It’s been said before, but it bears repeating. You could devote your life to the music of Sun Ra and never get through it all. Have you thoroughly digested the recent Egypt 1971 boxed set? Or the 2020 Arkestra LP Swirling? Watch out—there’s a very enticing expanded edition of the classic Lanquidity LP coming soon. Exhausting? Hell no. However deep you want to dive, exploring Ra’s universe is a constantly rewarding pastime.
Don’t just stick to the music, though. Ra was almost as prolific a writer as he was a composer. It all flowed together in one cosmic stream: visionary poetry, esoteric essays, heady manifestos, occult philosophy. This side of the Sun Ra experience is showcased in a wonderful new stack of pamphlets and books from the Corbett vs. Dempsey label. They’ve gone above and beyond in reproducing these publications exactly as Ra envisioned them originally, offering the reader a delicious immersion into the artist’s fertile imagination. Included are the original booklets that came along with his 1957 debut Jazz By Sun Ra and the 1959 masterpiece Jazz In Silhouette, each one packed with insight and wonder.
Best of all is The Immeasurable Equation, a two-volume collection that is perhaps Ra’s magnum opus as a poet, with more than 200 works. Each page feels as rich and strange as a vintage Arkestra performance, transporting us to another world. Don’t mistake this stuff for flowery fluff. Ra is serious about connecting, about showing his reader other possibilities. “I am only offering what I might have to offer in the sincereness of my heart to those who might have need of what I am saying,” he writes in The Immeasurable Equation’s intro. “I am only doing that which it is natural for me to do.” All these years later, Ra’s natural wisdom still resonates and reverberates.
Related: Those of you in the Chicago area should run-not-walk to catch Sun Ra, The Substitute Words: Poetry, 1957-72 at the Corbett vs. Dempsey gallery, which runs through April 24. The first-of-its-kind exhibitions “considers Sun Ra’s poetry on its own terms and in the context of his innovative DIY methods.” | t wilcox