Impulse: The Final Curtain (1978) UPDATE: new Sun Ra Poll added!

Sun Ra

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.


ljc dunce 120pxWell, seems I was wrong again. I had judged Sun Ra from the wrong end of time. I didn’t know.

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.







41 thoughts on “Impulse: The Final Curtain (1978) UPDATE: new Sun Ra Poll added!

  1. This isn’t about Sun Ra but the sealed record issue. From personal experience, every sealed record I’ve ever purchased has had serious defects. It is very easy to re-seal a record. Unfortunately, dishonest sellers use it as leverage in an eBay return dispute. They often write “no returns on sealed records.” While eBay has their own money back guarantee policy, it can become a drawn out process if the seller is unscrupulous. I was also informed by collectors on the audio karma site that sealed records are very likely to develop warps. I don’t remember the technical reason but I was told by many audio karma members to stay away from sealed records.

  2. I’ve Jazz in Silhouette on Impulse. I think I paid GBP25.00 for it last year. Cook and Morton rate it alongside the other greats of 1959 and I think they’re probably right. The sound quality isn’t atrocious but it is poorish on one track in particular, I seem to recall — even Impulse draws attention to it and warns the uninformed buyer…. Truly Ellingtonian in scope and ambition, but African too, in places. A genuinely lovely and pleasurable LP.

    • Well Alun, I have complete confidence in your judgement. I have just “invested” in an Impulse copy of “Nubians of Plutonia“, which was recorded around the same year as Jazz in Silhouette. It’s on the Impulse black/ neon logo label from 1974, claims to be “near mint”. Hark, I hear violins – da da da di da dad di doo – it’s currently in Naples, Italy. It was an offer couldn’t refuse, apparently. So I didn’t.

      UPDATE: seller immediately cancelled order and issued refund. Bank of Plutonia credit apparently not good enough. Back to square one, nothing to collect passing Go.

      • This listing is at my LRS – this is the kind of Sun Ra era type record I think you’re after. It’s edgy, hard space-bop with Gilmore’s big, chunky tones, Marshall Allen’s twisty alto and Ronnie Boykins big-hearted fat bass.

        The Scorpios are easily available though as in here
        This man has an odd haircut for his age but good luck to him – he loves his Sun Ra records!

        • The Impulse version has different personnel. Any suggestions as to which is the correct one, and whether Lucious Randolph is just a pseudonym for Phil Cohran? The trombone (Nate Pryor) is not listed on the Saturn sleeve. – Oh, and I do enjoy the music!

          • Eduard: I’m not an expert but my understanding is that it’s common knowledge that Saturn sleeves were often incomplete, outright wrong, or deliberate lies, because Sun Ra was… Sun Ra. I would be inclined to trust the Impulse version, personally.

      • Your confidence in my judgement is flattering – but note I did say JAZZ IN SILHOUETTE and cannot be held liable for the quality of other recordings. That’s my standard Saturnalian disclaimer…. But enjoy whatever you do take a punt on!

      • was the price unspeakably low? i had that happen with an NM original copy of Impulse 7 – Art Blakey/Jazz Messengers. it was ten bucks, but the seller caught the error right as I was checking out… and suddenly it cost 50$. He took my best offer though, so it all worked out.

  3. Compilations are not included, but would like to recommend the 2CD set (I know, I know, it’s not vinyl!) “the singles”. Beautiful stuff starting with doo wop and easy jazz (with a twist of course)…..

    • The Evil Silver Disc has its uses, pragmatically, when vinyl format is not available (my Brad Meldhau and Avishai Cohen albums), original vinyl is not realistically affordable (plenty fit that description), or in the case of the Saturn label , apparently no great shakes in the audio department. Breadth of catalogue squeezed onto a CD set is a legitimate use.

      A compromise must sometimes be made, though CD should never be the format of choice. (Early) Sun Ra seems to have a big availability problem, so much so that today I bought a modern reissue of Jazz in Silhouette, by DOL. Mistake? Haven’t played it yet and it set off all sorts of alarm bells, but I thought I’d give it a try. The music appeals significantly enough to road test different formats.

      Interested what people think is the best way to access Sun Ra’s early stuff, Jazz in Silhouette being the case in point. Anyone else any experience to share? CD or vinyl reissue, or wait for space travel?

      • DOL?! Oh dear, how does it sound? I hate to say this but the remastered for iTunes version is the best I’ve heard but then again I’ve not heard the Impulse!
        The Evidence CD is poor to my ears – which I always attributed to the quality of the recording, but the iTunes version is a revelation – much much better.

