A year after the cassette-only release of ‘Switched On Ra’, another format has fallen from whatever kind of rare ether Bitchin Bajas occupy when they’re at home. The LP edition of ‘Switched On Ra’ bears all the same riches (only richer of course) in its grooves, adding a lovely screen-printed rendering of the graphics to its larger-than- cassette-cosmos dimensions.
‘Switched On Ra’ is the outcome of a typical Bajas exercise: pouring some out for the pioneers that came before (as they’ve done with Bitchitronics and their participation in the annual Chicago performance of ‘In C’ over the years). It’s a nice way to get a flow - they play a little of themselves, then some for the pioneers, then a little more for the band. Before long, they’re playing with the inspirations twined, as they can only come from within.
For ‘Switched On Ra’, this meant a deep delve into the song-book of one of their soul-predecessors, Sun Ra, whose music is literally written in the Bajas DNA. Digging into this music sounded wild on paper: the drone synth group taking on the Arkestra harmonies and Ra’s loose grooves? The trick was to get that sense of rhythm to translate across the spectrum, from Ra to Bajas, in a way that worked for them both.
Their rearrangements of the tunes went good - up and down the EQ band, they were finding the round sounds and jagged edges that brought Ra’s music into their own thing. Then at the last minute, there was another twist - why not pay tribute to the Queen herself, and think of the arrangements with a Wendy Carlos vibe? A little side homage? After all, ‘Switched on Bach’ was visionary, bringing analogue synths from the outside all the way into the mainstream in the late 60s - and this take on Ra’s meant to take him to new ears everywhere.
Sun Ra of course was his own kind of original keyboard visionary, using electric keyboards in the late 40s and 50s to fill a role in jazz that had traditionally been played on acoustic piano only. Once he’d done so, he took his writing in directions inspired by the electricity, places no one had thought to go before then. Doing what he did on the keys was a stand for individuality that became the background radiation of his journey through the cosmos; the search for a place beyond earthly dominance.
Bitchin Bajas have been content to dominate in a microtonal world, usually without a single chord to be found anywhere. But here, they step up righteously, their vibe triangulated as they bring Ra’s music forward with some Wendy Carlos style, making an unexpected space for all to thrive. There’s a real feeling of joy as these collected signals bounce off the platter and through the speakers into your space.
To get this unique colloid exactly right, Bitchin Bajas used nineteen different keyboards. They abstained from deploying their arsenal of reed and woodwind instruments: everything had to be on the keys. This meant Yamahas, Rolands, Korgs, Casios, a MicroMoog and of course their trusty Ace Tone organ. They even broke out the Crumar DS-2, to have some of Ra’s chosen tone in the mix. Then Jayve Montgomery added an EWI as a solo voice on a few tunes, just to get some air-blown signal (and a natural shout out to EWI master Marshall Allen) in there, after all. It felt like somewhere in the universe, Ra was decreeing it.
‘Switched On Ra’ is an effervescent celebration of music throughout time and space.