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Sun Ra Arkestra directed by Marshall Allen: Living Sky

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Sun Ra Arkestra directed by Marshall Allen: Living Sky
When Sun Ra aficionado and Omni Sound Records founder Ahmet Ulug reached out to Sun Ra Arkestra leader Marshall Allen to commission a new album from the band, he gave Allen a tight brief. Ulug said that he wanted something: "Spiritual and hypnotic... down tempo, melodic and grooving... Music that is accessible and healing."

Even though the crisis the world endured in 2020 and 2021 called out for such music, Ulug's directions to the veteran sonic-warrior may seem a tad prescriptive. But fear not. Yes, Living Sky is spiritual and hypnotic and melodic and grooving, but Allen put enough grit in the machine to keep us awake and alert.

The bandleader sets the frame on the opener, "Chopin," Ra's elaboration of Chopin's "Prelude In A Major," juxtaposing Farid Barron's pretty acoustic piano with his own astringent alto. Ra's "Somebody Else's Idea" and Allen's "Day Of The Living Sky," which follow, are the album's only wall to wall deep-pile exotica-type tracks. They are followed by Allen's "Marshall's Groove," which threatens to erupt into full-blown space chords at several points. Next comes a rearrangement of Ra's "Night Of The Living Sky," then Allen's ballad with bite "Firefly." The album concludes with a shovel-full-of-grit cover of Leigh Harline's "Wish Upon A Star," from the 1940 Walt Disney movie Pinnochio. Ra was a big fan of Disney cartoons. Allen first recorded the tune with the Arkestra in 2003.

Lest anyone forgets, there are numerous precedents for Living Sky's vibe in the Arkestra's history under Ra himself, including a complete album's worth in Lanquidity (recorded in 1978 but not released until 2000 on Evidence).

Postscript. The album credits include a dedication to the memory of Ra scholar Hartmut Geerken (1939-2021). Geerken first met Ra through fateful serendipity in Egypt in 1971, after stopping his car to give a lift to someone who introduced himself as John Gilmore. Ra's longtime tenor saxophonist was hitchhiking from Cairo to the Great Pyramid, where Geerken was also headed. Geerken's many print and online publications about Ra include the magnificent and authoritative large-format tome Omniverse Sun Ra, co-edited with Ra discographer Chris Trent. The book was first published in Germany by Waitawhile in 1994 and republished in Britain by Art Yard in 2015.

Track Listing

Chopin; Somebody Else’s Idea; Day of the Living Sky; Marshall’s Groove; Night of the Living Sky; Firefly; Wish Upon a Star.

Personnel

Sun Ra Arkestra
band / ensemble / orchestra
Marshall Allen
saxophone, alto
Knoel Scott
saxophone, alto
Nasir Dickerson
saxophone, tenor
Chris Hemingway
saxophone, alto
Michael Ray
trumpet
Cecil Brooks
trumpet
Vincent Chancey
french horn
Dave Hotep
guitar
Ron Mcbee
percussion
Jorge Silva
percussion
Elison Nascimento
percussion
Gwen Laster
violin
Kash Killion
bass, acoustic
Additional Instrumentation

Marshall Allen: alto saxophone, kora, EVI; Knoel Scott: tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone; Tara Middleton: violin, flute.

Album information

Title: Living Sky | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Omni Sound


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