Sun Ra

Monorails and Satellites

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Although Sun Ra's catalog of available recordings numbers into the hundreds, there are very few solo entries. Monorails and Satellites (1966) is among the earliest -- if not the first -- long player to consist of strictly piano solos. While Ra's various Arkestras became infamous for their highly skilled and emotive bombast, these recordings prove that the bandleader easily retains his highly advanced and passionate echelon of intensity. The vast majority of the disc consists of original compositions with the sole exception being the Alan Jones' pop standard "Easy Street." Right out of the gate, Ra's trademark aggressive and highly advanced arrangements drive the motorized churn of "Space Towers" which features some distinct improvisations that build off of the central repetitive and industrial feeling progression. "Cogitation" provides a playful contrast while projecting a more scattered counterpoint which transmutes the melodic direction into an ethereal noir of childlike staccato. Both "Skylight" and "Blue Differentials" are entrancingly beautiful blues. Here Ra demonstrates his keen sense of melodic and harmonic structures. The former contains some of this efforts' most hauntingly memorable progressions, while the latter is equally captivating as it centers on a potent walking or stride style of blues delivery which at times borders on barrelhouse. Particularly notable is the charming resolution that concludes "Blue Differentials" with a grace that forgoes the otherwise slightly askew tune. The interpretation of "Easy Street" is relatively straightforward and retains much of song's amicable nature. About halfway through the performance Ra breaks into a lilting swing that complements the roly-poly nature featured in the introduction. The title track is one of the more introspective and pensive pieces on the album, sounding more like a personal statement rather a musical projection or interpretive effort. The chords build incrementally, weaving a languid sonic pastiche of varying styles and temperaments. For both the seasoned listener as well as the interested enthusiast, Monorails and Satellites allows for a wide variety of sonic horizons to explore.

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