Black Hollow Solar Ra: Kronos Quartet and Buddies Become a Jazz Legend

Bob Dylan Readies 27-CD Boxed Set Of 1974 Tour With The Band
Bob Dylan Readies 27-CD Boxed Set Of 1974 Tour With The Band

Kronos Quartet – Outer Spaceways Incorporated: Kronos Quartet & Friends Meet Sun Ra
Red Hot Organization

For the previous entry in the Red Hot and Ra series, the long-running AIDS activist group Red Hot Organization tapped bassist Meshell Ndegeocello to craft a gripping personal narrative from the work of pioneering jazz pianist/bandleader/philosopher Sun Ra. In this latest volume, modernist chamber-music trailblazers Kronos Quartet take the controls and point things in an entirely different direction. 

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The Sun Ra Arkestra, the ensemble Ra led for nearly 40 years until his death in 1993, was a big band in fact if not always in style, and Kronos has called in a wealth of collaborators to match Ra’s boisterous, galaxy-expanding sound. Guests range from experimental luminaries Laurie Anderson (using an AI-voice synthesizer more expressive than her famously detached monotone) and Terry Riley (returning to the loops and tape manipulations of his early days) to electronic artists (Jlin, RP Boo, and Evicshen), and adventurous jazz musicians like Moor Mother and Steven Bernstein’s Sexmob. 

The panoply of talent results in an extravagant, unpredictable, and sometimes chaotic set capturing some, if not all, of Ra’s wide-ranging work—a catalog that reached back to the swanky swing of Duke Ellington and ahead to the otherworldly electronic symphonies of the still-distant future, with stops in free improvisation, Disney ballads, and fusion along the way. 

Current Arkestra bandleader Marshall Allen (who recently turned 100) turns up to play a digital reed instrument, as he did on Ndegeocello’s Ra entry, and New Age legend Laraaji does a compellingly esoteric take on a number from Ra’s stint as a doo-wop impresario. One of the most surprising tracks comes from Mr. Bungle co-founder Trey Spruance’s Secret Chiefs 3 project, turning in a deliriously exotic rendition of “Love in Outerspace” that nails the interdimensional, whimsical bachelor-pad energy so often overlooked in the Ra multiverse. 

While Outer Spaceways can be unwieldy—and sometimes lacking in the deep current of personal expression running through Ra’s oeuvre—it does show how Ra, with his explosive energy, labyrinthine style, and ungovernable spirit, not only explored uncharted worlds, but also created new ones. – GRADE: B

Red Hot Organization/Art by Lorna Simpson

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