Heliocentrism is the astronomical model where all planets revolve around the sun and was a moment in history where the world shifted from a vision of Earth as the center of the universe. The same can be said for multi-instrumentalist, jazz guru and astrophilosopher Sun-Ra’s album, that marks the departure from loose melodious tones to a purely improvised approach. However, Sun-Ra’s persona also meant he was the God of the Sun, so he is anchored at the center of all the creative process on this record. Indeed, he lead his Arkestra in truly micromanaged fashion on this opus, even designing the cover art which represents the astronomical phenomenon himself.
Sessionist Marshall Allen recalls ‘’Ra would go to the studio and he would play something, the bass would come in, and if he didn’t like it he’d stop it; and he’d give the drummer a particular rhythm, tell the bass he wanted not a “boom boom boom,” but something else, and then he’d begin to try out the horns, we’re all standing there wondering what’s next…”I just picked up the piccolo and worked with what was going on, what mood they set, or what feeling they had. A lot of things we’d be rehearsing and we did the wrong things and Sun Ra stopped the arrangement and changed it. Or he would change the person who was playing the particular solo, so that changes the arrangement. So the one that was soloing would get another part given to him personally. ‘Cos he knew people. He could understand what you could do better so he would fit that with what he would tell you.”
This record is a real trip to another dimension, but is quite digestible and a perfect introduction to Sun Ra’s excentric œuvre. It goes beyond free jazz with an ephemeral structure and driving force behind what at first glance seems like reckless abandon. There is a constant expansion on sounds bouncing off one another and fusing to build a flux that makes for quite a hypnotic listen, even if it’s stripped of any notion of harmony. Take a ride with Saturn’s angel and his Arkestra on this the day of his birth.
Also, check out this brilliant BBC Documentary on Sun Ra