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REVIEW: The Sun Ra Arkestra @ Lewes Con Club 29/03/2017

The Verse’s Lorenzo Ottone reports the cosmic jazz extraterrestrial performance of The Sun Ra Arkestra.

A heterogeneous crowd ranging from hipsters to vinyl geeks – surprisingly with some young faces – is queuing for a good ten metres outside Lewes Con Club, proving how the Sun Ra Arkestra is one of a handful of jazz names which have been able to build a reputation outside the genre’s strict borders.

Con Club’s retro village hall atmosphere is an added to value to a show already running for the gig-of-the-year of yours truly and probably of promoters Dictionary Pudding and Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival. The Arkestra’s three-night residency, then, adds that extra flavour of golden age of jazz clubs, when residencies were a habit, clubs cool and background music offered by gifted jazzmen instead of Spotify playlists.

Directed by long-serving 92 year-old member Marshall Allen- on Sun Ra’s side since 1957 – the Arkestra fills the stage with ten musicians including keys, percussions, drums, trombone, double bass, guitar, vocals and saxophones.

Despite the decades passed from the original Sun Ra pivotal recordings, the Arkestra keeps faith to its tradition gladly cancelling from the start my expectations for a night of fusion.

If the first act follows a quite trad jazz path, the second act is the biggest instrumental delight you could possibly experience. A Blue Note jazz imprint swaying now towards afro-beat rhythms, then towards latin without forgetting the cocktail and cinematic easy listening experience created by the female vocalist, the gentle drumming and the warm double bass. In one word, the Sun Ra-invented cosmic jazz, culminating in a moving execution of Space Is The Place.

In line with the Arkestra’s tradition, the Ancient Egypt-meets-space sparkling clobber could not have been missed. It is just a stage trick, after all, but it is nearly touching to see the audience’s commitment to Sun Ra’s imagery and iconography.

As in a subculture or – in this case –  in a spaced-out Egyptian tribe’s creed there are certain codes and mores which could seem extravagant or silly to a non-believer, but make complete sense to an initiate.

In the interval, a man approaches Marshall Allen to thank him for the Arkestra’s visit to humans on planet Earth. I’d probably take this man seriously if only other members weren’t enjoying a cigarette in informal clothes or being added on Facebook by a couple from the audience.

Believe Sun Ra or not, but the Arkestra directed by Allen performing live- with the exceptional light show of Lewes’ Innerstrings – is for sure an extraterrestrial experience which has to be witnessed before it is too late.

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