It has now been 1096 days since my beloved teacher Ornette Coleman had his last living birthday. I wish I had something profound or poignant to say but I just don’t. I can only reflect on the joy of our time together and the loneliness in the wake of his passing. So I thought I would take a moment of blog silence for him…
“the world is lonely and we make it happy by loving others.”
The Bones of Time
Upon reading poet Robert Okaji’s poem Ritual, I was reminded of a recent experience.
Recently I had the privilege of examining up close (touching) the right foot bones of an Ornithomimid dinosaur, dated to 75 million years old. I overlaid my hand on the bones, and felt a rather profound kinship through touch, examining each for minutes at a time. I wish I were a true poet like Robert who could put into literary colors what the passing of 75 million years into my soul felt like. This 6 foot 5 inch dinosaur spent its life prowling and eating, then lay in the ground for millions of years before being unearthed by paleontologists and preserved for study. Think about it. Mankind came onto the scene millions of years after its death. The ancient Sumerians, the pyramids, ancient China, Jesus Christ, the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, Van Gogh, the airplane, the car, computers, the Internet… all the while this Ornithomimid laid in the ground, a 75 million year journey into my hands.
These bones are all that remain of this one creature, and yet they are the bones of life, of our understanding (paleontology). They teach us, enlighten us, and hopefully humble us as we consider how short the life of a man is when compared to all time preceding it. This one right foot took me out of my Self and put me into its time, into the bones of time itself.
Life is short; spend it writing poems, making music, blogging, painting and so on. Cover time’s bones with your Life…
Analect No. #63
A short history of our misplaced gaze:
Begin with the ground thumping songs of other people.
Entrance to the fierce cavern (the library of rats and
the locust hammer).
Her goose lute; rinsing echoes from her mouth,
She is the second song of her mother.
Professing plainness and simplicity:
Yet she sports a pheasant’s poverty.
Will you sing then “The Indoctrinated Child” again, then again, pleasing us? We that remain wine blossoms?
We fall off the pissing cart!
But, tied by blood to the Sobbing Smoke,
We speak through days in an opiate hour:
Crimson silk for the handmaid’s knife.
© 1999 Daniel Schnee
© 2017 Daniel Schnee
D.P. Marshall Vs. Fatuity
Though I myself blog about both academic and commercial topics, I very rarely discuss the work of others, save for the occasional link. But in this case I am making an exception, as fellow blogger D. P. Marshall has asked me to reply to his two part series on the lack of critical thinking in modern society. Before I start though, I would like to give you all a sense of where both of us Daniels are coming from in our positions on this topic.
Daniel Paul Marshall is an expatriate living in South Korea, hailing from the West Midlands of England. A very gifted writer of both prose and poetry, he also built (by himself) a café and guesthouse on the island of Jeju where he lives with his wife. His philosophical influences are Thomas Nagel, Albert Camus, and George Santayana. In my own research for my various degrees I have exhaustively studied Zen Buddhism and Japanese art culture (i.e. their combined influence on American culture in the 1950s), focusing especially on the ensuing art of free jazz. Thus, my approach to any criticism or writing comes from this training at least subconsciously, if not directly (Dogen Zenji, Junichiro Tanizaki, Shozo Shimamoto, Kenko Yoshida, and others).
In his essays Marshall lays out a major criticism of our current educational system: society, in general, is not trained to objectively think about things before they decide what to think about an issue, they just judge stuff without any reasonable thought put into why. This is due to the economic aspects, because thinking objectively (a.k.a. critically) about things is not necessary for modern workers and their mundane jobs. If your company succeeds, and the government gets their taxes then all is good in the world. And whenever someone actually does think critically about an issue, then that analysis is easily shot down with the idea that every is entitles to their own opinion, like one person’s random thoughts on the stock market are the same as someone else’s in depth study of economic trends. This is completely unacceptable to Marshall, and bothers him deeply. As he sees it, a diallelus, a problem requiring justification (which then can lead to another argument which requires further justification), is the foundation for critical thought.
