Music review: The Sun Ra Arkestra, Summerhall, Edinburgh

IN THE end, perhaps the least impressive thing about the Sun Ra Arkestra is that they take the name of an artist who died more than 25 years ago, and don’t just trade on it with a degree of credibility, but develop an invigorating and enjoyable set on their own terms.

The Sun Ra Arkestra PIC: Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

The Sun Ra Arkestra, Summerhall, Edinburgh ****

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Sun Ra (born Herman Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1914) was a pioneer both in jazz music and in the concept of afrofuturism; that is, imaging what the future might look like from a specifically black point of view. He played free and experimental jazz, with a band who dressed in the sequin-and-synthetics uniforms of carnivalesque future warriors, and crossed over into the use of electronic instruments in jazz composition.

The Arkestra was what he called his band, whose original iteration were linked to here by saxophonist Marshall Allen, standing centre-stage and blowing still-powerful lines augmented by the five other players, and singer Tara Middleton on mantra-like vocals. Allen will be 95 years old next month, and perhaps the splitting of the set into two 45-minute halves was intended to preserve his energy.

The show was energetic in places, however, including the almost New Orleans-inspired Two Tones and amid the crisp, driving rhythm to match Middleton’s repeated chorus of We Travel the Spaceways’ title lyric. Where the music relaxed, it was into the dreamlike state of Astro Black, with the band processing drowsily through the crowd, or the upbeat bliss of Watch the Sunshine. As long as Allen can play, and with the Star Trek kitsch of the costumes balanced by the biting relevance of the songs played, the future this music promises will remain before us all. - DAVID POLLOCK