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Danna nanna nanna nanna SUN RAAAAAA: The space-jazz guru’s astounding ‘Batman and Robin’ LP
03.31.2015
09:34 am
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Danna nanna nanna nanna SUN RAAAAAA: The space-jazz guru’s astounding ‘Batman and Robin’ LP


 
In 1966, an unremarkable-seeming children’s album called Batman and Robin was released, by an insignificant label called Tifton Records, to cash in on the very popular Adam West Batman TV series. Apart from the remake of the TV show’s theme, the album was mostly instrumental, and had nothing in particular to do with Batman, but it remains an item of interest because of who played on it. While it was credited to “The Sensational Guitars of DAN & DALE,” the actual studio band was made up of members of Al Kooper’s Blues Project and Sun Ra’s Arkestra! Organs on the Batman and Robin album are played by Ra, saxes are performed by Arkestra stalwarts Marshall Allen and John Gilmore, and guitars are played by the Blues Project’s legendary Steve Katz and Danny Kalb. (Kalb is the only “Dan” present; there is no one named Dale in the credits as far as I can find. It should be mentioned that there are a ton of crappy albums credited to Dan & Dale on the Diplomat label, and I can’t imagine there’s any way that the Arkestra and Blues Project played on them. That’s a junkyard rabbit-hole for another day, though.) The album—and again, this was marketed to children to cash in on a goofy TV show—is accordingly badass, full of satisfying soul riffs and fiery surf-guitar leads. It also nods to classical music and the Beatles. Per Bruce Eder’s deeply-researched Allmusic overview:

No, Batman and Robin doesn’t match the importance of the Blues Project’s own official recordings, or anything that Sun Ra was doing officially, but what a chance to hear these guys kicking back for a half-hour’s anonymous blues jamming. Everything here, apart from the Neal Hefti “Batman Theme” is public domain blues built on some familiar material (including Chopin, Tchaikovsky, and Bach), one cut, appropriately entitled “The Riddler’s Retreat,” quotes riffs and phrases from a half-dozen Beatles songs, and another, “The Bat Cave,” that’s this group’s answer to “Green Onions” (and a good answer, too). Along with Sun Ra, who dominates every passage he plays on, Steve Katz and Danny Kalb are the stars here, romping and stomping over everything as they weave around each other, while Gilmore, Allen, and Owens occasionally stepping to the fore, Blumenfeld makes his percussion sound downright tuneful in a few spots, and some anonymous female singers throw out a lyric or two on a pair of cuts, just as a distraction.

 

 
As Eder pointed out, the female singer on the following two tracks is uncredited. Whoever she is, good GOD, she deserves her accolades, especially for the blowout performance on “Robin’s Theme!”
 

Sun Ra & the Blues Project, “Batman Theme.”
 

Sun Ra & the Blues Project, “Robin’s Theme”

I’m pretty fond, also, of the LP’s closing track, “The Bat Cave.” It’s pretty standard issue Booker T. style stuff, but these sax and guitar tones are just sublime.
 

Sun Ra & the Blues Project, “The Bat Cave”

I saved my favorite for last—“Batman and Robin Over the Roofs,” a loose, fun, freewheeling 6 and a half minutes of sweet musicians trading solos over a winning R&B groove.
 

Sun Ra & the Blues Project, “Batman and Robin Over the Roofs”

The album was reissued both on vinyl and on CD in the USA and Italy in 2001, and has been reissued on vinyl in 2010 and 2014 in Europe only. If you’re not hung up on owning physical media, MP3s of the entire record and a bit more information about it can be found on WFMU’s blog.

Here’s a related bit of fun that’s not on the album; it’s Sun Ra and his brother-in-law Lacy Gibson, on a 1974 single called “I’m Gonna Unmask the Batman.”
 

Sun Ra Arkestra with Lacy Gibson, “I’m Gonna Unmask the Batman”
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
‘In the Orbit of Ra’: new Sun Ra collection curated by Arkestra saxophonist Marshall Allen
Sun Ra’s business cards: ‘Why buy old sounds?’
Sun Ra reads his poetry on WXPN Philadelphia Christmas Day 1976
The Black Man in the Cosmos’: Sun Ra teaches at UC Berkeley, 1971

Posted by Ron Kretsch
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03.31.2015
09:34 am
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