A plethora of Sun Ra's four decades of baffling, dazzling, mystical jazz
May 21, 2018 8:38 PM   Subscribe

A small, moonfaced man who spoke in enigmatic riddles, he fully inhabited the persona of a science fiction jazz Buddha. Sun Ra ... claimed he had been born on Saturn, and had come to Earth to offer a message of peace and salvation through music, as well as hope for a better life elsewhere in the universe. "I've been to a zone where there is no air, no light, no sound, no life, no death, nothing. There's five billion people on this planet, all out of tune. I've got to raise their consciousness, tell them about the wonderful potential to bypass death." With this introduction from The Believer Magazine, quoting Sun Ra himself, here is his music, on Bandcamp, from Sun Ra Music and Sun Ra via Strut. That's a lot of music, so here's a guide to Sun Ra's albums on Bandcamp.

The Sun Ra discography is one of the largest discographies in music history. The American jazz keyboardist, bandleader and composer Sun Ra recorded dozens of singles and over one hundred full-length albums, comprising well over 1000 songs, and making him one of the most prolific recording artists of the 20th century. In addition, there have been at least 8 posthumous releases to date. But first, some background information:

Sun Ra was born as Herman Poole Blount on May 22, 1914. He was involved with music before he was a teen, played in bands in the 1920s and 1930s, and studied music at the Alabama State Agricultural and Mechanical Institute for Negroes (now known as the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University) in Huntsville, Alabama in the 1930s. After attending a year, he left the school, situated in the neighborhood of Normal (the writers have been a bit too on the nose for a while; it's not a recent trend - ed.), later claiming that he had a visionary experience in which he traveled to the planet Saturn and was told to stop attending college. Herman returned to his hometown of Birmingham, where he started rehearsing with a new band and going by Sonny Blount.

That's the preamble to this, a chronological list of Sun Ra's (mainly) studio releases, the vast majority of them now streaming on Bandcamp, broken down into his three most distinct periods, and listed by the initial original recording date (some "albums" are compilations from various recording sessions); additionally, unless indicated otherwise, the albums are attributed to "Sun Ra and his Arkestra"; also, the notes are pulled from Bandcamp album pages, where there are more details and notes to be found, unless there are other links in the descriptions:

