Friday, March 24, 2017

Sun Ra Arkestra 2017 Tour Concert Dates

FOR RELEASE MARCH 18, 2017
By Greg Drusdow

The Sun Ra Arkestra Directed by Marshall Allen launches its 2017 World Tour today with its first European tour of the year featuring landings in The Netherlands, Belgium, England, and Italy with eleven performances running from March 18 to April 3, 2017.

The Arkestra's 2017 World Tour will continue after the European tour concludes with seven USA dates with the band doing concerts in Washington, D. C., Brooklyn, NY, and San Francisco, CA.

Marshall Allen, as Musical Director of the Arkestra, is now in his 59th year of continuous activity within the Sun Ra Arkestra. Marshall has been in the Arkestra 22 years longer than Sun Ra himself, as he continues moving forward at light speed while the Arkestra travels the spaceways.

The current concert itinerary of the Sun Ra Arkestra Directed by Marshall Allen is:

Saturday, March 18, 2017 - Theater aan het Vrijthof, Maastricht, The Netherlands.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017 - Lantaren Venster, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Thursday, March 23, 2017 - Het Depot, Leuven, Belgium.

Friday, March 24, 2017 - Bimhuis, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - Con Club, Lewes (near Brighton), England.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 - Con Club, Lewes (near Brighton), England.

Thursday, March 30, 2017 - Con Club, Lewes (near Brighton), England.

Friday, March 31, 2017 - Union Chapel, London, England.

Saturday, April 1, 2017 - The Wardrobe, Leeds, England.

Sunday, April 2, 2017 - Band on the Wall, Manchester, England.

Monday, April 3, 2017 - Sala Paradiso, San Lazzaro Di Savena (near Bologna), Italy.

Saturday, May 6, 2017 - African American Civil War Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Saturday, June 10, 2017 - Union Pool, Brooklyn, NY.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017 - Logan Fringe Arts Space, Washington, D.C.

Thursday, August 3, 2017 - SF Jazz, San Francisco, CA.

Friday, August 4, 2017 - SF Jazz, San Francisco, CA.

Saturday, August 5, 2017 - SF Jazz, San Francisco, CA.

Sunday, August 6, 2017 - SF Jazz, San Francisco, CA.

All 2017 Sun Ra Arkestra Directed by Marshall Allen 2017 World Tour dates continue to be in support of the "Babylon Live" CD release on the In + Out Record label. This CD was recorded live at the Babylon club in Istanbul, Turkey on May 21, 2014 during the first of four 2014 Sun Ra Centennial Arkestra European tours.

For additional information about Sun Ra Arkestra Directed by Marshall Allen performances, including venue weblinks, please click on the "Tourdates" tab of the Sun Ra Arkestra website. Booking information for the Sun Ra Arkestra Directed by Marshall Allen is available by clicking on the "Info" tab of the Sun Ra Arkestra website, which is located at:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sun Ra Arkive Book Review: Pat Patrick: American Musician and Cultural Visionary by Bill Banfield

Pat Patrick: American Musician and Cultural Visionary by Bill Banfield, 
Rowman and Littlefield.
Bill Banfield's 2016 book, "Pat Patrick: American Musician and Cultural Visionary," chronicles the largely unsung, but massively important, jazz performer's life, times, music and philosophy. Published by Rowman and Littlefield, this 140 page hardcover includes previously unseen photographs and is a welcome addition to the existing core bibliography of excellent Sun Ra related books.

Of all of the beloved stalwart Sun Ra Arkestra members - from John Gilmore to Marshall Allen and June Tyson - none has received their own biography to date. Laurdine "Pat" Patrick is perhaps the most qualified first subject for his own book, because he had such a long, diverse and independent life outside of Sun Ra's sphere.

Now Bill Banfield, currently Director of the Center for Africana studies and professor at the Berklee College of Music, gives focus to Pat Patrick's fascinating life with his book that draws from diverse sources such as historical reportage, interviews with family and peers, excerpts from Patrick's journals and the extensive lists he kept of his professional accomplishments.

