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Sun Ra 

Piano Recital (Leo Records)

It was always easy to dismiss Sun Ra as an anomaly on the jazz scene, a mischievous prankster who dressed up as an outer-space pharaoh to sell records and fill shows. Often overlooked is the fact that the man could play the piano like a demon. It's obvious on his recordings with the Arkestra, where his talents as a bandleader are showcased. For a more focused example, however, look at one of his solo recordings, like Piano Recital.

Mixing it up -- including well-known standards alongside his original compositions -- was one of Ra's favorite tactics. His version of "Take the 'A' Train" begins in a traditional mode before turning into distant thunder heard from open city windows. At times, though, the disc is burdened with excessive embellishment. "Outer Spaceways Inc." sounds repetitive, with little actually occurring in the way of dramatic improvisation. Ra's impetuousness gets the best of him on "Honeysuckle Rose," where he loses himself inside endless ornamentation. Overall, this album's strength is in its fresh performances of familiar material. Hearing many of these songs on solo piano is gratifying, although not revelatory, and for Sun Ra followers, it's worth the price of the disc.


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