Choirs of Aether — The Music of Sun Ra (Live at No Town)
(Bandcamp no#, 2018, DL)
by Peter Thelen, Published 2018-05-14
When it comes to evolutionary cosmic free jazz with no boundaries, it’s hard to beat Sun Ra. Few have made as much of an impact or left behind a massive recorded legacy as his, from the early 1950s all the way up through his passing in 1993 and even beyond, his band The Arkestra continues to perform without him to the present day (now led by sax player Marshall Allen). Somewhere along the way most of us discovered his work and followed him on his journeys to Saturn and beyond into outer space… there are many entrance points. Nominally a pianist (later exploring with electronic keyboards), he was known for his compositions that integrate lyrics of fantastic outer space journeys, Egyptian themes and African-American folklore into a free and fluid jazz idiom, backed by a powerful sax and horn section, his band sometimes numbering up to thirty musicians or more. Sun Ra didn’t have a formula for his music, he instead had a method for a creative flow that involved all the musicians around him.
Enter Bow Thayer, an American composer and musician from the green mountains of Vermont with a pretty impressive discography himself, best known for his explorations and fusions of Americana, rock, bluegrass, folk and blues, he once released an album length collaboration with Levon Helm of The Band; He’s also released The Source and The Servant, a tribute album to bluesmen Mississippi Fred McDowell and Dock Boggs. He’s even got his own instrument the bojotar, sort of a solid body electric banjo with a dobro style resonator, which over time has become his main instrument. Thayer understands that aforementioned ‘method’ of Sun Ra well, and seeked out like minded musicians in the process of putting together Choirs of Aether, a band assembled initially to perform a live tribute to the music of Sun Ra, but may well remain together for other future endeavors. Interestingly, the band has no piano (although Thayer doubles on synth when he’s not playing bojotar). Other members include percussionist Jeff Berlin, who has worked with Thayer on many other recordings, percussionist Steve Ferraris, upright bassist Alex Abraham, who also has figured into Thayer’s earlier recordings (and who has sadly passed away since this recording), Chazz Canney on saxes, flutes, and all things woodwind, plus trumpet, and Bela Shrug on vocals (Thayer and Abraham contribute vocals as well). That’s it, just six musicians, about half the number that the Arkestra normaly featured, but using that creative method, they pull it off with flying colors, as this live recording easily proves. They tackle many of Ra’s better known pieces like “Space Is The Place,” “We TravelThe Spaceways,” and a sprawling ten-minute version of Ra’s Reagan era classic “Nuclear War,” plus interpretations of a number of other pieces, offering a slightly more laid-back approach on some. As far as I’m aware, this one is presently available only as a download, with no plans for a CD release, though no less worthy of a place in your Sun Ra collection.
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