Wednesday, November 11, 2009
We've also got three volumes on LP and CD of Sun Ra's early Chicago-era vocal group recordings, including a mess of unished mayhem and an entire set of Muck Muck Yochanan and other delights. Copious notes from Arkesta trapsman Michael D. Anderson and the Norton crew, fastidious transfers and mastering, and beauteous packages make these an essential trio for all. Dig also a superb seven inch spoken word 45 RPM single of Sun Ra!
WATCH OUT FOR MUCK MUCK!
Norton recently took a rocket ride into the vaults of El Saturn Research and arrived back on Earth with a motherlode of unissued early R&B, doo wop, soul and general weirdness featuring Sun Ra and his Arkestra backing a variety of artists. Atomic outer space genius from yet another Norton turban headed star!
SUN RA - INTERPLANETARY MELODIES (Norton 352)
COSMIC RAYS - Daddy's Gonna Tell You No Lie / Dreaming* / Bye Bye / Somebody’s In Love* / Summertime / CRYSTALS - Honey In The Bee Box* / NU SOUNDS - Spaceship Lullaby* / I’m Through With You* / Africa / Dabba Dabba Dabba Du Day* / QUALITIES - It’s Christmas Time / If I Only Hadn’t Sinned* / JUANITA ROGERS - Love Letters Full Of Promises* / JUANITA ROGERS AND LYNN HOLLINGS -Teenager's Letter Of Promises / SUN RA - Tony’s Wife* (* = previously unissued)
SUN RA - THE SECOND STOP IS JUPITER (Norton 353)
COSMIC RAYS - Somebody's In Love / Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie* / Dreaming / There’s A Small Hotel* / The Second Stop Is Jupiter* / NU SOUNDS - Spaceship Lullaby* / Honeysuckle Rose* / Baby Won't You Please Be Mine* / Black Sky And Blue Moon* / Dreams Come True* / QUALITIES - Happy New Year To You / She’s My Moonglow* / CRYSTALS - Little Sally Walker* / JUANITA ROGERS - I’m So Glad You Love Me* / I’m So Glad You Love Me / SUN RA - Stuff Like That There* (* = previously unissued)
SUN RA - ROCKET SHIP ROCK (Norton 354)
YOCHANAN - Muck Muck / Hot Skillet Momma / Rocket Ship Rock* / Is That Me?* / Hot Skillet Mama (alt. take)* / Muck Muck (alt. take)* / The Sun Man Speaks / Message To Earthman #1 / Message To Earthman #2 / LITTLE MACK - Tell Her To Come On Home / LACY GIBSON - I Am Gonna Unmask The Batman / EBAH - I Am Gonna Unmask The Batman* / DON (DINO) DEAN - Space Stroll (* = previously unissued)
SUN RA - I AM STRANGE / I AM AN INSTRUMENT (45-153)
Unissued sixties spoken word mysticism from Saturn, with otherworldly instrumentation. Absolutely brain bending and everso essential!
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Lightning Bolt and Sun Ra Arkestra: Cosmic Connection
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009 – running time 08:26
Filmmaker Peter Glantz explores musical, spiritual, and cosmic connections between these two seemingly disparate groups.
We turned this episode of XLR8R TV over to filmmaker Peter Glantz, who went to Providence, Rhode Island's Foo Fest to take a closer look at the festival's two main attractions—Lightning Bolt and Sun Ra Arkestra. Lightning Bolt, Providence's epic noise duo headed up by Brian Chippendale and Brian Gibson, is known for surprising, chaotic, often transcendent performances. Sun Ra Arkestra became legendary in the jazz world under the leadership of cosmic philosopher and organist Sun Ra from the mid-1950s until his death in 1993. Today, the Arkestra continues to flourish and promote the cosmic philosophy of Sun Ra under the direction of alto saxophonist Marshall Allen. Here, Glantz captures both their live performances and meditates on the spiritual alliance between these two far-flung musical compatriots.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Program of rare music films on Saturday, Sept 19 at Monkeytown in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. 7:30 pm
A Night of Rare Film Jams
Saturday, September 19th
Admission: $5, $10 minimum
Showtime: 7:30 pm
reservations are recommended
This program features four very unconventional takes on the concert film.
The Singing Fishermen of Ghana by Pete and Toshi Seeger.
1964, 13 minutes.
Young Ghanaian fishermen bring percussionists along on their boats to accompany their work songs, which helps them pace their rowing. They also turn the act of pulling their fish nets onto the shore into a singing, dancing celebration.
Cigarette Blues by Les Blank and Alan Govenar.
1985, 6 minutes.
Sonny Rhodes and the Texas Twisters perform a searing anti-smoking number, accompanied by a beautiful gyrating, smoking dancer and clips of Rhodes talking about the blues.
Christopher Tree by Les Blank.
1967, 10 minutes.
"Improvising spontaneously in a pristine forest, Christopher Tree creates an inspired state of mind in the viewer with his one-man orchestra that includes 40 Tibetan temple gongs, flutes, tympani and wind chimes.” – Les Blank
Spaceways by Edward English.
1968, 18 minutes.
Gorgeous black and white film of Sun Ra and the Arkestra rehearsing at the Sun Ra house at 48 East 3rd Street in New York for their appearance at Carnegie Hall.
Curated by Lauren Madow
International House Philadelphia
3701 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Saturday, October 31, 2009 - 8:00 pm
Price: $20 General Admission
Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen
Anti-Jazz: The New Thing Revisited
Marshall Allen, alto saxophone + Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI)
Yah Yah Abdul-Majid, tenor saxophone
Knoel Scott, alto saxophone
Danny Ray Thompson, baritone saxophone
Farid Barron, piano
Fred Adams, trumpet
Michael Ray, trumpet
Cecil Brooks, trumpet
Dave Davis, trombone + French horn + tuba
Dave Hotep, el. guitar
Bill Davis, double-bass
Wayne A. Smith, Jr., drums
Elson Nascimento, surdo drum
Join us for this special and spectacular Halloween performance of the Sun Ra Arkestra. Founded in 1958 under the leadership of Sun Ra, the Arkestra pioneered a unique brand of afro-futurism, forging intersecting musical pathways that explore outer space and Egyptian
mythology. Drawing on the work of Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson, the Arkestra are pioneers of the bop-derived avant-garde and collective improvisation. Their work has had tremendous impact on scores of musicians including MC5, Sonic Youth and George Clinton. Following the Arkestra's influential tenures in Chicago and New York City, Sun Ra and the Arkestra relocated to Philadelphia in 1968, where they continue their commitment to the study, research and development of Sun Ra's musical precepts. Following the ascension of Sun Ra in 1993 and John Gilmore in 1995, Maestro Marshall Allen (b. 1924) has launched the Sun Ra Arkestra into a dimension beyond that of mere "ghost" band by writing fresh arrangements of Sun Ra's music, as well as composing new music and arrangements for the Arkestra.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Monday, August 31, 2009
Norton Records to release a motherlode of unissued early R&B, doo wop, soul and general weirdness featuring Sun Ra and his Arkestra
APRIL NEWS FROM NORTON RECORDS! NEW EXCAVATIONS TO BLOW YOUR TOP!
...more 45s coming soon from Jackie and the Cedrics, Sun Ra and more!
Current seven inch crop below-- scroll on!
WATCH OUT FOR MUCK MUCK! Norton recently took a rocket ride into the vaults of El Saturn Research and arrived back on Earth with a motherlode of unissued early R&B, doo wop, soul and general weirdness featuring Sun Ra and his Arkestra backing a variety of artists. This series will be compiled on several Norton albums and singles including an entire disc by Yochanan (The Space Age Vocalist) backed by Sun Ra and his Arkestra featuring his demented Saturn 45 Muck Muck / Hot Skillet Mama and much more lunacy from yet another Norton turban headed star! These stupendous recordings include Yochanan-Rocket Ship Rock / Nu Sounds - The Second Stop Is Jupiter / Crystals - Honey In The Bee Box / Qualities - If I Only Hadn't Sinned / Ebah - I'm Gonna Unmask The Batman / Don (Dino) Dean - The Space Stroll / Sun Ra - I Am Strange / Cosmic Rays - Daddy's Gonna Tell You No Lie and many, many more.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
The 13th Annual Mississippi Jazz Festival was held at the Summit Rotary gym on Sunday, Sept. 28, 2008. The festival this year was a tribute to Summit native John Gilmore, ace saxophonist who played with the famous Sun Ra's Arkestra. Performers were Mississippi and Louisiana musicians Dr. Ronald Myers, piano and trumpet; Sherrill Holly, saxophone; Dr. London Branch, bass; and Wilton Knott, Rufus Mapp, and Aye` Aton, percussion. Dr. Branch celebrated his birthday at the event, which was also the birthday of John Gilmore. For more information, see http://www.jazzmississippi.com
Listen to the audio recording in which Ayeâ Aton tells of how he played with Summit, MS, native John Gilmore in the Sun Ra Arkestra, Sherrill Holly speaks of meeting Gilmore and following the famous Sun Ra group, and Ron Myers gives tribute to Mississippi jazz legacies, including Lester "Prez" Young, who was born in Woodville, also in Southwest Mississippi. (Due to the less than excellent recording quality, I deleted the part where the band plays. Running time is 10:31.) Be sure to click on the 2.6 MB WAVE audio option.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
This August 15th from 1pm to 1am, AS220 brings back our famous urban street party, blocking off most of Empire Street and filling it with things infinitely superior to parked cars! Numerous interactive art installations and games, local artists showcasing their creations and twelve hours of all-original music will make this our most art-packed, music-filled festival yet!
