The Universe as Glimpsed in a Hand Mirror

Roaming charges are BRUTAL.

Sun Ra
New Steps
Horo : 1978

Ra, piano; John Gilmore, tenor sax; Michael Ray, trumpet; Luqman Ali, drums.

Sun Ra may not have come from Saturn, but his discography feels like a cosmos unto itself. Although Evidence has done a terrific job reissuing many of his key recordings, there are still plenty of black holes out there. New Steps fills one, emerging from a small cluster of out-of-print recordings from the late 1970s.

Esteemed Sun Ra biographer John F. Szwed (see: Space Is the Place) calls these recordings – and New Steps in particular — “some of the most interesting and little known of the entire Sun Ra output.” In January 1978, Ra took a quartet to Italy. He famously had misgivings about small groups, but the foursome recorded a number of albums during their stay. It’s a rare treat to hear this group in such a stripped-down setting and to witness Ra’s cosmic vision realized in miniature.

“Rome at Twilight” starts with a relaxed vamp, then Gilmore enters playing a repetitive figure that the rest of the music begins to orbit. It anchors the tune, then releases the accumulated energy with a beautifully sustained and soulful solo in tandem with Ra. Throughout, Ali keeps the beat brewing — the sort of dry and persistently funky meter that wouldn’t sound out of place behind, say, Four Tet. Shades, too, of Tony Allen.

Coltrane studied with John Gilmore — not the other way around. He was a big influence on Trane’s playing and in helping him to realize the possibilities of playing free. So it’s especially interesting to hear Gilmore take a crack at “My Favorite Things,” the tune Coltrane introduced into the jazz lexicon back in the early 1960s.

This is a more low-key reading, but subtly eccentric. Breezy, with a vibe that owes something to Vince Guaraldi, of all people, which only makes the tune stranger. Gilmore sticks pretty close to the basic melody; for variety there is some modulated piano from Ra, alternating randomly between stutter steps and large strides, keeping the tune tottering just slightly off balance, keeping possibilities in play.

For a reminder of one of many possibilities, we bring back, for this post only, Alice Coltrane’s rendering of “My Favorite Things.” Compare and contrast.

Category Sun Ra

5 Responses to The Universe as Glimpsed in a Hand Mirror

  1. Thank you. (Also for the Alice Coltrane. I’d spaced when you first posted it, missing my chance to listen to it the first go round.)

  2. Dear Sir:

    I am looking for an album by sun ra titled voice of the eternal tomorrow. Can you help?

  3. Dear Space Friends,

    Thank you ever so kindly for this site. I was a member of the Arkestra during the height of the next height of the band during the mid 70’s. I am currently writng a book about this time when we had Craig Harris, Robin and Kevin Eubanks (Jay Leno Show), Bobo Brown (Oscar’s Brown Jr.’s son) and so many others.

    Sun Ra gave me the job as Music Archivist due to my being on radio back then (WRTI-FM-Temple University) and I currently am correcting the many discographies that exist and am chronologically writing a spreadsheet on the concerts that were done from day one up to his passing.

    In view of the discography; Sun Ra recorded enough material for several albums in one session and I have found numerous alternate takes and unreleased material.

    I left the band, as a performer, in 1984 to further my radio broadcast career at WBGO-FM Jazz 88 in Newark, New Jersey but remained involved as promotions person making sure the records were being played on radio. Of course I would go to see my space family from time to time.

    After Sunny had the first stroke I would go to Philly to give him a bath and clean up the house and pack up tapes that were scattered everywhere. At one point Sunny said for me to take some of the tapes because I would know what to do with them. At one point things started disappearing from the house and I sent Alton Abraham what I had.

    In 1988 Alton Abraham received a shit load of tapes and Sunny got real pissed at me for doing this. I sent the tapes Alton so not to be blamed for any unjust actions.

    After Sunny then Alton split the planet the tapes again came into my possession from Mr. James Bryant, one of the original board members of El Saturn Research, back in the year 2000. At this point I was working with Bernard Stollman (ESP-Disk) and he and Mr. Bryant were at odds most of the time.

    When I received the tapes they were in horrendous shape, out of boxes, wrong tapes in boxes, and so much other heart wrenching shit. I knew I had a job on my hands which started back in the mid 70’s.

    I was advised by Mr. James Bryant to return all tapes after I did my research which I did. Mr. Bryant didn’t trust many people and after I semi walked away from the project he put the tapes in storage and then died. To this day some of the tapes are presumed lost.

    So, in closing, I’m working with Marshall Allen, Danny Thompson, and Elson on reinstating the legal documents involving El Saturn Research as a record label. There are so many great shows we did that were recorded that I hope some day soon will finally be released.

    Space Is The Place

    Dr. Bop

    P.S. Pardon any type-o’s

  4. hi,Dr. Bop.I am interested in your project to collect missing or obscure Sun Ra performances . Hope to get in contact with you.

  5. Dear Friend,

    I was browsing the website and I again stumbled on your message to me.

    Call me 973-246-5731

    Michael D. Anderson (Arkestra Band Member)