Sun Ra: At The Showcase, Live In Chicago, 1976-1977

Previously unreleased Sun Ra set mixes swing and avant-garde and includes solos from John Gilmore, Marshall Allen and Michael Ray

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Despite Sun Ra having passed on over 30 years ago, his ethos is still with us: the Arkestra lives on under the leadership of saxophonist Marshall Allen, now into his very late 90s. Anyone having seen the band “live” over the last few years will agree that his spirit is very much alive in the contemporary presentation.

This never before released music is very typical of what might be determined as middle-period Ra. The slightly earlier material on CD1 embraces much of the leader’s grounding in more conventional forms, which included a stint as pianist and arranger for the ailing Fletcher Henderson in the 1940s. There is plenty of swing-based music here, including the slightly off-centre Rose Room, all driven along by the sometimes rudimentary but perhaps appropriate drumming of Luqman Ali. As one would expect, Ra’s electric keyboards are well to the fore, essentially at the heart of action, sometimes dominant, occasionally outstaying their welcome, often in your face.

John Gilmore, long associated with the Arkestra, is probably the outstanding soloist. He makes an outstanding contribution to the inappropriately named Velvet, a contemporary take on a swing-era base. There are the unmistakable tones of the aforementioned Allen to savour and the sometimes over-the-top trumpet of Michael Ray, then vying to be top dog in the brass section.

CD2 opens with the lengthy Calling Planet Earth & The Shadow World, a typically free-based blast which often formed part of the band’s repertoire, contrasting greatly with the less frenetic sounds of a year later. Following the classic staple Space Is The Place, the final two tracks – crammed in between the extended applause and Showcase owner Joe Segal’s announcements – are both voice only, full of chants and incantations.

Aficionados of the man claiming he came from Saturn need not hesitate in buying this set, also available on double vinyl.

Discography
CD1: (1) New Beginning; View From Another Dimension; Synthesis Approach; Ankhnaton; Rose Room; Moonship Journey; Velvet (52.08)
CD2: (2) Calling Planet Earth & The Shadow World; Theme Of The Stargazers; Space Is The Place; Applause; Ebah Speaks In Cosmic Tongue; Greetings From the 21st Century; Joe Segal Announcements (36.42)
(1) Sun Ra (p, kyb); John Gilmore (ts); Marshall Allen (as, f, kora); Danny Davis (as, f); Eloe Omoe (as, bcl); Danny Thompson (bar, f); Michael Ray, Ahmed Abdullah, Emmett McDonald (t); Vincent Chancey (frh); Dale Williams (g); Richard Williams (b); Luqman Ali (d); Eddie Thomas (pc); James Jacson (ancient infinity drum, oboe); Atakatune (cga); June Tyson, Cheryl Banks-Smith, Wisteria (Judith Holton) (v). The Showcase, Chicago. 4 & 10 November 1977. (2) as (1) but 21 February 1976.
Jazz Detective DDJD-013