Sun Ra Arksesta Directed by Marshall Allen MECA Houston, TX November 15, 1999
Curator David Dove continued his quest to expose Houston audiences to world class improvising artists by presenting the Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen. The band worked its magic on November 17, 1999, at MECA (Multicultural Education & Counseling Through the Arts), a community center that provides a platform for exposing students to multiple art forms such as visual art, modern dance, theater, and music.
In typical troubadour style, the Sun Ra Arkestra stormed a packed house for a double-set evening of thoroughly enjoyable music. The band transformed freeform music, swing, the blues, and other contrasting styles into a raucous ritual in testament to the living spirit of Ra. Allen had not lost a step or beat over the many years he has been associated with the band. He blew with fire and excitement that belied his age, but then again, this music is timeless. His dexterous manipulation of the alto keys created spontaneous enthusiasm that penetrated and ignited the knowledgeable crowd. Allen has put his stamp on this band, although much of the pomp and ceremony as well as the repertoire are closely identified with Ra.
The current band is a mixture of old, midterm, and new associates. In addition to Allen, who joined Ra in 1958, long time members such as drummer Luqman Ali (1977) and trombonist Tyrone Hill (1981) provide a stabilizing force, middle-tenure artists such as acrobatic reed player Noel Scott (1988) carry on the ideals, and newer members such as trombonist Dave Davis and trumpeters Fred Adams and David Gordon provide an original spark. The spirited guitar of veteran Bruce Edwards (1988) and the resounding bass of stalwart John Ore added a rare dimension to this music that can win over any crowd. Lyrics and vocalizing originated with another veteran, Art Jenkins, although every man in the band sang and chanted on cue. Percussionist emeritus Jimmi Esspirit, tenor player Yahya Abdul Majid, and surdo/percussionist and parade master Elson Nascimento completed the lineup.
Mixing spontaneous free blowing with fine unison play and familiar tunes, they kept the music off balance and exciting. The band chanted in fine Ra form and paraded through the audience with carefree abandon. Although the songs from Ra's vast book of outer space tunes were the most stimulating, classics such as Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" were highly original and captivating. This band showed that, with discipline and talent, the music of Ra is able to stay fresh and alive well into the new millennium. It was a fine night for music.
Earlier at MECA, Allen, Hill, and Ali gave a lecture on the history of Ra's music and also ran a workshop where the students rehearsed "Astro Black" and "Better Music Will Create a Better World."