May 24, 2024

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CD review: Sun Ra – Session Four 1972 Live American Radio Broadcast 2022: Video, CD cover

In late 1968, San Ra and the Arkestra made their first tour of the West Coast of the United States. Reactions were mixed. Hippies, used to psychedelics like The Grateful Dead, were often confused by the music of the Arkestra. By this time the show featured 20 or 30 musicians, dancers, singers, and fire fakirs.

The show had elaborate unusual lighting. John Burks of Rolling Stone wrote a positive review of their concert at San Jose State College. San Ra was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine from April 19, 1969, at which time millions of people were introduced to his enigmatic look. During that tour, Damon Choice, then a San Jose student, joined the Arkestra and became its vibraphonist.

Starting with concerts in France, Germany and Great Britain in 1970, the Arkestra began touring all over the world. They played for audiences who knew his music only from records. San Ra continued to play in Europe almost to the end of his life. Saxophonist Danny Ray Thompson became the band’s de facto tour operator and business manager during that era. He often demanded money for the band’s performances and recordings up front.

In early 1971, San Ra was hired as a full-time artist-in-residence at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught a course called “Black Man in Space.” Few students enrolled in the course, but his classes were often full of curious people. Half of each class was devoted to a lecture (with notes, homework assignments), the other half hour to a performance of Arkestra or San Ra’s keyboard solos. The literature San Ra recommended for his lectures included works by Helena Blavatsky and Henry Dumas, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Alexander Hislop’s Two Babylons, Oaspe, the New Bible, and various books on Egyptian hieroglyphics, African American folklore and other topics.

In 1971 San Ra traveled to Egypt with Arkestra at the invitation of drummer Salah Ragab. He returned to Egypt in 1983 and 1984 when he recorded with Ragab. Recordings made in Egypt include Live in Egypt, Nidhamu, Sun Ra Meets Salah Ragab, Egypt Strut and Horizon.

In 1972, KQED San Francisco public television producer John Coney, producer Jim Newman, and screenwriter Joshua Smith worked with Sun Ra to produce an 85-minute film called Space Is the Place with Arkestra and professional actors. It was filmed in Oakland and San Francisco. In 1975, an early Devo lineup played the opening act at an Arkestra show in Cleveland. On May 20, 1978, San Ra and the Arkestra appeared on the popular television show Saturday Night Live.

In the fall of 1979 in New York City, San Ra and Arkestra were hired as a permanent house band at the Squat Theater on 23rd Street, where the then avant-garde Hungarian theater company was based. Janos, their manager, actually turned the theater into a nightclub while most of the troupe was away that season performing in Europe. Regular visitors to shows there included Debbie Harry, John Cale of The Velvet Underground, Nico, known from Andy Warhol’s avant-garde films, John Lurie, The Lounge Lizards and other notable pop and avant-garde figures. San Ra was always disciplined, drinking only soda at concerts, but not imposing his strict code on his musicians, who, however, respected his discipline and authority as it was. Polite and charismatic, San Ra transformed the Squat Theater into “the universe of space jazz,” as it was said at the time. San Ra’s performances were supported by the Jupiterettes (“Jupiterettes”) dance band. San Ra led the show while playing three synthesizers.
The Arkestra continued to tour and record throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

1. El Victor
2. Two Tone
3. Planet Earth
4. Reflections in Blue
5. Paradise
6. Ankh
7. El Is a Sound of Joy
8. Saturn
9. Overtones of China

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