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The Sun Ra Arkestra: Music for the 21st Century

Rex  Butters By

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As one would hope from a release claiming certified lineage to the source, Music for the 21st Century finds the Sun Ra Arkestra still playing swing mechanique, angular outside freestyle, comet tail cold, and overheating from inward friction. Its indomitable goodwill intact and glued to the blues, the Ark still flies on a supply, the interdimensional navigations hand-carved by astro alto Arkestra alumni Marshall Allen. The octogenarian returns the ship to the rougher rides of earlier times, zipping through tight asteroid belts, happy to ding off a rock and careen.

Opening with the "Century 21-Tomorrow's World," the band greets the audience with a happy in-flight jingle before it rockets through space. An uncredited Moog player and guitarist D. Hotep join Elson Nascimento's hand drums to create interstellar ambiance. The brief, unwieldy medley of Allen's "Light and Darkness/Theme for Sunny Ray" lumbers through with soaring Moog overhead, ending with saxophones awake and an alto solo that links to the leader's "Super Nova." After a fanfare, a small riff with a smooth electric guitar (Bruce Edwards?) grows a sting with a raw trombone solo that pulls the Moog back in, and all dissolves for the micro trumpet march theme. The Nova explodes into trumpet fire.

Woozy liquid horns ease "Voices from Outer Space" in before the textural vocalese of Arnold Jenkins dominates. Outer funk comes on to support Jenkins, then "Pulsar" appears. Allen's tune imitates twinkling starlight, then grows as it travels around the band. An intimate interlude makes way for a brief Luqman Ali solo, then it's out with a roar and a whimper.

Allen's clarinet intro amplifies the Ellingtonian feel to "Blues Intergalactic," while a trio of free flutes welcome "Blue Sun." Jenkins' baritone handles the solar hymn's vocals. "In-B-Tween/Mr. Mystery" starts with a riff similar to "Lights on a Satellite," with a gargling vocal by Jenkins. Allen plays some go-for-broke alto over the stately arrangement. The guitar spreads some Latin flavor, and Jenkins recites a brief tribute to Mr. Ra. Ra's "Reflex Motion" goes from rigid seesaw to wild extended group improvisation. The floating "When You Wish Upon a Star" boasts a Jenkins vocal with Allen spraying reed in response. The perennial "We Travel the Spaceways" closes the ritual with the Moog handling the flight simulation.

Allen and company succeed not only flying Sun Ra's ship, but also making valuable additions to the flight log.


Track Listing: Super Nova; Voices From Outer Space; Pulsar; Blue Intergalactic; Blue Sun; Century 21/Tomorrow's World; Light and Darkness/Theme for Sunny R In-B-Tween/Mr. Mystery; Reflex Motion; When You Wish Upon a Star; We Travel the Spaceways.

Personnel: Marshall Allen, alto sax, clarinet; Reynold Scott, flute, baritone sax; Tyrone Hill, dave davis, trombone; Arnold Jenkins, vocals; Michael Ray, Fred Adams, trumpet; Charles Davis, tenor sax; Knoel Scott, alto sax; Yahya Abdul Majid, flute, tenor sax; D. Hotep, guitar; Bill Davis, bass; Luqman Ali, drums; Elson Nascimento, percussion

Title: Music for the 21st Century | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: El Ra

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