This year's special guest headliner is the one and only Sun Ra Arkestra, the famous twenty-member jazz assemble under the direction of Marshall Allen. Witness this legendary spectacle while you can - who knows when they'll return to this planet?!
Friday, July 31, 2009
ONE OF THE GODS by Bennett Theissen
Last night I sat for two hours transfixed listening to the new Transparency release Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Solar Research Arkestra Helsinki 1971 -- The Complete Concert and Interview. When Michael had gotten the source tape he brought it over and we listened to it then, months ago, and I thought it was one of the coolest Sun Ra tapes I had ever heard. Listening to the final version last night, mastered gorgeously by Brian Albers, I was once again in awe of this strange man whose music has become so important to me over the decades.
Who was this being who walked the earth so long, but said he came from Saturn? I first listened to Sun Ra when he was on ESP in the late 60s and I was 15 and 16, and I have to admit I couldn't understand what I was getting into, but I found it compelling. I was drawn to the extremes of jazz, but I was also drawn to the purely sci-fi aspects of him too. In early 1969 I got both Kick Out the Jams by MC5 and I got Nothing Is... by Sun Ra. MC5 had turned Ra's composition "Starship" into a driving rock song, and both albums referenced the nothing is poem ("At first nothing is..."). The Ra music was extreme honking vomiting seering jazz, exploding from my speakers, but the album was intercut with these short bursts of pop song -- "this is the theme of the stargazers, stargazers in the sky" and "if you find earth boring, just the same old same thing, come on sign up for outer space race incorporated." (It wasn't until a couple years ago that I finally heard Ra's song about Apollo 11 -- "them folks been walkin' on the moon.")
Sadly, during most of the 70s I didn't keep up with Ra too much, life was too complicated (unlike today, when with a computer you can know everything). I did catch him playing in San Francisco in 1977 and in Chicago in 1980. While I was impressed as hell by the shows, and grateful to be there, it somehow didn't feel as vital as the music I had heard when I was ten years younger. Still, it was exciting and it was beyond terrific to see the beloved audience response. Sun Ra fans got it, and appreciated it deeply. But those $1.98 space costumes and the big band feel also seemed like a bit of camouflage, a cheesy coating to something that wanted to transcend time and place and confront us all with eternity. And stuck up pretentious artiste that I am, I didn't want the cover I wanted the eternity.
Which is why Michael Sheppard's Transparency releases of recent vintage have been so important. This Helsinki show I listened to last night, it made me think I had died and gone to some permanently cool hall of heaven, where maybe only Sun Ra and Bill Burroughs and a tiny handful of others hang out. One would hard pressed to call the Helsinki show "jazz" -- because even though it definitely resembles that style, it goes so far beyond it. The closest thing I can think of would be, maybe, Miles Davis' weird r&b and funk excursions of the early 70s. Maybe. Miles was trying to branch out, but Ra didn't feel any need to expand what he was doing because he was already there. He played a form of funk, but not like any other funk you've ever heard. There's a track here, from the first set (disc one), called Love in Outer Space, and it IS a funk track, with a funky bass over a mass of percussion, but it doesn't build up so much as OUTWARD. I can imagine trying to watch all twenty nine musicians as they go through this -- thing, I don't know how to talk about it. That builds for ten minutes, then becomes a cover of the song Watusi, then becomes the thematic heartbreaker of a piece called Enlightenment, best version EVER, which is followed by an impossible to describe Ra keyboard solo which ends the first set.
The difference between this and the shows I saw? Can't put my finger on it exactly, but I think the late 60s and early 70s shows are freer, and that when he became more popular (like when he was on Saturday Night Live) he felt he had to do his schtick more entertainingly, and that he played the Cosmic Fool. Not that he was a fool, or that he ever suffered fools, but he treated it like a role, and that's what I felt in 1977 and 1980. Not in this Helsinki show. Does that make sense to you?
If you haven't seen it, you need to check out the one Sun Ra movie, called Space Is The Place, which is sadly out of print right now. (Amazon has VHS tapes for $95 if you care.) I saw it projected on a hotel wall downtown L.A. last summer, and loved every cheap exploitative minute of it. I also need to read Ra's biography, also called Space is the Place, by John Szwed, but haven't yet. I'll get it soon, now that I'm writing this. I know a bit of Ra's history, where he learned some of his composing and arranging skills, etc. I know he was a definite outsider, in all senses. Even his sexuality is strange -- he was possibly gay but more probably asesxual, and sexuality never seemed to be one of his themes. He taught at Berkeley in 1971 -- Transparency has one of his class lectures on CD and it's extremely cool and very far out. He was generous and cared about his band, and they were devoted to him. In fact, the great Marshall Allen leads the Sun Ra Arkestra in concert even today. (There is a distant possibility that Transparency may try to set up a dual concert with the Arkestra and the Slits somewhere down the line!) I know that he left this mortal coil in 1993, but maybe he's still playing dates on the rings of Saturn and he just left here and went home.
I just wanted to tell you that you really need to track down this new release and devote some time to it. It won't let you down because it's real art. We all know the eternal mantra, "He got what he wanted but he lost what he had." With Ra it should be, "He had what he wanted and he got what he lost." Sun Ra is, in my mind, One of the Gods.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
The June 2009 issue of Print Magazine features an article about the book "Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn and Chicago's Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954-68" and the graphic-design sensibility Sun Ra and Saturn Records. Below is a short excerpt:
Solar Flare: Sun Ra's album covers were wild, inspired, and a universe away from Blue Note
A world away from the smoky, cellar-jam-session cool of [most jazz] album art, the handmade aesthetic, do-it-yourself ethos, and ripped-and-remixed imagery of [Sun Ra's] album covers and promo materials are of a piece with [the composer's] bricolaged cosmology. Desperate to escape what Ra biographer John Szwed calls the 'racially possessed' America of the Jim Crow years, Ra built an alternate worldview from scratch, cobbling it together from Flash Gordon futurism, mail-order Egyptology, Biblical hermeneutics, and 19th-century occultism. Long before men walked on the moon, Ra knew, in his bones, that he was part of the 'angel race.' Like a trans-racial Marcus Garvey beckoning humankind toward his intergalactic starliner, he urged space migration for black and white alike. The El Saturn graphics are a part of this sprawling star chart, a cosmic Baedeker pointing to Other Planes of There.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Rockin' With Sun (Ra)
Sun Ra (Herman Poole Blount, b. May 22, 1914 in Birmingham, Alabama according to his birth certificate, Le Sony'r Ra born on Saturn according to his passport) was one of the most prolific and significant jazz musicians of the 20th century. And one of the best dressed. He recorded hundreds of LP's, led one of the finest bands in the world for four decades, composed and arranged countless tunes. He was probably one of the few jazz musicians who could play "inside" and "outside" (ie straight or free-form) at the same time.
For those wanting more info on Sun Ra, John F. Szwed's Space Is The Place: The Lives and Times Of Sun Ra (Pantheon Books, 1997) is essential reading. In fact it's essential reading for anyone interested in jazz or just singular oddballs of the American variety. It's safe to say we'll not see the likes of Sun Ra again. Szwed's study is a good read but it's just the beginning and the study of Ra's career could fill several more volumes easily.
But I'm not the guy for that job, not being much of a jazz critic or historian, the subject of today's blog is Sun Ra's rock'n'roll output. For those who didn't know, Sun Ra was responsible for some truly unique rock'n'roll records. Although they represent a minuscule portion of his recorded output they're all interesting records, and a couple of 'em are downright masterpieces.
Sun Ra's first stab at rock'n'roll was issued on Ra's own Saturn label in 1955 by the Cosmic Rays. In classic doo wop 45 fashion one side was a ballad "Dreaming" and the other an upbeat near rocker "Daddy Gonna Tell You No Lie". Both sides have a pronounced mambo beat and feature lead singer Calvin Barron along with three unknown harmony singers. Sun plays piano, the sides were recorded in Chicago. When collectors kept asking Sunny to re-issue it he couldn't find the master tape so instead issued an a cappella version which was recorded in his living room while rehearsing the group for their studio debut.
