorded in 1966 during a college tour of New York state but wasn't released until 1970. Keep your ears open for Carl Nimrod, who is credited with playing the gong and something called the "sun horn". Imagine putting that on your resume.
If you're wondering, the cover includes this poem, written by Ra:
"At first nothing is;
Then nothing transforms itself to be air
Sometimes the air transforms itself to be water;
And the water becomes ran and falls to earth;
Then again the air through friction becomes fire.
So the nothing and the air and the water
And the fire are really the same...
Upon different degrees."
Disco 3000 was recorded in January, 1978 in Milan. It features a smaller version of the Arkestra, with only four members, and does not include current band leader Marshall Allen (or Mr Nimrod, for that matter). It does, however, include Ra playing a "Crumar Mainman", an early synthesizer with a rhythm program, that may or may not have ever existed. The Crumar company (an Italian company which makes keyboards) supposedly has no record of ever manufacturing a "Mainman" and some researchers have suggested that "Mainman" is Ra's nickname for his Crumar Multiman synthesizer. Other reports say that Crumar only made 10 Mainman instruments as test products and then abandoned the idea. In any case Ra claimed that the Mainman was real and is known to have credited "Crumar Mainman" as an actual performer. If anyone has any further info on this feel free to chime in and clear this up.
(Note: This version of Disco 3000 is the recent reissue by Art Yard. It is a record of the full concert. The original vinyl release was only four tracks.)