@accbillbanfield
For long time devotees of Patrick's robust and expressive baritone saxophone playing that always wanted to know more about the person and his work, Banfield's book illustrates a well-rounded and complex picture of the soft-spoken musician's life and greatly expands our understanding of the man. By letting the source material speak for itself, Banfield doesn't bring his personal agenda to the subject, allowing readers to have their own unique emotional experience and interpretation.

"Pat Patrick: American Musician and Cultural Visionary" provides an insightful cultural perspective of the artist's times as an educated, thoughtful and principled African-American artist in the 20th century. The author gives context to the societal obstructions and aspirations Patrick gave uncompromising - yet graceful - voice to through his work, while always maintaining pride and humanity.

Through interviews with Patrick's family, the book tells the unflinching story of the affects his life choices had, and the emotional and philosophical lessons his children learned from them. Professor Banfield gives space to their individual stories and lets their words speak for themselves without imposing his own interpretation.

The young Laurdine "Pat" Patrick from Bill Banfield's "Pat Patrick: American Musician and Cultural Visionary"
For the first time in print, aspects of Patrick's career that were previously unchronicled are collected. Apart from it's human story, it is the book's most substantial contribution to Sun Ra scholarship. From the Pat Patrick Band's 7" single of "I Ain't Done Nothing To You" backed with "Hot Springs," the Andrew Hill Combo's 45 featuring Pat's composition "Down Pat," and Coleman Hawkins' performance of Patrick's "A Tune For The Tutor," to his compositions and performances with Mongo Santamaria, Johnny Zamot and James Moody, discovering these songs for the first time may be the greatest joy listeners will get from this story.

Devoted Sun Ra fans will likely approach this book hoping for a focus on Pat's time with the Arkestra and previously unheard stories. However, the book takes a different perspective and seeks to provide a more complete appreciation of the human being himself, not only as a member of Sun Ra's band. Ironically by not meeting preconceived expectations, it greatly exceeds them, offering a pleasantly surprising read and a far deeper learning experience.

Bill Banfield's "Pat Patrick: American Musician and Cultural Visionary" is highly recommended, and will hopefully bring further public attention to Pat Patrick's recorded work and Berklee College of Music collection.

- Christopher Eddy, Sun Ra Arkive

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Review: Pat Patrick & The Baritone Saxophone Retinue "Sound Advice" 2015 Art Yard Records

Pat Patrick and The Baritone Saxophone Retinue "Sound Advice" Art Yard Records Front Cover

This album is a must-own release for students of Sun Ra, not as a rarity, but as a bonafide part of the cannon.

Side A:
Stablemates (Intro)
Funny Time
Uptightedness
Eastern Vibrations
Side B:
Sabia
East Of Uz
The Waltz
Stablemates, pt. II

The 1977 LP release of Pat Patrick and The Baritone Saxophone Retinue's "Sound Advice" has always been a rare and sought after release for hardcore Sun Ra collectors. So rare in fact that for the last 25 years the only copy I ever heard was from a cassette dubbed by one of the lucky few owners of this unique and thoroughly compelling album.

This represents Laurdine "Pat" Patrick's only full-length release as a co-leader, along with the Arkestra's Charles Davis, as well as the The Baritone Saxophone Retinue's single recording. Patrick had released just one previous 7" single under his own name - "I Ain't Done Nothin' To You," backed with "Hot Springs" - on the Aladdin Records label in 1955. 

In addition to his almost 40 year association as the second original member of the Sun Ra Arkestra, Patrick co-wrote the #1 hit "Yeh Yeh" (Mongo SantamarĂ­a, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross and Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames) and arranged Mongo SantamarĂ­a's Top 10 hit version of the Herbie Hancock composition "Watermelon Man," and played as a sideman with John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Babatunde Olatunji.