        • Unfortunately I had already bought the DOL before I read your comments and heard the Sun Ra Community comparison between various media editions. On PC speakers, the I-tunes version definitely sounded better than the Saturn, Impulse, Evidence CD rips.

          Remastered for I-Tunes I guess means what it says on the tin, engineered to sound good on a pretty basic sound-system, which it undoubtedly did. The Saturn vinyl rip sounded fairly flat and lifeless, and Remastered for I-Tunes had been well-pimped. How it compares with vinyl played on a well-tempered vinyl system is something people can debate.

          There is a school of thought that the recording format needs to match the characteristics of the playback system i.e. playing mp3 through your phone or PC will sound fine, playing it through a high-end hi-fi system won’t.

          Bit of boot on the other foot here. Without anything to compare it to, the DOL didn’t sound at all bad. I’ve heard far worse. I’d need to A:B it against something, to show up its merits.

          The Impulse is on the dreaded green label (released 1975 I believe). That’s not a good sign either. The DOL is an interim, but interim to what right now I don’t know.

          There is no getting away from it, it is a jolly fine piece of music.

          • I’ve put the iTunes files on CD using a slow burn and they sound nice but, yes, the situation leaves me far from satisfied.
            There are some nice vinyl examples of Sun Ra’s work on decently mastered vintage-sish pressings such as this on Black Lion:
            Gilmore really stretching out on the superlative version of Saturn on this record – I bought this in Amsterdam 25 years ago – still sounds great.

            • A friend has the Black Lion, and I’ve been listening to it along with a selection of other Sun Ra’s spanning 1956 to 1973 this afternoon. Saturn is delicious, you are quite right. I need this.

              Sun Ra’s swings in direction are quite bewildering. He sets out as a straight big band with gifted soloists 1956. By 1960 all bets are off, and it become immediately weird. By 1973 he’s back to Ellington shaken down with star dust.

              Every album seems different, no historical continuity, every track on each album can be wildly different. I can make no sense of his musical development. The oddest of all are some of the Impulse reissues that catch his deliberately weird phase. I can only assume he made a conscious effort to cultivate student campus demographic with an appetite for odd stuff.

              Every now and then Gilmore is allowed to play it Coltrane/Dolphy classic mode.

              I’m baffled, but a little wiser.

              BTW the DOL is “muddy”, can’t recommend it. Oh well.

              • By 1961 Sun Ra had moved to New York and left most of his established ‘big band’ in Chicago. A hardcore small group of musicians moved with him, including John Gilmore and Marshall Allen. The band rehearsed, recorded and experimented at The Choreographers’ Workshop producing, IMO, some of his most interesting albums (Contiuum, Cosmic Tones, Art Forms, Secrets Of The Sun et al). Whilst in New York the band began playing weekly at Slugs Saloon, adding members and shaping the Cosmo Drama group that would tour Europe and Egypt in the early 70s. The Cosmo Drama band is probably the most completetly documented era – mainly because to survive Sun Ra had most concerts recorded and sold the tapes to fledgling European labels such as BASF, Horo and Shandar.

                I find it useful to divide Ra’s bands into the following eras:

                Big Band – Chicago 1950s to early 60s.
                Choreographers Workshop – New York – 1960s
                Cosmo Drama – New York/Philadelphia/Europe/Egypt etc – early 1970s
                Reintroduction of early charts and ‘standards’ – mid 70s
                Post 1980s

                What I’ve said is a gross over simplification and full of errors, but it’s my framework and may be of some use to others. I have over 100 Sun Ra titles, including original Saturns, Impulse, Horo, Shandar etc. I find there is no linear development, or at least nothing conventional. There are anomalies all throughout his career, and one can only generalise. I’m generally not a big fan of his 80s material, but there are some stunning albums from this period that shouldn’t be overlooked (Fireside Chat with Lucifer, Omniverse). Sun Ra always maintained he created his music for particular places and spaces, so for example albums recorded at The Squat – a left wing activist arts establishment – are usually fairly hard core (Voice of Etarnal Tomorrow). He also maintains he never played free form and that all his music is composed an directed. He had little time for the ‘free form boys’ as he called them. And again I’d say John Gilmore is one of the most talented and under rated tenor players that walked this or any other planet. Coltrane would agree. You may know his work with Andrew Hill and Pete LaRocca.

                Forget hi fi with Sun ra. Some of his best material was recorded at rehearsal in the band house and is fairly lo-fi – no matter how early the matrix number on the vinyl. However, there are a few surprises – an original Celestial Love sounds stunning IMO, as does the live Paris Tapes.

