Sun Ra image courtesy Sydney FestivalThe Sun Ra Arkestra review

State Theatre, Sydney Festival, January 18, 2014

A solitary figure takes to the stage and solo piano sets the scene in a style reminiscent of a Sun Ra intro as the musicians make their way onto the stage before breaking into Interplanetary Music.  True to their performative faith, our interplanetary experience begins.

The Arkestra wear their trademark glitzy, space inspired suits, with the exception of Abdul Bari Barron, who in his black t-shirt and hat is the epitome of cool, not to mention his playing is seriously good.  Throughout the night he demonstrates his style as he switches genres from swing to blues and a whole lot of other stuff in between with consummate ease.

Marshall Allen appears like the Sorcerer’s apprentice in his electric blue outfit.  Throughout the night his thin figure with theatrical gestures elicits solos and other musical dialogues from the Arkestra. 

For me, the best musical moment was the combination of sax and piano exchange in “When you wish upon a star”. An experience in light and shade in musical textures between Allen and Barron.

Amazingly at times when Allen was playing it almost looked as though his fingers were plucking and strumming his sax, like a guitar, as he pulled free improvisation and intense bursts of sound from his instrument.

The Arkestra has that big band swing and verve of a classic jazz horn section.  As expected for an ensemble of this vintage, there was a kitbag of musical references which they drew on throughout the evening.  The playing was at times sexy and seductive, and definitely enough of a groove there to warrant an urge to dance.  We had a tiny taste of the dancing, but nothing like the Arkestra in their prime when they moved liked whirling dervishes, whilst never missing a beat on their horns.

It was the celebration of history with the Sun Ra Arkestra providing a significant musical marker in jazz lore with its “cosmic philosophy”.  The finale saw band members led by Knoel Scott weaving their way into the auditorium in a joyous finish to the night.

For a taste of the original Sun Ra, you can hear him on piano solo.  Music starts from around 3.30