evolution of Sunship can be traced back to a number
of collaborations beginning with that of bassist Richard
Anstey and myself in the Al Neil Trio during the
latter half of the 1960s and the Al Neil Jazz Probe
in 1972. In 1971, we formed a trio with guitarist Alan
Sharpe, and called it The New Atlantis Houseband.
the same period in the early 1970s, tenor sax player, Bruce
Freedman moved to Vancouver from Los Angeles and began
playing in various small ensembles along with bassist Clyde
Reed, also a recent emigrant to Canada from Vancouver,
Washington. Flautist, saxophonist and keyboard player, Ross
Barrett, had already been playing with Richard Anstey and me
in a quartet, which also included the Montreal-born pianist
Rick Kitaeff, whose music the group would eventually play.
Sunship Ensemble, which formed in 1974, was a group in
tune with its times. The end of the Vietnam War gave birth
to a new optimism: The New Age had begun and this
manifested itself in a new pan-global musical consciousness.
A whole new generation of creative musicians in Vancouver
was coming of age.
incorporation of world music influences, drawn from various
cultures, was evident in many celebrated jazz/fusion groups
of the early 1970s, such as McCoy Tyner’s sextet, Weather
Report, Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, the
Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis and others. A second wave
of Latin American musicians like Airto, Flora Purim and
Santana brought jazz and rock closer together than ever. But
Sunship also incorporated even more extended free
form improvisations than many of the Latin or funk-tinged
groups of the time.
ensemble included Ross Barrett (tenor sax, flute and
keyboards), Bruce Freedman (tenor sax), Richard
Anstey (soprano sax), Alan Sharpe (guitar),
Clyde Reed (bass) and Gregg Simpson (drums).
played concerts at the Western Front and at the opening of
the Granville Mall in Vancouver, plus opening for pianist
Keith Jarrett, at the Commodore Ballroom on June 11, 1974.
Bob Smith in The Vancouver Sun wrote, "a double-header
including pianist Keith Jarrett and resident quintet, the
Sunship Ensemble. Putting it mildly it was a
mind-blower, and the 800 who attended gave more than a
glimmering of hope for jazz in this city." Guitarist, Bob
Bell, who attended that concert, remembers the group’s music
as a revelation to him, as not many other similar fusion
ensembles were active in Vancouver at the time, although two
groups, Skywalk and Pacific Salt were to
emerge not long after.
international in outlook, the group played a
regionally-based music, which grew out of the west coast,
rainforest environment, but also incorporated exotic input
from the music of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The
selections on this CD reflect the multi-directional approach
of the group, with free jazz material alternating with the
Afro-Latin influences of the times.
the material for the CD was previously released on a 1975
CBC Transcription Recordings LP, entitled Pacific Rim
(RCI 428), produced by George Laverock. One
Wall of China,
was arranged from a traditional Chinese melody by Rick
Kitaeff whose group in Japan at the time, Electric
Ninja, shared the album with the Sunship Ensemble.
To reflect the international theme, the groups each did a
composition by their counterpart across the Pacific.
Sunship disbanded at the end of 1975, but in the late
1970s I went on to form the New Orchestra Workshop,
which eventually included Sunship members, Bruce
Freedman and Clyde Reed who still play in the NOW
Orchestra today. In this sense, the Sunship Ensemble
followed the pioneering efforts of the Al Neil Trio
in the 1960s, to become the next step in creating a
wonderful era of improvised music in Vancouver, which
continues until the present time.
Album Notes (RCI 428) Recorded December 5, 1974 in
Producer: George Laverock Sound: Don Hardisty
Pacific Rim is a unique endeavour, uniting a Canadian
and a Japanese improvisational ensemble, each playing their
own, and the other group’s original compositions, based on
thematic material from each of the four Pacific continental
regions. Guitarist Alan Sharpe leads the Sunship Ensemble
of Vancouver, while the Electric Ninja group is
headed by ex-Montreal pianist-composer Rick Kitaeff, who
after traveling extensively in Asia, Indonesia and the
Orient, taught literature and communications at Kobe
University in Kyoto, Japan and now teaches at the University
of Seattle in Washington.
the more interesting aspects of the contemporary music scene
is the breakdown of many of the artificially created
barriers that divide music. Many musicians are finding that
traditional categories such as “jazz”, “pop”, “avant garde”,
etc., restrictive and self-limiting, and are drawing more
freely on musical material from all sources, and in
particular from the Third World Cultures. As Rick Kitaeff
sees it: “The emphasis is now on fusion- of rock,
jazz, classical, Afro-Latin – and it won’t be long before
the so-called “melting pot” of North American culture fully
absorbs from the Third World as it has from Europe.
musical materials of all the pieces were drawn mainly from
the Pacific basin cultures. “Atlantis Rising”
represents, for the Sunship group, a starting point of
European-based modal structure, dissolving into free-flowing
samba-flavoured drum and tenor solos. The titles of the
their inherent sympathies with ancient, mythic cultures and
present a contrast between the dense, rich textures of the
former and the deft, syncopated guitar punctuation by
composer Alan Sharpe in the latter.
Wall of China”
is another piece having a background of performances with
electronic elements. Sunship’s arrangement of the piece is a
lush, multi-layered structure, precisely articulated to give
novel harmonic proportions to the Oriental pentatonic scale.
Electric Ninja and Sunship, as represented by
their efforts on this recording, have tried to return the
new music movement to its spiritual roots by intercultural
diversification of their musical materials. To say that they
play “earth music”, however, is not to make any claims of
exclusiveness in the orientation towards universality, but
simply to indicate that all music is ultimately ethnic.
earth doesn’t belong to man; man belongs to the earth”
(North American Indian saying)
1974 at the Commodore Ballroom -"a
double-header including pianist Keith
Jarrett and resident quintet, the
Sunship Ensemble. Putting it mildly it
was a mind-blower, and the 800 who
attended gave more than a glimmering
of hope for jazz in this city." -Bob
Smith -The Vancouver Sun
This recording was made
possible through the assistance of the Canada Music
Fund and the Music Section of the Canada Council for
We acknowledge the support of
the Canada Council for the Arts
which last year invested $27.4 million in music
Nous remercions de son soutien
le Conseil des Arts du Canada,
qui a investi 27,4 millions de dollars l'an dernier
dans la musique à travers le Canada.