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Reviews Sun Ra's spirit lives on in veterans' tribute

Tyrone Hill Quartet featuring Marshall Allen
Out of the Box
Tyrone Hill and Elliott Levin Quartet

TROMBONIST Tyrone Hill, born in Philadelphia in 1949, and alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1924, had a combined tenure as members of the Sun Ra Arkestra for more than six decades.

The great “Saturnian” was a huge influence on their musical lives and after he died in 1993 it wasn’t until four years later that Hill made Out of the Box, his first album as leader. His old compadre Allen was there with him, along with bassist Jason Oettel and drummer Samarai Celestial. They all play with a rumbustious zest and power.

The opener is Allen’s Angels and Demons at Play, for decades a Ra classic. The musicians chant about “myth and reality” and the rumbling beat bases a long horn interplay, with Hill’s belching slides and Allen’s eerie horn.

The springing Galactic Dance has a weaving Allen spitting and spluttering his notes and Hill sounding as if he is on a New Orleans street parade.

He turns balladeer on My One and Only Love, a duet of great beauty with Oettel, and Journey to Birmingham is an excursion to Ra’s Alabama home city. Celestial’s pounding skins lead the way and Allen picks up his flute before returning for an animated alto chorus.

Closer Discipline 27 is as if Ra has never left them — as he never did — with Allen at 90 still leading the post-Ra Arkestra around the world. This is all palaver, two veterans in dialogue with instruments and voices: “In some far place/Out there in space/We’ll wait for you.”

In 1999, Hill recorded the album Soul-Etude with Philly-based tenor saxophonist Elliott Levin, homeboys bassist Howard Cooper and drummer Ed Watkins.

Ra’s spirit is signalled again in the first track We’re Living in a Space Age and it's provoked by Cooper’s unaccompanied solo, Hill’s defiant slides and the familiar chorus communally sung with the wild excitation of Levin’s horn.

R.O.D. is slow and mysterious, with Cooper’s pulsating bass below the grieving horns before they burst into terse rejoinders in a fierce ensemble and the pace quickens for Revolving Door. Hill takes a jaunty solo, skipping off Watkins’s buoyant drumbeats, while Levin’s keening tenor bounces off the rhythm.

The last two tracks are very different takes of Hill’s PGC Blues. The first is gently swinging, with Levin flying serenely and Hill gruffly earnest, while the second is looser and freer, like a rendezvous with the old Saturnian.

On both of these albums his spirit hovers over every note.


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