Sun Ra – Concert for the Comet Kohoutek

This is an overlooked gem from 1973, recorded at the Townhall, New York City a couple of days before Christmas. Sun Ra’s mind was on his ‘Space is the Place’ film and like an avant-garde film of that time, the music is restless, shifting and all over the space

The popular imagination had been captured by the so-called ‘comet of the century’ as Kohoutek was expected to put on a once in a lifetime show and Sun Ra found himself in the odd position of having something in common with the rest of the population.

“There is no place for you to go but in or out. Try the out.”

A few hundred intrepid jazzers had gathered to hear the Intergalactic Sun Ra that evening. Fire breathers, a cosmological slide show and other diversions would bemuse the crowd for several hours until the main show. The recording in fact opens with an excerpt from the slideshow as the poor presenter runs out of steam and bows to the crowds requests to get the fuck off stage.

“Is this a planet of life? Or death?”

Flitting as it does between free jazz noise and catchy snatches, the recording perhaps failed to fully muster support in either camp of Sun Ra’s admirers. The sleeve notes suggest that Sun Ra swiped the original tapes too, possibly for a joke on his friend, and the recording you hear is in fact a mono back up.
With the benefit of hindsight, this mash up approach holds up rather well and, while the listener is challenged and coaxed in and out of freeness and funk, perhaps Sun Ra is making the point that life itself is a mash up, neither one thing nor the other for that long.
Sun Ra’s younger fans will take to this recording immediately with its sing alongs, squawks and a dark-as-a-black-hole but still recognisable version of ‘Space is the Place’.
Concert for the Comet Kohoutek is part of an ambitious series of re-issues planed by ESP featuring all your favourite jazz terrorists: Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler, lots more Sun Ra and even Charles Manson!


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