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Monday, April 09, 2018

GIJF Day 1: Sun Ra Arkestra - Sage, Gateshead, April 6

(Review by Steve T/Photos courtesy of Ken Drew).
It's probably fair to say the Arkestra is an acquired taste, which is probably best acquired live. It'll certainly catch your attention.
I first came across the Sun Ra Arkestra when a film about them and their erstwhile leader was shown at the Tyneside Cinema as part of a Newcastle Jazz Festival in, as the Goldbergs would say, nineteen eighty something. It was only a few years later, as I acquired more of a taste for the bizarre, that I ventured back for another listen.
Now I always have some Sun Ra albums around, some for sale, some in the basket. They're always good but I couldn't identify one you have to have, and if anybody asked me who my top Jazz Artists are, I'd likely forget Saturn’s favourite Sun Ra. There's no doubting that people like the idea of it, and the idea works brilliantly live.  
Last time I saw them was part of a week-long residency they did at Cafe Oto, in one of the trendy suburbs in the smoke about five years ago. There, they entered from the street, which must have been a mind-boggling eye-full for any passers-by, and real heavy $h!t for anyone who'd taken something they shouldn't have.
Here, with the Sage lighting, they looked even more splendid and even crazier, in their inter-planetary space regalia of reds and purples, capes and headgear; like George Clintons' bunch of loonies in Parliament mode, though it's more likely P Funk were like them. Bad and Beautiful; Angels and Demons at Play.
Juxtaposition is a large part of what they do and why it works so well. A sleazy, old-style cocktail jazz homage, some straight big band, some free-jazz just about hanging together as you think it's set to fall apart. A high priestess (looking like George Clinton circa 76) doing most of the vocals, though it's more repeated chants about inter-planetary affairs we mere earthlings no nothing of.  
It's an old trick but I've never seen it done better: baritone, trombone and trumpet taking a walk around Sage One. Part of the back-stage crew put two fingers up at Marshall Allen, a sprightly ninety three-year-old who's captained the ship with a Destination Unknown since it's former captain did whatever people from Saturn do when their time on earth is up. Allen returned with his own two fingers by doing another four, ending with the title track from their most famous album and the one you can get at your local HMV for £5.99, Space is the Place.
As the band left the stage, one of the youngsters, probably in his sixties or something, which makes the whole spectacle even more bizarre, told us of their tour schedule so far (getting some of it wrong) and that they were in Florida the next night, like we all have access to modes of transport that can traverse great distances in short time. Then the usual merchandise plug, confirming that even in the outer reaches of the galaxy, capitalism rules.
Preposterous.
Steve T.
Ken Drew Festival Photos (ongoing).   

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