Big bands have had a long history serving as spawning grounds for smaller jazz collectives. Leaders such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie encouraged their players to form into compact groups outside the needs of the larger bands. Curiously, unlike the rosters of other big bands such as the Ellington and Basie Orchestras, the Sun Ra Arkestra’s register rarely parsed down into smaller working combos, except when finances mandated that the entire band be reduced in size. There were rare occasions when members took gigs with other groups to pay the bills (John Gilmore’s short stints with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and Pat Patrick’s stay with Mongo Santamaria spring immediately to mind). But more often than not the rigorous and alluring demands of Ra’s ingenious arrangements coupled with erratically organized rehearsals precluded most band members’ cultivation of outside interests. With Ra’s passing the obligations and opportunities of touring decreased, lessening the time constraints of many of the players and necessitating the formation of smaller groups. This disc features four veteran tone scientists playing in homage to both Ra and to their own equally cosmic musical sensibilities. The denouement is a fascinating glimpse at what smaller Arkestra combos might have sounded like if they had been afforded the opportunity to record in earlier years.
Allen’s “Angels and Demons at Play” unravels across a deceptively simple bass/drums vamp. Whereas the original version of the piece (included on Ra’s album of the same name) was an illustration in brevity the reading here stretches out for nearly fourteen minutes. The extra space allows for plenty of stirring interplay between Hill and Allen and communicates a feeling of unencumbered exploration. Celestial’s “Galactic Dance” works off a similar rhythmic vamp supplied by Oettel’s spatulate string plucks, but is more subdued in sound until an unexpectedly roaring finish. Allen and Celestial sit out on “My One & Only Love” leaving Oettel and a plungered Hill to converse in an earthy bass register vernacular. “Journey to Birmingham” is a musical account of Hill’s visit to Ra’s grave site and is filled with extraterrestrial tonalities thanks to Allen’s flute and an undulating underpinning of bowed bass and cymbals. Allen also has an opportunity on this piece to work up a squealing sirocco of sound on his alto. The quartet’s interpretation of the Ra classic “Interstellar Lowways” is beautifully rendered in a wave of melancholic tone colors and Allen’s solo is particularly engrossing in it’s juggling of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ elements. Hill also solos at length and turns one of his finest improvisations of the session on this piece. “Lush Life” serves as an amazing chance to hear these four deconstruct a standard. Each of them seem to recognize and build upon the core elements that make the tune so memorable to begin with. Allen’s opening solo section sets the stage and the ensemble soon enters to follow in a similar suit. Considering the scarcity of sessions like this one anyone with an interest in the Arkestra and its members owes it to him or herself to seek this disc out. In doing so it’s possible to discover not only what might have been, but what will most certainly be as group’s like this one continue to record.
Track Listing: Angels & Demons At Play/ Galactic Dance/ My One & Only Love/ Journey to Birmingham/ Interstellar Lowways/ Your Guess Is As Good As Mine/ Lush Life/ Discipline 27.
June 30 & July 1, 1997, The Spirit Room, Rossie, NY.
CIMP recordings are available directly from North Country Distributors (http://www.cadencebuilding.com)
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone. Feet in the dirt, or barefoot on a stage with sequins--it's soul beats in my chest.
I was first exposed to jazz while others listened to surf music in the '50s and '60s, it was Monk, Miles, Satchmo and Ella, Rosemary Clooney and Julie London followed. Margaret Whiting, Les McCann, Willie Bobo, Andy Simpkins, Snooky Young, Bill Basie and Helen Humes. The first time I heard Topsy, Take 2, I about passed out at the age of ten.
I've hung with Les McCann who more than 30 years after our first meeting became my duet partner on my CD, Don't Go To Strangers. Karen Hernandez from the start, Jack Le Compte on drums, Lou Shoch on bass, Steve Rawlins as my arranger and pianist, Grant Geissman - guitar genius, Nolan Shaheed, Richard Simon, and more. The big boys. My Red Hot Papas. The best show I ever attended was...
I met Helen Humes first back in 1981 and helped turn one Playboy Jazz Festival night into her tribute, bring the Basie Band to stage, her joy boys. Before she took the stage for the last time to sing, If I could Be With You One Hour Tonight thousands of copies of the newspaper I wrote for carried her story. It was kismet, her being held by Joe Williams backstage. Soon in my life were the great Linda Hopkins who told me I sang the song she wrote better than her, which floored me of course, the energizing Barbara Morrison and the stellar Marilyn Maye who guided me professionally.
My advice to new listeners... let your backbone slip and feel your body stripping back the barriers that prevent us from being one with the music.
Remember none of us are strangers, we just haven't met yet.