Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Paris Tapes - Sun Ra

Ah, can I begin to convince you that Sun Ra was a genius without turning in a frantic stream-of-consciousness diatribe akin to Dennis Hopper in ‘Apocalypse Now!’ trying to describe Kurtz to Willard? How?
   Can I advise people as to the best methods of listening to Sun Ra?
   Assuming you buy this LP (for £6.99 as a download, come on, to hell with the recession!)...choose a track at random - no, choose ‘Watusi’, play it, and go do something, anything...wash-up, dust, wipe those dirty surfaces, flick through a book of art or photography etc...and allow the vibes to float through (as George Clinton said of P-Funk), float through un or sub-consciously – DO NOT LISTEN! DO NOT TRY TO LISTEN! You have 22mins to go – not that long in a lifetime. After the opening horn statement comes a torrent of percussion, with vocal exhortations, and halfway through there is change, rhythms change, drummers drop out for a while before all joining in again...but you are in the kitchen and from some distance the drums become something else...another type of sound...but what? Perhaps you can’t identify it, exactly, but that is the sound of Sun Ra in one dimension and, I must tell you, he explores many.
   Or play ‘Discipline Number Unknown’, which starts in a rather jolly fashion; funky, one might say, with his Ra-ness playing keyboards. My-my, it’s quite easy to appreciate – but just as He is capable of playing funky little riffs, you know this is Sun Ra and whether you know him or not it becomes obvious very quickly that he will take you somewhere else with his approach to the organ. Now watch out, Danny Thompson and Pat Patrick are about to engage in some vivid self-expression on their baritones before Danny Davis and Marshall Allen lock horns, alto horns. You may think it a terrible racket, but again, I urge you not to listen up close and loud, but let it play in the background. 15mins later you will be a new person, or rather, your ears will become more attuned to it all. Perhaps. I hope.
   Now, you are still reading. Good. You haven’t given up on me or Him – excellent.
   Well, along with the most ancient African ingredient at this Parisian concert Sun Ra combined the most modern, the synthesizer. Was this not a supreme statement of musical unity, the kind of which the Art Ensemble espoused when they adopted/created the statement ‘Great Black Music – Ancient To The Future’? Surely. When asked about the new instrument by Downbeat magazine Ra said that the main point concerned ‘its capacity for the projection of feeling’ ...which will be ‘determined in a large degree just by the instrument itself, but always in music, by the musician who plays the instrument’. Isn’t that so?
   Here is Sun Ra playing the synthesizer, solo, for almost 15mins – how can this be endured? You know the method by now. Perhaps you are beginning to reap the benefits, but if not, try again, fail better. The thing here is to resist the urge to click on the ‘stop’ button, please – DO NOT GIVE UP! For the more advanced amongst you, something special waits around the 8min mark. I advise the more advanced to concentrate here and even increase the volume because what Ra creates is exceptional, and continues to be so for the remaining 6mins, wherein He enters another dimension, or plane of sonic existence, dare I say.
   Back at the beginning, the ‘Introduction’, an extraordinary thing happens after just 30secs – we hear the Future appearing to fire gamma rays at the Past, as if Ra has visited from Saturn and set about trying to transform the old world with technology, to penetrate tradition, to convert it into another form of energy, which he does throughout this concert by expressing the almighty power of both, separated and joined, as one, yet individually strong. As Kahlil Gibran said, the pillars of the temple stand apart.
   The converts amongst you will have, or soon have, this recording, I’m sure.
   For those of you who remain unbelievers I offer these words by Sun Ra himself: ‘The music is the testing ground, it is your choice that tells the tale.’

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