If you were going to envision the ultimate avant-garde meeting-of-the-minds jam session, who would you pick? Even the most hopeful fan of strange and innovative music couldn't have seen this one coming: on one afternoon in 1986, at Coney Island's dilapidated freak show, space-age avant-jazz genius Sun Ra met avant-garde "serious music" composer John Cage in an unforgettable performance. You couldn't imagine two figures more opposite. Cage was known for his unusual approach to composition, using objects such as radios and television sets, as well as pure silence, as instruments, often encouraging his musicians to do other things at their whim on stage. Sun Ra, on the other hand, was a jazz arranger known for his "space-age" approach to jazz, adding free-jazz and surrealist elements into a musical form that Cage often disdained -- improvisational music. And yet, for one afternoon, they pooled their talents -- Ra playing keyboards, leading his small group and reading his unusual poetry; Cage "performing" vocal readings and passages of vocal sound -- plus his trademark silence -- designed to baffle and disorient. The combination is breathtaking, both organic and mechanical, free-form and totally composed. For the very first time, Modern Harmonic presents the full and unexpurgated concert from 1986, stretched out across two LPs. In addition to never-before-heard songs and musical passages, this album at last presents the long-rumored co-performance between the two musical giants, all lovingly packaged in new artwork that captures the stark brilliance of the music. Take yourself back to 1986 and a once-in-a-lifetime performance that you can finally hear as it was intended
Across the history of jazz, there is no wilder, more future-forward composer and performer than Herman Poole Blount, aka Sun Ra. Known as much for his wild on-stage persona as his innovative compositions, Sun Ra was the avant-garde bleeding edge of the jazz genre, introducing modal composition and electronic instrumentation before almost anyone else -- not to mention bringing the space age to life with his obsession with all things extraterrestrial. Across more than 50 LPs released in his lifetime, Sun Ra charted a course to space and far, far beyond. Known primarily for his keyboard improv and freeform band arrangements, Sun Ra could also write great vocal songs when he set his mind to it. Such songs as ''Space Is The Place'' and ''Interplanetary Music No.1'' show Ra's unique approach to songwriting, using eerie chanting and repetition to create hypnotic moods. And Ra could get swingy when he wanted to as well -- ''Enlightenment'' and ''Sometimes I'm Happy'' are gorgeous ballads, as pretty as any Tin Pan Alley tune. Of course, it wouldn't be Sun Ra without his space age lyrics -- ''Take your first step out to outer space/You're like a little baby who never walked before'' shows up in the future-predicting ''Walking On The Moon.'' At long last, Modern Harmonic has put together The Space Age Is Here To Stay, the very first collection of Sun Ra's vocal tracks -- two albums' worth of mind-blowing tunes from the mind of the Man from Saturn himself. Working from the session reels, Bob Irwin mastered Ra's music to perfection. Then we pressed it on space-age colored vinyl and wrapped the whole thing in a gorgeous gatefold featuring artwork by the king of space-age art himself, Chesley Bonestell. Cue this one up and get ready to visit other worlds in Sun Ra's jazz rocket ship!
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''The Lady With The Golden Stockings'' is a propulsive, forthright groove - a decisive, deep-space, pre-dawn party jam, emitting golden sparks from the black hole center which begat ''Africa'' and ''Watusa.'' Quantum-elasticity of temporal equations, bubbling bass, trumpet dancing on light waves, tenor sax serenade across the galaxy, signaling yonder... vessels... beings... femaliens... Pure poetry in sublime, delicate, rhythmelodic motion becomes ''Spontaneous Simplicity.'' A centerpiece among the gently blissful, tender works in the Sun Ra canon, heard here in a ''missing link'' super rare, compact version freshly excavated from the '58-'59 era - this is the first appearance of the tune (pre-dating by a decade the stretched-out live version first known from Pictures of Infinity). Ra's electric piano bass and the roots-heavy organic beats characteristic of the seminal Nubians sessions providing ballast, Marshall Allen's flute flutters butterfly wings, guiding the ship steadfastly beyond the eternal, to the everpresent; the other side of the end of time. The title ''Love in Outer Space'' first appeared in 1962 on the Saturn album Secrets of the Sun. The backing track here is from the intimate Night of the Purple Moon, originally a 1970 album instrumental, with David Henderson's vocal overlaid and issued on a Saturn 7-inch 45 in 1975. Henderson (known for 1960s work with Umbra collective and the Black Arts movement, performance on Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction plus early scholarship on Jimi Hendrix), provides his own lyrics, singing: ''Sunrise in Outer Space, Love for Every Face.'' With the emergence of this vocal version and the ascension of the Sun Ra Arkestra's mid-seventies popularity, onstage the tune became a quintessential Ra anthem, a vehicle for frenzied acrobatics and organ-asmic drum-orgies of hyper ecstatic proportion. Utopian yearnings of space commune Sun Children, escape velocity.
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''Nuclear War,'' Sun Ra's groove-infested x-rated warning, was an early 80s underground hit when it appeared on a 12-inch (plus the Saturn album A Fireside Chat With Lucifer). Ra and crew expose the deathly horror with deadly serious call-and-response, leavened with funk and a pinch of humor for better digestion, eyes gleaming in a laid-back, lilting, cosmo-gangster-lean. ''Outer Reach Intense Energy'' and ''Twilight'' are originally unreleased works, sonically extending the radioactive theme. ''Outer Reach'' (1977) is a soundclash of explosion and fallout, planetary screams, whistling missiles, eternal agony, detonation, damnation. Dashed hopes and dreams blasted to the farthest nebulae. ''Twilight,'' recorded at the Tip-Top Club in 1963, exhibits Sun Ra's xylophonic electric piano laced with clouds of mournful horns, teetering on madness, an impossible circus, bordering on redemption in the wilderness of the Sun's possible return.
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Among Sun Ra's most famous and jet-propelled anthems, ''Rocket Number Nine'' is heard here in one of the earliest renditions from a marathon June 1960 session, with a staggering, swaggering, hip-bop beat. Ignition. Liftoff. ''Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus, Zoom Zoom! Up in the air! Zoom! Up!'' Paired with originally unknown recordings, including the driving, bossa nova-infused ''Ankhnation'' from 1959 and ''Project Black Mass'' from 1962. More energized and driving in contrast with the rather laconic subsequent versions appearing elsewhere, ''Ankhnation'' features a feast of traded solos from assorted Arkestral all-stars such as John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, and Hobart Dotson. ''Project Black Mass'' is straight from the Vaults of Mystery: Voice of the Cosmos in spirit-science precision. Romping, rumbling low tones, glittering, twinkling stars, wonderful wondering. Architecture of moments, milestones of Blackness. Extension out.
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