Sun Ra’s Journey Featuring Marshall Allen
Release date: January 20, 2023
Label: Cellar Music Group
Cellar Music Group, in partnership with the SmallsLive Foundation, is thrilled to release Sun Ra’s Journey Featuring Marshall Allen. Bass luminary Tyler Mitchell’s dynamic playing graced many stages alongside the legendary Sun Ra and Marshall Allen, and he can be heard on such iconic Sun Ra recordings as Reflections in Blue and Hours After. Mitchell is responsible for this multigenerational convergence of jazz greats, assembling this powerhouse small ensemble of musicians to celebrate the life and works of the legendary Sun Ra. ‘Sun Ra’s Journey’ captures potent and innovative reworkings of Sun Ra Arkestra classics, recorded live at Smalls Jazz Club. Bassist Tyler Mitchell is joined by tenor saxophonist Chris Hemingway, alto saxophonist Nicoletta Manzini, trumpeter Giveton Gelin, pianist Farid Barron, drummer Wayne Smith, percussionists Ron McBee and Elson Nacimento, and of course the inimitable Marshall Allen who, at 98 years old, proves to be as spry and imaginative as ever.
Tyler Mitchell recounts his years with the Sun Ra Arkestra as a tenure with one of the great bands of the time. “When I played with Sun Ra,” Mitchell recalls, “he was playing standards and doing Fletcher Henderson-type arrangements, years later when I came back from Mexico, we played a lot more full arrangements of new, original Sun Ra and Marshall Allen compositions. I always wanted to record this music in a small ensemble, really focusing on Marshall’s playing, and here, we finally had our chance.”
Demonstrating the tremendous power and reach of Sun Ra’s music and legacy, this diverse ensemble represents over four generations of musicians performing the work of the great bandleader. Mitchell is joined by a stellar rhythm section of Sun Ra Arkestra alumni including Wayne Smith on drums and Farid Barron on piano. Regarding Smith’s steadfast drumwork, Mitchell notes “We worked together for the last ten years or so, I can always count on him to be there with me, whatever I’m playing. He stays in the pocket and never sacrifices the groove.” On the topic of working with the great Marshall Allen, Mitchell notes “Marshall is from the swing era, there’s so much information to get from him, he puts fresh arrangements on tunes that he’s played for years – he’s 97 years old and playing at the top of his game.”
The album begins with Sun Ra’s vibrant “Care Free”. From the very first downbeat, the listener is transported to the ethereal dimension of the Sun Ra Arkestra. Mitchell masterfully distills the Arkestra arrangements of many of these pieces down to an 8 piece ensemble, paying particular attention to the interplay of the front line. The harmonic jabs and intertwining of melody between Allen, Gellin and Manzini gives new life to these compositions.
“La Dolce Vita” is a composition born from improvisation between Mitchell and saxophonist Nicoletta Manzini. The piece prominently features Allen on the EWI and Manzini’s melodic musings on the alto saxophone. The theme of “La Dolce Vita” is built up from the melody and was directed by Allen. Mitchell notes “Nicoletta was a student of Marshall’s and I wanted to use her for this date, and she was instrumental in putting it together with me.” Mitchell begins “Eddie Harris” with a bass solo. Mitchell initially heard this piece on a Clifford Jordan record. Here, the piece is performed as a conversation between bass and alto sax. The melody of the piece captures Eddie Harris’ way of including call-and-response within his phrasing.
“New Dawn” is a Marshall Allen composition written for the Sun Ra Arkestra album Of Abstract Dreams. On the initial release, Allen recorded with strings. This take of “New Dawn” features Allen on the EWI and Mitchell bowing the melody on his bass. The group demonstrates its vibrancy and facility on the Sun Ra classics “Love in Outer Space” and “Fate in a Pleasant Mood”.
Musing on his former bandleader Sun Ra, Tyler Mitchell notes “When a lot of people think of Sun Ra, they think of free, abstract playing – These people forget about his compositional contributions.” On Sun Ra’s Journey Featuring Marshall Allen, Mitchell shines a spotlight on Sun Ra’s compositional prowess, and on the continuous innovation of his renowned bandmate Marshall Allen.
ABOUT THE SMALLSLIVE LIVING MASTERS SERIES
The SmallsLIVE Living Masters Series is funded entirely by grants from the SmallsLIVE Foundation, a not-for-profit art foundation founded in 2018. During the COVID lockdown of New York businesses from March 2020 to April of 2021, the SmallsLIVE Foundation was a key factor in keeping jazz clubs alive. Thanks to the grassroot donations from jazz fans and supporters world-wide, these venues were able to pay for their costly maintenance expenses while they sat shuttered by the city.
Once the clubs began again to operate as public institutions these funds were no longer permitted to be used to subsidize operating costs. It is with these residual funds that the SmallsLIVE Living Masters Series was created. With the intention of celebrating the masters of jazz that are still with us, The SmallsLIVE Living Masters Series provides a grant award to the recipient as well as a live video recording to document their work in relation to our venues.
The first recipients of the award include bassist Tyler Mitchell along with tenor saxophonist Marshall Allen, pianist Kirk Lightsey, vocalist Sheila Jordan, drummer Victor Lewis, trombonist Frank Lacy, saxophonist David Liebman and saxophonist Jesse Davis.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Along with elder alum, alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, Sun Ra's Journey Featuring Marshall Allen, the second of bassist Tyler Mitchell's deep dives into Sun Ra's master playbook, breaks glorious from the start.” Read the review here.
THE BIG TAKEOVER
"Buy into Ra’s cosmic weirdness or don’t, but the man knew how to convey the joy of life in his music, and Mitchell, Allen and company confirm they’re kindred spirits on Sun Ra’s Journey.” Review here.
BEBOP SPOKEN HERE
"Tyler Mitchell, Marshall Allen and the rhythm section are all alumni of the urban spaceman and this is the former's tribute to his galactic master. Read the review here
"While Ra’s catalog has often been perceived as inextricable from the context of the Arkestra, with its anarcho-cosmic boisterousness and carnivalesque trappings, Mitchell instead approached the compositions as the standards they deserve to be." Read the review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Ra's music is familiar and delivered with all the loving exaltation it deserves." Read the 4-star review here.
“Mitchell’s superb new recording reminds us of what a sturdy link in the chain he always was.” Read the Best New Jazz of January 2023 here.
"Bassist Tyler Mitchell has carved out an impressive career with the likes of Art Taylor, George Coleman and Shirley Horn, but most of all with Sun Ra, to whom this album is dedicated.." Read the review here.
“It’s an ever-living joy.” Read the complete review in the April 2023 issue of Jazzwise Magazine.
“That there are abundant intergalactic intimations on Sun Ra's Journey Featuring Marshall Allen is inevitable.." Read the complete review in the May 2023 issue of DownBeat Magazine.
"Down-to-earth while still attaining heightened musicality, with proper exposure, many will want to join this journey." Review here.
"Bassist Mitchell played with Ra for years. So did Marshall Allen, 98, whose alto sax is still strong. Together, the two lead an octet bursting with creative arrangements and bold ideas. Consider this a worthy addition to the Sun Ra canon." Read more here.