SPRINGTIME AND SUMMER IDYLL
Sun Ra Quartet
Other Voices, Other Blues
Horo : 1978
Sun Ra, keyboards; John Gilmore, tenor sax, percussion; Michael Ray, trumpet; Luqman Ali, drums.
You might think there were no gems left to unearth in the Sun Ra canon, given the recent reissue bonanza from Art Yard and Atavistic’s Unheard Music Series. But Sun Ra’s catalog is as deep as the gaseous surface of Saturn. The masterful Other Voices, Other Blues hails from his fertile mid-’70s period, an overlooked Golden Age that turned out such diverse and highly recommended releases as Disco 3000, Lanquidity, St. Louis Blues, Media Dreams, On Jupiter, Some Blues But Not the Kind That’s Blue, Sleeping Beauty, et cetera.
What makes the double-album Other Voices special is the rare opportunity to hear Sun Ra in a quartet setting. It’s easier to focus on his resourceful keyboard acumen, the invigorating interplay between the musicians, the etched fireworks of John Gilmore’s sax and dramatically emotional trumpet of Michael Ray. This serves as a sister album to Horo’s New Steps, but we rate it higher for the meatier tunes, textural mesh of freaky sounds and straight-ahead hooks, and brilliant solo turns. There’s an earthiness to the session, evidenced by the fact that Ra abandoned his grand piano for a discarded upright he found in the studio. Its more modest sound fit what he was after.
In the original liner notes, Nat Hentoff dubs this a great Sun Ra album, “an utterly relaxed and deeply satisfying recording” that exposes “the very core of his music.” In fact, the album wouldn’t make a bad introduction for the Ra neophyte. There’s a laid-back intensity evident from the start of “Springtime and Summer Idyll,” with its inventive and pleasantly ambling percussive patterns that’s ignited by Ray’s incisive entrance. “Constellation” is more expansive, beginning with wonderful roller-rink organ comping set against rhythmic horn stabs.
While John Gilmore is typically brilliant throughout, be sure to pay attention to Michael Ray. On the basis of this session, Hentoff proclaimed the then 24-year-old “surely one of the jazz discoveries of the decade” and hailed his “authoritative command of jazz time.” Or in this case, intergalactic time.
So what are your favorite Sun Ra joints that remain out of print?