                I’d also recommend you read Space Is The Place by Jon F Sved to give you a chronological grasp, and The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra by Campbell and Trent. ‘Blutopia’ by Graham Lock is also worth reading and gives a credible interpretation of Ra’s ‘Space is the Place’ philosophy, examinig themes such as segregation, African Slave trading and isolation.

                Good luck and I hope I’ve been helpful. After listening to Sun Ra since the late 70s I continue to find stuff that is surprising and always inspiring. The breadth and depth of his music is astounding.

                • Thank you for your insight, Graham, my bewilderment has expanded exponentially. I am trying to take in over a weekend what some have learned over twenty years. That he adapted according to the playing setting makes sense of a number of the stylistic zigzags. I’ll inch my way forward, like through a minefield, some stuff I love, some I hate. I’ll pay more attention to finding a pathway through.

  4. somehow the poll functionality doesnt work on my mac with chrome. But I love early Sun Ra. Indeed Mingus and Ellington meet in outer space. Jazz in Silouhette is the one. What a journey through Jazz. One of the best.

  5. The poll is steering things in the right direction, IMO.

    I put in a good word/vote for one of the more obscure ones, “Lanquidity” from the 70s/Philadelphia era. It’s a very mellow, atmospheric record and features a rare appearance from trumpeter Eddie Gale Stevens, one time member of the Cecil Taylor Unit and the man behind the infamous “Ghetto Music” album on Blue Note.

  6. @ Impulse Wizard Gregory the Fish:
    1) there are 4 volumes in the series “the mastery of John Coltrane”, first three published in 1978, last one in 1979, IZ 9361/2. I bought ’em all as soon as they were put on the market.
    all are green except vol. 4, as you pointed, orange ( or yellow to orange).
    2) Albert Ayler, dedication series vol. VII, the Village Concerts, IA 9336/2, published in 1978, has both records yellow.
    3) Archie Shepp, dedication series vol. XVII, Further Fire Music, IA 9357/2, published in 1978 has 2 records: one is green, the other is yellow.
    the question is: I’ve got NO single Impulse around these 2 years (except vol.III in Trane’s series, which is green, others are double).
    was the yellow label ever used for single Impulse?
    and, if you got it, does Shepp’s exist all green or all yellow?

    • i’ve never even SEEN shepp’s, oddly enough. and i do not know of any single impulses that are yellow, although they were used for reissues. i’ve seen “karma” as a yellow label, for example.

      • for Shepp’s lovers:
        The Chased, three takes, the shortest (take 3, 3:15) published on Definitive Jazz Scene Vol.3, the longest (take 1, 11:47 and take 2, 6:11) no elsewhere published.
        it’s a trio with David Izenzon and J C Moses (RVG 03.09.1965).
        The Pickaninny (from On This Night) and Malcolm, Malcolm semper Malcolm (from Fire Music).
        Rufus, Le Matin Des Noire, Scag, Call Me By My Rightful Name (From New Thing at Newport) and Gingerbread Gingerbread Boy (from On This Night): these are the complete Newport Jazz Festival set, 07.02.1965.
        The Mac Man (alternate take, 9:30), quintet with Bobby Hutcherson, Henry Grimes, Rashied Ali and Eddie Blackwell (RVG 08-12-1965).
        almost half an hour of unedited music.
        as I consider 1965 the best year for Archie’s music, it’s a must, for me.

  7. The Impulse! Sun Ra reissues are beautiful things with new cover art that was completely different from the Saturn originals. I am particularly fond of the Magic City gatefold which is very surreal. Unfortunately the sonics are a bit sketchy but not quite as bad as some people make out.
    Much of this music was recorded in the monastic confines of the Arkestra’s environments so Rudy Van Gelder was not on hand. This monastic aspect seems to give this period of Sun Ra’s music (the mid to late 60s) its epic and episodic quality. IMO The Magic City is one of the great works of jazz. But it needs to be listened to in detail and all the way through like a story or, as has been said before, a parable.
    I don’t really quite know what the legal status of the Sun Ra tapes is – they seems to be in the public domain (unless you’re on Saturn).
    But they have never been very well realised. However the MFIT releases are very good and should be available in a better format once the iTunes licence ends in 2015.

  8. I am not a fan of later-period free jazz Sun Ra – when he became the personality “Sun Ra” – but his mid-to-late ’50s stuff, when the Arkestra was still based in Chicago, I find absolutely delightful. Among other LPs: Super Sonic Jazz; Nubians of Plutonia; Sound of Joy; Jazz in Silhouette; Interstellar Low Ways. All just lovely stuff. To my ears, a perfect mixture of interesting classic arrangements with the pleasant and interesting weirdness just starting to creep in, not yet having taken over. (Remember, he was an arranger for Fletcher Henderson in the ’40s). The reason I draw that distinction is not only the music itself, but also because the Sun Ra records that were re-released on Impulse are NOT contemporary of other ’70s Sun releases – they are re-releases of some of those late ’50s records (originally on El Saturn). Thus, despite the futuristic covers and ’70s photos of Sun in the inner gatefold, the Sun Ra Impulses don’t sound like his other ’70s records, but are more spare and arranged. Try “Saturn” off Jazz in Silhouette.

