The Heliosonic Tone-tette — Heliosonic Toneways, Vol. 1
(Sciensonic Laboratories, 2017, CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2017-12-26
From the name of this ensemble, you might guess that there’s some kind of connection with Sun Ra, and you would be absolutely correct. The impetus for the group’s formation was the 50th anniversary of the recording of The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, an album that has come to be regarded as a watershed moment in jazz (at least by some). Sun Ra was developing a new way of composing and organizing large ensemble music, blending his instructions with the players’ own improvisations. Of this current group, Marshall Allen was there for the original, playing alto sax, piccolo, and percussion. Danny Ray Thompson joined the Arkestra a few years later, playing bassoon, saxophones, and flute on dozens of albums. The others may not be actual Arkestra members, but are definitely kindred spirits: Scott Robinson (various instruments), Frank Lacy (trombone), Philip Harper (trumpet), Pat O'Leary (bass), Yosvany Terry (saxophone), Tim Newman (bass trombone), Matt Wilson (drums), and JD Parran (bass clarinet). One factor that is touted prominently in the publicity for this release is the fact that this album prominently features a bass marimba, and not just any bass marimba, but the same actual instrument that was played in the Heliocentric Worlds sessions. Sun Ra played it in ‘65, and Marshall Allen plays it here. They also recorded this album with engineer Richard Alderson, who handled the knobs for the original sessions. On to the music… This set is very much in the same spirit as its inspiration, with a similar sized ensemble applying the same principles, with lots of improvisation and close attention to the unusual tone colors possible with the instrumentation. At times, it’s like a spaced-out take on New Orleans jazz, where the individual instruments are all embellishing known lines; at other times it wanders off into free-form sparseness. It’s as if the listener is drifting in space, with objects tumbling past the window: there goes an asteroid that sounds like a bass clarinet; that comet sounds like a swooping synthesizer; and what was that thing that sounded like a prepared piano? This is fascinating music that is reminiscent of Sun Ra’s eccentric ideas without copying the pieces — after all, it was the process of making the music that made it so innovative. An added bonus is that while much of Sun Ra’s music was recorded under less than ideal technical circumstances, Heliosonic Toneways, Vol. 1 sounds amazing, with each instrument vividly present in the mix and manifestly alive in impact. In addition, it’s just plain fun to listen to. Looking forward to Vol. 2.
You Can Be Part of an Ambient Electronic Project – The Gesture of History is a new electronic project put together by Sam Rosenthal of Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Steve Roach, and violist Sam Shadow. The music started as an instrumental track Rosenthal was working on for a Black Tape album, but took on a life of its own and demanded further enhancements. The majority of the funds raised will go to manufacturing costs for LP and CD editions, as well as other items as detailed on the Kickstarter page. » Read more
Jazz Composer Mark Lomax, II Releases Epic 12CD Set – In addition to being a fine jazz drummer, Dr. Mark Lomax, II is a composer in residence at Ohio State University, where he has been very busy on the compositional front. The year 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship bringing African slaves to North America, and in commemoration of this, Lomax has produced 400: An Afrikan Epic, a 12 volume set of CDs featuring a variety of different musical ensembles. » Read more
Chicago-Based Surabhi Ensemble Tours the World in January – Surabhi Ensemble was formed more than a decade ago in Chicago with the aim of bringing together musicians from varying traditions to make music. Saraswathi Ranganathan, who plays veena, assembled a cast that includes Arabic oud, Spanish guitar, and percussion from Africa and India. This month, the group will be sharing their sounds with concert-goers in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa. » Read more
Seaprog Festival Seeks Donations – Seaprog is a small festival in Seattle that highlights creative music from many genres with artists from around the world. It's also a US non-profit organization. They're seeking donations to help keep the ball rolling. Starting in 2013, the organization has been growing, and has featured such artists as Free Salamander Exhibit, Jack o' the Clock, Nik Turner, Cabezas de Cera, Miriodor, Thinking Plague, and many more. » Read more