SUN RA — Atlantis (review)

SUN RA — Atlantis album cover Album · 1969 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
js
This record is probably the most avant-garde record by one of the most avant-garde artists to be identified with the world of jazz. ‘Atlantis’ stands alone like a monolithic Stonehenge document of one man’s musical vision that will take an eternity to ponder and learn from. Almost any Sun Ra record is going to be powerful and unique in its bold uncompromising vision, but on this one Ra takes us even one step further into his personal musical universe.

Side one starts with simple, almost child like, major key melodies on the sax and clavinet backed by African poly-rhythms on hand drums. As this continues, Sun Ra’s bizarre humor and musical mischievousness kicks in and the clavinet wanders and wobbles into sea-sick patterns that sound like the local late-night hotel easy-listening pianist trying to play just enough so that he will not nod out. The end result sounds like lounge music from the pre-historic era. There is a strong African element here, but also a lot of bizarre humor as well. This side ends with the percussionists working out on thick African multi-rhythms with such a vague and imprecise recorded sound that everything blends together, just as it would if you were in the field in Africa.

Side one was quiet and relaxed, but side two has little of that. Two opens with an ominous repeating tone from Ra’s organ that sounds like the typical warning signal from a cheap 60s science fiction movie, (danger, aliens approaching). Slowly Ra brings in more organ voices and distorted clavinet until we are given a furious polytonal assault that sounds like two or three keyboard players, not one. Sun Ra’s high speed contrapuntal lines sound like Bach on angry trailer park meth mixed with high speed videos of ant colony activity. This is a musical technique we’ve heard from Ra before, but what comes next is not. After a brief quiet break, Ra begins to play a string like sound on the organ in a style somewhere in between early 20th century composers and experimental psychedelic prog-rock keyboardists. The harmonies are not quite atonal, but stretched to the max and the end result sounds like a cross between Scriabin and early Tangerine Dream. Eventually the orchestra comes in with slow mournful melodies that sound like an old jazz record mistakenly playing at 16 rpms and Ra closes with more held tones on the keyboard.

To say this record isn’t for everyone is the understatement of the year. I think a lot of people would find this record to be annoying and unpleasant. I don’t listen to this very often, its not an easy ride, but whenever I do I am always in awe of what an uncompromising masterpiece Sun Ra put together here.
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Matt wrote:
more than 2 years ago
I think I will like it. Great review John

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