Space certainly seems like the place these days. Not only do you get built-in entertainment with a full solar eclipse, you are hundreds of miles above the decidedly Earth-bound crisis enveloping this country. It could be theorized that Sun Ra (1914-93) used his claim of being from Saturn as a means by which to separate himself from Jim Crow-era repression in his 'native' Alabama. Little could Sun Ra predict that almost a quarter-century after his death, neo-Nazis and KKK members would again be rampant and, worse yet, emboldened by the U.S. President.
Marshall Allen (On The Cover) is the last direct link to the primordial days of the Sun Ra Arkestra, having been a member (and now leader) of the group since 1955. The 93-year-old is honored this month for his long achievement as part of the first annual Blank Forms Benefit Concert at Ukrainian National Home. The music of Amir ElSaffar (Interview) comes with its own cultural signifiers, mating Iraqi heritage with love of modern jazz. He works alongside Brooklyn Raga Massive this month at Lincoln Center's David Rubenstein Atrium. And Melissa Aldana (Artist Feature), appearing at Birdland, is herself a cultural pioneer as both the first female instrumentalist and Latin American to win the Thelonious Monk Competition.
In 1974, Sun Ra said "There Is A Change In The Air". He could never have meant this...
On the Cover: MARSHALL ALLEN
By Emilie Pons; photo by Alan Nahigian
Nothing happens the way you would expect during a Sun Ra Arkestra performance: The Arkestra's musicians "play from the heart and spirit," says 93-year-old jazz master saxophonist Marshall Allen, who leads the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra. Blank Forms honors Allen and the Sun Ra Arkestra, which will also perform, at Ukrainian National Home Sep. 12th.
Interview: AMIR ELSAFFAR
By Kurt Gottschalk; photo courtesy of the artist
Trumpeter, santur player, vocalist and composer Amir ElSaffar has made more than one mark on contemporary jazz. Borrowing from his background and studies of Arabic music (his father is originally from Iraq), ElSaffar has developed his own techniques for playing quarter-tones on the trumpet. Extending that cross-pollination, he has released a series of beautiful and evocative records combining Arabic and Western approaches and instrumentation. We spoke with him as he was concluding a composer's residency in France and gearing up to present his large ensemble Rivers of Sound at the Newport Jazz Festival. ElSaffar is at Lincoln Center's David Rubenstein Atrium Sep. 8th and Union Hall Sep. 28th.
Artist Feature: MELISSA ALDANA
By Russ Musto; photo courtesy of the artist
Winner of the 2013 Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition, Melissa Aldana has come a long way since she first picked up a horn in her native Santiago, Chile. Aldana is at Birdland Sep. 12th-13th.
Encore: FRED STATON
By Marilyn Lester
Tenor saxophonist Fred Staton holds a truly unique distinction—at 102 he's the oldest working jazz musician in the world. Still gigging several times a year, Staton is a living history of jazz.
Lest We Forget: CLAUDE THORNHILL
By Scott Yanow
Claude Thornhill can be thought of as one of the originators of Cool jazz. Haunting ensembles, unusual tone colors, concise solos, a quiet rhythm section and subtle surprises were all part of the Thornhill Orchestra sound. His music and arrangements acted as an inspiration for Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool nonet and West Coast jazz of the '50s. A Thornhill tribute with Steven Richman Harmonie Ensemble New York is at Saint Peter's Sep. 20th.
Record Label Spotlight: FOU
By Stuart Broomer
The first thing to notice about Fou Records, the French label launched by Jean-Marc Foussat in 2012, is the name: It's French for "mad". Of course, you have to be a little crazy to start a CD label in the age of the burgeoning download and the resurgence of vinyl, but Fou presses its own limits. Artists performing this month include Irene Kepl at Downtown Music Gallery Sep. 24th and Joëlle Léandre at Zürcher Gallery Sep. 27th.
in Memoriam: GERI ALLEN
Remembrances of the late pianist from Pheeroan akLaff, Kenny Barron, Terri Lyne Carrington, Ravi Coltrane, Andrew Cyrille, Jack DeJohnette, Jana Herzen, Jay Hoggard, Robert Hurst, Oliver Lake, Charles Lloyd, Charnett Moffett, David Murray, Greg Osby, Ralph Peterson, Lonnie Plaxico, Esperanza Spalding and Cassandra Wilson.
(this month's performance venues in parentheses):
Bill Mobley -- Hittin' Home Space Time (Mezzrow)
Cyrus Chestnut -- There's A Sweet, Sweet Spirit HighNote (Jazz Standard)