Chicago years (1945–61) - Sunny Blout moved to Chicago, where he played piano for various musicians and singers, among them Fletcher Henderson, Gene Ammons, and Billie Holiday. In Chicago, he was inspired by the music, African-American political activism and fringe movements, and Egyptian revival architecture in the city (related: Cairo Supper Club Building - Chicago landmark application -- 22 page PDF, 7.7mb). On October 20, 1952, Blount legally changed his name to Le Sony'r Ra, or Sun Ra for short.
  • Jazz by Sun Ra (aka Sun Song) -- Ra's debut album, recorded in 1956, issued on Transition Records in 1957; "styles shift from hard bop to Third Stream, from Exotica to Ra's emerging concept of Space Jazz"
  • Super-Sonic Jazz -- Recorded in 1956, but released in 1957, Supersonic Jazz is arguably the first long-playing album by Sun Ra and His Arkestra on his Saturn label. However, it was not recorded as a debut. Rather, the album was assembled from tapes recorded during a number of sessions at two Chicago studios (RCA Victor and Balkan), and several tracks had been released as singles before their inclusion on this album. Here, the groundwork is clearly laid for his ambitious, expansive, and free-wheeling later outings.
  • Sound of Joy -- Recorded ca. November 1956, Chicago; intended as the follow-up to "Jazz By Sun Ra" but Transition Records ceased to operate before it could be released. Four of the tracks were included on Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra Visits Planet Earth in 1966, and the entire LP was eventually released in 1968 by Delmark Records. Interesting for its clear ties to the bop and swing traditions that disappear in later sessions. Ra's eccentric piano and occasional electric keyboard look forward as do some of the harmonies and Jim Herndon's colorful tympani. Tracks 10 and 11 were added in later re-issues.
  • Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra Visits Planet Earth -- compiled from two studio sessions recorded from 1956 to 1958, and commercially released on Ra's Saturn label in 1966. Befitting the title, the A side of the LP presented a mystic travelogue in which the band descended on “Planet Earth,” time-traveled to the Garden of Eden to encounter “Eve” (which was first released on this album), and then zoomed to the Far East to explore "Overtones Of China." The side B tracks were recorded in 1956 and represent some of the first Arkestra sessions, showcasing Sun Ra's emerging Hard Bop Space Book.
  • Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra - The Nubians of Plutonia -- Originally titled The Lady With The Golden Stockings (released 1966), The Nubians of Plutonia (as it was retitled in the ca. 1967-69 reissue) was compiled from tracks recorded in Chicago in 1958 and 1959. Sunny was still in his Space Bop phase, although mystical overtones begin radiating through the jazz. The revised album title cleverly juxtaposes ancient Egypt with outer space—the primitive with the futuristic, characteristics reflected in the compositions and arrangements. The album is redolent with percussion, often played by Arkestra brass or reed players providing a simple, quasi-Latin or African rhythmic foundation behind solos.... Also included on this digital edition are four unreleased stereo recordings from the period: "Images In A Mirror" (different from the version on Jazz in Silhouette), "Ankhnation" (a.k.a. "Ankhnaton"), "Spontaneous Simplicity," and "Black Sky and Blue Moon," which features an unknown vocal ensemble (possible credits and notes on the linked Bandcamp album page).
  • Jazz In Silhouette -- If you want the most essential record reflecting Sun Ra's Chicago period during the 1950s, THIS IS IT. Recorded in Chicago in 1958 or 1959 (and released in 1959), Jazz In Silhouette essentially closes Sun Ra's bebop/hard-bop periods, as his interstellar traveler persona began to vividly evolve in the early 1960s. Once he moved to New York in 1961, he began to explore more adventurous musical terrain.
  • Sun Ra and His Astro Infinity Arkestra - Sound Sun Pleasure -- recorded in Chicago at the same March 1959 sessions that produced the instrumental album Jazz In Silhouette, and features near-identical personnel. But it's a much different recording, exploring two works Sunny co-composed with trumpeter Hobart Dotson and four standards, and possibly because of that, the recordings sat on the shelf for over ten years, finally achieving release in 1970.
  • Sun-Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra - Interstellar Low Ways -- recorded around 1957-1960, but not released until 1966 as Rocket Number Nine; reissued in 1969 as Interstellar Low Ways. Other tracks from these sessions were released on Fate in a Pleasant Mood, Holiday for Soul Dance, Angels and Demons At Play, and We Travel the Spaceways. Compiled from three Chicago recording sessions, Interstellar Low Ways was a showcase for Sunny's “Space Bop,” “Space Blues,” and his “New Directions” compositions. Stressing his pan-galactic persona, Sun Ra was rapidly pushing jazz farther into the Space Age in his titles, as evidenced by this album's offerings. Musically, he continued looking backward and forward simultaneously, drawing on jazz's rich traditions of swing and bebop, while adding flourishes of modernism that evolved into his unmistakable style. Around this time the Arkestra began to perform live wearing space costumes (which Sunny designed). The arrangements featured various members of the Arkestra doubling on exotic percussion. Two tracks, "Interplanetary Music" and "Rocket Number Nine," feature the band's ensemble space chants. This digital release features a previously unreleased stereo version of the title track.
  • Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra - Angels and Demons at Play -- compiled from two different sessions, recorded four years apart (1956 and 1960), that reflect Sun Ra's evolution from hard Chicago bop towards exotic styles that transcended easy categorization. Side A (tracks 1–4) consists of four performances from the marathon 1960 Chicago recording session. The B-side of the album (tracks 5–8) goes back to the 1956 first Arkestra sessions, featuring Sunny's emerging "Hard Space Bop." The album was released in 1965 with a distinctive sleeve design by Sun Ra, featuring an identical illustration on both sides, and no sleeve notes. Besides the leader, there's overlapping personnel at the two sessions, yet the two LP sides were somewhat incongruous, demonstrating how much the Arkestra had evolved in four years.
  • Sun Ra and His Myth-Science Arkestra - Fate in a Pleasant Mood (also labeled Saturn Vol. 2, but there's no record or indication of Vol. 1) -- recorded in Chicago in 1960, but not released until 1965. It was the last album featuring Sunny's band from Chicago. After a decade and a half in the Windy City, tired of local indifference by fans and the press, Sun Ra decided to take his music elsewhere—briefly to Montreal, then New York, where he settled for seven years. Stylistically, Fate in a Pleasant Mood veers from ballads to bebop, from free jazz to Ellington-inflected voicings, from the 12-bar blues to strains of crime jazz and cha-cha; an accessible album by the era's standards. This digital collection includes the unreleased 45 rpm single version of "Lights on a Satellite," which features the engineer's title cue at the head followed by the album performance drenched in heavy reverb.
  • Sun-Ra and His Astro Infinity Arkestra - Holiday for Soul Dance -- Compiled from recordings made in Chicago around July 1960, it was released on Saturn a decade later. The album title, in fact, was configured from words plucked from the track listing. As close to the jazz mainstream as any Sun Ra album, and a rarity in that it contains no original compositions by the leader, Holiday offers seven Tin Pan Alley standards (two by Gershwin), as well as a new work ("Dorothy's Dance") by Arkestra trumpeter Phil Cohran. The release was one of five to include songs captured in a marathon 1960 recording session at RCA Studios (and/or possibly Hall Recording) before Sunny's departure for New York. Like most of these delayed releases, Holiday for Soul Dance was less a planned album than a collection of songs that fit thematically.
  • Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra - We Travel the Spaceways -- recordings were made in Chicago from 1956-1961, but the album was not released on Ra's Saturn label until 1966; ranks as an essential Sun Ra collection, it's chock full of "hits"—or what would be chart-toppers in the perfect Sun Ra universe. Alternate versions of all seven tracks appeared on other Ra albums; a number of these titles became perennial club and concert favorites.
New York years (1961–68) - Sun Ra and the Arkestra moved to New York City in the fall of 1961, where the Arkestra lived communally and practiced frequently. In 1966, they secured a regular Monday night gig at Slug's Saloon, where their audience was both members of the beat generation and early psychedelic fans. Towards the end of their tenure (or perhaps after they had left New York), someone recorded video of an hour and a half long session.
  • Bad and Beautiful -- the first album recorded in New York by Sun Ra after he arrived from Chicago with a small contingent of the Arkestra in 1961, consisting of four Sun Ra originals and three standards. Its release was delayed for 11 years, finally appearing on Sunny's Saturn label in 1972. The album finds the band at a transitional stage between the "hard space bop" of their Chicago days and the avant-garde direction Sunny's music would take in the 1960s.
    In many ways, Bad and Beautiful is a resume. It lays out what Sunny had learned as a pianist, composer, bandleader, and arranger during his Chicago years (and earlier growing up in Birmingham). It also presents the Arkestra as a tight-knit, yet relaxed ensemble, a team of professionals who play to each others' strengths with mutual respect. The album seems to say: This is who we are, this is what we did, we hope you like it, but don't expect us to continue in this fashion.
  • The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (aka We are in the Future; official YouTube playlist) -- recorded October 10, 1961; the only album recorded for and released by the Savoy label, and the first record to be recorded by a pared-down Arkestra after Sun Ra and the core of his group left Chicago and relocated to New York City. The album was produced by Tom Wilson, who would later become famous for producing albums by the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa and Bob Dylan.
  • Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow [reissue with bonus track] -- a key transitional album in the Sun Ra catalog, produced in two sessions shortly after the bandleader's 1961 migration from Chicago to New York (with a brief stopover in Montreal). One of about a dozen Arkestra albums compiled from recordings made at the Choreographer's Workshop (Discogs list of albums featuring this recording location), Art Forms displays Sun Ra's increasing tendency to juxtapose stylistic incongruities on vinyl in the interests of showcasing his versatility—or accommodating restless attention spans (perhaps his own).
  • Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra - Secrets of the Sun [reissue with bonus track] -- recorded in 1962, on Saturn vinyl in '65; one of many Sun Ra albums which originated from sessions at the Choreographer's Workshop, a West 51st Street venue which served as the Arkestra's rehearsal space from roughly 1962 to 1965. The band rehearsed there endlessly, and more often than not an open-reel tape deck was running. These sessions produced tracks which (without organizing logic) achieved first commercial release on Saturn LPs throughout the 1960s and '70s. Per what had long been the bandleader's trademark, many titles point to destinations beyond Earth's stratosphere, while paradoxically echoing rhythms and forms inspired by Africa. And in what was a recurring motif of the Choreographer's milieu, the recordings themselves have a raw quality, replete with warehouse acoustics, distortion, erratic mic proximity, and a limited frequency spectrum. It's garage jazz.
  • Sun Ra - What's New? (YT, title track only) -- The discographical murkiness continues with this 1975 LP containing four swinging Choreographer’s Workshop recordings from 1962 on the A-side and a contemporaneous concert fragment on side B. Confusingly, later pressings substitute side A of The Invisible Shield for the B-side.
  • Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra - When Sun Comes Out [reissue with bonus track] -- the first release on Sun Ra's Saturn label to be recorded in New York. Released in 1963, it was preceded by The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra, which had been recorded in Newark, New Jersey (and produced by Tom Wilson, who issued it on Savoy in 1961); also the first release to contain recordings set down at the Choreographer's Workshop.
    When Sun Comes Out is percussion-centric, and not just as backdrops—on many tracks whatever's being hit with a stick (or palms) is on top of the mix. Sun Ra's piano, some brass, and a quartet of saxophones compete for airspace with an arsenal of drums, congas and bongos, bells and cowbells, shakers and gongs (a good deal of it handled by the reed section). In fact, the mix often defies professional engineering standards, as musical hardware that usually provides the foundation occasionally dominates the lead instruments.
  • Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra - Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy [reissue with bonus track] -- Recorded in 1963 but not released until 1967 on Sun Ra's Saturn label, Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy is one of the more notorious of the artist's early New York releases. It near-completely rejects existing notions of jazz in favor of conducted chaos, offering a template for the unknown. Therapeutic for some, electroshock for others. In its lysergic abstractness, Cosmic Tones prefigures by a few years the outer dimensions of psychedelia (which was inspired by psychosis-replicating chemicals), and foreshadows some of the wilder studio escapades of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
  • Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra - When Angels Speak of Love [reissue with bonus stereo track] -- released in 1966 on Sun Ra's Saturn label, a rarity of limited pressings (150 copies, by one estimate), which were sold thru the mail and at concerts and club dates. The tracks were taped in New York during two 1963 sessions at the Choreographer's Workshop. William Ruhlmann at AllMusic observed, "Sun Ra's music is often described as being so far outside the jazz mainstream as to be less a challenge to it than a largely irrelevant curiosity. But When Angels Speak of Love is very much within then-current trends in jazz as performed by such innovators as John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman."
  • Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra - Other Planes of There -- recorded 1964, released 1966, this album could be mistaken for an artifact of the "free jazz" movement that was gaining a foothold in New York during the early 1960s. Like many Sun Ra albums, Other Planes of There offers a musical portrait of where Sun Ra and his Arkestral entourage find themselves during a given period. Exposed to new ideas on a daily basis, challenged to excel by competitors on the downtown scene, Sun Ra might not have considered his music "free," but he benefited from a community which respected and encouraged musical free-thinking.
  • The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 1 and The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 2 -- both albums were recorded in 1964 and released in 1965, but not directly related - the first featured "a solid 11-piece group ... playing strictly instrumental music, with no chants or vocal space stories. What is most intruguing about this Ra band is that the leader plays very little acoustic piano, choosing to focus his attention primarily on the bass marimba, and to a lesser extent an electrically amplified celeste ... [a] prelude of his move to a raw but technologically driven sound as the synthesizer would come into his arsenal of instruments shortly after this." The second album is not a continuation, but labeled "volume 2" to clarify that it came out after the first volume. In volume 2, "the underlying freeform anti-structure allows defining contrasts that ultimately establish the progressing sonic sculpture."
  • Sun Ra - Heliocentric Worlds Vol. 3 (The Lost Tapes) [samples on Amazon] -- previously unreleased recording, taken from the record session for Heliocentric Worlds Volume II; lost for over 35 years, when it was then remastered and released in 2005 by ESP Disk. The three final tracks, each clocking in around five minutes, hint at Ra's elusive live performances ... I wish there was more, so I guess that makes this a good one.
  • The Magic City (definitive stereo edition) -- 1965 was a turbulent year for the Arkestra and its leader, and many consider The Magic City a flashpoint for that upheaval. Arkestra drummer Tommy Hunter, quoted in John Szwed's 1997 Ra bio Space Is The Place, describes a typical performance of the period: "It was like a fire storm coming off the bandstand." The "Magic City" to which Ra refers was his birthplace—Birmingham, Alabama. The term was the town's motto ... a place about which Sun Ra felt and expressed ambivalence: an outpost of racial segregation and grim smokestack-pocked landscapes, yet a city for which he felt twinges of nostalgia and affection. Ra customarily supervised the Arkestra's improvisational process via keyboard cues or hand signals. He was always in charge—hence critic Simon Adams describing the title track as "27 minutes of controlled freedom." "The Magic City" was never performed in concert; saxophonist John Gilmore said it was "unreproducible, a tapestry of sound."
  • Sun Ra and His Astro Infinity Arkestra - Strange Strings -- Fans of Sun Ra's Hard Space Bop and blues-based swing were in for a shock with Strange Strings (recorded in 1965—often erroneously reported as 1966—and released in 1967). This is an album without a genre, and demands an adventurous aesthetic on the part of the listener. Even in the eclectic and extensive Sun Ra catalog, Strange Strings stands alone.
    After a series of concerts at upstate New York colleges, Sun Ra purchased an arsenal of stringed instruments from curio shops and music stores on the road: ukulele, mandolin, koto, kora, Chinese lutes, and what he termed "Moon Guitars." In the studio, these were handed out to his reed and horn players in the belief that "strings could touch people in a special way." That the Arkestra members didn't know how to play these instruments was not beside the point—it was the point. Sun Ra called it "A study in ignorance." To this unconventional "string section" he added several prepared homemade instruments, including a large piece of tempered sheet metal on which was chiseled the letter "X." Art Jenkins was assigned intermittent improvised vocals.
  • Sun-Ra at the piano - Monorails and Satellites, Vol. 1and Vol. 2 -- two volumes of solo piano works recorded by Sun Ra in 1966. Volume 1 was released on his Saturn label in 1968, and volume 2 the following year. They were the first commercial LPs of the artist's solo piano excursions. Despite Sun Ra's obsession with the future, Monorails and Satellites is something of a nostalgia trip. As a youth in Birmingham, Alabama, Herman Blount spent hours at the Forbes Piano Company, amusing himself (as well as staff and customers) at the showroom keyboards. He practiced standards, emulated his piano heroes, played the latest pop songs, and improvised. The idyllic reveries which the teen experienced in those formative years were no doubt recaptured during the Monorails sessions.
  • Continuation (Vol. 1) -- Continuation, like a number of early Sun Ra albums, contains mysteries. Who's on it? When and where was it recorded? Expert opinions differ. Several authorities believe studio tracks 1 thru 4 were recorded in 1968, but "Biosphere Blues" sounds as if it were recorded in the early 1960s at the Choreographer's Workshop.
  • Continuation (Vol. 2) -- Continuation 2 would surprise Sun Ra, because he never released any such album. Around 1970 he did release Continuation, a limited-pressing LP of recordings whose origins have confounded experts. Sun Ra Archives Executive Director Michael D. Anderson, who transferred these tracks from undated master tapes, insists they originate from '63 and were recorded at CW. The recordings on Continuation Vol. 2 (all in full stereo) feature small ensembles of between six and eight players, typical of CW recordings from the early '60s. At the time, Sun Ra was working largely with musicians who had come east with him, along with a handful of New York recruits. One of the few clues that argues against CW is the absence of the harsh warehouse acoustics characteristic of the Workshop basement. These recordings have a warmer studio feel, though they still reflect a low-rent setting. Stylistically these works bridge the Chicago post-big band sound with the bold, experimental direction of Sunny's 1960s NYC recordings. [If you're digging around through old Sun Ra CDs, you'll find both "Vol. 1" and "Vol 2." on a 2 CD set from Corbett vs. Dempsey, with CD2 listed as "Unreleased Tracks" and including two more cuts, "Endlessness" and "Red Planet Mars," and it appears these might be exclusive to this edition -- ed.]
