The Galaxy – Music for a Stormy Night

Sun Ra at New England Conservatory, February 2...

Image via Wikipedia

I do enjoy a wide variety of music, and I have worked hard over the years to program as wide a variety of music as I am able.  I was in a discussion with a fellow WDBX volunteer this evening, and the subject of Sun Ra came up.  I was reminded that it has been a while since I’ve done some Sun Ra.  So tonight’s the night for some Sun Ra.

But first we began the show with some George Strait.  In our modern country world, George Strait is one that hearkens back to the Texas Swing style of the great Bob Wills.  In fact, one of the songs we heard this evening was his reverential cover of the Bob Wills classic, Right or Wrong.  Of course, George made some classics in his own right, such as Ocean Front Property, and All My Ex’s Live In Texas.  We also heard a piece that was suggested to me a few weeks ago, Check Yes or No.  George Strait has a timeless style that speaks equally to multiple generations of country music lovers.

I followed up George Strait with some selections from The Pixies.  The Pixies were an important link in the post-punk/indie days, one of those great indie bands that managed to make it big.  Tonight’s selections, all from their first album, Surfer Rosa, display their songcraft and their instrumental chops, and serve as an excellent demonstration of the creativity of the late ’80s American indie scene.

Sun Ra was the epitome of what one might call “an adventurous musician”.  He could play straight blues and jazz with the best of them, and at one point worked as an arranger for early big band legend Fletcher Henderson.  But as he started developing his own organization, around 1953, he first went into advanced bop, then branched off into a style that would later become what we now know as free jazz.  Indeed, Sun Ra was one of the true innovators of free jazz, and was quite daring as a musician and arranger.  His legacy reaches down to us today, if for the simple fact that he was one of the early adopters of the electronic keyboard.

Tonight’s Sun Ra is very interesting for several reasons.  We heard 6 songs from the 2009 reissue/remaster of the album Featuring Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold.  These selections are interesting as they were recorded live, and were added to the album as part of the remastering project.  You get a glimpse of both sides of Sun Ra – the free-wheeling avant guardist, and the hidden sentimental side.  That sentimental side really comes out here through the flute of Black Harold (aka Harold Murray), while this is probably one of the early recordings to feature Pharoah Sanders, who would eventually become well known for his work with John Coltrane, which began in 1964, the year this recording was made

After the Sun Ra, we heard a beautiful mass by the English composer John Taverner.  Now, it was just a funny coincidence that I would choose this mass, Western Wind (commonly given the variant spellings Western Wynde, or Westron Wynde), given the storms that just happened to be breaking over the area during the course of the show.  But it is a happy coincidence, and this coincidence diminishes the importance of the music by no means.  Taverner is considered to have been one of the more important English composers of his day (most of his compositions are believed to date to the 1520s, as he was appointed organist and Master of Choristers at Christ Church, Oxford – also see this), in 1526).   Based on a popular secular song of the day that was used by two other composers of the same time period (the original has since been lost), Western Wind is considered to be one of his more significant works.

We finished the show with a set from a classic live recording from The Bad Brains, The Youth are Getting Restless.  The Bad Brains constitute an important part of the history of punk and hardcore, and it truly is hard to measure their influence just by their overt success.  They are also special in that they took the aesthetic that punk offered, applied the intensity of reggae, and then sped it up.  The resulting music is something unique in the annals of history, a vibrant sort of punk/reggae/hardcore/thrash that has no equal before or since.  Consider the following video clip, taken a few years prior to tonight’s set at the legendary NYC club CBGB’s:

As with Western Wind, the Bad Brains selections had the unintended effect of serving as the perfect theme music for a stormy night.

The following is the official playlist:

Composer Performer Title Genre Label
George Strait
Country, Contemporary, “New Traditionalist”
MCA, 1987
Check Yes or No
MCA, 1995
Bob Wills
George Strait
Right or Wrong
MCA, 1983
Ocean Front Property
MCA, 1987
The Pixies
Bone Machine
Rock, post-punk, indie
4AD, 1988
Where Is My Mind
Sun Ra
Gods on a Safari
Jazz, avant garde, free
ESP-Disk, 1972, 2009
The World Shadow
Rocket Number 9
The Voice of Pan
Dawn Over Israel
Space Mates
John Taverner
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
Western Wind
Classical, Renaissance era, choral, liturgical
The Bad Brains
Banned in DC
punk, hardcore, reggae, thrash
Caroline, 1987
Sailing On
Fearless Vampire Killers
At The Movies

One comment on “The Galaxy – Music for a Stormy Night

  1. ltsailiata says:

    One of my weekly pleasures is reading your blog posts, Doug. What a treat it was being the proverbial fly on the wall at the potluck sitting in on the conversation between you and Chuck’s Place Chuck! Hope to see you at 10 Pin for the WDBX Dudes Bowling 4 Kids Sake. I want to experience another match up between you and Chuck!

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