The Sun Ra Arkestra has been hailed as one of the greatest big bands of all time, and their maestro Marshall Allen will be celebrating his 95th “arrival day” this year! In celebration, Ars Nova Workshop is presenting the Arkestra with another legendary Philadelphia collective, Sounds of Liberation. Drummer-composer Eli Keszler, best known for his work with Laurel Halo and Oneohtrix Point Never, opens.
Though the iconic Sun Ra left the planet in 1993, his cosmic legacy is proudly maintained by the interstellar sounds of the Arkestra, which now operates under the direction of alto saxophonist Marshall Allen. With a massive, joyous songbook and the kind of well-organized chaos that sees their legendary two-hour sets move deftly between rolling grooves, sing-along chants, and atonal blasts of mischievous brass, the Arkestra remain one of the most unmissable live acts today. In 2018, the 83rd Downbeat Readers Poll saw the Arkestra ranked eighth in the “Big Band” category. In the last year alone, the Arkestra has backed Solange and U2, inspired Lady Gaga to include “Rocket Number Nine” as part of her stage show, and welcomed artists like Kamasi Washington and Shabaka Hutchings to join in the fun, opening up the ears of new music audiences globally to a challenging and uniquely defined sound.
As a young musician, Marshall Belford Allen (b. May 25, 1924) performed with pianist Art Simmons, Don Byas, and James Moody before enrolling in the Paris Conservatory of Music. After relocating to Chicago, Allen became a pupil of Sun Ra, subsequently joining the Arkestra in 1958 and leading Sun Ra’s formidable reed section for the next 40 years. Marshall, along with John Gilmore, June Tyson, and James Jacson, lived, rehearsed, toured, and recorded with Sun Ra almost exclusively for much of Sun Ra’s musical career.His membership in the Arkestra makes Allen a pioneer of the Free Jazz movement of the early 1960s, having remarkable influence on the leading voices in the avant-garde. He is featured on over 200 Sun Ra recordings, in addition to collaborations with Phish, Sonic Youth, Digable Planets, and Medeski, Martin & Wood. Allen assumed the position of maestro in 1995, following the ascension of Sun Ra in 1993 and John Gilmore in 1995. Marshall continues to be committed to the study, research, and development of Sun Ra’s musical precepts and has launched the Sun Ra Arkestra into a dimension beyond that of mere “ghost” band by writing fresh arrangements of Sun Ra’s music, as well as composing new music and arrangements for the Arkestra. He works unceasingly to keep the big-band tradition alive.