Monday, December 26, 2011

Sun Ra and his Arkestra Live at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972-74

Art Yard Records unveils their newest release with Wake Up Angels: Sun Ra and his Arkestra Live at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972-74

Sun Ra Arkestra Wake Up Angels Art Yard

Art Yard Records has been releasing some of the best Sun Ra Arkestra recordings under one roof in recent years. With a close relationship to the band and a patience and understanding for the overall vision of what Ra and his colleagues have set in foundation, every Art Yard project related to Sun Ra is given the highest attention to detail for research, packaging and quality of materials. Many of the 70′s period Sun Ra studio and live album reissues were much needed additions to the modern digital age and the expanding fan base of young and new listeners for Ra’s legacy.

This year has marked the arrival of a very special collection in Art Yard’s Sun Ra catalog: the reintroduction of monumental and pivotal performances with Wake Up Angels: Sun Ra and his Arkestra Live at Ann Arbor Jazz and Blues Festival 1972-74. John Sinclair and Peter Andrews were the people responsible for organizing and presenting the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz festival events. Under their Rainbow Multi-Media Corporation, the Arkestra were hired for the festival held in 1972 to close out the opening evenings schedule of performance. The Arkestra was expanding into philosophical spoken word elements into their sets, lavish dance arrangements, very heavy African and Latin poly-rhythmic percussion additions, cosmic space sound collages, cerebreal improvisations into regions unknown and a very advanced form of orchestration that marveled techniques akin to Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson, both of which were some of his closest and most respected teachers. Sun Ra had relocated to Philadelphia from New York in the late 60′s from a fairly long period of activity there. Pivotal recordings would soon come forth while Sun Ra would focus on underground projects and releases with his Saturn Records imprint started in Chicago during the 50′s. After a successful tour of the West Coast in 1969 and a lot of touring in France, UK and other regions of Europe in 1970, 1971 and on. Sun Ra of the 70′s was activated in a way he had never been before.

Sun Ra on the cover of Rolling Stone April 19, 1969

Rolling Stone had covered Ra’s gig in San Jose during his early 1969 West Coast tour. The magazine featured him on the cover along with a full cover story on his gig and what he had been up to. This exposure gave Sun Ra the type of attention he further needed to land radio recording deals and other forms of economic security that would ensure the survival of the Arkestra. Recordings in Egypt during this time are probably among the most prized in my collection and was something I was very happy to see Art Yards have a hand in putting back onto the market with the release Nidhamu + Dark Myth Equation Visitation. In 1972, Sun Ra was really starting to gain full exposure and the festival appearance at Ann Arbour took his group to the next level. Performing to an estimated 12,000 people, this was the biggest crowd Sun Ra had played too and was a breeding ground for the fan base created by MC5 due to the association and time they shared with them on bills in the Michigan area during the late 60′s. MC5 had prided themselves on their love for the Arkestra and Sun Ra made good use of this connection with solidifying a closing spot for one of the most important and diverse cultural statements to emerge from the 70′s in Detorit. Listen to the second half of Starship from their first record and there is no denying the influence Ra took on this group.

The newest 2CD set from Art Yard captures the Arkestra in one of their highest periods of critical acclaim and personal growth. The group had completed work for the epic film Space is the Place the same year of the first performance in the set, 1972. Ra would soon release studio materials with Impulse and many other pivotal labels. Tours all over the world became increasingly easier for the group, especially with Arkestra alumni Danny Ray Thompson taking over a lot of the management duties in the 70′s and on. Africa to Europe to Japan, the Arkestra propelled themselves further and further into the realm of world acknowledgement and the damage from press work of United States journalists in the 60′s could no longer trap the buzz and legacy Ra had created up to that point. Art Yard has slightly truncated the 1972 recording to fit on the 2CD layout with the editing out of two pieces from the set. Present is the Sun Ra Arkestra recorded in 1972, 1973 and 1974 at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz festivals. Remastered from 2 track tapes recorded from the board mixes for reference purposes, these provide the clearest window of these Sun Ra shows to date. Previous versions had been released under the supervision of John Sinclair but this new releases serves as the definitive version to date. 16 track masters were documented of all three festivals in their entirety but like many of the professional quality recordings from that era, have been shelved away, lost or purposely hidden due to lack of payment and other reasons far outside of anyone’s reach. Art Yard has teamed with John Sinclair in the hopes to authentically create a home for these important recordings in the Sun Ra canon along with forging a relationship to present many more of John Sinclar’s massive archive of other artists during the time he was promoting and offer professional recording services. Wake Up Angels presents three mind blowing concerts in some of the best audio quality of the Arkestra during the first half of the 70′s. It doesn’t get much better for this period of the band.

