Bitchin Bajas: Switched on Ra Album Review

Bitchin Bajas apparently has a new album coming out in 2022. But while Cooper Crain and his trio waited for their vinyl to be pressed – with everyone in the music industry not called Adele – they sat down. and developed a really good idea that they had on their last album, Fresh Bajas. Their version of almighty jazz pianist Sun Ra “Angels and Demons at Play” was one of their most inspired experiences and, according to Spotify streaming numbers, one of the most popular. Now here is a full album of Sun Ra performances performed on 19 vintage keyboards and next to nothing else, available only through streaming and tape services, and supporting an organization in Chicago that connects art instructors to prisoners at Stateville, Illinois maximum security prison.

It is no exaggeration to see the Bajas cover Ra so extensively. Baja Rob Frye comes from a jazz background, and Crain has made sound for Ra’s former band, the Arkestra. Ra, meanwhile, was one of the first jazz musicians to play the electric piano on record, and his fascination with keyboards as instruments and objects is evident on his wonderful 1969 album. Atlantis, where he affectionately referred to his Hohner clavinet as “the solar sound instrument” and then absolutely went to town on it. Bajas album title is a reference to Wendy Carlos’s 1968 album. Bach lit, one of the main catalysts for synthesizers ‘early popularity, and while the sounds here are much more sophisticated than Carlos’, it’s an admirable act of deference for Bajas to shout it out.

In lesser hands, “psychedelic synth-drone band makes Ra” could be an invitation to a formless handjob or something that rubs shoulders with Ra’s cachet of pre-music. you are beautiful-freak rather than dealing with him as an artist. Instead, Crain and his company are using Ra’s music as a platform for some of their most accessible pop music to date. They never seemed so interested in melodies, chords and song structures as they were in hypnotic loops. This rigor belies the album’s stoner-bait traps, and while these renditions are generally unrecognizable until the melodies arrive, they are at least honest and thoughtful about how to bring Ra’s music into context. focused on the synth.

Guest Jayve Montgomery’s use of the EWI-4000, an electronic wind instrument, is likely a tribute to Marshall Allen, the current 97-year-old leader of the Arkestra and a supporter of his cousin the EVI. A more oblique but no less touching tribute comes from Daniel Quinlivan’s vocoder, which comes close to the slightly carefree voice of Ra’s favorite singer, June Tyson. She looked like she had casually traveled the stars for years, perfectly at ease in the far reaches of the cosmos; Quinlivan matches that quality with a wacky, almost cute voice filter that looks less like an ominous astral ambassador and more like a robotic sidekick for the ride. It’s a risky choice that only works with a full understanding of the emotional content of Ra’s music.

Ra’s music often has a mottled, earthy quality, even when it chronicles journeys across the galaxy. His compositions might lose some of their swing by being so firmly enclosed in a grid of oscillators and drum machines, but the Bajas make up for that with a lively, cohesive and carefully curated palette. If you know the Dutch art movement From Stijl, you might get a feel for what Bajas are looking for, favoring bold, unsubtle stripes of color over muddy earth tones or pollock mixes. As the original “Space Is the Place” comes alive like an overhead highway, the Bajas introduce it with hissing clouds of organ vapor, as if letting the room fill with stage fog to set the scene, before a vocoder comes in to mimic the four-note theme. which is chanted endlessly throughout the original.

“Space Is the Place” and “Lanquidity”, both from Ra’s loudest era in the 1970s, are the songs most people will recognize, perhaps because they are the easiest to read. sell to modern ears as some of his funkiest, scariest, and most capped work of a pharaoh hat. “Opus in Springtime” dates from one of his last sessions, in 1990. But the sound and feel of Lit Ra is closest to the music Ra was making in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when he called his band the Myth Science Arkestra. Records like Angels and demons in play and Fate in a pleasant mood are full of oblong-looking music that often seems to crawl until sunset. The Bajas thus punctuate their lemonade arrangements, and the album builds up a slow but palpable momentum during its 51 minutes.

But what does Lit Ra standing so high as both a tribute and a full-fledged listening experience is how he uses these compositions as a setting for something that doesn’t really sound like a lot of others. Even though they pay homage to two former masters of the electric keyboard in a style that is eliciting a lot of love right now, thanks to re-releases of albums like Mort Garson’s. Plantasia and Beverly Glenn-Copeland Keyboard fantasies, Lit Ra does not exploit the nostalgia or fetish of vintage synths. It’s just another iteration of what jazz musicians have been doing for decades: treating old songs less like artifacts trapped in amber and more like malleable confederations of ideas upon which to project a whole new sound and whole thing. new Vision.

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