Sun Ra, The Magic City

Fred Goodman

By Fred Goodman

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

The Magic City

Sun Ra

Here's avant-garde jazz giant Sun Ra and his Arkestra, recorded at the absolute height of their most experimental period. For some, that will translate into difficult and abrasive listening; for others, it's a chance to examine one of jazz's wiggiest creators with his hair all the way down. The pianist/composer's journey was a unique and fruitful one, and depending upon who you believe — the State of Alabama or the composer — he was either born in Birmingham or on the planet Saturn. Regardless, he made his recording debut in the late '40s as pianist for R&B singer Wynonie Harris before moving to Chicago. There, he worked with a wide range of musicians including the great bandleader Fletcher Henderson before building his own increasingly experimental crew, dubbed the Arkestra, around the saxophonists John Gilmore, Pat Patrick and Marshall Allen, eventually moving to New York in the early '60s. The Magic City, recorded in 1965, is wide-open free jazz, improvised and spontaneous. The title track is an extended 27-minute foray into space, mood and electronics while the remainder of the album is given over to "The Shadow World" and two improvisations on the same structure. The playing is moody, aggressive and often decidedly unmelodic, and its merits remain hotly debated even today, 12 years after Sun Ra's death and 40 years after its creation. Now that's a challenging record!