Saturday, April 3, 2010
Sun RA (Feat. John Gilmore) - Jazz In Silhouette 1958
This is one of the best jazz albums from the 1950s. More like swing and bop than the free style Ra became noted for later on. The tune Images is a standout, being something like Monk's Off Minor. This is music for a future that has yet to arrive. Ancient Aethiopia will take you all the way there in time and place. Arguably, this is Sun Ra's best album ever!
Throughout their mid-to-late-'50s stay in Chicago, Sun Ra (piano) and his Arkestra established themselves as formidable purveyors of a new strain or sub-genre of jazz. Having evolved from elaborate reworkings of familiar standards, Jazz in Silhouette (1959) presents a collection of originals, building upon Ra's abilities as a consummate multi-tasker -- writing, arranging, scoring parts for his band, in addition to performing. He stretches the boundaries of the music to suit the Arkestra, simultaneously progressing his distinct sound. Seminal readings of the quick and complex "Saturn" and "Velvet" are offered with unmatchable dexterity and precision. The latter title comes off like a confused version of "Jeepers Creepers" as Hobart Dotson (trumpet) prominently displays his unquestionable tonality. "Ancient Aiethopia" is one of the more involved works, both in terms of length -- running over nine minutes -- and the Arkestra's capacity for Ra's compositions. "Blues at Midnight" is another expansive (nearly 12 minutes) outing that, by contrast, is for the soloists rather than full ensemble. John Gilmore (tenor sax), Ronnie Boykins (bass), Pat Patrick (baritone sax), and Marshall Allen (alto sax) all shine behind William Cochran's (drums) solid contributions. Equally significant is the running dialogue Ra maintains during other musicians' leads, directing the ebb and flow with an uncanny fusion of melody and rhythm. Undoubtedly, this is a factor in the freshness the material retains. It is also a prime example of Ra and company in a transitional phase, prior to their full-fledged explorations into the avant-garde.
By Lindsay Planer, All Music Guide.
In the jazz universe, Sun Ra typically travels in an unknown, distant galaxy of his own. He is on the map, but understood and given his proper significance by only a loyal few. Most know his esoteric philosophising, lavish stage shows, and outward-bound music, but those features only scratch the surface of Ra’s music. Recorded in 1958, Jazz in Silhouette stands as an overlooked masterpiece, a work that shows Ra not as a mere curiosity or backwater galaxy, but as a major creative force in the jazz universe, a center of gravity around which many of jazz’s major developments have orbited.
This album simply inspires, no matter what perspective you adopt: rhythm, melody, ensemble or mood. You can listen to John Gilmore sculpt his solo on “Saturn” with sensitivity and flair, or Hobart Dotson extemporize with grace and wit on the two-beat gospel number “Hours After”.
Or you could listen to how Ra integrates all of his marvelous sidemen with the intent of creating a bold yet highly disciplined group sound. Ra ingeniously weaves together the nostalgic, almost sentimental themes and counter-themes that make up Hobart Dotson’s “Enlightenment”, and in doing so he transforms the material from the everyday to something transcendent. On “Saturn” he subtly blends the abstract melody and rapid propulsion of bebop with more conventional big band themes without sacrificing the essential character of either. The tune swings hard and the soloists still create challenging lines.
Ra and the Arkestra continually invent intriguing rhythmic ideas, like on the burning “Velvet”. The rhythm section plays in a brisk 4/4 while the rest of the ensemble deftly navigates an arrangement that seems intent on creating confusion with irregular accents and off-balance phrases. But the Arkestra plays so precisely that they create weightlessness instead, and one cannot help but be uplifted by their force.
Continuing the inventive rhythmic interplay is the dark “Ancient Aiethopia”. However, unlike the other compositions, it lacks any harmonic progression, and Ra foregrounds the varied percussion that the Arkestra was starting to utilize at this time. Most importantly, it points towards the direction the Arkestra would head in the next decade. Namely, the Arkestra begins to blur the distinction between rhythm and melody, thereby creating more freedom in the ways that both could develop. Ra himself has stated that the two are inseparable. Here, Boykins' bass, the floor toms and Ra’s left hand set up an interlocking pulse. Ominous brass figures and a percussive flute solo follow, then Dotson builds a penetrating solo on the prevailing mood of mystery and distance. Ra most distinctively blurs the rhythm/melody line in an interlude that grows out Dotson’s melodic ideas, yet still forcefully follows the pulse pattern already established.
Jazz in Silhouette shows Ra doing what he did like few others: looking at the past, present and future simultaneously while maintaining a unified musical direction. Ra’s Arkestra swings intricate big band charts worthy of Ellington, never forgetting their blues roots. They precisely play angular bop melodies in an orchestra setting. They explore the wide-open modal frontier that was opening up and also foreshadow the prominent role percussion would play in the coming years. Combine these elements with bold solos that gleam with warmth and precision, splashes of Afro-Cuban rhythms and Ra’s imaginative writing- what results is a captivating set of music that not only firmly establishes Ra in the jazz tradition, but actually puts him on its leading edge, pointing the direction forward.
By Matthew Wuethrich.
Sun Ra- Piano;
John Gilmore- Tenor Sax;
Marshall Allen- alto Sax, Flute;
Pat Patrick- baritone Sax, Flute;
Hobart Dotson- Trumpet;
Julian Priester- Trombone;
Charles Davis- Baritone Sax;
James Spaulding- Alto Sax, Flute;
Ronnie Boykins- Bass;
William Cochran- Drums.
04.Ancient Aiethopia 9:04
05.Hours After 3:41
08.Blues at Midnight 11:56