Marshall then explains just what he means by criticism: the variety found in literary criticism, as humans use literary devices all the time in our understanding and expression of Life itself. This is where he takes what I think is a slight turn from his original argument, a slight turn towards the ditch rather than the road. We do indeed use literary devices in our lives, but there needs to be a distinction made between literature and communication. For example, one almost invariable (in my experience) communicates with much less effectiveness having learnt Japanese in university for example than one who has gained the (exact) equivalent level of communication (verbs, nouns, etc.) by spending the equivalent amount of time with Osakan housewives.
This is due to the subject matter. Whereas the Canadian college student must learn how to say “As for me…” in college to pass a standardized test, Osakan housewife Japanese is by its very nature communicative of information vital to the circle of her friends who must live it’s effects and possible complications: the Canadian college student living in Japan for one year must learn when to say what via negative grammar and body language. Via negative grammatical form for example, the Osaka housewife will ask a guest if their feet are cold, the common implied request given for one to please put their socks on before entering an area with tatami mats.
(Note: it is also not taught or learnt through literary forms that my own name (sh-NAY) must be mispronounced (shoe-ney) in Japan in order to be polite, as it is correctly pronounced like a strident command to die: “shii-ney”).
Marshall corrects this emphasis later though with a return to the idea of one’ critical faculties, wherein learning to communicate resides. He also rightfully brings us to the idea of “shaming”, the (often misused) idea of morally policing society: judging instantly on gut feeling rather than thinking about the context and ramifications of such action, as in the case of Justine Sacco who was fired for a misunderstood Tweet about AIDS and racial discrimination.
Once again this becomes another slight wobble on Marshall’s road. Understanding thought then as a literary “technique” will not necessarily inculcate wisdom, no matter how intelligent one is. I have seen this phenomenon often in universities, wherein distinguished professors make extremely baffling personal choices which would make their ability to think critically about their academic suspect seem suspect as well: joining socially pernicious cults, destroying marriages through questionable behaviour and so on.
Marshall corrects himself again then with a renewed focus on ideology: the negative moral policing that provokes rather than engages people. Quoting Northrop Frye, he reminds us that to argue with an ideologue is to “lose”, as you can only counter an (unreasonable) ideologue with a counter ideology: soft for soft, hard for hard. This unfortunate position, as Marshall demonstrates with various issues around discrimination against Muslims in the U.K., illustrates both the solution and genesis of the problem.
Ultimately we arrive at Marshall’s closing argument: that it is difficult for people to think, as they confused over it is to really criticize something: not subjective resistance, but pure objective observation. To be wrong is not to be shamed, but to grow. But Marshall’s final point is the third wobble: critical thinking is a device for regulating society’s behaviour: for keeping an informed eye on ourselves.
There is more to human thought than purely objective and subjective thought. It is not polar, but rather a continuum or a dialectic, when subjective concepts of social responsibility are held by the individual. The key is Marshall’s use of the word “regulate”: which carries an implicit morality. Who is it who can’t think, and who will be in charge of regulating them? An educated public? There can be no unified “informed” public by its very definition without an utopian educational system. Without the negatives provided in Marshall’s posts, the results will be improving the common denominator in society’s equal, elevating the average person, the sin qua non for the need. I doubt this is Marshall’s intended implication. But if we are using literary devices as our basis, then the “regulation of the status quo” is relevant.
On a personal level Marshall also seems to be driving at (or at least I get the sense of), the removal of ignorance from those who seem to be permanently ignorant and quite proud of it. This is a kind of “Literary Nihilism” common in both Marshall’s essays and his poetry: the irredeemability of the willfully ignorant. No matter how much we “regulate” society’s behaviour, no matter how informed the eye we keep trained on ourselves, these irreparable intellects will move unchecked in our halls and public forums.
