AMN Reviews: Sun Ra Arkestra with Marshall Allen

Sun Ra Turns 100: Sun Ra Arkestra with Marshall Allen
Review by Monique Avakian

“Every light is a vibrational sight and sound…”
–Sun Ra, The Other Side of Music, 1972

The overall feel of this show collected into a vibe that still activates for the positive, days later. On October 5, 2013, the Sun Ra Arkestra played an extended two sets totaling over four hours at Lincoln Center. Those of you who play jazz know the kind of physical stamina it takes to do so. Those of you who have never seen guys well over 60 and some well over 70 play like this (and dance throughout the room up and down the stairs), well, perhaps you might become more inclined to respect your elders. Many younger folks could not even begin to handle such a feat on a physical level. Of course, the younger players in the band are also to be commended — not only for keeping up, but each leading in his/her own unique way. The level of musicianship was astounding!

On a spiritual level, the group has managed to keep the essence of Sun Ra alive and well, largely under the firm, yet warm direction of original member, Marshall Allen. Dressed like the wizard he is, Allen led with superior conduction skills, wielded largely through osmosis with the band and supported with well-timed hand signals when necessary. Since the group nears the 25 mark in number of personnel, this was really impressive to witness. Other magic conjured by Allen translated to us through the use of visual symbolism (i.e., moving his fingers rapidly near the sax keys while not touching them, but still blowing in a kinesthetic sound~poem~kind~of~way). Allen also had an electronic wind instrument that he used judiciously. Near the end, I did wish for an analog theramin. However, since the band was playing the audience like a theramin, I guess the digital element didn’t really matter.

Another digital element that also augmented the experience consisted of artist Michael Arthur drawing live on a computer screen, with his images projected above the band. His style complemented the space~vibe, especially his choice of neon green, pink and black colors. The digital medium lent itself to a fluidity that kept pace with the band pretty well. The artist’s choice of themes mainly fell into portraiture of players, but at one point, he had hands playing strings inside a circle. A magnificently potent image!

The music was just spectacular. During the second set, the tunes were arranged to alternate between free improv creations (again, with nearly 25 players!) and standards morphed a la’ Ra. Oh, and by the way, the instrumentation included acoustic full sized harp, French horn, flute, samba drum, violin, spoken word and cello along with all the usual instrumentation you’d expect. Near the end, the ultimate in funk came through (this is a percussion section of five players after all). The last four tunes in particular waved throughout the room and right through the roof of The Allen Room, showering the city with blessings and delight on a cellular, as well as stellar, level.

At first I thought the location might make Sun Ra unhappy for socio-cultural reasons, but by the end, I think the significant irony actually lent another level of space he would have appreciated, especially since it forces us to confront the very uncomfortable social realities we all keep trying to ignore.

The Sun Ra Arkestra is an uplifting, wild experience that honors the legacy of a creative radical who remains radical to this day.

The Man Himself:
Sun Ra Montreux 1976 (II): Take The A Train
Sun Ra solo mind-blowing intro, followed by band:

Sun Ra – Interview + Live Toronto 1991

NEXT SHOW in nyc:

December 13 at NUBLU
As part of the NUBLU Jazz Festival December 4-22, 2013
62 Avenue C between 4th and 5th Streets, NYC
http://www.nublujazzfestival.com/

Arkestra Today:

http://www.sunraarkestra.com/1-index.html

Sun-Ra Related Art:
Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun-Ra
El Saturn and Chicago’s Afro-Futurist Underground 1954-68
Curated by John Corbett, Anthony Elms and Terri Kapsalis
Whitewalls books/Hyde Park Art Center

Sun Ra’s Poetry:
Sun Ra: Collected Works Vol. I: Immeasurable Equation
edited by Adam Abraham
Phaelos Books

Sun Ra Biography:
Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra
by John F. Szwed
Da Capo Press

In the half-between world, 

Dwell they: The Tone Scientists 

In notes and tone 

They speak of many things…
The tone scientists: 

Architects of planes of discipline 

Mathematically precise are they: 

The tone-scientists

~Sun Ra

Marshall Allen: A Universe of Achievement

Marshall Allen
Image via Wikipedia

Marshall Allen writes about his recent honors.

