We get asked in the shop all the time: “Where do I start with Sun Ra??”

There are lots of answers to this questions, usually depending on the taste of the person asking, but for the past few years we’ve been recommending Celestial Love. The album leans more towards traditional jazz than a lot of Sun Ra’s more “out-there” recordings. It’s a great entry level into the wild world of Sun Ra and his Arkestra, but it’s also just a really good jazz LP. We think folks will enjoy kicking off this cold 2024 with the energy of Sun Ra.

Record of the Month Club members will be getting a copy of the album released by the excellent Modern Harmonic label. The packaging on this one is really great. 

The music on Celestial Love–originally released in 1984–is mostly “inside” Ra, veering towards mainstream jazz (the lengthy and adventurous “Fireside Chat,” not on this album, being an exception). Ra’s early hero, Duke Ellington, is represented twice with “Sophisticated Lady” and “Drop Me Off in Harlem,” and two other standards (“Smile” and “Sometimes I’m Happy,” both sung by June Tyson) are given snappy Ra arrangements.

The album contains the only known recordings of “Celestial Love” and “Blue Intensity.” “Interstellarism” is a reinvention of “Interstellar Low Ways,” a composition Ra first recorded in 1959 (with reed stalwarts John Gilmore and Marshall Allen, who are on this version 23 years later). “Nameless One #2,” a blues workout, is reprised on “Nameless One #3.” (“Nameless One #1” has apparently not been written, but could yet arrive from a distant galaxy.)

Though Sun Ra was renowned for outrageous music and performances, Celestial Love is a reminder that he was a man of many moods, with a deep respect for jazz history. His embrace of Futurism never implied a rejection of the past. Even rocket ships were constructed with raw materials discovered eons ago.

Here are a few hand-drawn, original copies of Celestial Love from 1984: