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Strange Celestial Road

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Album Review

The band Sun Ra had at the end of the '70s was surely the funkiest he ever had, with electric bassist Steve Clarke (in tandem with upright player Richard Williams) and the twin guitars of Taylor Richardson and Skeeter McFarland. This is the band that recorded the infamous On Jupiter album, and the slightly different band lineup for Sleeping Beauty (recorded just two weeks later) suggests that Strange Celestial Road was recorded between the two, based on the hybrid band lineup. "Celestial Road" kicks things off, where electric bass, arco bass and wah-wah guitar set the stage for a great June Tyson vocal and then solos from John Gilmore, Michael Ray, Sun Ra, and Damon Choice on vibes. "Say" has a great electric bassline and joyous horn charts, and swings mightily with a vaguely Latin rhythm. There's a fine electric guitar solo, as well as some more fantastic playing from Gilmore. Ra's keyboard sounds and soloing are particularly deranged on this album, but never get into the purely noisy realm. "I'll Wait for You" is the real treat of this album, featuring a great mellow groove and wonderful ensemble vocals led by the beautiful June Tyson. There's plenty of fine soloing on this track as well, but the main attraction is the mix by Ra and Michael Ray. There's a dub-like element to the way the instruments and voices are treated and mixed in and out, but this is dub by way of Saturn, and the mix is at least as weird and wonderful as anything Lee Perry has done. This is an overlooked album in an unwieldy discography, but it's a real gem and the fact that it's on the Rounder label should make it easier to find than many of the Arkestra's other albums. Recommended.

Biography

Born: 22 May 1914 in Birmingham, AL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Of all the jazz musicians, Sun Ra was probably the most controversial. He did not make it easy for people to take him seriously, for he surrounded his adventurous music with costumes and mythology that both looked backward toward ancient Egypt and forward into science fiction. In addition, Ra documented his music in very erratic fashion on his Saturn label, generally not listing recording dates and giving inaccurate personnel information, so one could not really tell how advanced some of his innovations...
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