From the outset, Archie Shepp's terminally misunderstood Attica Blues on Impulse during the 1970s was an attempt by the saxophonist and composer to bring together the various kinds of African American musics under one heading and have them all express the conscience of the day. His ensemble featured singers, string players, horns, drums, guitars, etc. The sounds were a Gordian knot of jazz, free music, R&B, soul, groove, and even funk. In 1979 Shepp was given the opportunity to realize the project with an ensemble of his choosing at the Palais des Glaces in Paris (New York was already courting Wimpton Marsalis). Shepp chose 30 musicians and director/conductor Ray Copeland. Among the throng were saxophonists Marion Brown, John Purcell, Patience Higgins, and John Ware.
Still riding the success of his triumphant concert at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, Duke Ellington in 1958 decided to reduce his touring orchestra to a nonet dubbed "the Spacemen" in 1958, and recorded this lone project with them for the Columbia label. Perhaps inspired by the first orbiting satellites, Ellington is not taking cues from George Russell or Sun Ra, whose extraterrestrial inspirations led them down even more progressive paths.