Album Review: Sun Ra — Standards

Jazz great Sun Ra (born Herman Blount) has an imposing reputation as the iconoclastic purveyor of wildly unusual and unconventional music. His influence is felt far beyond the confines of jazz, and that influence encompasses more than music: his attitude, his onstage sartorial choices and his self-mythologizing were all part of what made Sun Ra important.

No one know how many albums Sun Ra recorded and released; informed estimated put the number at well over 100. Many of those were in pressings of a mere 75 copies. And his interstellar preoccupation is well-documented on many records. But one of his more unusual – and, paradoxically, one of his most conventional – releases is Standards. Like any Sun Ra LP, it’s tough to definitively peg its release date, but it seems to have first come out on CD in 2001.

Standards is drawn from at least two distinct performance. The recording of “Can This Be Love?” dates from 1955 and feature Sun Ra on piano with Wilbur Ware on upright bass, captured on tape in the pianist’s Chicago apartment. Though the fidelity is quite similar (and fine at that) the remaining tracks date from the middle of the 1960s, and feature a small ensemble of Sun Ra plus longtime associate John Gilmore and Walter Miller, Ronnie Boykins and Lex Humphries or Clifford Jarvis on drums.

The faithful and tuneful readings of well-knows standards – an uptempo run-though of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s “Time After Time,” George Gershwin’s “But Not for Me” and so on – may shock and surprise Sun Ra aficionados weaned on a diet of discs like Super-Sonic Jazz and We Travel the Space Ways, but Standards shows an accessible side of the man, a characteristic not often explored.

Standards is recommended for those wanting to get into the music of Sun Ra, but they should do so with the understanding that – wonderful as it is – it’s not representative of his body of work as a whole. The Record Store Day 2018 release — the album’s first-ever on vinyl — features new cover art and off-white swirl vinyl that may bring to mind a tasty dish of strawberry ice cream.

This review is part of a week-long series covering new vinyl releases and/or reissues, including titles scheduled for special release on Record Store Day 2018, this coming Saturday (April 21). Please support your local independent record store.