Herman Poole Blount

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shedshrine
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Herman Poole Blount

Post by shedshrine » Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:46 pm

:arrow: aka Sun Ra

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"The greatest of all jazz eccentrics, Sun Ra inspires both fascination and controversy. The bandleader's singular, cosmic vision led him to transcend hardship, derision, and obscurity. An unparalleled performer, he led an expansive yet coherent band of as many as thirty players over four decades, and his vast recorded legacy refutes those who deny his talent.

Primarily known as the creator of the "Arkestra," his polymorphic big band, Ra could also be comfortably described as a composer, performer, poet, philosopher, and visionary.

Born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama on May 22, 1914, he legally changed his name to Sony'r Ra in October of 1952. After this date, when questioned about his early life, he insisted he was a visitor from the planet Saturn, and only gave vague indications of his past experiences."

"Sun Ra may have been the first musician to play electric and electronic keyboards in jazz. Later in his life, he was among the first to use synthesizers, even receiving a Minimoog prototype from inventor Robert Moog. His eclectic arrangements also earned him a reputation as a leading modernist on the postwar Chicago jazz scene."

"As to Ra's musical legacy, he was one of the first jazz leaders to use the electric bass, as well as two basses, and was also one of the first to use extensive percussion and polyrhythms, modal music and group freeform improvisation in a big band setting."



Space Is The Place (Sun Ra Film 1974)

Sun Ra ☥☥ Brother from Another Planet (BBC Documentary)

Sun Ra El Saturn Vinyl Reissues Overview of some of his recent reissue lps (with Rodger Coleman)(Go to the 2:15 minute mark to skip to Ra talk)


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Last edited by shedshrine on Sun Oct 06, 2013 6:13 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Post by dfuruta » Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:56 pm

One of my favorite recording of his is the version of Round Midnight off of The Sun Ra Sextet Live at the Village Vanguard. John Gilmore's playing, in particular, is lovely - Sun Ra's personality and image tended to overshadow the other musicians in his band, but some of them (Gilmore & Marshall Allen, particularly) were as good as anyone else in the genre.

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Post by shedshrine » Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:58 pm

dfuruta wrote: John Gilmore's playing, in particular, is lovely - Sun Ra's personality and image tended to overshadow the other musicians in his band, but some of them (Gilmore & Marshall Allen, particularly) were as good as anyone else in the genre.
Yeah! Gilmore was even approached by Coltrane for lessons.

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Post by ubertar » Sat Oct 05, 2013 3:24 pm

I met him in '91, a couple years before he died. On Halloween. He was playing a show at my college. It was after the show, in the green room. He was talking to the jazz director of the college radio station about the intergalactic government, which had its base on Mars. He brought out all these papers about it that he said were from Pakistan. At this time he was in a wheelchair, and wore dark glasses-- I don't know if he was seeing-impaired or not. He told a story that was identical to a Sufi story I had read, except in place of "visitors from across the ocean" were "visitors from space". I hadn't said anything up until this point. I shyly asked, "Um, Mr. Ra... is that kind of like the Sufis"? He shouted, "NO! It's nothing like any kind of religion"! and continued on in a rant about how this was unique and had nothing to do with anything else. Ok.

I also had a long conversation about music and music theory with Marshall Allen, the sax player, which was very interesting. He has a huge presence.

Years later, I got to study briefly with Julian Priester, who was in Sun Ra's band in the early days.

I like Sun Ra's music a lot, but I think a lot of his popularity has as much to do with the Egyptian-Space-travel schtick as the music. There are other folks from the same time period whose work is as interesting musically but aren't as "hip" to be into.
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Post by shedshrine » Sat Oct 05, 2013 5:34 pm

ubertar wrote: I also had a long conversation about music and music theory with Marshall Allen, the sax player, which was very interesting. He has a huge presence.

Years later, I got to study briefly with Julian Priester, who was in Sun Ra's band in the early days.

I like Sun Ra's music a lot, but I think a lot of his popularity has as much to do with the Egyptian-Space-travel schtick as the music. There are other folks from the same time period whose work is as interesting musically but aren't as "hip" to be into.
Great story ubertar, thanks.
Would love to hear anything more you'd have to say about your experience with Allen and Priester, as well as who specifically of the "others from the same time period whose work was musically interesting" you're referring to when you have time.

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Post by percussion boy » Sun Oct 06, 2013 5:47 am

ubertar wrote:I like Sun Ra's music a lot, but I think a lot of his popularity has as much to do with the Egyptian-Space-travel schtick as the music. There are other folks from the same time period whose work is as interesting musically but aren't as "hip" to be into.
Yep.

What muddies the water further is the, um, galactically large spread in quality between a good Sun Ra album and a bad one. Ra, Gilmore, and some of the other players in that circle were really good musicians, but not all of the guys he got to fill out the band always were, and it sounds like some of the charts, for whatever reason, were more fully realized than others.

