Sun Ra

Nothing Is

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Sun Ra & His Arkestra issued only a handful of titles on the groundbreaking indie ESP-Disk' label, and each title contains some of their most expressive musical statements. The eight cuts on 1970's Nothing Is were documented during live performances at various New York state colleges in the spring of 1966. Ra (piano/clavioline) leads the band through a series of free improvisations and more melodically structured compositions. "Dancing Shadows" evolves out of a chaotic brass and percussive assault with some extended inspired keyboard runs. These eventually nestle into a charming upbeat slice of extemporaneous post-bop. Front and center beside Ra are Ali Hassan (trombone), Teddy Nance (trombone), Marshall Allen (alto sax/flute/piccolo/oboe), John Gilmore (tenor sax), Pat Patrick (baritone sax/flute), Robert Cummings (baritone clarinet), James Jacson (flute/log drums), Ronnie Boykins (bass/tuba), Clifford Jarvis (drums), and Carl Nimrod [aka Carl S. Malone/Nimrod Hunt] (sun horn/gong). The leader's solos and accompaniment shimmer with many of the same highly advanced effervescent chord progressions that are worked into early sides such as "Brainville" and "Transitions." Gilmore, Allen, and Patrick playfully blend Eastern-flavored intonations along with Jarvis and a second, albeit uncredited, kit drummer. According to Sun Ra scholars, drummers Jimmy Johnson and Roger Blank both toured at various times during the mid-'60s with the Arkestra. "Imagination" includes a brief recitation, after which comes a full-blown band improv. This undulates over a fast-paced choral mantra of "the second stop is Jupiter" -- a chant that had also been worked into the waning moments of "Rocket #9." The slithery charm of "Exotic Forest" -- featuring a hypnotic oboe lead from Allen -- excels in allowing the mostly percussive contingency of the Arkestra to organically support Boykins' equally entrancing contributions. The short piano solo "Sun Ra and His Band from Outer Space" segues into the last lengthy side, "Shadow World." Patrick streamlines his opening solo around the sonic swirl of Jarvis and Ra. The saxophonist then emerges with an unaccompanied blow that demonstrates his perfection in the context of spontaneity. Allen's solitary oboe borders on maniacal before eventually settling into a final free for all from the entire band. Nothing Is concludes with a mostly Ra-driven "Theme of the Stargazers," which develops into an early version of the "Outer Spaceways Incorporated" and "Next Stop Mars" chants. Caveat emptor: these sides have turned up on numerous repackagings, many of which have been transcribed from poor-grade vinyl.

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