Sun Ra: The Great Lost Sun Ra Albums: Cymbals and Crystal Spears

illustration of Sun Ra image 0
Johanna Goodman

illustration of Sun Ra

The decidedly bluesy Cymbals was one of the best bets of the entire lot. Like Pathways, this program employed a greatly reduced Arkestra. Though stalwarts like John Gilmore are assigned limited roles, the tenorist’s journey to and beyond Planet Jug on the midtempo blues “Thoughts Under a Dark Blue Light” is enough to make Cymbals legendary. But it is Ra’s keyboards that dominate the program, particularly on the smoothly walking “The Order of the Pharaonic Jesters,” where he nimbly capers between organ, Rocksichord and “electronic vibes.”

Whereas Cymbals benefits from a relatively tight focus on the blues, Crystal Spears is a reminder that many of Ra’s better albums are simply all over the cosmic lot, mixing concise, riff-based blowing vehicles with freely formed marathon improvisations like “Sunrise in the Western Sky,” which features Gilmore at his expansive best. It is easy to see why Impulse! picked up Cymbals, but given that Friendly Love has some inviting riffs, passages of drum-driven energy and some soulful John Gilmore, it is a bit puzzling why it was immediately sent back to Alton Abraham in favor of Crystal Spears-unless it was the lost LPs’ trendy quad sound that sealed the deal.