Sun Ra – “Universe In Blue” – [Saturn Research]
Like many Sun Ra albums, the story behind it is as interesting as the listening. This rerelease of a rare, long out of print live recording from 1971, captures a more bluesy Sun Ra and his Blues Universe Arkestra than might be expected from this period. There is a disagreement as to where this performance took place. Some think it happened on the west coast. Others think that because of the reduced number of members of the Arkestra on the recording it happened somewhere while traveling back to the east coast. Still another source pins it at a venue in New York City. The recording is obviously only a portion of a longer show, with tracks fading out in the middle of a particular song. Yet, a supposed full recording of the performance has been found. Unfortunately, even that has parts that are slightly different than the performance on the album. The mystery is there for folks to ponder.
What isn’t a mystery is the stupendous performance on this album. The sound quality is poor, as if recorded on a cassette recorder, but for me that adds to the beauty and mystery. The five tracks each offer a unique sound experience into what Sun Ra could and did do.
Track 1, “Universe in Blue Part I” is a solo Sun Ra on his Intergalactic Space Organ, being odd and strange and quiet with lots of space between some notes.
“Universe in Blue Part II” is a more straight ahead ensemble piece that is just a part of the bigger performance we do not get to hear.
Track 3, “Bluesman” has the superb June Tyson wailing over and over and over, “Pharaoh was sitting on his thrown, when the Blackman ruled this land.” Then with her voice cracking she belts out, “I hope you understand!” Brutal and piercing. Track 4, “In a Blue Mood”, is more Ra spazzing out on the organ with some accompanied bass and supposedly cello. It’s slow burn kind of stuff.
Track 5, “Another Shade of Blue”, is that wonderful straight ahead blues jazz that starts off with organ and then builds with the Arkestra, adds, deletes, twists, picks up and just moves on to this wonderful body shaking frenzy. John Gilmore keeps it moving with his tenor sax, never being thrown off when Sun Ra shifts gears. The audience must have gone crazy. Unfortunately we have a fade out letting us know there was more, somewhere.
An all around enjoyable experience and a superb addition to the collection.