More than a Benjamin Moore paint color…

Essex Green. Also known as Essex Green HC-188. This concentrated green inspires thoughts of storied academic settings overgrown with ivy.*

TheEssexGreen-2 (ticketfly.com)

But this Essex Green is a trio from Brooklyn, with a newish album, and one that’s neck-and-neck with the Brian Jonestown Massacre in the album-of-the-year race: Hardly Electronic, the band’s fourth. This green inspires thoughts of not only “neo-psychedelic pop” (as their label describes them) or 60s-70s folk-pop like Fairport Convention, but anything melodic from one end of rock ‘n’ roll to the other. Dig all those hooks and harmonies…but with a modern (I guess Brooklyn) edge.

TheEssexGreen-albumcover5 (theessexgreen.bandcamp.com)

Right off the bat, Hardly Electronic lets loose with bursts of Feelies-inspired energy and Squeeze-like keyboards (“Sloane Ranger”), Parallel Lines-era Blondie sounds (“The 710”), and a magnificent melding of Belle & Sebastian with perhaps the Go-Go’s? (“Don’t Leave It in Our Hands”). After that, the exquisite “In the Key of Me” features more than a few Joni Mitchell moments along with cello and oboe; a nice electric piano introduces “Modern Rain” which unfolds into a bouncy Beatles/Bee Gees atmosphere; “Catatonic” features a chorus that pairs Sasha Bell’s sparkling vocals with a driving, Pete Townshend-ish guitar; “Bye Bye Crow” is country-twangy; “Waikiki” is Hawaiian-twangy; “Smith & 9th” lets us know we’re in Bklyn, not Calif; and “Bristol Sky” finishes things up quietly with a Syd Barrett-esque, flute-infused waltz.

TheEssexGreen-albumcover2TheEssexGreen-albumcover3TheEssexGreen-albumcover4

TheEssexGreen-1 (hotelcongress.com)

The Essex Green was formed when Bell, Jeff Baron, Chris Ziter, and Michael Barrett (all of the band Guppyboy) moved from Burlington, Vermont to Brooklyn and began gigging around the NYC area. They briefly joined the Elephant 6 Recording Company (the 1990s indie collective that produced the Apples in Stereo, the Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, and others), and released their first album, Everything Is Green, in 1999. The Long Goodbye followed in 2003 on Merge Records, and Cannibal Sea in 2006. Now, a dozen years later, The Essex Green are back. The band recently performed in their hometown at the Knitting Factory, kicking off a two-month national tour, so catch the Essex Green in, like, Omaha, Nebraska on October 8?

TheEssexGreen-benjamin-moore-paint (theroccollective.com)

 

*Description courtesy benjaminmoore.com

Images courtesy ticketfly.com, theessexgreen.bandcamp.com, hotelcongress.com, theroccollective.com

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Space Is the Place!

sun-ra-employment-agency (unz.com)

[Drunk walks into Sun Ra’s employment agency]
Drunk: My man, what’s happenin?
Sun Ra: Everything is happenin.
Drunk: What is this… I mean what… where am I? Who is you?
Sun Ra: I am everything, and nuthin.
Drunk: Nuthin? Well you betta tell me about this nuthin stuff, cause, uh, I need a job. I… I don’t know what to do.
Sun Ra: What have you been doin lately?
Drunk: Uh huh uh, nuthin, really, nuthin.
Sun Ra: How long have you been doing nuthin?
Drunk: Quite some time. Quite some time.
Sun Ra: You must be an expert at it.
Drunk: Got my B.A., ya see.
Sun Ra: We’ll hire you to do that.
Drunk: How much I get paid, man?
Sun Ra: Nuthin.
Drunk: Nuthin? NUTHIN? I got to have sumthin so I can get me anotha botty. I can’t go for that shit!*

sun-ra-space-poster (rottentomatoes.com)So goes a delightfully droll scene in Space Is the Place, the 1974 sci-fi-avant-jazz-social-commentary flick starring Sun Ra, his Arkestra, and various other characters. The storyline centers on Sun Ra as he lands his spaceship (which, head-on, resembles either a pair of eyes or a pair of breasts) in Oakland, California, having been presumed lost in space for a few years – ever since his last European concert tour. What follows is a bizarre, hilarious, at-times disturbing journey through the rise of Black Power by way of the eccentric visions of Mr. Ra. From a card duel between Ra and “the Overseer” to vintage Arkestra performance footage to a slightly X-rated scene in a hospital, Space Is the Place completely entertains while beaming its message to all of us earthlings.

Sun-Ra-spaceship (markbould.com)Sun-Ra-and-the-Overseer (pledgemusic.com)

Last Wednesday evening, August 8, the remaining/current incarnation of the Arkestra took to the stage at the Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors series and performed the soundtrack to Space Is the Place. Having researched the film a bit beforehand, I was anticipating watching it in some online form in the near future, but what a surprise – as the movie began playing in its entirety onscreen behind them! It was a dizzying, deranged combination of the film’s freaky images, the band’s grandiloquent costumes (described recently by one reviewer as “sequin spangled capes and headgear looking a bit like a Las Vegas Star Trek review as imagined by a fan of King Tut”**), the cacophony of otherworldly noises, the ever-present airplanes shooting across the night sky, and the overall sweltering NYC summer air.

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Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors is the place! (photo by me)

Sun-Ra-Space-CD-cover (amazon.com)The actual soundtrack music, recorded in San Francisco in 1972 and long unavailable, was finally released on CD in 1993 on Evidence Music. Sun Ra, who passed – or maybe just became lost in space again – that same year, plays all manner of keyboards: piano, minimoog, Farfisa organ, clavinet, rocksichord (!), while erstwhile Arkestra member Marshall Allen handles the alto saxophone chores, as well as flute, oboe, bassoon, kora, cowbell, and assorted percussion (because “as all marines are riflemen, all members of the Arkestra are percussionists”). Mr. Allen, leading the Arkestra nowadays at age 94, was front-and-center at the show, in sparkling red robe and cap, blowing up a storm, as singer/violinist Tara Middleton more than did justice to original vocalist June Tyson’s soulful stylings on numbers like “Satellites Are Spinning” and the funky title song.

sun-ra-arkestra-under-the-direction-of-marshall-allen-690x448 (ink19.com)               Tara Middleton and Marshall Allen with the Arkestra

“The earth cannot move without music. The earth moves in a certain rhythm, a certain sound, a certain note. When the music stops the earth will stop and everything upon it will die.”

— Sun Ra

sun-ra-colors (djmag.com)

 

* Dialogue courtesy imdb.com/title/tt0072195/

 ** Bob Pomeroy, https://ink19.com/2016/03/magazine/event-reviews/sun-ra-arkestra-under-the-direction-of-marshall-allen

 Images courtesy unz.com, rottentomatoes.com, markbould.com, pledgemusic.com, amazon.com, ink19.com, djmag.com