Herman Poole Blount. As if that name was insufficiently unique, the Alabama-born pianist and bandleader rebranded himself Sun Ra and set fire to the global jazz scene. Together with his ever-evolving Arkestra, the man who claimed to have visited Saturn in the mid-1930s developed an international reputation for defying expectations.
He was always ahead of his contemporaries. A conscientious objector to WWII, Ra engaged his judge in a protracted debate that covered both legal and biblical texts. As his career developed, his name became synonymous with the Afro-futurist movement he helped launch. Years before George Clinton made his funk the P-funk, Ra was wowing jazz audiences with his unique mix of black pride and futurism.
This second volume of Ra singles spans 1962 to 1991, just two years before his death at 79. (Vol. 1 runs 1952 to 1961.) Together, the two collections feature 65 tracks, many of which were highly sought-after rarities originally pressed in small runs and sold at gigs.
Predictably, the sound quality varies over the nearly half-century body of work. So does his playing style. Later-stage Sun Ra fans will barely recognize his early days, which sound pretty conventional in retrospect. As a result of its comprehensiveness, the two-volume collection will be better appreciated by committed fans than first-time guests of the Arkestra.
Still, Strut Records has done us a great service by pulling these tracks together. Compiling favourites like "Love in Outer Space," "Nuclear War" and "Disco 2021" with all these lost gems has resulted in a rare treat for jazz archivists. (Strut)