Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Sitting Close to the Sun, Where Weasel Could Eat Your Flesh

Marshall Allen/Weasel Walter Duo @ Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, PA
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Marshall Allen: alto saxophone, flute, electronic valve instrument, keyboard
Weasel Walter: drums, percussion, clarinet mouthpiece, primal yells

"I'm actually 48. They got the numbers backwards." - Marshall Allen.

May 25th marks the anniversary of Marshall Allen's presence on Earth. A tenure stretching back to 1924 that includes 40 years as a member and leader of the venerable reed section of the Sun Ra Arkestra. A long apprenticeship that had Allen at the forefront of the Free Jazz movement where he developed his own voice as a leading figure of both the avant-garde and the ways of Saturn. As the leader of that great Arkestra - succeeding both Sun Ra and John Gilmore - Marshall Allen has sustained a remarkable extra-terrestrial connection to one of the most vibrant, colorful and rich jazz traditions ever known. Each anniversary of this creative force is a cause for celebration and intense performances such as this duo at the Philadelphia Art Alliance proves that the celestial fires continue to burn strong within this great soul.

The jazz punk drumming of Weasel Walter added yet another dimension to this sound as his heady brutality achieved an unusual balance of thoughtful introspection and energetic release. With fearless and deliberate double-kick technique combined with a fluid sense of dynamic texture Weasel alternated between instigator and reactor to the sample-and-hold material of Allen's Electronic Valve Instrument and sheets of alto saxophone sound. Marshall Allen proved to be an equal collaborator as he deftly wove his space-age stylings within the fire hose of noise from Weasel and propelled the music to multiple planes of visceral and sonic altitude. This was a kinetic performance that draws few comparisons and delivers exactly the live experience that keeps these ears hungry.

The transformation of the analog wave-forms of the electronic valve instrument into a sonic pallet of wide register and creative expanse in the hands of Marshall Allen was remarkable. In an age of digital precision and pitch-corrected obsession this was a powerful reminder that sound in the service of good ideas trumps all. The layers of delayed sawtooth waves and sweeping portamento drew upon an almost retro-sounding sense of science fiction when the future was viewed with wide-eyed optimism that feels more vibrant and necessary than ever. The jagged, monophonic lines coming from the small keyboard that Marshall Allen played with his knees half bent as he surveyed the audience held a strong echo of the ideas and mannerisms learned from the great Sun Ra as his costume and demeanor neatly channeled the intoxicating abandon and exuberance of so many Arkestra performances. If "El is the Sound of Joy" then Allen is the long tail of that joy filled sound. And at 84, he is a vital connection to a rich jazz tradition that he continues to excel at as a spry, forcefully creative performer. Planet Earth is considerably richer because of him.

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