LIVE: Sun Ra Arkestra @ Opus 40, Saugerties, 07/29/2022
It has been an interesting coincidence that I have seen three big bands in the last ten days. The first two, the BWC Jazz Orchestra and the Keith Pray Big Soul Ensemble feature the finest jazz musicians in the 518 using tight orchestral arrangements. The third being the avant-garde and prolific Sun Ra Arkestra, these compositions and arrangements are infamously difficult to play.
The Sun Ra Arkestra was formed in the mid-50s by Sun Ra to play his complex music and spread his philosophies until his death in 1993. He was succeeded briefly by saxophonist John Gilmore until his death in 1996, then by the present leader 98-year-old Marshall Allen. The Arkestra not only is continuing to perform from their prolific catalog but continuing to record both older tunes and new compositions. The overarching philosophy of Sun Ra was in the words of Stephany Anne Goldberg, “Sun Ra believed that the whole of humanity was in need of waking up. He wanted to slough off old ideas and habits, brush off sleepy ideas and shake off dusty food”.
With the above in mind, the band emerged and took their seats and opened with “ Space is the Place”, a declaration of belonging then proceeded through a series of originals and covers. Covers included Tony Bennett’s “Stranger in Paradise” and James Brown’s “Night Train” . These are not “note for note” covers mind you, but performed in odd keys and with unusual embellishments and dissonances. Originals included “Spaceship Earth Destination Unknown” and “Rocket Number 9 from the Planet Venus”. The latter included electronic sounds and bleating saxophones humorously representing a traffic jam in space.
This band has appeared in many configurations, this particular version had 14 members, it was without a keyboard player. 98-year-old bandleader Marshall Allen played tenor saxophone and an EWI as well. He shared vocals with vocalist Tara Middleton on many of the compositions. The dusk to sundown performance in front of a sold-out outdoor audience was an apropos celebration of life and summer. No photos were taken of the Opus 40 site as one could not get the total feeling of the site with all the people there at the time. To better get a feeling for this site go to opus40.org. It is worth a visit whether you are there to take in a concert or just enjoy the combination of nature and sculptures that is the uncompleted legacy of the late Professor Harvey Fite.
P. S.- Incidentally for those of you who believe in musicians crossing genres to collaborate, there is a recording by NRBQ’s Terry Adams and Marshall Allen collaborating on a recording of standards, “Ten By Two” (ED-24- Edisun Records).