I can read your mind. You want to vote in the new Sun Ra Poll LJC has added at the foot of this post. I willed him to do it. You can vote for ten of my albums. Choose wisely, my brothers are watching, from space. They can read minds too. They already know your choices. But first you must tell everyone else. Go, vote.
Impulse! takes a rip-roaring ride through the reaches of outer space, Sun Ra bursts on the scene, though ten planned releases were aborted due to being unable to find the right financial agreement with the space-brother’s lawyers to license Saturn recordings . Seems even in outer space, the attorneys rule. In the artistically tumultuous ’70s Impulse’s future as a jazz label was pinned on artists like Sun Ra, John Klemmer, Gato Barbieri, Alice Coltrane and Keith Jarrett, with side bets on Marion Brown, Sam Rivers, Dewey Redman, and a few bluesy hedges (BB King, Genesis – eh?). Earlier Coltrane recordings continue to surface throughout the period right into the take-over by MCA in 1978.
On Ebay, the number of white label promos often outnumber the number of commercial release copies for sale, which probably means the numbers they gave away to radio stations exceeded the numbers that were sold for dollars. Perversely, radio stations closing down released their stock of promos back into the market: nice for collectors but a death-rattle for commercial survival of the great Impulse label.
Having not previously examined the later catalogue of Impulse I had missed out on this fascinating musical journey populated with artists I knew of but knew little about. The ultimate irony came when I was unable to find a commercial release label of a new music compilation/promo “No Energy Crisis”. It seemed awfully familiar, familiar because I had actually bought a copy in the early ’70s, and it was still on my shelf!
It chimed with the ebay sellers familiar patter,” looks almost unplayed”. So it was, as I decided I didn’t much take to it, so it sat on a shelf unplayed, for over 30 years. There is a moral there, but I am not sure what it is.
(Update: this afternoon I played several sides of my copy of “No Energy Crisis”, thirty or forty years later. Most tracks still sound horrid to me, Marion Brown especially, sheer torture, Michael White abusing a violin, not new music but anti-music. Little progress on my part)
This series brings to an end my research on the under-researched Impulse! label. Interestingly, coming face to face with the label has deepened my appreciation of what it has to offer musically, and I confess the slightly narrow-minded way I regarded the label on the outset. Think of it as cultural anthropology.
It is interesting to contrast how the legendary Blue Note fared through the ’70s with the endeavours of Impulse over the same turbulent market conditions. Especially interesting to see the emergence of technologically-led “quadrophonic” record engineering, less interesting, the glut of retrospective two-fers and three-fers, which I think Cuscuna did better with the Blue Note “Reissue Series” for United Artists.
Come 1978 the giant MCA swallowed the Impulse label, perhaps initially with high hopes, but ultimately on a downward spiral into reissues to a market that was drifting away.
LABEL RETROSPECTIVE: complete end-of-catalogue range (1972-8) by title.:
AS-9201 to 25 black and red ring
New label black/ neon logo
AS-9251 to 75 , the end of the black/ neon impulse label, green is the new black.
AS-9276 to 312
AS-9313 to 333 and the transition to abc records under MCA.
That’s it. Impulse now done. Apologies to anyone less interested in the rites of passage of this great label, more stuff on other things to follow.
If there are any thoughts to take away from this experience, please share.
Personally I am exasperated with the number of sellers who can’t be bothered with a label shot. The cover is the cover – it is not what the buyer will be mounting on their turntable. Too many claims are not substantiated. I am also deeply suspicious of the sheer number of records in the US sold as “still sealed!”. Maybe it’s true, but it smacks of snake-oil to me. Finally, I am also depressed by the ready availability of these records in the US compared with the trickle here at home.
Interested to hear any thoughts on the topic. I’m especially interested what’s the attraction of Sun Ra? I think of him as good ol’ fashioned showmanship. Musically he doesn’t do anything for me but culturally I recognise he is iconic, tied to an appetite for mysticism and the spiritual plane, and tantalizingly inaccessible. Or have I got it all wrong? Put me right.
We haven’t had a poll for some time now, so specially for those of you who love pushing buttons, here’s a chance to test your critical skills,and push a few buttons.
Help a friend who may likewise have not got the full picture
Your most recommended Sun Ra studio albums (1956-93)
Point someone that is new to Sun Ra, though not new to jazz, to the best choices. Some have already commented, thank you, now let’s get the numbers in.
You can choose up to TEN out of the 70 listed Sun Ra studio albums. I have not included live recordings or collections. They are listed chronologically by year recorded.
Come back often and see how many people agree with you. You must make all your choices in the one voting session. No repeat voting, poll open for one week (Polldaddy policy).
Thank you for voting.