John Gilmore spent the better part of his professional career playing with Sun Ra, a gig that allowed him to not only play smoking tenor saxophone and clarinet but to chant in harmony when called on, play various percussion instruments, and wear funny hats and colorful vests. (And live in a communal situation with an orchestra–load of men, but let’s not go there.) Who could resist that? Well, Gilmore himself apparently did, at least for a brief moment in the mid-1960s when he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He can be heard to fine effect on the Blakey album “S’Make It,” but actually seeing him with the band concretizes this strange interlude. The fact that Gilmore sounds so good in a straightforward hard bop setting gives us a tantalizing taste of a career path he might have taken. With Blakey breathing down his neck in that hit-it-or-hit-the-road way of his, Gilmore turns in a charging solo that sets off lucidity with passion. So much so that the gale force solo by Lee Morgan that follows doesn’t diminish Gilmore’s efforts in any way. But space was obviously the place for Gilmore and he soon returned to the Sun Ra fold -- hard bop’s loss was Saturn’s gain. For more strong Gilmore work minus the Sonny Blount unit, try “The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard” on Impulse!