Brother From Another Planet

Sun Ra

In 1958, the jazz pianist known as Sun Ra recorded a remarkable album, Jazz in Silhouette. Borne aloft by splendid dancing melodies and often-startling syncopation, Jazz in Silhouette soared in the manner of Duke Ellington. The compositions were ingeniously conceived suites, where a boppish swing might break into a Cuban cha-cha-cha; or a trumpet’s eerie whisper, into a thunderous row of piano clusters. The best Sun on vinyl, Jazz in Silhouette is also the most obscure. (Click here for a clip from the album.)

That’s because Sun Ra’s reputation was established not by Jazz in Silhouette but by albums like the 1965 Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, whose garrulous improvisations and expressionist timbres–devoid of a tonal center, with much less of a tune to hang on to–made it an exemplary statement of free jazz. From a strictly aesthetic perspective, neither of the two volumes of Heliocentric Worlds holds up well against free-jazz albums from the same year by Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, and Don Cherry. The saxophones cry balefully, the drums rumble ominously, the marimba echoes warmly–yet the combined effect is more curious than moving. read more

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