Astro Black by Sun Ra on Modern Harmonic Records

Sun Ra - Astro Black

MODERN HARMONIC

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In 1972, after years of self-releasing albums on his own Saturn label, Sun Ra signed with ABC's Impulse jazz imprint. A reissue series of earlier hard-to-find Saturn LPs was undertaken, along with a few new projects. The first, Astro Black, was recorded and released in 1973 in the now-obsolete quadraphonic format (tho it was playable on stereo phonographs). The undertaking signalled a noble campaign on the part of Impulse producer Ed Michel to mainstream Sun Ra and broaden his audience, without any sacrifice of artistic integrity. 

But the effort was doomed: the label suffered commercial losses on the project and lost faith in avant-garde space funk. Within two years, after corporate reshuffling, ABC's Sun Ra project was abandoned. The company clipped the corners of the cardboard sleeves and dumped the lavishly illustrated gatefold LPs in record store discount bins (or as some disgruntled fans claimed, UNDER the bins). Yet the Sisyphean venture produced some worthwhile new music. 

Astro Black was a return to quasi-accessibility, away (though not completely) from the anti-jazz experimentalism of the late 1960s, and toward synthesizer-driven space jams. The Arkestra's horn skronk was still prominent, but on side one of Astro Black it was largely anchored by the propulsive rhythm section of returning bassist Ronnie Boykins and drummer Tommy Hunter (along with a battalion of African percussion). With Sun Ra perched behind his Minimoog, this is very much a 1970s album. But as any listener will attest, it's also very much a Sun Ra album. 

On the 11-minute title track, vocalist June Tyson croons a siren song above bassist Boykins' snaking groove. About 3-1/2 minutes in, the Arkestra achieves liftoff, after which they explore some free interplay the rest of the way. 

'Discipline 99' is a loose, relaxed space walk with some fine ensemble work by the horns. The "Discipline" series, variously numbered and composed by Ra during the 1970s, were generally group-performed works which omitted solos; this recording is an exception, showcasing expressive offerings by John Gilmore (tenor sax), Akh Tal Ebah (trumpet), and the bandleader (electro-vibraphone). The percussion-heavy 'Hidden Spheres' serves up some steamy African exotica, with Marshall Allen (alto sax), Kwame Hadi (trumpet), and Eloe Omoe (bass clarinet) intensifying the mood. 

Side B of the LP consists of 'The Cosmo-Fire,' a sprawling 18-minute otherworldly affair of conducted Afro-futuristic improvisation unified by Boykins' inventive bass and punctuated by Sunny's synth and organ. The work provides an uncompromising contrast to the album's A-side, and proved that despite the major label upgrade, Sun Ra was intent on challenging his listeners. 

 

TRACKLIST: 
  1. Astro Black [10:51] 
  2. Discipline “99” [04:42] 
  3. Hidden Spheres [06:59] 
  4. The Cosmo-Fire [18:23] 

 

  • US import 
  • License from Sun Ra LLC, this limited edition reissue is remastered from tapes provided by Michael D. Anderson of the Sun Ra Music Archive 
  • Includes liner notes by Sun Ra discographer Robert L. Campbell 
  • Exclusive to indie stores 

 

 

also available: 
Sun Ra - Space Is The Place   LP 
Sun Ra - Pathways To Unknown Worlds   LP 
Sun Ra & His Outer Space Arkestra - A Fireside Chat With Lucifer   LP | CD 

 

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