  • Sun-Ra and His Astro Infinity Arkestra - Atlantis -- The Atlantis LP, recorded in New York in 1967 and 1968, was in effect a pair of EPs, as the two sides radically differed. Side one (tracks 1–5 on this digital release), recorded at Sun Studios, consisted of short rhythmic works arranged around the Hohner Clavinet, which Ra dubbed the "Solar Sound Instrument." This keyboard had only been on the market about a year before Sunny adopted it as a featured instrument, pairing its electronic pulses with saxophone and African-style percussion. Side two of the LP featured the title track — an epic, 22-minute sonic tapestry, built around Sunny's aggressive free (or "Space") jazz keyboard improvisations, with the band sporadically joining the fray. It was recorded at the Olatunji Center of African Culture at 125th Street and Lexington Avenue, in New York, in August 1967. During this period, the Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji and Sun Ra had become friends and often shared ideas on music and African culture.
  • Out There A Minute (Discogs release page with some tracks on YT) -- a compilation of pieces, claimed on some recordings to be "Sun Ra's personal selection of rare Arkestra recordings from the late 1960's" but The Sun Ra Arkestra website's track-by-track credits claim recording dates ranging from 1961 through 1970. The performances are mostly short sketches that set spacey moods and then fade out. Although not essential, these futuristic sounds from the past hold one's interest.
Philadelphia years/California and world tours (1968-1993) - in 1968, when the rent went up, the Arkestra moved about a hundred miles south-west to the Germantown section of Philadelphia. From here, they commuted via railroad to New York for the Monday night gig at Slug's and for other engagements, but were otherwise local fixtures, with the Arkestra stationed at a house on Morton Street until Sonny's death in 1993. This was also where the Arkestra launched their first tours. Initially, they confused some hippies on the west coast, but also got coverage in Rolling Stone, with Sun Ra scoring a cover in April 2019 (after getting coverage in Swank in March, possibly the first non-specialist coverage for Sonny). In 1970, Sun Ra launched off, traveling through France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. He returned to California, where he was appointed as artist-in-residence at University of California, Berkeley, teaching a course called The Black Man In the Cosmos, starting in 1971 (sample of his Pan African lectures: The Power of Words part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). The following year, San Francisco public TV station KQED produced an 85-minute feature film, entitled Space Is the Place (full film on YT, low quality), with Sun Ra's Arkestra and an ensemble of actors assembled by the production team. Back on the east coast, Sun Ra and the Arkestra appeared on the TV show Saturday Night Live on May 20, 1978 (AV/TV Club SNL (Classic) review; episode on Hulu but account required).
  • Space Probe (YouTube) -- though the original LP states that side one was recorded in Chicago, 1960's, and side two was recorded in Philadelphia, 1970's, other sources pin the dates to the Chicago era, with dates from 1969-1970. It is a bit of an odd album. "Primitive" starts things out; basically it's a percussion piece featuring James Jacson's log drum and lots of hand percussion. There's just a bit of what sounds like bass clarinet at the beginning, but it doesn't last long. "Conversion of J.P." is a less cacophonous, percussion-oriented piece, highlighted at the beginning by the flute playing of Marshall Allen. Then Ra's piano enters about eight minutes in and takes the tune in a very different direction with the same percussion backing. Ra's playing here is fascinating, though not at all flashy. "Space Probe" is a side-long tour de force by Ra on the miniMoog, and he amply demonstrates that nobody handles a Moog quite like Sun Ra. then in 2011, the album was re-issued and expanded, switching the tracklist around to start with "Space Probe," the first test recording of Ra on Moog synthesizer, and adding even more rare tracks.
  • Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Research Arkestra - The Invisible Shield -- you get two (maybe even three) Sun Ra's for the price of one; there's big-band swing, propulsive hard bop, lounge jazz, and hypnotic Latin exotica. The original LP was never officially released, and the limited copies were sold at live performances starting in 1974. The material is a compilation "with no stylistic bridge between the material." The first side offered rowdy, early 1960s post-bop renditions of Tin Pan Alley favorites.... Side B opened with a locked-in Latin groove ("Island in the Sun"), before segueing into two jarring and uncompromising electro-acoustic soundscapes, probably recorded five years apart.
  • My Brother the Wind (Vol. 1) -- recorded in 1969, released by Sun Ra in 1970; one of several albums that showcase Sun Ra's initial reckonings with the then-recently introduced Moog synthesizer. Although the Astro Infinity Arkestra is credited on most copies of the original LP sleeve for My Brother the Wind, in fact only three sidemen were on the session—Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, and Danny Davis, with Moog performance pioneer Gershon Kingsley serving as synth programmer and technical consultant.
    Sun Ra was not seeking to reproduce existing music with the Moog; he saw the device (and electronic instruments generally) as futuristic, offering ear-opening—and galaxy-traversing—possibilities. In 1969 Apollo 11 had landed on the moon; Sun Ra made alternate travel arrangements. "I wasn't using any gasoline. I'm using sound," he explained (about his mythic Black Space Program). "You haven't reached that stage on this planet yet where you can use sound to run your ships and run your cars and heat your house. Your scientists haven't reached that yet. But it will happen. Where you can take a cassette and put it in your car and it will run it—with the right kind of music, of course. And it won't explode."
  • Sun Ra and His Astro Infinity Arkestra - My Brother the Wind, Vol. 2 -- On the original 1971 Saturn LP, side one consisted of sizzling Afrosoul, highlighted by June Tyson's vocals and Sunny's simmering "intergalactic organ" (a Farfisa).
    Ra discographer Robert Campbell calls it "spaced-out barbecue music," and it's one of the most accessible outings in the artist's first post-Chicago decade. Side two is a non sequitur, consisting of Sun Ra giving a new Minimoog a workout. Artist's prerogative — two Sun Ra's in one (often the case with his oddly juxtaposed LP tracks).
    Tracks 7 thru 11 were reportedly recorded at a demo session in the New York midtown studio of Gershon Kingsley, after which the inventor offered Sunny one of the first Minimoogs to take on the road. It was a custom model, and may have been handed off just before the unit appeared on the consumer market.
  • Sun Ra and His Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra - The Night of the Purple Moon -- recorded in 1970, with a vague flavor of the prevailing psychedelic zeitgeist of the late 1960s. That's due to the presence of two electronic keyboards that were popular with psych bands: the Rock-Si-Chord (commonly misspelled Rocksichord) and the Minimoog. "...Listening to Purple Moon, one gets the sense that after a decade of experimentalism and free jazz, Sun Ra wanted to make an accessible pop record. What he came up with is not Iron Butterfly, but had this record been properly marketed, it could have appealed to a segment of that band's market. If one-tenth of those who bought In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida purchased Purple Moon, Sun Ra would have reached the lower rungs of the Billboard charts. [This Bandcamp edition includes alternative takes, where the Atavistic 2007 re-issue included wurlitzer solos from 1964]
  • Sun Ra & His Solar-Myth Arkestra - The Solar-Myth Approach (Vol. 1) (YT playlist, official audio) -- recorded at the Sun Studios, New York, 1970-71, or possibly from sessions that date back to 1967, this "album" is one of Sun Ra's more experimental sets (and that's saying something) ... an eclectic set of tapes [that] include some of Sun Ra's earliest experiments with Moog synthesizers.
  • Sun Ra & His Solar-Myth Arkestra - The Solar-Myth Approach (Vol. 2) (YT playlist, official audio) -- recorded between 1970-1971, comprised of solo keyboard explorations by Sun Ra, couched in between two free-form workouts by his whole Arkestra. The highpoints of the album, though, are Ra's wonderfully strange excursions at the keys. Evoking a child's outer-space play land, Ra produces a dizzying whirl of celestial noises on the Moog synthesizer for "Scene 1, Take 1" while switching the keyboard to harpsichord mode for a hauntingly beautiful meditation of baroque proportions on "Pyramids." The final solo finds Ra running amok over both the piano keyboard and the strings inside, producing a ghostly haze of sound.
  • Astro Black -- the first release on a major label, coming out in 1972 on ABC's Impulse! jazz imprint. Apparently this slab of "quasi-accessible avant-garde space funk" was re-issued in significant quantities that didn't sell, and "ABC clipped the corners off the LP sleeves and dumped the lavishly illustrated gatefold LPs in record store discount bins." Extensive release notes on this album page.
  • Sun Ra and His Intergalactic Solar Arkestra - Soundtrack to the film Space is the Place (full album on YouTube) -- recorded for the film in 1972 but not released for another two decades, the tunes are among his most ambitious, unorthodox, and compelling compositions. Ra's pianistic forays, phrases, and textures were sometimes dismissed as mere noodling when they were part of a well-constructed multimedia package. This comes as close as any of Ra's releases to being not only a concept work but a blueprint for his live shows from the early '70s until the end of his career. Features some previously unissued cuts.
  • Space is the Place -- The contents of this album are only for sale in Outer Space, where the rights belong to Sun Ra, as codified in the original recording contract for Space is the Place. An excellent introduction to Sun Ra's vast and free-form jazz catalog. Typical of many Sun Ra recordings, the program is varied; earthbound songs.... Sun Ra fuses many of these styles on the sprawling title cut, as interlocking harmonies, African percussion, manic synthesizer lines, and joyous ensemble blowing all jell into some sort of church revival of the cosmos. Throughout the recording, Sun Ra displays his typically wide-ranging talents on space organ and piano, reed players John Gilmore and Marshall Allen contribute incisive and intense solos, and June Tyson masterfully leads the Space Ethnic Voices on dreamy vocal flights.
