Interstellar jazz explorations from Philadelphia.
As its name suggests, The Sun Ra Arkestra is the work of Le Sony’r Ra, better known as Sun Ra, an American jazz composer and pianist born in Alabama. Beginning in the mid 1950s, he led the Arkestra, an afro-futurism ensemble with a rotating cast of characters that included Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, and June Tyson across its various iterations. Its free-jazz sounds were as notable as its performances, which would include dancers dressed in futuristic costumes inspired by ancient Egyptian attire.
Since Sun Ra’s retirement from music in 1992, and his death a year later, the group has become formally known as The Sun Ra Arkestra. And, as of 1995, the band has been led by Allen, a pupil of Sun Ra since they met in 1958. Under his guidance, the Arkestra released their 2020 Grammy-nominated album, Swirling, and now they’re back with their second.
Released last week, Living Sky was recorded at Rittenhouse SoundWorks in Philadelphia, the Arkestra’s home for over five decades. It was commissioned by Ahmet Ulug, who has a long history with the Arkestra, dating back to the ’80s when he listened to the group in New York, and promoted Sun Ra’s Istanbul show in 1990. After retiring from the music industry a few years ago, the state of the world moved him to launch Omni Sound and reach out to request an instrumental album from the group that ignited his interest in jazz and improvised music.
For this week’s XLR8R podcast, and in celebration of the release, we’re featuring The Sun Ra Arkestra. This mix itself has been pieced together by Jupiter Blue, the cosmic duo made up of guitarist and composer David Middleton (a.k.a Dmhotep) and vocalist, violinist, and lyricist Tara Middleton (a.k.a Jupiter Girl Blue). Together, they form the “engine room” of The Sun Ra Arkestra. As with the album, across this mix they create a comic vortex, delivering just under 90 minutes of spiritual and hypnotic jazz, with a particular focus on melody and groove.
XLR8R has now joined Mixcloud Select, meaning that to hear the podcast offline you will need to subscribe to our Select channel to listen offline, or subscribe to XLR8R+ to download the file. The move to Mixcloud Select will ensure that all the producers with music featured in our mixes get paid. You can read more about it here.
Full XLR8R+ Members can download the podcast below. If you’re not an XLR8R+ member, you can read more about it and subscribe here.
01. Sun Ra “Where Pathways Meet” (Philly Jazz)
02. Sonny Sharrock “Many Mansions” (Axiom Records)
03. Pat Metheny & Ornette Coleman “Mob Job” (Geffen)
04. Cassandra Wilson “Come On In My Kitchen” (Blue Note)
05. Marshall Allen’s Volcano Quartet “Section C” (Vibraphone Records)
06. Marshall Allen’s Volcano Quartet “Section H” (Vibraphone Records)
07. The Sun Ra Arkestra “Love On A Faraway Planet” (Black Saint Records)
08. Jupiter Blue “A New New World” (Self-Released)
09. Dana Bryant “Food” (Warner)
10. Dianne Reeves “Tango” (Concord)
11. King Sunny Ade “365 Is My Number/The Message” (Mango)
12. Scott Henderson “Xanax” feat. Thelma Houston (Mesa)
13. Sun Ra & His Astro Infinity Arkestra “Dorothy’s Dance” (Saturn)
14. Jupiter Blue “Cosmic Jazz” (Self-Released)
15. Sun Ra “Daydreams” (Self-Released)
16. Jupiter Blue “Helium Diamonds” (Self-Released)