It seems significant that "Sound Advice" was originally released by Sun Ra's label, El Saturn Records. Other than 1968's "I Wish I Had A Wishing Ring" by Lacy Gibson, it is the only other release of the 100 plus titles in Sun Ra's catalog that didn't have Sun Ra's direct involvement as a performer or arranger.

For me, the significance is that this record feels like a long-lost Arkestra release. Live lo-fi recording? Check. An obscure previously unreleased Sun Ra 50's compositions called "East of Uz?" Check. Pressed in super-small quantities and impossible to find? Check. Spirited, sophisticated, and wildly swinging jazz that sounds like nothing else? Double check!

The fact that this album was recorded and released in the 1970s is puzzling. Compounded by the slightly removed far-away sonics of what appears to be a 2-channel stereo microphone recording, "Sound Advice" sounds like walking into a Chicago night spot in the late 1950s and opening the door on Sun Ra's Arkestra itself. The songs, the arrangements and the melodic and harmonic content all conjure the sound of the vintage Arkestra. 

If you put this side-by-side with Atavistic's release of "Music From Tomorrow's World," recorded live at Chicago's Wonder Inn, in a blind listening test, you'd be hard pressed to not think it was possibly the same band if you didn't know any better.

This album is a must-own release for students of Sun Ra, not as a rarity, but as a bonafide part of the cannon. It makes me reassess how important and influential the original members of the Arkestra - like Pat Patrick - were to the overall personality of the band. Sun Ra was - of course - the leader, but I think that history has severely underestimated the importance and influence the individual musicians had on the music's magic and power.

One might think that a horn section made up of entirely baritone saxophones - with a touch of flutes - might be a novelty, but rest assured it is not gimmicky, but visionary. In fact, it's the most exciting baritone playing I've ever heard on record. The tight, swinging drum and bass accompaniment gives the band solid momentum and support, with the piano providing beautiful counterpoint and some great solos. The baritones are arranged with breadth and variety, and not boomy or squonky.

Art Yard Records did an incredibly admirable job with their 2015 release on LP and CD, as they have done with every single one of their releases. They were clearly working with a pretty clean vinyl copy as their master, but it is the best I've ever heard the album sound and a welcome replacement to the tape and CD-R copies most collectors have had access to in the past. The mastering is tasteful, with a light musical touch, and doesn't have audible artifacts of heavy-handed compression or de-noising.

Special kudos should be given for the limited-edition vinyl edition with sumptuous hand silk-screened artwork by L. Todd/House Of Traps, complete with double-sided inner sleeve notes and inner and outer poly sleeves. It is one of, if not THE, most beautiful and artistic record jackets in my collection. It makes the album feel as special and precious as it truly is.

- Christopher Eddy, Sun Ra Arkive


Pat Patrick & The Baritone Saxophone Retinue "Sound Advice" Art Yard Records Back Cover


Here's what Art Yard's Peter Dennett has to say about the release in an interview for FactMag:

Q: That record was something of a holy grail in the Ra catalogue, and you’ve also managed to unearth another huge piece which is set for release soon, right?

A: Yes! Recently I’ve signed some contracts with Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts. His father, Pat Patrick, was one of the main players with Sun Ra, and also worked with John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. He wrote music with Mongo Santamaria, the song ‘Yeh, Yeh!’” is a famous example. There is a record that he wrote that came out on El Saturn around 1980, that is now going on Ebay for 2500 dollars, which is just crazy.

So anyway I’ve set this thing up with the estate of Pat Patrick, and that record will come out properly later this year. It’s already been bootlegged, a year and a half ago, by someone in Europe I think, they were selling the bootlegs for between 170 pounds and 250 pounds – they must have made tens of thousands just by selling 100 records or so. So this is the thing, it’s about getting that music back out there into the world, doing it the proper way – I’m looking forward to putting that out properly.