  • Sun Ra - Discipline 27-II -- recorded in 1972, a product of the same sessions that would yield Sun Ra's legendary Space Is the Place LP. On the original 1972 Saturn version released by Sun Ra, the 24-minute title track was inexplicably divided into four separate tracks at arbitrary points, thus interrupting the flow of the work. On this remastered edition, the title track has been restored to its proper length without interruption. The LP version, released by Strut for Record Store Day 2017, features complete original artwork, full roster of players on each track, and new sleeve notes by Francis Gooding.
  • Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Arkestra - Outer Space Employment Agency (sample track: "Love In Outer Space" [YT]) -- Recorded on September 9, 1973 at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, this is a fair-fidelity live document; the sound is listenable, but not exceptional. [...] If this were the only aural evidence of the Arkestra in this era, you could still get a sense of their more enduring qualities. But there are better-sounding albums of this phase of their development; this should be investigated by those hungry to hear Sun Ra in quantity.
  • Sun Ra and his Astro Infinity Arkestra - Pathways to Unknown Worlds (YouTube playlist) -- recorded in Chicago in 1973 and originally released on his Saturn label and rereleased on the ABC/Impulse! label in 1975. While the three free jazz instrumental improvisations are in many respects quite similar to the laissez-faire sonic free for alls that had become synonymous with Ra's concurrent Arkestra, there are quite a few discernible distinctions.
  • Sun Ra and his Astro Infinity Arkestra - Friendly Love (YouTube playlist*) -- Sun Ra's brief involvement with the Impulse! jazz imprint was hastily terminated in early 1975. Subsequent to his dismissal, several projects that had never been issued were consequently returned to the artist. Whereas the other three rejected master tapes had (at the very least) working names, there are few specifics about Friendly Love's exact place in Ra's tousled discography. [...] The personnel indicates that the four extemporaneous free jazz pieces that were to be included on the long-player were documented circa 1973, although the exact location remains a subject of debate. [...] The four sequentially titled tracks are much in keeping with the vast majority of the sounds coming from the various early- to mid-'70s incarnations of Ra's Arkestra(s). That is to say, each is independent and wholly improvised by the perpetually alternating cast of musicians, and there are obvious contributions throughout from several longtime Arkestra members. (* The four tracks were "piggybacked" on an expanded reissue of Pathways to Unknown Worlds when finally released in 2000 by Evidence)
  • Sun Ra And His Astro-Infinity Arkestra - Sign Of The Myth -- another lost Impulse! recording, recorded during the Pathways sessions and finally released as a limited run LP by Roaratorio (site includes a sample stream of "The Truth of Maat")
  • Sun Ra - Cymbals [YT, full album] & Crystal Spears [YT playlist, tracks out of order] -- recorded in 1973 for Impulse! but unreleased until 2000 when Evidence packaged them as a 2CD set, though tracks from Cymbals were later released on the Saturn LP Deep Purple. Cymbals turns out to be a small band session on which no more than six and usually only four musicians are playing on any one selection. [...] No matter who is soloing, this is mostly a quiet, introspective session. It's last-set-of-the-night stuff. From the opening miniMoog solo by Sun Ra, Crystal Spears is something else again: a full band album.
  • Sun Ra - Cosmos (remastered, from three sources) -- the only studio recordings captured in summer 1976 during the fourth European tour of Sun Ra and His Arkestra. Live recordings are known to exist from concerts in Switzerland, Italy, and France.
  • Some Blues But Not the Kind That's Blue (with a bonus track) -- a Sun Ra rarity: an album recorded at a single session in 1977*, with the location, date and personnel generally agreed upon by historians. It was also a fairly cohesive album, featuring small units of the larger Arkestra playing idiosyncratic arrangements of Tin Pan Alley standards. This is largely an acoustic piano album, with Sun Ra's keyboard in prominent focus, the horns and percussion serving primarily in support roles with occasional solos. [*Bandcamp edition features a new bonus track, but the 2008 Atavistic CD re-issue includes three new cuts, the last two coming from an earlier session in 1973]
  • Sun Ra - Solo Piano, Vol. 1 -- Sonny recorded solo piano two albums for the Improvising Artists Inc. (IAI) in 1977; this, the first, features four originals, a Jerome Kern standard, and Ra's arrangement of the traditional "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child."
  • Sun Ra - St. Louis Blues (Solo Piano, Vol. 2) [performance only*] -- The second of two Sun Ra solo piano albums issued by Paul Bley's Improvising Artists Inc. label; this, the second, was recorded live at the Axis-in-Soho venue in July 1977, and issued on LP in 1978; the album presents four original works and Ra's interpretations of three Tin Pan Alley standards. [*The original LP, reissue CDs, and other digital editions include "applause, hooting, whistling, and exclamations" --and in 1996, IAI issued a videotape (VHS format) of the concert, with the opening album track, "Ohosnisixaeht," was replaced with a live rendition of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child."
  • Sun Ra & Friends -- another recording from Axis-In-Soho, New York City, May 20th, 1977, though little is posted about this recording online at this time, beyond these seven video segments: part 1, part 2, pt 3 "When There Is No Sun", pt 4 "Gone With The Wind", pt 5 "The Mystery of Two", part 6, and pt 7 "Greetings From The 21st Century/Intergalactic Thing/Space Is The Place"
  • Sun Ra Quartet featuring John Gilmore - New Steps -- Recorded in Rome, Italy, January 1978, featuring the quartet of Sun Ra (keyboards, vocals); Michael Ray trumpet, vocals); John Gilmore (tenor sax, timbales, vocal); and Luqman Ali (drums, vocals). No bassist. The tracks were issued on a double LP in '78.
  • Sun Ra Quartet featuring John Gilmore - Other Voices, Other Blues -- recorded in the same sessions with the same personnel, even with cover art in the same style, as New Steps, but it sounds like there's a bass player present on at least some of the cuts.
  • Sun Ra and Walt Dickerson - Visions -- Sun Ra had first worked as a session musician with vibraphonist Walt Dickerson in late 1965 or early 1966 on the album Impressions of a Patch of Blue (YT playlist, official audio tracks), issued by MGM Records under the name The Walt Dickerson Quartet. Rounding out the foursome with Dickerson and Ra were occasional Arkestra members Bob Cunningham (bass) and Roger Blank (drums). In this album, the compositions are by Dickerson, though the musicians share equal billing on the cover; the two collaborated on this one-off duet album for the Danish label Steeplechase; it was recorded in 1978 and released in 1979.
  • Sun Ra - Lanquidity [YT, full album] -- While one can't quite call it the Sun Ra dance album, this 1978 recording, made for a tiny Philadelphia record label, finds the Sun Ra Arkestra's rhythm section settling into a steady groove on each of the lengthy tracks, while horns, reeds, guitars, and Sun Ra's keyboards solo in overlapping patterns on top. The title number recalls Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" in its slow pace and elegiac tone, while the middle three tracks have livelier beats with playing that often answers to the style of fusion played by many jazz groups in the late '70s.
  • Sun Ra - Disco 3000 -- is yet another release by the Sun Ra Quartet, recorded during an incredibly prolific period in Italy in January of 1978. The title cut is pretty free, with Ra's carnival organ starting the proceedings along with some programmed rhythms. Everyone takes turns soloing, with Michael Ray doing his trademark trumpet-with-delay imitation and some weird panning effects tossed in. They also veer into the "Space Is the Place" chant, briefly. "Third Planet/Friendly Galaxy" is a more straightforward bop-flavored piece that gives way to a great John Gilmore tenor solo accompanied only by Luqman Ali. "Dance of the Cosmo-Aliens" is basically a Ra keyboard showcase with the rhythm box and only the slightest contributions from Ali. The applause at the end indicates that at least this track was recorded live. This quartet was a short-lived experiment that put out a wide range of material.
  • Sun Ra - The Other Side of the Sun (YT playlist, official audio) -- The Sun Ra Arkestra looks both forwards and backwards in time on this obscure small label LP, recorded in 1978-79. Ten years earlier, one could not have imagined Ra and his men romping through "On the Sunny Side of the Street" or reinventing "Flamingo." However, those versions certainly sound quite original, and there is no mistaking the band for any other orchestra on "Space Fling," "Manhattan Cocktail" and the trademark "Space Is the Place."
  • Omniverse -- recorded in New York in 1979 and released that year on Sun Ra's Saturn label, has been gathering dust for too long. It's a fine, overlooked item in the vast Ra catalog. The tracks aren't so much compositions as they are excursions, with only a few memorable themes or recurring motifs. It's pure jazz, somewhat "inside" (for Sun Ra), with little of the aggressiveness and confrontation for which the bandleader was known. (Track 5, "Visitant of the Ninth Ultimate," is an exception.) Omniverse is a very intimate album, offering lots of reflective piano in trio, quartet, and quintet settings, with spare horns. But instead of exhibiting a keyboard showcase, Sun Ra engages in dynamic interplay with the rhythm section. Moreover, the horns are featured largely as soloists; there are few ensemble passages.
  • On Jupiter -- recorded in 1979. After easing in with the fairly brief title cut, a fairly mellow affair featuring June Tyson on vocals, listeners are treated to the all-out disco-funk of "U.F.O." Anchored by a monster bassline courtesy of Steve Clarke, this tune has fun ensemble vocals and great solos on guitar and tenor sax. This is as funky as Sun Ra ever got and really must be heard to be believed.
  • Strange Celestial Road -- The band Sun Ra had at the end of the '70s was surely the funkiest he ever had, with electric bassist Steve Clarke (in tandem with upright player Richard Williams) and the twin guitars of Taylor Richardson and Skeeter McFarland. This is the band that recorded the infamous On Jupiter album, and the slightly different band lineup for Sleeping Beauty (recorded just two weeks later) suggests that Strange Celestial Road was recorded between the two, based on the hybrid band lineup.
