Sun Ra Arkestra, under the direction of Marshall Allen – Live At Babylon, Istanbul

live at babylon(In + Out Records IORCDDVD771229)

There is a fantastic tenor sax solo by James Stuart in RA#2, the second track on this CD (and on the DVD which is available as part of a “limited deluxe edition). He fast-tongues a single note for what seems like forever while around him the Arkestra that continues to carry the torch of Saturn for their late leader bubbles and stews. But then, a few minutes later, the ears are bent further back by a similarly outrageous solo from the band’s superhuman leader and alto saxophonist Marshall Allen – just four days shy of his 90th birthday.

This disc finds the band in rude good health, filling the stage of the Istanbul club in all their wild, space-age finery. The CD programme is all Sun Ra compositions with the exception of Hoagy Carmichael’s appropriately-named Stardust (there is a bit more on the DVD), and they are filled with joyous, raucous, lip and finger-blistering solos, against swaggering section riffs, all rooted in the big band swing of the 1930s but with wide-spanning branches that have cross-fertilised with bebop, free jazz and the avant-garde along the way.

Along with Allen and Stuart, there’s Tara Middleton as vocalist, violinist and lyricist, and Arkestra veterans include Stanley Morgan on congas and Cecil Brooks on trumpet.

A piece like Discipline 27B takes on all kinds of craziness led by the man in the Sun Ra keyboard chair, Farid Barron, over a baritone ostinato from Danny Ray Thompson. Then, as Stuart seeks for the Middle Eastern melodic path, Barron adds some appropriately souk-located synth chords. It’s just fabulous in every meaning of that word.

In fact, this latest album from the Arkestra is only officially released at the end of June, so you might have to pre-order it. Do get the DVD version if you can; it shows the Arkestra in all their brilliance.

And you might have the chance to go even one better, because, having had to cancel their appearance at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival at the beginning of this month, they will be visiting earth on 7 June, touching down at the Lunar Festival, just south of Birmingham at Tanworth In Arden.

  • More information of the Sun Ra Arkestra at the Lunar Festival is here.

Categories: CD review, DVD review

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