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SUN RA ARKESTRA live in the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, Hamburg (November 13th 2022)

Sun Ra Arkestra

Ok, before I start this little report, let's get the unavoidable out of the way! This was my first rodeo in the Elbe Philharmonic Hall (German: Elbphilharmonie or just Elphi), so here are my obligatory smartphone snapshots from the venue:

Or alternatively the Digital Harinezumi toy camera version:

Admittedly I've had better days of taking in a new place, since the only thing going through my mind on the long escalator ride up to the Plaza was I need to pee I need to pee I need to pee I need to...

But let's better focus on the show now:


Well, of course it's impossible to write about this event detached from its venue. Personally I would have preferred another location for various reasons:
As stunning as the architecture and amazing sound design of this concert hall may be - it's just not a place for loud audience participation. In terms of disturbance that may not be the biggest problem for the Sun Ra Arkestra, which plays loud enough ninety percent of the time to drown out any cough or sneeze. On the other hand I just doubt that the über-clean listening experience in the Elphi is what this band in particular requires. Shouldn't jazz be moving away from the "highbrow" cultural sites and into the wild anyway?
There was a certain awkwardness, which reminded me of Anna von Hausswolff's pipe organ concert in  Århus' St. Lukas Church one year ago, where everyone needed a while to figure out when it was appropriate to applaud. Speaking of the audience: In a place like this there will always be many people who don't even come for the music, but either because this kind of venue corresponds to their social status - or because they are tourists, who just happen to visit Hamburg on this weekend. Both groups aren't exactly experts on how live shows work. Lesson: When the show has ended, but there's no music from the speakers and the lights are still dimmed... there might possible be an encore on the way!
So you paid quite a bit more than for a venue that doesn't employ an army of ushers - and then you cannot wait to flee the scene as soon as the band has left the stage? Or did all of you just need to pee so desperately? I feel you (see above), but take my pro advice: Just go before the show starts!

But I'm already ranting about the end, so let me rewind a bit and actually finally talk about the Arkestra!

After two mind-blowing Kampnagel shows in 2018 and 2019 this third encounter sadly missed the key figure of band leader Marshall Allan. It wasn't addressed why exactly he was missing, but I don't think anyone needs that information. The man is freaking ninety-eight years young now, so if he has a cold, you don't put im on a plane across the Atlantic to play a show, period. No question.
Of course those incomprehensibly experienced twelve musicians left on stage didn't have any problem to let others step into the leader role and play a fantastic almost two-hour show.
The only musical component which came shorter than usual was the dirtier side. Of course there still were the joyfully nasty "Angels and Demons at Play", but without Allan's shrill sax solos and his alien electronic wind instrument craziness the scales clearly tipped towards the lighter blends of Sun Ra's legendary catalogue which swirled the big band through classic Hollywood, African and Caribbean moods and also featured a good portion of vocal jazz lead by the wonderful Tara Middleton.

Even though the ensemble always left its players enough freedom to allow adventurous things to happen - and I'm not only talking about one-man-action show Knoel Scott on saxophone, percussion, vocals and dance alone -, in comparison this was kind of the most tame and easy-listening spin on the Arkestra I've seen.
Which was perfectly fine and also suited the surroundings, which just couldn't offer the loud and sweaty immediacy of experiencing this in front of a more regular club stage.

Don't get me wrong: There's a lot to admire about the Elphi hall and its specific production possibilities. And without any trace of doubt this show was great. Nothing but love and respect for this band which has shaped and influenced so much music and culture since the 1950's!

The list of artists I want to see performing here before anywhere else in the future however... remains rather short.

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