  • Sun Ra And His Intergalactic Myth Science Solar Arkestra - Sleeping Beauty -- The warmth and funkiness of Sleeping Beauty and On Jupiter have long made them favourites with Sun Ra fans. Recordings for the two albums took place at New York’s Variety Recording Studios on three separate dates during 1979, and both records are highpoints of the Arkestra’s 1970s journey. On Jupiter effortlessly cruises across genre boundaries toward a rarely visited star on the deep disco funk ‘UFO’, while ‘Seductive Fantasy’ and ‘On Jupiter’ are timeless examples of Sun Ra’s inimitable cosmo-swing sensibilities. Sleeping Beauty meanwhile is one of the most profound and compelling sets in the whole Ra discography, and the Variety Studio sound captures the Arkestra with unique clarity and depth. Recorded with an expanded 28-piece band, the album features woozy avant-ballad ‘Springtime Again’, the glittering future funk of ‘Door to the Cosmos’, and finally the stunning meditative, spiritualised groove of ‘Sleeping Beauty’. On Jupiter and Sleeping Beauty: twin stars that shine brightly from deep within the myriad Sun Ra galaxies!
  • Sun Ra - God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be -- something of a rarity in the Sun Ra catalog—a cohesive album, with none of the stylistic eclecticism and musical chair shifting found on many of the artist’s self-released LPs. Recorded at Variety Studios one day in 1979, the album's five tracks comprise a solid jazz trio set.
  • Sun Ra (solo piano) - Aurora Borealis (aka Ra Rachmaninoff, with 3 bonus tracks) -- likely recorded in 1980, and is another sort of rarity. Considering the monumental size of Sun Ra's recorded oeuvre, there are surprisingly few solo piano albums in the catalog of this keyboard colossus, and very few on his own Saturn label. Other than Monorails and Satellites Vols. 1 and 2, both recorded around 1966, Aurora Borealis is the only other known Saturn release exclusively featuring solo piano.
  • Sun Ra - Dance of Innocent Passion -- Recorded at the Squat Theatre, NYC, 1980, and released on Sun Ra's Saturn record label in 1981. All four titles are unique to this album and do not recur in Ra's performance chronicles or recording discography.
  • Sun Ra (& His Omniverse Jet-Set Arkestra) - Beyond the Purple Star Zone -- Recorded at Jazz Center in Detroit, part of an eleven-show "residency", where over 26 hours of music (which included some afternoon workshops) was recorded on six dates, and then culled for two LPs released on Ra's own label: Beyond the Purple Star Zone (released 1981) and ...
  • Oblique Parallax (released 1982).
  • Sun Ra - A Fireside Chat with Lucifer -- recorded in 1982, issued in 1983. Like many Sun Ra albums, Fireside Chat offered stylistic random shuffle, as was the artist's intent, reflecting his eclectic, seemingly irreconcilable approach to compositional extremes. With Sun Ra you get everything except consistency and predictability. Side B consisted of the inscrutable 21-minute title track, while Side A consisted of three unrelated, shorter works.
  • Sun Ra - Celestial Love -- contains recordings made in September 1982 at New York's Variety Studios, which had hosted countless Sun Ra sessions since the late 1960s. This was one of the last extended sessions at Variety, and these recordings were the last studio works released on Sun Ra's own Saturn label (though the label did continue to press concert recordings, and new studio recordings did appear on other labels). Aside from their inclusion on Celestial Love, tracks from these sessions landed on the albums A Fireside Chat With Lucifer and Nuclear War. Since Nuclear War's contents overlapped with both Fireside Chat and Celestial Love, we have reconstituted the latter two as complete albums, thus covering all titles from these Variety dates. The music on Celestial Love is mostly "inside" Ra, veering towards mainstream jazz (the lengthy and adventurous "Fireside Chat," not on this album, being an exception). Ra's early hero, Duke Ellington, is represented twice with "Sophisticated Lady" and "Drop Me Off in Harlem," and two other standards ("Smile" and "Sometimes I'm Happy," both sung by June Tyson) are given snappy Ra arrangements. And the album contains the only known recordings of "Celestial Love" and "Blue Intensity."
  • Sun Ra Meets Salah Ragab in Egypt (sample track: "Egypt Strut" [YT]) -- recorded in Egypt in 1983, with a bonus track from a different 1984 Egyptian session found on the 1999 CD re-issue. This important reissue should be greeted joyfully by Sun Ra aficionados, as it fills a hole in his discography, but it is neither stellar Ra nor great jazz. The beautifully packaged CD collects less than forty minutes of the Archestra performing in Egypt with legendary percussionist Salah Ragab, and adds two selections from The Cairo Jazz Band, a short piece by an Egyptian sextet, and an interesting track from The Cairo Free Jazz Ensemble.
  • Love in Outer Space: Live in Utrecht (sample track: "Big John's Special" [YT]) -- Another good live date courtesy of Leo Records, this one from December of 1983. This release is notable for both the fairly straight-ahead program and the fact that Sunny plays LOTS of piano as opposed to his synthesizers. In fact, there are no synthesizers heard until the "Love in Outer Space/Space Is the Place" medley, which is the last track. "Blues Ra" is a special treat; nearly five minutes of Ra playing a straight 12-bar blues on piano, accompanied by only a drummer and a bass player (who is slightly buried in the mix). Sound quality is quite good, and the band is in their usual fine form. As with the rest of the Sun Ra releases on Leo, it's probably not the place to start, but well worth owning if you've already been bitten by the Sun Ra bug.
  • Hiroshima -- "One of those releases Sun Ra sold from the Orchestra bus on tour" (Discogs entry with embedded YT links), initially a limited edition white label pressings with very little information certain about the recording location or band; likely from the early-to-mid 1980s; remastered and re-released on vinyl in 2007 by Yard Art.
  • A live recording or two?
  • Reflections in Blue [Amazon previews] -- By the 1980s, Sun Ra was often revisiting the past in eccentric fashion. He had become interested again in the music of Fletcher Henderson and early Duke Ellington, and was playing occasional standards in concert, although in very much his own way. His 14-piece Arkestra of 1986 on this date not only performs demented renditions of "Say It Isn't So" and "Yesterdays" (hinting at swing while often including borderline outside solos), but originals that sound like crazy swing tunes, most notably the heated "Reflections In Blue" and "Nothin' From Nothin'." Certainly this studio set is not recommended for swing purists who take life too seriously, but the creative and often crazy music should delight many listeners.
  • Hours After (sample track: "Hours After" [YT]) -- this follow up to Reflections in Blue was recorded during the same two days; this date features one of the stronger versions of Ra's band.
  • Hidden Fire 1 [YT, full album] & 2 -- The two volumes of Hidden Fire are probably the most confused saturns for specialists. There are remixes of both recordings which first were believed to be volumes 3 and 4. They are the last saturns with new material, though some more saturns were published after them with earlier recordings.
  • Sun Ra - Somewhere Else -- Four different groups led by Sun Ra are featured on this intriguing if generally ragged set. Although Ra's usual band members of the period appear on most of the cuts, this CD also has many musicians one would not expect in this setting during 1988-89. [...] Due to the variety and very interesting personnel, plus many examples of the keyboardist/leader stretching himself, this somewhat obscure effort is easily recommended to Sun Ra collectors.
  • Sun Ra - Blue Delight -- a great late-period (1988) Arkestra recording, notable for several reasons: 1. This is a very large, impeccably recorded Arkestra featuring special guests Tommy Turrentine and Don Cherry AND a number of Arkestra alumni returning for the date. 2. Although synthesizers are present, the majority of Ra's solos are on piano. 3. John Gilmore solos on nearly every cut. 4. The band swings mightily from start to finish. Blue Delight also features a program of a handful of standards mixed with Ra originals that don't head too far into outer space.
  • Sun Ra - Purple Night -- At its best, Sun Ra's orchestra on this CD uses a simple repetitive riff as a basis for lengthy performances that vary dynamics and build up gradually in intensity. At its worst (the 19-minute "Of Invisible Theme"), the ensemble rambles on aimlessly, almost as if were creating a sound effects record. Unfortunately their versions of "Love in Outer Space" and "Stars Fell Oon Alabama" are quite silly with the former featuring a "glee club" vocal while the latter displays Ra's lack of a singing voice. [...] However the minuses easily outweigh the good points on this disc.
  • Sun Ra Arkestra - Mayan Temples [Amazon previews] -- One of the finest Sun Ra recordings from his final years, this effort is particularly recommended due to the many Ra keyboard solos and John Gilmore features, the latter of which include a tenor showcase on "Opus In Springtime." Trumpeters Michael Ray and Ahmed Abdullah, altoist Marshall Allen and singer June Tyson also have their spots, and the repertoire consists of ten Ra originals (including a remake of "El Is the Sound of Joy") and three standard ballads. Overall, this is a fine all-around studio set. Recommended.
  • Sun Ra Sextet - At the Village Vanguard [Amazon previews] -- live in 1991, This is the ONLY Sun Ra recording where a different pianist plays in his group. He was already in a very poor conditions after his first stroke.
  • Sun Ra & his Omniverse Arkestra - Destination Unknown [Amazon previews] -- live in 1992; the last recording of the Sun Ra Arkestra... directed by Sun Ra. The band still goes on.
Sun Ra and the Arkestra toured through the 1980s, but in 1990, Sun Ra had a stroke, but that didn't keep him down, as you can see with the live recordings through 1993. In the end, Sonny completed 79 orbits around the sun, ending where he started -- Birmingham, Alabama. His body is marked by a small footstone, but his mind is free to roam the universe, and his sounds play on. He has and continues to inspire countless artists and musicians, from being included in Sonic Youth's Teenage Riot music video to being covered by Phish, and the Arkestra lives on, backing Solange and playing NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts, to name a few recent performances. And given thousands of songs, there are more than a few Sun Ra/ Arkestra samples used in songs, including a posthumous pairing with Merzbow (Soundcloud preview). In 2013, Sun Ra inspired artwork to represent young people's future visions of the underground in London's tube stations.

