Pianist, bandleader, arranger and Afro-Futurist Sun Ra was thought to be a decidedly non-mainstream figure in the jazz world as he directed his Arkestra throughout the last half of the 20th Century. This comprehensive collection traces Sun Ra’s work and influence beyond what has been recognized up until this time. Producer Michael D. Anderson, Sun Ra’s archivist, researched and found not only rare recordings of the Arkestra, but also an extensive collection of swing jazz, early rhythm and blues, and doo-wop that Ra arranged and played on in the 1940s and 1950s.
There are recordings of everyone from vocalist Joe Williams to saxophonist Coleman Hawkins to more obscure entries from Alberta Adams and the Serenaders. And the music itself is much more in (rather than out) than is Sun Ra’s reputation. Anderson organizes this set as a documentary, with clarifying narration, interview segments explaining musical genres and concepts with everyone from Aaron Neville to Odetta, and many segments of Sun Ra philosophizing and conceptualizing his music. Sometimes this takes away from hearing the music, as the narration tends to obsess about recording dates and personnel, and the listener must wade through many hours of other songs before getting to hear the Sun Ra Arkestra recordings.
However, this set also functions as a history of African-American music as it makes its path through the mid-20th Century. Through Sun Ra’s work, Anderson traces the development of the music from its earliest forms to what we have come to know now as American popular music. For Sun Ra fanatics and students of African-American music, this is fascinating and essential stuff.