A very strange doo-wop recorded was issued under the name of Juanita Rogers & Lynn Hollings with Mr. V's Five Joys on the Pink Clouds label in 1958 and is most certainly Sun Ra's doing. The a-side "Teenager's Letter Of Promises" is an oddball disc by any standard, even Sun Ra's. Juanita Rogers is the Frankie Lymon like lead vocal, Lynn Hollings is doing the strange narration.
Speaking of strange, Yochanan (The Space Age Vocalist) was a Chicago street character that Ra befriended. Yochanan appeared in local nightclubs and on Maxwell Street where he was booked as the Man From Outer Space, the Man From Mars and the Muck Muck Man. He claimed to be from the Sun and appeared decked out in turban (always a good look for a R&R singer), sandals, robes, etc. His performances were both eccentric and wild and as quoted on Szwed's book, one Hattie Randolph remembers catching his shtick in a nightclub in Kokomo, Indiana--"When he started his act and began leaping over the tables, one woman jumped up and shouted, 'He's possessed'! and ran out of the club". One listen to his first single and it's easy to believe.
"Hot Skillet Momma" b/w "Muck Muck (Matt Matt)" attributed to Yochanan (The Space Age Vocalist) is one of the greatest rock'n'roll records I've ever heard. It makes Screamin' Jay Hawkins sound like Johnny Mathis. The world was not ready for Yochanan in 1957 when this disc was issued, and it's probably still not ready. Sun Ra however believed in Yochanan enough to issue another single two years later-- "I'm The One From The Sun" b/w "Message To Earthmen", not quite as wild but still a great record. Saturn issued two outtakes in 1968 when "The Sun Man Speaks" was coupled with an alternate version of "Message To Earthmen".
Not really a rock'n'roll record (this one truly defies classification) is this 1974 recording "I'm Gonna Unmask The Batman" by Sun Ra and his Astro-Galactic Infinity Arkestra. Sunny seemed to have a thing for Batman as he along with a few members of the Arkestra and a couple of guys from the Blues Project cut a Batman TV theme budget LP in '66 which can be found here. Not great but interesting in a cheesy sort of way.
More on the rhythm and blues side is this 1958 Saturn 45 "Hours After" (actually a version of Erskine Hawkins' "After Hours") b/w "Great Balls Of Fire" (not the Jerry Lee Lewis hit) which shows the Arkestra at their bluesiest. This one seems like an attempt to garn some jukebox play around Chicago where the band was based at the time. Also, it's a rare example of Sun Ra recording with a guitarist, in this case Sam Thomas.
My buddy Junie Booth played bass with the Sun Ra Arkestra for many years, he told me when they went to Birmingham, Alabama for Sunny to be presented with the key to the city, midway during the ceremony Sunny turned to him and said "I hate this fuckin' town, that's why I always told people I was from Saturn".
ADDENDUM TO YESTERDAY'S POST: I forgot to mention all of the above 45s and more are available on the 2 CD set Sun Ra: The Singles (Evidence ECD22164-2). It's 49 tunes span three decades and include all the issued Saturn 45's and some alternate takes. Evidence also has fifteen Cd's of Sun Ra Saturn material covering 21 + LP's, many of which are practically impossible to find.
Griffiths, Pat. "A Space Warning from Sun Ra to the Planet Earth." Friends (London), February 2, 1971, p.2.
http://paranoidmod.blogspot.com/2008/02/space-warning-from-sun-ra.html [original posting]
http://nightofthepurplemoon.blogspot.com/2009/05/sun-ra-space-warning-to-planet-earth.html [reposting has info about article source and smaller file scan]
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Marshall Allen - alto sax, flute, Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI) Yah Yah Abdul-Majid - tenor sax Knoel Scott - alto sax Danny Ray Thompson - baritone sax Fred Adams － trumpet Michael Ray － trumpet Cecil Brooks - trumpet Dave Davis - trombone, french horn, tuba Farid Barron － keyboard Dave Hotep － guitar Juini Booth - electric bass Bill Davis - acoustic bass Wayne A. Smith, Jr. - drums Lamont Smith - conga drum Elson Nascimento - surdo drum
Take Off Planet Earth Dreams Come True Prelude to a Kiss Discipline 27-II Sometimes I'm Happy East of the Sun, West of the Moon Millennium Space Walk Angels & Demons at Play
Improv Opening In-B-Tween Body & Soul Way Down Yonder in New Orleans Love in Outer Space Blue Set (with Happy Birthday to Marshall) Reflex Motion When You Wish Upon a Star Interplanetary Music Fate in a Pleasant Mood We Travel the Spaceways
Philadelphia have scheduled an exciting series of Wednesday evening
events in July, each of which are Sun Ra related. This is in support
of the Sun Ra Museum exhibit at the ICA in Philadelphia running
through August 2, 2009. All of the below events on July 8, 15, 22, &
29, 2009 are free and open to the public at the ICA Museum, 118 South
36th Street, Philadelphia, PA. Following the Wednesday, July 1
spectacular featuring the Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of
Marshall Allen, the events will be:
Wednesday, July 8 @ 7:00 pm:
John Szwed - A lecture by the biographic expert on all things Ra
Hear a lecture by John Szwed, the biographic expert on all things Ra.
Mr. Szwed is the author of "Space Is The Place: The Lives and Times of
Sun Ra" (Da Capo Press, 1998). He is an anthropologist, musicologist,
and historian who teaches at Columbia University. Mr Szwed has
authored many significant books covering the personalities and
artistry of jazz. Those who have previously heard John Szwed lecture
on Sun Ra will tell you that this is a not to be missed event that
will include anecdotes, insights, and information that surround the
mystery of Sun Ra.
Wednesday, July 15 @ 7:00 pm:
Outdoor Double Feature: "Brother From Another Planet" and "A Joyful
Noise" curated by Jesse Pires
The 2005 documentary "Sun Ra: Brother From Another Planet" was made by
director Don Letts for the BBC. This 59 minute film has only been
screened once before in the USA and this is its Philadelphia Premiere.
Don Letts, the legendary London DJ who introduced reggae and ska to a
generation of punk rockers, delves into the mysterious world of Sun Ra
in this British, made-for-television documentary. Sun Ra biographer
John Szwed, musician Archie Schepp, and members of Sun Ra's Arkestra
discuss the life and work of one of jazz music's pre-eminent pioneers.
For the uninitiated, "Brother From Another Planet" is a great
introduction to Sun Ra, and for Sun Ra devotees, it is required
The 1980 documentary "Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise" was made by director
Robert Mugge, who will be in attendance at this screening and he will
give an introduction to this film. Consisting of explosive live
footage of the Sun Ra Arkestra and fascinating interviews with the man
himself, "A Joyful Noise" is the complete Sun Ra experience. Filmed
in and around Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. when the Arkestra was
living in Germantown, Robert Mugge's documentary captures the group at
the height of its creative powers. Each live performance featured in
the film further illustrates the distinctive alchemy Sun Ra was able
to create with his disciplined band. Ra makes his case for a better
world through music, transcending banal, earthbound realities to
produce a strange and fascinating aesthetic fusing ancient history
with future visions.
Wednesday, July 22 @ 7:00 pm:
Saturn Never Sleeps: Sun-Ra: Lectric a night curated by King Britt and
Saturn Never Sleeps is a carefully curated electronic experience,
created by music producer, King Britt and singer/visualist, Rucyl
Mills combining audio-visual micro-components into a thought altering
world of sight and sound. Live musicians of acoustic and electronic
inventions come together in creating the sonic bubblebath for your
listening pleasure. Visuals add the dimension needed to transport you
into a different place. For this special mission, we are dedicating
the night to reconstructing, in an improvisational way, the sounds of
jazz legend and fellow dreamer, Sun-Ra.
King Britt (electronics), Rucyl Mills (vocals & sampling), Tim Motzer
(guitartronics), Damon Bennet (keyboards & flute), Jason Senk
(visuals), and some very special guests.
Together we will be reducing Sun Ra sounds into a new context while
combining with works by artists influenced by him as well into a night
Wednesday, July 29 @ 7:00 pm:
Death's Headquarters: In Celebration of Le Sony'Ra: curated by Ars Nova Wor=
Featuring performances by two local groups in the avant-garde spirit
of Ra and the Arkestra: Planet Y and Sonic Liberation Front.
"To save the planet, I had to go to the worst spot on Earth, and that
was Philadelphia, which was death's headquarters." -Sun Ra
An expanded 12-member Sonic Liberation Front, the Philadelphia
ensemble acclaimed for their iconoclastic combination of Free Jazz
passion and Afro-Cuban percussion, will premiere =93Jetway Confidential
No.3 (for Sun Ra)=94, a new composition dedicated to Sun Ra and
commissioned specifically for this performance, and perform an
arrangement of Sun Ra=92s =93Where Pathways Meet=94 from 1978=92s "Languidi=
recording, which featured saxophonist and SLF member Julian Pressley.
