Space Is the Place!

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[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 ( 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.

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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.

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

Sun-Ra-Space-CD-cover ( 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 (               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

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* Dialogue courtesy

 ** Bob Pomeroy,

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An American in Berlin (and one of the best albums yet of 2018)

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In the aftermath of celebrity chef/writer/traveler/TV host/cool dude Anthony Bourdain’s tragic suicide, news channel CNN elected to continue airing the remaining episodes of Mr. Bourdain’s series Parts Unknown. A recent segment, showcasing the city of Berlin, features a guy named Anton Newcombe, founder and frontman of the band known as the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Born in California but now making his home in Berlin, Anton Newcombe formed the band in San Francisco in 1990…and has not stopped since. Doing his own thing his own way, the guy has released 17 albums under the Brian Jonestown Massacre name, toured the world, produced works by other artists, built his own studio in Berlin, and formed a record label with, according to Newcombe, “175 catalog numbers.”

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Now in mid-2018, say hello to Something Else, the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s 17th studio album…and one of the most incredible releases so far this year. Elements of Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Stone Roses, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the Velvet Underground all coagulate into an intensely ear-catching casserole of nine tracks, beginning with the just-drum-heavy-enough groove of “Hold That Thought” and culminating with the eight-minute-long, Syd Barrett-meets-“Venus in Furs” exercise “Silent Stream.” In between are some of the most perfectly-crafted sounds of 2018: “Psychic Lips” recalls that Echo vibe; “Animal Wisdom,” the album’s only instrumental, flashes Brian Jones-era (but of course) Stones guitars over a delicious organ drone; Guided By Voices crash into the Fall (well drummer Karl Burns anyway) on “Skin and Bones”; psychedelic percussion and more Jones-y guitars drive the radiant “My Love,” which segues into the ever-present question, “Who dreams of cats?”.

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The Brian Jonestown Massacre will be on tour in Europe from August through October, so if you happen to be over on that side of the world…

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Fun, funny & fulla surprises: Chandler Travis is back

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I never got to listen to Pet Sounds in its entirety, from start to finish, for the first time. Not in 1966 when it came out, and not in 1988 when I discovered many of its scintillating songs separately on a homemade compilation tape. In the meantime the album’s hits had made their way into my ears on their own. But in the mid-70s there were a couple of under-the-radar groups – Sparks and Wizzard – whose records I listened to all the way through having never heard them before (though I was familiar with a handful of their songs from the bands’ performances on rock TV shows). Those listening adventures were fun, funny, and fulla surprises!

Now take the Pet Sounds experience (what it might’ve been anyway), and add, say, the Propaganda and Introducing Eddy & The Falcons experiences – and you get something approaching my state of mind and ears listening to the twelve tracks on Backward Crooked from the Sunset, the new album by the Chandler Travis Three-O on Iddy Biddy Records. Fun? Completely. Funny? Yes, or perhaps more witty. Fulla surprises? At every turn. And like that beautiful (if slightly over-referenced) Beach Boys album, blossoming with lush instrumentation and haunting harmonies.

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The lead-off title track bounces along with lyrics that set the scene: “Lost as lost can be.” “Happy Channy Oberek,” one of two instrumentals on the album, glides in and out with pleasant melodies played by Dixieland horns. The Johnny Cash-style beginning of “All the Little Things” is one of those smile-inducing moments – like when Roy Wood takes Del Shannon’s “Runaway” and, uh, runs away with it on “Everyday I Wonder.” “More Than This Night” features everything from gentle bells to a lovely clarinet passage to a Ray Davies-like chorus to a moody violin ending. The Kinks influence continues on “Settling for Less” – with perhaps the album’s most entertaining lyrical moments and more of that Travis trademark Dixieland. “Salad Days” offers some familiar melodies, including “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” (which I always equate with Alfalfa’s squeaky – and bubbly, haha – rendition on The Little Rascals). The album continues with the hilarious lullaby “Shut Up,” which Chandler describes as “chamber music for the insecure,” and the gorgeous grand finale “Not in Service.” But the centerpiece is the incredible “Disappointment,” which brings it all together with clever lyrics, minimal instruments, and then – with a Wilson-esque falsetto – lets loose with a middle section that simply soars.

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The Chandler Travis Three-O evolved out of the much larger Chandler Travis Philharmonic (that ensemble’s Waving Kissyhead Vol. 2 & 1 was reviewed here), when Mr. Travis was invited to play at a couple of smaller venues in his native Cape Cod. Taking bassist John Clark and horns/keys guy Berke McKelvey (plus vocalist and “valet” Fred Boak, who “puts the ‘O’ in the Three-O” – go figure), a new creature was born, simultaneously more intimate and more adventurous. The band’ll be appearing somewhere in Massachusetts nearly every day this summer, so if you’re in the vicinity stop on by!


