Here comes the Sun

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

In the eyes of many jazz crit­ics and jazz fans, there is “se­ri­ous” mu­sic (jazz) and there is low­brow un­washed pop mu­sic, which is to be dis­dained or per­haps tol­er­ated in a con­de­scend­ing way.

Of course, a lot of ac­tual jazz mu­si­cians don’t quite feel that way. Miles Davis dug Hen­drix and Sly. Sonny Rollins recorded with The Rolling Stones. Even back in the early days, Louis Arm­strong recorded with coun­try-mu­sic pi­o­neer Jim­mie Rodgers. And Her­man Poole “Sonny” Blount, bet­ter known in this so­lar sys­tem as Sun Ra (1914-1993), not only played cos­mic jazz but also dab­bled in doo-wop and R & B in the 1950s and a lit­tle funky soul in the ’ 60s and ’ 70s. And dan­ged if Ra didn’t make that sound cos­mic too!

Nor­ton Records re­cently re­leased three CDs of his ma­te­rial. In­ter­plan­e­tary Melodies and The Sec­ond Stop Is Jupiter fea­ture record­ings from the mid1950s, while Rocket Ship Rock spans the late ’ 50s through early ’ 70s. Some of th­ese songs ap­peared, mostly in dif­fer­ent ver­sions, on ear­lier Sun Ra com­pi­la­tions like The Sin­gles (1996) and Space­ship Lul­laby (2003).

Ra’s re­la­tion­ship with R & B goes back to the late 1940s. His first record­ings were with R & B wild man Wynonie Har­ris. Back in 1954, Ra, then liv­ing in Chicago, be­came fas­ci­nated with R & B vo­cal groups. Ac­cord­ing to John F. Szwed’s 1998 bi­og­ra­phy Space Is the Place: The Loves and Times of Sun Ra, Ra grew up in Birm­ing­ham, Alabama, lis­ten­ing to gospel quar­tets, so writ­ing mu­sic for doo-wop groups came nat­u­rally to him.

Among those who ap­pear on In­ter­plan­e­tary and Jupiter are The Qual­i­ties, The Crys­tals (not the girl group Phil Spec­tor made fa­mous), and, most ap­pro­pri­ately for Sun Ra, The Cos­mic Rays. But The Cos­mic Rays weren’t as oth­er­worldly as The Nu Sounds, who per­formed on songs like “Space­ship Lul­laby” and the drum-heavy “Africa.”

One of the truest de­lights on the first two al­bums is Juanita Rogers, who sang a cou­ple of heart­break­ers called “Teenager’s Let­ter of Prom­ises” and “I’m So Glad You Love Me.” In­ter­plan­e­tary has lit­tle Juanita singing the first song a cap­pella (un­der the ti­tle “Love Let­ters Full of Prom­ises”). This is im­me­di­ately fol­lowed by the full-blown ver­sion fea­tur­ing a spo­ken in­tro­duc­tion— with heavy re­verb— by a guy named Lynn Hollings, say­ing, “Yes, teenagers do some­times keep their prom­ises. Meet Lit­tle Juanita, a teenager with the soul of an an­gel and the re­cip­i­ent of a love let­ter full of prom­ises.”

My fa­vorite of th­ese three al­bums is Rocket Ship Rock, sim­ply be­cause the mu­sic is at least a cou­ple of notches cra­zier than it is on the other al­bums. Credit this to a singer called Yochanan, an R & B shouter who made Lit­tle Richard sound like a cer­ti­fied

pub­lic ac­coun­tant by com­par­i­son. Ac­cord­ing to Szwed’s book, by the mid-1950s, Ra had a way of at­tract­ing top-notch mu­si­cians, as well as some out­right weirdos: “The band was also a mag­net for the strange, draw­ing all sorts of peo­ple off the streets for re­hearsals and per­for­mances. One of the most bizarre of those who turned up was Yochanan ... [who] had many stage names, in­clud­ing the Man from Outer Space, the Man from Mars, and the Muck Muck Man, and de­clared him­self a de­scen­dant of the Sun. Dressed in tur­ban, san­dals, and red, or­ange, and yel­low ‘ Asi­atic’ robes, he was al­ways quick to hold forth to any­one on his pri­vate phi­los­o­phy. And when he per­formed, he was un­pre­dictable and crude, of­ten work­ing bawdy ma­te­rial into the last song he sang at club ap­pear­ances.” In other words, my kind of en­ter­tainer. The Man from Mars is fea­tured on the first nine tracks of Rocket Ship Rock. His shin­ing mo­ment is the down-and-gritty “Hot Skil­let Mama.” There are two ver­sions on the CD, one of which was the flip side of the sin­gle “Muck Muck,” which also ap­pears in two ver­sions here. But even nut­tier than Yochanan’s con­tri­bu­tions is the song “I Am Gonna Un­mask the Bat­man.” There are two ver­sions. A short one (un­der four min­utes) is sung by Chicago blues gui­tarist Lacy Gib­son, who at the time was Ra’s brother-in-law. A horn riff sug­gests the “Bat­man Theme” from the AdamWest tele­vi­sion show. This is an ex­tended ver­sion of a sin­gle re­leased by Ra in 1974. And then there’s a sprawl­ing seven-minute lo-fi ver­sion that sounds like a re­hearsal.

This wasn’t Sun Ra’s first en­counter with the caped cru­sader. In 1966, he played or­gan on what Szwed called a “chil­dren’s al­bum” — but I call a “cash-in” record — ti­tled Bat­man & Robin, re­leased dur­ing the height of pop­u­lar­ity for the TV se­ries. It’s jazzy, kinda cheesy, mostly in­stru­men­tal rock— with song ti­tles re­fer­ring to the Dy­namic Duo and the vil­lains they fought. The band was called The Sen­sa­tional Gui­tars of Dan & Dale, and mu­si­cians in­clude Al Kooper and mem­bers of The Blues Project. It’s ac­tu­ally avail­able — in glo­ri­ous mono!— for down­load on Ama­zon and iTunes.

Th­ese Nor­ton CDs show that while Sun Ra had his head in the cos­mos, his feet were firmly planted in the soil and grit of this crazy planet. Check out nor­ton­records.com.

Ter­rell on the ra­dio: Hear selections from th­ese new Sun Ra col­lec­tions— plus a lit­tle taste of that crazy Bat­man record— on Ter­rell’s Sound World, free-form weirdo ra­dio, 10 p.m. Sun­day. And don’t for­get The Santa Fe Opry, the coun­try mu­sic Nashville does not want you to hear, same time on Fri­day, both on KSFR-FM 101.1.

Got blogs if you want ’em: You can find my “Ter­rell’s Tune-Up” archives, my ra­dio playlists, videos, mu­sic sam­ples, and rants about the mu­sic in­dus­try at stevet­er­rell.blogspot.com. And for those in­ter­ested in the strange world of New Mex­ico pol­i­tics, check out my po­lit­i­cal blog at round­house­roundup.com.

Wel­come to my mind: What do garage rock and jug-band mu­sic have in com­mon? Find out on the lat­est episode of The Big En­chi­lada pod­cast, bi­gen­chi­ladapod­cast.com. Hear my fa­vorite mu­sic on your iPod or com­puter. ◀

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.