This evening will also feature a very rare appearance from Planet Y -
Buchla Music Easel master Charles Cohen and Stinking Lizaveta=92s Yanni
Papadopoulos, best described as "Subotnick meets Sun Ra meets
Schnitzler.=94 (Aquarius Records) In addition, newly-unearthed archival
films will be projected on the gallery walls.
Planet Y: Yanni Papadopoulos (dg-20 Casio digital guitar), Charles
Cohen (Buchla Music Easel)
Sonic Liberation Front: Todd Margasak (cornet), Terry Lawson (tenor
saxophone/flute), Dan Scofield (alto saxophone), Julian Pressley (alto
saxophone), Brent White (trombone), dmHotep (guitar), Travis Woodson
(guitar), Matt Engle (double-bass), Chuck Joseph (Bata drums/drumkit),
Shawn "Dade" Beckett (Bata drums/percussion),
Khari Clemmons (Bata drums), Kevin Diehl (Bata drums/drumkit).
Led by percussionist Kevin Diehl, a protege of Free Jazz pioneer Sunny
Murray, Sonic Liberation Front merges post-bop with traditional
Afro-Cuban Yoruba roots music. While other ensembles have merged Bata
drumming and jazz, none have done it with the vigor of SLF. The band
members are true students of the Lukumi tradition under the guidance
of percussionist/omo ana Chuckie Joseph, a lifelong Yoruba cultural
scholar. It=92s been said a million times that all music originates in
West Africa =AD and by returning the focus to its origins, SLF achieves
a natural eclectism that serves as a fountain of ingenuity. Ancient to
the future, indeed. For this special performance, an expanded 12-piece
SLF performs featuring some of the most notable names in
Philadelphia=92s exploratory music scene including members of the Sun Ra
Arkestra, Make A RIsing, and Shot x Shot.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Sun Ra chronicled in film, lectures & more
Posted on Mon, Jun. 29, 2009
By Shaun Brady
A variety of events celebrating the singular world of jazz musician Sun Ra are being held at the Institute of Contemporary Art (118 S. 36th St., 215-898-7108, www.icaphila.org) to celebrate the exhibit "Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn & Chicago's Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954-1968," which runs through Aug. 2.
Admission to all events is free.
John Szwed: Lecture by the author of "Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra." (July 8, 7 p.m.)
Outdoor Double Feature: Screenings of the 2005 documentary "Sun Ra: Brother From Another Planet" and the hourlong 1980 film "A Joyful Noise," which includes footage from the Arkestra house in Germantown. (July 15, 7 p.m.)
Saturn Never Sleeps: A sonic and visual collage created by King Britt using snippets of Sun Ra music and live experimentation. (July 22, 7 p.m.)
Death's Headquarters: In Celebration of Le Sony'r Ra: Curated by Ars Nova Workshop, performances by two local groups in the avant-garde spirit of Ra and the Arkestra: Planet Y, the duo of Charles Cohen and Yanni Papadopoulos; and Sonic Liberation Front, a 12-piece ensemble combining free jazz with Afro-Cuban percussion. (July 29, 7 p.m.)
In the beginning: Sun Ra. New exhibit explores origins of his music & personal creativity. [philly.com]
In the beginning: Sun Ra New exhibit explores origins of his music & personal creativity
By SHAUN BRADY Philadelphia Daily News For the Daily News Posted on Mon, Jun. 29, 2009
IN THE OPENING scene of the 1974 film "Space Is the Place," jazz iconoclast Sun Ra sits in a fanciful extraterrestrial garden, decked out in Egyptian-inspired headdress and robes, and bemoans the sound of planet Earth as "the sound of guns, anger, frustration."
His proposal is to create a "colony for black people" on this new planet, a Utopian second chance. He ends by deciding to "teleport the whole planet here through music."
The scene captures, fully formed, Ra's idiosyncratic worldview, a unique philosophy blending science fiction, black power, mysticism, mythology and, of course, music.
"Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn & Chicago's Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954-1968," an exhibit on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art through Aug. 2, captures Ra's ideas in their developmental stages. Curated by journalist and jazz critic John Corbett, the show collects artifacts, memorabilia and artwork from Ra's years in Chicago and New York, before the move to what would be come his Arkestra's permanent home in Philadelphia.
"This body of work really represents the formative years of Sun Ra," Corbett explained during a tour of the exhibit. "It spans the period when he developed this persona, this myth-science as he called it, that was very invested in an exploration of space and its relevance for African-Americans as a concrete metaphor.
"By the time he settled in Philadelphia, the persona was more or less set, so this material allows us to look at how he began to construct this identity."
Sun Ra and His Arkestra have long struggled to claim their rightful place in jazz history. Ra's bizarre pronouncements, colorful costumes and sci-fi preoccupations, along with the band's at times chaotic sound, have led many to dismiss the Arkestra as a sideshow, a novelty act.
But rather than the comic-book spectacle that some critics would make it out to be, Ra's personal reinvention was deeply rooted in the troubled times in which he lived.
Born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Ala., in 1914, Ra's name change and claims to hail from Saturn were as much a repudiation of the segregation-era South as they were an attempt at self-mythologizing. His wish to colonize an Afrocentric planet could be viewed as a fantastical analog to the Back to Africa movement.
But Ra's ideas weren't all flights of fancy. As Corbett pointed out during the tour, Ra's Saturn Records was one of the first artist-run record labels.
"This was the birth of the independent music industry, which we now take as a matter of course," Corbett said. "The idea was very rooted in a local grassroots, Afrocentric community of black businesses and designers. They pulled people into the fold to make fliers for shows, to design things for them, to come up with this look that began to incorporate the mixture of space, the Bible and apocalypse, ideas that Sun Ra was leading them to explore."
The fact that this was a venture into the DIY unknown is illustrated by the fact that several sketches and even full designs for album covers on display fail to conform to the square dimensions of an actual LP.
One of the most remarkable objects in the exhibit is a pencil-and-paper collage labeled "Treasure Map for El Saturn," a blueprint for Ra's hopes both practical and fanciful. Amidst sketches of the continents and hieroglyphs are plans for a radio station and recording studio, plus 10,000 acres of land, space for apartments and hotels, "money to fight ignorance" and "food for the hungry."
"It shows his notion of how Saturn Records was going to spread around the world and enlighten everyone on the planet," Corbett said. "That was Sun Ra's stated purpose. He was very concerned about the state of the world in the mid-1950s, both in terms of race issues and in terms of the neglect of beauty."
The collage was created by Alton Abraham, Ra's longtime friend and manager, whose collection makes up the bulk of the exhibit. Corbett salvaged the material after Abraham's death in 1999, when it was threatened with destruction. The exhibit ranges from original art for album covers to business cards, broadsides that Ra handed out on Chicago street corners, even a Christmas card wishing "Better life vibrations" for the holiday season.
While the exhibit cuts off in 1968, the year that Ra moved to the house on Morton Street in Germantown that still serves as home base for the Arkestra, the bandleader's 25-year residence in the city until his death in 1993 makes Philly a logical site for the show.
"There's no place more logical for it to be than here in Philadelphia," Corbett said. "This is the place that Sun Ra finally felt comfortable enough to stay."
Today, the Arkestra is led by alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, who joined the band in the late 1950s during the period represented by the exhibit. Allen reminisced recently about being introduced to Ra's philosophy and how it changed him as a musician and as a human being.
"In the early stages, he had to first change the musicians' and the people's ideas," Allen said. "So whatever he did with those things that you see, he had a bigger job convincing people to open their minds to the space age and independence and creativity. That was hard for musicians with a traditional way of playing, and that was the biggest work of his career, changing the musicians to play his idea of things to come."
Allen will lead the Arkestra in a performance at the ICA on July 1, the first of a series of events coinciding with the exhibit. Upcoming events include a lecture by Ra biographer John Szwed on July 8; a screening of the films "Sun Ra: Brother From Another Planet" and "A Joyful Noise" on July 15; a sonic and visual collage by King Britt on July 22; and performances by Sonic Liberation Front and Planet Y curated by Ars Nova Workshop on July 29.
"When you're younger you dream about you can fly or you can jump 90 feet," Allen said. "But in reality, you have to develop yourself like an athlete. It's the same in the music."
Allen is now confronting the challenges once faced by his mentor as the Arkestra's maestro, a position he's held since 1997.
"It's a good feeling to look back at the beginning and see things when you didn't quite understand them," Allen said of viewing the exhibit.
"It's wonderful to see those things and know that I still got a job ahead of me."
Saturday, June 27, 2009
July 1st. Philadelphia, PA, Institute of Contemporary Art
July 4th. Lisbon, Portugal, Setubal/Arrabida World Music festival.
