A previously “lost” Sun Ra album, Crystal Spears, has finally been officially released. Initially set for release in 1975, the remastered four-song album is now available via the Modern Harmonic record label.
Sun Ra & His Arkestra recorded Crystal Spears during sessions held at Variety Recording Studio in New York City on February 3, 1973. The liner notes written by Brother Cleve accompanying Modern Harmonic’s release detail the circumstances surrounding those recordings:
Crystal Spears, intended for release in 1975 by ABC/Impulse! and assigned catalog #AS-9297, was ultimately rejected by the label. Ra and business manager Alton Abraham retained the rights, rechristened the album Crystal Spears and assigned Saturn Records catalog # 562 — but never got around to issuing it. The first three tracks on this album were mastered from that tape, a 1/4-inch four-track (15 IPS) brand favored by home recording enthusiasts — and generally disfavored by pro engineers. The sessions took place at Variety Recording Studio in New York on February 3, 1973, a month before the Ark returned on March 8 to record another Impulse-rejected album, Cymbals/Symbols (also available in a remastered edition from Modern Harmonic).
Why was Crystal Spears rejected? A year or two after Ra’s signing, reigning ABC management was swept out and new execs rolled in. It’s quite probable that the new execs didn’t comprehend what was happening on these recordings. For the uninitiated, this was not jazz as they knew it, but unbridled cacophony. But is it? Sun Ra always had a method to his madness—and a madness to his method.
Most of the Ra projects on Impulse! were reissues of Saturn-label releases which had been poorly distributed (and pressed in limited quantities). In 1972-73, Ra reportedly produced eight newly recorded projects for Impulse! — two were released at the time, and five have been issued since 2000. Ra’s “guided improvisations” often showcased his extraterrestrial takes on the blues as well as “chamber jazz,” a classical/jazz hybrid popularized by 1950s Hollywood composers such as Leith Stevens, Fred Katz and Robert Markowitz for crime jazz. It’s a good bet that Ra was as fascinated by these cinematic sounds as he was with the Exotica of Les Baxter. (Fans of the latter should explore Modern Harmonic’s double album of Sun Ra Exotica.)
Stream Crystal Spears below: