Further Adventures in Lo-Fi
In a modest living room somewhere in deepest South East London, something rather remarkable began to happen. Acoustic space between hi fi speakers, previously populated with the ghostly shadows of jazz musicians long since passed began slowly transforming into a larger, very much larger space, infinite space. The depths of Outer Space as unlocked by the LJC sound system beamed down onto to Saturn, yes, it is rocket science, Magician in the Room.
Perhaps, but it’s quite fun picking your way through the spacial-overtones and nuances of this unique musical figure, originally Herman “Sonny” Blount, who spent his entire career as Sun Ra and his multi-faceted Arkestra. I can now see better how he has become a subject of fascination – even veneration.
With the sublime Jazz in Silhouette under my rings-of-Saturn belt, time to dive deep into the earthly early catalogue again – with a twist – a head to head between a cheap and plentiful modern reissue, and the reissue of choice: Impulse mid 1970’s. Recorded in 1956, Super Sonic Jazz (Saturn LP 204 clone) vs. Impulse AS-9271 reissue from 1974 released as Supersonic Sounds
First, everyone’s recommended choice, affordable alternative to originals, Impulse AS-9271. Will it hold its own against the cheap and cheerful clone? I managed to find both, the Impulse not so easy, so lets find out how they compare.
Selection: Kingdom of Not (Impulse 70’s reissue)
Art Hoyle (trumpet, percussion) Pat Patrick (alto saxophone) John Gilmore (tenor saxophone, bells) Charles Davis (baritone saxophone) Sun Ra (piano, electric piano, space gong) Victor Sproles (bass) William Cochran (drums) Jim Herndon (timpani, percussion ) and other recorded RCA Studios, Chicago, IL, late 1956
Thoroughly enjoyable listening, though perhaps not quite in the same league as Jazz in Silhouette. The format is Ellington: big band with soloists taking their turn, but Sun Ra’s piano here at least under the influence of Monk, pulling poking and prodding at the tunes, but not quite disassembled as early Cecil Taylor, who also began recording around the same time for Transition as Sun Ra’s “Jazz”. You can tell innovation is not far off.
Great solos from John Gilmore and Pat Patrick, but none of the slickness of Van Gelder in the recording department. Soloists jump to their feet, the engineer struggling to raise their volume from ensemble to solo level. It has a charm of its own, though it never delivers what RVG achieved at humble Hackensack. Decidedly Lo-Fi. The pursuit of audiophile quality to enhance the musical experience is never going to happen with early Sun Ra, I am resigned to it.
Vinyl: Impulse AS 9271
Billed as Stereo, as was the norm for 70’s Impulse releases, the gatefold cover gave up a secret:
Eh? “Maximising stereo effect“? I think not too much monkeying around, as they haven’t tried to “simulate stereo”, which is a relief as that usually destroys the music. The left and right channels during the Audacity rip look entirely symmetrical.
The listening experience is very much like “listening to proper vintage vinyl” rather than CD stripped onto vinyl, and generally very pleasant, if not what you know it could have been. Never having rated the abc black/ neon label output very highly, this outing hasn’t changed my mind. The run-out credits a West Coast studio KENDUN with mastering. Doesn’t say a lot for them to my hearing. If I were Ken I’d have kept quiet about it, but perhaps they made the best they could of what they had to work with. .
Not Impulse’s finest work but at least they maintained the tradition of the gatefold. To ensure the text is readable on-screen, it is rendered in portrait format at 1800 pixel wide x 3,500 height. (To anyone convinced the future is the convergence of everything to one hand-held device…keep banging the rocks together (Douglas Adams)
And the back of the jacket continues the tradition of being not terribly informative.The track listing is worth noting for the presence of Sunology Part II at the end of Side 1.
Cultural Notes: Sun Ra and Space
My recent first real encounter with Sun Ra has been unexpectedly thought-provoking.
The 50’s/ 60’s were a time of great optimism in The Future, lead by Science. I was there and I read science fiction copiously at that time. The idea of space travel was a cornerstone: hardly a year passed without another advance or invention, satellites, man on the moon, where next?
The theme of optimism and the space age, central to Sun Ra’s musical excursions, was much of its time. It resonated with what was happening. Saturn? Why not?
“Considering the great heritage in music that we have – the work of the giants of the past, the present, and the promise of those who are to come – I feel that we have every reason to face the future optimistically.”
I rather approve of the spirit of optimism, more so than the collective anxiety and entropy which runs through what passes for current thinking about the future.
Now to the alternative: cheap and cheerful clones. At least they have tried to stay authentic to the original Saturn “primitive art” sleeve design and label. Nice. Says Saturn 0216, other sources say this record is Saturn LP 204.
Reminder: 1974 Impulse reissue (£40)
Selection: Kingdom of Not – clone – Scorpio? (£11.99)
Missing Sunology Part II (which sounds like simply an alternative take, on the Impulse, not something which adds a great deal of value).
Well it’s quiet – the Impulse had a few surface marks from it’s 40 year journey, leaving a slightly retro soft background tick in places. This is shrink-wrapped mint un-played, but still has a few surface noises. It is bright and quite acceptable at a quarter of the cost of the Impulse. It sounds much like a CD, but on my system the vinyl playback sounds better than CD streaming playback – it is inherent in the components – and it is entirely possible your mileage may vary.
The run-out betrays the cloner’s work: the hand-written extraneous “job codes” which real vintage records rarely if ever had. This is a pressing plant churning out volume after volume to order, needing an internal inventory control system. Looks like Scorpio work to me, as they never identify themselves, thereby revealing themselves as Scorpios. Other public domain reissuers like DOL, Doxy, Poppy, and suchlike usually appear in the manufacture credits, which I thought were a legal requirement. These are facsimiles.
On a sample of just one, I am favourable towards Impulse, but not wholly convinced they warrant a collectible premium, given the relatively lo-fi quality of source recordings. I don’t get on with the weirder stuff, so I am not going to be chasing the Spaceways, but that is a personal take, there is no right or wrong in music, merely what you happen to enjoy at that time.
Interested in your thoughts.