Monday, October 20, 2014

Sun Ra - Marshall Allen Presents In the Orbit of Ra (Strut Records, 2014)

Sun Ra had an epic career that lasted from the late 1940's to the early 1990's and saxophonist Marshal Allen was with him for much of the ride, continuing the Arkestra to the present day after Ra's passing in 1993. This is a collection of the tracks that Allen felt were the most representative of the band's best output. Not necessarily Sun Ra's best known tracks, but there are a very interesting sampling of the Arkestra's music from the mid 1950's through the 1970's. Highlights abound like the episodic chant-along "Rocket Number Nine", one of Ra's best known science fiction tracks which takes the listener from Venus to Jupiter and beyond powered by the horn sections stop and shift on a dime playing. "Astro Black" features the great vocalist June Tyson, a staple of Ra's later bands, leading one of the bands afrofutirist tracks clearing the path for some hair-raising playing. Allen also focuses on the band's approach to percussion and rhythm like on the exotic "Lady With the Golden Stockings" and the beautiful "Plutonian Nights." Ra was perhaps best known in his lifetime as the eccentric who wore wild costumes and composed music that reference the stars and the planets. But the people who wrote him off as a crank were misinformed as these science fiction tracks such as "Dance of the Cosmo Aliens" and "We Travel the Spaceways" were some of his finest performances. It'e better late than never that the jazz critics and fan base began to realize that Sun Ra was a unique and powerful force. While the one disc Evidence Records compilation Greatest Hits for Intergalactic Travel is probably the best beginning album for the Sun Ra neophyte, this is a logical next step, delving under the hood as it were and presenting a cohesive selection for both hardcore fans and newcomers alike. In the Orbit of Ra -

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