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Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Sun Ra Arkestra - Cafe Oto, November 2016

Marshall Allen leading the Arkestra (not from reviewed concert)

By Fotis Nikolakpoulos

By arriving really early at the Dalston Junction area, a neighbourhood in the process of gentrification, I had time to think how unaffordable the city centre of a big European city can become for their working class citizens. I also caught the Arkestra rehearsing, which provoked many more thoughts, about music this time.

Staying on the outside of Cafe Oto and listening to them, I realised how deep those guys were in what was initially called great black music. The long story of blues, soul and, especially, jazz - what was jazz back in the day and how it developed into something totally different-unveiled in front of my eyes and ears even before the gig started.

The music of this - at least at Cafe Oto on that night - ten piece band was the history of post-war jazz, probably reflecting its leader's, the great Marshall Allen, own path in jazz. They took the blues and soul traditions and infiltrated them through free jazz and improvisation. And to add to our satisfaction (I'm speaking for the whole of the audience here...), they had a lot of groove.

Clearly, since the commanding presence of Sun Ra is no longer here, the Arkestra is a different, more collective organization. Off course Allen's presence and guidelines form the shape and aesthetics of the Arkestra's live sound. But, thankfully, Sun Ra's vision of catharsis through music and playful sentimental exploration is ever-present.

The musicians have more room to breath artistically than you 'd expect, even time to solo. They are all great performers and showmen (and women) at times, and they definitely looked like they enjoyed it, passing this feeling to all of us attending. That night they seemed, to my untrained ears, that they have bonded as a band through the good old way of playing together and playing a lot.

The balance they have managed to achieve, by incorporating free jazz's improvisational ethos into blues and, as a result, making your thighs move, is the one that forces a smile on your face while leaving.

Job well done, Mr. Allen.