29 August 2013
The view from Saturn
Arkestra at Café Oto, London. Day 3 of a five night stand in an intimate, earthy venue. It was sold out with a good natured crown in a decent queue when I arrived. Someone said he’d seen the Arkestra before at the Barbican. Cafe Oto is nothing like that. It’s folding garden seats up front, standing audience behind; no raised stage; a small PA; some lights; a Yamaha grand and a bar. Grungy and intimate. A drone of analog synth grew for 30 minutes before the band walked on, all glitter and costumes. The Arkestra is a big format: 2xalto, tenor, baritone, trombone, trumpet, piano, guitar, bass, cello, drums, percussion. Long time band member, Marshall Allen, is now leading, conducting, arranging after the loss of Sun Ra. I saw them in the early ‘80s in Rome, led by Sun Ra, and it’s the same effect but I appreciate it better now. This was as good as it comes. Alive, intense rhythms, the complexity of harmonised horns, simple or pretty melody visited by abstruse dissonance, lots of singing and chanting, the richness from multiple overlaid parts, even dancing, always joy. This is interplanetary music. The chants were from Saturn. I still have in my mind the simple theme of Sun Ra’s classic Sunrise in outer space. This world … not my home. We’re going to Saturn. Joy in simple beauty. They sang When you wish upon a star. Then dissolutions, effected vocals, cello solos. All against steady drums and a patina of percussion and chunky guitar and piano and bass and percussive cello. Even dancing. Then they leave, horn players shimmying down the aisle leaving the rhythm section to finish. That was set 1. The agony was the tube times and my lack of alternatives. I missed set 2 but I left enlightened, joyous and ready for a world outside. It was a loving experience, this interplanetary music, and yet tethered to the real world. Strange that you can often see the inside better from the outside. I can only confirm that the view from Saturn is a blast. The best.
The line-up was advertised as this but there were more and maybe different players: female singer, cellist, guitarist. Marshall Allen (director, alto sax, flute), Fred Adams (trumpet), Knoel Scott (vocal, saxes), Charles Davis (tenor sax), Danny Ray Thompson (baritone sax), Dave Davis (trombone), Farid Barron (piano), Elson Nascimento (perc, surdo), Tyler Mitchell (bass), Craig Haynes (drums).