Sun Ra & His Arkestra - Jazz in Silhouette
6d ago
The History of the Albums - n° 107

Using the name of the Egyptian sun god, which corresponds so well to him when you think about it, Sun Ra is both a fascinating human being, very attached to spirituality and an outstanding jazz artist. One could even easily believe that he comes from another planet. With his ultra visionary side, Sun Ra is a conductor, composer and musician to whom we owe a lot musically thanks to his experiments, his innovations, his techniques, his cultural commitment and his state of mind. It would be very hard and long to quote you all the things that make her and that characterize him, I would need more than one chronicle in any case (in fact it deserves a biography), I will then try to go to the essential. First of all, he was known for his very atypical character, who possesses an image and an aura that could almost be described as myth, which could be seen in his compositions and performances. There is also this aspect and his very important cultural identity before his origins and his community. Musically, his avant-garde vision allowed him to experiment and to go even further, basing himself and breaking the codes of the conventional jazz styles of bebop and swing at the time he started, and continuing like that throughout his career. He is then known as one of the pioneers (or one of the creators, to use stronger words) of Avant-Garde Jazz, Free Jazz, Experimental Jazz, Post Bop and Progressive Jazz, before later in his career he turned to the already established styles African Jazz and World Fusion. In any case, the words experimental and fusion suit him well, since he was constantly distorting the styles, characterized by a very electric sound and even adding elements of other musical genres such as Blues, R&B and even Electronic with the use of synthesizers. Without going into detail about the set of techniques and material he introduced and implemented in his compositions, have had a considerable impact both in the 50's and today. To finish his brief description, we also owe to Sun Ra his famous orchestra: The Sun Ra Arkestra.

Born in Alabama in 1914, without childhood remains a mystery for a very long time. Especially since Sun Ra himself lied and hid the truth by often telling invented stories. Influenced by Blues, R&B and classical music, Sun Ra was already noticed as a teenager for her musical talents, especially on the piano. At the age of 20, he started to work in a band, first experiences that would eventually fail, finally he managed to find stability by working as a musician in clubs. While he was a young adult, Sun Ra very quickly showed "signs of madness" in the sense that I would qualify close to "mythomania". He often told totally absurd or unrealizable things he experienced (like his so-called trip to Saturn for example). Maybe he was actually experiencing them, as a kind of hallucination, I personally don't think so. In any case, despite the fact that he often did what he wanted, fortunately for him and for us, he always knew how to transcribe this "madness" in his music which allowed him to realize incredible things. While pursuing his career as a club musician, in 1942 he refused to go to military service during the Second World War, which would be worth a few months in prison, until he was released because of a hernia. Once again this story shows how Sun Ra was extremely driven by his ideals and principles, he is like uncontrollable, he is a pure example of a free electron.

Towards the end of the Second World War, he was one of the people from the south who migrated to the big cities of the "north". Once settled in Chicago, it was not long before he launched his real career. He worked for the singer Wynonie Harris and made his first recordings with My Baby's Barrel House / Drinkin' By Myself, Blues songs that were released in 1946 by Bullet. The opportunities and ease of finding jobs as a musician in Chicago was a real advantage, but on top of that it was also easier to make a name for himself, so he will be hired by Fletcher Henderson. It won't be for long, though. Before he really started as a leader, he will have a few more years working in clubs. He also wrote and arranged for Red Saunders & His Orchestra in the early 1950s. Finally, in 1952, he showed his first band, a trio to be precise, which would evolve and grow over time. In the middle of the 50's, Sun Ra will meet a man that will change his life, a certain Alton Abraham. They will become friends and Alton will become his manager. Concretely, this meeting is decisive because he needs someone who understands him, who supports him and who above all is capable of managing him. Without Alton, his career would probably not have been like this. The term Arkestra was to appear more and more, until it became official in 1955 with the release of Dreaming / Daddy's Gonna Tell You No Lie in 1955, under the label that Sun Ra and Alton had just created El Saturn Records. At first Sun Ra hadn't yet found his true sound, but the following year the trigger was made thanks to the compositions Super Blonde / Soft Talk, with cosmic themes and musically very avant-garde jazz.

As time went by, Sun Ra and his band started to push more and more seriously the character aspect, disguises, atypical performance etc... It has to be said that when you put it in the context of the time, it was very eccentric, often misunderstood and misperceived by people. However, it never stopped them. On the other hand, in 1957 and 1959, many prodigious and revolutionary recordings were made by Sun Ra and his band, only not all of them were released. For example, his first albums Jazz By Sun Ra Vol. 1 and Super-Sonic Jazz were released in 1957, but on the other hand, the incredible masterpiece and revolutionary sound of the Sound Of Joy era, recorded the same year, was only released in 1968. So it has a lot of works and compositions that remained hidden for many years. However, among those that were released, there is an album that I recommend and that had its importance in the world of jazz and its peers: Jazz In Silhouette. It is important to know that this album is the perfect transition between the more traditional and mainstream jazz of the moment and the experimentation that will eventually become Sun Ra's sole purpose afterwards. At that time, in 1959, swing and bebop was very old-fashioned, and had undergone a lot of changes, if I had to sum up Jazz In Silhouette it is the whole of its old traditional influences impregnated (big band, bop etc...), retranscribed through improvisation and free and post bop experimentation, under a cosmic/spacial layer and theme. The Jazz In Silhouette ensemble was recorded in March 1959 before being released two months later. It consists of 8 tracks which are almost all written and composed by Sun Ra himself, including the masterpiece Enlightenment. Clearly, one can feel throughout Jazz In Silhouette several dimensions and a certain depth quite unique, marked by its instrumentations, by the writing of the compositions and by this fusion of styles and genres that makes things totally aerial. It's really a great album. Jazz In Silhouette is one of the very important works of his discography, which will influence for example great artists like Cecil Taylor, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane but it goes even further, going beyond the Jazz sphere, especially in the spirit we can find George Clinton or Afrika Bambaataa to name only a few examples.

Related albums I've reviewed:
> 1959 : Cecil Taylor – Lookin Ahead
> 1959 : Miles Davis – Porgy and Bess
Doublez's Tags
6d ago
So great! Keep up the good work!
6d ago
I very much appreciate your comment, thank you for your encouragement! @Tallglassofwate
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