Sun Ra: Super-Sonic Sounds (1956) Impulse

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.


 Don’t you think you are getting a bit carried away with all this space stuff LJC ?

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:

Impulse stereo maximisation

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. .


 The Gatefold:

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

Professor Jazz

Professor Jazz

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.”


John Coltrane

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.



 Collector’s Corner

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.

8 thoughts on “Sun Ra: Super-Sonic Sounds (1956) Impulse

  1. India (track 1) reminds me of When the Music’s Over by The Doors.
    Great album LJC. It’s got that live club sound unless that’s just me and my speakers?

    Still loving this blog and reading all the comments from the regulars.

    Merry Christmas everyone.

  2. Have a thoroughly spaced out Christmas, LJC. And to go alongside your journeys into outer space can I recommend two records (OK, CDs) that will help with that trip into inner space — both just reissued on Hux Records: The Complete CBS Recordings of Howard Riley Trio (comprising Angle and the marvellous The Day Will Come), both recorded on the cusp of the 70s. THE DAY is simply marvellous; the earlier (by about a year and a few months, I think) I am still acclimatising to, having heard it for the first time just a few nights ago.

    Originals of either cost around £70-£100 I guess. Here’s another instance where a well done physical reissue on CD, albeit in tiny quantities by the redoubtable Hux label, comes into its own.

    All aboard for a Christmas of Sun Ra, British and European avant-garde and improv, the renegade piano masters Taylor and Crispell, the unclassifiable Braxton, and anything else that takes your fancy. Seasonal music not accepted! NO singing allowed.

    Oh, and a couple of Music Matters 33s, just to lighten the mood — Cool Strutting and Something Else. I was so impressed with the two MM 33s I have (Page One and Idle Moments) that I couldn’t resist another two.

    Best to all.

    • Christmas morning. The two Music Matters 33s referred to above sound terrific — certainly an improvement on my French reissues. And interesting to note that a NM original of the Sonny Clark just sold on eb*y for just $5.2K. I think the MM venrsion is the best I am ever likely to hear this.

      On now, as lunch cooks, to the Sam Rivers REUNION, New York 2007 with Holland and oneof the greatest and most enjoyable jazz drummers there is, Barry Altschul.

      The two-CD set may lack some of the excitement of the Allier recordings by this trio, but on the other hand, they play more live than they ever recorded, some have to be thankful for what we have. Riversis astonishing form for a man in his mid-80s at the time the recording was made. Superbly recorded too.

      After this? Lunch, with any luck!

  3. Love the new decor in your living room. The turntable and catus plant in particular, they really do look the part. BTW, some of the other Impulse! Ra titles have more interesting artwork than this one.

    • It’s certainly cool Graham, Saturn is -270 degrees Fahrenheit, but I tell you, hoovering is a nightmare: space dust everywhere. And no power supply on Saturn, duh! I’ve had to run an extension cable 746 million miles from home.

      There’s more to Space than meets the eye.

  4. This might be my favourite Sun Ra album – a perfect mixture between tradition & originality.
    I have the Saturn repress but with slightly different sleeve & labels – perfectly happy with the sound quality, anyway it’s hard to imagine that other pressings will sound much better when dealing with this kind of lo-fi production (although i might be surprised…)
    It’s nice that whoever is responsible for the Sun Ra catalog is keeping so many titles available (& for a very reasonable cost) for new audience to discover this fascinating music. So many recordings from that era & genre (spiritual/cosmic jazz) are long gone & only available as scarce originals…

  5. the most peculiar thing in Ra’s career is that he changed his whole, well established, musical world at an age in which most musicians can’t do anything similar.
    remember he was born 1919 and grown up with Big Bands era.
    Ellington, Basie and Henderson were his masters.
    then…an entire new world of music, after Saturn.
    I can’t remember another musician who had such an abrupt steering from his main way.
    even Trane changed little by little, not suddenly.

  6. Most Impulse Sun Ra album will run you between $25-$50 in good condition, which is completely absurd for a neon logo or (god forbid) a green bullsye pressing, in my opinion. But, the quest to own the Impulse catalog being what it is, I’ve had to dive in.

    There are many. I’ve only got a few, mostly because I refuse to bleed out over $30 for one. The price comes from crazy devotees who care more about the quality of their drugs than that of their music. I love Sun Ra, but the thin vinyl and often inferior mastering makes those prices tough to palate (the enitre fantastic Gato Barbieri Impulse 4-album series is usually cheaper than one Ra!). That being said, there are worse ways to spend $30. My allegedly NM promo copy of “Fate in a Pleasant Mood” is in the mail as we speak. Cross your fingers.

    Aside of Coltrane, the heavy hitters like Blues/Abstract, Black Saint, Roy Haynes, and some oddballs like John Lee Hooker, Sun Ra has by far given me the biggest headache in tracking down the original Impulse for reasonable money. He is the last big hurdle before it just becomes a matter of stumbling into the right record store. Can’t count on finding many Ra’s in the new arrivals bins

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