Sun Ra: Lanquidity (1978)
1978’s Lanquidity (now re-issued by Evidence) features a silver and purple cover image of Ra that begs the question: Has Sun Ra made a fusion album? This thought at first seems merely ridiculous, then after further consideration becomes a bit surreal, and then upon hearing becomes downright disturbing. As with any Ra project, a simple description such as “Ra does fusion” serves no justice in truly describing the actual music. Ra was a master at twisting known musical idioms into his idiosyncratic vision, and Lanquidity proves to be a stirring, mesmerizing example of this vision.
All of the tunes generally follow the same basic structure: the Arkestra riffs on dark, bluesy motifs; the bass and percussion create an interlocking, unchanging groove; and behind it all Ra, on piano and synthesizers, and the two guitarists (a rarely used instrument in Ra’s music), fill in the space with ethereal chords and disembodied riffs.
On the title track the Arkestra pieces together a creeping, mournful melody with shifting combinations of the two-trumpet and five-reed horn section. Against this, Ra plays wistful fragments on his Rhodes, while Richard Williams provides the glue with a sparse electric bass line. This funk-stuck-in-slow-motion points to an uncomfortable dread waiting below the surface.
The rhythm section opens “Twin Stars of Thence”, setting up a hypnotic, dragging pulse. Acoustic bass, guitar, traps and tympani lock in while Ra muses methodically on organ. The horns materialize out of nothingness and Gilmore weaves abstract blues lines into the mixture. A guitar solo, then the baritone saxophone takes a spare turn that lags behind the beat, while behind Ra incorporates lines from the guitarist’s solo into the background. Combined, these elements disorient and displace the listener. You feel as if this music should go down easy, but the candy coating turns out to be a sticky, unescapable molasses.
The Arkestra finally drags you where they want you on “There Are Other Worlds (they have not told you of)” A sleepy, barely noticeable hi-hat beats perpetually, soon joined by a low-register chorus of humming. Ra’s synthesizer and piano textures threaten to overtake the other instruments, pushing the piece toward disintegration. Towards the end the atmosphere ge s downright spooky, with breathy, whispering voices materializing, chanting the title over and over again. All the while flutes, then synthesizer, then dissonant piano chords, then saxophone swirl about, until they all dissipate like some phantom, leaving you wondering if what you just heard was really there at all.
On Lanquidity Ra turns the idea of disco and funk on its head: the repetitive beats, which usually make one feel like they know where the next step will land, instead leave one warily hanging on every moment. The music leads us in an unsettling direction, to a secret world where the lumbering grooves at first seduce with their simplicity, then intoxicate with their richness, until finally the darker sound textures overtake you and drop you in a place you had not imagined before.
Track Listing: 1. Lanquidity 2. Where Pathways Meet 3. That's How I Feel 4. Twin Stars of Thence 5. There Are Other worlds (they have not told you of)
Personnel: John Gilmore: Sax (Tenor); Danny Ray Thompson: Flute, Sax (Baritone); Eddie Gale: Trumpet; Michael Ray: trumpet, flugelhorn; Marshall Allen: Flute, Oboe, Sax (Alto); Luqman Ali: Percussion; Artaukatune: Drums,Tympani; Disco Kid: Guitar; Dale Williams: guitar; Atakatun Odun: Conga; Ego Omoe: Flute, Clarinet (Bass); Julian Presley: Sax (Baritone); Sun Ra: Organ, Synthesizer, Piano, Arranger, Keyboards, Organ (Hammond), Piano (Electric), Vocals, Bells, Producer, Arp, Fender Rhodes, Orchestra Bells, Mini Moog; Richard Williams: bass; James Jacson: oboe, basson, flute, voices; June Tyson: voices