ROME AT TWILIGHT
MY FAVORITE THINGS
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.