Jazz is a process as much as a sound, one in which melodic variation and real-time interaction are paramount. It's also deep in the mix of all kinds of Detroit music—Berry Gordy opened and shut a jazz record shop before founding Motown, whose players laid down world-changing R&B as a break from their real jobs playing jazz in clubs. The Stooges and MC5 were as inspired by 'Trane and Ornette as by the Stones and Who. George Clinton took notes on the spaceways Sun Ra navigated. And Detroit dance music simply doesn't exist without fusion and astral jazz, as everything from UR's "Jupiter Jazz" to Innerzone Orchestra's Programmed has made clear.
Nevertheless, the mixing of jazz with dance beats tends to be a pretty iffy proposition—jazz rhythm tends to be looser than house or techno, their basslines generally serve very different sorts of functions, most dance producers are simply not ace improvisers, etc. That's one reason Detroit vet Mike Huckaby's new series of jazz re-edits is intriguing. Rather than attempting to update the tracks with new tricks, he opts to do all the edits on reel-to-reel and utilizes only the source material—no extra programming or effects.
Not that the Sun Ra catalog is short of those things, even when he recorded relatively dry—the opening title shout of "There's a Change in the Air," from 1974, is ringed with echo, but for the most part there's little reverb. It meanders a lot, but Huckaby's reworking is far shapelier—a meaty electric piano riff that sounds like it could have come from a contemporary Fela record takes a minute for the Arkestra to get to, but Huckaby fixes on it right away, and where saxophonist Marshall Allen goes duck-calling at a couple of points, here his dry blowing gets coequal focus with the piano. But it's the keyboard's B-riff, accompanied with a fluttering little guitar lick, that occupies most of Huckaby's edit. It digs in nicely—maybe you need a four-kick to acclimate your feet, but probably not.
Sun Ra recorded "UFO" in May 1979; it was a brief live staple around that time, but not released until Art Yard issued it as part of On Jupiter in 2005. It's a straightforward disco track, very much of its time, more commercially minded than the keyboard workouts of '78's Lanquidity, but still too rough to approach Crusaders-like crossover (or even P-Funky—see Taylor Richardson's Eddie Hazel-ish guitar solo), even if "UFO" had landed on a major label. (Ra self-issued most of his music during his lifetime, anyway—another parallel with the Detroit dance world.) Huckaby's nips and tucks are judicious, keeping the essential groove intact—a groove that's bumpy, weird and likable.
Buy Sun Ra - The Mike Huckaby Reel-To-Reel Edits Vol. 1 at
Tracklist: Sun Ra - The Mike Huckaby Reel-To-Reel Edits Vol. 1 A UFO (Mike Huckaby Reel-2-Reel Edit)
B The Antique Blacks (Mike Huckaby Reel-To-Reel Edit)
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