Astro Infinity Insanity
Few, if any, bands surpass the Dead in terms of tape archive magnitude. Despite best attempts by legions of fans, an exact inventory of every concert, session and rehearsal committed to tape is probably impossible. The same goes double for Sun Ra whose discography resembles a scintillating mosaic of asteroids in an orbital belt, constantly shifting and extremely difficult to quantify. One thing’s for sure though, there’s an awful lot of it sift through. From piles of hand-pressed and painted vinyl to stacks of barely and often-mislabeled cassettes and reel-to-reels, the Ra archive is one of celebratory chaos. Order was a condition meant for the music’s creation, not its dissemination.
The tiny Transparency label has been making in-roads into organizing some of the more obscure entries, first with a string of DVD releases and soon after with an adjoining series of CDs. The newest projects are a pair of limited edition CDR box sets. Announced a few months ago and available via mail order in the interim they’re now making the rounds of retailers like Downtown Music Gallery and Jazz Loft at middleman-boosted prices. The scope of each is something to marvel at and somewhat akin to a Fatman and Little Boy relationship, if you’ll forgive the atomic analogy.
The Complete Detroit Jazz Center Residency: December 26, 1980 – January 1, 1981 packages an entire 11-concert New Year’s eve stand by the band onto 28 discs and clocks at over 26 hours(!) The 14-piece incarnation of the Arkestra holds court on over a hundred compositions and group improvisations. Audio is surprisingly decent, the product of soundboard sources. Two poster-sized pages give a rundown of both set lists and band members. The smaller Live at the Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, Canada 1978 culls eight hours of material from three different dates onto ten discs. The Arkestra on hand for these shows is slightly smaller, but basically the same in membership and again, fidelity, while a bit boxy, is more than listenable.
I’ve been living with both sets for about the past two weeks and predictably haven’t been able to carve out much time to spend with them thus far. A warts-and-all philosophy pervades, but it’s also to be privy to the music without the potential distractions of major interruptions or edits. The Horseshoe set is a bit problematic in that individual tunes do not appear to be indexed into tracks and accompanying set lists are not included, but Michael @ Transparency assures me that the information is forthcoming. The entire production operation consists only of himself and a recently hired employee. Given the time and effort necessary to construct each box, they’re both keeping very busy trying to keep up with the steady stream of orders. More boxes are planned for the near future, but honestly, I’m wondering when, if ever, I’ll be able to digest the entirety of these initial ones. Still, the promise of further installments is enough to cause the collector gene in my DNA helix to vibrate expectantly. As I’m so fond of quoting, “addiction ain’t fiction”.