Angels And Demons At Play

El Destructo Sun Ra painting at Record Archive in Rochester. New York
El Destructo Sun Ra painting at Record Archive in Rochester. New York

The Ramp Gallery at Record Archive is an awkward space for art but no more more so than the sloping Guggenheim in NYC. The intense yellow walls could take the life out of most paintings. The store itself is an awkward space for anything visual. Everything in there screams or gets lost. El Destructo easily overcame the challenge with a sensational display of recent paintings, many of them versions of paintings he has sold in the past like the three Bride paintings in this show. The Sun Ra painting above already had a sold sticker on it when we got there.

We had already been to another record store last night. We had stopped in the Bop Shop to pick up tickets to Dave Leibman’s show at the Lovin’ Cup and I couldn’t help but notice the difference in the vibe. You want hang out out at the Archive, and shop, and listen to music. You want to browse and get distracted and laugh. The new lounge area in the back is like something out of a dream. You could picture Bobby Darin coming out from behind a curtain and taking the stage. And the wall of forty-five boxes is especially inviting.

Marshall Allen, who played with Sun Ra for almost fifty years, has released an incredible collection of Sun Ra music. The two cd set has a few extras for those that have it all and the songs have been remastered but Allen did a great job of selecting the tunes. A far better round-up than Evidence’s “Greatest Hits” collection. This in more like “Mind Blowing Hits” but the songs are as comfortable as hanging out at the Archive.

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Removing Clutter

Three chairs in a room
Three chairs in a room

When Record Theater in Midtown starting dumping their 8-tracks they poured boxes of them in bins and kept reducing the price until they were gone. We still had an eight track player in our car so I was picking up all the crazy stuff for 50 cents. I still had boxes of them when we moved but no player so I gave them to my brother-in-law, CalZone, all but one that is, Sun Ra’s magnificent “The Magic City.” That artifact is sitting right next to me as I type this.

There is very little reason to own anything anymore and I love it. My favorite possessions are all digitized. Music, photos, memories. It’s all going to the cloud. Let’s say I want to play this Sun Ra eight track. It is at my fingertips.. Together we can reduce clutter.

Sun Ra - The Magic City


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Astral Traveling

Logo on door of old police station in Penn Yan, New York
Logo on door of old police station in Penn Yan, New York

A call on our home line from “FOB NY” got us out of bed this morning. Even though that line is on the “National Do Not Call Registry the cops get an exception for their extortion-tinged cold calls.

We borrowed my fathers car because ours is in the shop. He keeps his radio tuned 90.1, the jazz station, so we left it there and heard Pharaoh Sanders’ “Astral Traveling” on the way home. First song I heard back home was Sun Ra’s “We Travel the Spaceways.” I doubt that “Support the Police” sticker they would have given me if I had donated would do me any good in these worlds.

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Play It Sun Ray

Still from Sun Ra movie "Space Is The Place"
Still from Sun Ra movie “Space Is The Place”

I have more recordings (cds, mp3s, vinyl and even an 8-track) by Sun Ra than any other artist. I go through long periods with nothing else but Sun Ra on my iPod. His music is melodic and rhythmic in equal measures and then abstract as hell but it is joyous above all else. I saw him five times before he died and every time I thought this is the best music I have ever heard/seen in my life. His songs with vocals would be top of the pops in a perfect world.

Many years ago I started building a database of of my my meager Sun Ra collection. Sun Ra has over a hundred releases and re-releases on almost as many labels. He pressed his own records in the band’s rehearsal space and issued them on his own Saturn label. I bought a few of them after the band’s performance at Red Creek in the seventies and had Sun Ra sign them. Impulse issued a few records and then passed on a host of others that are rumored to be locked in a vault. A&M signed him in the eighties and tried to clean up his sound. Other labels just put out whatever they can get their hands on. Live shows make phenomenal Sun Ra albums. One of my favorites, “Music From Tomorrow’s World”, was recorded in a tiny bar in Chicago in the late fifties. A drunken women continually eggs Sun Ra on by hollering, “Play it Sun Ray”.