1972 was a phase of heavy rehearsals along with the residency at Slug’s Saloon in New York the band was well known for during that year. Ohio, Philadelphia and many other cities around the New York residence on the east coast of the United States became a haven for Ra to grease up his large ensembles. Sun Ra had taught the course ”The Black Man In the Cosmos” at the prestigious UC Berkeley a year before and had spent a lot of time on the West Coast for various projects and tours. The man was simply everywhere and a big festival appearance was needed to further help finance his band and lifestyle. During this phase, Ra started to dive into more proclamations, philosophy and from this the recitation of more poems took place on stage. With the vocal abilities of June Tyson a full time feature of the Arkestra circa 1972, Ra was adding more and more vocal heavy songs to his sets. ‘Space is the Place’ is the clearest example of this switch as a never ending chorus is under pinned by beautiful horns and a constant cycling of percussion. “There is no limit to the things you can do” is just one of the many lyrics you hear the cast of people on stage say under the constant chant “Space is the Place”.

Sun Ra's film Space is The Place. Photo from

The people of Ann Arbor were very lucky on the evening of September 8, 1972 as they experienced the first public presentation of his phenomenal and decade defining piece, ‘Space is the Place’. The song is complete with sonic collage freak out moments, psychedelic vocal musings, mutated and crashing horn lines and the rhythmic pulse that reflects what the Arkestra was all about. The film of the same name was shot in Oakland and San Francisco of 1972. The 1972 Arkestra concert at Ann Arbor’s famous Blues and Jazz Festival starts with the piece ‘Enlightenment‘. Dating back to his recordings with his 50′s era Chicago recordings, this piece was one that stayed in Ra’s repertoire of material and always shifted in tone, speed, styling, instrumentation usage and so much more. Ra always pulled a few things from his book of past creation for retooling and Enlightenment is one of the most retooled pieces in his catalog.

The piece Discipline 27-II was a regular composition in Sun Ra’s live shows during this era and appears on all three dates from the entire 2CD collection. Discipline 27-II served as a vehicle for one of Ra’s most sophisticated, beautiful and dynamically rich compositions, pulling spirits of Ancient Egypt and the musings of sound pioneer Duke Ellington into one concoction. It also served as an extension for the  proclamations and philosophical ideas that Ra became know for.

Each of these proclamations were like the notes for each song, very unique to each show. For the 1972 version, this release separates each of these sub sections after the main theme with the titles, ‘What Planet is This’, ‘Life is Splendid’, and ‘Immeasurable’. All of these present a very important landing point to anyone unaware of the philosophical side of Sun Ra. The two untitled improvisations are easily the most imaginative and exploratory in sonic scope. The Arkestra molds and stretches outward, diving deep into the foundations set in the early 60′s from the Magic City sessions and Sun Ra’s time in New York.  Saxophone players John Gilmore and Marshall Allen pour thunderous towering sheets of shattering all over the band when the group starts to cook. From squawks to squalls to long strident note configurations that go everywhere. It’s mind blowing when you see footage of this and realize there is sheet music in front of these guys.