July 10th. Vienne, France, Jazz a Vienne Festival.
July 30th. Sardinia, Italy, Cala Gonone Jazz Festival.
August 1st. Standon, U.K., Standon Calling Festival Poster
August 15th. Providence, Rhode Island, AS220 Festival
Sept. 26th. Durham, NC, Duke University
Oct. 31st. Philadelphia, PA, International House Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut street, PA 19104
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Call My Baby (Jo Jo Adams, 1953, Ra arr.)
It's Raining Again (Joe Williams, 1953, Ra arr.)
Just Friends (1957, home)
Egyptian Scat (1956, Budland, w/Hattie Randolph)
Persian Rug (1956, Budland, w/Hattie Randolph)
Untitled (1956, live Budland)
Unreleased (Choreographers Workshop, 1961)
Wake Up America (for JFK) (Ra, celeste, w/Marshall Allen, voc., 1963)
My Children (1961, home)
Unknown Title (studio, 1957)
Celeste Solo (1963)
Miserlou (1955, w/Vernon Davis)
I've Forgotten (1961, Choreographers Workshop)
East Of The Sun (1955, Pat Patrick)
Truth Is Bad (1961, home)
Make Me Feel Good (1955, female vocal)
The Outers (unreleased, 1964 NYC)
June 10, 2009 Vision Festival
Abrons Arts Center, New York, NY
Dreams Come True
Discipline 27-II (with cosmo drama segment including Space is the Place & If We Came from Nowhere Here)
? [1960s Sun Ra chart]
Way Down Yonder in New Orleans
Fate in a Pleasant Mood
We Travel the Spaceways
Hit That Jive Jack
Marshall Allen - Musical Director, alto sax, flute, Electronic Valve
Yah Yah Abdul-Majid - tenor sax
Knoel Scott - alto sax
Danny Ray Thompson - baritone sax
Charles Davis - tenor sax
Rey Scott - baritone sax
Fred Adams - trumpet
Michael Ray - trumpet
Cecil Brooks - trumpet
Dave Davis - trombone, french horn, tuba
Dick Griffin - trombone
Dave Hotep - guitar
Bill Davis - bass
Juini Booth - bass
Farid Barron - piano
Billy Bang - violin
Wayne A. Smith, Jr. - drums
Art Jenkins - vocals, space megaphone
Elson Nascimento - surdo
More Bang for the Buck: Old Visionaries, New Jazz Venue
By WILL FRIEDWALD
JUNE 13, 2009
The jazz season in New York has, for more than a decade, reached its climax in June and July, and until this year no less than three major festivals arrived in close succession—the Vision Festival, the JVC Jazz Festival and the 92nd Street Y’s Jazz in July series. If New York’s jazzfests resemble a three-ring circus, the center ring traditionally was occupied by the epic JVC Jazz Festival, a marathon two-week event built around well-known contemporary headliners (and even a few smooth jazz and pop stars). To the right was Jazz in July, where the emphasis is on swing and the songbook; to the left, Vision, which focuses on what is variously known as free jazz, experimental music or the avant-garde (none of these terms being entirely accurate).
Since 1996, Vision has been an ambitious annual gathering of musicians, dancers and visual artists that encompasses nearly 50 events over seven nights, and it is much more like a genuine festival—rather than a concert series—than either JVC or Jazz in July. It has consistently positioned itself as a scrappy alternative to the more formal programming at JVC (not to mention Jazz at Lincoln Center); there has never been big corporate sponsorship or even major record-label support. The tickets are easily affordable ($25 for a four-hour evening; www.visionfestival.org), and the shows—up to five in a single night—traditionally have taken place in basements, abandoned synagogues and other scruffy venues on the Lower East Side.
This year, with JVC canceled, there seemed to be a big black hole in the middle of the jazz-festival season, pulling Vision and Jazz in July slowly toward each other and the center. Something seemed amiss when I approached Vision’s new venue, the Abrons Art Center, and found it wasn’t a desecrated churchyard or the like, but a proper theater with a stage and even padded seats: Hearing free jazz in anything fancier than a metal folding chair somehow seems unspeakably bourgeois (if I can’t fold it, I ain’t sittin’ on it). Vision traditionally begins with an “opening invocation” that amounts to a free-jazz version of a New Orleans street parade up and down the aisles; this year it was notably stagebound and somewhat pointless.
Yet the music presented at Vision in its 14th season has, so far at least, been as irascible and antiestablishment as always—not to mention uncategorizable. It won’t do to call this experimental music, because while the major players presented regularly by Vision (starting with its co-founder, bassist William Parker) are always up for trying something new, they perfected their basic approach long ago. It’s not specifically avant-garde, since they’re not bent on creating a style that legions will adopt (in that sense, Wynton Marsalis’s signaling a return to hard bop in the 1980s was much more “avant-garde”). It’s no longer revolutionary, it doesn’t seek to put other kinds of jazz out of business, but it has become a stratum of the jazz (and even contemporary classical) world that is complete unto itself, with its own heroes, traditions and legacy that goes back before Ornette Coleman’s breakthrough “Shape of Jazz to Come” album of 50 years ago.
The stars of the first two nights were alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, director of the Sun Ra Arkestra and the recipient of the festival’s “Lifetime Recognition” award, and violinist-bandleader Billy Bang. This year, his group, Brass Bang, comprised three trumpets, trombone, drums and the leader’s fiddle. Mr. Bang succinctly demonstrated the possibilities of free playing: At the start, the music was playful, like children talking to each other using horns as voices; then it got loud and screechy, almost unbearably so—as avant-garde music is often inclined to get. For a finale, Mr. Bang caught us all off-guard (or even off-avant-garde): He and trumpeter James Zollar offered a unique interpretation of “Take the A Train” in which they seemed to re-create all the rules of music from the ground up, showing how the application of each step can lead to something as beautiful as the great works of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.
Probably because of the appearance of the Ra Arkestra, the Abrons Center was packed Wednesday night—it’s a lot smaller than the previous venues. Mr. Allen, who, at age 85, is easily the grand old man of the avant-garde, was featured in a rare non-Ra outing with a small group consisting of two saxes (tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan, the octogenarian free player, was the other), two basses (William Parker, Henry Grimes) and drummer Hamid Drake. In this music, there are no conventional notions of background and foreground, and every sound exists principally in relation to something else. Sometimes, it just seemed like a bunch of guys blowing their brains out; other times, the interaction between Mr. Allen and Mr. Jordan was wondrous to behold.
Mr. Allen’s vocabulary of shrieks and squawks and postmodern saxophonic wizardry was also evident in his set with the full Arkestra—the only ghost band with an original leader who was a supernatural entity to begin with. As always, the 18 members paraded out in Halloween costumes that looked like Mardi Gras on Mars, began with banshee-like howls and overblowing, but then, when they got down to business, created swinging and appealing big-band jazz. Their sloppy but engaging style is based on riffs, a shuffle beat and the blues. There are even familiar chord changes, as on an original pop-style song (“Dreams Come True”) that seemed based on the harmonies of “Jeepers Creepers.”
The Arkestra’s set provided the climax on Wednesday, not least because of Mr. Bang, who sat in with the big band, decked out like an interstellar gypsy. His solos here were perhaps even more passionate than with his own group, and while I’ve seen him look deadly serious in other contexts, here he was enjoying himself immensely—as was everybody in the Abrons Center. This music may have significant sociopolitical baggage attached to it, but it’s also just plain fun.
—Mr. Friedwald writes about jazz for the Journal.
Honoring One Man in 2 Guises
By NATE CHINEN
Published: June 12, 2009
The alto saxophonist Marshall Allen assumed two guises, earthly and celestial, at the Abrons Arts Center on Wednesday night. Appearing as the guest of honor at the 14th annual Vision Festival, he took the stage first in civilian attire, playing freely and fiercely in an aggressive all-star quintet. Later he re-emerged in the spangly vestments of his office — a sequined robe, a priestly hat — to conduct the famously otherworldly Sun Ra Arkestra in a performance that was more strictly codified but a great deal looser-limbed.
Mr. Allen, who turned 85 last month, has been a member of the Arkestra for more than 50 years: he joined the ensemble almost at its origins, spearheading its reed section and faithfully minding the various edicts of its namesake leader. When he took the helm himself in the mid-1990s, after the deaths of Sun Ra and the tenor saxophonist John Gilmore, Mr. Allen set his sights on continuity. He has kept the band together and working, with one eye trained on the legacy of an expressly future-oriented music.
It’s no wonder the Vision organizers chose to give Mr. Allen a lifetime recognition award. The festival, an artist-run nonprofit organization, convenes each year to celebrate the precise set of values that has animated his career. Recent editions of the event similarly honored veteran jazz iconoclasts who had served, at one time, as guardians of a social order. Last year’s recipient was Kidd Jordan, a tenor saxophonist and educator from New Orleans.
