Sun Ra, Atlantis

Kevin Whitehead

By Kevin Whitehead

on 04.22.11 in Reviews


Sun Ra
Even for Ra, this is an odd one. (That’s a good thing.)

"Intergalactic music is of the Outer Darkness," Sun Ra once wrote, and on this 1967 classic Saturn's top bandleader explores the ominous lower reaches of his keyboards (electric organ and the brand-new Clavinet) and of his Arkestra's sonic range. Ra loved his band's complex murky depths, suggestive of his own arcane knowledge of the universe. Even for Ra, Atlantis is an odd one, light on his catchy melodies, and heavy with collective improvising and contrasting textures: it's dense like a dark star, or empty like the void. Much of the album is built around a stark percussion choir including the warm, earthy wood of James Jackson's log drums. The long free-jazz title track for the full dozen-plus ensemble begins with sonar beeps probing the ocean bottom, seeking that lost continent — but later, scripted reed passages provide eerie pre-echoes of the World Saxophone Quartet. Atlantis spotlights a kind of spooky mood Sun Ra excelled at: Halloween dark.