It should be noted, improvisation was a strong direction the Arkestra took but everything you hear was created in the direction of Ra; most of which had sheet music and was rehearsed for days before performances would occur specific to that performance. It can be very hard at times to believe that Sun Ra wrote all the music for everyone, but it’s all documented from the musicians themselves. Sun Ra’s talents are sometimes overlooked because of costume presentation and the Afrocentric cosmic philosophy that he engraved into his path here as a professional musician. By the time Ra and his Arkestra left the stage in Ann Arbor, the crowd had absorbed about an hours worth of everything Sun Ra created in the last 20 years of his career. For many, this would prove life changing. The chants at the end of the of the 1972 set highlight how impacted the thousands of unexpected concert goers and those in anticipation for various reasons, were. Sun Ra had given everything he had this September night in Ann Arbor. Fate, a high level of musicality and deep levels of dedication brought him the audience he needed to project himself higher into the realm of public consciousness. After September of 1972, The Arkestra’s touring schedule picked up heavily and Europe and the East Coast of America would no longer be the Arkestra’s only safe havens for active and worthwhile gigs.

Various – Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972 Atlantic Records SD 2-502

The 1972 festival in Ann Arbor was a success and a recording compiling the best performances from the 16 track professional audio tapes was quickly assembled and given to Atlantic for release. Included in the Atlantic release Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972 is a 6 minute edit titled ‘Life is Splendid’ with highlights from Ra’s set along with stellar recordings from the likes of Dr. John, Koko Taylor, Holwin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and many others. In comparison to the many performers on the set, Sun ra was light years ahead of his contemporaries in scope and world approach. Nothing taking away from the blues as that is a world all its own, but Sun Ra was now finding audiences who could appreciate modern forms of black music. This release would prove to be very critical as it made the next years festival very successful but also made the engineer from all 3 years take the tapes away when he found out he would not be getting paid for the Atlantic release, his work at the festivals or from anything in the future. 

Recordings from Art Ensemble of Chicago and many other artists saw release and this further complicated the matters with the people who owned these original masters. If the professional film and 16 track masters ever surface, it could possibly be one of the most valuable archival pieces to Sun Ra’s 70′s period. Exactly one year and one day to the date of the Arkestra’s first performance at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival and the Arkestra was back stronger, better rehearsed, and versed in the long form residencies they established in many venues on the East Coast of the United States. Rolling Stone was creating buzz, Miles Davis was disgusted, Europe couldn’t get enough of Ra and the world at large didn’t know what to think. It didn’t really matter at this point as the band was clearly on their way to bridging the past history of black classical arts, advanced composer big band work, ancient Egypt and cosmic spiritual tones. The Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival was granted permission from the city for another permit on the same grounds held before: Otis Spann Memorial Field. Where in 1972 the Arkestra followed Seigel-Schwall Blues Band, Detroit’s Contemporary Jazz Quintet, Junior Walker & The All Stars, and the great Howlin’ Wolf to close out the first evenings set of performances, the Arkestra was now included on the closing day of performances of the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. The organizers selected the last day as a highlight the best acts from the previous years performances. These acts included: Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers, Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Discipline Arkestra, the Chicago Blues Revue featuring Otis Rush, Homesick James, Eddie Taylor, Carey Bell, and Lucille Spann who was backed by the Mighty Joe Young Blues Band. Anticipation for the Arkestra was higher than ever and the band was now deeper in numbers. Sun Ra demanded excellence and the momentum in his career afforded him the space to acquire these musicians, record, build and tour them around. Moving, feeding, rehearsing and managing this size of a band took the force and strength of someone like Sun Ra and the commanding presence on the 1973 set shows in great detail how Sun Ra was bringing it all together in the strongest way he had ever achieved in his career.

