One Track Mind: Sun Ra, “Outer Nothingness” from Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra (1965)

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Today would have been Sun Ra’s 100th birthday. He passed on way back in 1993, but the earth — no…the universe — still misses him.

Ra’s Heliocentric Worlds album lives on my short list of recordings — along with Anthony Braxton’s Willisau concerts, Chick Corea’s A.R.C., and Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch — that forced an expansion of what jazz and improvised music could mean. Part of Sun Ra’s charm was of course the (perhaps incomprehensible) cosmology and the onstage costuming. But beyond that was Ra’s piano and keyboard work, backed by an absolutely killer band. The horn trio of Marshall Allen (alto), Teddy Nance (trombone), and John Gilmore (tenor) was a force of nature.

“Outer Nothingness” provides a beautiful example of what that horn section could do. With occasional percussion breaks linking together several passages of beautiful and blistering interlocked intensity, the interplay appears to be immediate. Were the three men having exactly the same thoughts? Influenced by forces originating from outer space? Could be!

So happy birthday Mr. Ra. Space is still the place.

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