SUN RA — Crystal Spears (review)

SUN RA — Crystal Spears album cover Album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
2.5/5 ·
This is a tale of two record sides, one better than the other. Sun Ra’s “Crystal Spears” was recorded back in 1973, and was supposed to be released in 1975, but a changing of the guard at ABC records left Ra with a less than sympathetic record label and Sonny’s bizarre offering remained unreleased until Modern Harmonic finally brought it to the public in 2018. Back in 73 when this was recorded, Ra was very much into electronic keyboards and music that only had a tangential relationship to what most would call jazz. For a possible reference, “Astro Black”, is also from this era in his career.

As mentioned already, side one is a lot more interesting than side two, but for the hardcore Ra fan, the whole record will have something worth checking out. Title track, “Crystal Spears”, opens things with Ra filling a lot of space with busy organ and synthesizer work while backed with a wall of percussion and topped with Marshal Allen on oboe. This one is a winner and well worth the price of the whole album. Follow up track, “The Eternal Sphynx”, is one of those classic Sun Ra hypnotic two chord vamps that goes through some interesting morphing as it progresses. Fortunately there are no vocal chants added on as those can wear thin sometimes. Side one closes with sound explorations that bear some resemblance to avant-garde concert hall composers, but ultimately sound like no one but Ra and his band.

Side two is one long track with vague percussion in the background and Sonny coming and going in and out of the mix with his electronics. Various horn players supply horn solos, often one at a time, but occasionally in duo or trio format. The horn solos are not energetic free jazz, nor are they particularly melodic in any way, but instead feature that kind of playing unique to Ra’s band that sounds like someone exploring what a horn can do the very first time they picked it up. You have to give these guys credit for sounding like no one else on the planet, and that includes the entire universe of avant-garde jazz and ‘serious’ composers, but this track seems to go on forever and just gets tedious after a while. All the same, those who appreciate Sun Ra at his most obtuse and obstinate may find much to enjoy here.
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