Walt Dickerson and Sun Ra
Steeplechase : 1979

WD, vibes; SR, piano.

Everybody knows it’s foolhardy to try and describe visions. The stronger their impact, the more likely you’ll be reduced to wild gesticulations and sputtering nonsense. Walt Dickerson and Sun Ra’s duo album Visions had that affect on us, its sublime beauty leaving us wide-eyed and gob-smacked. So rather than any bogus critical rundown, here’s a list of some talking points. Discuss amongst yourselves.

—This is the second match-up of Dickerson and Ra. Their first meeting was on Dickerson’s excellent Impressions of a Patch of Blue (MGM, 1966).  Ra plays harpsichord, adding his unusual textures to the efforts of bassist Bob Cunningham and sometime Ra drummer Roger Blank.

Ra very infrequently performed as a sideman for anyone. But two of those rare appearances were with Dickerson.

Check out Hank Shteamer’s invaluable interview with Walt Dickerson for more details about this and other sessions.

It includes insights from Dickerson like this:  “Philosophically we had nothing in common [laughs], strangely enough; that’s why I enjoyed his company. Sun Ra was a teacher, and sometimes teachers need to be fed other than what they teach; that’s where I came in. That’s why I used Sun Ra on several of my recordings. He did a marvelous job; I wanted that difference; I wanted that uniqueness that he brought to the table.”

—We’re not normally the biggest fans of the vibes, but what Dickerson does moves the instrument away from overly smoov and swoony atmospherics and jazzy licks, and toward a precise and utterly original articulation of his thematic, er, vision.

—Is it just us, or is there a meditative quality to Dickerson’s playing? A sort of zen fervor? The way he gets the overtones to ring and resonate, the way he makes you conscious of shaping the space between notes…

—This was recorded about the same time as Ra’s excellent solo piano releases Solo Piano and St. Louis Blues. We hear some similarities in his thinking and attack.

—”Prophesy” [sic?] is a bonus track that wasn’t included on the original LP release.

—We admit to being late to discovering the pleasures of Walt Dickerson’s music. What are some of your favorites from his slim-but-potent catalog?

While we were concocting this post, we were under the mistaken impression this album was completely out of print. Turns out you can buy a copy direct from Steeplechase. If you dug the tracks we posted, the rest of the album is equally transcendent. Get your copy here, forthwith.

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