Art Yard / Netherlands / 2017
The warmth and funkiness of Sleeping Beauty and On Jupiter have long made them favourites with Sun Ra fans. Recordings for the two albums took place at New York’s Variety Recording Studios on three separate dates during 1979 (sessions that also yielded the material for Strange Celestial Road), and both records are highpoints of the Arkestra’s 1970s journey. On Jupiter effortlessly cruises across genre boundaries toward a rarely visited star on the deep disco funk ‘UFO’, while ‘Seductive Fantasy’ and ‘On Jupiter’ are timeless examples of Sun Ra’s inimitable cosmo-swing sensibilities. Sleeping Beauty meanwhile is one of the most profound and compelling sets in the whole Ra discography, and the Variety Studio sound captures the Arkestra with unique clarity and depth. Recorded with an expanded 28-piece band, the album features woozy avant-ballad ‘Springtime Again’, the glittering future funk of ‘Door to the Cosmos’, and finally the stunning meditative, spiritualised groove of ‘Sleeping Beauty’. On Jupiter and Sleeping Beauty: twin stars that shine brightly from deep within the myriad Sun Ra galaxies!
By the late 1970s the Saturn record label had become a musical newspaper, keeping the world abreast of the latest developments in the Sun Ra story, for those people lucky or persistent enough to find the few outlets where the albums were appearing. Sun Ra was releasing more records on his own label than ever before – at least six Saturn LPs document his activities in 1979 alone. This however, is the first reissue of any 1979 Saturn album, and will be widely welcomed – Sleeping Beauty instantly became one of Sun Ra’s best loved records, and remains so to this day.
At this period, compared to previous years, Saturn records tended to document more of Sun Ra’s current work rather than older tapes. This was certainly true of one particular group of four albums released simultaneously into Saturn Records’ distribution channels within a year of being recorded: God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be, Omniverse and On Jupiter, and Sleeping Beauty. These all represented facets of Ra’s work during 1979, and between them include everything from piano trio compositions to conducted improvisations to disco music.
Sleeping Beauty features the funkier end of the Sun Ra spectrum.
It is a studio recording featuring at least twenty-eight musicians, an enlarged version of the Arkestra which had just crossed the Atlantic to play the 1979 Moers festival. The line up includes both acoustic and electric bass players, electric guitarists, and the reed and brass sections are augmented beyond the core members of the Arkestra.
The recording session which produced Sleeping Beauty also gave us Strange Celestial Road, released on the Rounder label. The two albums have a markedly different feel, in spite of the common date – according to vibraphone player Damon Choice, the differences perhaps partly stem from later post production, and the addition of vocals. All three tracks on Sleeping Beauty have tenor solos by John Gilmore which can count among his finest work. Other musicians’ work is also very worthy of note: Vincent Chancey’s french hom in particular. The overall textures of the arrangements and also the sound of this particular Arkestra, are unique, found on no other Sun Ra album: listen to the opening to “Door Of The Cosmos”, as vocals and keyboards are joined by guitars and bass, and the hom arrangements cut in around Gilmore’s solo. There are many fine such moments throughout the album.
This album features groove-oriented tracks with sublime multi-instrumental complexity, a large ensemble recording, similar to that found on Sun Ra’s Lanquidity and On Jupiter albums. Sleeping Beauty is a high point in Sun Ra’s discography. The electric guitar and bass play a critical role in driving the music, with hypnotic electric piano, organ and vibe lines that flow with gentle restraint and some beautiful sax solos from John Gilmore and Marshall Allen. This album features gospel-like vocals from the wonderful June Tyson and Rhoda Blount helping to establish the spiritual and mystical foundation of Sun Ra’s music – a totally uplifting and joyous listening experience.