Tyler Mitchell Octet: Sun Ra’s Journey

Sun Ra veteran Marshall Allen, now approaching 99 years of age, features on a rambunctious 2021 tribute to the extra-terrestrial bandleader

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That percentage of the jazz world which indulges in tribute acts always seems to thrive, or at least record a lot. Discussion of why that’s so falls outside the scope of this review and is rendered even more irrelevant by the vibrancy and commitment heard throughout this set.

The Mitchell octet’s music has about it the tight-loose, precise-ragged dichotomies that were arguably features of ensembles such as Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood Of Breath, and the comparative scarcity of such qualities on the contemporary jazz scene adds to the joy of the set.

Those qualities are exemplified from the off on the opening and aptly titled Carefree, where the process of building the music is carried out on the back of a repeated figure from the reeds in support of fully engaged solos from Gelin and Allen.

As much as anything on this set Discipline 27-II reminds us of how deeply (for all of his other worldly claims) Ra’s compositional output was informed by what he gleaned from big bands that were functioning long before he led such a thing. Here the two percussionists work in a rare state of in-the-moment collaboration to contribute to a rhythmic carpet of the deepest pile.

Allen’s New Dawn documents him on the EVI, an instrument which in lesser hands might evoke only the retro-futurism of prime B-movies. Here it enhances proceedings to the extent of taking them outside of the norm before Hemingway brings things back inside and in so doing throws light upon himself as a musician more worthy of attention than a bus load of the much touted young jazz sensations that seem to be a major part of the contemporary scene.

Discography
Carefree; Velvet; La Dolce Vita; Dancing Shadows; Eddie Harris; Discipline 27-II; Bouncing At Smalls; Skippy; New Dawn; Cosmic Hop; Love In Outer Space; Fate In A Pleasant Mood (54.53)
Giveton Galin (t); Marshall Allen (as, EVI); Nicoletta Manzini (as); Chris Hemingway (ts); Farid Barron (p); Tyler Mitchell (b); Wayne Smith (d); Ron McBee (pc); Elson Nacimento (pc). Smalls Jazz Club, 20 August 2021.
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