September 4, 2011 – 4:36 am

Sun Ra lost in space.

Click on the panels for a better view or to download artwork.

“The Mystery Board” [Thumbs Up Records, 2CD]

Unknown venue (live concert) on November 2 & 3, 1972. Ex soundboard stereo.

We found this excellent review of the above bootleg.

A bootleg CD entitled “The Mystery Board” appeared on the mythic Thumbs Up! label some time ago purporting to have been recorded November 2nd or 3rd 1972 “for a possible Saturn release.” As with any bootleg, all this needs to be taken with an enormous grain of salt.

Yet the 1972 date seems reasonable considering the repertoire and personnel and, given Sun Ra’s aptitude with a razor blade and splicing tape, it’s certainly possible he could have crafted a satisfactory LP out of this mess, had he so desired.

Such as it is, “The Mystery Board” is a rough listen with the mix suffering from the usual deficiencies of a soundboard tape made in a small venue: the vocals and soloists are way up front, with the drums and everything else (with the notable exception of Ra himself) almost entirely inaudible. Accordingly, all the ensemble sections are woefully unbalanced, but some of the less instrumentally dense material actually sounds pretty decent, believe it or not.

Disc One begins with an intensely confrontational “Cosmo Drama” regarding “The First Man.” Ra viciously hectors the audience about their “black ignorance” for wanting “to be number one” and implores them to “go home and read your Bible - ‘cuz the Second Man is you!”

With the June Tyson and the Space Ethnic Voices echoing his every threatening word, at times it sounds like a riot is about to break out. Sometimes the Arkestra plays some halting swing but for the most part Sonny is just furiously preaching it.

Thankfully, after about five minutes, Ra segues into a brief, previously unheard composition with a descending minor key melody over a gentle swing groove. What is this??! I swear, if I were really serious about this project, I’d create a spreadsheet to try and keep track of all these fleeting, unknown titles just in case they turn up again elsewhere. This composition is a great little bluesy number that ends before it even begins.

Sonny then plays a spacey organ interlude to introduce “Neptune.” Tyson and Ebah share vocal duties while the band intermittently erupts into bouts of free-jazz skronk. Gilmore takes a typically brilliant tenor sax solo, but as he wanders on and off mic, the effect is considerably lessened. In fact, the mix is so murky that the remainder of this track is hardly worth bothering with.

The next 30-minute segment, on the other hand, is quite interesting, featuring three somewhat rarely heard compositions. “Spontaneous Simplicity” finds Sun Ra on acoustic piano for a change, accompanying Marshall Allen on this relaxed, dreamy tune. Allen’s airy flute sounds quite lovely and Sonny even takes a gently floating solo of his own. The mix is much clearer on this quiet chamber piece and it sure sounds like the inimitable Ronnie Boykins on bass during this entire sequence.

Danny Davis joins Allen for “Friendly Galaxy No. 2,” a minor mode waltz led by the piano, bass and drums with the flute choir playing long-breathed, dissonant melodies above and around a moderately propulsive rhythm. Again, Ra takes sweetly singing solo, clearly relishing the opportunity to play a decent piano. Just gorgeous!

“Intergalactic Universe” follows with its modal groove in five providing a backdrop for an extended John Gilmore outing, wherein he shows off his mastery of post-bop saxophone techniques, moving from small motivic figures to complex “sheets of sound” and culminating in a squalling climax of piercing multiphonics and rapid-fire glissandos. Yes, it’s another incredible Gilmore solo! Kwami Hadi gamely follows with his typically fluent articulation in all registers, but when the Neptunian libflecto enters (Thompson?), the tape abruptly cuts off. Too bad; things were really starting to cook.

Disc Two opens with a percussive and atonal piano to introduce “Angels and Demons at Play,” which is taken at leisurely tempo. Boykins’s (?) bass and Pat Patrick’s baritone saxophone double the enervating 5/4 ostinato while Allen plays the lead on alto saxophone rather than the usual flute. This provides a relatively rare opportunity to appreciate Allen’s brilliance on that instrument as he takes a long, labyrinthine solo exhibiting a vast range of timbral variety and expressionistic melodic invention - so good it elicits a round of polite applause from the audience.

