Sun Ra: That’s How I Feel

There is an odd comfort that I get from jazz music in that it’s something I can’t think about analytically. I know that I wax philosophy-like about the grand and explosive nature of free form Coltrane or discuss like some pretentious chosen guy that “gets it” the merits of fusion era Miles. I think I may have said a word or two about Ayler or Ornette, but being that I’m not a musician, I can’t contrast “modal” jazz with chord progressions, or pick out flat notes, or any of that shit. Jazz is an expressive music that I can like or dislike based purely on how it makes me feel. It’s not like rock, punk, pop, hip-hop or whatever else I typically discuss in that it’s not so easy to draw its influences or come up with communicative or illustrative sentences describing what I hear. There is admittedly some relief in being able to just listen to the music without having to consider anything about it.

Having said that, I know that discussing a jazz record seems hypocritical, but hearing Sun Ra’s Lanquidity was enough of an experience that I figured I’d give it a word or two. Besides, I think it’s a relatively obscure album and I feel it would benefit anyone reading this to offer it some attention. If I do write about music for any reason at all, it’s to talk about the good stuff.

A couple years ago, I was listening to Henry Rollins’s radio show, Harmony In My Head, which I’ve written about more than a few times. The show has turned me onto a lot of good music, Lanquidity being one of those things I thankfully discovered while I was zoned out, listening away and working on whatever I was working on at the time. I don’t even remember what song was playing, but I was hooked. Sun Ra was mentioned, but the track remained anonymous, something to fill some remaining time before the next broadcast was to begin.

So, I wrote Henry Rollins and asked about the Sun Ra track. He wrote me back:

“Sean, good question. X (Engineer X, Henry Rollins’s radio cohort) added that as the show was short. It's off the Liquidity album. Thanks. Henry”

Close enough. He set me in the right direction so... Thanks, Henry.

Anyway, Lanquidity sort of sat on the backburner for a little over two years. I guess more pressing matters, releases and news took precedence. I finally bought a copy a little over a month ago and...

Not to disrespect or discredit any performer or release that I’ve had to discuss since March, but Lanquidity is really the only album I’ve wanted to listen to since it arrived in the mail. And, maybe part of its attraction is that it’s not something I need to think about critically. It really is an album that I just throw on and enjoy, down to its throbbing bass lines, its light brass, its 70s groove. I wasn’t really a huge fan of Sun Ra’s work till I heard Lanquidity, though I admit that my knowledge of his music is limited to only a couple albums. It has a very affecting and pensive tone with moments that seem buoyant and celebratory. It's a soft album, not in terms of integrity, but in terms of severity. Nuances are there, but understated. Even its final track, "There Are Other Worlds (They Have Not Told You Of)," multi-tracked, reverberating whispers or sung declarations with mixed and sporadic instrumentation don't scream or unsettle you. It's all perfectly pronounced without being obnoxious.

And, as its one of the few jazz albums that can claim Philadelphia as its place of origin, there’s some neighborhood spirit that adds to its appeal, as most jazz musicians made their mark in New York. Even Coltrane was in Philadelphia for a little while, but left as others do to pursue whatever the Big Apple can provide for the superstars of our times. From that perspective, it makes all the sense in the world that Lanquidity wouldn’t necessarily be considered noteworthy. Still, it’s becoming one of my favorite jazz albums.

Letters From A Tapehead


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