On April 20, 1965, one of the most adventurous and far-reaching recordings in jazz - or music - history was made in New York City. The great Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra convened in engineer Richard L. Alderson's RLA Studio and crafted The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, an amazing and enigmatic recording that continues to astonish listeners to this day. Somewhere between outer space chamber music and avant-garde jazz, it introduced listeners to sounds not normally heard in improvised music. The album's boundary-stretching jazz sounded like no other record made by anyone, ever.
Now, fifty years later, ScienSonic Laboratories has created Heliosonic Toneways, Vol. 1, an historic new recording in the intrepid spirit of the original Heliocentric Worlds. On April 20, 2015, original participant Marshall Allen (now 93 and still highly active as leader of the Arkestra) and longtime Arkestra member Danny Thompson joined an incredible cast of some of New York's most creative musicians at the behest of ScienSonic's founder, multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson.
Along with trombonist Frank Lacy, trumpeter Philip Harper, bassist Pat O'Leary, saxophonist Yosvany Terry, bass trombonist Tim Newman, drummer Matt Wilson and bass clarinetist JD Parran, Robinson and the Arkestra vets reentered the orbit of that landmark recording created a half-century earlier.
Heliosonic Toneways is not a recreation or remake of Heliocentric Worlds; instead of duplicating the original music, Robinson's goal was to use the extraordinary sonic template of the original recordings - the same instrumentation and distinctive sounds - to create new and imaginative music that would honor the spirit of the original sessions while also setting off into new and completely uncharted terrain. This is ScienSonic's most ambitious project yet, and the results are remarkable.
One of the unique facets of Heliocentric Worlds was the album's use of an expanded palette unprecedented in even the most experimental jazz, incorporating such unusual instruments as timpani, piccolo, and the haunting bass marimba. Some months later, Volume Two followed with the addition of chromatic sets of "tuned bongos" and the eerie, electronic Clavioline. The distinctive aural environment of these two recordings, along with an offbeat musical methodology which blurs the lines between composition and improvisation, makes for utterly singular music which truly lives up to the admonition on the back of the original LP jackets: "YOU NEVER HEARD SUCH SOUNDS IN YOUR LIFE."
Robinson's ScienSonic Laboratories was the most fitting locale in which to record these extraordinary sessions; his converted garage houses one of the world's most extensive collections of obscure musical instruments, the fruits of years spent combing flea markets and junk shops. Among the lab's treasures is the original bass marimba that Sun Ra played on Heliocentric Worlds, heard here in the hands of Scott Robinson and Marshall Allen himself.
Also returning from the 1965 recording is original engineer Richard Alderson - who had not worked with Allen since the Heliocentric sessions but was tracked down and recruited to engineer the date. This made for a truly historic three-way reunion - fifty years later to the day! - between Allen, Alderson, and the original instrument that figured so prominently on the 1965 LP. A strange twist was added when news arrived during the sessions of the passing of Bernard Stollman - whose ESP label had issued the original Heliocentric LPs - on the very same day.
The results include Marshall Allen's first-ever recordings on piano and bass marimba, in addition to his customary alto sax and EVI. It was captured in a marathon session, resulting in enough material for two releases - look out for Volume Two in 2018. Despite many setbacks including pouring rain, technical difficulties, and long delays in the mixing process, the results of this massive effort can finally be heard.
This is startling and unforgettable music, captured with extraordinary clarity and sonic detail - music that could only have taken place at ScienSonic Laboratories, with these musicians, these sounds. This is music that takes you somewhere... somewhere utterly unfamiliar, yet strangely inviting. Or, as Sun Ra used to say, "Somewhere there." From an audiophile standpoint, Alderson calls it "the best recording I have ever made." And while it is unlike any other Laboratory production to date, this music certainly lives up to the ScienSonic motto, "Worlds of Tomorrow Through Sound."