Next up is the usual group improvisation, featuring a set piece for John Gilmore’s pyrotechnics, long experimental keyboard outings from Ra, and tightly controlled moments of screaming free jazz mayhem. Unfortunately, the tape cuts in and out with the mix utterly atrocious in parts: drums and bass completely buried and the solo instruments over-mic’d and horrifically distorted. Nevertheless, Ra’s extended solo segments are a delight, with kaleidoscopic tone colors courtesy of his “space organ,” Moog synthesizer and a battery of electronic effects, including repeaters, tremolos, phasers and some deliberately nasty distortion. Excellent.

“Space Is the Place” arises from the ashes with Akh Tal Ebah joining June Tyson and the Ethnic Space Voices on this signature anthem. Sadly, the mix is again abysmal with the histrionic singing much too prominent and the rhythm section almost non-existent. Interestingly, what sounds like electric bass is clearly audible, casting some doubt on whether or not Boykins is really present on this recording, or if this segment is possibly from a different concert altogether. After about seven minutes of carrying on, the track quickly fades.

The disc closes with an unknown number in the “Discipline” series, the one which was tragically mis-titled “Discipline 33″ on the soundtrack to Space Is the Place. This misnomer has caused all kinds of consternation because this piece (whatever its proper title) was played fairly regularly during this period - and it is definitely not “Discipline 33!” It is hard enough to try and keep up with all these unknown “Discipline” pieces without having to contend with further discographical confusion! (Like I said, I really need to create that spreadsheet.)

This version is incomplete, picking up at the beginning of the “Cosmo Drama” segment. Ebah provides some tasty flugelhorn obbligato over the easy swing of the piece, but when Ra announces, “It’s after the end world, don’t you know that yet?” the band drops out for some full-throated declamations: “A cosmic equation was sent to you, men of Earth, and you couldn’t solve the problem! Therefore, the universe sent me to converse with you!” Wow.

The Arkestra later revives the repeatedly descending theme behind the declamations, but it’s all rather distant-sounding and hard to hear. And again, it is clearly an electric bass anchoring things a bit too proficiently to be Pat Patrick and I’m not sure Boykins ever played the instrument at all. So who is playing? No idea. After a little over 17 minutes, the tape abruptly cuts off, leaving us pretty much in the dark.

Sam Byrd (who knows way more about Sun Ra’s music than I do) has suggested that the order of the discs in this set is reversed: that is to say, disc two is actually disc one and vice versa. After listening to them in this order, I think he might be right: the music seems to flow better with the “Cosmo Drama” dividing the two discs.

Then again, I also suspect this material might actually be from two different concerts, with Boykins on some of it and an unknown electric bass player on the rest. But who knows? This is truly a “Mystery Board” and while much of it borders on the unlistenable, there’s enough compelling music here to make it worth seeking out. Caveat emptor! - Rodger Coleman

Coleman writes at his blog

This bootleg appeared on two bittorrent sites but has since been removed.

Click on the highlighted tracks to download the MP3s (sample rate 224 kbps). As far as we can ascertain, these tracks have never been officially released on CD.

Due to the size of some of the files, please be very patient when downloading the tracks. It could be that the server was very busy. Please try again later. Kindly email us at [email protected] if you encounter persistent problems downloading the files.

