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Sun Ra: When Angels Speak of Love

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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.