I ripped my Sun Ra cds and converted the vinyl to mp3s so my collection is all in iTunes now and it occurred to me that that iTunes is as good a database as any. I spent a few days of spare time tracking down covers to the really obscure ones and now I sit back and marvel at them in cover flow view.

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The Things They Carried

Personal effects on table at the pool
Personal effects on table at the pool

We tossed the toxic hard plastic bottles that WXXI gave us for joining and we bought these stainless steel Bios water bottles. It was hot in the woods today and we both finished our bottles. On our return we walked right by our house, grabbed our mail and our next door neighbor’s mail and headed straight for the pool where we plopped these things on the table.

Peggi had picked up the two autumn colored leaves in the lower right corner and I found the apple in the road. I found four golf balls when we crossed the course. I always like finding Nikes especially the Number ones although I learned they are no better than the other numbers. And I found a Callaway which I’ll give to my brother. That’s all he uses and the last time I saw him he was wearing a Callaway hat.

That’s our mail on the top with the two cds I ordered. Here I am trying to get rid of those things and buying more at the same time. One is the Chico Hamilton soundtrack to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and the other is a recent Sun Ra re-release of two of his old self pressed Saturn lps. I bought two of those Saturn lps from the band when they were at Red Creek in early eighties. They were supposed to be ten bucks but the two I got had no sleeves so they were five each and one had a pure white label so I asked Sun Ra to sign it.

And that’s Peggi’s hand in the upper left hand corner.

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Pandora’s Box

Fountain Blue Hair Shop in Rochester, NY
Fountain Blue Hair Shop in Rochester, NY

We stopped by Canaltown Roasters to pick up 10 pounds of “Rochester’s Choice” coffee for 4D and spotted Fountain Blue defiantly standing on the city block that Wegman’s wants. I had just seen the newest plans that call for a monster store that will surround this tiny building because the current owner can not be bought. Good for him. Around the corner we couldn’t resist stopping into the Ravioli Shop. I love their baguettes and Peggi likes their semolina bread so we bought both. We tried to buy some mushroom raviolis but they were sold out so we picked up some pumpkin ravioli.

I went down to paint last night but their wasn’t any music on my iPod because I had copied over the iTunes Music Library.xml file with the one from our laptop and my old playlists were gone. I checked out Pandora. I hadn’t been here since I first bought the Touch. It remembered me saying I liked Sun Ra so I clicked the link and it played Miles tracks from Jack Johnson and A Silent Way, early Ornette, Archie Shepp, Yusef Lateef, Eric Dolphy and even Joe McFee. About every tenth track was from Sun Ra and that’s about the way all music stations should be. Why did I ever buy all this music and who need’s iTunes? It was a little humiliating to see how predictable I am. The people at the Pandora genome project really have my number.

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Set Sail For The Sun

Respect Sextet at the Village Gate Attrium in Rochester New York, May 1st, 2009
Respect Sextet at the Village Gate Attrium in Rochester New York, May 1st, 2009

The whole of yesterday’s activity was a prelude to the Respect Sextet performance outside the Bop Shop at the Village Gate. We have seen this band about ten times now and they continue to shine. The former Eastman students are the best band to come out of Rochester. Their newest cd, Sirius Respect, is a tribute to Sun Ra and Stockhausen and every other song is by one of these two giants. They did a little bit of that last night but they have already moved on. The place was packed and the crowd was a lot younger than the usual jazz beards.

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R e S PE ct

Respect Sextet at the Rochester Jazz Fest in 2006

Respect Sextet played the Village Gate Atrium on Tuesday night so there was a serious conflict with my painting class. I checked their website and it said they would be be doing a clinic at their alma mater, the Eastman School of Music, at 4PM that same day.

