Sun Ra Arkestra; If you already know, you know. If you don’t know, you won’t know. But the following might help you, you know? Last night at Union Chapel, veteran saxophonist Marshall Allen – on the cusp on his 92nd birthday – lead a planetary collection of sequined jazz musicians through a catalogue of music composed by the pioneer of afro-futurism, Sun Ra.
A conventional live review would be wasted when illustrating the work of such an unconventional artist. Here’s a series of statements and images that will help you to get your head around what went down at Union Chapel;
Let’s set the scene by combining these visual elements;
And squeeze them into a church where you’re allowed to drink alcohol but only upstairs as to not upset anyone.
Launching with a cacophony of percussion, synths and horns, Sun Ra Arkestra introduced themselves with what we are coining as “an audio-cosmic slap in the face”.
Marshall Allen’s screaming saxophone opened for vocalist Tara Middleton – with all the presence of a caped Chaka Kahn – on Springtime Again, from Sun Ra’s 1979 album Sleeping Beauty.
You still with us? Super. Now think Friends circa 1997 but imagine how cool it could have sounded if he were a student at that American jazz school Berkeley then went to spend Spring break doing band camp on Saturn.
And then, SPACE CARNIVAL! One member puts down his instrument to exercise his right to show us his body popping gymnastic skills, in an attempt to distract us from the fact that half of the orchestra have left the stage to weave their stardust amongst the pews. One golden-headed man is found blowing his trombone upstairs in the upper aisles.
Looking up, to the side, behind and above me, the immersive space-fuck makes me realise the planetariums are doing it all wrong. Anyway, back to the music.
Sun Ra’s take on Cherokee, a favourite which also features on Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, was a winner with its token out-of-this-world spin.The show concluded with a swaying, romantic finale of synths, blaring horns and big vocals in an endearing duet between Middleton and Allen.
Here they are performing behind a tiny desk.
The spirit on Sun Ra is alive and well in the Sun Ra Arkestra. Catch these jazz cadets next time they’re in town, they’ll leave you feeling a little spaced-out.
JS | Tina Edwards