Sun Ra Arkestra under dir. of Marshall Allen – Live At The Paradox – IOR CD 77098-2, 66:45 *****:
(Marshall Allen, director, alto sax, EVI, flute, clarinet, vocals; Charles Davis, tenor sax; Knoel Scott, alto sax, vocals; Yahya Abdul Majid, tenor sax; Danny Thompson, bars, flute, percussion; Rey Scott, bars, flute; Fred Adams, trumpet; Cecil Brooks, trumpet; Dave Davis, trombone, tuba; Farid Barron, piano, organ; Dave Hotep, guitar; Juini Booth, bass; Wayne A. Smith Jr., drums; Elson Nascimento, surdo)
What can one say about the Sun Ra Arkestra? How can anyone begin to describe their sound, and the contribution they’ve made to modern music? One inherent difficulty is that Sun Ra didn’t compartmentalize his art, life, philosophy or mythology, but rather incorporated them into a single entity. He created an entire visual aesthetic for his performances, and often preceded concerts with lectures on language, history or mythology. No aspect of who Sun Ra was or what he stood for can be separated from any other. This means that those who go on playing his music in the Arkestra after his passing cannot simply replicate his sound, but have to actively engage with the spirit of the music if they want to suitably pay tribute to him. Luckily, Marshal Allen, Sun Ra’s longtime friend and collaborator, continues to direct and compose for the Arkestra. He, along with new musicians and other long time members like Charles Davis, Danny Thompson, and Elson Nascimento, has been continuing and expanding on Sun Ra’s legacy.
On their latest release Live at The Paradox, they play a mix of compositions, some by Ra and some by Allen. The first track, Space Walk, features Allen playing the EVI, a woodwind synthesizer. Allen is one of the most talented EVI players in the world and every time he plays the instrument he astonishes this critic. Space Walk is an excellent example of the collective-improvisation mode of the Arkestra, with a tremendous be-bop break around the seven and a half minute mark.
Two other great tracks that show the Arkestra in a different light are Dreams Come True and Millennium. Both are celebratory tracks that take more conventional melodies and push them just slightly off kilter. Listen closely to the opening moments of Dreams Come True to get a sense of just how talented both the director and the musicians are. While the main theme blasts away, listen for the subtle dissonance that settles underneath, complicating the melody and increasing its power. Charles Davis and the other saxophone players have incredible solos on both tracks.
The best track on the album is an Allen composition, Take Off. Allen’s EVI again is the focus of this more chaotic composition. The song is a nearly four minute shot of adrenaline that barely lets up. Listen to this song on repeat several times in a row to fully appreciate what you just heard.
We need to appreciate that we have artists the caliber of the Arkestra to continue to play this music and allow it to grow. Another talented group of musicians might be able to mimic the sound of Sun Ra, but they could never capture the essence.
TrackList: Space Walk, Discipline 27-B/I’ll Wait For You, Dreams Come True, Velvet, You’ll Find Me, Millennium, Take Off, Hocus Pocus, Space Idol
– Ethan Krow