Wooze and Spazz

Twenty-One Reissues Prove Space Is Still Sun Ra's Place

Once I rode a téléphérique up Mont Blanc, and after 15,000 feet a perfectly beautiful green mountain landscape turned into something bleak and otherworldly that could not be detected from below. Sun Ra's music is impressive even when it doesn't reach such heights, and in a way he only ascends to where he does by sacrificing much of what ordinarily keeps jazz lush and vital: a clear pulse, interplay between relative equals, readily apparent tonal signatures. Yet what, ultimately, were Ra's "pivoting planes of sound" if not sampling, and retrofusions, and pop globalization, the jazz of semiotic juggling? As jazz became rock became hip-hop became a Napster-sponsored cybernetic archive, the isolated gambit behind his music, its reckless attempt to encompass future and past, became the paradigmatic stance of the contemporary musician. Ra may not have traveled the spaceways—but he will.


Long Live Serendipity by Gary Giddins

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