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Album Review

Sun Ra Arkestra: Swirling

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Sun Ra Arkestra: Swirling
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" Morgan—both of whom have passed since the album was completed—trumpeters 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.

Track Listing

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).

Personnel

Marshall Allen: saxophone, alto; Knoel Scott: saxophone, alto; James Stewart: saxophone, tenor; Danny Ray Thompson: saxophone, baritone; Michael Ray: trumpet; Cecil Brooks: trumpet; Vincent Chancey: french horn; Dave Davis: trombone; Farid Barron: piano; Dave Hotep: guitar; Tyler Mitchell: bass; Wayne Anthony Smith Jr: drums; Elson Nascimento: percussion; Stanley Atakatune Morgan: percussion; Tara Middleton: voice / vocals.

Album information

Title: Swirling | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Strut Records


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