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.
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).
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In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.