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Sun Ra Arkestra Live at the Paradox Review

Live. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

2008 performance from the late extra-terrestrial jazz legend’s loyal sidemen.

Stevie Chick 2009

A self-proclaimed messenger from Saturn, Sun Ra graced our planet for 79 years, during which he applied his uniquely otherworldly touch to the full span of jazz music, leaving behind a vast and untrammelled discography wherein he reshaped swing, hard-bop, skronk and vocal jazz in his own peculiar, inimitable and stellar image. He couldn’t do this on his own, of course, enlisting the aid of his Arkestra, an ever-changing outfit of similarly ‘out’ musicians who continue Ra’s good work, touring the world and sharing his message 16 years after his death.

This 2008 show, recorded at Dutch club The Paradox, captures the Arkestra in full-flight under the direction of Marshall Allen, a saxophonist who worked alongside Ra since the 1950s, and who has been celebrating the Saturnian jazz-visionary’s legacy since Ra’s 1993 passing. Indeed, this release features as many Allen originals as Sun Ra tunes in its setlist, but while the smoky balladry of his You’ll Find Me sounds unusually earthbound material for the Arkestra, the sci-fi swing-skronk of his Millennium is as joyous and daffy as Ra at his most playful – Allen’s charismatic vocals, purring “come ride with us, on cosmic dust”, are very charming – while Take-Off, an ear-scouring fury of synth-bleep, horn-squawk and percussive bluster, could easily have fit on Sun Ra’s landmark 1973 album, Space is the Place.

From Sun Ra’s own compositions, the 14-piece Arkestra draw upon pieces he wrote for big bands. A 10-minute medley of Discipline 27-B (a track Ra often revisited) and I’ll Wait For You segues brilliantly from the former’s wild and free swing between melody and cacophony, to the latter’s giddy call-and-response tales of intergalactic Xanadus. Space Idol, meanwhile, finds the band chasing scurrying melodies and exchanging frenetic volleys of soloing, the atmosphere heady with improvisation, and impressively startling crescendos.

Those seeking an entry point into the often-baffling (and just as often dazzling) world of Sun Ra’s music are directed towards the aforementioned Space is the Place. But while the solidly-entertaining Live at the Paradox might be a not-entirely-necessary addition to an already-insanely-voluminous discography, it’s heart-warming to hear Ra’s music still thriving so vividly, so long after he left Earth.

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