Tyler Mitchell Octet

May 23, 2023

Sun Ra’s Journey
Cellar Music Group CMSL F001

A celebration of one influential musician which burnishes the reputation of two others, Sun Ra’s Journey is as much about the talents of bassist Tyler Mitchell and saxophonist Marshall Allen as the honoree who transitioned from earth in 1993. Veteran bassist Mitchell, 64, played in Sun Ra’s Arkestra as well as other groups such as Art Taylor’s. That means a sonic cornucopia of sounds is interpreted by his top-notch New York octet. At the same time since half the tracks are Sun Ra’s compositions, the bassist has the invaluable support of at least two Arkestra members: percussionist Elson Nacimento and the band’s present leader, reedist Marshall Allen, 98.

If anything negates the shibboleth that Jazz is best played by the young, it’s Mitchell’s and Allen’s work here. The bassist’s ringing pulses propel most of the tunes, while his subtle and expressive solo at the top of “Eddie Harris“ confirms its Blues roots. Then on his own “Bouncing At Smalls” his a capella solo augurs the break between the introduction with lush andante reed harmonies from the three saxophonist and a latter explosion into multiphonic polytones and cacophony with all of the octet screaming out what Sun Ra called space chords.

Interestingly, when performed alongside now mainstream tunes like Monk’s “Skippy”, the Ra material sounds as foot-patting and swinging as anything played by Count Basie. “Care Free” for instance is notable for portamento trumpet shakes from Giveton Gelin and Farid Barron’s boogie-woogie style choring enlivens “Velvet”. Meanwhile that tune and others such as “Love In Outer Space” resolve around contrapuntal vamping from tenor saxophonist Chris Hemingway and the alto saxophones of Nicoletta Manzini and Allen.

Actually it’s the near centenarian who adds most dissonance to the tunes. Interjecting EWI turbulence. Still Allen’s eerie squeals, vibrating echoes and atmospheric tongue flutters never upset the undulating groove, which is further advanced with Hemingway’s breathy tones and drummer Wayne Smith’s backbeat. However his stretched, squealed, slithered and squeezed timbre add interplanetary tinctures in unexpected junctures throughout, as Ra would have appreciated. Down-to-earth while still attaining heightened musicality, with proper exposure, many will want to join this journey.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Care Free 2. Velvet 3. La Dolce Vita 4. Dancing Shadows 5. Eddie Harris 6. Discipline 27-II 7. Bouncing At Smalls 8. Skippy 9. New Dawn 10. Cosmic Hop 11. Love In Outer Space 12. Fate In A Pleasant Mood.

Personnel: Giveton Gelin (trumpet): Marshall Allen (alto saxophone, EVI); Nicoletta Manzini (alto saxophone); Chris Hemingway (tenor saxophone); Farid Barron (piano); Tyler Mitchell (bass); Wayne Smith (drums); Ron McBee, Elson Nacimento (percussion)