Choirs of Aether — The Music of Sun Ra (Live at No Town)
((Not on label) no#, 2018, DL)
by Peter Thelen, Published 2018-05-14
When it comes to evolutionary cosmic free jazz with no boundaries, it’s hard to beat Sun Ra. Few have made as much of an impact or left behind a massive recorded legacy as his, from the early 1950s all the way up through his passing in 1993 and even beyond, his band The Arkestra continues to perform without him to the present day (now led by sax player Marshall Allen). Somewhere along the way most of us discovered his work and followed him on his journeys to Saturn and beyond into outer space… there are many entrance points. Nominally a pianist (later exploring with electronic keyboards), he was known for his compositions that integrate lyrics of fantastic outer space journeys, Egyptian themes and African-American folklore into a free and fluid jazz idiom, backed by a powerful sax and horn section, his band sometimes numbering up to thirty musicians or more. Sun Ra didn’t have a formula for his music, he instead had a method for a creative flow that involved all the musicians around him.
Enter Bow Thayer, an American composer and musician from the green mountains of Vermont with a pretty impressive discography himself, best known for his explorations and fusions of Americana, rock, bluegrass, folk and blues, he once released an album length collaboration with Levon Helm of The Band; He’s also released The Source and The Servant, a tribute album to bluesmen Mississippi Fred McDowell and Dock Boggs. He’s even got his own instrument the bojotar, sort of a solid body electric banjo with a dobro style resonator, which over time has become his main instrument. Thayer understands that aforementioned ‘method’ of Sun Ra well, and seeked out like minded musicians in the process of putting together Choirs of Aether, a band assembled initially to perform a live tribute to the music of Sun Ra, but may well remain together for other future endeavors. Interestingly, the band has no piano (although Thayer doubles on synth when he’s not playing bojotar). Other members include percussionist Jeff Berlin, who has worked with Thayer on many other recordings, percussionist Steve Ferraris, upright bassist Alex Abraham, who also has figured into Thayer’s earlier recordings (and who has sadly passed away since this recording), Chazz Canney on saxes, flutes, and all things woodwind, plus trumpet, and Bela Shrug on vocals (Thayer and Abraham contribute vocals as well). That’s it, just six musicians, about half the number that the Arkestra normaly featured, but using that creative method, they pull it off with flying colors, as this live recording easily proves. They tackle many of Ra’s better known pieces like “Space Is The Place,” “We TravelThe Spaceways,” and a sprawling ten-minute version of Ra’s Reagan era classic “Nuclear War,” plus interpretations of a number of other pieces, offering a slightly more laid-back approach on some. As far as I’m aware, this one is presently available only as a download, with no plans for a CD release, though no less worthy of a place in your Sun Ra collection.
Freedom to Spend Unearths June Chikuma's Archives – Jun (June) Chikuma is well known for her video game and anime soundtracks, but she also released an album of experimental electronic music back in 1986 called Divertimento where she indulged the kind of spontaneity that wouldn't work in a soundtrack. RVNG Int'l label Freedom to Spend is bringing this overlooked item to broader attention with a deluxe reissue. » Read more
Seaprog 2019 Lineup Almost Complete – The Seaprog festival in Seattle is scheduled for June 7-9 this year, and they've announced their lineup of performers. The revitalized Trettioåriga Kriget will cap Friday night, perennial favorites Marbin are on Saturday, and District 97 will finish off the fest on Sunday night. In support, they've booked a stellar variety of artists from the Northwest and around the world, including EchoTest, Markus Reuter and Trey Gunn, and the live debut of the amazing Troot project. » Read more
You Can Be Part of an Ambient Electronic Project – The Gesture of History is a new electronic project put together by Sam Rosenthal of Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Steve Roach, and violist Sam Shadow. The music started as an instrumental track Rosenthal was working on for a Black Tape album, but took on a life of its own and demanded further enhancements. The majority of the funds raised will go to manufacturing costs for LP and CD editions, as well as other items as detailed on the Kickstarter page. » Read more
Jazz Composer Mark Lomax, II Releases Epic 12CD Set – In addition to being a fine jazz drummer, Dr. Mark Lomax, II is a composer in residence at Ohio State University, where he has been very busy on the compositional front. The year 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship bringing African slaves to North America, and in commemoration of this, Lomax has produced 400: An Afrikan Epic, a 12 volume set of CDs featuring a variety of different musical ensembles. » Read more