Setting a Lively Table in Take Five: Dinner Party, Sun Ra Arkestra, Immanuel Wilkins, Anteloper

Jun 28, 2020

(Complete with a dessert course served by Benny Green.)

Sun Ra Arkestra Under the Direction of Marshall Allen, “Seductive Fantasy”

The pioneering keyboardist composer and bandleader known as Sun Ra left the planet more than a quarter century ago — but if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to experience his Arkestra lately, you know his legacy is not just alive but thriving.

Under the inexhaustible stewardship of saxophonist Marshall Allen, who turned 96 last month, the band is very much an active proposition, not only as a Ra-devoted repertory band but also as a living organism. Fresh evidence for this claim is forthcoming on the British label Strut, which just released a lead single and accompanying video.

The song is “Seductive Fantasy,” which Sun Ra included on his 1979 album On Jupiter. This new version features less abstraction, putting emphasis on a desert ostinato played by the late Danny Ray Thompson on baritone saxophone. This is the first new Arkestra studio recording since 1999; its video was animated by Chad van Gaalen, the Canadian indie-rock and electronic artist also known as Black Mold.

Dinner Party, “Freeze Tag”

Harsh realities meet supple artisty on “Freeze Tag,” the first single by a new supergroup called Dinner Party. Composed of tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, alto saxophonist and producer Terrace Martin, keyboardist Robert Glasper and DJ and producer 9th Wonder, the group will release its self-titled debut on July 10, on Sounds of Crenshaw/Empire.

The vocals on “Freeze Tag” are by Phoelix, the producer and multi-instrumentalist behind recent albums by Jamila Woods and Noname. Over a buttery R&B groove, he sings coolly about a distressing encounter with law enforcement:

They told me put my hands up behind my head

I think they got the wrong one

I’m sick and tired of runnin’

Phoelix’s delivery might seem incongruous, but then so do the head-nod groove and slick horn riff on the track — an indication that Dinner Party is intent on subverting expectations, of one sort or another.

Dinner Party will be released on July 10; preorder here.

Immanuel Wilkins, “Warriors”

Alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins has been a force on the ground in New York for the last five years, and a proud product of Philadelphia before that. If you haven’t caught him in action yet, perhaps you heard him on the recent Blue Note debut by vibraphonist Joel Ross, an exemplar of his post-bop peer group. Now Wilkins is about to release his own auspicious debut, Omega, featuring an explosive rhythm team of pianist Micah Thomas, bassist Daryl Johns and drummer Kweku Sumbry.

Omega was produced by Jason Moran, a former Blue Note artist who has been a mentor to Wilkins, and whose influence can be heard in flashes on the album. (I hear it clearly in the harmonic incantation of “Ferguson — An American Tradition.”) The album opens strong with “Warriors,” which has a quick-twitch melody that the quartet handles smoothly. “It’s about friendships, family, your hood, and your community,” Wilkins says of the song, in an album press release. “It’s about us serving as warriors for whatever we believe in.”

Omega will be released on Blue Note on Aug. 7; preorder here.

Anteloper, “Bubble Under”

Trumpeter Jaimie Branch and drummer Jason Nazary make up Anteloper, an improvising duo with a keen command of sonic manipulation. A couple of years ago, Branch held a residency at Pioneer Works, near her apartment in Red Hook, Brooklyn. She invited Nazary to join in spontaneous creation, and the two musicians produced what would become Tour Beats Vol. 1 — initially a cassette-only recording distributed at gigs, and soon to be a fully fledged release on International Anthem.


“Bubble Under,” the opening track, sets the tone straightaway, with drumbeats both synthetic and sampled, and trumpet playing subjected to various effects. Both artists are adept at incorporating electronics in a live setting, and these results (as on Kudu, from 2018) demonstrate how fluent they are at conjuring three-dimensional spaces out of thin air.

Tour Beats Vol. 1 will be released on Wednesday; preorder here.

Benny Green, “Harold Land”

Though he’ll forever be known as a purveyor of straight-ahead piano, Benny Green has substantial history with the warmly chiming tone of a Fender Rhodes. As a child of the 1970s, he writes in the liner notes to his new album, Benny’s Crib, that sound was inviting and omnipresent: “The sound of the Fender Rhodes and the Wurlitzer were heard regularly on the radio and records played at parties while I was a kid.”

  

 

 

On Green’s tune “Harold Land,” a tribute to the late saxophonist by that name, you’ll hear fond echoes of a late-‘70s album like Chick Corea’s Friends. As on the rest of Benny’s Crib, the bassist is David Wong and the drummer is Aaron Kimmel. On flute is Anne Drummond, who actually recorded this tune herself in 2012.

That Benny’s Crib features the Rhodes extensively — a first for Green — was apparently not by design. “I don’t believe that I was seeking to make any more of a statement by featuring the Rhodes on this album than simply going with my heart in what I was hearing at the time,” he says in his notes. Given the heartfelt results, this surely won’t be the last we hear of it.