Friday 2nd October 2015, 7.00pm
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. As a member of the Arkestra, Allen pioneered the Free Jazz movement of the early sixties, 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 Arkestra Musical Director 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 arrangement for the Arkestra. He works unceasingly to keep the big-band tradition alive.
Chicago master drummer / percussionist Avereeayl Ra was born in Chicago on May 21st, 1947 and still lives there today. He is a renowned musician always in demand among visiting jazz artists in Chicago. Avreeayl’s father, Arthur “Swinglee” O’Neil, was a tenor saxophonist who was mentor to many young Chicago musicians, including John Gilmore, later the mainstay of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. Avreeayl is a long-term member of the Chicago AACM, his relationship with the seminal music organization having begun with early studies with AACM co-founder Kelan Philip Cohran. Avreeayl has performed and /or recorded with Fred Anderson, Amiri Baraka, Fontella Bass, Lester Bowie, Ari Brown, Oscar Brown, Jr., Henry Butler, Henry Byrd (”Professor Longhair”), Hamid Drake, Malachi Favors, Donald Raphael Garrett, Charles Gayle, Henry Grimes, Billy Harper, Joseph Jarman, Edward “Kidd” Jordan, Nicole Mitchell, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Malachi Thompson, and many more.
The venerable “Chicago Tribune” music critic Howard Reich wrote recently, “An indispensable Chicago innovator, Avreeayl Ra shapes the music-making swirling around him with remarkable precision and poise… extraordinarily sensitive percussion.” Critic John Kelman has described Avreeayl’s playing as “part Tony Williams, part Elvin Jones, and all Avreeayl Ra.” Avreeayl considers himself greatly blessed to have come up in the richly progressive Chicago “avant-garde” jazz community. Though he has lived briefly in New Orleans and New York and has toured widely in the U.S., Canada, Europe, the Far East, and Africa, he has always returned home to live in Chicago. These days Avreeayl devotes much of his time and phenomenal energy to documenting on film the hidden spiritual roots of Chicago music, focusing on the Congo Beach Initiative (inspired by Congo Beach in New Orleans), a drum- and spirit-centered society in which Chicago musicians, dancers, and artists of all descriptions, young and elders alike, have congregated for many years at 63rd Street and Lakefront, playing music and practicing their spiritual and healing arts throughout the night, while developing an undying, evolving, spontaneous, organic communal life based in the rhythms, sounds, images, and spirituality of the African-American soul. Avreeayl is also documenting the Chicago jazz community, in particular life stories of the elders in the music. Another Avreeayl Ra project is the study and documentation of modalities for healing and spiritual balance, both inside and outside the music.
KA’s dream was to play the piano, and it came true in 1995 when she unexpectedly acquired a grand piano in her apartment in Berlin. She started to play it in an experimental way, investigating the sounds of the instrument, and slowly developed her own style and language in improvised music. Her interest in jazz and improvised music was nourished by many fantastic concerts of traveling international musicians she was able to hear during her stay in Berlin in the nineties. All this rich experience guided her in her own progression and led to the vision and realization of the UNCOOL Festival of Jazz, Improvised Music, Ethno and Cosmo Music after she moved to Poschiavo in the southern Swiss Alps. She was able to create eight exceptional consecutive festivals from 1999 to 2012, and she also showed her own works at the festivals. KA was first onstage with Maestro Marshall Allen and Avreeayl Ra (2009), later with Manolo Cabras (2011), Riccardo Luppi, Matteo Lorito and Filippo Monico (2013), and recently also with Henry Grimes (2014). KA has also realized several sound installations based on a double spiral construction and including radio sounds, a large variety of animal voices, the rhythms of rain and thunderstorms, sounds of mountain springs and waterfalls, and her piano music.
KA’s interest in sound also includes the written and spoken word. She likes to rewrite some of the ancient tales, such as The Gordian Knot and Oedipus, but shifting the emphasis to draw attention to the actual messages of the stories that are hidden behind the common interpretation. A crucial impact was meeting the Siberian shaman Ai-Tchourek in Kyzyl, Tuva, who showed and taught KA the healing rites of shamanic tradition. Ai-Tchourek also gave KA a magic shaman drum that KA uses for healing and in performances. During her live music performances, she also uses the projection of her own digital photographs dealing with nature or light. From 2013 onwards, she has offered the Artists in Residence program at Poschiavo for gifted artists and musicians, a platform for creating new works and for concerts and exhibitions.