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SUN RA ALL STARS: Milan, Zurich, West Berlin, Paris (5 CD set)
In 1983 Ra came to Europe with a pretty impressive ensemble - from the Arkestra he brought Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, Richard Davis and Clifford Jarvis, then adding all-star guests Lester Bowie, Archie Shepp, Don Moye and Philly Joe Jones. The sound is generally good and there is a lot of variety in the material across the shows. More importantly, these concerts are different in character and style from regular Arkestra performances - in a very interesting way. It's a smallish ensemble and every detail counts, the two extra drummers Philly Joe Jones and Don Moye drive a lot of the material in their own way, and this very classy ensemble mutates to the accommodation of different languages with great success. The Arkestra alumni also flourish in this changed environment. Fewer than a quarter of the pieces are Ra compositions, opening up the palette further, and many are unidentified and probably unidentifiable. Berlin is an incredible concert, that gets wilder as it goes along; about half way in the drummers - who one can hear have been provided with a lot of accessory gear, including large gongs - take the lead, especially I suspect Don Moye, and the concert shifts into another gear altogether. The music becomes elemental and completely free. There follows a three-drummer firestorm that's strictly monumental. After that, anything goes. A luminous performance from all concerned and worth the price of the entire set. The sound is compressed (original tape compression, not re-mastering error) and even this works to the advantage of the music, for once. Stunning.