Sun Ra
The Arkestra performance from 1973 starts off with a really wild organ solo drenched in effects. Frantic runs dash back and forth and the band comes in full charge sooner than you can be ready with Sun Ra modifying his organ tones constantly through this transition. It sounds as if organ is slowly being crushed by a massive weight as it bends and contorts in all directions. The band drops out, allowing interaction and instrumentation to change as easily as the direction of the wind. This is 13 minutes of pure cosmic vibrations. Organ segues the very end of this improvisation into another one of Sun Ra’s Discipline series, this one being number 99. The beginning sounds like a funeral service song with the somber yet elegant mood that is shaded by brushes of drum hits and sleek and dreamy horn harmonies. This is a very contemplative piece and shifts the mood of fire and chaos that was in high doses just minutes before it into something very relaxing and somewhat sad in tone. This song sounds a lot like the material from My Brother The Wind II recorded around 1969, very hypnotic and centered around the pulse of the bass. Love in Outer Space is also centered around a circular bass theme, but the percussion build up that starts right from the start pushes this song to a very charged mood. Ra’s organ is a constant staple of the piece and he adds in perfect rhythm before the horn section takes over. Africa to Philadelphia to Saturn, Ra was now achieving his multidimensional vision with the compositions that grace the 1973 set. 3 drummers and even more percussion players colors in the mix with syncopated hypnotic grooves. Ra plays around the constant melody while different musicians take solos, with the trumpet section being the most adventurous and mind blowing. The type of energy that must have been coming off the stage during this piece.

Watusi was another song in the Sun Ra canon that saw extensive retooling and reshaping during its lifetime performed with the band. The song wasn’t originally his but the way he performs it makes it its own thing. The organ and percussion beginning that starts this song is powerful on all fronts and the horn section takes it home, towering the heavens with line after line. Like the year before, Discpline 27-II serves as the vehicle for the proclamations and philosophical outlines presented from Ra and the band behind him. This time around, the main melody and beginning sequence is more melancholy and more somber, playful on some levels with the harmonies and rhythm section. The previous year saw a much sharper version. The inclusion of Watusi into the 1973 set along with the beautiful organ solo on the intro of Discpline 27-II could have accounted for this more relaxed approach to the piece that has a slight New Orleans feel. The organ intro has shades of the piece ‘Somebody Else’s World‘, but only a small hint and then it falls gently into the main structure of Discipline 27-II. The drummers are is in full swing and it foreshadows a lot of the rhythms Ra would dive back into as he included pieces from his favorite composers in his sets. The band talks about morality, the cosmos, the awakening of all spirits, creation and universal properties of why Ra feels he was here. It’s a testament to the hard work Sun Ra put into all areas of his life, not just music.

Sun Ra in rehearsal October, 1971 Oakland, CA. Photo from

‘Wake Up Angels’, the proclamation that serves as the title for this compilation, is the center piece of the 2CD’s and represents one of the phenomenal approaches Sun Ra took to spreading his views. Even with as much existentialism and untraceable futures as Ra projected, he was still a vessel of order and the ending of the 1973 Ann Arbour set also reflects that of the 1972 performance with the song and philosophical staple from the Arkestra, ‘Outer Space Employment Agency.’ The song is a beautiful calling to not only those he accepted into his bands, but for those who are looking for motivation and inspiration to create outside of the means of money return. This was a bold message in its time and there was no holding Ra back from it, especially after this performance and others during the year of 1973 launched him further into public consciousness. “We open up the door for the outer space employment agency” is a beautiful chant headed by June Tyson that sounds so lovely over the groove set in place. The crowd is ecstatic by the time the mc introduces the band again. You can immediately tell the affect this live presentation had this evening. The crowd knew nothing would ever come around like this again.
John Sinclair and everyone involved with the Rainbow Multi-Media Corporation had big plans for the follow up to the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. With a simple and easy to purchase permit now required by the city from the promoters, Rainbow booked an incredible cast of talent to present their best booking to date. Some of the artists first booked included B.B. King, Cecil Taylor, John Lee Hooker, the Gil Evans Orchestra, Sunnyland Slim, The Persuasions, Sun Ra & His Arkestra and James Brown. Sun Ra would be the group to grace the stage before the hardest working man in show business, James Brown and was a reality that would prove to be all too special. Due to many issues in Detroit and the 1973 performances, the city of Ann Arbor denied Rainbow’s permit requests and left the promoters in shock. The Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival of 1974 was going to be one of the biggest and most important events of its kind and now the plug had just been pulled by a city who had no qualms in their decision to present this from occurring in Ann Arbor. The unlikely opening of doors occurred with the city of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. They offered to house this event with no more than a few weeks away from the dates set in place. The city also helped with connecting in free promotion and a radio sponsor for the event. The opportunity was immediately seized by Rainbow without open arms and the concert would prove to not be as successful economically as previous years but provided one of the most intriguing and eclectic settings of professional and timeless musicians ever.

