SUN RA — Angels and Demons at Play (review)

SUN RA — Angels and Demons at Play album cover Album · 1965 · Progressive Big Band Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Calling this a unique Sun Ra record may seem pointless since all of his records tend to be one-of-a-kind, but as an owner of many Sun Ra albums, I find this one really stands out. Subtlety is the key with this one, there are no sonic atonal big band assaults or cacophonous free ensemble playing from a multitude of screaming horn players. Instead, we are treated to quiet exotica flavored avant-garde lounge jazz on side one, and Sun Ra’s quirky take on classic big band swing on side two.

It’s the four exotica tunes on side one that have always gotten my attention. Apparently Sun Ra was a big fan of Les Baxter’s kitschy futuristic fusion and it really shows on these four which actually don’t even come close to mimicking Les, but a possible cross-influence does seem apparent. Its really hard to describe these songs, possibly the lounge music for a Tiki bar in ancient Africa that received regular visits from time travelers might do the trick. All of these tunes are quiet and mysterious and are played by small chamber ensembles which have a different instrumental make-up for each song. The mysteries of Africa in the past and future are the presiding themes for each tune.

Side two features four big band swing tunes that are played more or less straight up by Sun Ra standards, but the arrangements are full of bizarre and humorous twists as Sun Ra subverts standard swing music and takes it back in time to the days before jazz could be recorded, and even further back to Africa and beyond. When I listen to these tunes I can’t help but think that this is what jazz is really supposed to sound like, but only Sun Ra and his band know how to do it right.

This is an excellent album, I think any Sun Ra fan will find much to enjoy, and I also think that people who don’t normally enjoy Ra’s music may take to this one because of its more relaxed and subtle approach
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