Sun Ra: When Angels Speak of Love

illustration of Sun Ra image 0
Bill Shoemaker

illustration of Sun Ra

Recorded in ’63 and released in ’66, When Angels Speak of Love has several of the elements that would give Ra and the Arkestra their psychedelic-era relevance. The most obvious is the trippy, tape-deck-generated reverb employed in the miasmic opener, “Celestial Fantasy,” and at key points in the generally high-energy “Ecstasy of Being” and the sprawling, nearly 18-minute closer, “Next Stop Mars” (Ra’s piano on the latter presages Matthew Shipp’s Scriabin-Taylor synthesis). Ra deftly uses the reverb only for vocal chants and small group interludes; “Celestial Fantasy” features only trumpet, oboe, bass and percussion. His clavioline only makes a brief appearance in the reverb-drenched section of “Ecstasy of Being,” creating an otherworldly contrast to the anguished cries of altoist Danny Davis and trumpeter Walter Miller. Balanced by a languid title ballad and “The Idea of It All,” a fidgety boppish line, this album positioned the space-age band to be embraced by a new spaced-out audience.