When Angels Speak of Love

Sun Ra & His Myth Science Arkestra / Sun Ra

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When Angels Speak of Love Review

by William Ruhlmann

Sun Ra's music is often described as being so far outside the jazz mainstream as to be less a challenge to it than a largely irrelevant curiosity. But When Angels Speak of Love, an album recorded with his Myth Science Arkestra during rehearsals at the Choreographers Workshop in New York in 1963 and released on Ra's own Saturn label in 1966, is very much within then-current trends in jazz as performed by such innovators as John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. John Corbett, annotator of a later reissue, pointed out Ra's disdain for the term "free jazz," but this is music that fits into that style and even harks back to bebop on occasion. Walter Miller's trumpet playing on "The Idea of It All," for example, clearly indicates that he's been listening to Miles Davis, even as John Gilmore's squealing tenor suggests Coltrane, and, on "Ecstacy of Being," what Corbett calls Danny Davis' "excruciated alto" suggests Coleman. Ra himself frequently plays busy, seemingly formless passages that are reminiscent of Cecil Taylor. An even closer approximation of a traditional approach can be found on the relatively brief title track, a ballad that, while not exactly sweet, is surprisingly sober and expressive. Of course, that's followed by the band chanting "Next Stop Mars" and going off in all directions on the 18-minute final track. The album's rarity on vinyl may be not only because few copies were pressed initially, but also because this is a Sun Ra album that is more conventionally unconventional than most, with tracks you could program next to those of his 1960s contemporaries and have them fit right in.

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