Pat Patrick & The Baritone Saxophone Retinue

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sun Ra Arkive Hartmut Geerken Interviewed by Suso Navarrete 01/2003

Hartmut Geerken's original 1994 book "Omniverse Sun Ra" was the first piece of substantial printed Sun Ra scholarship I saw - around the time Robert Campbell's "Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra Volume 1" was released too. Between these books, the Evidence CD reissues and the VHS reissue of the film "Space Is The Place" in 1995, it was a bountiful time to be a student of Sun Ra's recorded HIStory/MYstory.

It was a thing of wonder; large, beautiful, well-researched and a power source to hold and read. As a small-run independently published book it was expensive too. As I remember, around $100 USD, which was way too out-of-reach for a young hippie like me. Luckily my Sun Ra teacher had a copy, and I would humbly ask to look at it, as though I were handling some ancient and priceless scrolls. At least that's how it felt at the time.

My friend Suso Navarrete interviewed Hartmut Geerken for Sun Ra Arkive in January 2003. He arranged the entire thing, and to this day, I have never had any direct contact with Mr. Geerken. But, I would like to sincerely thank him for all he has shared with the Sun Ra community, as well as a "hello" to my long-lost friend Suso, who I lost track of many years ago. We had a fun and productive run together!

"Omniverse Sun Ra" eventually went out of print and commanded insane prices - several hundred dollars at least - on the secondary market for about 20 years. The author maintained that he would never reprint and the book became more and more of a sought after power source as time proceeded.

Thankfully, "Omniverse Sun Ra" was revised by by Hartmut Geerken and Chris Trent and reprinted in hardcover by Art Yard Limited on November 30, 2015. It's available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Omniverse-Hartmut-Geerken-Chris-Trent/dp/0993351409
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© 2001-2017 Sun Ra Arkive.




Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sun Ra Arkive John and Peter Hinds Interview 04/03/2002

Sun Ra Research - captured, collected, compiled and published - by John and Peter Hinds is a cornerstone in the (star) field of schol-ra-ship. Their work exudes love, respect, dedication and fascination, and they are major inspirations and teachers to me.

In 2002 I was fortunate enough to get the brothers to talk about their work and experiences in the land of Ra. Like Sun Ra Arkive's conversations with Trudy Morse and Hartmut Geerken, I think this is one of the only times - if not the only - that the lens was turned back on them to talk about themselves.

Sun Ra Research can be found online at:

Digital Collections - Hamilton College Library

Sun Ra Research is a an oral history project conducted by John and Peter Hinds. Since 1995 the Hinds brothers have published their interviews with the jazz musician Sun Ra and members of his band, the Arkestra, in their magazine Sun Ra Research. This collection features fully text searchable digital versions of the original issues of Sun Ra Research, and a single issue (all published) of the Sun Ra Quarterly. This digital collection is a collaborative enterprise between John and Peter Hinds and the Department of Special Collections and Archives, Burke Library, Hamilton College. Future additions to the collection may include transcriptions of additional, previously unpublished interviews with Sun Ra and the Arkestra.

MATERIALS DIGITIZED:
Sun Ra Quarterly (1996, one issue only)
Sun Ra Research (1995-2001)

Sun Ra Research—supplement (1988-1999)

If you want to share your Sun Ra Arkestra story with us, we'd love to hear from you!
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© 2001-2017 Sun Ra Arkive.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sun Ra Arkive Trudy Morse Interview 04/01/2002

In 2002-2003 we tried to contact and interview as many people as possible for the eZine version of Sun Ra Arkive who were also on a mission to tell the world about Sun Ra and help preserve his legacy in history's consciousness. 

The wish list of subjects was long (including Campbell, Trent, Szwed, Gordon, Anderson and many others), and the list of returned emails was short. However, we were fortunate to have 3 enlightening conversations with John and Peter Hinds, Hartmut Geerken, and the interview featured here with Trudy Morse.

