June 25, 2024


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CD review: Tyler Mitchell Octet & Marshall Allen – Sun Ra’s Journey 2022: Video, CD cover, Photos

Cellar Music Group, in partnership with the SmallsLive Foundation, is thrilled to announce the March 18, 2022 release of 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 97 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.”

Marshall Allen (Photo by William Brown)

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”, the album’s single, which will be released on February 4, 2022. 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.
Tyler Mitchell (Photo by William Brown)
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.

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