Sun Ra: Springtime in Chicago & Concert for the Comet Kohoutek
The great composer/bandleader Sun Ra would urge his musicians, "play what you don't know to become "tone scientists . Hence, Sun Ra Arkestra concerts would vary greatly in detail and feeling from one night to the next, even though one or even several compositions may have been repeated. These two recordings display these differences and similarities very well. Both are wonderful documents of a band at the height of its powers.
Concert for the Comet Kohoutek (1973) was to acknowledge the arrival of a comet that some thought was going to be one of the great celestial events of the 20th century. In fact, this Town Hall concert starts with a gentleman (uncredited) ostensibly showing slides of various related cosmic concerns, including the satellite Pioneer-10 (which at the time had just sent back the first closeup photos of Jupiter). The actual music starts with "Astro Black : a wailing, free jazz introduction that gives way to the rich solo voice of June Tyson. The maelstrom returns, functioning as an introduction to the swinging "Discipline 27 . With some great horn solos, the piece then spotlights Ra himself as he explores his synthesizer's sound possibilities.
There is a lot of this on the recording, perhaps Ra's personal, more direct way of expressing his feelings about the coming of Comet Kohoutek. "Love in Outer Space uses an AfroCuban groove in 3 for an extended organ solo and in "Discipline 27 (Part 2) his voice can be heard loud and clear, asking "What Planet Is This? Tyson then repeats the question and they proceed back and forth in a way that reminds us not only of those turbulent times (Vietnam, Cambodia, Yom Kippur War, Watergate) but that Sun Ra and his music offer alternatives: a joyful noise where space is the place.
On Springtime in Chicago (1978) the other musicians in the band get to stretch out a little more. Conga player Atakatune, electric guitarist Dale Williams and vibraphonist Damon Choice particularly shine as do the veterans John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, Eddie Gale and Luqman Ali. This collection is also valuable because of the inclusion of "Queer Notions , "Yeah Man! and "Big John's Special from the Fletcher Henderson songbook, proving that the Arkestra could joyfully bounce between modes of expressions with musical authority. "Enlightenment is another Ra 'standard' which is played towards the end of the set, the Arkestra inviting the audience to "be of our space world.
Both packages, however, have some unfortunate omissions. While both executive producers (Bernard Stollman of ESP and Leo Feigin of Leo) seem fit and are certainly welcome to write notes of the personal reminiscences style, both these recordings could have used some more serious annotations, especially after over 30 years of time. Concert for the Comet Kohoutek doesn't even list the names of the musicians. This great music deserves the same respect and scholarship that any other deeply developed music and art does.
Tracks and Personnel
Concert for the Comet Kohoutek
Tracks: Kohoutek Intro; Astro Black; Variations Of Kohoutek Themes; Journey Through The Outer Darkness; Enlightenment; Unknown Kohoutek; Discipline; Outer Space E.M.; Space Is The Place.
Springtime in Chicago
Tracks: DISC 1: Untitled Improvisation; Springtime In Chicago; Astro Black; The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise; Discipline 27; The Shadow World; Yeah Man!; Queer Notions
DISC 2: Big John's Special; Somewhere Over The Rainbow; Lights On A Satellite; Body And Soul; King Porter Stomp; Second Stop Is Jupiter; Space Is The Place; Enlightenment; Next stop Mars; Calling Planet Earth.