Sun Ra – Nuits de la Fondation Maeght, VOL 1 Shandar SR 10.001 (1971)
Europe has a very different culture than the United States. European countries like France have retained something from old aristocratic traditions, whereas the Unites States adheres to a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” myth that fosters selfishness and smugness set against a colder business-oriented mindset. After the May 1968 uprising, opposition to the new had also retreated in France, becoming more permissive. So it was in Europe (St. Paul de Vence, France), not the New World, that a wealthy benefactor from the art world bankrolled a festival entitled “Nuits de la Fondation Maeght” featuring new jazz and modern composition. Sun Ra made the trip, and that was something of a major breakthrough because his Arkestra did not yet have a worldwide following, or even much of a domestic one!
Nuits de la Fondation Maeght, Vol 1 ranks among the best of the group’s live recordings. Though there are a few very nice shorter pieces with vocals (“Enlightenment,” “The Stargazers”), this is mostly given over to long-form free improvisations. “The Cosmic Explorer” is mostly a solo feature for Sun Ra on various then-new keyboards. His efforts make even the excursions on the solo half of My Brother the Wind Vol.2 sound tame. A great extended sax solo on “Shadow World” also helps place this on the more aggressive and challenging end of Sun Ra’s musical continuum. In all, a wonderful set, especially for the converted, and a compelling reminder of how this group of musicians managed to make music that, in its varied totality, was fundamentally different than what anyone else has done before or since.
Sun Ra – Nuits de la Fondation Maeght, VOL 2 Shandar SR 10.003 (1971)
VOL 2 is a great extension of the first Nuits de la Fondation Maeght disc. Although similar in ways, particularly across the more “out there” second side, this second volume also moves into other areas. There is space for quieter sounds, as with Alan Silva’s bass solo on “Friendly Galaxy Number Two.” “Spontaneous Simplicity” also delivers some richly harmonic horn charts, and then moves on to the sort of modernized, pan-African ethno-grooves that would become a mainstay of the Arkestra’s 1970s period. This is almost as good as the first volume, though middle of side two can’t consistently match the focused intensity of the other disc. Start with VOL 1, and if you like it plan a stop here as well.
Sonny Sharrock – Black Woman Vortex 2014 (1969)
There was no hesitation in Sonny (& Linda) Sharrock’s debut album Black Woman. It is an album so wonderfully a part of the late 1960s. In that post-’68 time period, this feeling was about that there was no need for hesitation. Call it naive, call it short-sighted. What certainly did happen then was something that in the next 40 years never had such momentum. Truth be told, Sharrock only got better as a guitarist from here on out. But the psychedelic, free-spirited guitar and awesome (mostly) wordless shrieks from Linda really go where few if any had gone before in jazz. Here was music that recalled folk, blues, gospel and other bits and pieces of the Afro-American vernacular without submitting to any genre constraints. And how is this for a song title: “Portrait of Linda in Three Colors, All Black”!? “Blind Willie”, a tribute to Blind Willie Johnson, would show up again in a new form on Sharrock’s Guitar album. The music here bears some resemblances to that of Don Cherry (Sonny played with him around this time) minus the non-Western influences. This is an album — especially side two — that should put a smile on your face. And that is its biggest triumph.
Various Artists – How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan Ace CDCHD 1278 (2010)
Bob Dylan biographer Howard Sounes made the claim that black America was largely unaware of Dylan. The compilation How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan seems intended to disprove Sounes’ statement. Yet, in the end, it probably lends support to Sounes’s position. Most of these tracks are soul and R&B covers, particularly from the 1960s and 70s (though tracks are from as recent as 1990). But a careful examination shows many of these to be B-sides and filler album tracks. In other words, it often feels like some of these artists are covering Dylan not out of a sense of connection, but perhaps to garner crossover appeal to white audiences. Of course, there are exceptions. Solomon Burke does a kick-ass rendition of “Maggie’s Farm” with a lot of guts. But probably the highlight here is a stunning a cappella doo-wop rendition of “The Man in Me” by the one-and-only Persuasions (who released an entire album of Dylan covers, Knockin’ on Bob’s Door).
Various Artists – Motown 1’s Motown B00017 81-02 (2004)
80% of this is just untouchable. It does trail off toward the end. Nothing is less than decent though.
Turbonegro – Ass Cobra Boomba 001-2 (1996)
My favorite Turbonegro album. It’s got all the gay raunch punk/metal that I want. With song names like “The Midnight NAMBLA,” you really shouldn’t be surprised by what you get here. Old heavy metal kind of took itself too seriously, with pretensions to being deep and profound. Turbonegro took all the allusions and implied meanings of old metal and put them into a sarcastic, campy, blunt package that leaned heavily on hardcore punk sounds for enjoyment at a very superficial level, where that stuff belongs.