Sun Ra Arkestra: Swirling review – out of this world

Neil Spencer
·1-min read

For much of his long, prolific career, the late Sun Ra (born plain Herman Blount) found his music marginalised. Though rooted in jazz tradition, its atonal tunings and proto-electronica, along with its space-age themes and gaudy costumes, were too way out for an era of studied, mohair-suited cool. Since his death in 1993, however, Ra has become hailed as a pioneer of Afrofuturism, whose influence runs from Funkadelic to Black Panther. Meanwhile Ra’s band, the Arkestra, have toured tirelessly, presided over by alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, now 96.

This first album in 20 years proves an inspired tribute to the master, revisiting celebrated pieces like Satellites Are Spinning, with its promise A better day is breaking/ The planet Earth’s awakening”, beautifully sung by violinist Tara Middleton. The vocalised, upbeat mood (Ra was essentially utopian) maintains through the bebop riff of Rocket Number Nine, and Allen’s title track, whose finger-snapping big band arrangement evokes a nightclub on Mars, while the swaying Egyptian melody of Angels and Demons at Play and the foreboding Sea of Darkness come from deeper space. It’s a heady brew, challenging but intoxicating. Ra always said his music was from the future… and now it has arrived.