IN THE ORBIT OF RA
The Sun Ra canon is an intergalactic gold mine that keeps on giving. Some live recordings and B-sides are for completists only, but this double-album (which first appeared in 2014) is a must. Setting it apart from the plethora of compilations is the fact it was curated by Marshall Allen, who, at 95, is not only the key surviving member from Sun Ra’s heyday, but also continues to lead the Arkestra, following its leader’s 1993 demise.
Allen zeroes on the 1960s, with the odd foray into the late ’50s or early ’70s. This was the period when the Arkestra boasted a saxophone section to rival Duke Ellington’s: Allen (alto, flute), John Gilmore (tenor) and Pat Patrick (baritone, tenor, alto, flute), often with Ronny Boykins on bass and Clifford Jarvis among the numerous drummers and percussionists. Allen obviously has a penchant for the great mystic, composer and keyboards player’s music when it was at its most hypnotic, so simple, repetitive grooves predominate. Occasional meandering passages are far outnumbered by vivid arrangements and gripping solos, including from the startling Allen and from Mr Ra, himself, whose cosmic proclivities seem to have left him eternally underrated as a pianist.