SUN RA — Concert for the Comet Kohoutek (review)

SUN RA — Concert for the Comet Kohoutek album cover Live album · 1993 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
js
“Celebration for the Comet Kohoutek” is a live concert recorded by the Sun Ra Arkestra on December 22, 1973 at New York City’s Town Hall. The first side of the album is a fairly good recording, at least by Sun Ra standards, of an excellent performance. Side two starts off okay, but then falters significantly for the last half of that side. After a brief opening, side one kicks off with the well known “Astro Black”, sung by the Arkestra veteran, June Tyson. From here the band goes into mixtures of hard bop grooves and screeching free jazz with fiery solos from many of the horn players. Specific credits are not given, but possibly that is Kwame Hadi behind those fiery trumpet solos. As for the other players, you can expect the usual suspects such as Marshall Allen, Danny Davis, John Gilmore, Pat Patrick and the rest of the crew.

Halfway through this side Sun Ra steps in with an incredible analog synthesizer solo. If you have heard his early meanderings on “My Brother the Wind”, you will not believe how much Ra’s technique on the synth developed after those early experiments. He must be using a fairly complex setup because the sounds he is producing, and the way he is able to pull up endless variations, is far beyond what a Mini-Moog is capable of. I know Sonny used the Korg MS-20 some, a pair of those linked together could probably pull off these sort of cross-modulated wave forms. After Ra’s solo fades, the percussion section kicks in for an aggressive African groove over which Sonny at first supplies something close to classic soul jazz riffs. Ra playing in this style is very rare and its quite a treat for long time fans of his, but soon he moves back to supplying more elctronic sounds to the percussion celebration.

After a brief Arkestra intro, side two goes into more synthesizer excursions from Sonny, and once again his technique, control and imagination are very impressive. The way in which the tone colors constantly morph and change recalls Milton Babbit’s “Ensemble for Synthesizer”. I would not be surprised if Ra was very familiar with that landmark electronic piece. After the lengthy solo, the band tries to reappear, but something has happened, they sound like they are in another room way down the hallway. The last half of side two is given to call and response vocal numbers, including the over recorded, “Space is the Place”. These songs get tedious quickly because the arkestra is barely audible while the vocalists are way too loud. When one singer starts doing lounge club RnB type vocals on “Space is the Place”, its time to go ahead and hit the tone arm eject. Overall, possibly the most salient feature on this album is Sun Ra’s extended synthesizer solos. I do not know of any other record of his that contains such a wealth of synth colors. Other albums of his often sound like he is just learning how the device works.

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