By the time the Arkestra took the stage  at Wndsor’s St. Clair College Amphitheatre on Setpember 6, 1974, the night had already seen stellar sets from many of the performers mentioned before. With James Brown known to have one of the most entertaining shows during this era, Ra and his group brought every ounce of energy they had to the stage and the cassette master reference tapes preserved that night document this in full glory. The addition of electric guitar player Dale Williams and Detroit resident Reginald “Shoo-Be-Doo” Fields on the electric bass provide a nice twist to the songs laid out in the set. Long time alumni from the Arkestra are present and the set dives deeper into the world of Sun Ra’s vast career. ‘Space is the Place’ from this set is one of my favorite versions from any live take I have heard and that number ranges in the 100′s. The stand out piece of this set is the very rare song ‘It is Forbidden’. Performed well into the set, the Arkestra really show the poly-rhythmic Afrocentric elements of the band.
Lyrically, ‘It is Forbidden’ shows their universal calling for ancient knowledge to be preserved and a questioning of what was accepted as the standard for social morality and the decaying standards of life most lived with during the times. These are some of the most earth shattering sets from Sun Ra and Art Yard Records is the perfect home for the remastered release of these historic Sun Ra recordings. Unlike the dozen plus disc releases that should only sit in the hands of hardcore collectors, this is a live album collection fit for the dedicated fan of Ra and the new and interested listener.
- Erik Otis

Buy any of the incredible albums Art Yard has released so far HERE. This album will release November 21st, full details to come soon on where and how.
Sun Ra and his Arkestra
Wake Up Angels
Art Yard Records
CD1: Otis Spann Memorial Field, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Friday, September 8, 1972 (tracks 1-8) and September 9, 1973 (tracks 9-18)
  1. Enlightenment
  2. Space Is The Place
  3. Untitled improvisation
  4. Discipline 27-II
  5. What Planet Is This
  6. Life Is Splendid
  7. Immeasurable
  8. Outer Spaceways Incorporated
  9. Untitled improvisation
  10. Discipline 99
  11. Love In Outer Space
  12. Watusi
  13. Discipline 27-II
  14. At First There Was Nothing
  15. The Universe Has More To Offer You
  16. Wake Up Angels
  17. The Universe Sent Me To Converse With You
  18. Outer Space Employment Agency
CD2: St. Clair College Amphitheatre, Windsor, Ontario, Canada, Friday, September 6, 1974
  1. Untitled improvisation
  2. Discipline 27
  3. Love In Outer Space
  4. The Shadow World
  5. Space Is The Place
  6. Second Stop Jupiter
  7. Discipline 27-II / What Planet Is This
  8. Images
  9. It Is Forbidden
  10. Watusi
  11. Sun Ra And His Band From Outer Space
This 2CD set was Produced for Art Yard by John Sinclair. Mastered by Peter Beckmann at Technology Works. Front Cover design by Nana Makawi, Layout and Design by Sonny Kay. Re-mastered and Reissued by ART YARD ltd
All compositions and arrangements by Sun Ra. Published by Enterplanetary Koncepts except “Enlightenment” {Dotson-Ra} & “Watusi” {Pitts-Merrill}. Publishing and Copyright by Art Yard ltd and Enterplanetary Koncepts.
All rights reserved © 2011 Art Yard ltd.



  1. John,

    Thanks for the words--as always. Any chance Art Yard will issue these on wax as they have with some of their other Sun Ra titles?

    Wishing you the very best.

    Thom Jurek

  2. I appreciate your Perspective on Sun Ra and the Arkestra history,the early 70s was a very creative time for the band


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