Recommended for Hardcore Fans Only
x | USA | 10/29/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD captures the Sun Ra Arkestra live at the Palomino in North Hollywood, Ca, on 11/5/88. This is not a professionally filmed and edited recording. It was filmed with one camera from the very back of the venue. Much of the film footage is distant and blurry. Occasionally the cameraperson zooms in on the band, but unfortunately he/she does not do this nearly as often as he/she should. (I'm also not sure why I'm assuming the cameraperson is human--it is a Sun Ra gig, so maybe an "it" filmed it.) What makes matters worse is that the DVD clearly originates from a grainy, generated videotape. The sound is pretty good, but as a visual document, this recording is lacking.
However, I bought this DVD as well as its companion "Volume 2: East and West Berlin," which has similar issues in terms of quality, and both films are worthwhile purchases for hardcore fans. However, if you are just looking to get into Sun Ra's music, buy the DVD "A Joyful Noise" and pass on these releases by Transparency, at least until later.
The performance at the Palomino show is pretty good. Like most Arkestra shows, it has its sloppy and clunky moments, but overall it is pretty good. There is a great performance of "Halloween in Harlem" that is worth the price of the disc alone. It is a real joy to have any footage of this band. It is sad to realize how few of the members are still with us. After the film of the Palomino show, there is footage of a duet between Mr. Ra and Don Cherry. It was filmed professionally, although it too is a little grainy. There is also a short interview with Sun Ra that is pretty much useless, but any footage of Sun Ra that I don't have is footage that I need. Allegedly there will be several more volumes of DVDs by Transparency that document other films of Sun Ra's career. I hope this is the case. Sun Ra was an important creator, and any existing footage is of great use to historians, collectors, and completists. As long as you recognize that these recordings are largely bootleg in quality, you will not be disappointed. There is occasionally some excellent stuff here.
Seeing the Sun
Gary Murphy | Sauble Beach, Ontario Canada | 06/15/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I saw Sun Ra. Live. Twice. Maybe you didn't. If you didn't, then you are out of luck because every Arkestra show was an event that defies recording, each show tailor made for the venue, the town, the time and the state of the cosmos.
I just watched my copy of this DVD, and none of the arrangements are familiar, many songs are new to me, all sorts of new sounds. But I didn't feel part of the show, and that is inevitable. This isn't Michael Jackson -- You didn't watch the Arkestra, you rode it, it wrapped around you and swept you away and hurled you into a space that just doesn't capture to film or disc, and I don't care if it's Robert Mugge's Joyful Noise or the BBC's Brother from Another Planet ... or some fan so thoughtful of the precious importance of this moment that they smuggled in a portable camera and snuck us a view of an alien encounter.
These Transparency issues always get slammed for production merits. That's all wrong, production is irrelevent. All you CAN get is a shadow of a moment, and that's what this is. A shadow, a shadow that someone was kind enough put put in a can and share with the rest of us for a reasonable price. I'm ok with that.
If you'd seen Sun Ra, this film, like the others on Transparency, are precious documents rife with insight and detail for those who can see beyond the production values. If you hadn't seen Sun Ra, well, folks, this is all you get; you can still see many of these sidemen under the very capable direction of Marshall Allen (and you should because they're ice hot) but you've missed out on Ra, on June Tyson's voice, on John Gilmore's tenor (Coltrane rated John as the top). To get at those moments, all you get are shadows on disc and films like this, and if you dig such things, you won't care if this was recorded off a broken TV using wobbly rabbit ears.
Fortunately it isn't, Palomino was shot using a stable 1988-vintage consumer camera -- it's still a view through a mirror darkly, tantelizing and naive and sometimes frustrating, like photos of Nessie, but it could be a LOT worse. Do remember, these were all originally covert films. Transparency has legitimized them by striking a fair deal with the band and the videographer, but at that time, this film was a product of 90% enthusiasm and only 10% skill and hardware. It's a fan-made home-movie, made because they just had to SHOW somebody 'cause NOBODY would believe them otherwise. End of story.
But what it captures! This is an Arkestra roughly the same as appears on disc in the Live at the Pit-Inn, Tokyo recording, with three guitars (two jazz, one of them very rock-electric) and five saxophones, just after the classic Space Opera shows. This is also, I will wager, the first set, so it's going to begin with various duet improv building to a space chord, then moves into vocal space-swing ballads, a barrel-house blues and a good dose of Fletcher Henderson (with 'corrected' harmonies); it's a big-band field-day with trad horn vamps and riffs played against wild space-guitar and searing way-outside solos from Marshall, John and Michael. Do parts drag? Through the lens from that back-bench, maybe yes and maybe the camera was sitting under the focus of the main PA speakers so it biases amplified instruments, but I'll bet it was a different story to those who were up at the front under the full dynamic range of surround-sound rhythm beats and microtonal horn voicings.
Don't watch this for the parts you don't get, watch it for the parts you do get. Enjoy it.
And then there's the extra material, taken from a 1989 appearance on the NYC New Visions show: the duet between Sun Ra on grand piano and Don Cherry on pocket trumpet is itself worth the $18 for this DVD. This is Sun Ra merging his considerable classical training and deep understanding of twentieth century piano composers (jazz and classical) played against that quiet peaceful right-note sincerity of Don Cherry. It's beautiful.
The interview is interesting too, Sun Ra played against the foil of a late 80's era Big City VJ, and I realize the interviewer with his practiced voice form and camera skills is trying to be hip and fair, but the questions he asks, and the demure answers he gets! it's pure Sun Ra. "So is Sun Ra heading for commercial success?"
two guesses what he says ..."