Artist: Sun Ra
Title: Astro Black
Vinyl: Standard black vinyl
I love this man:
In 1972, the pioneering jazz label Impulse! Records (yeah, same people who gave you the record featured last week) sought to sign free-jazz pioneer and self-professed resident of the planet Saturn, Sun Ra. On paper, it sounded like a good fit: Ra's releases on his own Saturn Research label had influenced John Coltrane and others. The initial attempt to sign Ra was fraught with some unique legal difficulties - Ra and his manager/business partner, Alton Abraham, had taken the standard contract Impulse! offered them home, and according to Impulse!'s head producer at the time, Ed Michel:
"The following day, Alton was back with a retyped contract, turning everything on its head, with ABC, rather than Saturn, at the short end of the stick."It probably didn't help that the contract Ra and Abraham handed back contained clauses such as:
SIMILAR RIGHTS ON PLANETS OTHER THAN EARTH. Company agrees that all rights discussed in paragraph 5 above, as well as all rights of distribution and retail sales, on planets other than Earth (including but not limited to Saturn, Pluto, Jupiter, and Mars) shall belong to Sun Ra.
Deciding to play it safe (well, as safe as one can with someone like Sun Ra), Impulse! decided to make a distribution deal with Saturn Records for Ra's older recordings, some of which were known more by reputation than by their content because of how hard to get many of the titles were. Going even further, Michel decided to give the tapes -- 21 albums worth, all mono masters except for one previously unreleased title -- a serious sonic overhaul, bringing the recordings up to then-current industry standards. All of the albums got new artwork from Impulse as well.
That one previously unreleased title was an eight-track multi-channel tape containing what would result in this particular album. The tape wasn't mixed down, so Michel, Abraham, and Ra went into the studio to mix the album for stereo and quadrophonic sound (as can be seen on the label, the record is "compatible stereo/quad"), which led to this particular anectdote from Michel:
"At that point I liked to mix at the pain threshold. It was really loud. We were mixing it quadrophonically in a relatively small room. Sun Ra was sleeping deep and snoring loud. For some reason, I stopped the tape in the middle of the tune. He came awake, wheeled his head like an owl does - all around the room, checking everything out. He said, 'You Earth people sleep too much.' He put his head down and started to snore again."
Nine titles out of a planned 21 came out between 1973 and 1975; when the deal was terminated by ABC, all of the restored masters and new cover artwork were returned to Saturn Records.
Almost two decades later, Evidence Records struck up a deal with Sun Ra and Saturn Records to release the records on compact disc (in very excellently mastered, packaged, and annotated editions, yet!) - but for some odd reason, Astro Black was not amongst the titles. I didn't find this out myself until I read Ashley Kahn's excellent book on Impulse! Records, The House That Trane Built, so I started an eBay search recently and found a tip-top-shape copy of the album, which finally arrived in my PO Box today.
I didn't play this yet, but as soon as I post this, I'm doing up a vinyl rip for myself.