For another recap of the life and music of Sun Ra, check out Brother from Another Planet (documentary on YouTube).

If you skimmed to the end to see if there's a highlight reel, you're in luck!
posted by filthy light thief (42 comments total) 147 users marked this as a favorite
[When I saw that there's SO MUCH SUN RA ON BANDCAMP, I obsessed on and off for a while, and it happened to time out that I finished on the eve of Sunny's birthday -- happy birthday, Sun Ra!]
posted by filthy light thief at 8:39 PM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Wow - we are in your debt!

I had the good fortune to see him a couple of times in Atlanta, at free concerts in Piedmont Park; your encyclopedic post highlights that what I heard was just a small tip of the iceberg. I remember he played a gorgeous, straight big band arrangement of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", amid a lot of avant-garde, challenging pieces.

A recent Sun Ra link from my bookmarks - I apologize if I missed it above:

Sun Ra’s Full Lecture & Reading List From His 1971 UC Berkeley Course, “The Black Man in the Cosmos”
posted by thelonius at 9:02 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

posted by old_growler at 9:29 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

There are a TON of live albums and performances that I didn't even start to link, but for now, one final new performance from the Sun Ra Arkestra: Boiler Room London Live Set, April 2016 (1 hour 43 minutes)
posted by filthy light thief at 9:32 PM on May 21, 2018

Oh wow, this is excellent, thank you. Once upon a time I was in a bar and they were playing this amazing music that sounded like someone with a tuba was wandering around a dark prehistoric landscape and when I asked who it was they said Sun Ra and I went home and looked around and swiftly despaired of ever hearing it again which is just to say if anyone finds a lonely meandering tuba in here please point me to it.
posted by velebita at 9:43 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is an incredible post – instead of gifting it to MetaFilter, mr. thief, you should have developed it as a master's thesis at some college or university.

I was introduced to Sun Ra in the early 1970s when Impulse Records sent me copies of Atlantis, The Nubians of Plutonia, The Magic City, and Angels and Demons at Play to review. My first reaction was that the sounds on the records were maybe 15 years ahead of their time. Then, looking at the small print, I realized they had been recorded almost 15 to 20 years earlier, and originally released back then on the Saturn label.

My favorite interaction with the Arkestra came after a 1990 concert they played in the street in Washington, D.C., when I said to Marshall Allen, "I hope when the spaceship comes to get all of you it can take some of the rest of us along too," and he gave me a big smile and replied, "Why not? It's plenty big enough!"

My favorite image of Sun Ra is on the back cover of the Atlantis re-release.
posted by LeLiLo at 9:50 PM on May 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

YE GADS that is an utterly insane post!
posted by sammyo at 10:07 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Tremendous post, filthy light thief! I've been a Sun Ra fan for a long time, and it's great to see his work being made more accessible.

If this post makes anyone interested in Sun Ra's life story, the book Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra by John Szwed is a thorough and well-written biography.

Also, if you're interested in seeing what some of this music looks like on paper, a .zip file of Sun Ra charts - originally purported to be from his band book, but apparently actually from filings prepared for the US copyright office - surfaced online a while back.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 10:11 PM on May 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

The main link, the bandcamp with the streaming, was something that crossed my RSS months ago, and I'd considered posting it, but now I'm glad I didn't because there's zero chance I would have done it the justice you have, filthy light thief, kudos.
posted by juv3nal at 10:43 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Well, that’s my next 6 months of internet browsing sorted. Set the controls to the heart of the Ra.
posted by Jellybean_Slybun at 10:46 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

At the risk of being somewhat redundant, KFJC is doing their annual "Night and Day of the Sun" Sun Ra birthday special right now as part of their Month of Mayhem thingy. There are also a lot of other cool specials, and everything is streamable and/or downloadable for two weeks after broadcasting.
posted by pagrus at 10:53 PM on May 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Amazing post. Happy birthday to Sun Ra.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 11:10 PM on May 21, 2018

Oh, that was great. Thank you! I saw the Arkestra when I was in school back in Philly a long time ago, but I still remember it clearly. There was a pretty hippie boy and his red-haired lady love and they danced and danced and danced. She had on a blue denim sundress and he was wearing a tie die tee shirt. I thought it was one of the most beautiful moments I had ever seen, and as it happens, it just might have stayed in my list.

