June 14, 2024

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CD review: Tyler Mitchell Octet – Sun Ra’s Journey Featuring Marshall Allen 2023: Video, CD cover

Cellar Music Group, in partnership with the SmallsLive Foundation, is thrilled to announce the January 20, 2023 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.”

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.”

“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, Mitchellshines a spotlight on Sun Ra’s compositional prowess, and on the continuous innovation of his renowned bandmate Marshall Allen.

Veteran bassist Tyler Mitchell was a member of the Sun Ra Arkestra in the 1980s, participating in two of their albums, After Hours and Reflections in Blue, both from 1986. He also played with saxophonist George Coleman, singer Shirley Horn, and drummer Art Taylor.

Not as active as a leader, Mitchell released Live At Smalls under his own name in 2012, an auspicious debut album in which he was in command of a pliant New York quintet. Now he presents Dancing Shadows, a 12-track effort featuring a multi-generational sextet which, in addition to a couple of originals, tackles five pieces by Sun Ra and one by Thelonious Monk. On board with him for this sonic journey is the current leader of the Arkestra, the 97-year-old maestro Marshall Allen.

The group infests Ra’s “Interstellar Low Ways” with a melody that recalls “Tenderly” and solos from the three reedists – Nicoletta Manzini, who occasionally revisits the melody, Chris Hemmingway, who mixes outside playing with bluesy incursions, and Allen, who concludes ebulliently. Other Ra numbers include “Angels and Demons at Play”, where all things flutter around a 14-note, 10-beat-cycle bass figure; the uptempo free romp “Dancing Shadows”, which swings at the bottom and twists at the surface with multiple horn deliveries; and “Care Free”, whose three time feel welcomes Allen at the front. There’s also this beautiful “Enlightenment”, offering an enjoyable melodic narrative over a confident rhythmic strut, whereas “A Call For All Demons” concludes the program with exoticism.

Monk’s intricate groover “Skippy” finds a spot for the bassist/bandleader, who penned the brushes-driven ballad “Nico” for Manzini and the percussively inspired “Marshall the Deputy” with Allen in mind. The group fearlessly embraces abstraction in Manzini’s “Spaced Out”, which flows in Ra’s cosmic fashion with conspicuous EVI adornments. Pure tradition interlaces with explorative space jazz and modern adjustments in an album that brings nostalgia and new discoveries to the table.

New Album: Tyler Mitchell Octet, Sun Ra's Journey - Bass Musician Magazine,  The Face of Bass

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