How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Even with a few Sun Ra alumni bands traveling the spaceways these days, Ra trumpet player Ahmed Abdullah casts his solar disc into the star stream with his Dispersions of the Spirit of RA group. Utilizing former Sun Ra crew members and veterans of his own units, Abdullah presents a program of both well-known and unknown compositions, keeping the vibe alive and extending our knowledge of the universe. Abdullah initiated the project as a result of a dream vision in which Sun Ra appeared to him and urged him to fire up the ship once again.
Abdullah's aces include violinist and Ra alumnus Billy Bang, who makes crucial contributions solo and in ensemble. Ronald Shannon Jackson alumnus Masujaa makes some of these readings more guitar-dominant with his clean rhythm and ringing leads. The vocal and spoken word performers keep the message up front, and recreate a couple of old favorites. Alex Harding's baritone sax leads the march on "We Travel the Spaceways. Louis Reyes Rivera intones the opening invocation. Bang's beautiful variations snake through a lush arrangement on "21st Century, pt. 1. Abdullah spreads his romantic side on "pt.2," with "pt. 3" finding funk through Ben Judah's bass and Moffett's beat, both simple and playful. Harding takes to space with the calypso riff steady beneath him.
One of the collection's obscurities, "Dancing Shadows, feels like '50s vintage with its lively straight-ahead momentum. Craig Harris pokes around on trombone and Harding strides through with gruff-toned swagger. Washington answers in kind, and Bang peels off a wicked line. Another rediscovery, "East of UZ, opens with another stirring Rivera poem, then settles into the Mingus-esque theme. Bang sweetens the arrangement with ornamentation, and Abdullah plays it rich and tasty.
It's always good to hear "Love in Outer Space, with Masujaa slyly playing off the theme, welcoming Abdullah's muted solo. A bright arrangement of "Enlightenment benefits from Bang playing both pizzicato and behind the bow. The familiar "New Horizons from the classic We Travel the Spaceways gets an added lift from Monique Ngozi Nri's poetry performance. Harris adds a trombone meditation. "They Plan to Leave gives both Masujaa and Bang room to roam.
Ahmed Abdullah acquits himself of Ra's beyond-the-grave injunction with Traveling the Spaceways, producing a valuable addition to Ra-ism and managing to capture the celestial spirit of the Founder.
Track Listing: We travel the Spaceways; 21st Century part 1; 21st Century part 2; 21st Century part 3;
Dancing Shadows; Love in Outerspace; Enlightenment; East of Uz; New Horizons; They Plan - dedicated
to David Bake
Personnel: Ahmed Abdullah, trumpet, vocals; Billy Bang, violin; Craig Harris, trombone; Salim
Washington, tenor sax; Alex Harding, baritone sax; Owuor Arunga, trumpet; Masujaa, guitar; Radu
Oluwu Ben Judah, bass Cody Moffett, drums; Monique Ngozi Nri, vocals, poetry; Miles Griffith, vocals;
Louis Reyes Rivera, poetry