I haven't thought of that show in years.
posted by frumiousb at 12:40 AM on May 22, 2018

Holy hell!
posted by atoxyl at 12:45 AM on May 22, 2018

"Daddy's gonna tell you no lie" on the Singles album on the via-Strut page. Doowop which brings to mind early Zappa.
posted by epo at 12:53 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Super cool post, great job. I've always loved Space is the Place (the movie). The opening gets me every time, just one of the coolest things ever put on film.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:21 AM on May 22, 2018

Sun Ra did one side of a Batman record in 1966. (The other side was done by Al Kooper's Blues Project). I love Sun Ra and I love this album where all the music is based on classical compositions so no royalties would have to be paid to anyone: http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2006/02/sun_ra_and_the_.html
posted by CCBC at 2:31 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm speechless. This is phenomenal.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:32 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Awesome collection of links.

In the category of in memoriam, Art Institute of Chicago currently has Cauleen Smith's video piece "Space is the Place (A March for Sun Ra)". If you're in there you should take 10 minutes to watch.
posted by PMdixon at 3:34 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

A truly epic post - MeFites, if the current incarnation of the Arkestra (spearheaded by the indefatigable Marshall Allen, still a vibrant, fiery bandleader at 93) comes to your town, go. Pure joy, and a wade in the deep waters and mysterious back eddies of 20th century American music.
posted by ryanshepard at 4:14 AM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Welp. There go my ears for the next few weeks.

I don't have any Sun Ra stories. never got to see them play. But I can remember alternate radio as being a place for music later known as "grunge", but it seemed like everybody had room in their hearts for a few stray oldies, primarily Sun Ra's Arkestra, which cut through the noise like an oblique sunbeam.
posted by ardgedee at 4:26 AM on May 22, 2018

Much thanks for this! Great post.
posted by SystematicAbuse at 5:42 AM on May 22, 2018

A notion passed through my head that Sun Ra and George Clinton are like two sides of the same coin, the light side and the dark side. And I love them both.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:50 AM on May 22, 2018

No words. Thanks.
posted by allthinky at 6:04 AM on May 22, 2018

> "Daddy's gonna tell you no lie" on the Singles album on the via-Strut page. Doowop which brings to mind early Zappa.

If I'm being honest, that's my favourite Sun Ra song (a lot of his stuff is a bit too far-out for my earth-bound ears, although I do love Silhouette In Jazz).
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:17 AM on May 22, 2018

Sun Ra was one of those 20th century enigmas, a weird ripple in the fabric of time that could not and would not be ironed flat. Every time I think about him or listen the world seems more strange more beautiful and more filled with possibilities. Space is the place
posted by dis_integration at 6:54 AM on May 22, 2018

seanmpuckett: A notion passed through my head that Sun Ra and George Clinton are like two sides of the same coin, the light side and the dark side. And I love them both.

Someone in the Brother from Another Planet documentary credited Sun Ra for influencing George Clinton, and (another) cited him as one of the first people in the United States to say he was abducted by aliens. I'd say Sonny was ahead of many curves.

dis_integration: Sun Ra was one of those 20th century enigmas, a weird ripple in the fabric of time that could not and would not be ironed flat. Every time I think about him or listen the world seems more strange more beautiful and more filled with possibilities. Space is the place

I watched part of Donald Glover's 2013 (?) stand up comedy bit on Netflix, where he complains about the lack of weird music, citing Kanye West and Lady Gaga's cancelled tour as being "too weird." I hope Glover has seen and heard Sun Ra, because if not, it could blow his mind. West is kinda weird, and Gaga can be proper strange, but Sun Ra? So, so much weirder than the combination of the two.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:26 AM on May 22, 2018

The Card Cheat: a lot of his stuff is a bit too far-out for my earth-bound ears, although I do love Silhouette In Jazz

That was part of my reason to make this ridiculously long post - highlight the crazy range of sounds in the Sun Ra / Arkestra library, from some fantastic piano jazz and standards to all the far-out space bop Sun Ra is probably what most folks think of when they hear (and see) Sun Ra.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:28 AM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, late in the career of each, in 1986, Sun Ra and John Cage performed together at Sideshows by the Seashore on the Coney Island Boardwalk. The Modern Harmonic label issued the full concert in 2016. There's a taste of it here. Also in 2016, Paul Youngquist published his A Pure Solar World: Sun Ra and the Birth of Afrofuturism.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:36 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Fantastic post - thank you so much!
posted by Golem XIV at 7:37 AM on May 22, 2018

> Silhouette In Jazz

Or, you know, Jazz in Silhouette. (I blame a caffeine deficiency).
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:58 AM on May 22, 2018

clearly while listening you were projected into the future and so your communications back to us were mirror-image reversed.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:01 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Kamasi Washington has a double LP coming out, Heaven & Earth, that is definitely in the genre of afrofuturist space jazz with robes. Unfortunately he only has 1-minute samples of the songs posted online, but two upcoming singles are:

Fists of Fury


Space Traveller's Lullaby

worth seeking out the full songs.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:13 AM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

We're gonna need a bigger boat.
posted by Damienmce at 10:06 AM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, what a deep and entrancing rabbit hole you have just pointed out for us. This is truly extraordinary. Thank you so much for the hours that must have gone into putting together this post.

In the past, I've tried to find the Sun Ra sweet spot, and it can be tricky--sometimes a recording is so out there that I can't find a toehold, and other times it's just straightforward jazz, which doesn't necessarily grab me. This helps me find the glorious stuff in between.

It's after the end of the world. Don't you know that yet?

Can you do Mingus next?
posted by umbú at 10:24 AM on May 22, 2018

Only just realised what you did in the title. A plethoRa indeed.
posted by epo at 10:35 AM on May 22, 2018

Wow. Massive. Awesome post. My ears and soul thank you.
posted by hoodrich at 12:20 PM on May 22, 2018

Thank ya kindly sir!!!
posted by gtrwolf at 1:21 PM on May 22, 2018

Well dammit Filthy, you've gone and outdone yourself again. How WILL I find the time?

Sun remains one of the most interesting creators in a time full of consternation and 'lucidation (EG ' baroque rock'). When I first heard his stuff, that's how I reacted, much as I had when I first heard 'Are You Experienced'. ("Whot the ...")

Eventually I saw the film, which somewhat opened a portal into what was going on for me ... big enough to see what was going on. The obscurity and the lack of access prevented more exploring.

Whelp ... there goes that excuse.
posted by Twang at 4:21 PM on May 22, 2018

Thanks so much! I once had the pleasure of taking an improvisation workshop with the Marshall-Allen-era Arkestra, where you got to play along with them and get conducted by Allen. I brought a musical saw and my friend brought one of my toy keyboards. Having Marshall Allen look directly at you and conduct you is one of the most intense experiences available to a person.
posted by ITheCosmos at 5:34 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Now that's a post! Or possibly an encyclopedia.

I knew of Sun Ra, and had listened to bits over the years. But having it all in one place makes it so much easier and more rewarding.

Guess what is on my playlist for the next fortnight. Netflix begone!

This lover of music and jazz-based music in particular is very much obliged to you, filthy. :)
posted by Pouteria at 8:23 PM on May 22, 2018

Awesome music post for an artist whose catalog sorely needs such a guide. An flt magnum opus. Thank you!
posted by the sobsister at 8:33 AM on May 23, 2018

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