When Sun Ra died three years ago many feared that his Arkestra, one of the longest-running, most entertaining and adventurous jazz bands in history, would also be relegated to memory. The deaths of vital members June Tyson and John Gilmore made the picture even bleaker. Considering, however, the way the Arkestra operated in its last few decades–living and working commune-style in a house in the Germantown section of Philadelphia–and that for alto saxophonist Marshall Allen there was no other way of life (he’s been in the group for more than four decades), it’s not surprising that after a few years of only sporadic activity the living have chosen to resume full throttle. With Allen at the helm the band appears rejuvenated and, following a handful of dates with Perry Farrell’s convoluted ENIT festival earlier this summer, is making its first significant tour since Sun Ra’s death. The Arkestra has been plumbing the depths of Ra’s extensive songbook, reportedly dusting off compositions that have never been heard outside of the group’s closed practices. In some ways the Arkestra was a family, with members drifting off to participate in other projects and returning to the fold years later, which means there are lots of players to call upon. The stellar lineup for this show includes bassoonist James Jackson, trombonists Tyrone Hill and Dick Griffin, bassist John Ore, baritone saxophonist Charles Davis, trumpeter Michael Ray, and percussionist Samarai Celestial, among others. Given the deluge of reissues (the Evidence label recently released a breathtaking double CD of Sun Ra’s singles, including loads of doo-wop sides) and bizarre recording sessions (Allen and Ray appear on Surrender to the Air, a woolly free jam organized by Phish member Trey Anastasio) and the renewed interest in outer space as a symbol for musical exploration, it’s safe to assume that this is one repertoire band that’s not going to succumb to stiff reverence. Friday, 8 PM, and Sunday, 7:30 PM, Unity Temple, 875 Lake, Oak Park; 708-383-8873. Saturday, 8 and 10 PM, International House, University of Chicago, 1414 E. 59th; 773-288-2820. Monday, 9 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Crump-RSP.