Featuring Pharoah Sanders & Black Harold

Sun Ra & His Arkestra

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Featuring Pharoah Sanders & Black Harold Review

by Michael G. Nastos

If you already own the original El Saturn label LP by Sun Ra bearing this title, you will still desire a copy of this item from ESP-Disk for several reasons. It does in fact contain the initially issued live recordings Ra did featuring Black Harold Murray and Pharoah Sanders, but also includes 45 minutes of previously unreleased music, and is accurately annotated with the full and correct personnel listing, plus updated liner notes by Russ Musto. In addition, it states this recording of the 12-piece Arkestra was documented, not at the series of October Revolution performances, but two months later on New Year's Eve at Judson Hall in New York City during what was called the Four Days in December festival, presented by the Jazz Composer's Guild that also produced the legendary October event. Sanders, who had been hired as a door greeter for Arkestra performances and was a cook at the restaurant downstairs from Judson, tried repeatedly to join the band, and was finally granted admission when John Gilmore left the group briefly to go on the road with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Murray adds a certain exotic element to the ensemble, playing flute, and on occasion log drums. At this time the group was merging into the direction of its operatic space themes, though the leader still played acoustic piano, and sometimes celeste. Aside from the historical significance of this disc, the music is terrific and altogether riveting. Famous material shows up like "The World Shadow" (it appears that "The Shadow World" was also a Ra title), ranging from cascading piano to dense, counterpointed free bop and chaotic discourse to ritual African drumming. The immortal hard bop/rhythm & blues epic workout "Rocket Number 9" is here in full regalia, as well as a prosaic "The Second Stop Is Jupiter" (aka "On Jupiter"), and the horn section yearns in unity as the renowned chant of "We Travel the Spaceways" is emphasized during the straight blues "Discipline 9."

The astonishing symmetry and deep understanding between Sanders, alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, and baritone saxophonist Pat Patrick leap out of the speakers during the 20-minute magnum opus blowing session "The Other World." Coalescing with the strident bowed bass of Ronnie Boykins and Ra's sporadic piano chords, the band shatters all semblance of static rhythm, especially when drummers Clifford Jarvis and Jimmhi Johnson are given their head in a heated, lengthy, dueling duet. Another spontaneous composition, "The Now Tomorrow" could also be titled "The New Tomorrow" with its futuristic dirge and Thelonious Monk-like angular themes merging into as many as three flutes (Sanders, Patrick, and Murray?) with an unidentified shenai or musette, Ra's crashing two-fisted piano, and vocals from Art Jenkins, all in no time. Short pieces like the atmospheric bass/flute exploration "The Voice of Pan," Ra's wandering piano with elephantine horns wailing during "Gods on a Safari," and the pure imagery conjured in high drama on the song of awakening "Down Over Israel" and the spiritual piece "Space Mates," with chiming piano and celeste, make you aware of the total extrasensory experience this band offers like nobody else. It's also well recorded and transferred to the digital format faithfully. It's possible that only a few (save the critics in the house) knew a piece of history was in the making during this incredible performance that all Sun Ra fans can easily savor and treasure for lifetimes beyond this mortal coil.

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