Rare Sun Ra sounds and images from Corbett vs. Dempsey



Corbett vs. Dempsey, the record label, has just released one of the rarest and most historically murky recordings in the massive oeuvre of the great Sun Ra, issuing Continuation on CD for the first time. Last year I wrote about the formalization of the new imprint operated by the John Corbett and Jim Dempsey, the owners of their namesake art gallery, and even then, when I spoke with Corbett about this reissue, the actual date of the recording seemed in doubt. He told me it was from 1964, though for decades most folks thought it was from 1969—it wasn't released until 1970 on Ra's own label, Saturn. The sleeve art was rife with incorrect info: it was recorded in New York, not Minneapolis in "Galaxtone," as the jacked noted, and Danny Thompson isn't present playing the "Neptunian libflecto," nor is Robert Barry on "lightning drums," and it was actually cut in 1963 as part of the same sessions that produced some of the Arkestra's greatest albums: Other Planes of There, When Sun Comes Out, and When Angels Speak of Love.

Until this item landed in my hands this week I'd never heard Continuation, but it's a serious killer. The album starts out with "Biosphere Blues," which includes a fantastically throaty baritone sax solo from Pat Patrick and a wonderfully spare piano solo from Ra, but after this slow blues the music bursts into abstraction. "Intergalactic Research" features the moaning "space voice" of Art Jenkins, almost funereal percussion, and gloomy "space organ" by Ra, while "Earth Primitive Earth" comprises inside-the-piano scrapes, loud cranking sounds, and wooden flute. "New Planet" is a lovely, echo-laden vignette for piano and percussion, while the epic "Continuation to Jupiter Festival" is a knock-down, drag-out episodic free-jazz masterpiece with ripping solos by trumpeter Walter Miller, tenor saxophonist John Gilmore, and alto saxophonist Marshall Allen. What makes this package especially appealing is a full second disc packed with previously unissued material that's just as strong as anything on the first disc. Below you can hear the opening track on disc two, "Blue York."

The gallery has also just copublished a beautiful art book that collects rare photos of Ra shot in Oakland, California, on the set of his bizarre sci-fi film Space Is the Place—he's adorned in wild Egyptian costumes borrowed from a local Masonic temple—and Polaroids of murals painted by Ra associate Ayé Aton. The latter fills most of Space, Interiors and Exteriors, 1972. Aton was born Robert Underwood, and he moved to Chicago from New York in 1960—not long before Ra made the inverse relocation in 1961. He was interested in many of the same proto-Afrofuturist ideas as Ra, and they eventually began a long telephone relationship. Long before the Chicago muralist movement of the 80s, Aton began creating space-themed murals—many using then-new fluorescent paints and black lighting—in Chicago homes under the aesthetic guidance of Ra. He eventually moved to the Germantown section of Philadelphia in 1972—where the Arkestra had taken up residence—and spent two years playing in the band. The book also includes illuminating essays by Corbett and Glenn Ligon, although the piece by the former contains a couple of odd mistakes, with spaces left for info that was never added in the end. But visually it's stunning.

To celebrate these new titles the Hideout will present a set by the NRG Ensemble playing the music of Sun Ra, while Corbett and Dempsey will spin Sun Ra tunes all night on Wednesday, May 22. Jim Baker opens the evening with a solo piano and ARP synthesizer set.

Today's playlist:

Bobby Marchan, Get Down With It: the Soul Sides 1963-76 (Kent)
Duke Pearson, Profile (Blue Note, Japan)
Maysa, Canta Sucessos (Som Livre)
Bridget St. John, BBC Radio 1968-1976 (Hux)
40Twenty, 40Twenty (Yeah-Yeah)

Peter Margasak writes about jazz every Friday.

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