Personally, I think Sun Ra on a good day (e.g., some of the stuff on LIVE AT MONTREUX) totally belongs in the ring with Messiaen, Boulez, or whoever else you want to submit for the Bigass 20th Century Composer Award.

btw, when I saw him in New Haven around '88, he appeared to do the entire gig wearing a lampshade on his head.
"The world don't need no more songs." - Bob Dylan

"Why does the Creator send me such knuckleheads?" - Sun Ra
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Post by ubertar » Sun Oct 06, 2013 8:42 am

shedshrine wrote:Would love to hear anything more you'd have to say about your experience with Allen and Priester, as well as who specifically of the "others from the same time period whose work was musically interesting" you're referring to when you have time.
'91 was a long time ago... I was a college kid... I was asking him (Allen) about the scales he was using and the theory behind what he was doing. I don't remember the details, but the essence of his answer was that you study your ass off, and when you get to certain point, you've internalized things enough that you don't have to think in those terms anymore, and just play.

I took a free-jazz class with Priester, sort of, when I was at Cornish for a year, before heading back east for an MFA in music at Bard. I say sort of because pretty early into the class he started having health problems, and had to stop teaching and get a liver transplant. The guy that replaced him wasn't nearly as good, and the jazz department there was really uptight and straight, and the students seemed like they'd never heard an Ornette Coleman record, let alone Sun Ra, especially his further out stuff. My main instrument at the time was the ubertar (8 strings, fretless, electric, played with a cello bow). I was way too weird for Cornish, and not nearly weird enough for Bard... but that's another story.

Other great stuff from around that time (Sun Ra was around for a long time, but I'll focus on the 60s through early 70s peak) off the top of my head: Albert Ayler, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Archie Shepp... each doing their own, distinct thing.
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Post by ubertar » Sun Oct 06, 2013 8:48 am

percussion boy wrote:large spread in quality between a good Sun Ra album and a bad one
I have to agree. Oddly, some of the more popular records of his are among the weaker ones, IMO.
get a hammered sound from guitar or bass! http://www.stringhammer.com
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Album!
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Post by shedshrine » Sun Oct 06, 2013 10:42 am

percussion boy wrote:
ubertar wrote: Personally, I think Sun Ra on a good day (e.g., some of the stuff on LIVE AT MONTREUX) totally belongs in the ring with Messiaen, Boulez, or whoever else you want to submit for the Bigass 20th Century Composer Award.
Love threads like these, thanks guys for the fantastic musical knowledge boost with a bread crumb trail. (and I finally know what an ubertar is.)

Looked up Messiaen. Didn't see things as "tonal", "modal" and "serial", but experienced them as colors. Guy writes "Quartet for the End of Time" on a single sheet of paper while in WWII prison camp. Transcribed birdsong into his works. Taught Stockhausen and Boulez. Utilized ancient Greek, Hindu, Balinese, Javanese, Japanese rhythms. etc..etc. Great!
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ubertar wrote:
percussion boy wrote:large spread in quality between a good Sun Ra album and a bad one
I have to agree. Oddly, some of the more popular records of his are among the weaker ones, IMO.
Anyone care to break these down a bit? Your favorites and not so much so ones as well.

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Post by Gregg Juke » Sun Oct 06, 2013 12:13 pm

Hey All,

Interesting thread. Ub, I'm with you almost all the way re: your free/avant garde/new thing jazz players. Never got into Sun Ra much, and I just can't get with the "genius" of Cecil Taylor.

I suppose by extention you could add Eric Dolphy, Ronald Shannon Jackson, and James Blood Ulmer's "out" stuff... Archie Shepp has something unique, that's for sure. John Handy, anyone??

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Post by percussion boy » Sun Oct 06, 2013 5:33 pm

shedshrine wrote:Anyone care to break these down a bit? Your favorites and not so much so ones as well.
LIVE AT MONTREUX has this amazing run of tunes on it, from the beginning of the album through "LIghts on a Satelllite" (really beautiful version with Gilmore and a flute section playing this tight cluster of notes). This is what I'd give someone who'd never heard Sun Ra, it's great music by any standard and not hard to find. Amazon will sell you the mp3s for $9, the used vinyl's out there too.

Couple obscure things to check out:

* Volume 3 of Transparency's Sun Ra video series has a nice excerpt from a solo piano concert in Venice. (If you already love Sun Ra and don't pay or expect too much, the Transparency stuff in general is worth looking into; Definitely has that "3rd generation vcr copy of a tv show" look. it's as if the Saturnians filmed his performances from satellites over the years, then passed the videocassettes around to their buddies.)

* There's a small-label album, vinyl-only?, called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SUN, that I always liked. Has a suave version of "Space is the Place" with a James Brownish beat, and the band generally sounds good. Same album has an unfreakish but nice take of the old standard "Sunny Side of the Street," which is a nice pun and typical of how Ra naturally mixed musical generations.

* In the '50s, Sun Ra did some real tight stuff in Chicago, issued on vinyl albums like JAZZ BY SUN RA and SUN SONG. Lately this stuff has been repackaged in different affordable packages on CD, for example as one of those budget multi-album packages of jazz artists that REAL GONE in Europe puts out. Stuff like "Brainville" and "Calling All Demons." Experimental but less sloppy and wild than later stuff -- Sonny plays a mean electric piano, and there's also great use of tympani in a big band setting. [Edit - looks like the Original Poster has EL IS THE SOUND OF JOY, that's part of the same series of recordings.]

