Sun Ra - Media Dreams LP
Label: Art Yard
All the material on Media Dreams comes from live performances from January 1978, when Sun Ra was in Italy with a quartet – Michael Ray, John Gilmore, and Luqman Ali – making recordings for Aldo Sinesio and the Horo label. The trip also included concerts in Rome, Milan and elsewhere; these produced enough recorded material for several Saturn albums, including Media Dream. The exact dates are uncertain; all the musicians were present in Rome as early as January 2nd, when they recorded New Steps for Horo; they were still in Italy on January 23rd, when a concert in Milan resulted in the Saturn LP Disco 3000. These recordings, of which Media Dream is a great example, feature an instrument newly added to Sun Ra's arsenal: the Crumar Mainman. It's a rare keyboard, probably made in small numbers by Crumar, which manufactured synths from the late 1960s until 1984. Martin O'Cuthbert also played the Mainman – he uses it on several recordings from 1979 and 1980: it's described in that context as a "string synthesizer." After that, it seems to disappear from view. It was reportedly the first keyboard to provide preprogrammed beats – Sun Ra certainly uses that feature on Media Dream. The album opens with Sun Ra building dark organ tonalities at the start of "Saturn Research," creating an ominous barrage in the lower register, while Ali contributes a subdued accompaniment. Ra's is an orchestral concept here, a depiction of an ominous, portentous scene. Unlike some of his other explorations in this musical territory the piece is not developed here into a large-scale structure, but presented as a short sketch, satisfying and complete in itself. Applause separates it from the next track on the album: these are two pieces were clearly played one after the other in concert. As "Constellation" gets under way after the applause, Sun Ra lightens the mood, laying down rhythmic patterns with the Mainman, Ray's is the first musical statement over the top of these. Ra adds other keyboard layers above the rhythm to take the music in a different direction. There's almost a hint of minimalism as performed by others here, but the way Sun Ra bends and deconstructs the mechanical patterns are all his own. In their original context, these Italian concert recordings served to document Sun Ra's musical activity; his music was a cosmic newspaper, he once said.