Sun Ra Arkestra

Living Sky (Omni)

Contact Sam McAllister & Jacob Daneman about Sun Ra Arkestra

Sun Ra Arkestra releases a new single, “Chopin,” from their forthcoming album Living Sky, out October 7th on Omni Sound. For more than two decades, the disciple that has most visibly carried on Sun Ra Arkestra’s legacy and sound is their musical director, alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, the iconic fire breather and life force that restored the Arkestra’s vitality in the massive vacuum left by Ra and John Gilmore’s death in the ‘90s. “Chopin” is the first studio recording of Sun Ra’s elaboration of “Prelude in A Major” of the Frédéric Chopin “miniature Opus 28 No. 7,” which previously appeared on only a few live recordings. “‘Chopin’ was one of Sun Ra’s features for the lyrical wizardry of Marshall’s alto, the originator of Avant Garde saxophone, truly a wonder to behold at the age 98,” says baritone saxophonist Knoel Scott. “This freshened arrangement of this Sun Ra Classic is a testament to the vintaged mastery of Marshall Allen and is truly reflective of his position as a keeper of the Sun Ra Legacy.” The piece unfurls with an elegant placidity, a simple piano line spread among the brass, and Allen’s stabbing sour-toned solos sandwiching the graceful solo statement of veteran French horn maestro Vincent Chancey.

 

Marking the Arkestra’s first new recording since their 2021 Grammy-nominated album Swirling, Living Sky was recorded on June 15, 2021 at Rittenhouse SoundWorks in Philadelphia and features a total of nineteen musicians, including a strings section. It was mixed and mastered by three-time Grammy winner Dave Darlington (Eddie Palmieri, Brian Lynch, Wayne Shorter). The album was commissioned by executive producer Ahmet Ulug, who has a long history with the Arkestra, dating back to the 1980s when he regularly listened to the group in Philadelphia and New York, and promoted Sun Ra’s Istanbul show in 1990 (as well as numerous shows with the Arkestra after Ra’s departed Planet Earth). After retiring from the music industry a few years ago, the current state of the world moved Ulug to step back into the fold, launching Omni Sound (named after a note Sun Ra wrote during his visit to Istanbul, “Omniverse is the totality of all universes and you are welcome to be citizens of Omniverse”) and collaborating with the group that ignited his interest in jazz and improvised music. Omni Sound reached out to Allen to commission a new instrumental album from the group, requesting sounds “Spiritual and hypnotic and to that effect down tempo, melodic and grooving…….from the kora to EVI; ancient to the future. Music that is accessible and healing in the Covid era.” In July of 2021, Allen fulfilled the request with Living Sky, a gorgeous collection of music.

 

With Living Sky the Arkestra eschew the human voice, creating cosmic tones only with their instruments. The repertoire includes pieces of more recent vintage penned by Allen, complementing a variety of classic material that take on a decidedly more mellow hue in this context.

 

For decades listeners have looked to Sun Ra’s Arkestra for outward bound possibilities in music that grapples with earthly mayhem by embracing other galaxies. Yet their music has always been grounded by the human spirit. In this first new recording since the pandemic, Allen and company give us something we can hold onto, an instrumental album rich in spirituality guiding us through the unknown yet again.