I've always intended to do the definitive interview with my Sun Ra Mentor - disk jockey Richard Segan. He's the man responsible for the weekly broadcast of "Sun Ra's Cosmic Corner" (where I first heard Ra's music), booking several Arkestra concerts at UCONN (including my first time seeing the band), telling me which albums to buy first (I started with the Evidence "Angels & Demons At Play/Nubians Of Plutonia" twofer), hosting my first screening of "Space Is The Place" and "Mystery MR. Ra," piloting trips and spots on the list for innumerable shows, participating together in several WKCR FM Arrival Day Marathon broadcasts (including one at the House of Ra in Germantown, PA where I got to sleep in Sun Ra's old bedroom), and introducing me to the members of the band and many cherished friends. Someday I hope we get around doing it when I can make it to Hawaii.

Of course, the focus of Sun Ra Arkive is the music and the musicians, and I'd be honored to interview any of them. But, I've always had a special fondness and interest in my fellow travelers that use their individual talents to support the band's art - the grass roots culture of DJ's, promoters, independent label owners, artists, field recordists, researchers and academics that make up our own little sub-culture, like the Grateful Dead had with the Deadheads. The passion and dedications the fans have for the band and it's message always reminded me of the Dead thing.

So, if there's anyone that wants to go "on record" and talk about their personal journey with all things Sun Ra and The Arkestra, please get in touch.

Trudy Morse is a special spirit, as you'll read in this interview. She loved the band, and brought a special focus to the Poetic aspect of the alter-destiny ritual, and the power of word play and its equational magick. I'm thankful we got to document her words about herself and her relationship to the Ra Omniverse. Fly high and free Trudy...Thank you.
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© 2001-2017 Sun Ra Arkive.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review: Sun Ra Singles The Definitive Collection 1952-1991 Strut Art Yard Records

Sun Ra Singles: The Definitive Collection 1952-1991 STRUT148CD

You can purchase directly from Strut here:






Sun Ra Arkive Review by Christopher B Eddy:

At the time, 1993's Evidence 2 CD Sun Ra release of "The Singles" was a holy grail. Until then, most Arkestra fans had never been able to hear a majority of the collection - if any of it at all - and never before collected in good quality, in one place.

If Evidence's 49 track singles release was a holy grail, then the new 2016 Strut/Art Yard 3 CD 65 track collection "Sun Ra Singles: The Definitive Collection 1952-1991" raises the bar to Ark of The Covenant proportions, and exemplifies how much access to Sun Ra's music has improved in the 24 years since the previous release. Listeners can hear deep treasures at a level of sonic clarity that was previously only dreamed of by Ra-diophiles.

The care that is obviously put in to the packaging (Matt Thame), research (Quinton Scott/Peter Dennett), liner notes (Francis Gooding, track listing (Paul Griffiths), and transfer/restoration/mastering (Michael Anderson/Irwin Chusid/Peter Beckmann makes this an A+ gold star must-have release for any Sun Ra fan. I bought the CD version, and can only imagine that the 12 and 7 inch vinyl versions must be as beautiful and magical of an experience as the CD is, if not more so, due to the fetishistic attraction of the vinyl presentations.

In general the original singles collected here were pressed in extremely low indie manner and quantities - very few, to handfuls, to no (in some cases) copies exist. The various, less-than-Billboard-Top-40 recording locations, conditions and budgets equates to some challenging sonics on many of these sides, which makes the overall unity and level of quality achieved in the mastering of this collection a major achievement. As a whole, this is the best these recordings have sounded, and small details of performance and atmosphere previously obscured are revealed here.

Unlike previous digital era releases, the sound quality and light-handed, almost transparent, restoration is very detailed and musical, with minimal noise reduction artifacts and an airy sense of naturalness to the soundstage. The EQ is warm and true to the analog sources as can be hoped, making for an enjoyable and non-fatiguing listening experience, absent of overwhelming digital harshness.

