Stream 74 Sun Ra Albums Free Online: Decades of “Space Jazz” and Other Forms of Intergalactic, Afrofuturistic Musical Creativity

He was born Her­man Poole Blount, but the many who appre­ci­ate his music and the oth­er­world­ly phi­los­o­phy behind it know him only as Sun Ra. Or rather, they don’t just appre­ci­ate it but find them­selves trans­port­ed to oth­er places by it, even places locat­ed far beyond this Earth. Often space, as the title of the 1975 Afro­fu­tur­ist sci­ence-fic­tion film that stars Sun Ra states, is the place, and if you seek to take such an inter­stel­lar jour­ney through jazz music your­self, doing so has become eas­i­er than ever: just steer your ship over to Band­camp, where you can stream the music of Sun Ra and his ever-shift­ing “Arkestra” for free.

Since you’ll have no few­er than 74 albums to choose from, you might con­sid­er chart­ing your voy­age with Band­camp Dai­ly’s guide to Sun Ra and his Arkestra’s pro­lif­ic and var­ied out­put.

It begins with his “Chica­go Space Jazz” years in the 1950s, many of the record­ings from which “sound a lot like jazz with tra­di­tion­al forms, rich ensem­ble writ­ing, and plen­ty of swing,” but which already show such char­ac­ter­is­tic choic­es and tools as “pecu­liar inter­vals and jux­ta­po­si­tions, the new­ly-devel­oped elec­tric piano, lots of per­cus­sion, extra bari­tone sax, group shouts, and so forth,” as well as the influ­ence of “exot­i­ca and mood music,” the Bible, “occult phi­los­o­phy,” and cos­mol­o­gy.

The guide con­tin­ues on to Sun Ra’s time in New York in the 1960s, where “the ‘space jazz’ or quirky hard-bop of the Arkestra’s Chica­go days starts to morph, reflect­ing the new ‘free jazz’ ideas being devel­oped lit­er­al­ly all around them by Albert Ayler, Ornette Cole­man, John Coltrane, and oth­ers.” This peri­od cul­mi­nates in The Mag­ic City, “a near­ly 28-minute tone poem, col­lec­tive­ly impro­vised under Ra’s cues and direc­tion, with­out pre­con­ceived themes; at times it is brood­ing and spare, at oth­ers it is full-on screech­ing sax­o­phones.” There­after came a time of solo and small-group work, and then of mind-bend­ing live per­for­mances that the Arkestra, under the direc­tion of long­time sax­o­phon­ist Mar­shall Allen, con­tin­ues to put on to this day.

Sun Ra him­self ascend­ed to anoth­er plane almost a quar­ter-cen­tu­ry ago, but if you believe the elab­o­rate mythol­o­gy that remains insep­a­ra­ble from his musi­cal work, he still exists, in some form and in some galaxy, no doubt imag­in­ing new kinds of jazz that the mere human mind may nev­er suf­fi­cient­ly evolve to com­pre­hend. Stream­ing these dozens of albums that Sun Ra left us on this Earth, you may not imme­di­ate­ly think to com­pare them with the music of David Bowie, but as far as 20th-cen­tu­ry out­er space-ori­ent­ed self-rein­ven­tors go, those two are in a class of their own. As Blount became Sun Ra in the 1940s, so David Jones trans­formed from Zig­gy Star­dust into the Thin White Duke into Aladdin Sane in the 1970s. Both remained musi­cal exper­i­menters all their lives, as their discogra­phies will always attest, but when Sun Ra rein­vent­ed him­self, he stayed rein­vent­ed.

Stream Sun Ra’s albums at Band­camp, and know that you can also pur­chase dig­i­tal down­loads of these albums (in MP3 and FLAC for­mats) for a rea­son­able price.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sun Ra’s Full Lec­ture & Read­ing List From His 1971 UC Berke­ley Course, “The Black Man in the Cos­mos”

Hear Sun Ra’s 1971 UC Berke­ley Lec­ture “The Pow­er of Words”

Sun Ra Plays a Music Ther­a­py Gig at a Men­tal Hos­pi­tal; Inspires Patient to Talk for the First Time in Years

Hear the One Night Sun Ra & John Cage Played Togeth­er in Con­cert (1986)

A Col­lec­tion of Sun Ra’s Busi­ness Cards from the 1950s: They’re Out of This World

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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