Sun Ra

It Is Forbidden

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The return of Sun Ra's freeform interstellar polemics to the Ann Arbor Jazz & Blues Festival of 1974 should have marked former MC5 overseer John Sinclair's crowning moment. But authorities refused to allow the event, dictating a move to Canada -- whose customs agents wouldn't allow Sinclair into the country, due to his infamous conviction for possessing marijuana. When recordist Chuck Buchanan realized that he wouldn't get paid, he withheld the multi-track masters, which haven't resurfaced (forcing Sinclair to remaster from the soundboard tape). Yet this compact performance emerges as a triumphant presentation of Sun Ra's "greatest hits," if such a term applies to his dizzying mixture of intergalactic cosmology and relentless experimental vision. Where most jazz bands stuck to defined musical roles, Ra tossed aside such notions. Any instrument could take the lead, be it Clifford Jarvis' heavily reverbed drums or the consistently incendiary work of Danny Davis and Marshall Allen, widely considered among Sun Ra's hottest reedmen. (There's an added treat in the inclusion of "It Is Forbidden," thought to be previously unreleased, though Sinclair's booklet sheds no light on the matter.) Yet the band is so well-disciplined that one track blends into another. Whatever politics prevailed backstage didn't slow them down onstage, which proves that Ra's madness had its methods after all.

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