London Evening Standard Wednesday 11 March 2009Jerry Dammers Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra
Barbican Hall, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS
The ex-Specials man performs a tribute to jazz eccentric Sun Ra.
Wild night with Jerry Dammers
A wild night began with a synthesised bang and climaxed with the band trooping through the lobby, still playing at full blast. A watching TV producer hopes to film them, a break this outlandish 18-piece outfit deserves. Most jazz groups are visually uninteresting. Not the space-suited Jerry Dammers and his masked and costumed inter-galactic rascals.
Their inspiration is Sun Ra, the iconic bandleader whose “Space is the Place” agenda gave jazz a theatrical dimension that liberated players spiritually. Dammers’s background is more ska than jazz, yet he comes closer than anyone to recreating the iron team-spirit and rugged grandeur of Sun Ra’s sprawling Arkestra.
Dedicated to “mavericks and mystics on the fringes of jazz”, his set included themes by Moondog (Bird’s Lament) and Alice Coltrane (Journey to an Unknown Land) as well as Arkestra favourites such as Nuclear War. Ragged as these arrangements sometimes became, the ensemble never stopped swinging and the solo quality was high. Reliable freelances Finn Peters (flute), Denys Baptiste, Jason Yarde and Nathaniel Facey (saxes) did not disappoint but genuinely weird artists like Larry Stabbbins (tenor sax) and Francine Luce (vocals) sounded most at home. Francine’s artfully birdlike cries were brilliant. Where has she been?
My only complaints were that too many soloists remained seated, and the delightful Zoe Rahman, somehow managing to look slim even in a spacesuit, was not given a proper keyboard solo until the closing minutes.