It feels good to be receiving this Lifetime Achievement Award at the Vision Festival this month. Whenever somebody achieves something worthy, it’s great to be recognized for it. The musicians who have received this award in the past include people that I have performed with, know and respect. I have received things like this before, like the Bluebird Award in Germany and some honorary mentions, but this award means a lot.

The years have gone by so fast. It seems like yesterday when I first joined the Sun Ra Arkestra in 1958. It is amazing that 51 years have passed. When I stop and think about it, it is like… Damn!

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A proper birthday for Sun Ra’s successor

P1010210 "Marshall Allen" "Sun ...
Image by andynew via Flickr

Marshall Allen‘s birthday is celebrated:

Celebrating the Germantown transplant, who died in 1993 at age 79, has become a preoccupation of labels like Atavistic and Evidence, which are bringing out previously unreleased recordings from Ra’s own Saturn imprint. While Ra and his merry men, the Arkestra, played themselves in the 1974 film Space Is the Place, recent documentaries like Brother From Another Planet and local director Ephraim Asili’s new Points on a Space Age flourish. Philly’s ICA even has a Sun Ra Arkestra exhibit running until August.

Yet for all this acclaim, little has been allocated to Ra’s eventual successor and Arkestra leader, saxophonist Marshall Allen.

Sunday’s sold-out Ars Nova Arkestra concert and 85th birthday party for Allen at Johnny Brenda’s helped rectify that.

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Vision Festival 2009

Marshall Allen
Image via Wikipedia

This year’s Vision Festival is announced!

Vision Festival XIV !

JUNE 9TH THROUGH 15TH

ABRONS ART CENTER @ The Henry St. Settlement & The ANGEL ORENSANZ FOUNDATION

Featuring performances by
Marshall Allen & the Sun Ra Arkestra ·
Fred Anderson · Billy Bang · Rob Brown · Roy Campbell · Ernest Dawkins · Douglas Ewart · Charles Gayle · Milford Graves · William Hooker · Jason Kao Hwang · Kidd Jordan · Joe McPhee · Butch Morris conduction · Joe Morris · Ras Moshe · Sunny Murray · Zim Nggawana · William Parker · Michelle Rosewoman · Matthew Shipp · Lisa Sokolov · David S Ware

Vision Festival XIV will present more than 50 events, including music and dance performances, poetry readings, film screenings, visual art projections and a beautiful site-specific installation by Jorgo Schäfer, all on two stages. Arts For Art will be hosting three panel discussions, open to the public, which will serve to engage dialogue on pertinent issues in today’s music industry and community.

This year’s festival will honor the lifetime achievement of Philadelphia jazz legend, Marshall Allen, leader of the Sun Ra Arkestra, with a full night of performances on Wednesday, June 10th.

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Arkestra Flying Into UConn’s Halloween

Marshall Allen
Image via Wikipedia

A chance to see the Arkestra tonight:

Under the direction of Marshall Allen, the great avant-garde alto saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist/composer and apostolic successor of Sun Ra, who died in 1993, the Arkestra celebrates Halloween with its cosmic jazz and comic pizazz Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Connecticut’s von der Mehden Recital Hall on the Storrs campus.

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Marshall Allen and Sam Hillmer at Zebulon

Marshall Allen
Image via Wikipedia

Zebulon in Brooklyn is featuring Marshall Allen and Sam Hillmer in an upcoming show.

