Tag Archives: Sun Ra

The Bubbling, Space-Age Bachelor Pad Sound of “Exotica”

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Illustration by Jess Ebsworth

The 1957 liner notes for Arthur Lyman’s The Legend of Pele do a good job of summing up the general aesthetic of exotica:

Casting aside her cloak of molten lava, she displayed herself as the ever-glorious fire goddess with all the flame of youth, beauty, love and passion. In this fantastic setting, Pele knows all.

With these words, Lyman is going for something specific—striving to evoke “youth, beauty, love and passion” in a deliberately “fantastic setting.” The goal is to take the listener not to any one specific geographical place, but to a world that evokes an exciting “somewhere.” In exotica, the world becomes a comfortably strange tourist destination, with plastic palm fronds and animatronic beasts roaring at a measured remove. It’s kitschy and fake—and part of the excitement is that, when you cut yourself loose from authenticity, you can create anything.

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Celebrating 20 Years of Strut, Whose Compilations Span the Globe

Photography by Tim Craig

“When we started out we always wanted to relate our releases to dance music in some way,” says Quinton Scott from the London headquarters of his label Strut. “But that could mean anything from disco, soul, funk, and African music to post-punk and industrial.”

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The Best Reissues on Bandcamp: February/March 2018

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Every two months, we pick out some of the most crucial reissues and retrospectives dropped recently on Bandcamp, and look at the historic tales behind them. Whether it’s West African highlife, German post-punk, golden age hip-hop, California neo-psychedelia, or whatever—we’re here to lay out the best new oldies.

View the Best Reissues on Bandcamp archives.

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Album of the Day: Sun Ra, “Of Abstract Dreams”

In 1974, Sun Ra found a musical home on the University of Pennsylvania campus, in the studio of public radio station WXPN. It was a scrappy, student-run venture, and a great spot for a jazz composer and self-proclaimed alien. He’d record at the station several times until 1980. For Sun Ra, an Afrofuturist who believed true peace for black people resided in outer space, finding solace anywhere on Earth was quite a surprise.

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How Salah Ragab Became an Undisputed Icon in Egyptian Jazz

Salah Ragab

The sun is going down in Cairo, but the action on Misr Wel Sudan Street shows no sign of abating. Puffs of smog dissolve into the winter air. Cars honk their horns, snaking through the narrow but busy thoroughfare. The call to prayer billows from a mosque over scratchy loudspeakers. Men sit in a nearby cafe sipping black tea and playing backgammon.

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A Guide to the Many Sun Ra Albums Now Available on Bandcamp

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Sun Ra in Philadelphia. Photos by Val Wilmer.

The thing about being an alien from outer space, sent to spread enlightenment and happiness through sound, is that some of the things you set out to do can’t be accomplished on Earth. “Everything that’s possible’s been done by man,” the composer, pianist, and bandleader Sun Ra told interviewer John Corbett in 1986. “I have to deal with the impossible. And when I deal with the impossible and am successful, it makes me feel good, because I know that I’m not bullshittin’.”

The late Sun Ra enjoyed the paradox of accomplishing the impossible, a feat that extends to his very career path. It’s rare enough for any Black artist having enough time, energy, and money to run a large jazz ensemble for 40-odd years, but Sun Ra did it while also operating a record label, which boasted countless releases tracking his band’s transformation into a collectively-improvising “cosmo-drama” troupe he called the Arkestra. He did all of this while presenting himself as a costumed, Egyptology-citing, completely serious court jester from the planet Saturn. His work was informed by, and influential within, the greater jazz community, and yet somehow also stood apart from it—adjacent, outside, and beyond.

“He’s not just some crazy guy, and he’s not just some brilliant musician,” says Irwin Chusid, the radio host and music writer who has become administrator of Sun Ra LLC. “He is an institution. He is a cosmic force. He is a genius. He’s one of the great neglected composer-musicians of the 20th century. There’s no question what this man created is singular. There’s no one like Sun Ra.”

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Greg Fox: Keeper of Time

Greg Fox

Photo by Ebru Yildiz.

There’s an old saying that goes, “a great drummer is hard to find,” but New York drummer, composer, and artist Greg Fox seems to have taken it upon himself to single-handedly pick up the slack. Over the past nine years, Fox has gone from in-demand kit mercenary to legend-in-the-making. Though he’s not exactly a household name, his stack of invitations to new projects and collaborations seems to grow by the hour. Fox first turned heads as the drummer for NYC black metal group Liturgy, and he’s spent the past three years working with everyone from free jazz luminary Milford Graves, to Chicago tech house underlord Hieroglyphic Being, to Sun Ra Arkestra member Marshall Allen, and routinely with the preeminent Colin Stetson Ensemble, the exuberantly holistic Zs—to say nothing of his own expanding body of solo work.

Watching Fox hammer away in transcendental focus welcomes the usual comparisons (“Dude is a machine!”), but to stop at his pure instrumental prowess is to ignore Fox’s status as an insatiable music scholar. Starting with the early blast beat vernacular of metal, Fox has gradually expanded into increasingly ambitious stylistic terrain, from jazz to classical to New Age. His technical chops are obvious, and his ability to quickly shift gears is an indication of his skill and range as an artist.

This month, RVNG releases Fox’s latest independent endeavor, The Gradual Progression, a maximal follow-up to 2014’s Mitral Transmission. Though both records are technically of Greg Fox solo, similarities are otherwise few. Mitral Transmission was built from a highly unusual, highly unique series of “recording sessions” that allowed Fox—with the assistance of friend and mentor Milford Graves—to map the rhythms of his heartbeat and extrapolate the results via a MIDI output file. While Mitral Transmission represents a pure corollary to Fox’s electronic heart sessions via virtual instrumentation, The Gradual Progression—as its title may suggest—swells to a nearly orchestral degree, with layers of guitar, drums, tenor sax, upright bass, vocals and a deep cache of sampled sounds. If there’s anything to be learned from Fox’s bio-sensory experiments, it’s that Fox’s heart is wildly expressive, ebullient and relentlessly free of formality.

Though The Gradual Progression takes center stage as Fox’s freshest offering, we’d be remiss if we didn’t seize the opportunity to round up our favorites from his constellation of projects. The following list comprises some additional records handpicked from Fox’s catalogue, a sort of crash course in the Lord of Crash.

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The Merch Table Heads to the Beach: July 2017

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Every month, The Merch Table brings you the best and most bonkers merchandise you can find on Bandcamp. We commend bands and labels that get a little creative and think outside the tote bag. Whether it’s a fashion accessory, a piece of art, or something entirely unique, The Merch Table showcases inventive, original—and, occasionally, downright strange—stuff that you might want to get your hands on.

This month, we’re leaving the office behind and heading to the beach with some of our favorite bands. All that’s missing from this merch table is some sunblock.

Otoboke Beaver Baseball Cap

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I love the roaringly loud and campy punk of this Japanese four-piece and will be sporting this flat brim all summer at the beach.

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