Mr. Jordan, 74, played alongside Mr. Allen during Wednesday’s first set, and the contrast was illuminating. Mr. Jordan has an old-fashioned tone in the meaty midregister of his horn, and he trawls his altissimo range with imploring exactitude.
Mr. Allen is much more of a flamethrower: he used his alto as a delivery system for searing, convulsive blasts, running his right hand fast and clawlike across the instrument’s keys. He also coaxed loopy frequencies from an electronic valve instrument, making use of a pitch-modulator knob; its timbre suggested a steelier, less vocal-sounding theremin.
The quintet otherwise featured Vision stalwarts: the bassist William Parker, the drummer Hamid Drake and the bassist Henry Grimes, who doubled on violin. They hurled themselves into the effort, expertly advancing the fervent strain of free jazz that has been this festival’s house style.
Strikingly, that style was largely absent from the Arkestra’s set, which followed an uneventful stand by a group led by Bill Cole, a strident specialist on East Asian double-reed instruments. Mr. Allen focused instead on the rhythmic side of the band’s repertory, featuring songs buoyed by swing and calypso rhythm; often there were snappily cosmic lyrics sung by Art Jenkins or other members of the band. (A few tunes, including “Millennium,” a recent staple by Mr. Allen, occasioned a full-band singalong.)
The Arkestra isn’t the spit-and-polish machine it once was, but its young rhythm section performed admirably, and there were vital contributions from the trumpeter Fred Adams and the tenor saxophonist Charles Davis, among others. More to the point, what the group as a whole delivered was a sensation of boisterous delight. Mr. Allen, with his seemingly boundless energy, had a lot to do with that.
The Vision Festival continues on the Lower East Side through Sunday at the Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street, at Pitt Street, and on Monday at the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts, 172 Norfolk Street; visionfestival.org.
Live At The Paradox, 2008 (In And Out 77098; Germany)
Recorded at the ZXZW Festival, Tilburg, The Netherlands, on Sept. 20th. 2008
M Allen alto sax, flute, clarinet, EVI; Charles Davis, YahYa Abdul Majid tenor saxes; Knoel Scott alto sax; Danny Thompson, Reynold Scott baritone saxes; Cecil Brooks, Fred Adams trumpets; Dave Davis trombone and tuba; Farid Barron piano and organ; Juni Booth doublebass; Dave Hotep guitar; Wayne Smith Jr drums; Elson Nascimento surdo and percussions.
“I had the good fortune to hear and see the Sun Ra Arkestra last night (6/10/09) at the 14th Annual Vision Fest and they were pretty amazing! This disc was recorded in September of 2008 and it captures the relatively same Arkestra in all of its glory. Commencing with Marshall’s “Space Walk” which features layers of EVI (electronic valve instrument), guitar, piano, occasional horns, bass and percussion, we are slowly heading out to outer space. What I dig about this is the way the Arkestra plays freely yet there is a lovely floating vibe that connects everyone into a cosmic dreamscape. “Discipline 27” has that incredible, magical riff that still stays with me and keeps me humming some thirty years after I first heard it at Soundscape in 1979. The version here is genuinely uplifting, and it segues into another favorite of mine “I’ll Wait for You” from the album ‘Strange Celestial Place’. The Arkestra plays these tunes with a jubilant, swinging spirit that is infectious and most of the horn players get a chance to solo throughout, often playing short, concise and powerful solos. Whether playing Sun Ra’s “Dreams Come True” or Fletcher Henderson’s “Hocus Pocus”, the band illustrates the long history of jazz (big bands!) that makes one feel so good. This recording was from a club in the Netherlands so we can hear folks talking quietly between the songs, which actually adds to homey ambiance. Marshall Allen wrote four of the nine songs here in the Sun Ra vein and plays some extraordinary solos as well. The Arkestra is particularly tight and festive moreso than the last time I caught them (quite a while ago). Considering the large amount of Sun Ra reissues and rarities that have been released over the past few years, it is great to hear some new Sun Ra Arkestra music that is as great as anything we’ve heard from the past! Space is the place indeed!”
- Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
Thursday, June 11, 2009
A Sideman In The Limelight: Marshall Allen
by Lars Gotrich
On Wednesday night, the 14th annual Vision Festival (one of the many New York jazz festivals still going on this summer) will honor saxophonist Marshall Allen with a Lifetime Achievement award.
Allen's an interesting case as he's not so much recognized for his own achievements, but the legacy he's carried on -- namely (and solely) that of Sun Ra. Allen traveled the outer spaceways for four decades leading the reed section of Sun Ra's Arkestra. In 1995, he took over its direction when tenor saxophonist John Gilmore passed away, who had picked up the reins when Sun Ra left planet Earth in 1993.
There's much to say for Allen's dedication. Sun Ra's vision was and is too big for this world. Just like the Mingus Big Band carries the torch for Charles Mingus, Allen ensures that the music of Sun Ra still breathes in concert venues, where that vision clearly thrives.
But Allen's individual contributions to free jazz both in and out of the Arkestra are worth note. His collaborations with percussionist Babatunde Olatunji mark some of the first free jazz/traditional African music fusions. And in various groups, he keeps a fire blowing with musicians like Kidd Jordan and fellow Philadelphian Elliott Levin.
Most of all, his pyrotechnic playing style is one that's been emulated times over. Allen told Tam Fiofori in a 1971 interview (later re-purposed for the essential book, As Serious As Your Life) that he "wanted to play on a broader sound basis rather than on chords." Watching and hearing this technique is like lightning and thunder: You see his fingers fly up and down his instrument, but only seem to catch the sound seconds later. For evidence, watch the clip from A Joyful Noise below, which the YouTube uploader correctly identifies as "Marshall Allen from Sun Ra goin' nuts."
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Marshall Allen Honored at Visions Festival on June 10th Written by Ronaldo Oregano Tuesday, 26 May 2009
“Allen has taken the Arkestra in new directions as its director, all the while maintaining his singular voice as one of the most distinguished altoists of his generation.” – Clifford Allen, All About Jazz
A member of the Sun Ra Arkestra for more than 50 years, and its director since 1995, 85-year-old multi-reed player Marshall Allen will receive the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from Arts for Art and the Vision Festival. On Wednesday night, June 10th, Allen will perform two explosive sets of music with two unstoppable groups. In between, Bill Cole and his Untempered Ensemble will honor Allen’s creative majesty with a piece of music written especially for this night.
Marshall Allen has left an indelible stamp on The Sun Ra Arkestra’s body of work and the entire universe of improvised music. In special appearances outside of the Arkestra’s fold, this great musical legend has collaborated with everyone from the pianist Paul Bley to the percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1924, Allen began playing clarinet around the age of 10, inspired by the music of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson. In 1942, at age 18, Allen joined the U.S. Army’s 92nd Infantry, also known as the “Buffalo Soldiers, and played in army marching bands and dance bands. While stationed in Europe, Allen worked with the pianist Art Simmons, jammed with Don Byas, and recorded with James Moody. During his army years, he also took up the alto saxophone.
Following his discharge from the army in 1949, Allen enrolled at the Paris Conservatory of Music, where he studied clarinet with Jacques Delecluse. In 1952, After returning to the U.S., he settled in Chicago, where he began composing and leading his own small groups. After hearing an early Sun Ra demo in 1957, Allen sought out and joined the band (then based in Chicago) in 1958.
“When I met [Sun Ra] he was talking about the Creator, and the bible, and the outer space, and the man on the moon, and all of that,” said Allen. “I’m saying ‘Damn! What is this? I came to play some music!’ But then, I didn’t play right way. He kept on talking about his philosophy, and history, and all that kind of stuff. He was a good conversationalist, so I was listening and listening ‘cause I wanted to get in the band. So I just hung around with him, he’s talking and talking, talking music and everything, …until finally he let me stand up by the piano and be in the band.”
Allen has remained with the Arkestra ever since, first leading the saxophone section with John Gilmore, and in 1995, taking over as director. Noted Corey Kilgannon in the New York Times, “[Allen] grew up admiring the styles of swing-era saxophonists like Johnny Hodges, Don Byas, Willie Smith and Earle Warren but eventually developed an avant-garde style, mastering overblowing techniques, false fingerings, note manipulations and extreme registers.”
Allen still shares the Philadelphia home with the members of the Arkestra, encouraging the same sense of community that Ra had fostered. “If you’re here, you got a place to practice 24 hours a day,” said Allen. “You can create, and you can get the spirit, and you can build a nice band. And then fulfill your own potential and your own career.” Allen sees it as his responsibility to preserve the music and philosophy of Ra and the Arkestra for future musicians and music fans. “I’m carrying it on, and keeping the spirit rolling, and keeping the music rolling. For the next generation, they wanna know what the last generation done, we got the music and things like that for them to see here. So we’re carrying on the tradition.”