I blame this on the 19th century poet/artist William Blake. Born in the 18th century and dying in the 19th, Blake was the connective tissue between two aesthetic worlds, the Enlightenment and Romantic eras: a son of both and yet not either. Blake was eventually hailed as genius by later generations, but in his own thought of as a reasonably skilled madman. Whereas Enlightenment art was essentially performance of ideal methods (the execution of proper techniques), Romantic art was the expression of artistic identity, the relation of the artist to the work. Blake, though not given his due as such, inhabited a unique position between the two. Blake’s art was the expression of identity through individual imagination (Romantic) with lines as the ideal aspects of the artwork (Enlightenment). Blake was a transitional figure, and as such I see Marshall as his community’s Enlightenment essay man of the rational, the ordered, seeking the consonant utopias of form and structure in thought (while working as the literate Romantic who when not sullenly tilting at idiots, writes imaginative poems of variety and dissonance).
Blake conceived of a variety of perfections, and Marshall sees himself failing at satisfying his own. But if Blake, unbeknownst to his detractors, redefined literary world’s relationship between the poem and the poet, then maybe Marshall will succeed at reestablishing and reforming his eagerly sought thoughts and thinkers in his desired milieu; darkness be damned, with any luck the diallelon will return to our hearts and minds like a lost language: existence ceasing to be, as Santayana said, a “mad and lamentable experiment”. I am still not sure D. P. Marshall can be convinced otherwise.
But I doubt I am correct in my assumption (for a limited time). Marshall still carries the banner of philosopher Thomas Nagel, one of his influences. If we paraphrase Nagelian phenomenology, put simply, if we put aside scientific assumptions about how others think and what is right for them to think, while also requiring we put our own “objective experiences” aside for the moment (how it “feels” to be right), we cease being right, and move to a state of merely having a set of correct facts in our head. This is a different state of being than “being right (emphasis on “being).
I think this is the way forward (here comes the Zen). We cease to “be right” and connect with Marshall’s target society over the facts qua collective betterment. As we cannot control others, we can promote fact as for us all, facts as impersonal objects. As such truth is not insulting or threatening to one ensconced in falsehood. I specifically use the word “ensconced” as belief feels warm, while facts can make one feel cold, unsafe and unprotected: abandoned by their former womb. Marshall need not apply his literary nihilism here. There is no Self to be monitored.
Thus ceases the sound of one mind napping.
Upon further reflection, I think I have now read Daniel Paul Marshall meaning of “critical thinking” on terms closer to his own. Though literary critique is the angle from which he moves through his essays, maybe it is the idea that within critical thinking lies an inherent “critique”. I hint at this in the essay above, but never fully grasped its wider implications and effects.
For me it is being critiqued which is so vital to becoming good at music, and especially thinking. Any diallelus, a few “feet” in, dies with most of what passes for “thought” these days. But being forced to confront the death of our dailleli is nourishing not diminishing. Maybe we need to teach that critique/critical thinking are two sides of a coin that will save our collective lives from the ills and ignorances of society. Of course, I can say that as I have had the LUXURY of a very long term education, which many have zero access to. But if people find ways to be critiqued they can then save thousands of dollars in tuition fees and living expenses: avoid at least a few of the negative aspects of standardized schooling.
My career as a musician rests on a foundation of constant critique in both a personal and commercial manner by those around me. The best critique necessarily evoke critical thought: objective analysis of the matter at hand; problem solving rather than ad hominem attacks. But even if there is ad hominem intention (personal attack), it can still be taken in as a possible area of reform, and the cycle of ignorance ends at least 50%, what we can manage on our own part. With this in mind, D. P. Marshall’s ideas are clearly much needed reforms in today’s educational system.
Maybe then we can move towards Karl Jasper’s vision for us and himself:
“The ascent of philosophical life is the ascent of the individual man. He must accomplish it as an individual in communication and cannot shift responsibility to others. We achieve this ascent in the historically concrete elective acts of our life, not by electing any so-called world view (weltanschauung) laid down in propositions.”
“Let us not heap up philosophical possessions, but apprehend philosophical thought as movement and seek to deepen it…Let each of us as an individual immerse himself in his own historicity, in his origin, in what he has done; let him possess himself of what he was, of what he has become, and of what has been given to him.”
