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Tyler Mitchell Octet featuring Marshall Allen - Sun Ra’s Journey (Cellar Music)

18 January 2023

Tyler Mitchell may be a longstanding member of the Sun Ra Arkestra, but the bassist also leads his own bands, often with his Arkestra boss Marshall Allen in tow. Captured live at Small’s as part of the SmallsLive Living Masters Series, Sun Ra’s Journey spotlights the former Herman Blount’s repertoire, throwing in a few post-Ra originals for good measure. A deeply eccentric but comfortably musical genius, Ra was devoted equally to Afro-Futuristic mythology, space-bound experimentation and old-fashioned swinging bop, and Mitchell’s Octet sticks to the master’s program here. The master’s “Discipline 27-11” and “Dancing Shadows” and Allen’s “Cosmic Hop” show off both sides of Ra’s personality to good effect, featuring catchy tunes, danceable rhythms, and some striking saxual skronk. The group gets gets into stranger things from time to time – check out the way the rhythm and melody rub up against each other on Thelonious Monk’s “Skippy,” the free-for-all that heralds Ra’s “Love in Outer Space,” or Allen’s Outer Limits EVI work on his own “New Dawn” – but the Octet always keeps things as musical as possible. Buy into Ra’s cosmic weirdness or don’t, but the man knew how to convey the joy of life in his music, and Mitchell, Allen and company confirm they’re kindred spirits on Sun Ra’s Journey.