A pleasure to welcome back one of the greatest big bands of all time - The Sun Ra Arkestra. Operating under the direction of saxophonist Marshall Allen, the Arkestra have made Cafe OTO their home in London. This will be their fifth residency here - this time for an unprecedented five straight days. With such a massive, joyous songbook and the kind of well organised chaos that sees their legendary 3 hour sets move deftly between rolling grooves, sing-along chants and atonal blasts of mischievous brass this promises to be one of the highlights of the summer.
"Resplendent in sparkling red robes, Allen commanded the stage from front left, orchestrating, directing, and choosing soloists. He was full of energy at 85 years old, and needed it as the Arkestra presented two typically far reaching sets totaling nearly 165 minutes" - AllAboutJazz
Marshall Allen / director, alto sax, flute James Stewart / tenor sax Knoel Scott / vocal, saxes Michael Ray / trumpet Danny Thompson / baritone sax, flute Dave Davis / trombone Dave Hotep / electric guitar Farid Barron / piano Elson Nascimento / perc, surdo Tara Middleton / vocals Craig Haynes / drums Stephen Mitchell / bass
Sun Ra was one of the greatest and least known jazz artists of the last four decades, whose influence on diverse musicians is little known to the general public. A pianist and band leader, his style ranged from retro swing to avant free, and often in the same piece. His band could play a swinging Gershwin tune and almost imperceptibly soar into their free cosmic equational tones as if they possessed a single mind.
Ra was a keyboard improviser of great originality, but his foremost talent was for inspiring and teaching creative musicians to improvise freely but together. This tension between freedom and coherence was something he explored with abundant energy and skill.
Sun Ra died in 1993. The Arkestra performs today, under the direction of alto saxophonist Marshall Allen.
As a young musician, Marshall Belford Allen (b. May 25, 1924) performed with pianist Art Simmons, Don Byas and James Moody before enrolling in the Paris Conservatory of Music. After relocating to Chicago, Allen became a pupil of Sun Ra, subsequently joining the Arkestra in 1958 and leading Sun Ra's formidable reed section for the next 40 years. Marshall, along with John Gilmore, June Tyson and James Jacson, lived, rehearsed, toured and recorded with Sun Ra almost exclusively for much of Sun Ra's musical career. As a member of the Arkestra, Allen pioneered the Free Jazz movement of the early sixties, having remarkable influence on the leading voices in the avant-garde. He is featured on over 200 Sun Ra recordings in addition to collaborations with Phish, Sonic Youth, Digable Planets and Medeski, Martin & Wood.
Allen assumed the position of Arkestra Musical Director in 1995, following the ascension of Sun Ra in 1993 and John Gilmore in 1995. Marshall continues to be committed to the study, research, and development of Sun Ra's musical precepts and has launched the Sun Ra Arkestra into a dimension beyond that of mere "ghost" band by writing fresh arrangements of Sun Ra's music, as well as composing new music and arrangement for the Arkestra. He works unceasingly to keep the big-band tradition alive.