If you're from Arizona, chances are you'll barely glance up from the sports section when someone mentions, "Hey, a small Australian indie label, in conjunction with Rich Hopkins' San Jacinto Records, just reissued the first Black Sun Ensemble album for the first time on CD . . ." Just because "another obscure band from the '80s that put out a handful of records but went nowhere" has been resurrected isn't enough to warrant interrupting your daily routine, right?
Black Sun Ensemble formed in the Old Pueblo around '85, its sound a Middle Eastern-tinged brand of psychedelia revolving around Jesus Acedo's John Fahey-meets-Jimmy Page six- and 12-string fretwork, which was duly framed against a minimalist, almost mantric beat. The self-titled album issued that year by the trio on the Pyknotic label was a primitive but incandescent collection of 12 instrumentals that, as esteemed journalist Byron Coley put it at the time in Forced Exposure, "occupies the same sorta apres-psych airspace as Opal, in that the instruments come at ya w/these notes that look like peacock feathers but feel more like whale bones when they hit ya."
The F.E. review is reprinted in Coley's newly penned liner notes for the CD reissue. He goes on to detail the fascinating story of how the super-limited vinyl pressing of the original LP found its way across the Atlantic and into the hands of collectors, one of whom was just starting up his own label and immediately tapped BSE for the Reckless Records roster. In all, four more albums would appear under the Black Sun Ensemble name before Acedo succumbed to chemical and mental problems in the mid-'90s. (That story, along with the tangled tale of how Acedo finally beat his demons and wound up issuing last year's Sky Pilot through San Jacinto/Camera Obscura, is detailed in that CD's liner notes which -- full-disclosure mode on -- yours truly authored.) The bottom line is that during its time, BSE racked up the kind of jawbones-scraping-the-floor reviews that even the most seasoned major-label artist would kill for. The group's inability to tour only compounded BSE's mystique. Acedo's prophesizing guitars in particular were the objects of many an adoring, hemp- or fungus-fueled editorial.
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Was the hype justified? Do javelinas reek? Is desert sand hot? Say what you will of BSE as a performing ensemble (and indeed, reports from the trenches charitably suggest the band was "weird" long before LSD became a standard item on the group's rider), The Black Sun Ensemble is one of those "out of time" artifacts that dates itself not in the least. It casts a hypnotic glow, from the oddly textured jangle and winnowing lead notes of "Ruby Eyes of China"(it does in fact sound Oriental), to the stripped-down Mahavishnu Orchestra vibe of "Dove of the Desert," to the haunting "Mayan Dance," which pits an intense, almost medieval waltz rhythm against swirling acoustic strums, a piercing, sitaresque melody and an odd slide effect that makes the guitar sound like an overdubbed violin.
Interestingly, when Hopkins obtained the album's master tapes, he discovered that two songs had somehow been damaged beyond the point of salvaging. (This isn't all that surprising. At one point during Acedo's mental vacation I visited him while he was living in a semi-flophouse in downtown Tucson; his musical gear and memorabilia were haphazardly stored in decaying cardboard boxes under the bed.) In a lucky stroke, however, the tapes yielded a pair of outtakes, "Emerald Eye 2" and "Bleeding Heart." Both appear for the first time on the reincarnated album, the latter in particular noteworthy as it shares a title and a musical ambiance with another one of Acedo's heroes, Jimi Hendrix, its lonely wails of virtuoso electric combining with a droning acoustic pattern and delicate harmonic tings and chimes.
So I dunno, pal -- maybe you should consider putting down that newspaper right now, going over to the computer and logging on to www.cameraobscura.com.au to find out more about The Black Sun Ensemble and how you can get your paws on a copy. (Ironically, the record label has distribution in Arizona that's sporadic at best.) Because this ain't your mama's "obscure band from the '80s that put out a handful of records but went nowhere." Not by a long shot.