For the second year in a row, the Sun Ra Arkestra will celebrate Halloween at Johnny Brenda’s tonight. Under the leadership of multi-instrumentalist Marshall Allen, the spirit of enigmatic founder Sun Ra lives on through the Arkestra’s galactic funk and soul performance. Tickets and information for the 21+ show can be found here; watch the band’s Tiny Desk Concert below.
“High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.
This Monday, Johnny Brenda’s will host a show that’s become a standing Philly tradition: a spaced-out afrofuturistic psychedelic New-Orleans-style big band-tastic freaky Halloween celebration courtesy the Sun Ra Arkestra. The show is an outright spectacle as they try to find room not only for all the many Arkestra members, on the precious real estate of the Brenda’s stage, but for all the swinging horns as well.
For this installment of High Key we caught up with Dave Davis, who’s blown a trombone with the Arkestra for over twenty years, and who never misses a gig. Davis is decidedly soft-spoken and understated, and as he spins tale after tale about his history and career among Philly arts giants you lean in, and hang on his words. He’s engaging, charming, the personified illustration of the benefits of pursuing your dreams and following your heart, and he has this wide-eyed-kid-from-Kansas exuberance about having lived in and loved Philly that, for him, makes even the advantage of big city public transit something to be excited about without a trace of irony. With a slow, easy smile, Davis manages to share that infectious, refreshing exuberance so relatably, both in his words and in his music.
Philly’s beloved Arkestra suffered the passing of its founder in 1993, but the now 92-year-old maestro and director Marshall Allen hasn’t lost a step yet in keeping up the traditions, from international stages to regularly local engagements all over the city as well, from the Art Museum’s “Art After 5” Program to local jazz festivals to favorite Philly clubs like Brenda’s. Although this holiday’s event at is already sold out, as always, opportunities to catch them live in Philly abound, as the band continue to be as prolific and active on the touring circuit as ever.
To this day, the Arkestra still convenes for rehearsals at Sun Ra’s West Philly home, and when asked about the latest horizons, Davis notes at the wealth of the untapped archives that the band is still combing through and bringing to life. “He has a stack of music that’s never been played,” says Davis of the late composer and bandleader Sun Ra. “He wrote a tune everyday for The Creator. He has a lotta tunes that he recorded on tapes, so we’re constantly playing new Sun Ra music.” Continue reading →
Even though the legendary jazz musician Sun Ra left the planet when he passed away 1993, the spirit, soul and music of the Sun Ra Arkestra has continued to live on under the direction of Marshall Allen. Continue reading →
“Space is the place” that the Sun Ra Arkestra will take you to, but Johnny Brenda’s was the place that they sold out this Halloween night, as fans leaned in over the balcony, lined the stairway, and pushed up against the walls to be escorted into the unknown by the seminal Philly free jazz collective. Continue reading →
Mixing behind-the-scenes footage of the DC punk scene in the 90s and photography by Jim Saah, the new Salad Days documentary is a snapshot into the scene that gave us boundary-pushing artists Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses and more. The film screens tonight at the URBN Annex Black Box Theater, followed by a live set from Mumblr. Tickets and more information can be found here. Continue reading →
Under the helm of jazz musician Marshall Allen since the early Nineties when Sun Ra died, the Sun Ra Arkestra are going as strong as ever. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Sun Ra’s cult film, Space Is The Place, an Afrofuturist science fiction film made in 1972 and released in 1974. Continue reading →
Year-End Mania is the Key’s survey of the things below the surface that made 2014 awesome. In this installment, XPN Program Director Bruce Warren shares his favorite reissues of the year.
Some of the best “new” music I heard this year was old music. Led Zeppelin, The Velvet Underground, Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Tears For Fears all got the reissue/remaster/bonus track treatment in 2014. Dylan released The Basement Tapes Complete, and Miles Davis completists must put their hands on every second of his 1970 Fillmore concerts. Personally I think 2014 was better in the reissue department than the new music department. Here’s a list of some of the best reissues of 2014. Continue reading →
How did that big band squeeze into such a small space? Well, that was the case when the Sun Ra Arkestra performed a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR Music on Halloween. Led by 91-year-old alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, the eight piece costumed Arkestra huddled around one microphone and a couple of ambient room mics and performed four songs: “Along Came Ra”/”Zoom,” “Queer Notions,” “Angels And Demons At Play,” and “Interplanetary Music.” The fantastic energy is noticeable from the first second the Tiny Desk Concerts starts and then escalates into a full blown jazz happening. Continue reading →
A tribute to the jazz musician Sun Ra curated by King Britt and choreographer/visual artist Kate Watson-Wallace will take place at Fringe Arts on Friday, June 6. The event is a live improvisational “re-contextualization” of Sun Ra’s music featuring Tendai Maraire of Shabazz Palaces on percussion, Vernon Reid of Living Color on guitar, King Britt on beats and electronics, Anthony Tidd on bass, vocalist Imani Izuri, and Marlo Reynolds on keyboards. Live video will be provided by Jason Senk and “movement” by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko of Philadiction Movement. The event, says King Britt, is the first of several that “music/multidimensional events” that the Fringe is presenting in its new space.
The jazz musician, originally from Birmingham, Alabama, relocated to the Germantown section of Philadelphia in 1968 where he resided until his death in 1993. King Britt came up with the idea of a tribute to Sun Ra since it was close to Sun Ra’s birthday. “I suggested we do a tribute to him by creating a beautiful ensemble of music, video and dance,” Britt told me in an e-mail. “Everyone involved has been touched by Ra and his legacy. Sun Ra always embraced the art of improvisation within a construct of his compositions. He also embraced technology and used it in a way that propelled the music to new places.”
“We felt that everyone involved would be comfortable in this context and non obvious samples and loops, from some of Sun Ra’s improvs, will steer the direction of the journey,” said Britt. “Everyone involved, including video, which will be mixed live, are all very good improvisors and it will be a one time only experience. This is event is important because it will bridge the gap between generations. A lot of the older Sun Ra fans will love to witness a new spin on his legacy and the young fans who have come to know Sonny, through samples, hip hop and alternative music, will get to learn a bit of the history through multidisciplinary lenses.”
Go here for tickets and more information about the show. Below, check out a documentary about Sun Ra by film maker Robert Mugge, A Joyful Noise.
Lest it be overlooked amid all the (well-deserved) attention paid to their final show, The Walkmen were just one of about nine acts on the stage at Union Transfer last Wednesday, from Spank Rock to Sun Ra Arkestra, all of who performed to benefit the first phase of The Rail Park. In case you weren’t aware, the project is a planned 3-mile linear park and recreation path along the former Philadelphia and Reading rail line, spanning some 50 city blocks and running through a diverse cross-section of neighborhoods. Organizers at The Rail Park were elated in the wake of the event, posting to their Facebook page:
We are still on cloud nine after Wednesday’s Rail Park fundraiser at Union Transfer. What a way to wrap up an incredible year for this project! Our deepest thanks and appreciation to all who helped organize the event, who brought their talents to the evening, and who came out in support of the project.
For more information on The Rail Park, watch a short video after the jump; below, check out a gallery of photos from the benefit, which also included Light Heat, Sharon Van Etten collaborating with Adam Granduciel of War on Drugs and Birdie Busch.