LATE 1974 PERFORMANCES BY HIS INTERGALACTIC MYTH-SCIENCE ARKESTRA
Sun Ra / piano, farfisa organ, moog synthesiser; John Gilmore / drums, tenor saxophone; Marshall Allen / alto saxophone; Danny Davis / alto saxophone; Danny Thompson / baritone saxophone; Kwami Hadi / trumpet; Ahk Tal Ebah / trumpet, baritone horn; Eloe Omoe / bass clarinet; June Tyson / dance and vocals; Additional dancers and instrumentalists; Light show coordinator.
“The Myth Science Arkestra was initiated to revive the whole spectrum of sounds, recreating the total Energy needed to restore the power of the ORIGIN/al symbol – THE ANKHNATION.
“These ‘anthems’ serve as mental therapy to negate time, and speed the mind toward recognizing the systems involved/used in the transfer from symbol to word: words having been twisted/lost their meaning and value. To get the mind away from the world-word-traps of Freedom, Love, Peace, and instead direct it into the depth/space of these sounds to investigate, search, and within them find meaning/being.”
Tom Fiofori, Notes to Strange Strings
Sun Ra and Arkestra were in and about the Bay Area for over a month, opening at Keystone Korner (October 30), moving to another San Francisco club, the Off Plaza (mid-November), and finally playing a couple of weekends at the One World Family Center in Berkeley. But, as fate would have it, this was not the kind of event it might have been expected to be. Sun Ra and the band had their better moments, but these were consistently offset by the interjection of Ra’s space platitudes and/or musical fluff. For the longtime listener, these performances were only of marginal musical interest; there were only glimpses of anything that could be considered as profound as any of Ra’s great work – Magic City, Other Planes Of There, Strange Strings, Heliocentric Worlds (I & II) – or the later concert records Nothing Is, Pictures of Infinity.
Ironically, the most interesting music was often played minus Ra in the thirty minutes or so prior to his grand entrance in full space regalia. For some reason, the Arkestra seemed consistently more alive during this period, more fully aware of and responsive to each other’s contributions and to the overall shape of the music. At the very least, there was an element of dramatic tension, and it tended to be sustained.
But Ra’s presence seemed to change matters. Caught up in his royal posturing, he would usually begin a somewhat lengthy monologue (each phrase being carefully repeated by another member of the Arkestra) that, though at times interesting (in a ritualistic sense) or humorous, would more often than not tend to upset the music’s continuity. Following which, short segments of musical significance – such as, on one night, a very forward-looking Moog solo by Ra – would be sandwiched between a series of quite dated sounding tunes and arrangements (some recognizable as Ra compositions of the late ’50s) or, what was considerably worse, totally inane songs such as “Space Is The Place,” “What do you do when you know that you know that you know that you’re wrong?” etc.
Moreover, Sun Ra seemed to make poor use of the instrumental resources at his disposal. Virtually the only times the entire Arkestra played together was when they were all playing percussion instruments or when they were reading the charts to one of Ra’s tunes. It was rare for any large group improvisation to take place, despite the fact that there were some very capable soloists – among them Marshall Allen, Danny Davis, John Gilmore (on tenor, though he mainly played drums), Eloe Qmoe, Kwami Hadi, others. But the band’s problems outweighed its solo successes, the main problem being with Sun Ra himself whose astral philosophy, it seems, has lately become more of a hindrance than an impetus to creativity.
In better times, Ra’s music could be seen as an outgrowth of his cosmic world view; it was the very obtuseness and mysteriousness of the music, its vague yet compelling implications, that charged the listener and that made Ra’s thinking of more than just passing interest. But now the music has taken a back seat to Ra’s moralistic chants and discourses, and for those long familiar with his work, these performances could only be characterized as a large disappointment. One can only hope that Sun Ra will begin again to approach his listeners with the same seriousness that they have learned to bring to his music and that the Arkestra will again assume its place as the important and innovative ensemble it once was.*
“Outer Space is big and real and compelling
“And the music which represents it must be likewise.”
– Sun Ra, “Points On The Space Age”
Henry Kuntz, 1974
*Years later – despite my feelings about the music – something of the presence of Sun Ra remains with me from these performances and a bit of his magic. I felt I should mention that.
Henry Kuntz, 1982
The Magic Sun by Phill Niblock 1966 An avant jazz cinema classic | Phill Niblock’s 1966 film The Magic Sun | an extremely abstract work with music by the Sun Ra Arkestra! Niblock based the film around a performance by the Arkestra | using intense close-ups on the musicians’ hands, mouths, and instruments | and often working with negative process to further abstract the already-unusual images. Ra’s music for the film is moody and evocative | classic 60s Arkestra work at its best, illustrated by Niblock in almost painterly-like fashion through the abstract shapes on the screen.