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Obviously there's more. With Sun Ra there's always more.

The Saturn stuff (which includes all the Evidence and Blue Thumb albums, afaik) is, imo, sometimes thrilling and sometimes random, and I can't even figure out for myself which is which. Anyone who likes Sun Ra at all should get some of the usual suspects (MAGIC KINGDOM, ATLANTIS, etc.) and just wallow around in them. Which it looks like the OP has, judging by the pictures.

Hope this helps.

PS - People who like adventurous instrumental music could also look into some of the MBASE movement's stuff from the late '80s: I recommend Gary Thomas's CODE VIOLATIONS and Greg Osby's SEASON OF RENEWAL very highly. Real nice use of electric instruments, fancy jazz scales, moody astringent chords, and saxophones.
"The world don't need no more songs." - Bob Dylan

"Why does the Creator send me such knuckleheads?" - Sun Ra
.
.
.
.

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Post by shedshrine » Sun Oct 06, 2013 6:06 pm

percussion boy wrote:
The Saturn stuff (which includes all the Evidence and Blue Thumb albums, afaik) is, imo, sometimes thrilling and sometimes random, and I can't even figure out for myself which is which. Anyone who likes Sun Ra at all should get some of the usual suspects (MAGIC KINGDOM, ATLANTIS, etc.) and just wallow around in them. Which it looks like the OP has, judging by the pictures.

Hope this helps.
Yeah, I just decided to jump headlong into the Sun Ra sea and see what happened. So much variation is exactly why I'm enjoying the adventure. I knew there would be some great insights from people on this board. What I'm looking for at the moment (not just in Sun Ra) is any great stuff at the crossroads of classical, avante garde and jazz. It's a very interesting location! I never got very far with music theory, but I enjoy what i enjoy. Lately Bartok, Dolphy and right now some Andrew Hill (and of course I'm still wading through all that Ra.) Thanks to everyone contributing.

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Post by Gregg Juke » Sun Oct 06, 2013 8:31 pm

Hey Shred,

If you are looking for music that lies at that particular intersection, you may be interested in a few duet records. One the name of which I've forgotten, but features Max Roach and Connie Crothers. Similarly, Bill Bruford and Patrick Moraz have two albums out, the first one called "Music for Piano and Drums." The second one was called "Flags." If you're ok with the jazz and classical parts without as much avant garde, you might want to hear some of the things that flautist Jean Pierre (?) Rampal has done. Also, just go through a lot of the ECM catalogue; names like Terje Rypdal may interest you.

Nobody has mentioned the Art Ensemble of Chicago?

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Post by dfuruta » Sun Oct 06, 2013 9:11 pm

I played Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time in my previous life as a classical cellist. Lovely piece with some very unusual things going on compositionally. Movement vii was my favorite.

As far as not getting Cecil Taylor, it might be worth listening to some of his early releases. For me, it was The World of Cecil Taylor that made it all click - now, when I listen to his later music, I still hear its roots in the blues.

Free jazz is a huge world. Personal favorites besides those mentioned include Derek Bailey, Masayuki Takayanagi, and Minneapolis's improvisational monster Milo Fine.

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Post by percussion boy » Sun Oct 06, 2013 11:15 pm

shedshrine wrote:What I'm looking for at the moment (not just in Sun Ra) is any great stuff at the crossroads of classical, avante garde and jazz. It's a very interesting location! I never got very far with music theory, but I enjoy what i enjoy. Lately Bartok, Dolphy and right now some Andrew Hill (and of course I'm still wading through all that Ra.) Thanks to everyone contributing.
Okay, then.

Leroy Jenkins, SPACE MINDS, NEW WORLDS, SURVIVAL OF AMERICA (that's all one album title!)

Marion Brown, AFTERNOON OF A GEORGIA FAUN.

Art Ensemble of Chicago, PEOPLE IN SORROW.

Aphex Twin's Remote Orchestra piece is around on Youtube these days, about 15 minutes, see what you think. Kind of Penderecki-like ("Threnody for Victims of Hiroshima," well-known intense screechy classical piece)

[EDIT-- It's cool to hear Stravinsky's RITE OF SPRING in the piano-only version, four hands -- still jazzy and avant garde to this day. There's a good performance here.

Anything by Charles Mingus -- particularly MINGUS AH UM and MINGUS DYNASTY (Sony); BLACK SAINT AND THE SINNER LADY (Impulse); and COMPLETE ATLANTIC RECORDINGS.( I haven't heard all the posthumously-released '60s live recordings with Dolphy, but how bad can they be?). If you go Mingus-crazy, the later Atlantic stuff (which is not in the box set) is worth trying - CHANGES ONE, CHANGES TWO, ME MYSELF AN EYE, in particular (imo).

There, that should keep you off the street. Have fun!
"The world don't need no more songs." - Bob Dylan

"Why does the Creator send me such knuckleheads?" - Sun Ra
.
.
.
.

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