December Recordings 2000
CYMBALS & CRYSTAL SPEARS
THE GREAT LOST SUN RA ALBUMS
Evidence ECD 22217-2
"Cymbals" and "Crystal Spears" were both recorded in New York in 1973 and slated for release by ABC until the deal went sour (as did many jazz signings to major labels in the early 70s) and the project was shelved. The hilarious story of the whole affair is wonderfully related by Ed Michel in the accompanying notes, and I won't spoil the fun by retelling it here. Evidence has once again produced a magnificent Ra document, with the albums superbly packaged and commented upon and the music crystal clear (make that crystal spear) despite years sitting (one imagines) in one of Alton Abraham's rusty metal film boxes. And what fabulous music it is: quite apart from Ra's superlative performances on cheesy organs, Moogs and Rocksichords (the man had an uncanny knack of making the most dreadfully tacky keyboard preset sound authentically otherworldly..), these two documents are absolutely indispensable for John Gilmore fans. "Sunrise in the Western Sky" on "Crystal Spears" is a mighty workout, with Gilmore's tenor battling not only with the Arkestra but also, it would seem, the microphone and the studio acoustic, turning in quite simply one of the greatest tenor solos I've ever heard (Robert Campbell is right to regret that he never went the full fifteen rounds with late-period Coltrane - what a thrill that might have been..). "Crystal Spears" opens with a lacerating organ stab almost worthy of Merzbow, and one can't help but feel that the strident sound quality, the odd stereo placement of the instruments, the bizarre EQ and the strange acoustics of the session are all integral elements of Ra' musical vision (no sound engineer in his right mind would have left Gilmore's sound on "Sunrise.." the way it is unless Ra hadn't specifically requested it as such).
Though I don't exactly concur with Campbell's view that "Cymbals" is one of the great Ra albums of the 70s (quite a claim, given the competition), it's still almost scandalous that this music has been lying around in a vault somewhere all this time. Once more Gilmore is outstanding, especially on the monumental loping blues "Thoughts Under a Dark Blue Light", where he pushes the R&B tenor tradition sixty years into the future with a solo that ranges from Ammons to Ayler and way beyond (it if weren't for the characteristic keyboards and the multi-layered African-In- Outer-Space rhythm section behind him, you could be fooled into thinking this was Peter Brötzmann). The album is also notable for other horn contributions from Eloe Omoe (a wild bass clarinet fantasy in "The World of the Invisible") and Akh Tal Ebah (an undersung trumpet player if ever there was one, on the evidence of his beautiful solo in "Thoughts..") both of whom were sadly rarely featured in the Ra canon. Elsewhere bassist Ronnie Boykins is a pillar of strength in this chamber (8-piece) Arkestra, and his bowed work on "Day Star" is masterly.
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SHE SINGS SHE SCREAMS
Innova 543 CD
"She Sings She Screams", the work of alto/baritone saxophonist Richard Dirlam (assisted by pianist Laura Loewen and second reedman Mark Engebretson) is another well-intentioned but dreary trawl through new saxophone music (the best pieces on the disc are Marius Constant's 1954 "Musique de Concert" and Edison Denisov's 1970 "Sonata", which aren't new anymore). Dirlam plays well enough (though the sound of the "classical" saxophone quickly becomes tiresome) but he's not well-served by his material. The title track (Engebretson's piece for alto and tape) is dismally clichéd, and his "The Bear" is turgid tone-deaf plodding (well what do you expect if you write for FOUR baritone saxes?); Eric Stokes' "Eldey Island" mourns the passing of the Great Auk (so we're told) and is about as dead in the water as the bird itself, Charpentier's "Gavambodi 2" is pretty nondescript, and Christian Lauba's "Hard" is just hard to swallow. Interested in the saxophone today? Go check out John Butcher instead.
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Copyright 2000 by Paris Transatlantic