Images courtesy,,, Cliff Spencer and Bethany Bultman/

Here we go, another Canadian female surf band (huh?)

From Toronto, Ontario, the birthplace of Neil Young, Rush, and the Band, comes…what the? A 1960s-style instrumental surf rock band of four ladies performing a Britney Spears song? How schizomusical can you get??

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Yes, it’s true. Behold the Surfrajettes! Sarah Butler, Nicole Damoff, Shermy Freeman, and Anna Liebel play music that’s part Ventures, part…well, any other cool surf guitar band you can think of, and look stunning playing it. Clad in gold mini-dresses, white go-go boots, and even matching beehive hairdos, the Surfrajettes let it rip with “Toxic,” Spears’ 2004 top ten hit from the album In the Zone. And it works! The song’s up-and-down hooks lend themselves perfectly to the twangy surf style that guitarists Damoff and Freeman have down to a tee. And the baby-blue amps, sparse drum kit with fun psychedelic band logo (the “S” is a stylized wave), and Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired suburban living room setting only add to the perfection.

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Last year the Surfrajettes unleashed their West Coast sounds on the East Coast, performing at the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival alongside the legendary Dick Dale and Nashville-based, guitar-instrumentalists Los Straitjackets. Later this summer they’ll do it again – check ‘em out on August 19 at the Asbury Hotel Hangover Pool Party! And of course they play in their native Canada every chance they get, so if you’re ever up that way…

Surfrajettes-cover ( far the band has one official release, a three-track EP of original material brandishing song titles that tout the female side of things while remaining very tongue-in-cheek: “Cha Cha Heels,” “Mrs. Moto,” and “Undercover Secretary.” Hopefully these songs and the “Toxic” video are only the ripples before the big banzai – a full album, more crazy covers, and beyond!


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Now Appearing: The Disappearing Man

Byron+Isaacs+Lumineers ( Isaacs. A relatively unassuming name buried in the musician credits of many recent records. Peruse the liner notes of Levon Helm’s 2007 album Dirt Farmer, or recent releases by Ryan Adams, Joan Baez, Brazilian Girls, Levon’s daughter Amy Helm…as well as NYC folk band Ollabelle and the current incarnation of The Lumineers, and there it appears. Now it’s attached to one of the best albums to come out in 2018, ironically entitled Disappearing Man. Showcasing nine tunes all written or co-written by Isaacs, the album is due out June 12 on Cosmic Trigger Records.

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The debut solo recording by Isaacs, Disappearing Man opens with “Losing You,” immediately bringing to mind the John Lennon song of (almost) the same name, “I’m Losing You” from Double Fantasy. In fact, Isaacs’ voice does often approach that of Lennon, especially on “Crazy Love” and the engaging title track, which appears to borrow chords from – at least to my Fall-fan ears – The Fall’s “Hotel Bloedel.” Elsewhere, Isaacs emulates Neil Young (“Shadows on the Wall”) and the late, great Tom Petty (”Man of the Times”). On “Summer,” Byron and band create a lovely landscape of pulsating keyboards and acoustic guitar befitting the idyllism (wait, is that a word?) of the song’s title. But the pièce de résistance is the second-to-last track, the Robyn-Hitchcock-meets-Rolling-Stones rocker “Daddy’s Farm.” Now there’s a hit!

Disappearing Man was co-produced by Hector Castillo (who’s worked with David Bowie, Philip Glass, Suzanne Vega, and Bjork among others) and Brian Cullman (who’s produced sessions for Lucinda Williams and put out a couple of albums under his own name). Keyboardist Glenn Patscha, guitarist Chris Masterson, and drummer David Berger – as well as percussionist Joe Bonadio, woodwind player John Ellis, and string arranger John Lissauer – join Byron on his inaugural solo voyage.

Bassist-singer-songwriter by trade, Byron Isaacs was born in Texas and now makes Brooklyn his home. The record release party is at The Loft space at City Winery in NYC on June 12, so come check out the…appearance…of the Disappearing Man, Byron Isaacs!

