Sun Ra: Jazz in Silhouette (1959) DOL reissue

Sun-Ra-Jazz-in-Silhouette-DOL-RU-LJC-1800opening Selection: Enlightenment (Dotson)


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.

Vinyl: DOL791

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.



Collector’s Corner

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

Saturn (1959)

Second, contrast, from the album Pictures of Infinity (Black Lion). Twice the length, recorded NYC 1968 before a live audience. UK pressing by Polydor:

Saturn (1968)

Any thoughts? (apart from the advice to get the Impulse 1975 edition! I know, I know, but it will take time and patience).

Professor Jazz

Professor Jazz

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..

32 thoughts on “Sun Ra: Jazz in Silhouette (1959) DOL reissue

  1. This album was my first Sun Ra title I ever bought…I purchased the Evidence reissue CD when it was released. Now I have a huge stack of Sun Ra albums including many different original Saturns from different eras…some of these, especially studio dates like “Celestial Love” and “A Fireside chat..”, sound really great on the hi-fi and contradict the typical ‘poor sounding’ saturn tag. I find the most questionable sounding original Saturns to usually be the live dates from the 70s…many of which sound like they were recorded with one stage microphone situated in some corner at the back underneath a beer mug.


  2. DOL! oh no! I’ve had two bad experiences with that label and that was that! Flat, boring, unrecognisable music (usually bad CD transfers); maybe this record is an exception, but I will not try it. Recent ArtYard or Poppy Disc reissues sound quite good. Don’t know this record but I will look into it, but not a DOL.


    • I am not recommending DOL, it’s merely what I I happened to pick up. Interested in any views on Poppy Discs – they are priced at almost double – £20 – which seems a lot for a public domain reissue which is basically a CD transfer onto vinyl . I’ve picked up a couple of Sun Ra which I think are Scorpios – because they give no indication of manufacturer, merely a facsimile of original covers and labels – glossy card, in shrink. One is the first album on Transition, which I think somehow I’m not going to see as an original any day now.

      I’ll post results shortly, with a rip.


      • Seems we’re all into Sun Ra these days, some way or other. In my own case, I’ve just been listening to that first album on Transition, “Jazz By Sun Ra” aka “Sun Song” – via Youtube, horribile dictu. But audiophile sound is not one’s foremost concern with Sun Ra to start with. Which is not to say the Ytb rip is bad – no, it’s fine, and so is the music. It still is “real” jazz, albeit ahead of its time. No frills, no chanting, no processions. Genuine, heart-felt, yet intelligent music done by competent professionals.


      • I’ve a few of the Scorpios – they always seem to have the same type of deadwax etchings. They are variable in terms of quality. Sometimes they are warped.
        But they have the original Saturn artwork, are pressed with thick vinyl and often sound okay.
        It’s interesting that the iTunes remastered versions not only sound good but seem to offer more detail.
        That would suggest that the tapes are in reasonable nick and that the recordings weren’t perhaps as bad as thought … maybe. Often there’s a lot of reverb on the sound.
        It would really be a great job for those Music Matters engineer types to do something with this stuff rather than re-interpreting something that already sounded great in the first place.


        • What I think is a Scorpio is pictured in the latest Sun Ra post. The trademark of Scorpio is extraneous job-codes in the run-out. I have decided that where you are dealing with lo-fi recordings, the modern reissue clones is a valid inexpensive alternative to originals that wouldn’t sound great and are collector-driven expensive.


  3. Enlightenment is one of the greatest tracks in Jazz. It takes one on a trip with many colours, flavours and smells. Absolutely outstanding. I love the early RA’s. Indeed, its Ellington school, just like Mingus with a big band. Thanks for opening your mind to the Sun God. I have this on Impulse. Sounds ok, not great. But I think it has to do with the quality of the early recoding sessions. El Saturn was chaos.


    • It’s Ellington school, and much more. I can even hear traces of Birth Of The Cool in some of the relaxed ensemble parts.


  4. The preceding dialogue piqued my curiosity in the earlier recordings of Sun Ra, which modern repressings of later recordings had not fulfilled. I picked up the 1974 ABC Impulse copy of Super-Sonic Jazz. First of all, I have never seen the original versions in the flesh but at least the Super-Sonic Jazz cover is beautiful in a lava lamp kind of way. After reading fairly mixed reviews about the recording quality, I found a lot of pleasure in both the music and the recording. While not quite having the crackling intensity of an epic RVG Blue Note, at least my recording was a pretty slick attempt at capturing so many diverse instruments.

