The Brighton Magazine 6 March 2010
Jerry Dammers' Spatial AKA Orchestra: The Space Race Was Done & Dusted @ Brighton Dome
Sun Ra may have claimed to have sourced his musical landscape from the surface of Saturn, but Jerry Dammers' Spatial AKA Orchestra's reinterpretation of the great man's material was simply out of this world at Brighton Dome (05/03).
To many Dammers will be perpetually frozen in time circa 1979 to 1981, but in many ways his current incarnation of arranger, bandleader and performer is producing more forward thinking and challenging material than that of his time as 2-Tone head honcho.
Indeed Dammers sees Sun Ra as much something much deeper than that of simply a musical space cowboy. He was recently quoted as saying:
"Sun Ra was saying that, for black people in America, they could still travel through space mentally, without all the expense of rockets. So his ideas were political."
"We're playing versions of the funkier, groove-based, African end of Sun Ra from the Seventies; hip-hop-influenced, modern versions, very much my arrangements. It's visual and theatrical on stage, too - there are mannequins and masks and helmets."
"Half the band aren't jazz musicians, they're more reggae or rock. They're the best young musicians in Britain. It's a new kind of jazz band. I don't want them to be compared to Jerry Dammers or The Specials. They're so special themselves."
The two-and-a-half hour performance at the Dome wasn't just a tribute to Sun Ra, but also to those who had sung and composed from the same intergalactic hymn sheet.
The late and universally revered Alice Coltrance's "Battle Of Armegedon" brought to the fore the Orchestra's to-die-for rythmn section .. whereas the likes of the Batman Theme (recast as 'Unmask The Batman') and Mike Oldfield's title music from The Exorcist, were both reinterpreted and reborn under the musical leadership of Dammers.
Disguised in Ancient Egyptian stageware, the 18 members of the Orchestra became visible through their playing. Though each was awarded generous solo slots and introductions, they would be happy to admit they were overshadowed by the mere presence of the legendary ska and reggae trombonist, Rico Rodriguez.
Following a stunning rewrite and update of The Specials staple, Ghost Town, the Orchestra, minus Dammers, wound their way out into the foyer - still driving home the Sun Ra message as 'Space is the Place' accompanied us out and into the night. And what an unforgettable night it had been.