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Sun Ra Arkestra
Living Sky Jeremy Allen , October 3rd, 2022 07:38

The Arkestra return with more cosmic tones on their second album since the departure of the great Sun Ra

Sun Ra and his Myth Science Arkestra released Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy in 1967 in order to promote healing. The band name was temporary, following on from Sun-Ra and his Astro Infinity Arkestra and later the Le Sun Ra and his Cosmo Discipline Arkestra among many others. But the concept of music as a functionary and utilitarian resource wasn’t particularly widespread at the time. Sounds designed to sooth are hitherto ubiquitous, and music itself is tap-like in its usability.

Only Marshall Allen is still around from those sessions where he played alto sax and “astro space drums”, though fifty-five years later, the world could certainly do with some more healing. At the behest of Omni Sound’s Ahmet Ulug, who came out of retirement to found the New York / Istanbul label on which Living Sky is the inaugural release, Allen and eighteen other musicians including string players went into a studio in Philadelphia last June to record an album of cosmic tones in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s the Arkestra’s second outing without their titular leader, who relocated to Saturn twenty-seven years ago, and like 2020’s Swirling, this does justice to his remarkable legacy and is a fine addition to an unfathomably vast discography.

Where Swirling took steps forwards with one eye on the past, Living Sky is less overtly avant garde than its predecessor, and if the spirit and concept harks back to the aforementioned record from 1967, then the music here is grounded more in the 1950s big band version of Sun Ra, especially on tracks like ‘Firefly’. That said, the whole sound is also undoubtedly augmented with wild brushstrokes of astral whimsy throughout.

The much-loved ‘Somebody Else’s Idea’, first recorded with June Tyson in 1955, gets a run out here, as does Ra’s ‘Chopin’ jam. Elsewhere there’s a woozy cover of ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’, and the near title track ‘Day Of The Living Sky’ floats on a cosmic soundbed of plucked zither instruments. Though perhaps the highlight is ‘Marshall’s Groove’, which stretches itself sonically over an insouciant, walking double bass with percussion accompaniment, at least until the indomitable Allen, who hopefully celebrates his ninety-ninth entry day next May, takes the whole thing up a notch as other brass players pile on.

That Sun Ra’s music perseveres even beyond the lifespan of its founder might raise a bone of contention with some, but the Arkestra is not like other bands. As one of the key founders of Afrofuturism, Herman “Sonny” Blount brought much more to the world than simply a band. The Arkestra is a proto-Black Power movement and a philosophy in itself that transcends mere death and, Ra willing, it will outlive us all. In the meanwhile, Living Sky brings balm to the world even after the lowering of the Sun.