    I don’t know if any link exists between Sun Ra and Fela Kuti, but right there on the first track is germinal Afro-Beat from 1957, right down to the central organ around which all the other instruments circulate. Other tracks are much closer to the Ellington big band influence, with, as other posters mentioned, just enough weirdness.

    I thank everyone who mentioned specific favorite earlier records, and will try to systemically pick them up the more affordable versions. BTW the Impulse versions can be had for €25 – €40 on Discogs, which seems fair considering the historic and artistic value. (I am assuming that all are recorded decently well….maybe that’s an incorrect assumption given the previous posts that attest to the the – ahem – informal engineering that supported the music.)


  5. I’m just packing up for the day but that rip of ENLIGHTENMENT has given me goosebumps prior to the cold walk to the bus stop.

    But I don’t care. Today I bought a heavy pure wool vintage tweed (1960s) overcoat for £25.00. It is – as they say – in virtually mint condition. No scuffs, dings, or visible marks. Plays perfectly. Almost as much fun as a record. It was originally purchased from Martin Green, Tailor, in Harrow. At that time Martin Green Ltd could be telephoned on HARROW 1300. It says on the label.

    Sorry, I seem to have strayed off-topic. Anyway, my gorgeous tweed gentleman’s overcoat is a little younger than JAZZ IN SILHOUETTE, but only by a few years, and over the weekend I shall wear it and play Sun Ra, Marilyn Crispell, Cecil Taylor, the Schlippenbach Trio. I’m experimenting with ways to keep Christmas at bay.

    “I’m playing dark history. It’s beyond black. I’m dealing with the dark things of the cosmos.” – Sun Ra


  6. When I saw Sun Ra live at Ronnie Scott’s in the early ’90’s, the number that I enjoyed the most was a version of the 30’s ballad ‘East Of The Sun (and West Of The Moon). He delivered the standard wonderfully and showed me that he was rather more than just an eccentric. On the basis of your review, I must give ‘Jazz In Silhouette’ a listen at some stage although I was on the point of giving up on him after a few encounters with ‘Space Is The Place’, which I don’t care if I never hear again.


  7. I’m surprised how much interest Sun Ra lifted in the last two posts, and happy for this.
    I knew there was a pre-Free period (but I own Transition only), a classic-Free (I got both ESP) and a later period, totally unknown to me.
    while I’ve always loved these three records, I never moved further in searching for other recordings. I think I backed the wrong horse.
    the only way to know a musician is to listen to his music.
    LJC, some more music?
    ah, I remember to have been into a Sun Ra happening in the late 70’s.
    two hours of dancing and chanting but I can’t remember to have been impressioned.
    maybe this is the reason I stopped looking for other records and, at the time, all Saturn were very rare already.


  8. Well spotted, LJC. My favourite Ra disc, of the GALAXY [& worthy of a crown in the Richard Cook, Brian Morton Penguin Guide to Jazz]


    • I don’t usually read Morton and Cook before I write, because I like to establish my own opinion first (and in this case because I didn’t know whether the check the alphabetic listing for Sun Ra as under R or under S). I just checked it now and am greatly relieved to find them in agreement with me. “This marvellous record will surely some day be recognised as one of the most important jazz records since the war.” Could have written that myself. They devote seven pages to Sun Ra, more than virtually any other artist. Fascinating!


  9. for what i consider to be the perfect mix of weird and grounded, i must insist you check out “the futuristic sounds of sun ra” on savoy. i have only an evil silver disk version but originals are not unreasonable. i’ve seen them for $30-$50.


  10. I’ve only come in contact with a few of these things, but it’s a truly sad truth that the quality of these public domain pressings is often times better than legit, even “audiophile”, pressings. If some funky company in the Eastern Bloc can do it (and for cheap!) how come the regular labels can’t?


  11. Have the Impulse pressing, it was around $30 on Discogs in very decent shape, Sun Ra׳s on Impulse are definitely not too expensive or rare…sound quality is quite muddy, like everything else i׳ve heard from mr. Ra. Sometimes i wonder why all of his releases are so lo-fi ?


  12. So I only have a cd version of this, but I love the music (am a big fan of many periods of Sun Ra). A question about the impulse reissue for anyone out there who knows: the label says “stereo”. I am almost certain this was only recorded in mono. Could impulse have rechanneled this to stereo?


