Sun Ra

New Horizons

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In 1965, Sun Ra was emerging on the national scene from his home in Chicago as a preeminent progressive little big-band leader. The beginnings of a lengthy and fruitful career were based on the theory of "living notes," and the premise that people wanted something different. New Horizons includes Ra's initial albums for the Transition (Jazz by Sun Ra and Jazz in Transition) and Saturn Research (Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth and Super-Sonic Jazz) labels, which have been reissued previously in part on Delmark, and more thoroughly from the Evidence label. The seeds of a diverse, expansive, revolutionary music style are all here, punctuated by Ra's witty charts and featuring explosive soloists like trumpeter Art Hoyle, tenor saxophonist John Gilmore, trombonist Julian Priester, and baritone saxophonists Pat Patrick and Charles Davis. Each of the 19 selections is bold, beautifully conceived, swings in the tradition, and only hints at things to come when Ra would completely stretch parameters and shatter boundaries. The best of the best on this collection includes the signature romp and stomp of "Brainville," Ra's signature swing with a twist and tricky rhythm changes -- a true classic. A diffuse piano intro by Ra urges the horns to bark together in hard bop regalia on "Future," and features one of many stellar solos by Gilmore. "Saturn," with a smaller octet, is nothing short of jubilant in modal and unison parcels, and again signifying a recognizable style attained only by Ra. Clearly a Count Basie style of simplicity is adopted during "Swing a Little Taste" and Priester's "Sof Talk," easygoing and chattering, respectively. Art Hoyle is the star on many cuts, whether laying low on the space ballad "New Horizons," laying out deeply hued lines on "Super Blonde," or briskly jumping into "Saturn."

Not only does the band swing hard, but offers a great deal of diversity from track to track. A two-note calypso identifies the interned horns plotting escape on "Call for All Demons," the timpani of Jim Herndon lends high drama to "Street Named Hell," a handclapping groove-to-swing feel animates "Lullaby for Realville" (not really a lullaby), and the loosey-goosey "Kingdom of Not" showcases Gilmore's tenor like Eric Dolphy would sound. Electric bass guitarist Wilburn Green and upright bassists Richard Evans or Victor Sproles are featured on 15 of the tracks, while Davis and Patrick team up to lead "Two Tones," both indicators pointing to Ra favoring lugubrious underground sounds more than atmospheric swoops and swirls, although that would change with his later use of amplified keyboards. There is one track -- the caravan-ish, distinctly African "Sun Song" -- where Ra plays a sidereal organ over Hoyle's muted trumpet and cathedral bells. And the band could roar with the best, as showcased on "Transition," where old and new collide in sharp staccato phrases that are hard to deny in their original departure from the conventional and mundane. It's likely Sun Ra fans have had these recordings for quite some time, but not all together in one package. If you are a recent convert to or new admirer of Sun Ra's early-period interstellar jazz (pre-vocal chant, synthesized saturation, and at times animated theatrics), this collection, incredibly diverse for that era, deserves your serious consideration.

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