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The Sun Ra Arkestra, Café Oto, London, April 12th 2010

April 16, 2010

The Suit and I fancied something different and, as neither of us has a particular liking for jazz, we decided to jump in headfirst and go and see the Sun Ra Arkestra, the cosmic jazz outfit that’s been purveying strange music for more than fifty years. Since Sun Ra’s death in the 90s, the Arkestra has continued and is now under the ‘direction’ of 85-year-old saxophonist Marshall Allen.

The Arkestra had booked a three-night residency at Café Oto, which was clearly popular with the left-field jazz cognoscenti as all three nights sold out. There was a sizable queue of people waiting for returns, including louche rocker Bobby Gillespie, who needless to say blagged his way in.

The Arkestra dresses in a splendid array of shiny cosmic costumes, looking like an unholy cross between shiny astronauts, the pharaohs, 80s disco queens and Gandalf. After clapping their way onto stage, they launched into opening number Face The Music and we were treated to a full hour-and-a-half of interplanetary weirdness and wonder (I headed home before the late second set, as I was feeling knackered).

I hadn’t appreciated how tight they are as a band, or indeed how conventional some of their tunes are. In fact, I preferred the more ‘out there’ stuff to the traditional ‘Jazz Club’ stuff – more Coltrane, less Courtney Pine, as The Suit wisely said.

Of course, we got all sorts of weird bleeps, skronks and whistles, particularly from Marshall Allen’s eccentric instrument called, I believe, the EVI (electronic valve instrument). But there was also much fine percussion and horns from the enthusiastic band – great singing too. It was all very impressive and great fun. Don’t forget, folks, Space Is The Place!

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