Sun Ra: just outta this world

26th September 2016

Title: The Nubians of Plutonia

Label: Jazz Classics

There’s experimental, there’s avant-garde, there’s ‘out there’ and then there’s Sun Ra. 



A controversial jazz man who surrounded his adventurous music with costumes and mythology that combined archeological Egypt with various tales of science fiction and space travel. A man of mystery and a whole heap of rare recordings and, it has to be said, some quite brilliant music with his band, known as the Arkestra that featured John Gilmore on tenor, Marshall Allen as altoist and Pat Patrick on baritone.


On planet Earth, he was known, from his youth, as Herman Sonny Blount, all the way from Alabama. Ra tended to insist, though, that he came from outer space: and who’s to argue with him?


He was quickly a band leader and began that role way back in 1934, did odd jobs with Fletcher Henderson and really hit his stride in 1953. He started with an advanced form of bop and then went on from there and took on the avant-garde mantle before anyone really knew what the genre meant. In the 60s, he evolved fast and broke a number of musical boundaries and didn’t stop to brush up the resultant debris on the floor. He was in a hurry.


His early use of electronics is famous as is his adoption of world music templates. This LP utilises those in abundance on tracks such as Plutonian Nights, Nubia, Africa and Watusa.


In many ways, I wasn’t expecting much in terms of the mastering performance from this LP. I always suspected that sonic perfection was not Sun Ra’s priority. He seemed too busy for that. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the recording on this LP. It’s not perfect, I’ve heard better but, well, I’ve heard a hell of a lot worse too. Percussion was relatively open and expansive in tone while the bank of saxes offered an admirable texture and were able to convey that power and nuance very well indeed. In mastering terms, this is a recording full of fascinating textures.