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Friday, July 26, 2013

Sun Ra All Stars - Milan, Zurich, West Berlin, Paris (Transparency 2008)

The Sun Ra Discography.

And so it begins, Uncle Roddus has had a rather large binge on the internet and managed to acquire a substantial number of the Sun Ra releases on Transparency Records and its time to start wading through them over the next few months. The first one randomly grabbed off the shelf is this 5 disc set of 4 dates recorded in late '83. After nearly 30 years of playing with the Arkestra, Ra finally gets to play with some heavyweights of Jazz. After some gigs in london earlier in the month, Ra hooks up with the All stars and does a mini tour of Germany and France. Teatro Ciak, Milan was the second concert they did and according to Campbell and Trent(The Earthly Recordings Of Sun Ra,2nd addition)was preserved on a 90 minute audience tape. I assume that this CD was mastered from that tape. If so then it was an impressively recorded concert for an audience tape and although there is quite a hiss to the recording and some conversations from the audience audible, the music sound quality is quite remarkable, well above bootleg quality. CD1 presents the first 45 odd minutes of that gig and starts off with 3(although Campbell and Trent only list 2) extended Ra like free improvisations that are as impressive as the band lineup suggests they should be. I some times struggle with some of the live extended improvs but these three are quite captivating and powerful. They are followed by a couple of standards, with "King Porter Stomp" completing the first disc with a bang. The CD track listing says that "King Porter Stomp" is split on the end of CD one and the start of CD2 but this is not the case, the whole song concludes disc one. Disc Two seems to have even more hiss and noise to remind one of the source of these recordings but that is soon forgotten on a rollercoaster bassline that props up the utterly fabulous "What's New" with is't cool brass and Bass solos and interesting drum highlight. There is a lot more melody on the rest of this set than many of the other live recording I have heard, making for a memorable set. Definitely one of the stand out sets I have heard and even quite impressed with the sound. Rating for Milan, 4/5.

For the next concert on the following day, The All Stars hot footed it 1000KM to Zurich and played the Zurich Jazz Festival. The recording on disc 3 apparently comes from  a radio broadcast and the sound quality is slightly better than the previous days recording with much less hiss and rumble and the music is sonically better as well, so this is a great plus for our listening pleasure. The unidentified track that starts off the CD is similar to the opening track from the night before but slightly shorter and I like the trumpet solo better, the Ra solo piano track is longer than the previous one and is just as impressive although fades out in the middle of some thunderous pounding which was disappointing as I really enjoy that part of his playing.
The next Unidentified Blues swings along nicely and gets the toe tapping along and is quite normal, as is the following Ra composed "Lights On A Satellite", Great recordings of cool songs. According to the CD listing "What's New" lasts for only 4 minutes but the actual track plays much longer as they stretch it out for some great Bebop, although last night's version was better. The recording finishes with a 15 minute track called "Poinciana" and is a fabulous piece of jazz and as about as normal sounding as Sun Ra gets. A great concert and an impressive recording and totally worth having in your Sun Ra collection, unlike some of the other Transparency recordings. Rating 4.5/5.

The Next night on this little whirlwind tour sees the group in West Berlin and the recording of nearly 80 minutes on disc four comes from a West German TV broadcast of the concert, so although there is plenty of tape hiss, the music sound quality is again well above bootleg quality and most acceptable. The band is hot again and the disc kicks off with an excellent piece of chaos with some awesome solo sax and interesting atmospherics. One of the beauties of this series of concerts is that although there are some tracks repeated on consecutive nights, they are always played differently so this makes for an interesting and diverse listen. This concert keeps up the quality of the previous nights makeing this entire 5 disc set essential for Ra fanatics, although the less dedicated might struggle to stay with the entire concert, especially the 22 minute "Shadow World" with a long drum solo. This Concert 4/5.

The last disc contains 74 minutes recorded on an audience tape from a concert in Paris on November 1.I was apprehensive as to the potential for bad sound quality from an Audience tape but this recording is surprisingly listenable. The quality of the concert is consistent with the previous 3 nights and will not disappoint Ra fans. A very worthwhile acquisition to my Ra collection, with this last concert rating 4/5 also.

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