      • by this point impulse was decidedly stereo, but there’s no reason they couldn’t have just used the center channel for everything, even though the record, technically, would be stereo. i’d believe that.


        • Having listened to LJC’s rip of “Saturn” and then to a download I bought (stole?) years ago, I can’t tell the difference. They both sound somehow “stereo”, I even thought the piano was kind of leftish at first, but it might as well be some cunningly fabricated artificial stereo. Same thing with “Enlightenment”. It’s not an unpleasant sound at all, and the music itself is a joy to listen to.


          • Watching the Audacity rip in progress, the left and right channels are not symmetrical, but the difference is mainly in volume rather than content, so I think it has had some electronic jiggery-pokery done to it, to broaden the soundstage. Its not obviously true stereo but it’s not entirely mono.


            • Impulse! would have had nothing to do with the recording of any of the Sun Ra titles they released, although they would have been responsible for remastering, often adding extra reverb to cover flaws and audible edits in the tape. The tapes were supplied by Alton Abraham and Sun Ra from the ‘Saturn vaults’. Saturn were notorious for supplying tapes to labels which were often mono copies of stereo masters. I don’t have a Saturn or Impulse! copy of Jazz in Silhouette, but if it is of any help to you the latest edition released on M4iT has both stereo and mono tracks and most Sun Ra albums were rarely recorded in a single session. Again Sun Ra was notorious for editing together albums with takes from different sessions, studios, dates and bands. One writer observed that probably all Sun Ra albums are actually compilations.

              The Saturn/Impulse! story is interesting, and a more complete version can be found in the booklet accompanying the Evidence CD “Cymbals/Crystal Spears – The Great Lost Sun Ra Albums” – lost because they were destined for Impulse! but never issued by them. The deal went sour. The notes are written from two perspectives – Robert Campbell and Ed Michel – the latter playing a part in the Impulse! deal, the former knowing more about Sun Ra’s discography than is considered healthy for an Earthling.

              If you have been hooked by Jazz in Silhouette then you’ll probably like most of the Chicago period recordings – i.e. before 1960, (although ‘The Futuristic Sound’ on Savoy from 1961 is their first NY album it sounds like the Chicago era). Oh, and it’s a pity if the space robes and Cosmo Drama put you off the post 60s material. Alongside the space chants, sandals and robes are some amazing compositions. Try for instance a composition called ‘The Shadow World’ from a 60s concert appearing on ‘Nothing Is’ (ESP), and then again from 1970 on ‘Fondation Maeght’ (Shandar). Stunning IMO.


              • Thank you again for your depth of insight – I read the Ashley Khan version of what happened to Impulse ASD-9287…97, intended Sun Ra reissues, and I felt it had to be a one-sided account of events.

                Signposts in every direction but I am getting a handle on it. Pity the marketplace has so few offerings. I guess the next port of call is the evil silver disc.


                • You are welcome, LJC. The current vinyl situation with Sun Ra is a very big mixed bag. Tread with caution. I tried a Scorpio Saturn and as usual with Scorpio the hole wasn’t centred, so pitch is all over the place. Unfortunately the days of finding an original ‘pasted cover’ Saturn in the Marching Band section of your local vinyl emporium for £1.99 are long gone.

                  Sun Ra is served well on the evil silver disc, mainly by Atavistic, Evidence and Art Yard. The Art Yard titles are the best mastered IMO, and I know Peter Dennett has released these in full cooperation with the Sun Ra estate. The Evidence series was exciting when it first began but came to a halt circa 2000. The accompanying essays are excellent and an education in themselves. Unfortunately, most of the CDs were mastered using Sonic Solutions to remove hiss, so although reasonable source tapes were used they tend to sound even Lower Fi than desirable, although some of the later titles sound excellent. If you can source them cheaply they are a great way to get to know Ra’s music. Atavistic have chosen some great titles and historical artefacts, but are mostly needle drops allegedly taken from original Saturns.

                  The current M4iTunes are reportedly going to be issued on vinyl and possibly CD/HR, taken from 24 bit HR masters and session masters where possible. I’ve tried a few rarities from the M4iT, and although they sound ‘clear’, they lack body and weight. They also don’t work on my Garrard 301!

                  Good luck sourcing some original Saturns, I’m sure you’ll let us know if you do.


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