It would be easy to assume that everything from the Evidence "The Singles" release has been ported over to Strut/Art Yard's 2016 "Sun Ra Singles: The Definitive Collection 1952-1991," but to take nothing away from this crucial new collection, is "definitive" is to mean "complete," it is not - eight songs from the Evidence CD are not on the new release. And while it collects many one-off single releases from the past 24 years that appeared on various labels, such as Norton Records, the only truly new unreleased single (as far as I can tell) is the 'A Blue One/Orbitration In Blue' 7." (which has never sounded better, compared to the copies circulating in collectors circles). So if you want everything, you still need both releases.

This is a list of the songs appearing on the Strut/Art Yard collection that weren't on Evidence, though most can be found on other albums and collections:

CD 1:
1. SUN RA – I AM AN INSTRUMENT
2. SUN RA – I AM STRANGE
3. SUN RA & THE NU SOUNDS – CHICAGO USA
4. SUN RA & THE NU SOUNDS – SPACESHIP LULLABY
7. BILLIE HAWKINS with SUN-RA & HIS ORCHESTRA – I’M COMING HOME
8. BILLIE HAWKINS with SUN-RA & HIS ORCHESTRA – LAST CALL FOR LOVE
9. SUN RA & HIS ARKISTRA – SOFT TALK
10. SUN RA & HIS ARKISTRA – SUPER BLONDE
12. LE SUN RA & HIS ARKISTRA – A CALL FOR DEMONS
13. LE SUN RA & HIS ARKISTRA – DEMON’S LULLABY
16. LE SUN RA & HIS ARKISTRA – URNACK
23. LE SUN RA & HIS ARKESTRA – HOURS AFTER

CD 2:
5. SUN RA & HIS ASTRO INFINITY ARKESTRA – ROUND MIDNIGHT
6. SUN RA & HIS ASTRO INFINITY ARKESTRA – BACK IN YOUR OWN BACK YARD
8. LE SUN RA AND HIS ARKESTRA – VELVET
12. SUN RA & HIS ARKESTRA – SPACE LONELINESS
16. SUN RA & HIS ARKESTRA featuring PAT PATRICK – A BLUE ONE
17. SUN RA & HIS ARKESTRA featuring PAT PATRICK – ORBITRATION IN BLUE
18. SUN RA & HIS ARKESTRA – OUT THERE A MINUTE
19. LITTLE MACK with SUN RA & HIS ARKESTRA – TELL HER TO COME ON HOME

CD 3:
5. SUN RA & HIS ASTRO-INTERGALACTIC INFINITY ARKESTRA – JOURNEY TO SATURN
12. SUN RA QUARTET– DISCO 3000
17. SUN RA ARKESTRA – NUCLEAR WAR
18. SUN RA ARKESTRA – SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY
19. SUN RA ARKESTRA – ON JUPITER / COSMO DRAMA
20. SUN RA ARKESTRA – COSMO DRAMA
21. SUN RA – I AM THE INSTRUMENT

Release details from Strut/Art Yard:

Strut present a new definitive collection of singles released by jazz maverick Sun Ra during his Earth years, spanning 1952 to 1991. Released prolifically during the 1950s and more sporadically thereafter, primarily on the Saturn label, the 45s offer one-off meteorites from Ra’s prolific cosmic journey, tracing the development of his forward-thinking “Space-Bop” and his unique take on jazz and blues traditions which sounded unlike anything else from the period. As with his LPs, most 45s were only pressed in small runs and were sold at gigs and have since become extremely rare and sought after. Some have only been discovered in physical form in recent years; some were planned and pencilled but allegedly never made it to vinyl and some appeared as one-off magazine singles and posthumous releases. 

‘Singles’ will be released in various formats across two release dates. All formats feature fully remastered tracks, rare photos, poster artwork, extensive sleeve notes by Francis Gooding, an interview with Saturn Records founder Alton Abraham by John Corbett and detailed track by track and session notes by Paul Griffiths. The 45s box sets each feature a hardboard flip top box containing 10 x 45s in their original artwork along with a bound 28pp booklet. 