    • Astonishing. Beautiful, I must have it. Thanks for opening my eyes. A friend introduced me to the free dissonant stuff, and I tarred it all with the same brush. Ellington meets Mingus in outer space, great. Now only problem is finding them.

      • if your interest in Sun Ra is raising, you could look for Jazz by Sun Ra, Transition TRLP-10, far, far away from Free, or The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, vol.1 and 2 on Esp-Disk’ 1014 and 1017, very, very Free.
        very rare Transition, quite common Esp-Disk’.
        I do love the latter.

        • Agree. Really like Jazz, but I haven’t explored a lot of Sun Ra’s albums. Perhaps time to change that. I’ll be watching the poll with bated breath.

      • Wonderful! The Impulse reissues are not a bad way to go, as the originals were no great shakes sonically in the first place, so the reissues don’t suffer any degradation. And the originals are impossible to find in decent shape for anything less than a fortune.

        • Gentlemen,
          I have added a poll to the foot of the post, so people can clock their Sun Ra recommendations. I shall be watching closely. I’ve listed all seventy studio albums from 1956 to 1993, and allowed ten nominations. I’m learning fast. Seems even the Impulse reissues are scarce and hard to come by, let alone Saturn (which I was disappointed to note sports an address in “Philadelphia”. Perhaps that is a moon of Saturn?)

      • I don’t think you’ll find an original Saturn pressing of Jazz in Silhouette. The Impulse! is also very rare.
        Many of other great albums were reissued on Scorpio with the original Saturn covers but not this. For earlier titles which may suit your tastes such as Fate in a Pleasant Mood, Nubians of Plutonia, and Angels and Demons at Play there is a good choice between original Saturn (extremely expensive) the Impulse! ABC (about £30 on ebay) and the Scorpios which are usually 180 gram which nice covers.
        The Scorpios are much better than you might think but I’m not sure about all analogue sourcing – some people claim they are.
        For Jazz in Silhouette realistically there’s a choice between the Evidence CD and MFIT unless you can track down the Impulse! but good luck with that.
        I’ve posted this link before which is a fantastic and gives you a great idea of the different formats:

        • Andy C thanks for this, a real eye opener. There is “Sun Ra Community” apparently? The music just sounds great, and I don’t know how I missed out on this, but I am just glad to have finally made the connection.

          Good thing about the folks that hang out here, you get to learn so much, which the mainstream media doesn’t care exists. Beyoncé’s latest wardrobe malfunction is their idea of news. How last century.

  9. Genesis! I always thought it was odd that Impulse! released their second album, but ABC was a relatively clueless rock label and they probably didn’t know what else to do with prog rock at the time.

    I have mixed feelings about the 1970s Impulse! era. I think the Redman, Rivers, and Marion Brown releases are among the best any of them ever did. The bigger names (Jarrett, Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane) were pretty consistent as well. Klemmer always left me cold, as did the Michael White records. In White’s case I liked him better as a sideman with others, in Klemmer’s not even then.

    That “Antelope Freeway” record by Howard Roberts is fun, in an almost Firesign Theater sort of way.

    Lastly I will concur about the mid 1970s twofers. Most were badly programmed, and also who names a reissue series “Reevaluations”? Does the material need reevaluating because it flopped the first time, or did we used to think it was good but will now realize it’s crap after buying the twofer?

    The twofers released towards the very end (called “Mastery of…” for Coltrane and “Dedication Series” for the rest) had, I believe, direct involvement from Michael Cuscuna. They were much better in any case, but it was too little, too late…

    • i am with you on klemmer, but i ADORE michael white. “spirit dance” is what got me into spiritual jazz! that is one of the crown jewels of the later impulse catalog if you ask me.

  10. what an output, LJC! i willl of course log all of the info!

    i have some interesting images here and there i could share. i will e-mail you.

    i love sun ra. not all sun ra. but most. his persona just makes it more fun.

    his earliest recordings are of the traditional big-band variety, with just a hint of pliancy and off-kilter concepts. make them sound fresh and unique. he did some other great stuff too. some not for me, but most.

    the last release, trade volume iV, i have seen on the orange labels, but never the green. odd.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s