Sun Ra was many things: exceptional pianist and arranger for Fletcher Henderson, noted band leader of his “Arkestra” and electronic music pioneer. He was also just plain odd. Claiming to be from Saturn, he marched to the beat of an “interstellar” drummer, appeared in metallic robes, lived with his band in a quasi-commune in Chicago, and made records and films that stretched the limits of contemporary music and mores. The release of Spaceship Lullaby, documenting the period of 1954-1960, shows Sun Ra as a budding doo-wop creator. Featuring groups such as Nu Sounds, The Lintels and The Cosmic Rays, this has rather pedestrian vocal work, with only the title cut giving a nod to Ra’s more eclectic world (or “other world”) view. Previously only available on singles, if at all, this is music that has been largely unheard since its conception.
This is not your standard five guys on a streetcorner doo-wop – the voicing is somewhat out of the ordinary, and the material is not standard fare for the genre, but all in all, it’s close enough. The recordings were generally not considered to be for release, rather documents of rehearsals, so the quality varies greatly. Like most instrumentation in primarily vocal material, the backing is rather subdued, although Ra tosses off some nice piano features between verses or as introductions to the songs. Fans of Sun Ra’s odd, yet brilliantly compelling jazz material won’t find much to identify with here, and it’s doubtful that fans of vocal harmony groups will cotton much to this release either. But as a document of the musical powerhouse that was Sun Ra, and his concept of a somewhat strange form of popular music, it’s worth giving a listen. Just don’t expect to wake up on another planet after hearing it.