Great Lost Sun Ra Albums: Cymbals and Crystal Spears

COMPOSERS: Sun Ra
LABELS: Evidence
PERFORMER: Sun Ra
CATALOGUE NO: ECD 22217-2

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The elaborate shaman-as-alien myth of Sun Ra, who died in 1993, was a subtle parody on the alienation he felt as a black musician working within a white entertainment infrastructure. In the end, his image came to overshadow his very real musical achievements, but how could it be any other way for someone who claimed to have come from the planet Saturn?

By painting Ra a mystic, jazz history has found it easy to overlook him, particularly since Ra himself sought to confuse those who tried to interpret his world where the mysteries of the infinite coexisted with his highly individual music. The bulk of his music was recorded on his own Saturn label and these albums reveal the extent of his imaginative experimentation – his use of electronics preceded Miles Davis by almost a decade, for example – with the main thrust of his work setting the tone for much of what happened in Sixties jazz and the post-Coltrane avant-garde of the Seventies.

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Greatest Hits provides an access point for first-time astral travellers, while the rare Cymbals numbers are among the finest music in Ra’s oeuvre. Sun Ra always remained true to himself and these albums reveal he could well have been a genius, just as he always claimed. Stuart Nicholson