Sun Ra: Nuclear War
Apocalyptic in title, but surprisingly upbeat in sound this 1980s Arkestral artifact makes a welcome return to circulation through John Corbett’s Unheard Music Series. The album is actually yet another off mark entry in Ra’s occasional bid for major label backing. He shopped the session to Columbia, but met with the usual blank stares from the record execs and eventually sold the session to British independent label Y. Quickly dropping out of sight and circulation the vinyl edition has since become a highly sought after collector’s item.
The arms proliferation insanity of the Reagan-era works as timely fodder for the title track. Musically sparse with a pared down group consisting of rhythm section and Ra keyboard consoles the true thrust of the piece is its darkly humorous, expletive checkered lyrics. Intoning a street vernacular warning of world annihilation Ra gets others including trombonist Tyrone Hill in the group in on the act. “Retrospect” is rife with Ra’s rocksichord effects and caps off with a florid Jimmy Smith-like finish. There’s a flipside to all the doom and gloom and it takes the form of optimistic tracks like “Sometimes I’m Happy” where June Tyson’s bewitching voice sings the insouciant sentiments of someone in love while the band riffs lushly around her. “Celestial Love” carries a similar vivacious message on a sliding rhythm of traps, hand drums and organ atop which the horns engage. Soloists step up and drop back in measured succession and the laidback mood is sustained.
John Gilmore corners the market on “Blue Intensity,” blowing a two-part cerulean solo against stabbing organ fills from Ra and a warm bed of percussion. Flipping the Lounge switches on his set-up the man from Saturn deals in lambent chords throughout the appropriately ambiguous “Nameless One No. 2.” Various swinging solos orbit his center and the piece diffuses in a unison wash of ascendant color. A final hopeful standard ends the set and Ra turns to acoustic keys for the occasion, perhaps lending a final affirmation that technology can be a double-bladed implement best treated with cautionary care.
As a slice of early 80’s Arkestra this semi-forgotten effort is a revelatory listen, but placed in the vast cosmology of the band’s discography it ends up seeming less momentous. Ra fanatics will most certainly snatch this reissue up and the accessibility of its sounds makes it easily recommendable to novices seeking ingress into the band’s music. Still, those listeners whose affections for the band’s more approachable side run lukewarm may wish to opt for more adventurous fare.
Unheard Music Series on the web: http://www.atavistic.com
Track Listing: Nuclear War*/ Retrospect/ Drop Me Off In Harlem/ Sometimes I
Personnel: Sun Ra- piano, synthesizer, organ, vocals; June Tyson- vocals*; John Gilmore- tenor saxophone; Marshall Allen- alto saxophone, flute; Danny Ray Thompson- baritone saxophone, flute; James Jacson- bassoon, Infinity drum; Walter Miller- trumpet; Tyrone Hill- trombone, vocals; Vincent Chancey- French horn; Hayes Burnett- bass; Samarai Celestial- drums; Atakatune- conga, percussion. Recorded: September 1982, NYC.