Monday, July 27, 2009

Sun Ra - Atlantis (1967)

For those of you who don't know, Sun Ra was a jazz musician from Saturn. At least that's what he claimed, and when you listen to his music it's easy to believe him. Atlantis is a fine example of his eccentric compositions and live improvisations.

The first half of the record is devoted to short pieces in which Ra plays quirky melodies and jagged rhythms on his "Solar Sound Instrument" which turns out to be a Hohner Clavinet. The backing band is subdued, but the percussion and rare splashes of saxophone add a very nice touch of spice to Ra's admittedly impressive keyboard work.

These pieces are all very well crafted and enjoyable, but we all know why we're really here: for the epic twenty-one minute title track on side two. This monster was recorded live and features Ra banging away on an organ like the Phantom of the Opera having a seizure. The track features some truly top notch big band playing, and it's rather a shame that the organ pyrotechnics dominate the proceedings so thoroughly. Nevertheless, it's a wildly engaging, if violently dissonant, romp and certainly a good demonstration of Sun Ra's demented genius.

If there ever was an Atlantis, I imagine the sense of chaotic terror its citizens felt upon sinking into the ocean is well captured here. Definitely worth hearing for fans of free jazz.

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