As vaguely announced at the end of this post, my friend Hubi and me along with sound engineer Dario went to Poschiavo in summer 2012 to see the Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Maestro Marshall Allen and make a recording of Allen to be released on a limited edition vinyl LP.
Crown Propeller’s blog announces that this record, “Two Stars in The Universe”, featuring duets by Marshall Allen with masterful cellist, bolon/bolong and sarangi player Kash Killion, will now be released as Little Rocket Records LP001 on May 22nd!
So what does it sound like? Have a glimpse at our little promotion video to get an idea:
Note though, that the sound on all video clips in this blog post is directly from the camera’s microphone. The LP sounds much better. A short mp3 excerpt from the original master can be had on request.
Little Rocket LP 001 will be released on May 22nd, 2014
So how did this come to happen? My friend Hubi and me are long time devotees of that cosmic being called Sun Ra. And we both developed a deep love for the idiosyncratic sound of alto saxophonist and now Arkestra leader Marshall Allen.
So when in spring of 2012 we heard that the Arkestra will be accompanying two theatrical productions during three days at the Uncool Festival in Poschiavo (at the the south-eastern end of Switzerland), we had the idea to record Allen playing solo, since we wanted to capture his sound pure and unaccompanied. Since we both are also what you would call vinyl junkies it was decided there and then that we will be trying to release a limited edition vinyl LP and found a little record company that will exist until the copies are sold out.
Marshall Allen and Kash Killion in Poschiavo, June 21, 2012
We decided to try to reach Marshall via Cornelia Müller who runs the Uncool Festival. Finally a week before the Poschiavo event, Marshall let us know through Cornelia that he was ready and willing. Cornelia promised to get a room organized for thursday, June 21. So Hubi, me and our engineer Dario on wednesday made the six hour car ride to see the Arkestra’s evening show and record Marshall the next day.
On the way to Poschiavo in the beautiful Poschiavo valley
I had become sick a day right before our trip and had a bad fever when we arrived in Poschiavo and were told by Cornelia that it was hard to organize a room and that maybe we should ask around the small village for a room to record in on the next morning. I thought: ok, this is the end of our little adventure, as I could not imagine knocking at unsuspecting people’s doors and asking them if we could maybe record some free jazz in there barn or their living room. Nonetheless I managed to enjoy the three hour Arkestra gig that evening. Marshall – at that time 88 years old – was blowing, directing the band, singing, dancing all evening through without ever sitting down for a minute – clearly music is his fuel. Excerpts from that concert can be found here.
I had a sleepless, fevery night and on the next morning Dario, our italian speaking and good looking sound engineer, talked a hotel maid into letting us use the Hotel’s diner room. But then on our way to breakfast we met Cornelia again who told us that she managed to get a room anyway and Marshall would be ready to meet us at 12 o’ clock.
The room turned out to be Cornelia’s living room in her house and artists’ space “Lo Spazio”. The room had very beautiful acoustics – so we were happy. But then Marshall appeared and told us he really was not in the mood for playing solo since he needs (an)other person(s) to react to: “I am a band musician”. So this again sounded like the end of it – but we had the idea to ask Marshall if there is someone in the band he’d like to record in a duo context with. Marshall said that yes, he’d like to record with Kash Killion who is playing cello with the Arkestra on and off since 1991. This sounded very promising to us, so we gathered some more cash together to be able to pay Kash something as well.
Sound engineer “Il Nuovo Presidente” Dario and Marshall Allen
We phoned Kash who was ready to come over from his hotel at once and brought along his cello, a Sarangi – the queen of indian instruments because it is so close to the human voice (Killion has studied the instrument with the great indian master Ali Akbar Khan) – as well as a Bolong (also spelled Bolon) – a harp from west africa that also functions as a percussive instrument when you hit the neck and the gourd.
Marshall and Kash played beautiful improvised music for two and a half hours without ever talking about what to play next and visibly having fun all the while. We just sat there in awe not daring to interfere or make any suggestions like true producers are supposed to do (or are they?).
Here’s a little view into the recording session, Marshall Allen on flute and Kash Killion on Sarangi playing an improvisation they later titled “India Reflections”:
Apart from choosing the tracks for release we did not do any editing or massive post production. We just choose complete tracks as Dario recorded all of this so perfectly – standing in a half bowed, body devastating position in front of the musicians all this time, a little digital recorder in his hands.
“Two Stars in The Universe” as the LP was titled by Marshall and Kash is a beautiful, surprisingly quiet and moody but also very joyful record of many colors. Besides alto saxophone and flute Marshall also plays one of those old small Casio keyboards. I always think he is channeling messages from Sun Ra with it. If you listen to his Casio playing on “Cosmic Blues-Life Of Two”: Hearing the rattling sound of it’s keys struck by Marshall, you’ll notice that he uses the same fluttering up and down hand movements that he uses when producing the freaky alto sounds he is known for. Here is an excerpt from “Cosmo Blues-Life of Two”:
I had to be back at the office the next day, so we had to return. But after I told my girlfriend about the experience, she went down to Poschiavo for the last Arkestra show a day later. After the – again very long concert – Marshall and Kash Killion sat down stage front after most people had already left and played kora and bolon for a while. You can see again that they really enjoy playing together:
All 250 copies of the 180 gram vinyl LP “Two Stars In The Universe” have handprinted (silk-screened) covers. Some are printed in gold on black, some in silver, blue, or white, we think it came out very nice. Here is a little clip from the silk-screening process. Music for this video is an excerpt from an unreleased track, recorded with a photo camera after session for the LP had already ended.
Unfortunately this did not make the thing cheap. This beauty will cost 35 Dollars (postage – which is high – not included). This will hopefully allow us to get back our expenses if nothing more.
The record will be officially released at the Arkestra concert in Zurich on May 22nd, Sun Ra’s 100th Arrival-on-Earth-Jubilee. Since there is no real distribution, the way to go is contact me directly if one wants to obtain a copy. Please use the comment section of this post to get in contact.