Concert Review: Sun Ra Arkestra

The motley crew of 13 musicians, clad in their customary 1950s sci-fi movie-style shiny cloaks and outrageous headwear, blew us away from the word go.

December 6, 2011 21:27
2 minute read.
The Arkestra is a show band.

The Arkestra Band Sun Ra 521. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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There is a saying in Hebrew that goes something along the lines of “the greater the expectation, the bigger the disappointment” but nothing could be further from the truth with regard to the Sun Ra Arkestra gig at Barby Club in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.

The motley crew of 13 musicians, clad in their customary 1950s sci-fi movie-style shiny cloaks and outrageous headwear, blew us away from the word go. If ever a concert could be described as a trip, this was it.

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The packed audience was treated to a non-stop, exhilarating performance that went on, without a break, for close to two-and-a-half hours. Considering that most of the band will never see 60 again, and leader Marshall Allen is all of 87 years old, that, in itself, was no mean feat.

The decibel level and energy output were in the realms of the stratosphere for most of the show, and the pace never abated. And ne’er a dull moment was to be had. One number was introduced as a bluesy work that “comes from Alabama by way of Saturn,” and that was exactly what we got. The planetary inference referred to the planet to which Sun Ra, the late ensemble founder and pianist, is purported to have returned after shuffling off his terrestrial coil down here almost 20 years ago.

The saxophonists – tenors and baritones alike – took it in turn to wow us with their pyrotechnics, while the drummer and percussionists kept up a searing pace.

The keyboardist regaled with white hot riffs that fed off archetypal groovy-funky 1960s sentiments and the double bassist and guitarist gave their all for the cause.

And there were intermittent and highly entertaining vocal elements – singing and narration alike.

The maestro and commander-in-chief of the proceedings was Allen, who waved him arms and hands, picking out soloists, seemingly at whim, and overseeing the volume and energy levels with iron-fisted control. He also put in his instrumental penny’s worth on alto sax and his EVI, or square electronic flute.

As MC, Levontin 7 Club co-owner and saxophonist Assif Tsahar said in his introductory remarks, this was the realization of a long-harbored dream. Hopefully the Arkestra gang will be back for more before too long.

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