A soulful album 46 years in the making

2 minute read
Sun Ra Arkestra bandleader and alto saxophonist Marshall Allen performs live. (Photo by Ryan Collerd/Ars Nova Workshop.)
Sun Ra Arkestra bandleader and alto saxophonist Marshall Allen performs live. (Photo by Ryan Collerd/Ars Nova Workshop.)

More than six decades into a monumental, one-of-a-kind musical odyssey, the Sun Ra Arkestra continues to explore uncharted territory. The legendary jazz collective effortlessly embraces multiple genres, from doo-wop to traditional big-band arrangements to free jazz.

Longtime bandleader and alto saxophonist Marshall Allen has proven himself to be an innovator as well as a torchbearer, and he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. On June 13, 2019, the Sun Ra Arkestra will perform at Union Transfer in celebration of Marshall Allen’s 95th birthday.

Party like it's 1973

Splitting the bill, renowned Philly jazz pioneers Sounds of Liberation will reunite on stage for the first time since the 1970s. Less well-known outside of jazz circles, Sounds of Liberation was a jazz ensemble and social activist collective with strong ties to the Germantown and Mount Airy neighborhoods (The Sun Ra Arkestra also has deep roots in those neighborhoods.) Sounds of Liberation recorded and self-released a lone album in 1972 that has long been considered a “holy grail” among jazz aficionados, before moving on to other projects.

Now, a long-lost session originally recorded in 1973 is finally seeing the light of day. The album (technically the band’s second), soon to be available on CD and vinyl, is simply titled Unreleased. For Sounds of Liberation, the upcoming reunion concert doubles as a record-release party more than 45 years in the making.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to hear the music after so many years,” says Sounds of Liberation guitarist Monnette Sudler. “You get involved with life and you… forget about the things you did in the past. To hear it with fresh ears, it feels really good.” The original band members in attendance will be joined by several newcomers, including Elliot Levin on saxophone and Juan Diego on vibraphone, filling in for the great Byard Lancaster and Khan Jamal, respectively.

Reviving the soul

Brewerytown Beats record store owner Peter “Max” Ochester, who revived the group’s Dogtown Records label in collaboration with the band for this release, had a hand in organizing the concert. “This is a celebration of Philly music,” he says. “It's going to be a great night filled with positive vibes and legendary performers.” Ochester describes Sounds of Liberation's music as “soulful, funky Philly jazz,” up-tempo with Latin rhythms, “and all around good.”

It’s the perfect complement to the Sun Ra Arkestra’s interplanetary melodies and virtuoso improvisational interplay.

Experimental avant-jazz drummer-composer Eli Keszler opens.

Ars Nova Workshop presents the Marshall Allen 95th Birthday Celebration & Sounds of Liberation Record Release Celebration, with Sun Ra Arkestra, Sounds of Liberation, and Eli Keszler on Thursday, June 13, 2019, at 8pm at Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden. Tickets are $20 general admission and $100 VIP, available online, at the box office, and at Long in the Tooth (2027 Sansom Street).

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