Sun Ra - Live at Mohren
Issued as a beautifully produced double LP, and unquestionably one of the most striking archival releases to have emerged in years from this band or any other, across its sides Sun Ra and His Arkestra cover a remarkable amount of ground - spanning pulsing group chants, hard blown free jazz fire, and driving spiritual jazz - as they chart a path through brilliant renditions of some of their most famous tunes - “Discipline 27-II”, “Children of the Sun”, “Nuclear War”, “Space is the Place”, “We Travel the Spaceways”, and “Carefree (Egyptian Fantasy)” - and three brand new pieces, revealing that even in their final decades they remained a force to be reconned with and one of the greatest bands on the scene.
Within the history of jazz, few names loom larger than that of Sun Ra. A visionary titan whose work traversed nearly half of the 20th Century, continuously pushing the idiom at every turn, fueled by his legendary Arkestra he was one of the great originators of Afro-futurism, spiritual jazz, and big band free jazz. While a great many of Ra's peers can be regarded as having been incredibly prolific, few have a discography as large, dense, and varied as his. Roughly 100 full lengths bear his name, beginning with 1957's “Jazz By Sun Ra Vol. 1”, and stretching well beyond his death in 1993. Remarkably, rare and previously unheard recordings continue to emerge and amaze into the present day. One such case is “Live at Mohren, March 25th 1984”, the latest from De Occulta Records and the first entry in their Willisau Jazz Series, a new collection of vinyl releases featuring previously unheard live recordings drawn from the Willisau Jazz Archives. Issued as a beautifully produced double LP, housed in a gatefold sleeve with multiple inserts and rare photos, this musical marvel captures Sun Ra and his Arkestra in the midst of their most spirited sonic adventures of the era, seamlessly covering, as they go, a remarkable amount of creative territory - chanting bliss, spiritual highs, and hard blown fire - in what is unquestionably the most remarkable live documents of this band to have emerged in years.
Born Herman Poole Blount in Alabama during 1914, Sun Ra first emerged on the Chicago jazz scene during the late 1940s. One of the great avant-garde composers of his generation - leading the way on piano, organ, and (eventually) synthesizer - beginning in the mid-1950s and lasting until his death in 1993, he led The Arkestra, a band through which a near countless number of important artists passed and collaborated with, and many remained for the duration of their careers, notably Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, Pat Patrick and June Tyson. Known for their wild costumes and theatrics, Ra's eccentric image and claims that he was from Saturn was deeply political, imagining an alternate social order, history, and future for African Americans that rests as a pioneering force in the Afro-Futurist movement.
While Sun Ra and his Arkestra can best be located within the broader movements of avant-garde jazz of the 1950s, '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s - particularly as innovators of free and spiritual jazz in their evolving forms - the composer was notoriously hard to pin down on creative terms. It was as though he ingested and incorporated the entire history of African American music - the blues, R&B, soul, gospel, ragtime, hot jazz, swing, bebop, free jazz, fusion, etc. - into his work, without any division, hierarchy, or what might bubble to the surface and when. It is exactly this dynamic range that presents itself across the incredible creative journey of De Occulta Records' “Live at Mohren, March 25th 1984”.
During the summer of 2009, at the Willisau Jazz Festival - one of the premier Swiss jazz festivals that had been founded in 1975 - its organizer, Niklaus Troxler, mentioned to the jazz journalist Tom Gsteiger that he had numerous live concert recordings in storage at home. Immediately clear to Gsteiger that these recordings were likely of huge historical and creative significance, a process was begun to house what turned out to be 720 hours of recordings, made between 1968 and 1998, at the Hochschule Luzern for archiving and preservation. Among this treasure trove, from which De Occulta's Willisau Jazz Series will continue to draw, was the previously-unheard live recording of Sun Ra and his Arkestra from 1984 that marks its inauguration.
Sprawling to 75-minutes of glorious music, spread across four vinyl sides, “Live at Mohren, March 25th 1984” encounters Sun Ra and his Arkestra at their absolute best. Unlike many other bands encountered during the 1980s - a notoriously low period in the history of avant-garde jazz that witnessed many artists raining in the fire and embracing a form of classicism - here we encounter Ra and his roving band digging deep and pushing hard, proving that his singular form of sonic radicalism was alive and well. Ranging from pulsing group chants, hard blown, far out playing, and driving spiritual jazz infused moments, not only do they chart a path through brilliant renditions of some of their most famous tunes, but they embark upon the rendering of three brand new pieces, never before heard and rarely encountered since or anywhere else.
Infused with passion and forward-thinking creativity, across the length of “Live at Mohren, March 25th 1984” we encounter the beginnings of Sun Ra's final decade on Earth and the truth that he never gave up the drive toward the outer realms. Truly incredible and an engrossing listen that brings you back again and again for more, once heard it's hard to believe this remarkable recording remained in the shadows for as long as it did. We can't wait to hear what De Occulta's Willisau Jazz Series digs up next.
Issued in a beautifully produced double LP, housed in a gatefold sleeve with multiple inserts and rare photos, this is an absolute must for any fan of Sun Ra, the Arkestra, and free and spiritual jazz at large.