A Beginner’s Guide To Frank Zappa: Part Two
The Early Albums
As I mentioned in Part One of this series, Frank Zappa was an American rock guitarist and composer mainly active from the mid-Sixties to the late-Eighties. And what made him so interesting and so polarizing was that he created a great quantity (and quality) of material. There was almost literally not a style of music that he could not, did not, or at least partially include in his writing, in often very humorous ways. He also recombined and reintroduced musical or lyric material from previous works, sometimes from many decades earlier (“The Torture Never Stops”, “Zoot Allures”, “(More) Trouble Every Day”, etc.) in fascinating new ways as part of his overall working concept entitled “Project/Object”, which he described as:
“… a term I have used to describe the overall concept of my work in various mediums. Each project (in whatever realm), or interview connected to it, is part of a larger object, for which there is no ‘technical name.’ Think of the connecting material in the Project/Object this way: a novelist invents a character. If the character is a good one, he takes on a life of his own. Why should he get to go to only one party? He could pop up anytime in a future novel. Or: Rembrandt got his ‘look’ by mixing just a little brown into every other color — he didn’t do ‘red’ unless it had brown in it. The brown itself wasn’t especially fascinating, but the result of its obsessive inclusion was that ‘look.
I am not obsessed by various words, however; these words (and others of equal insignificance), along with pictorial images and melodic themes, recur throughout the albums, interviews, films, and videos for no other reason than to unify the ‘collection’“.
So, to help guide you through Zappa’s voluminous archive, I have chosen to introduce you to a few of Zappa’s early LPs (1966 – 1970) as a structural guide to his later works. For an introduction to specific songs, click here.
Recorded March 8-16, 1966, and released on June 27 that same year, Freak Out! is the first LP through which anyone (in the general populace outside of southern California) discovered Zappa and his band the Mothers of Invention. And even though the album’s title implies the contents are exclusively avant-garde, psychedelic, or crazy sounding, the music itself is more often closer to mainstream than not, though it wanders into avant-garde sound art (inspired by the likes of pianist Cecil Taylor, for example, in “The Return of The Son Of Monster Magnet” (especially around 11m:10s). A nice example of both is the song “Who Are The Brain Police?” which contains both standard 60s rock sounds, influence from North Indian music, and musique concrète (a mix of sounds and music that seem to have no relationship to each other and their usual sources, used as a form of sound collage).
As such it is on tracks like this that we hear what would become the stereotypical Zappa modus operandi of later years (“Who Are The Brain Police?”), (“Help, I’m A Rock”, the ending of “It Can’t Happen Here”, etc.). These, in particular, set the tone for Zappa’s coming career, and provide an excellent context in which to study later works. This context is essentially the following:
- His work is laden with socio-political satire, especially over what he saw as the more vapid aspects of celebrity and sexual behavior of his time.
- He mixed disparate elements of various musical styles (often through tape editing, musique concrète, and/or in-studio improvisation) into one unique whole, which made him a bona fide musical genius.
- He was a virtuoso guitarist, though he was self-taught and his method unorthodox.
Though Zappa had previously released Freak Out! as a member of The Mothers of Invention (which I will shorten to TMOI for brevity’s sake), it is with the release of the album Absolutely Free that we see what we might call the “stereotypical” solo Zappa emerge: rock songs mixed with sound effects and various sound collages, improvised socio-political dialogues, etc. Thus, I am will be mixing Frank Zappa solo work and work by TMOI to give you a sense of the interrelationship between the two.
Recorded November 16-18, 1966, and released May 26, 1967, Absolutely Free was released at a time when artists such as Petula Clark were releasing sugary pop hits such as “Don’t Sleep In The Subway” and the Beatles the same with “All You Need Is Love”, and “Penny Lane”. Thus, Zappa’s musical collage of themes taken from classical composer Igor Stravinsky, free jazz, and doo-wop on the track “Amnesia Vivace” would have (and did) seem like an all out attack on the sensibilities of the average listener of the day, let alone those who appreciate each of these styles individually. Ironically, Zappa’s appropriation of such styles was done so masterfully, it was not apparent to many average listeners to begin with unless one had an education in classical music, jazz, and the popular music of the day! For example, the ballad “Duke Of Prunes” and “The Duke Regains His Chops”, minus the satirical lyrics, are well written and stylistically as “inside” as any other pop song of the day. Other songs such as “Invocation & And Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin” demonstrate the band members ability to either solo with or support Zappa in his role as bandleader, so Absolutely Free is often the choice of band members and fans alike as an early favorite.
(Note: each side of the original LP was meant to be an interconnected type of “underground” oratorio, and arguably all Zappa works are part of the greater Project/Object “oratorio” Zappa created over his musical lifetime).
Recorded in February 1967, released August 1967, and later extended and reissued on May 3, 1968, this is Zappa’s first solo album, surprisingly, an album of orchestral, musique concrete, and surf music, which further added to Zappa’s mystique. As Lumpy Gravy and Absolutely Free ostensibly were released around the same time, it is easy to see how diverse a reaction would have been engendered. Those who would accuse Zappa of being a “freak” (part of the hippy culture around him) could not accuse him of mere musical shock value, those who would condemn rock music as not serious could not deny Zappa’s talent, and so on. It is also a point of contention for those critiquing Zappa that his songs and LPs almost invariably had comical titles, thus “hiding” how thoroughly serious he was about his music and the depth of his talent. The album We’re Only In It For The Money for example, includes a song simply titled “Hot Poop”. But to his fans this was and is one of the most entertaining and endearing aspects of his work, how musically seditious his work was; in my own case how liberating it was to be a young musician who was turned on to Zappa while my peers were not.
Also, though this is Zappa’s debut solo effort, due to contract issues he himself could not appear as a musician on it, thus he wrote, created, and conducted music exclusively. It is also on this recording do we hear the Zappa classic “Oh No!” later appearing on such LPs as Weasels Ripped My Flesh and Make A Jazz Noise Here. “Oh No” is what can be called the stereotypical sound of his more “sweet” sounding melodies.
We’re Only In It For The Money
Recorded various dates between March – October, 1967, and released March 4, 1968, this Mothers of Invention LP was recorded right before Lumpy Gravy, and thus represents a kind of intermingling of Frank Zappa’s solo efforts and the return of the Mothers. It is also on this recording we hear a particularly fascinating use of mixed time signatures (“Flower Punk”), a creative technique Zappa would use in a very distinct way, apart from the manner in which the progressive rock bands such as RUSH, Genesis, YES, and others who would follow. Zappa would also use what are known as contra-metric rhythms: where the standard composer might put four notes Zappa would include five, where six may go Zappa would include seven. This, combined with time signatures such as 5/8 or 7/4 meant that Zappa could write extremely difficult music in all of the genres he had mastered, which were many. The live album Make A Jazz Noise Here (recorded in various locations in 1988, released in 1991) contains many examples of contra-metric rhythm as well as difficult horn section arrangements played almost to perfection, a major feat for any brass on woodwind player.
Recorded between September 1967-68 and released April 21, 1969, this particular LP is one of the longer ones available, each side running approximately an hour. It was also intended to be the soundtrack to a then unfinished science fiction movie about an insane genius who plans to take control of the world from his secret base in an old Van Nuys garage. Also notable about this particular album in general is its inclusion of the lead sheet music for two songs, the main theme (“Uncle Meat”) and the main theme to a series of variations known as “King Kong”. As Zappa’s music is notoriously difficult to transcribe without some sort of assistant technology, having these two examples available as an overall guide to Zappa (most notably his use of sixteenth note clusters and eighth note triplet groupings) is extremely invaluable to both fans and musicians alike, and an excellent insight into how Zappa created the “stop/start” quality of his percussion writing in particular (i.e. the aforementioned contra-metric and time signature techniques). The highlight of this particular recording though is the theme and extended soloing over the chords to “King Kong” (Parts 2 to 6), which are akin to the tonal explorations of such bands as Pink Floyd but with more free form elements occasionally surfacing. Similar soloing also occurs in the song “Nine Types of Industrial Pollution”, wherein Zappa plays his guitar over a vamping rhythms section and free form percussion.
