Hobart Dotson (trumpet) Bo Bailey (trombone) Marshall Allen, James Spaulding (alto saxophone, flute) John Gilmore (tenor saxophone) Charles Davis (baritone saxophone) Pat Patrick (baritone saxophone, flute) Sun Ra (piano, celeste) Ronnie Boykins (bass) William Cochran (drums) Recorded March 6, 1959 at El Saturn Studio in Chicago, Illinois.
I confess I have fallen hopelessly in love with some tracks on this record, so much so I have set aside any quest for original vinyl. John Gilmore and Marshall Allen are truly hot cats – the spirit of Dolphy runs strong here, and Pat Patrick is a revelation on baritone, gives my favourite Pepper Adams a close call.
Dotson’s beautiful composition Enlightenment is perfectly rendered in the spare and mournful opening duet between the baritone and Sun Ra’s contrapuntal walking piano, every melancholy note and harmony placed with ruthless precision, before giving way to rip-roaring big band in full tilt swing mode, reprised in a wistful twisting melange of the two. Dotson’s brief solo is for all the world Donald Byrd 1957, eloquent and economic. This album hasn’t been off the turntable all day, or out of my head. Straight in at Number 1 at LJC, a shot in the arm.
This may not be the Sun Ra that inspires his many devotees. He briefly occupied a similar space to the Mingus evolution out of Ellington, with his own twist, and that is a good place from my perspective. Chanting “Space is the Place” in full dress costume is perhaps more theatre than it is music, it’s not the place for me.
I’m still kicking myself for not being aware of this early work, but I am not alone. What it says on the tin is not that which is within. An Amazon customer review for Jazz in Silhouette:
I am a Sun Ra rookie. I heard of him, but never heard him. So, unlike other reviewers here, this is my first Sun Ra album. And I love it. More precisely, I think that it’s a masterpiece. One of those albums you hear and just know you discovered a wide new world. Music will never sound the same again!
Another reviewer ventures into deeper waters:
“There are some really strong (straight ahead) albums next to it (Sounds of Joy, Visits Planet Earth, Nubians from Plutonia). I can understand why people rave when they hear Sun Ra playing more-or-less straight jazz, but this is not the only Sun Ra album that does it, and others, in my opinion, do it better”
Should have consulted the LJC Sun Ra Poll.
Who would have thought it, Russian modern vinyl reissue, a Scorpio-ski, remastered from I suspect digital transfer of some description. This recording has a long history of reissue. Originally El Saturn LP 205 (1959) , and an “official” Saturn 180 gram reissue in 2008. The cover (left) purports to be the very rare 1959 original (though the Discogs uploader of it includes no other images in corroboration). The label (right) is the Saturn reissue label.
Impulse reissue 1975 (AS 9265) with alternative cover:
Subsequently reissued by Evidence CD (1991) then a host of popular (public domain)reissue specialists: Waxtime (2011), Real Gone (RGLP1 stereo 45rpmx2), DOXY (claimed use a factory in the Czech Republic), almost certainly a Scorpio somewhere, not forgetting Spotify and Remastered for ITunes. Now the Russkies support vinyl distribution, with DOL.(Or should that be LOL).
The labels and deadwax tell you nothing, but here they are for fun. Certainly its a quality manufacturing job, 140gm HQ silent vinyl, which is better than the batting average of some modern reissues.
Twelve quid for a “grey” reissue. Mint! Sealed! Still in Shrink!
How does it sound? More properly, how does it compare? Well, without another reissue or an original, or the Evidence CD, the closest I can do at this moment to a run-off is between one track from the DOL vinyl, which is Saturn, a great track anyway, and a “proper” recording of that same track recorded in NYC by Sun Ra a decade later for Alan Bates Black Lion label. Also a cracker of an album, on loan courtesy of Man in a Shed.
You get the dynamics of a proper stereo recording to late ’60’s standards, and the musical stylistic development of a band that had spent the previous decade touring the outer limits of Space, wringing the maximum frequent flyer space miles out of the Interplanetary Space Travel meme whilst being allowed occasionally to morph back into bop-mode.
First the DOL – Jazz in Silhouette
Second, contrast, from the album Pictures of Infinity (Black Lion). Twice the length, recorded NYC 1968 before a live audience. UK pressing by Polydor:
Any thoughts? (apart from the advice to get the Impulse 1975 edition! I know, I know, but it will take time and patience).
My thoughts on sound quality of the DOL, compared with a fully engineered quality master, the DOL is pleasant, but ultimately a little muddy, a little like listening to the radio. Even though it is a grey reissue (undisclosed source) it sounds better to me on the vinyl system than say the original Saturn rip sampled on the Sun Ra Community site lead me to expect. And for £12 it’s a good investment which allows you to increase your familiarity with the material and decide of you want to go further.
For the most part, the sheer quality of the music largely overcomes any limitations in the quality of sound, something that can more often happen in reverse, when high sound quality can win you over to something you expected not to like, something also true of music in live performance.
Even if none of the early Sun Ra ’50s recordings score highly in the audiophile department, and some are markedly lo-fi, then so be it. This music is a must.
Anyone wants to share more Sun Ra thoughts, the floor is yours. I’ve probably said too much already. Unlike this blogger, aptly named “Empty Chair”. Not a word even..