Sun Ra - Media Dreams (LP)
All the material on this album comes from live performances from January 1978, when the quartet of Sun Ra was in Italy with a quartet – Michael Ray, John Gilmore and Luqman Ali – making recordings for Aldo Sinesio and the Horo label. The trip also included concerts in Rome, Milan and elsewhere: these produced enough recorded material for several Saturn albums, including Media Dream. The exact dates are uncertain. All the musicians were present in Rome as early as January 2nd, when they recorded New Steps for Horo; they were still in Italy on January 23rd, when a concert in Milan resulted in the Saturn LP Disco 3000. Indeed, Sun Ra himself may have remained in Italy throughout the closing weeks of the previous year, after performing solo in Rome and Venice during November 1977 - music from which has since appeared on the albums In Some Far Place: Roma '77 (Strut) and Piano Recital – Teatro La Fenice, Venezia (Golden Years of New Jazz).
The January 1978 recordings, of which Media Dream is a great example, feature an instrument newly added to Sun Ra's arsenal: the Crumar Mainman. It's a rare keyboard, probably made in small numbers by Crumar, which manufactured synths from the late 1960s until 1984. Sun Ra plays it on recordings made in 1978. (Why not afterwards?)
Martin O'Cuthbert also played the Mainman – he uses it on several recordings from 1979 and 1980: it's described in that context as a "string synthesizer." After that, it seems to disappear from view. It was reportedly the first keyboard to provide preprogrammed beats – Sun Ra certainly uses of that feature on Media Dream.
In their original context, these Italian concert recordings served to document Sun Ra's musical activity – his music was a cosmic newspaper, he once said. They emerged at a time when it was difficult to keep up with his releases (there was a peak in the output of new Sun Ra LPs between 1977 and 1980) but they still caught and held the attention of those lucky or determined enough to seek out these records. Media Dream came from the Philadelphia side of Saturn Records, without the involvement of the original Chicago operation, and had different production values, a more informal style than most of Sun Ra's previous records, with many variants of cover and label artwork.
With Philadelphia Saturns there's still a definite emphasis on album architecture – Sun Ra had a strong instinct for what would make a dramatic statement in terms of track selection – but they increasingly trace the live performances of his working groups rather than focus on studio sessions. These 1978 recordings have stood the test of time. Media Dream still offers surprises and lets you experience some great music created in the moment.
Yera of the Sun
Twigs at Twilight
An Unbeknowneth Love
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