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Bitchin Bajas - Switched on Ra Music Album Reviews

Bitchin Bajas - Switched on Ra Music Album Reviews
After covering Sun Ra on 2017’s Bajas Fresh, the Chicago trio fires up a passel of arcane vintage synths and interprets eight more songs by the cosmic jazz legend.

Bitchin Bajas apparently have a new album coming out in 2022. But while Cooper Crain and his trio waited for their vinyl to get pressed—along with everyone else in the music industry not named Adele—they sat down and expanded on a really great idea they had on their last album, Bajas Fresh. Their version of almighty jazz pianist Sun Ra’s “Angels and Demons at Play'' was one of their most inspired experiments and, per the Spotify streaming numbers, one of their most popular. Now here’s a full album of Sun Ra interpretations made on 19 vintage keyboards and little else, available only through streaming services and on cassette, and supporting a Chicago organization that connects art instructors to prisoners at Illinois’ Stateville Maximum Security Prison.

It’s not a stretch to see Bajas cover Ra so extensively. Baja Rob Frye comes from a jazz background, and Crain has done sound for Ra’s former band, the Arkestra. Ra, meanwhile, was one of the first jazz musicians to play the electric piano on record, and his fascination with keyboards as both instruments and objects is evident on his wonderful 1969 album Atlantis, where he lovingly designated his Hohner clavinet the “Solar Sound Instrument” and then absolutely went to town on it. The title of Bajas’ album is a reference to Wendy Carlos’ 1968 album Switched-On Bach, one of the major catalysts of synthesizers’ early popularity, and while the sonics here are much more sophisticated than Carlos’, it’s an admirable act of deference for Bajas to shout her out.

In lesser hands, “psychedelic synth-drone band does Ra” could be an invitation to formless wankery or something that coasts on Ra’s cachet as an avant-music ur-freak rather than actually dealing with him as an artist. Instead, Crain and company use Ra’s music as the platform for some of their most accessible, pop-adjacent music yet. They’ve never sounded so interested in melodies, chords, and song structures as opposed to hypnotic loops. This rigorousness belies the album’s stoner-bait trappings, and if these interpretations are usually unrecognizable until the melodies come in, they’re at least honest and thoughtful about how to bring Ra’s music into a synth-centric context.

Guest Jayve Montgomery’s use of the EWI-4000, an electronic wind instrument, is likely a tribute to Marshall Allen, the 97-year-old current leader of the Arkestra and a proponent of its cousin the EVI. A more oblique but no less touching tribute comes from Daniel Quinlivan’s vocoder, which approximates the slightly insouciant voice of Ra’s favorite singer, June Tyson. She sounded like she’d been casually traveling the stars for years, fully at ease in the outer reaches of the cosmos; Quinlivan matches this quality with a goofy, almost cute vocal filter that sounds less like a portentous astral ambassador than a robot sidekick along for the ride. It’s a risky choice that works only because of a total understanding of the emotional tenor of Ra’s music.

Ra’s music often has a mottled, earthy quality, even when it’s recounting journeys across the galaxy. His compositions might lose a bit of swing in being locked so firmly into a grid of oscillators and drum machines, but Bajas make up for it with a vivid, consistent, and carefully curated palette. If you’re familiar with the Dutch art movement De Stijl, you might get a sense of what Bajas are going for, favoring bold and unsubtle swaths of color over muddied earth tones or Pollock-like melanges. While the original “Space Is the Place” bustles like an aerial expressway, Bajas introduce it with hissing clouds of organ steam, as if letting the room fill with stage fog to set the scene, before a vocoder enters to imitate the four-note theme that’s chanted incessantly throughout the original.

“Space Is the Place” and “Lanquidity,” both from Ra’s most sonically outré era in the 1970s, are the tracks that most people will recognize, perhaps because they’re the easiest sell to latter-day ears as some of his funkiest, freakiest, most pharaoh-hatted work. “Opus in Springtime” dates from one of his last sessions, in 1990. But the sound and feel of Switched on Ra is most closely aligned with the music Ra was making in the late 1950s and early ’60s, when he was calling his band the Myth Science Arkestra. Records like Angels and Demons at Play and Fate in a Pleasant Mood are full of loping, oblong-seeming music that often seems to crawl into the sunset. Bajas accordingly pace their arrangements at an ooze, and the album builds up a slow but palpable momentum over its 51 minutes.

But what makes Switched on Ra stand so tall as both a tribute and a listening experience in its own right is how it uses these compositions as the framework for something that doesn’t really sound like a whole lot else. Though they’re paying tribute to two old masters of the electric keyboard in a style that’s enjoying a lot of love right now, thanks to the reissues of albums like Mort Garson’s Plantasia and Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s Keyboard Fantasies, Switched on Ra doesn’t exploit nostalgia or vintage-synth fetishism. It’s simply another iteration of what jazz musicians have been doing for decades: treating old songs less like artifacts trapped in amber than confederations of malleable ideas on which to project a brand-new sound and vision.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Bitchin Bajas - Switched on Ra Music Album Reviews Bitchin Bajas - Switched on Ra Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, December 09, 2021 Rating: 5

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