Volume 1:

November 25th 2016: 
- All-encompassing 3CD and digital versions covering Ra’s full output from 1952-1991 
- 3LP set Volume 1 covering 1952-1961 

December 9th 2016 :
- 10 x 45 box set Volume 1 covering 1952-1961 (limited to 500 copies)

Volume 2 - Coming March - April 2017: 

- 3LP set Volume 2 covering 1962-1991 
- 10 x 45 box set Volume 2 covering 1962-1991 (limited to 500 copies)





This is the best review I've read on the internet to date:

How Sun Ra’s Definitive Singles Catalog Finally Saw The Light of Day
By Michael J. West

Sun Ra departed Earth on May 30, 1993, just days after the 79th anniversary of his arrival. (One doesn’t talk about Ra in terms of “birth” and “death,” but more on that later.) He left behind a massive, convoluted musical legacy—including at least 120 full-length albums, one of the world’s largest known discographies—and perhaps an even bigger mystery. Who was this jazz composer/arranger/bandleader/pianist, who insisted that he was a native of the planet Saturn and espoused a philosophy that blended science fiction, Biblical texts and ancient Egyptian history and mythology (wearing costumes that also expressed that combination)? And what were we to make of his music, which ranged from big-band swing to bebop to avant-garde and fusion?

Twenty-three years later, we have some answers. It’s only in that time, for example, that Sun Ra has been revealed to be the former Herman Poole “Sonny” Blount, born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914. A small army of researchers has made some sense of his discography as well, assigning session dates and personnel to previously un-annotated tracks. Many of the Sun Ra Arkestra’s albums were ex post facto compilations of disparate sessions and lineups. Still, there are a number of holes and gray areas, and perhaps always will be. But with Strut Records’ release of Singles: The Definitive 45s Collection—an assemblage of one of Ra’s most overlooked bodies of work—the picture becomes a bit more complete.

“It’s a very interesting and singular perspective on the Sun Ra story,” says Paul Griffiths, the London-based music writer who compiled Singles. “It will be a huge listening experience, and, I think, quite a revelation.”

We don’t often think about post-World War II jazz in the context of singles; almost as soon as long-playing records were introduced in 1948, jazz and its often lengthy improvisations proved uniquely suited to the format. The 45 rpm market, ideal for jukeboxes and radio stations, was reserved for pop songs. But Sun Ra was never interested in convention. With his idiosyncratic vision, he and his business manager Alton Abraham—with whom he founded his El Saturn Records label—wanted to share it with the world.

“Singles were popular at that time. Singles were how you got attention,” says Irwin Chusid, administrator of Sun Ra LLC (the arm of Sun Ra’s estate that controls his catalog). “And putting out albums was a lot more expensive than putting out singles. So I think it was the economics of the music at the time that necessitated dealing with seven-inch singles. Alton Abraham wanted to make money, to sell records, so what do you do? You put out singles!”

Marshall Allen, longtime alto saxophonist for the Sun Ra Arkestra (and its leader since 1993), agrees that the singles were probably a business decision rather than a creative one. Certainly the musicians were never told that they were specifically making record sides. “At any session, Sun Ra would have so many tunes for us to do, and we’d go into the studio and make whatever,” he says. “And then he and, maybe Alton, would decide what to do with it afterward. We’d find out about it when it came out, just like everybody else.”

Small independent labels weren’t a rare commodity in the 1950s and ‘60s; they came and went frequently. But like most of them, Saturn wasn’t really plugged into the major distribution channels. “They probably just took them around to the stores and said ‘Here, would you carry our records?’” says Chusid. “Maybe they sold them at gigs, or through the mail. But there was no wide distribution of the records, which is why these records are so rare.”

The rarity of the records allowed many of them to slip through the historical and musicological cracks. Indeed, this is not the first collection of Sun Ra’s releases on 45. Evidence Records, the last label to which Sun Ra signed in his lifetime, put out a compilation in 1996 among a bevy of Ra releases. But that release was flawed on many levels. For one thing, it contained 49 tracks to the new collection’s 63.