So we found our way to Room 305 and sat in the back in desk/chairs. The word “idiomatic” was underlined on a chalk board and under it were three descriptions,” dance based”, “variation” and “improvisation”, three things that don’t immediately come to mind when you think of this prestigious school of music. The other green blackboards were permanently lined with musical staffs. The G clef was waiting.

There were about twenty five people in the room, most of them Eastman students. Josh Rutner, the group’s sax player, closed the door and the group launched into one of drummer, Ted Poor’s compositions. They started reading and just as quickly moved to playing and the band sounded great. It felt like we were inside a big, warm speaker. I gather most of them graduated in 2003 but they sound like seasoned pros, in full command of some meaty music.

Between songs they discussed making money with music, getting gigs, doing without health insurance, and life in NYC versus Rochester. Bass player, Malcolm Kirby and Ted Poor are apparently making a living with their music. Josh said, “I think I’m happy”. The Eastman students all talked of moving to New York, Boston or Europe after graduation. Trombone player, James Hirschfeld, in a Sun Ra t-shirt, said getting together to play involved an insane amount of travel. “It would be like driving from here to Fredonia to rehearse.” They emphasized the importance of their formative weekly Wednesday night gig at Java’s while they were here going to school. They released a 3 inch cd of Sun Ra’s “A Call For All Demons”. It was recorded live at Java’s in 2002 and gives you an inkling of what you missed.

I snuck out of painting class at the Memorial Art Gallery and caught a few of their songs outside the Bop Shop in Village Gate. These guys are my favorite group to have ever come out of Rochester.

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Stumble On

I have noticed that the sloppier I get while painting, the better my painting looks. I don’t mean that the painting looks sloppy, it’s the floor around the easel. And I’m not aware that I am being sloppy until I look down. I drop paint and then step in it and walk around in it. I get paint on the handles of the brushes and then on my hands and my clothes. I wouldn’t think this is anything to aspire to. It is probably some sort of phase that I am going though. And speaking of phases, I feel as though I am stumbling along and proceeding as if that is a method. I don’t know exactly what to do next so I paint something, react to it, correct it by scraping it off or wiping it with a paper towel and then move on. My paintings look better to me and that is all that really counts.

Our friends and neighbors, Rick and Monica, invited us over for dinner last night. Monica made what she calls “comfort food”. The dish had biscuits and chicken and peas in a milky broth and it was delicious. I felt like we were back in Bloomington, Indiana having dinner at the Workingmans’ Cafe. After dinner we watched “Yo Soy Cuba”, a wild 1964 Russian made film about the Cuban Revolution. It reminded us of Sun Ra’s “Space Is The Place” with its unreal setting, exotic characters and otherworldly soundtrack.

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Bang Bang



Billy Bang performing at the Water Street Music Hall in Rochester, NY
Billy Bang performing at the Water Street Music Hall in Rochester, NY

Billy Bang was back in Rochester last week. He calls this place the sixth borough. He had a new drummer this time but Bang introduced him as someone who had played with him on recordings in the past. They did a beautiful version of KIA MIA one of Bang’s Viet Nam albums and a song that Billy wrote for Sun Ra. The first time we saw Billy Bang was out at the old Red Creek when he was playing violin in Sun Ra’s band. This was somewhere in the seventies.

Chopsy
Chopsy at Water Street Music Hall in Rochester, NY

We have seen Bang so many times over the years. He was in the Bop Shop atrium with Kahill El’zabar and once more with his own group. He has appeared twice at at the Rochester Jazz Fest and we saw him at the old Montage, downtown. Then he performed live with Garth Fagan Dance out at a Greece High School. And then he was at the Water Street last year. He is always fantastic but more so on some nights. He’s best in a small setting when you are right on top of him. He eggs his band on and they try to keep him grounded. On a good night he will just tear the roof off the place. Billy Bang finished his set with a version of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.”

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