No musician is more represented, or over-represented, in my archives than Le Sony’r Ra, ne Sun Ra. I know why this is so. It’s because Sun Ra’s raucus avant-swing brings with each helping some measure of surprise, of jaw dropping delight. It helps the cause of surprise the flow of newly discovered recordings, formally released or illicit, is apparently to be ceaseless.
Obviously, in a case like this, meeting my desire for ‘ra’ surprise crosses over into mild obsession. Fortunately, Transparency Records aims to satisfy those of us so afflicted. In 2008, they delivered a 28 CD set, The Complete Detroit Jazz Center Residency, that is both well over the top of any normal concept of documentation, and, a nirvana of surprise.
My informed guess would be Sun Ra is the most recorded musician ever. Okay, maybe the Grateful Dead–another dependable source of surprise–grab the ring. (Who knows?) Still, the immense Sun Ra opus is manageable for the neophyte. I’d say to begin to deal with it, one only need deal with 20 records or so. Even this task would require a starting point, and, let’s suppose it is possible to identify the one cornerstone platter no music lover should be without.
I’d nominate two records, Blue Delight (1989), and, Live at Montreux (1976). One or the other… I could nominate twenty more too. Don’t get me started. If the 28 discs of Detroit were boiled down to a single disc, (or two!) I could nominate it. Certainly, the Detroit set is only for obsessives and deluded completists. Still, only the matter of its vastness intervenes in any sensible recommendation. For me, the set is essential and loaded with surprise.
As the two Rolling Stone covers demonstrate, Sun Ra and Neil Young gaze, resolutely, out into the cosmos. Young weighed in with a modest 8 CD set last year, Neil Young Archives, Vol. 1: 1963-1972. It was long anticipated and worth the wait. because Young has permitted live recordings to stream into the open source, if you’re torrent-savvy, you can indulge yourself in his own endless live opus. Electrified Neil Young is the only heavy metal I return to again and again.
Vol. 1 reprises the classic ‘first period’ of Young’s career. There are too many alternates which sound too close to the original versions. Otherwise, the set is chock full of prime Neil Young music. The first disc, with the earliest tracks and demos, is especially rewarding.
Incidentally, Neil’s first four Reprise records have recently been remastered and reissued. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After the Gold Rush have desert island status in my book. (Neil Young home page…weird + myspace)