Sun Ra Arkestra ‘Live from Kalisz 1986’ 2LP (Lanquidity) 3/5

Recorded in 1986 in the city of Kalisz, Poland, this essential addition of Sun Ra material comes courtesy of the appropriately named Languidity Records; an independent label dedicated towards the discovery and release of important music which is predominantly within the sphere of avant-garde.
The concert comes five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, featuring many long-time serving members who have recorded, dwelled, practised and toured with Sun Ra under strict guidelines for many years, all dedicated to the afro futuristic artistic approach and the mystical forces surrounding the music and performance. This album is an important addition to the collection of great music from Sun Ra’s recorded history and one where the audience are relishing the more swinging side of the Arkestra’s music along with the signature improvised pieces which are always refreshing and full of great tone and mystique.

The music begins in true Sun Ra fashion with a 14 minute setting of the sound vibrations and frequencies full of signature sounds and almost chaotic wails from the saxophone speaking in otherworldly tones and shapes, almost cleansing the air and healing the fractures within the space.

‘Improvised 1’ feels like a kind of nod to Poland’s great classical composers with a typical Sun Ra twist. His music crosses many boundaries and you can imagine the audience fully acknowledging the brilliance of his music on this solo effort. It’s only a five-minute track but it’s melancholy and powerful as though relating to a message of hope and a brighter future.
‘Yeah Man’ was written by the highly esteemed African-American bandleader, Noble Sissie, and the track really swings in a similar vein to what you might expect from Charlie Mingus, although it’s reflective of much earlier times around the heyday of the writer’s career. The clarinet of John Gilmore adds an almost Eastern feel.
‘Untitled Blues’ really captures the audience with its swinging straight ahead uptempo sound with the whole band bringing an energy to the piece before Sun Ra swings on his own accord bringing the track to a close and the audience to fully appreciative applause.
‘I’ll Never Be The Same’ is given an uptempo jump start and it’s very different from Billy Holiday and Lester Young’s 1937 recording; a moment in jazz history that seems to propel the composition into the stratosphere from where Sun Ra turned it into something completely different. The saxophone of John Gilmore strides forward on this piece and the percussive sound of Sun Ra’s piano perfectly balances with the weaving weight of the tenor.
Duke Ellington’s 1938 ballad, ‘Prelude To A Kiss’, is given a lift and accented with a more dreamy big-band edge as well as a heavy saxophone sound akin more to Archie Shepp than with Duke Ellington. The addition of the synthesizer is also a nice touch.

The 13-minute rendition of ‘Mack The Knife’ is a nice finale to the evening, and one that sees the whole band and audience participation, bringing back memories of the legendary performance at the great Newport Festival by Duke Ellington and his band. The Louis Armstrong sounding vocals of Tyrone Hill and the rapturous evening showcase a joyous evening and one that symbolises a lifting of the more oppressive times for the country. It’s a fitting set and one appreciated most definitely.
Even those in the audience who may have expected more of the challenging material associated with Sun Ra and his arrangements would have enjoyed this great set from a man who was 72 years old and still performing with a visionary approach and that otherworldly spark which clearly resonated throughout the whole band and audience.

Featured alongside Sun Ra on this live performance are long-serving members John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Marshall Allen, James Jackson and Danny Ray Thompson. Joining the main core of the band are Tyler Mitchell on bass – check him on the Paris Smith’s ‘Thought Seeds’ album. On Alto Saxophone, Alto and Bass Clarinet is Leroy Taylor who joined the Sun Ra camp in 1970. Saxophonist Ronald Wilson is an established musician who played flute and oboe on Lorez Alexandria’s album ‘This Is Lorez’, amongst other notable albums before joining Sun Ra & co. On trombone is Tyrone Hill who also contributes with his voice on ‘Mack The Knife’. Drummer Earl ‘Buster’ Smith had played alongside many of the greats including Eric Dolphy, John Lewis and Oscar Pettiford before joining the Arkestra late on in the 1980s. Carl LeBlanc joined the famous New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band, dedicated to the art form associated with New Orleans jazz before bringing his blues guitar style to the band in the 1980s.

As with every Sun Ra recording, there is never a dull moment. The Arkestra’s treatment of sound within standards and the more improvisational pieces are always refreshing and surprising with the usual meticulous playing and dedication to the art form.

Mark Jones