Sun Ra has always been an explorer, venturing out among the cycles and frequencies of the musical cosmos like a wild astronaut, bent on rejoicing and celebrating the wonders of the universe. The extended metaphor of space travel permeates the emotional climate of this masterful recording, as Sun Ra’s Arkestra reaches out to express the vibrations of the stars – as in Interstellar – o rthe adventure of travel – as in Moonship and Unknown Planet.
Sun Ra has always been ahead of his time, musically and spiritually, and has suffered somewhat at the hands of fashionable critics who disdained his attempts at cosmic communication. LeRoi Jones, in his perceptive book Black Music, understood Sun Ra’s quest better than most contemporary observers, and made these comments in 1966. “All the concepts that seemed vague and unrealized in the late 1950’s have come together in the mature and profound music and compositions of this philosopher-musician. Sun Ra’s Arkestra is really a black family. The leader keeps fourteen or fifteen musicians playing with him who are convinced that music is a priestly concern and vitally significant aspect of black culture. Some of the musicians, like tenor man John Gilmore, might have jobs with other bread bands, but their strongest dedication is to the beautiful black sound-world of Sun Ra.”
This music is a promenade through the time envelope of Afro-American culture, a retrospective that disassembles and reassembles the traditions and standards of the past. It is at once strange and familiar, capturing fragments of swing, mainstream riffs, and the veering off towards the unknown of the cosmos, the sounds of nature. “Look at the wind,” says Sun Ra. “It goes everywhere, it blows anywhere…” Expect to find contradictions here, contrasting shapes that butt against each other, prodding the complacent listener like a gadfly to travel with the sounds, to release, to explore. “My Music,” notes Sun Ra, “will at first frighten people. My music represents happiness, and people aren’t used to that yet.”
Cosmos is Sun Ra’s philosophy embedded in plastic, courtesy of Inner City Records. It is an unprecedented look at the inner and outer worlds of sound; a magic mixture of the exotic and the mundane, the supernatural and the material, the solar wind beating against the rings of Saturn and the gentle spring breeze blowing a nearby oak tree. If nothing else, it is a voyage. To the stars. To the cosmos. To the edge of the universe. Beyond the unknown.