The Nubians of Plutonia was recorded by Sun Ra and his Arkestra before 1960 and released in 1966, but it’s not really music of either period, it’s of the distant future. Or at least that’s what Sun Ra claimed; mind you, he also claimed he was born on Saturn and that aliens were going to be arriving any minute. Having said that, Plutonian Nights is one of the coolest jazz tracks ever recorded in any galaxy; I’m glad it was this one.
Sun Ra combined ludicrous costumery and good-humored erudite craziness with strong songwriting, the exceptional talents of saxophonist James Gilmore, and pretty deft keyboard playing when he felt like it. Check out some of the video links below. If you listen to Plutonian Nights and decide you’re a fan, I advise sampling any other Sun Ra before you buy; some of the music is so far outside it’s heading for orbit, which is exactly the intent, only maybe it doesn’t sound like what you might consider music. Personally I find that the thrills make up for the spills, most times at least, but then musically I’m a thrillseeker.
Quoting from a blog I wrote on this piece in 2012: The opening rhythm-section makes weird but effective use of the piano’s very bottom strings, then it segues into a conventional horn vamp, except for Gilmore’s bass-saxophone continuo, mixed loud and front and center, is approximately the funkiest sax part in the history of the universe. Eventually you get some nice breaks, clarinet (I think) and bowed bass, then the funky horns come back to shiver your timbers for a minute or so on the way out.
Links · Spotify playlist. This tune on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon. There’s no live video of this tune, but lots of Sun Ra. Here’s an only-mildly deranged pair of songs from 1989. Next, don’t try this at home. As one YouTube comment notes, he misses one note at 0:56 but otherwise perfect. Nifty French TV show (music starts at 1:30, and the first twenty minutes are full-on drum hysteria).
It’s perfectly possible that Sun Ra was laughing at us all those years. But he went to his grave without losing his poker face.