Elven Kaban, the contrabass player with Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra, asked me one day during a rehearsal if we could include some jazz in our repertoire. It was a reasonable request. We had been busy deconstructing all kinds of musical stuff..klezmer, Japanese gagaku music, Lebanese tunes, Breton folk, Prokofiev… so why not a piece from the rich canon of jazz? We looked at different possibilities. The open, spare compositions of Ornette Coleman from the 1960’s were interesting in their melodic perversity and quirkiness, but we were more keen to take on a tune from the great Sun Ra’s bandbook. I always felt there was some kind of artistic link across time and space between Forgotten Fish and Sun Ra’s Arkestra …… the mixture of old tunes and experimental noise, the willingness to incorporate multi-cultural influences (he wrote a tune called ‘India’ a decade before Coltrane would arrive there), the theatrical element of the band, with their pyramid hats and glittery spacewear, the use of props and dancers, the notion that he himself came from Saturn, the use of strange ethnic instruments in the jazz mainstream. Sun Ra was born in 1914 in Birmingham, Alabama. As a young man he had a more or less normal life as a struggling musician, pianist, composer and aspiring band leader. In 1940 he had an ‘out of body’ (or ‘out of mind’) experience, which apparently took him to Saturn. It changed the whole arc of his artistic and spiritual life, and his attitude towards music.
In our search for a suitable Sun Ra tune for our orchestra to cover, we decided not to take on one of his strange excursions into space, electro-noise or the heliocentric ethno universe. Quite the opposite, we chose a rather traditional but very swinging riff-oriented tune which we discovered on his first major album ‘Supersonic Sounds’. Released in 1957, it was not one of his better known records. It contained the usual wide range of material, including the aforementioned ‘India’, and also a little gem of a piece called ‘Kingdom of Not’. As with a lot of Sun Ra’s work we can only speculate as to the meaning of the title. Our version with Forgotten Fish was included on the album ‘If I Had a Hi Fi’. In order to fit it in with the baby pianos, a stalwart and much used instrument in our band, I had to transpose it into the key of F sharp minor, not a very friendly key for Elven Kaban and his contrabass, I’m afraid.