Sun Ra

Pictures of Infinity

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Although no precise date is given, these five cuts are thought to have been documented circa 1967-1968 by Sun Ra (piano) and his Arkestra in New York City, where the band was in residence at the time. There is a mixture of older works as well as newer selections on 1971's Pictures of Infinity. That said, even the established compositions -- most notably the full-throttled reading of "Saturn" that commences the collection -- are given fresh sonic visages. Tenor saxophonist John Gilmore is particularly potent with his flawless fluidity running melodic yet hard bopping lines over top of the solid rhythm section. He gives a hearty personality to his interjections as they dart in and out of the spiraling mile-a-minute arrangement. Bassist Ronnie Boykins is commanding, especially as his solo emerges out of drummer Nimrod Hunt's rapid-fire timekeeping. "Song of the Sparer" is an exquisite and rarely documented tune that begins with some intricate phrases from Ra before evolving into a languid and practically dirgelike improvisational piece. "Spontaneous Simplicity" is highlighted by some warm and inviting interplay between a flutist -- presumably either Danny Davis or Pat Patrick -- and Ra, whose strident piano accompaniment is remarkably suited to the earthy nature of the woodwind's ethereal, alternately liberating and plaintive sound. Immediately contrasting the more rural expressions is the aggressive extended free jazz attack heard on "Somewhere There." The bombastic percussion and practically sadistic sax-and-drum onslaught thrash about in an almost definitive example of the sheer power possessed by the Arkestra. The "Outer Spaceways Incorporated" chant concluding this long-player is similar to other versions and remains an affirmative statement juxtaposing an inescapably dissonant introduction with the playful nature of the singalong quality of the verses.

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