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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Upcoming Ars Nova Workshop Shows

From Philly’s Ars Nova

Sunday, May 24 | 8pm
Sun Ra Arkestra
In celebration of Maestro Marshall Allen’s 85th birthday and the 95th anniversary of Sun Ra’s arrival on Earth

Johnny Brenda’s
1201 Frankford Avenue

Event Description:
Ars Nova Workshop presents a very special performance of the Sun Ra Arkestra in celebration of the 85th birthday of Marshall Allen. Join us for complimentary Moon Pies, a special midnight toast and DJ hi-res spinning classic jazz and breaks. Archival films featuring the Arkestra and Sun Ra will be projected on two large screens throughout the evening. You don’t want to miss this!

As a young musician, Marshall Belford Allen (b. May 25, 1924) performed with pianist Art Simmons, Don Byas and James Moody before enrolling in the Paris Conservatory of Music. After relocating to Chicago, Allen became a pupil of Sun Ra, subsequently joining the Arkestra in 1958 and leading Sun Ra’s formidable reed section for the next 40 years. Marshall, along with John Gilmore, June Tyson and James Jacson, lived, rehearsed, toured and recorded with Sun Ra almost exclusively for much of Sun Ra’s musical career. As a member of the Arkestra, Allen pioneered the Free Jazz movement of the early sixties, having remarkable influence on the leading voices in the avant-garde. He is featured on over 200 Sun Ra recordings in addition to collaborations with Phish, Sonic Youth, Digable Planets and Medeski, Martin & Wood. Marshall assumed the position of maestro in 1995, following the ascension of Sun Ra in 1993 and John Gilmore in 1995. Marshall continues to be committed to the study, research and development of Sun Ra’s musical precepts and has launched the Sun Ra Arkestra into a dimension beyond that of mere “ghost” band by writing fresh arrangements of Sun Ra’s music, as well as composing new music and arrangement for the Arkestra. He works unceasingly to keep the big-band tradition alive.

Friday, June 5 | 8pm
Darcy James Argue’s
Secret Society

International House Philadelphia
3701 Chestnut Street

Event Description:
Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-based composer-bandleader Darcy James Argue directs Secret Society, a “powerful and well-stocked ensemble” (New York Times) featuring his “ambitious, sprawling, mesmerizing” music (Montreal Gazette). Secret Society is an 18-piece steampunk bigband that envisions an alternative musical history, one in which the dance orchestras that ruled the Swing Era never went extinct, but continued to evolve with the times, remaining a vital part of the musical landscape straight through the present day. Argue’s compositions bring together “a big, broad musical vocabulary” (New York Times), one which invokes “Duke Ellington and minimalism and Tortoise and Funkadelic and Elliott Carter and much else besides melding into one floating, shifting, dodging music” (zoilus.com).

Secret Society includes powerful soloists like Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Sam Sadigursky (saxophones), and Ryan Keberle (trombone), and is anchored by the “scarily good” (nightafternight.com) rhythm section of Matt Clohesy (bass) and Jon Wikan (drums). The group headlined a night at the 2008 New Languages Festival, a performance All About Jazz called “the highlight of the evening.” They have performed at a variety of venues around NYC, including Le Poisson Rouge, the Jazz Gallery, the Living Theatre, Makor, Flux Factory, and the Bowery Poetry Club, and recently completed a tour of Eastern Canada. Their debut recording will be released on New Amsterdam Records in May 2009.

Argue has made international appearances at the Cologne Jazz Festival and the International Association for Jazz Education Conference in Toronto. He is also a founding member of the New York composers’ federation Pulse, who have presented projects featuring John Abercrombie, John McNeil, and Pete McCann. He was selected for the Brooklyn Philharmonic Composer Mentorship Program, and his work Body Double, for string quartet and tapan, was premiered by percussionist Svet Stoyanov and members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic at the the Music Off The Walls series at the Brooklyn Museum. Argue penned the arrangements for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s collaborations with jazz-soul songstress Lizz Wright, alt-country artist Shelby Lynne, and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.

Argue’s awards and commissions include the Jazz Gallery’s Large Ensemble Commissioning Series, the BMI Charlie Parker Composition Prize/Manny Albam Commission, the SOCAN/IAJE Emerging Jazz Composer Award, the SOCAN Award for Composition, the Down Beat Student Music Award, and grants from Meet The Composer, the American Music Center, and the Canada Council for the Arts. In addition to his own groups, Argue’s music has been performed by the BMI New York Jazz Orchestra, the Eastman New Jazz Ensemble, the University of North Texas Jazz Repertory Ensemble, the NEC Jazz Composers’ Orchestra, the McGill Jazz Orchestra, and others.

Argue was mentored by legendary jazz composer Bob Brookmeyer. He has also studied with Lee Hyla, Randall Woolf, Maria Schneider, and John Hollenbeck. He maintains a lively blog at secretsociety.typepad.com, which features commentary, photos, and live recordings.

Friday, June 12 | 8pm
Odean Pope + Sunny Murray
with
Odean Pope, tenor saxophone
Sunny Murray , drums

Philadelphia Art Alliance
251 S. 18th Street

Event Description:
Sunny Murray was one of the early avant-garde’s most inventive and influential drummers, doing a great deal to establish the role of the drums in free improvisation. Although Murray could swing as hard as anyone, he often abandoned the drums’ traditional timekeeping role. Born in 1936, Murray performed at first with traditional artists like Red Allen and Willie “The Lion” Smith, but soon branched out into more adventurous territory with Jackie McLean and Ted Curson. His big break, however, came when he joined Cecil Taylor’s group in 1959, which allowed him to improvise at a far more advanced level.

While touring Europe with Taylor, Murray met Albert Ayler, and wound up joining his band in 1964; through 1967, Murray appeared on most of the saxophonist’s greatest free jazz sessions. He also worked with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, and John Tchicai, and made his first albums as a leader with 1965’s Sunny’s Time Now (for Jihad) and 1966’s Sunny Murray Quintet (for the seminal ESP), the latter of which helped him win Down Beat’s New Star award. In 1968, Murray traveled to France, where he played with Archie Shepp and recorded as a leader for Affinity and BYG Actuel; returning to the U.S. in 1971, Murray settled in Philadelphia and formed a group called the Untouchable Factor, which he led off and on through varying lineups. Today, he resides in Paris and continues to perform and record regularly.

Grounded in the Baptist spirituals of his youth followed by a musical upbringing in Philadelphia with the likes of John Coltrane and organist Jimmy Smith as mentors, tenor saxophonist Odean Pope is the bridge between hard bop and free. His contributions to jazz are of major historical significance and through his over two decade long fruitful association with drummer Max Roach, groundbreaking saxophone choir, trio and quartet work and educational outreach he has influenced generations of musicians. At the same time, Pope cannot be pigeonholed and he has managed to maintain his creativity by continuing to innovate and perfect his sound.

He remains an incredibly busy and active musician with many recent releases in a variety of settings. These sessions showcase his saxophone choir, Locked & Loaded Live at the Blue Note (Half Note, 2006); his spiritual horn recorded au natural, Serenity (CIMPoL, 2007); an inventive tribute to Max Roach, To The Roach (CIMP, 2006); a deliciously funky hip hop jazz fusion, The Misled Children Meet Odean Pope (Porter, 2008); and an exciting trio date with drummer Sunny Murray and bassist Lee Smith, Plant Life (Porter, 2008).

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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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