Sun Ra - "I'll Get By (excerpt)" (Some Blues But Not The Kind That's Blue)
I am not a devout of all things Saturnian. In other words, I long ago abandoned the idea of completism or anything close to it, though I do love much of what came from Sun Ra’s singular musical workshop. It’s not just the incredible volume of material issuing from the Ark or even necessarily the difficulty in tracking it down (something that labels like Atavistic and Transparency have made easier). Rather, it’s the incredible range in quality, with the best Ra being close to transcendent and the worst beyond profane. I’m apparently in the minority on Some Blues But Not The Kind That's Blue, as I find it to be far closer to the latter than the former.
The majority of this 72-minute whopper comes from an October 1977 session in New York, with prime Arkestra members John Gilmore (tenor), Akh Tal Ebah (trumpet), Marshall Allen and Danny Davis (alto and flute), James Jacson (flute and bassoon), Eloe Omoe (bass clarinet), Radu Williams (bass), Luqman Ali (drums) and Atakatune (conga) joining the leader’s piano. Most of these tunes are simple vamps (perhaps not surprisingly given the apparent inclinations of the disc’s title), but they lack the polyphony, the sonic surprise, or orchestration of multiple other Ra approaches.
Lightly enjoyable standards abound here, as was Ra’s wont throughout much of the 1970s. “I’ll Get By” has some tart statements from Allen and Davis in turn, as does “Tenderly” from Gilmore. But honestly, the reading of “My Favorite Things” is a train wreck, incorporating the same rhythmic base as many other tunes here (dipping in and out of 3/4), with jabbing piano from the leader, a decent flute solo, and a whole lot of meandering. Ra apologists might suggest that this actually represents an intentional deprivileging of tonal centers, rhythmic stability, and so forth, and that my appraisal misses the point. But of course there are so many Arkestra records that do these things very effectively – in conjunction with standard materials or Ra’s own pieces – that it’s hard to hear this as anything other than a casual studio knockoff with some ups (chiefly Gilmore’s solo) and more downs.
There are some good bits scattered elsewhere on the disc. Ra’s untitled piece (which, along with two extra versions of “I’ll Get By,” is from a 1973 Philly quartet session for Ra on electric piano, Gilmore, Ebah, and bassist Ronnie Boykins) features some enjoyably bashing pianism and tenor freakery. And “Nature Boy” has some tart double-reed work from Jacson that is certainly one of the record’s highlights. But as I mentioned at the outset, this one hardly counts as prime Ra to me.