“The old Evidence CD had quite a few gaps in it,” says Griffiths. “[It didn’t include] things that have been released posthumously, things that were not even known about from the Saturn catalogue that were just only discovered after the release of this. There’s a single called ‘Orbitration in Blue,’ which was only discovered after the Evidence thing came out. And this has got an extended version! So this new release has some music that even the most ardent Ra-o-philes won’t own. It’s a whole different listening experience, because you’re getting a really in-depth version of the story.”

“In-depth” is an apt term. Commissioned by Sun Ra, LLC, this music comes not from secondhand sources, like record collectors, but from the original session reels. Ra had given these to Michael D. Anderson, former percussionist in the Arkestra (now executive director of the Sun Ra Music Archive). Chusid has been able to help restore them. In other words, not only is there more music to be heard, but the previously available music now sounds substantially better.

“That’s the other big thing about the Evidence set: It wasn’t very well mastered,” says Griffiths. “The mastering was done from very lo-fi single pressings. But this set is going to sound fantastic, because of what Irwin Chusid and Michael Anderson, who’ve got access to the extended master tapes, have done.”

Sun Ra LLC also has a library of work from the many historians and discographers in the years since the artist’s departure. Griffiths is one of these historians. “I’m a big fan with a rather large scholarly knowledge of the workings of it all,” he says. “They trusted my expertise and knowledge of what is a very, very complex discography to say the least.” He assembled a more-or-less chronological sequence of tracks out of that knowledge, and annotated them extensively.

Played end to end, Singles sounds much like the great Sun Ra albums. (Many of these singles were ultimately included on his albums.) Like them, it draws from a wide range of times (though about half are from his Chicago period of the 1950s, they continued all the way up to a 1991 CD single) and places—recording studios, rehearsals, club gigs, his house. There are sides by big band, small groups, and at least two (versions of “I Am an Instrument,” recorded four decades apart) featuring solo Sun Ra.

Most interestingly, though, the collected singles engage in the usual panoply of styles, from swing to experimental freeform, to R&B—and doo-wop. He shares the bills with several vocal acts, including the groups the Nu Sounds and the Cosmic Rays, as well as a Memphis-bred R&B belter called Yochanan, the Space Age Vocalist.

It’s unknown how these artists came into Sun Ra’s orbit. “I’m sure that Alton Abraham was at least partly involved in finding these musicians, maybe hooking them up with [Sun Ra],” says Chusid. “Or these musicians came to his attention, he maybe saw them in the club. But he began working with them. Coaching these singers, helping them with their harmonies, their arrangements, providing musical backdrops to their vocals.”

“He would find places where there was a piano, it might be somebody’s basement or it might be anywhere,” Allen recalls. “And he would just work with these guys. Sometimes he would put us on the record with them.”

But these vocal groups are enigmas in their own right, adding to Sun Ra’s mystique. “He might have given them names, or he might have changed their names, assigned them a name for a record and they didn’t exist as an actual vocal group that was out there performing,” says Chusid. “Some of the same singers that were part of the Cosmic Rays might also have been in the Nu Sounds. The Nu Sounds who sang on one recording may not have been the same Nu Sounds who sang on another recording. These are part of the mysteries of that period.”

Singles, then, represents a crucial piece of the puzzle—but not the last piece. According to Allen, there are perhaps thousands of hours of unheard recordings. “He recorded everything, good or bad,” says Allen. Every day we would rehearse for hours, seven days a week, and he would record it. For thirty-four years.”

The whole picture will probably never be clear—and if Sun Ra truly did return to Saturn after departing his earthly body, as he always claimed, he is probably quite satisfied with that. “I think he wanted us to keep digging through the myth and the facts and the speculation,” says Chusid, “and to spend centuries piecing together an accurate chronicle.” By itself, Singles: The Definitive 45s Collection offers enough wonderful music for years of close examination.




© 2001-2017 Sun Ra Arkive.