Saturn moved into the ascendant in October 2020 when the Sun Ra Arkestra
under the direction of alto saxophonist Marshall Allen
released its first studio album in over twenty years. Swirling
presents new arrangements of both well-known and more obscure Ra tunes, played by a fifteen-piece lineup which includes band veterans and relative newcomers. It is a welcome addition to the Arkestra's near seventy-year catalogue.
When Ra passed in 1993, tenor saxophonist John Gilmore
, an on-off band member since 1953, took over as leader. When Gilmore passed in 1995, Allen, who has played with the Arkestra since 1958, assumed the mantle. He has kept the band, its book and its vibe alive through frequent US and international concert appearances ever since.
Longtime band members heard on Swirling
include baritone saxophonist Danny Ray Thompson
and percussionist Stanley "Atakatune" Morganboth of whom have passed since the album was completedtrumpeters Michael Ray
and Cecil Brooks
, alto saxophonist Knoel Scott
, French hornist Vincent Chancey
, bassist Tyler Mitchell
and percussionist Elson Nascimento
. Tenor saxophonist James Stewart
and violinist and vocalist Tara Middleton
are notable newer additions to the lineup.
The set list includes Arkestra evergreens "Angels And Demons At Play," "Satellites Are Spinning," "Doors Of The Cosmos" and "Rocket No. 9." Lesser known gems include "Seductive Fantasy" and "Infinity / I'll Wait For You." The blues "Darkness" is heard on record for the first time. The title track is the debut recording of a swing-era celebration written by Allen.
Perhaps in deference to Ra, or maybe just out of a love of word play, Allen calls Swirling
"Beta music for a better world." You may feel "Alpha music for an alternative world" is closer to the mark.
Arkestra fans should also make sure they catch another off-planet autumn 2020 release, Berlin-based composer and multi-instrumentalist King Khan
's The Infinite Ones
(Khannibalism), which features Marshall Allen and Knoel Scott as guests of another space-travelling ensemble.
Satellites Are Spinning / Lights On A Satellite; Seductive Fantasy; Swirling; Angels And Demons At Play; Sea Of Darkness / Darkness; Rocket No. 9; Astro Black; Infinity / I’ll Wait For You; Sunology; Door Of The Cosmos / Say; Queer Notions (2xLP bonus track).