SUN RA: The Antique Blacks LP
The vitality you hear on Antique Blacks is a testament to the unique energy of the community around The Foxhole Cafe in Philadelphia, as Ra honed his unique brand of Afro-Futurism through the late 60s and 70s. Cosmic theatre, spiritual chants, and experimental electronics make this record an essential document that was ahead of its time. Ancient to future!
The 1970s saw change in Sun Ra's recorded output, and as far as we can tell, the content of his live performances. By the middle of the decade, Sun Ra’s music no longer seemed comprehensible as part of the jazz New Thing – quirkier, more idiosyncratic elements were more to the fore.
At this time, 1974, every Sun Ra record still surprised, and seemed radically different from everything else he had released up to then. The musical universe proposed by free jazz had never circumscribed Sun Ra. He had been part of the movement, but was able to use the possibilities it suggested without being limited by its conventions.
The Antique Blacks illustrates this well. Recorded as a radio broadcast in Philadelphia, according to Dale Williams, it has a well defined but oddball structure. Sun Ra was a master architect, very concerned to use the unfolding of an album, a broadcast or a live performance to create a satisfying structure.
Song No 1 starts on an upbeat note, it's a lively, tonal introduction, featuring John Gilmre on tenor saxophone, Sun Ra on roksichord, Dale Williams, then aged 15, on guitar, and Akh Tal Ebah on trumpet.
Sun Ra's poetry is featured on There Is Change In The Air, a track which has on occasion been used for the album title: in its original incarnation as a Saturn LP, there was no dedicated sleeve artwork, and this record appeared under many names. Ra's poetry is allusive, elusive and paradoxical, and this was its first major appearance on a record. During instrumental passages, Dale Williams' guitar is heard, along with the saxophones of Marshall Allen and Danny Davis.
The Antique Blacks is a similar setting for a Sun Ra poem, which encompasses "spiritual men", and Lucifer as a dark angel. The Arkestra is heard in conducted improvisational ensembles, in between the sections of the poem.
This Song Is Dedicated To Nature's God has Arkestral vocals, with John Gilmore's voice in th foreground. Williams' guitar is once again prominent in the instrumental passages.
Sun Ra's poetic declamations provide the structire for The Ridiculous I and The Cosmos Me, which also has a fine unaccompanied tenor solo by John Gilmore, keyboard improvisations by Sun Ra, and closes with bass clarient from Eloe Omoe.
Sun Ra’s keyboards are heard with minimal Arkestra support on Would I For All That Were & a fine synthesiser improvisation, with electric piano left hand accompaniment.
Tension is resolved by Space Is The Place, which rounds the album out in an upbeat mood, with Akh Tal Ebah, James Jacson and Sun Ra prominent among the vocalists. The closing section includes the chant Sun Ra And His Band From Outer Space, often used at the close of live performances. This isn't strictly live, though: in one line the vocal is played backwards on tape!
01. Song No.1
02. There Is Change In The Air
03. The Antique Blacks
04. This Song Is Dedicated To Natures God
05. The Ridiculous I And The Cosmos Me
06. Would I For All That Were
07. Space Is The Place