One of a handful of albums Sun Ra released on Impulse in the early '70s, Astro-Black provides a reasonably comprehensive picture of where the Arkestra was around the time, drawing to the end of their ultra-free period and beginning to investigate some traditional jazz forms. The opening title track explores some of Ra's spacier side, sounding a bit like a calmer alternative to his well-known "Space Is the Place" with June Tyson's ethereal vocals and the leader's ghostly synthesizer. "Discipline '99'" is a relaxed, bluesy number, although, as was often the case, one could argue that the band is a bit too relaxed and the piece does plod a little. But this is followed by a lively African-percussion-driven work, "Hidden Spheres," which, along with the propulsion provided by the great, underappreciated bassist Ronnie Boykins, is a fine example of Ra's band at their most enjoyable. "The Cosmo-Fire," the 18-minute track that closes the album, is a sprawling affair, a smorgasbord of Arkestra once again held in place by Boykins' bass, serving as a solid stem off of which Sun Ra launches abstract organ and vibraphone explorations and the rest of the band wails and sputters. Again, the performance is loose, but in a way that enhances the otherworldly effect that Ra strove for. Astro-Black isn't by any means the finest work by this musician, but is a decent introduction to his unique sound world.
Astro Black Review
by Brian Olewnick
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