The citizens of Saturn wish you all a merry Christmas and a very spacious New Year. They are despatching a small seasonal gift as a gesture of thanks for fifty years of Earth hospitality. United Saturn Postal Service will be delivering this by interplanetary freight. It may take several centuries to reach you; please ensure someone is available to sign for.
In the mean time, Saturn is downloading to Earth three tracks from Sun Ra’s first long playing recording from 1956, Jazz/ Sun Song, via their Saturn Embassy representative and space travel visa section, Londonjazzcollector.
A lush classic Sun Ra tune teetering on the divide between the past and present, with hardly a nod to the future. In a jazz-spa this is one to soak in. Without a care in the world, forget your worries and float weightless in space.
Selection 2: Transition
Now we are beginning to feel the changes. Great solos from the boys in the Arkestra, transitional.
Selection 3: The Future
Sun Ra shows he can do the classical piano genre, melting into hard bop with a forward-sounding twist. Space-tastic.
Sun Ra (piano) Pat Patrick (baritone saxophone) Richard Evans (bass) Robert Barry (drums) Wilburn Green (electric guitar) John Gilmore (tenor saxophone) Julian Priester (trombone) James Scales (alto saxophone) Arthur Hoyle, David Young (trumpet) Jim Hearndon (timpani) Recorded July 12, 1956 at Universal Studios, Chicago Il.
This is one of the handful of classic early Sun Ra “mainstream” jazz albums. Not quite up there with Jazz in Silhouette, but close enough to make it a Sun Ra essential second port of call.
It is very much in the big band Ellington mould. I have never been keen on what I think of as “old school” big band jazz, my loss, but once again I find myself learning by looking through the wrong end of the telescope, starting from the future and looking back into the past. LJC reader Joe L described the early years of Sun Ra as Ellingtonia from Outer Space. Those quirky years from 1956-60 are a palatable introduction for me to The Duke. This is an interesting time and place to be, on the cusp of change.
Though increasingly big-band tolerant, I doubt that I will warm to tracks here featuring a new-fangled instrument, the Wurlitzer electric piano. It sounds as cheesy as the soundtrack to a science fiction B-movie, flying saucer wobbling on strings, more Telstar than Jimmy Smith, and played as if a new toy rather than an expressive musical instrument.
Lurking in the brass section, Pat Patrick, John Gilmore and Julian Priester turn out lovely straight bop solo’s, without a hint of weirdness, and are eagerly anticipated in the progress of each song. All these early Sun Ra albums are acceptable-sounding reissue vinyl, and this from someone who is an Audiophile Fundementalist.
Vinyl: “Delmark DS 411” clone.
It’s a modern reissue – of course – factory job codes and a cheeky engineers squiggle in the run-out. But for all that it probably sounds no better or worse than the original – if you could find and afford one.
Rather than a live college campus gig or recorded rehearsal session like some Sun Ra albums, Jazz/ Sun Song is a solid studio recording. It has a good basic sound engineering, with quality that has been reasonably well retained in the reissue process. It is not intentionally lo-fi, not to say that it could not have been better.
Once again we find the reissuer’s source undeclared, but note the Delmark facsimile label from the late ’60s US reissue and not the true original Transition label. It is a copy of a copy, but sounds quite acceptable. Despite being declared “Stereo” (and some collectors decry the Delmark as electronically reprocessed for Stereo), the channels look identical in Audacity and it sounds entirely mono to me. I think it is a special type of stereo – bogus stereo, a special process in which the word “stereo” is printed on the label and cover, but no-one actually could be bothered to reprocess it for stereo.
Here is how it started life Transition TRLP 10 – over $1500 on Popsike. Desirable!
Then the Chicago label Delmark reissued it in the late ’60s.- it is argued in fake stereo, or mono, and retitled it Sun Song. Not so desirable, this one has rarely ran to over $50. My modern clone set me back only a tenner. It has no historical value, merely for playing. The likely manufacturer of these clones may well be, I suspect as with the Russian DOL, the giant Czech vinyl manufacturer GZ Media, They claim to be the largest manufacturer of vinyl records in the world, boasting a production level of a staggering 10 million records a year, with a unit cost as low as 2 euros per LP – a fraction of the final selling price. Direct Metal Mastering technology, knowledge and experience in vinyl manufacture, even make their own vinyl. If anyone can turn out decent copies for small change it is these people. Barcode on the back cover, giving it away as a facsimile of the Delmark design Collectors Corner
I’m approaching Peak Sun Ra in terms of listening, but I can see the fascination among hardened collectors. The most valuable Sun Ra record, according to Popsike, is the Saturn doo wop 45 single., followed closely by something I think more deserving of their price tag, a Pat Patrick private LP, then Saturn editions of Supersonic Jazz. The Transition first edition of Jazz/ Sun Song just squeezes into the top ten most expensive Sun Ra auctions. With no audiophile dimension, the only reason for skin in this game is lust for ownership of a rare artefact. Perfectly reasonable, and understandable motive, I’m good with that. And it is fitting that, as the year draws to a close, LJC should come up with a copy of a reissue of an original record. You can’t sink too low in search of good music.
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To all my long-suffering readers, a Happy Christmas and a Jazzy New year, from The Londonjazzcollector.
Jazz washes off the dust of everyday life
Jazz on vinyl washes still better
SUN RA UPDATE
Postscript: Delmark were as of the 2008 catalogue still selling vinyl records including DS 411 Sun Ra “Sun Song”, and interestingly, DS 414 Sound of Joy, at $11.99
So its entirely possible this is an “official” repress, though found among thirty or so other Sun Ra titles on a variety of supposed labels, on the shelf at Honest Johns, Ladbroke Grove, all similarly modern mint and shrink-wrapped.