Weasels Ripped My Flesh
A (mostly) live recording, captured between December1967 and August 1969, and released on August 10, 1970, this TMOI album, like its predecessor, contains contra-metric, humorously titled songs (“Prelude To The Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask”) and free form elements, but returns to the single disc format. For example, the title track is a figurative “wall” of sound with all members playing as many notes as they can, creating a surprisingly beautiful dissonant soundscape (if played at low volume). As such, the LP realizes what might seem like the eponymous ethos of Freak Out! though the previous LPs exist in between.
This ethos is result of the influence of certain people listed in the liner notes included on Freak Out!: free jazz pianist Cecil Taylor, free jazz saxophonist Eric Dolphy (who is both an influence on Zappa and included in a song title “The Eric Dolphy Memorial BBQ”), classical composers such as Stravinsky and Stockhausen, blues artists such as Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Willie Dixon, Guitar Slim, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, and a wide variety of writers, painters and other influences: sitarist Ravi Shankar, painter Salvador Dali, cymbal maker Avedis Zildjian, writer James Joyce, etc.
But any hint of that ethos, like on any other Zappa recording, is balanced by its opposite, like for example a vocal version of “Oh No” (heard earlier on Lumpy Gravy), in which Zappa questions the basis of the Beatles “All You Need Is Love”.
Oh no, I don’t believe it
You say that you think you know the meaning of love
You say love is all we need
You say with your love you can change
All of the fools, all of the hate
I think you’re probably out to lunch
Oh no, I don’t believe it
You say that you think you know the meaning of love
Do you really think it can be told?
You say that you really know
I think you should check it again
How can you say what you believe
Will be the key to a world of love?
Sun Ra: Angels and Demons At Play/The Nubians of Plutonia
1969 Saturn Research LP 406
Plutonian Nights (4:22)
The Lady with the Golden Stockings (7:41)
Star Time (4:18)
1965: Saturn LP 9956-2-0
Tiny Pyramids (3:28)
Between Two Worlds (1:56)
Music from the World Tomorrow (2:20)
Angels and Demons at Play (2:51)
Medicine for a Nightmare (2:16)
A Call for All Demons (4:12)
Demon’s Lullaby (2:35)
As an anonymous jazz critic lamented in the German news magazine Der Spiegel, “with the current lack of new ideas in jazz, charlatans have a chance too” (1970, No. #47, p. 228), referring to pianist Herman Poole Blount, whose music has been the focus of much debate, criticism, appreciation, and analysis. So why did this occur? The following story will begin to shed some light on Blount and his music.
Many years ago, a volunteer at the Edmonton Jazz Festival was assigned diving duties for Blount, to transport he and members of his group the Sun Ra Arkestra between Calgary and Edmonton for their respective festivals. Over the three-hour journey, Blount spent much of the time scribbling in a small black notebook, often pausing to think and look out the window. The volunteer was extremely curious about the contents of book, and made it his mission to peak inside of it at any given opportunity. During a brief pause at a gas station to refuel, the band exited to buy snacks, presenting the driver with his opportunity. It turned out to be a small collection of crossword puzzles. But why was the driver obsessed with Blount’s book?
Blount, who later changed his named to Sun Ra, was a particularly unique jazz musician who engaged in what is known as myth science: imagining science fiction themed futures through costumery, lighting, music that often was avant-garde, poetry, his public interviews and so on. Ra proclaimed that he was from Saturn and/or went to Saturn and came back to play cosmic music that would bring about world peace.
Because of this the mystique and legend surrounding Ra was such that the aforementioned jazz festival driver was immensely interested in peaking into Ra’s black notebook to see if there was anything of philosophical or literary importance, any arcana he could glean and share with his friends: wisdom or creative mythology that would give the driver social capital amongst his peers (status via participation in the Ra mythos through personal contact with the master myth-scientist himself).