In addition to the Arkestra, Allen has recorded with James Moody (1948-1949), Paul Bley (Barrage), Medeski, Martin and Wood (The Dropper), Alan Silva (HR57), Matmos (Supreme Balloon), Babatunde Olatunji (Olatunji), NRBQ’s Terry Adams (Terrible), and Phish’s Trey Anastasio (Surrender to the Air). As a leader, he released a pair on CIMP in 1998--Mark-n-Marshall: Monday and Mark-n-Marshall: Tuesday. Additionally, El Ra Records released two important Arkestra recordings under Marshall’s leadership: 2000’s A Song for the Sun and 2004’s Music For the 21st Century. His most recent work has included small groups: a quintet with William Parker, Alan Silva, Kidd Jordan and Hamid Drake; duos and quartet with Henry Grimes; and performances with John Medeski, Weasel Walter, and Chromatic Mysteries.
“The music makes you cry, and the music makes you happy, the music can do a lot of things to you,” said Allen. “If you’re sick, the music can make you well. The music can take your mind off a lot of worries and stress. So we use all of that, because people need it and so do we. If I do the music for my well-being, and it works, I can give you some, too. So it’s a constant thing, you can’t own the music, and the legacy of Sun Ra, like other great musicians, is that he left beautiful music for us to study and enjoy and improve on.”
The celebration honoring Marshall Allen will take place on June 10th at Abrons Art Center, starting off with a special set led by Marshall Allen (reeds), with Kidd Jordan (tenor sax), William Parker (bass), Henry Grimes (bass and violin) and Hamid Drake (drums). Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble follows, and the evening will close with Allen leading the Sun Ra Arkestra with special guests Billy Bang and John Ore.
Abrons Art Center is located at 466 Grand Street, New York City. Visions Festival tickets are $25 per night in advance / $30 day of show / $150 for a full festival pass, on sale now at Abrons Art Center at http://www.henrystreet.org/site/PageServer?pagename=AAC_PERF_future or 866-811-4111. The celebration for Marshall Allen gets underway at 7:30 pm on June 10th.
This article based on a press released compiled by Bradley Farberman.
VISION FESTIVAL 14
June 9 & 10 | 7:30PM
June 11, 12 & 13 | 7PM
June 14 | 5PM
In its 14th year running, The Vision Festival is New York’s only summer jazz festival in 2009. It presents innovative music, art, dance and poetry. VF14’s highlights include performances by Marshall Allen and The Sun Ra Arkestra, Peter Brötzmann’s Full Blast, Roy Campbell’s Ayler Project, Milford Graves Quartet, Fred Anderson Trio, Zim Ngqawana, Douglas Ewart, Matthew Shipp, Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizons Ensemble, William Parker Quartet, Joe McPhee’s Trio X, Lisa Sokolov Trio, Jason Kao Hwang’s Spontaneous River (A 25 piece string ensemble), Lawrence “Butch” Morris conduction of poetry and strings, and William Hooker’s live score to Oscar Micheaux’s “Symbol of the Unconquered” (1920). This year’s festival honors a lifetime of achievement by Marshall Allen.
Advance $25 At Door $30 Full Festival Pass $150
ALL ABOUT JAZZ—NEW YORK
June 2009 11
A Universe of Achievement
by Marshall Allen
It feels good to be receiving this Lifetime Achievement Award at the Vision Festival this month. Whenever somebody achieves something worthy, it’s great to be recognized for it. The musicians who have received this award in the past include people that I have performed with, know and respect. I have received things like this before, like the Bluebird Award in Germany and some honorary mentions, but this award means a lot. The years have gone by so fast. It seems like yesterday when I first joined the Sun Ra Arkestra in 1958. It is amazing that 51 years have passed. When I stop and think about it, it is like... Damn! When Sun Ra was on the planet, I composed melodies. Every once in awhile, Sun Ra would play one of them. But I mostly put those compositions aside, since we all were focusing on what Sun Ra was doing. After Sun Ra left the planet, I decided to get those melodies together, the ones that everyone liked, and form a book of them. I have 100 or so of these; eight to ten are now in the current Sun Ra Arkestra book. And then there are the things where I redid arrangements on some of Sun Ra’s original charts. Sun Ra influenced me so much with the way he wrote - always making it better or different. And now I, like Sun Ra did, write charts for specific musicians. So, when I get the melody book out, I work on it, put it down for a while, get it back out and use lyrics as a base for developing some of these compositions. Art Jenkins [vocalist and percussionist in the Arkestra] has helped in writing lyrics for these melodies, Arkestra trumpeter Michael Ray has also written some lyrics and Joe Holley, who is a guitar player and friend of mine, has done two or three lyrics like “Millennium”, which is on the Arkestra’s latest CD titled Live At The Paradox on the In & Out label. I usually tell the lyricists what the chart is about and turn them loose to write the melody. My priorities are to keep the Sun Ra Arkestra music alive, the band playing and writing and arranging lead sheets and chords that can develop into future compositions. It is wonderful to have the Arkestra perform again at the Vision Festival. I just try to be creative, letting the spirit take over and play, letting it go and using the vibrations on whatever song it is to play the way I feel and to accompany the overall sound. I use sound to keep me balanced and to give others some good. I still enjoy playing and continue to find it a challenge. I don’t think about it, I just do it, just do the sound. Since 1995, when I started leading the Arkestra after John Gilmore left the planet, I had to get real busy, getting worked out how the Arkestra should play. On some arrangements, I added stuff, including space for freeform, which opens a door into my arrangements and makes it a little different every time we play it. Then I put my thing into each song every time we play it and that keeps things moving forward. I like what I’m doing now. I have to do it the way I have been taught by Sun Ra, since I don’t know everything and the thing is to find which way to go next. Then you can end up doing whatever without thinking about it too much. It was always a challenge to understand what Sun Ra wanted to get out of the members of the Arkestra. Being free, playing the right things at the right time were issues. If you are at a particular spot, you are there. You can think about that, the bandmembers know the music, but then you have to play what you know and what you don’t know. Some days you can be sharp, other days you have to coast. But, to get through all the rehearsals, you can’t worry too much. You take what you have and make the best of it and, above all, keep moving! Rehearsals continue to be important within the Arkestra. I had that drilled into me for 35 years by Sun Ra! You must rehearse to make the team coordinate and feel each other - to do it a certain way. We all do it together in the Arkestra, allowing for individual interpretation. The freeform and solos and the backgrounds are not charted out, so you must rehearse so that you can put the right stuff in each chart together as a band. And you got to keep up with it. Looking back at all of this, the Vision Festival Lifetime Achievement Award is nice for myself; it is so kind for them to acknowledge me. It is wonderful for this to be part of my mission to better the planet and the people through beautiful music. When we are able to give the audience one or two hours to forget their worries, it sure helps. And the music can help transform everyone to a higher plane of being and bring different vibrations that affect others and myself. Bring well being, give something to someone else so that they can get something out it. There is always happiness in the spirit of playing and we look forward to sharing the Arkestra sounds with the people at the Vision Festival.
For more information, visit elrarecords.com/ma.html.
Allen performs at Vision Festival Jun. 10th and will be honored with the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award. Allen is also at Zebulon Jun. 7th. Allen has led the Sun Ra Arkestra reed section for over 40 years and was a pioneer of the ‘60s avant garde jazz movement. Allen was one of the first jazz musicians to play traditional African music and has appeared with such diverse groups as Phish, Sonic Youth, NRBQ and Medeski Martin & Wood.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn & Chicago's Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954-1968 April 24 - August 2, 2009
Jazz pioneer, bandleader, mystic, philosopher, and consummate Afro-Futurist, Sun Ra, (born Herman Poole Blount 1914, Birmingham, Alabama, died 1993) and his personal mythology have grown increasingly relevant to a broad range of artists and communities. "Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn & Chicago's Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954-1968" presents a collection of paintings, drawings, prints, manuscripts, ephemera, and video produced by and about Ra and his associates—much of it previously unseen. This exhibition examines how Ra and his dynamic, continually-evolving ensemble, the Philadelphia-based Arkestra, crafted both their otherworldly image and fiercely independent approach to self-production.
Highlights of the exhibition include original drawings for their 1960's albums Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow and Other Planes of There, and five newly discovered typed and annotated broadsheets. Until recently, only one such broadsheet was known to exist—the one that Ra gave saxophonist John Coltrane in 1956. The show will also include the unpublished manuscript, The Magic Lie, a book of Ra's poetry, which has become influential in the nascent Black Islamic movement. In addition to these documents, the film Spaceways, by Edward English, will be on view. The film documents Ra and his Arkestra (a deliberate re-spelling of "orchestra"), in 1968, as they prepare to perform at Carnegie Hall.
