REVIEW: Sun Ra Arkestra at Cafe Oto

Marshall Allen / Sun Ra Arkestra at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Sun Ra Arkestra
(Cafe Oto. 17 August 2015. Night 1 of 3-day residency. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

The Sun Ra Arkestra were on fire on the opening night of their 3-day stint at Cafe Oto. Led by the energised and animated ’91 years young Marshall Allen‘ – as baritone sax player Danny Ray Thompson reminded the full house (as if they needed reminding!) – the eleven-piece sizzled from the start, with effervescent vocalist Tara Middleton and guitarist Dave Hotep giving an extra fillip to the nine-piece that tore up the same venue two months ago.

Tara Middleton / Sun Ra Arkestra at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. ©2015. All Rights Reserved

There was something in the air that drove the Arkestra to the highest levels of intensity. A vibrant momentum pulsed through richly hued arrangements which flowed with a combination of well-oiled group dynamics and individual artistry. The acoustics of the small space, packed to the gunnels, bolstered the growling riffs that chugged at the structural core.

The rainbow-hued, scaly, sequinned and pattern-emblazoned costumes added to the spectacle. Infectious chants were informed by the political drive that continued Sun Ra’s personal crusades: ‘Amongst so many stars you’ve lost your rights, you’ve lost your cosmic rights.’ Outer space as a metaphor for the real world.

Tylor Mitchell / Sun Ra Arkestra at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

An irrepressible humour bubbled to the surface with smiles and laughter and occasional wisecracks as they egged each other along through the spaceways. ‘How dirty can you get?’ quipped Thompson during Tylor Mitchell’s beautifully crafted, muted bass solo supported by ever-so pianissimo piano.

Solos abounded – Marshall Allen was unstoppable, squalling and straining on alto, adding extra cosmic disorientation with retro electronic sound on EVI. Knoel Scott – eyes darting to ensure, with Allen, that the band were on track – added touches of Don Byas-like authority on tenor. Hotep took the inventively oblique guitar route as Stargazers took off and Thompson flipped from earthy, sculpted baritone to fluttering flute, while Cecil Brooks took up the mute in finely phrased counters to his soaring trumpet tones. Dave Davis cut through with brassy trombone swipes, and all the while, Wayne Smith Jnr, in tandem with Elson Nascimento just cooly kept that massive rhythmic drive powering on at every turn.

Dave Hotep / Sun Ra Arkestra at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

It was the Arkestra’s cosmic jazz jam at its very best with, in the midst of proceedings, a massive big band blues to die for. Devastatingly fast synchronised passages, telepathically routed to perfection alternated with infectious swing, inspired treatments of jazz standards and spells of glorious, improvised mayhem. And they didn’t grind to a halt until well in to the early hours – where they got the energy from … only Sun Ra would have been able to answer. Magnificent!

Marshall Allen – alto sax and EWI
Tara Middleton – vocals
Knoel Scott – alto sax and percussion
Danny Ray Thompson – baritone sax and percussion
Cecil Brooks – trumpet
Dave Davis – trombone
George Burton – piano
Tylor Mitchell – bass
Elson Nascimento – percussion
Wayne Smith Jnr – drums
Dave Hotep – guitar

Categories: miscellaneous

1 reply »

  1. Just got it from Cafe Oto that the pianist was New York based George Burton, who added a high-powered McCoy Tyner/Lonnie Liston Smith edge to the keyboards. A formidable talent who studied for a while with the great jazz organist, Shirley Scott. The personnel list has been updated.

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