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Sun Ra Arkestra: Live At The Paradox

Dan Bilawsky By

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Few groups have travelled as far—cosmically and musically—as the Sun Ra Arkestra. While Ra's Saturnian schtick brought him great attention and notoriety, his music goes well beyond that one area. The roots of swing, bop-leaning sounds, extra-terrestrial experimentalism and free jazz of the most ferocious kind are all part of Ra's repertoire.

Ra departed planet Earth in 1993, but the Arkestra soldiered on under the direction of longtime saxophonist John Gilmore. When Gilmore passed away in 1995, the torch was passed to saxophonist Marshall Allen, who guided the group into the new millennium.

In 2004, The Arkestra reached a milestone—their fiftieth anniversary—and in 2008 they were invited to be the "Artist In Residence" at the ZXZW Festival in the Netherlands. They performed a wide variety of material throughout their five nights there and this album is the music from the final night. All of the aforementioned areas of music are covered here and, while this set isn't likely to win any converts, it contains some potent music.

Allen's "Space Walk" starts out with a bit of tribal tropicalia, with hand drums and some steel drum-like sounds, but quickly moves in an alien direction. Allen's EVI (electronic valve instrument) and Farid Barron's organ help to create an aural caricature of vintage cinematic sci-fi sound effects. At one point, some jittery flute strains manage to work over some hurried drums and guitar, but things eventually become a free jazz free for all.

"Discipline 27-B/I'll Wait For You" begins with some booming baritone saxophone work locking in with a churning/burning groove. Following a parade of solos, some call and response vocals come into play. While the soloists are edgy here, the music is largely cohesive—until the noisy ending—and incredibly energetic. "Dreams Come True" begins with piano, and Barron's swing-era licks and tasty playing are a long way from "Space Walk." When the horns enter, the harmonies seem to hold a thick, semi-dissonance within their being. While this sound is a signature within much of Ra's music, it never overpowers the steady, old-school spirit here and Charles Davis' tenor saxophone spot is the most impressive horn solo on the entire album. Knoel Scott takes vocal duties and, though he probably doesn't have any admirers in serious jazz vocal circles, his vocals possess a certain charm.

Bop comes into play on "Velvet," a tune from Ra's Chicago days, and a ballad ("You'll Find Me") even manages to make its way into the program. While aching saxophone work sells the ballad, the out-of-focus and slightly drunken harmonies help to give it that special Arkestra touch which binds all of these songs. Ra, early on in his career, had the opportunity to work with the great Fletcher Henderson and Allen references this association with a swinging take on Henderson's "Hocus Pocus." Ra's "Space Idol," featuring some skronking saxophone, serves as a noisy end to this intergalactic musical feast. Long after his death, Ra's music continues to be a paradox that, both, pleases and puzzles.

Track Listing: Space Walk; Discipline 27-B/I'll Wait For You; Dreams Come True; Velvet; You'll Find Me; Millenium; Take Off; Hocus Pocus; Space Idol.

Personnel: Marshall Allen: director, alto saxophone, EVI, flute, clarinet, vocals; Charles Davis: tenor saxophone; Knoel Scott: alto saxophone, vocals; Yahya Abdul Majid: tenor saxophone; Danny Thompson: baritone saxophone, flute, percussion; Rey Scott: baritone saxophone, flute; Fred Adams: trumpet; Cecil Brooks: trumpet; Dave Davis: trumpet, tuba; Farid Baron: piano, organ; Dave Hotep: guitar; Juni Booth: bass; Wayne A. Smith Jr.: drums; Elson Nascimento: surdo.

Title: Live At The Paradox | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: In+out record


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