Black Top is one of the most dynamic and exciting of groups. Their regular collaborative gigs, especially at Cafe Oto, are legendary. Two albums are now out, the first with Steve Williamson and new one with Evan Parker.
Magic Science Quartet:
Henry Grimes (bass), Marshall Allen (saxophone) , Avreeayl Ra (drums), KA (piano)
A further chance to hear is band at the Vortex added for this amazing quartet, featuring Henry Grimes, the legendary bassist and Marshall Allen, the irrespressible nonagenarian leader of the Arkestra (which he joined in 1958). “WOW!!! I’ve never heard a group whose name is more appropriate! The instantaneous dialogue that master musicians Henry Grimes and Marshall Allen call home, inhabiting each string, metal and skin exchange as if palaces from some bygone age when musical royalty really mattered; the irrepressible KA punctuating on all cylinders and in all registers; Henry Grimes transforming foundational harmonies, merging them with the microtonal melodic threads that only he can weave; Avreeayl Ra the magician liquid-dancing between groove and orchestration, channeling space and timbre; and whoosh!! — Marshall Allen’s electronics unite frequency and mystery, precision and folktale, science and magic!” – Marc Medwin
Of their performance on Tuesday at the Cafe Oto, here is the review by Mike Hobart in the Financial Times:
There was indeed a magical thread to this free jazz saga, though the soundscapes conjured were as much science fiction as science fact. Multi-instrumentalist Marshall Allen, currently leading the Sun Ra Arkestra he joined in 1958, introduced the evening mimicking a call to prayer on the kora, though he was soon conjuring otherworldly synthesised bleeps. And with other members of the quartet equally diverse, the evening unfolded through a series of musical tableaux interrupted by occasional blasts of intense free jazz energy led by Allen’s searing alto sax.
Both sets presented two lengthy through-improvised pieces that mixed whistles and drones with the throb of mallets and supported mournful space-age sounds with pulsating off-kilter beats. At their best, the quartet delivered strong moods, rhythmic cohesion and surreal contrasts. Allen’s bop-gun blasts of wind synth came with echoing bass drum asides, high-energy improv was driven by drummer Avreeayl Ra’s venomous cymbal play and lilting synth melodies were accompanied by rampaging concert grand and hints of Latin and funk.
Most of it worked, sometimes brilliantly. But in the lengthy first set opener, the musicians whizzed from pillar to post as though finding their way. Thereafter, though, things settled, and the first half was rounded off by a sequence of beatific duets led off by Allen’s somnolent thrums on kora.
Pianist Ka introduced the second half, strolling through the audience banging her Siberian shaman drum. But, cued by Allen, she returned to the atonal clusters and harp-like shimmers that are her stock in trade. Indeed, it was Allen who gave the evening much of its focus and it was his oblique interjections, as well as the spangly outfits, that added a touch of Sun Ra surrealism to the mix.
That this was something more than a stripped-down version of the Arkestra was down to the strength of character and purposeful playing of Henry Grimes, whose bass lines seethed and surged with purpose while offering limitless possibilities. As something of a bonus, his sometimes beseeching, sometimes playful violin added alternative textures and tones.
The evening eventually petered out with an Allen noodle on Casio mini-synth. It took a smash of drums to cue applause, which was sustained, even at this late hour.