Disc 1
Track 101. Track 101 - 13:24 (22.5MB)
Track 102
. Track 102 - 31:01 (52.1MB)

Disc 2
Track 201. Track 201 - 37:11 (62.5MB)
Track 202. Track 202 - 17:16 (29.0MB)

Total Time 1:38:52

Possible Lineup:
Sun Ra - p, space org, Mini-Moog
Akh Tal Ebah - tp, flhn, reed tp, voc
Lamont McClamb (Kwame Hadi) - tp, perc
Marshall Allen - as, fl
Danny Davis - as, fl, acl
Larry Northington - as
John Gilmore - ts, perc, voc
Pat Patrick - ts, el b
Danny Ray Thompson - bs, fl
Eloe Omoe - bcl
Lex Humphries - d, perc
Robert Underwood - d
Harry Richards - perc
Alzo Wright - perc
Stanley Morgan (Atakatune) - perc, cga

“Space Ethnic Voices” are
June Tyson, Ruth Wright, Cheryl Banks, Judith Holton

Get a hold of Sun Ra and his Solar-Myth Orchestra’s Life Is Splended 1972 album. The show is from Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, September 8, 1972. It is an excellent representation of Sun Ra in the early ’70s. Only 37 minutes. Buy it here.

  1. 11 Responses to “MYSTERY IN SPACE”

  2. hey bigo, now you’re talking. yes!!! thanks!!!


    By Ed Saad on Sep 4, 2011

  3. i had life is splendid and gave my cd-r to mary last year. it’s good but not very long. i have other live ra’s i like better.


    By Ed Saad on Sep 4, 2011

  4. hey bigo, i took a chance and wrote marshall allen on facebook. maybe he’ll reply with some info on this show. it can’t hurt.


    By Ed Saad on Sep 4, 2011

  5. Absolutely awesome! Yeah, the recording is a bit annoying but it is no worse then any ESP-Disc vinyl record. The same sh*t in fact. All the pops and skips included for your listening pleasure! The music is great here though and the vibe - greater! Sun Ra live was a sight to behold and I would often see him whenever he played NYC (early to late 70s). Once he left the earth I couldn’t bear to go back. Even though the music was always wonderful seeing Him was all I cared about. He was a true artist in every sense of the word. Perhaps his acting ability was the best of all except He was not acting. He was the real deal bro. Unrelenting but always caring. Always.

    By lanzarishi on Sep 6, 2011

  6. hey bigo, netflix has some good sun ra dvd’s. i have watched them all. the best is the two shows from germany on one dvd. one of the shows has don cherry, archie shepp and members of art ensemble of chicago. killer! if you don’t have netflix, one full show is on youtube. at the beginning, ra is conducting. it rules. i will do a search for it and post the link here.


    By Ed Saad on Sep 6, 2011

  7. do a search in google for sun ra palomino and sun ra germany don cherry. both shows will pop up. click the links and watch!


    By Ed Saad on Sep 6, 2011

  8. yeah lanzarishi, the music here is good. i have wrote a few people, and i haven’t gotten any feedback on this yet. i am still waiting to see if marshall allen writes me back. i’ll wait a few more days and then just put unknown venue and dates, i guess.

    if you didn’t get it last year, do a search on bigo for sun ra’s last show from sounds of brazil, nyc, nu 1992. it’s great. it’s a good audience recording.

    put up more sun ra shows, bigo!!!


    By Ed Saad on Sep 6, 2011

  9. see if you like this:

    weasel sent me this disc two years ago. marshall allen plays on it so does marc edwards and marco eneidi among others. marc played with cecil taylor. he’s on dark to themselves. i have it on tape. marc’s cool. he sent his disc with weasel called blood of the earth and two other albums of his last year.


    By Ed Saad on Sep 6, 2011

  10. Thanks Ed, Will do. Please let us know if MA replies!!

    By lanzarishi on Sep 12, 2011

  11. hey lanzarishi, i waited a week, wrote the guy who runs a sun ra site who lives here in b’ham, and wrote a few others who are fans. i got nothing so i just put the info bigo has supplied.

    it’s possible marshall may not even remember it. it’s been almost 39 years, but i tried.


    By Ed Saad on Sep 12, 2011

  12. i am grabbing this one now, big-o, just in case. and, thanks for the sun ra!


    By I-) on Apr 25, 2016

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