Truth be told I've always had a bit of trouble navigating Sun Ra's work, but the ongoing reissue series on Modern Harmonic (not to mention the titles on Strut we've also got in) are helping me get way into the cosmos, and hopefully all the way to Saturn in no time!
On 1983's 'Ra To The Rescue’ there's an almost collage-y quality as opposed to the expansive and thematic epics I'd associate with free jazz in the previous decade. Way out there synth works, and overblown ear cleaners sit next to (for lack of a better term) traditional pieces.
I reluctantly use the 'trad' descriptor as there's a woozy and playful approach to these tunes where they could sit next to Tav Falco or 'Blue' Gene Tyranny in 1983. I can't think of another jazz record like it! - Nic
Ra to the Rescue was initially pressed in limited quantities in 1983, but several of its tracks subsequently were reissued with incongruous tracks on the albums (commonly referred to as) When Spaceships Appear, Cosmo-Party Blues, Somewhere There, and Children of the Sun. Those album "titles" are in many cases simply the names of the first track on a particular side (these were scribbled in pen on otherwise blank labels). To complicate matters, some tracks were retitled for reasons that shall forever remain inscrutable.
The tracks on Ra to the Rescue were recorded at several locations over several years. Some were taped at New York's legendary (and now long-gone) avant-garde arts enclave, the Squat Theater. Squat was founded by Hungarian political dissidents and based in a cramped storefront at 256 West 23rd Street. Besides music, Squat was known for dramatic productions (from Chekhov to conceptual absurdism), which were staged in the theater's window overlooking the Manhattan sidewalk. From 1979 to 1982 the Arkestra appeared regularly at Squat; an unknown number of performances were recorded, a few released commercially. The Squat archives (at SquatTheatre.com) claim that Ra debuted there in August 1979 and performed on the premises 47 times, "to become our most frequent guest." The chronicle explains that "the fit between the Arkestra and the Squat Theatre was a natural one, as both were in essence creative communes." (Other recordings from Squat can be heard on the equally rare Saturn release Voice of the Eternal Tomorrow.)
The origins of the remaining tracks on Ra to the Rescue are speculative. The Earthling Recordings of Sun Ra (2nd ed.) calls them "odds and ends from various [1984 or 1985] concerts taped by Arkestra members." Michael D. Anderson of the Sun Ra Music Archive says they were recorded in 1984 by director Frank Cassenti for his documentary Mystery, Mr. Ra, at two Paris concerts: one at the Paris Jazz Festival, the other at the New Morning club. Many tracks in the documentary are fragments. The two titles included on this album which are heard in the film are different recordings. Anderson says "Mystery, Mr. Ra" was recorded at the festival and intended for release by Sun Ra, but was shelved. - Modern Harmonic