Sun Ra would later become associated with what is known as “Afrofuturism”: an African-American movement combining science fiction, mythology, philosophy, fantasy, and social critique, what Paul Jasen (in his book Bass, Bodies and the Materiality of Sonic Experience, p. 200) calls “application of imaginative force to the alteration of lived reality” with which African Americans might invent their own “Alter Destiny”. As Ra himself states, “myth permits man to situate himself with the past and the future. What I am looking for are the myths of the future, the destiny of man… if one wants to act on the destiny of the world, it’s necessary to treat it like a myth” (as quoted in Graham Locke’s book Blutopia, p. 61). Ra’s myth-science itself was highly influential and immense, drawing upon ancient hermetic writing, religious texts, theosophy, contemporary science fiction, and cryptic numerology, and was instrumental in reviving African-American interest in ancient Egypt. Ra called his various assembled sidemen “tone scientists”, and even had the chance to make a science fiction film based on his philosophy (Space is The Place: directed by John Coney, 1974) in which he battles NASA scientists and a pimp-Overlord to save the black youths of Oakland, California and recruit them for his Saturn colony.
The soundtrack to this film though may be where casual fans of Ra get their perceptions of him and his avant-gardism/myth-science, as the opening track (“It’s After The End of the World”), for example, is a series of chromatic organ chords mixed with shrieking saxophone, which one could certainly (non-pejoratively) imagine as some kind of attempt at space-jazz. Other tracks on the album contain enough free form and structural elements as to stereotype Ra as avant-gardist, whether one enjoys such music and ideology, or not. This raises the issue whether myth “science” can provides any guarantee that any/all mythologies will avoid inculcating actual delusion, cult behavior, oppression, or other modes of thought and action that are intellectually suspect, or obscure social reality. Ra was briefly affiliated with the Back Panthers until he left the group due to ideological issues. But as Ra’s is a creative jazz-based uplifting Afrofuturism, it would seem that Ra’s “myth-sciencing” succeeded at both an Afro-positive/literally universal version of the future, where musicians like Ra engaged in what Kenyan philosopher Henry Odera Oruka called “philosophical sagacity”, in both academic and the non-written “wise man” traditions (such as the griot, folk singer, etc).
So having said that we arrive at Sun Ra’s music and the man himself, a supposed mythic jazz figure who supposed played cosmic, (often but not exclusively) free form “space music” literally and possibly exclusively. But what we find on these two LPs, sold on CD as a double album, is something potentially much more interesting and less stereotypical than that. Though the Second Wave of free jazz was now established (performers who came along after the innovations of saxophonist Ornette Coleman) when this LP was released, Sun Ra’s music closer to the First Wave on The Nubians of Plutonia, with compositions like “Plutonian Nights” and “Star Time” sounding more like loose versions of songs from the hard bop genre of jazz, as the recording session for this LP’s songs was done approx. ten years earlier. These same recording sessions also produced the piece “Africa” which is difficult to describe without referring to several genres of music: doo-wop, free jazz, traditional African rhythm, and so on.
The music on the LP Angels And Demons At Play also challenges the notion that Ra was some kind of mystic ergo his music would be de facto psychedelic in a jazz format, as evidenced by “Tiny Pyramids” (actually written by Ronnie Boykins), with its carefully composed introduction and strict time keeping in the rhythm section. Most famous of the songs collected on this LP though are “A Call For All Demons”, or possibly “Angels And Demons At Play”, which one would assume use extensive free jazz soloing to create a “demonic” (atonal, dissonant, wild) feel. But the former is a standard sounding hard bop take on both Latin rhythm and the blues, while the latter is what is known as a “vamp (song played over a single chord or two) in the time signature of 5/4. In fact, a “Call For All Demons” is included in what is known as The Real Book, a large volume of transcribed songs bassist Steve Swallow (due to copyright: “allegedly”) compiled as a working musician. The original Real Book has been covertly copied or sold in the thousands over the decades, possibly in a million copies combined, as it is the essential jazz sheet music collection, and Ra is included. The song “Music From The World Tomorrow” though does reinforce Ra’s reputation as a free form tone scientist, with its chromatic chords, bowed/plucked zither, extensive percussion, and bowed bass. Thus, it is easy to isolate and promote this track as an “example” of Sun Ra’s greater oeuvre.
Ultimately, what the aforementioned examples illustrate is that Ra was more than just an avant-gardist, myth-scientist, hard bop pianist, or any other moniker. He was an important part of jazz history and it’s development, a very interesting thinker, a highly creative artist, and a great performer throughout his career.