There’s a lot of activity right now in the universe of SUN RA. Just who or what is he/it? Short answer: He was a jazz pianist and composer who created some of the craziest music ever committed to vinyl. The guy who was born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914 was definitely a cosmic cat, and in the last year (over twenty since he passed into the great beyond) there has been some notable additions to his discography, including a double album of singles and a recent Record Store Day live release.
This 10″ record, put out by Sundazed’s new Modern Harmonic label, is but a trio of slices of his multi-flavored pie. “Rocket Number Nine” originally came to my knowledge via a cover version by rock ’n’ roll’s Sun Ra equivalent, NRBQ. It’s a bit kooky, and not surprisingly, the ’Q’s version ain’t that far off from this. Recorded in 1960, this version is “one of the earliest renditions” of the song so apparently he recorded it more than once. It starts off with an uptempo groove and a small chorus singing “Rocket number nine take off for the planet Venus, Venus!,” then comes a quiet section with a moody and slightly off-kilter cello (part of the rocket trip to Venus?), followed by a short piano bit (presumably by Sun himself), and the “second stop is Jupiter” finale. It’s a fun piece to hear and I’m curious to know what other renditions are like. The other two cuts, “Ankhnation” and “Project Black Mass,” are previously unissued cuts and are a bit more normal – whatever that is in early ’60s, semi-bebop jazz. The latter is basically solo piano with someone banging a solo hubcap for rhythm. (Interesting but a little on the annoying side.)
One of the things that really makes this record cool, to me, is the artwork. The cover illustration is by Ian Schoenherr and it, along with the typography, make this record a real nice addition to your library. The fact that it is a ten-inch on clear green vinyl just adds to the fun. Modern Harmonic has a number of Sun Ra records out, all licensed from the man’s estate, and I plan to collect ’em all, along with the aforementioned singles 2LP set.
3.5/5 (Modern Harmonic/Sundazed)