Music Reviews

Sun Ra And His Arkestra

In The Orbit Of Ra



Formats available: CD

When initially asked to review this album I approached it with a mix of trepidation and curiosity. In the event the occasion has been a very merry romp through some very enjoyable performances by very talented musicians. The Sun Ra name has associations with weird and uncompromisingly avant-garde jazz, rest assured this album isn’t either, both descriptions are completely undeserved.

Sun Ra and his Arkestra very much captured the mood of the fifties and the sixties. His music was no more futuristic or “off the scale” than many of the bebop founders and their generation, in his musical presentation and themes he was far closer to Gillespie than to Parker. Ra had a shtick which he became famous for and which is still being used on stage by the current iteration of the latter day Arkestra. His strange part science-fiction/B-movie style only highlights the bizarre era that was the fifties. Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount) purported to be a part of the ‘Angel Race’ and to have come to the blue planet from Saturn. He espoused an anti-violence philosophy that he described as Afrofuturism. This double album is a result of a painstaking work done by the longest serving member of the Arkestra Marshall Allen, it features 20 tracks that with very few exceptions never fail to intrigue and entertain in equal measure. The style can be described as a mix of soul (way ahead of its time) and bebop. Those who are familiar with the work of Yusef Lateef and Randy Weston will find much that is familiar, but just as much that is new.

Sun Ra’s music is whimsical, melodious and witty. There is a child like happiness in his grooves and harmonies that you don’t always get to hear from the oh-so serious and oh-so drugged up cadre of bebop musicians from the same era. Ra’s keyboard and the Arkestra offer rhythms and harmonies that move at pace from afro-Cuban to blues to what sound much like Ethiopian harmonies and tunes. At times you get the impression that Thelonious Monk is accompanying the Arkestra, such is the similarity of they keyboard sound. The recording although old and on a whole overly ‘warmed up’ offers transparency and intimacy. This is a delightful compilation of jazz with sparkle, wit and charm, with track titles such as Rocket No 9 Takes Off For Planet Venus and Have You Heard The Latest News From Neptune you know you are in for something slightly different, the album has its awkward moments, but they are very few indeed. Extremely highly recommended to anyone looking to add the work of a unique, happy and most of all creative ‘alien’ to their collection.

Reuben Klein

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