Trouble and Zebulon present

REGATTAS Record Release Party

featuring

MARSHALL ALLEN
(Sun Ra Arkestra)

and

REGATTAS
(Sam Hillmer)

OCTOBER 19, 2008 9PM

@ ZEBULON, 208 WYTHE ST
WILLIAMSBURG BROOKLYN

Celebrating the release of Regattas’ first album (out October 19th on Shinkoyo) Regattas (Sam Hillmer) and legendary saxophonist Marshall Allen, long time leader of the Sun Ra Arkestra team up for a show at Zebulon on October 19th at 9pm. Hillmer will be accompanied by Darius Jones (Little Women) on alto sax, Jason Ajemian (Chicago Underground Trio) on bass, John Fell Ryan (Excepter) on keyboards, and John McClellan (Joe Maneri) on drums. DJs Coitus Mayfield (Skeletons/Shinkoyo) round out the bill.

Marshall Allen is a free jazz and avant-garde jazz alto saxophone player best known as the leader of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. Allen met Sun Ra around 1956, joining the pianist’s legendary Arkestra two years later. He would go on to lead its reed section for more than four decades, over time earning renown as one of the most distinctive and original saxophonists of the postwar era. Since the departure of Sun Ra and John Gilmore, Allen has led the Arkestra, and has recorded two albums as their bandleader.

Allen’s mastery of effects on the alto is well known; he has said that he “wanted to play on a broader sound basis rather than on chords”. He also developed his own reed instrument (dubbed the “morrow”) by attaching a saxophone mouthpiece to an open-hole wooden body. Allen collaborated regularly with Babatunde Olatunji, emerging as one of the first jazz musicians to fuse the avant-garde with traditional African music.

Sam Hillmer (aka Regattas) co-founded the band/chamber ensemble Zs as well as Wet Ink, a new music presenting organization, ensemble, and composer’s collective. In addition to his work with Zs, Hillmer is currently playing and performing with Regattas, Dirty Projectors, MOTH, and John Dwyer (of Ohsees).

Hillmer is also active as a curator and educator. In collaboration with artist Laura Paris, he organizes the biannual performance festival and installation YOU ARE HERE: 21 nights of performance in a sculptural maze. Hillmer is currently producing the youth hip-hop recording series Representing NYC. The first volume, The Fly Girlz’ “Da Bratz From Da Ville”, is due out this November on Wisdom Through Music and Socketts CDs.

Hillmer has had the privilege of working with and playing the music of Mick Barr, Weasel Walter, Joe Maneri, Christian Wolff, Phill Niblock, Roscoe Mitchell, Petr Kotik, Louis Andriessen and Larry Polansky. Recordings of his music are available on labels threeoneg, Planaria Recordings, Epicene Sound Systems, Tzadik, Zum, Gilgongo, Socketts, New Sonic, and Troubleman Unlimited.

Shinkoyo is the ectoplasm connecting a diverse group of composers, visual artists, improvisers, instrument builders, thinkers, scholars and healers exploring new syntheses of sound and art. We operate on terms of collectivity and collaboration, while supporting the individual voices of all Shinkoyos. Shinkoyo submits to no genres, but Ancient Futurism, Noise Age, and True Age are terms to be discovered. Born in 2000 at the Oberlin Conservatory, we began releasing music in fall of 2002. Shinkoyo has spread its wings from California to New York, with its headquarters at the Paris London West Nile Performance/Gallery Space – Brooklyn’s donation-based center for experimental performance and art. In summer 2008, Shinkoyo launched its SHINKOJUKO free jukebox and donation-based online music store, showcasing our catalog of music releases from 2002 to the present.

About Zebulon: “Akin to a smoky beatnik bar in Montparnasse, French-owned-and-operated Zebulon offers free experimental live jazz and blues nightly by mind-blowing local musicians and drop-ins by the occasional vagabond. Pale yellow spheres of light illuminate the dark room like a dozen mini-Parisian moons. The decor feels fresh with a smattering of old jazz concert posters and album covers. Perch atop a bar stool or sit at a stage-side table for an unfettered view of the action.”

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