Thee Maximalists @ Orion Sound Studios, Baltimore, MD
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Paul Sears: drums
Keith Macksoud: bass
Dave Newhouse: keyboards, saxophones, flutes, bass clarinet
Marshall Allen: alto saxophone, flute, electric valve instrument
Elliott Levin: saxophones, flute, poetry
The Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen @ Sullivan Hall, New York City, New York
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Marshall Allen: alto saxophone, flute, evi
Charles Davis: tenor saxophone, percussion
Art Jenkins: percussion, vocals
Tyrone Hill: trombone
Michael Ray: trumpet, vocals
John Ore: bass
Fred Adams: trumpet
Knoel Scott: alto saxophone, percussion
Vincent Chancey: french horn
Cecil Brooks: trumpet
Danny Ray Thompson: baritone saxophone, flute
Rey Scott: trombone
Dave Davis: trombone, tuba
Luqman Ali: drums
Elson Dos Santos Nascimento: percussion
D. Hotep: guitar
Yahya Abdul-Majid: tenor saxophone, percussion
Bill Davis: bass
Farid Abdul-Bari Barron: keyboard
Wayne Anthony Smith Jr.: drums
A celebration of the 84th anniversary of Marshall Allen's arrival on Earth.
The Sun Ra Arkestra covers an astonishing slice of jazz history. Over the course of two long, spirited (and spiritual) sets at Sullivan Hall, the space age band touched upon several resonant nodes of large ensemble improvisation. Reaching all the way back into the Sun Ra catalogue with a vibrant take on "Dreams Come True" to "Space is the Place" and several wonderful Marshall Allen originals the Arkestra proved not only is it going strong, but continues to be as hip, vital and "out there" as ever. With an ensemble cohesiveness formed from unusually long associations they bring a rare ability to swing everything from standard charts to full-on free improvisation that keeps everything deliciously unpredictable and enthralling. The Arkestra also brings a playful, irreverent energy that overflows with cosmic optimism and an open invitation to bring one's ears and mind to explore a cosmos of theatrics and sound.
One night earlier at Baltimore's Orion Sound Studios it was a completely different sound marked by Marshall Allen's improvisational voice and searing sound. As a collaborator with Thee Maximalists, Allen was backed by the decidedly progressive rock leaning rhythm section of Paul Sears and Keith Macksoud while co-conspirators Dave Newhouse and Elliott Levin alternated as fellow horn players with keyboard and poetry added to the mix - each weaving their own individual elements into the sound. The textures often carried a heavy groove while the space-age qualities of the electronic valve instrument - a device capable of serious beauty in the hands of Marshall Allen - was completely at home within this sonic environment. The forceful gestures from the alto saxophone on display at both performances was expressively human no matter how many genres were colliding underneath it.
It's no accident that Marshall Allen led the Sun Ra horn section for 40 years before assuming the leadership position of the full Arkestra. The man from Saturn had a knack for adding - and retaining - great talents within the Arkestra. Allen's forceful gaze that sweeps across the audience with searing intensity becomes a conductive focal point when turned upon the players in the Arkestra. The combination of eyes and movement locks the ensemble together and often triggers synchronized gestures from the full battery of players. The sounds drawn out of his instruments burns with enormous creative energy. He is an excellent saxophonist and an improviser with edgy ideas that stand out. The expressions of love, respect, joy and well wishes from his colleagues and audience were genuine and heartfelt. (And the cake was delicious). At 84, his life is a fascinating story of long running creative accomplishments and a sound that deserves to be widely regarded as an important thread of jazz and creative music. His own compositional voice is a masterful take on the traditions and spirit of Sun Ra.
With Thee Maximalists, Marshall Allen proves that there are many paths both to and from Saturn. His activities outside the Arkestra add new insight to his sound as he adapts to different players with startling results. The swirling lines of the electronic valve instrument accompanied by two flutes was one particularly inspired moment within a shifting sea of improvised textures from the Maximalists. Proving that the energies of the cosmos can both rock and swing.
With the Arkestra, he resides at the helm of a beautiful pageantry. The live experience with the costumes, the sounds of joy and players clearly feeding off of the energy of a crowd is a glimpse into a friendlier solar system. The procession of players carrying their sound off the stage marked an adieu in the form of a parade easing toward a gentle return to our home planet. Earth is fortunate to have Marshall Allen among us.