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Meanwhile, in Baltimore…

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Baltimore, Maryland. Filmmaker John Waters, jazz pianist Eubie Blake, and actor John Astin were born there. Edgar Allan Poe died there. When I was a kid my father’s favorite baseball team was not the Yankees or the Mets but the Baltimore Orioles. And now…Epifo Music! Described as “a boutique record label and artist development firm headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland,” Epifo has been releasing music since around 2006. Ever hear of Viking Moses or Golden Ghost? Didn’t think so…but take a listen to The Conquest Night or The Unimaginative Body. So? How does this relate to current events you ask? Well here are three new 2018 releases from EPIFO logo (

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Hamish Hawk & The New Outfit – From Zero to One

Scottish singer/songwriter Hamish Hawk has one those voices that sounds like…somebody…something…an expressive, eccentric baritone that brings to my mind Stan Ridgway of 80s cowpunk-new-wavers Wall of Voodoo. That voice is completely at home in the midst of his four-piece band since 2015, The New Outfit: Andrew Pearson (guitar, mandolin), Alex Duthie (bass), John Cashman (keys), and Barry Carty (drums). Let the Scottishness (Scotchness?) pour over you as Hawk and his henchmen sing of nomads, blueprints, and the Hubble Space Telescope. Pick hits: “Goldenacre,” “Dashing White Sergeant

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Adrian Aardvark – Dying Optimistically

From way up in Plattsburgh, New York comes the quizzical quartet called Adrian Aardvark: singer/guitarist/songwriter Christopher Jay Stott-Rigsbee, violinist/keyboardist Shannon Stott-Rigsbee, upright bassist Catherine Harrison-Wurster, and drummer Christopher Lee Shacklett. Yeah that’s a helluva lotta names. Well, it seems Mr. Shacklett has been replaced by two-name guy Daz Bird on this CD, so… Let’s call this, unique vocalizing – a bit Robert Smith (the Cure), a bit Jonathan Richman – over a big, fat foundation of fuzz guitar, violin, melodica, and strange buzzing keyboards. Sort of the musical equivalent of…the aardvark? And some colorfully gruesome cover art too. Pick hits: “Little Girl,” “Get Gotten

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Jesse Ainslie – Only in the Dark (out May 18)

Drawing from the emotional, often troubled songwriting of Warren Zevon, the homestyle vocals of Jackson Browne, and the magnificent guitar walls of Crazy Horse, it’s guitarist/vocalist Jesse Ainslie (ex-Phosphorescent, Virgin Forest, and Castanets – hmm, more not-exactly household names but worth checking out, especially Castanets). From Chapel Hill, North Carolina by way of Florida and NYC, Ainslie churns up eight flavorful rock recipes featuring keyboardist James Hallawell, bassist Jeff Crawford, and drummer Daniel Hall. Perfect soundtrack for upcoming summer days…and nights, doing stuff only in the dark.  Pick hits: “Caroline,” “Only in the Dark

So, uh, go Orioles! (Oh come on, New Yawkers, I kid)

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Coney Fan Tutte?

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If Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were air-lifted out of eighteenth-century Vienna and plopped into Coney Island circa 1950-something, he would undoubtedly fit right in among the brightly-lit thrill rides, oddball sideshows, and gritty vendors selling piles of popcorn and cotton candy. Picture Tom Hulce’s giggling Amadeus character skipping around the modern-day boardwalk, grinning and staring wide-eyed at the Parachute Jump and the Thunderbolt, the iconic “Steeplechase Funny Face” grinning right back at him! Which is why the setting of the Metropolitan Opera’s latest presentation of Mozart’s comic opera Così fan tutte, which just concluded a month-long run, seems to work like a charm. Instead of a café in Italy, the action unfolds at a 1950s American seaside resort and amusement park. From the cheap motel with bright blue neon sign, to the actual sideshow performers (including sword swallower, fire eater, and bearded lady), to the constantly-turning Wonder Wheel in the background, the Met’s colorful interpretation is a magnificent mashup of Naples and Nathan’s.

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Così fan tutte follows the escapades of Fiordiligi, Dorabella, Ferrando, and Guglielmo (played by Amanda Majeski, Serena Malfi, Ben Bliss, and Adam Plachetka, respectively) – two pairs of lovers who test each other’s fidelity in a game of lighthearted deception and disguise, as the guys’ friend Don Alfonso (Christopher Maltman) wagers that their fiancées are as fickle as any other girls. The boys pretend to sail off to war, then, dressed as “Albanians” complete with mustaches, they each attempt to seduce the other’s mate. In the end Don Alfonso wins the bet, hence the opera’s title – Così fan tutte – “So do they all” or, more precisely, “All women are like that.” Rounding out the cast is Despina the maid, portrayed in scene-stealing fashion by Tony winner Kelli O’Hara, forever going in and out of doors on the revolving motel room set as she dispenses radical advice to the two young ladies.

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Nowadays it seems like a storyline of this type and all its ensuing action could fit into the space of a half-hour sitcom…but of course in Mozart’s pre-TV, pre-movies, pre-Internet day, an audience was probably very happy to sit through a three-hour-plus opera on a Saturday night, after a week of toiling away at blacksmith and seamstress jobs.

So let’s fire up that famous overture…and imagine the rambunctious Mr. Mozart transplanted into the twentieth century, riding the Cyclone and spinning around in polkadot teacups! Coney fan tutte!

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YouTube video courtesy Till Rye