Early in his career, Sun Ra spent virtually all of his time and energy on Chicago's south side, identifying with broader struggles for black power and identity, and saw his music as a key element in that struggle. As well as Sun Ra's connection to the incipient grass-roots Afro-Futurist movement in Chicago, he also has a connection to Philadelphia. In 1968, Sun Ra brought the Arkestra to Philadelphia, where his band mate Marshall Allen inherited a house on Morton Street in Germantown. The house served as band headquarters until Sun Ra's death in 1993. The Arkestra continues to perform under the leadership of Marshall Allen, who still resides at the Germantown house.
Long admired among fans of progressive jazz, Ra and his personal mythology have grown increasingly relevant and influential to a broad range of artists and communities. His music touched on the entire history of jazz, but he was also a pioneer of electronic and space music, and free improvisation.
Sun Ra developed a complicated persona of cosmic philosophies and lyrical poetry that made him a pioneer of Afro-futurism (a term coined by cultural critic Mark Dery in his 1994 essay "Black to the Future.")
"Pathways to Unknown Worlds" is curated by John Corbett, Anthony Elms and Terri Kapsalis for the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago and is coordinated at the ICA by Whitney Lauder Curatorial Fellow Stamatina Gregory. This exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, $25. Institute of Contemporary Art | University of Pennsylvania 118 S. 36th St. Philadelphia, PA 19104-3289 T 215.898.7108 | F 215.898.5050 | contact us
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Beamed From Tomorrow
By HOLLAND COTTER
Published: April 30, 2009
PHILADELPHIA — The jazz musician Sun Ra, ambassador from the Airy Kingdom World Tomorrow, creator of Enterplanetary Solar Exploding Music, and founder of the Astro Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra, is a hero of mine.
To my ears he was not only a genius composer, keyboardist and bandleader, but also constantly surprising. One minute he’s playing elevator schmaltz; then he’s making you float on air; then he’s making you deaf. I love that he was a sharp dresser, sort of kingly, sort of queenly, in faux leopard-skin capes and miner’s hats with lights.
I also admire him for transcending existential categories. He insisted he hadn’t been born, but always existed, coming to Earth from outer space, specifically the planet Saturn. Like many immigrants, he was self-invented, but radically so. He rejected being black or white or American or even human. He opted for extraterrestrial and wore his otherness like a crown.
You’ll find evidence for all of this in “Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn & Chicago’s Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954-68,” a small, piquant exhibition of art, writing and ephemera related to his life at the Institute of Contemporary Art here.
Although he kept the precise facts of his early life under wraps, documents show that he was beamed down to Birmingham, Ala., in 1914 as Herman Poole Blount, affectionately known as Sonny. In 1952 he changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra, Ra being the ancient Egyptian solar god. And as a performer he became Sun Ra.
He had at least as many talents as monikers. In addition to being a musician, he was a poet, philosopher, painter, graphic designer, street lecturer, activist and entrepreneur, as well as a numerologist and mystic. He worked out the fate of the universe through interpretive readings of the Bible, the Koran and Flash Gordon comic books, concluding that “the only way this world can be saved from being completely destroyed is through music.”
With that in mind, he composed and played without cease for 60 years, first in Birmingham, then in Chicago and New York, and finally in Philadelphia, where he lived until just before his death in 1993.
He also recorded, packaged and tried to sell his music, which, because it was unconventional, wasn’t easy to do. It is the practical side of his career that this exhibition of album jacket designs, posters, news releases and socio-spiritual manifestos, most of them from his formative years in Chicago, focuses on.
Organized self-promotion was not one of his skills. He was too reserved and too much an outsider. Shy and studious as a youth, he got by on his prodigious keyboard talent. But a visionary experience he claimed to have had gives an idea of his sense of apartness.
“My whole body changed into something else,” he reported many years after. “I could see through myself, I wasn’t in human form.” He said he was taken on an intergalactic trip by creatures with “one little antenna on each ear,” who told him to leave school because “the world was going into complete chaos.”
It’s always a little hard to tell if Sun Ra was being serious or not, but a sense of alienation seemed to be part of his makeup. In Chicago, where he went to find work after World War II, he met the ideal business partner in Alton Abraham, a teenager with spiritual interests similar to his own — both were members of an occult, utopian black separatist secret society — but with the organizational and promotional abilities he lacked.
Partly because both men were proponents of black self-sufficiency, do-it-yourself was their business style. This meant they could entirely monitor their product. Gradually they shaped the image of the musician who would become Sun Ra, and of the band he would lead, first called 8 Rays of Jazz, then the Arkestra. (The respelling may be based on the way “orchestra” was pronounced in Alabama; it also incorporates the name Ra written forward and backward.)
It was at this point, in the early 1950s, that a Sun Ra “look” for the band started to come into focus: a mystical-historical-comical blend of science fiction, Egyptology, Southern mummery, Freemasonry, nightclub theatrics (costumed acts were big at the time) and African masquerade, with rakishly flipped-brim Robin Hood caps — later beanies with propellers — thrown in.
To maintain complete control over the increasingly experimental music, Sun Ra and Mr. Abraham created their own label. They called it El Saturn Records and, using local black-owned businesses as a resource, they oversaw every aspect of album production, from recording, to pressing disks, to packaging and sales.
They paid close attention to the appearance of the product, ensuring that it looked handmade and offbeat. Sun Ra created some of the early record jackets himself. His specialty was fancy lettering with abstract flourishes, as seen in the colored pencil drawing of his name, as large as a Turkish emperor’s tugra, on the cover of “Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow.”
A few other artists — LeRoy Butler, James Bryant and one who signed himself Aye — later contributed more graphically dynamic images. But most of the designs were by Claude Dangerfield, a self-taught painter and a high school friend of several Arkestra musicians.
He was responsible for the art on many of the albums made in Chicago and later in New York — “Super-Sonic Jazz,” “We Travel the Spaceways,” “Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra Visits Planet Earth.” And it was his work that most consistently embodied the Arkestra’s signature space-age theme.
The theme had wide currency in cold war America, from doomsday Hollywood films to pop songs like “The Purple People Eater.” But the fantasy of traveling into outer-space blackness to find other, friendlier future worlds, had a specific pertinence to black nationalist thinking at the time. (When Sun Ra said, “Space is the place,” certain people knew where that place was.) In the 1990s this trend was retrospectively given the name Afro-Futurism, and Mr. Dangerfield’s art, like Sun Ra’s persona, embodies it.
There’s quite a bit of Mr. Dangerfield in the exhibition, which was originally organized by John Corbett, Anthony Elms and Terri Kapsalis for the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago. The work encompasses not only his original jacket designs, but also hand-painted color separations and some of the plates used for the first printings. Seen in the light of the digital present, they are time-worn artifacts, but together they give a vivid sense of the grass-roots, cottage-industry enterprise that El Saturn Records was.
Sun Ra was pretty grass roots too. In the Chicago years he was still a local phenomenon, performing mostly in black clubs on the South Side. Even when he moved to New York City in 1965, his audience didn’t change much at first. His mercurial shifts, from bebop to improvisation to Disney film tunes, with Latino and African riffs folded in, left earthlings confused. And when the Arkestra stood on a stage and instrumentally screamed at listeners, people headed for the door.
Nor was Sun Ra himself always easy to take. Although a certain adorableness eventually accrued to him, he could be heroically furious in the pre-Black Power Chicago years, and speak with a prophet’s wrathful, rebuking voice. It comes through loud and clear in five typed broadsheets on view in the show.
He used them as scripts for street lectures, and in them highly conflicted racial polemics take the form of slicing, aggressive wordplay that spares no one’s feelings, white or black. He was speaking from one step beyond all that. “I never wanted to be part of planet Earth,” he once said, “And I did everything not to be part of it.” This was true.
The one thing he did that kept him here was make transcendent music. You get a taste of it in a short 1968 film by Edward English called “Spaceways,” which plays in one of the galleries. The film fleetingly places Sun Ra in the context of the civil rights and Black Power movements, which is right. But the best, most moving part is a long sequence in which the Arkestra is heard rehearsing for a Carnegie Hall concert.
The band — based in Philadelphia and still active today — is large here, maybe two dozen men; the percussion section is huge. Basically what we hear is a grand chorale of drums, chimes, bells and everything else. The Arkestra has become a celestial biofeedback machine, a thundering angel band, and Sun Ra, crowned, robed and serene on keyboard, is at its center, as majestic as an aging Rembrandt.
As the rhythms build, level out and build again, you feel they could go on forever. And you wish they would until, like a space ship, mountain-huge and transparent as air, they lift off.
“Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn & Chicago’s Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954-68” continues through Aug. 2 at the Institute of Contemporary Art, 118 South 36th Street, Philadelphia; (212) 898-7108, icaphila.org.