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The Respect Sextet - Sirirus Respect: The Respect Sextet Play the Music of Sun Ra and Stockhausen

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Artist: The Respect Sextet

Album: Sirirus Respect: The Respect Sextet Play the Music of Sun Ra and Stockhausen

Label: Mode / Avant

Review date: May. 28, 2009

The Respect Sextet are no strangers to cover tunes. In the past, this New York ensemble has reworked the music of Albert Ayler, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Misha Mengelberg, and others. But on Sirius Respect, they’ve turned their sights on the stars. Mining some of the more cosmically-themed material of Sun Ra and Karlheinz Stockhausen and amalgamating it all into one cohesive disc of jazz is a daunting task, to be sure, but the Respect Sextet seem up to the challenge.

The sextet selected Sun Ra material largely from the 1960s, and largely avoided the Saturnian’s most out work. These are buffeted with Stockhausen pieces from the 1974-75 series Tierkreis (Zodiac), as well as a few others. The Respect Sextet intentionally culled work from Stockhausen’s massive oeuvre in which instrumentation isn’t specified, or in the case of “Set Sail for the Sun,” in which the actual sounds created are left to the musicians reading the score. The tracks by each composer are, for the most part, alternated, and while there’s rarely much doubt as to whose piece is whose, Sirius Respect isn’t too bumpy a journey. The degree of cohesiveness between the selections is illustrated (and perhaps exaggerated) by an arrangement that combines Stockhausen’s “Capricorn” with Sun Ra’s “Saturn” on the disc’s closing track.

As Sun Ra’s Arkestra was often a good bit larger that the six players that make up the Respect Sextet, some adaptation of his material was needed. Luckily, the sextet aren’t the type to play things straight, and they have a bit of fun. Concentrating on the main theme of “Jet Flight,” the sextet generate music with a more blustery funk than the 1961 original, with Ted Poor’s percussion packing a wallop and Red Wierenga’s piano noticeably more understated in the mix than Sun Ra’s was in the original. “El is the Sound of Joy” is rendered nearly unrecognizable for six minutes or so; in the sextet’s reimaginings of Sun Ra’s tunes, melodies are dissected, removed from their original contexts, and seemingly secondary sounds, for a time, often receive the spotlight. “Velvet,” a slice of 1960s bop, is probably the most straight-on Ra selection on the disc, but it exists in a truncated, 52-second incarnation. For a performer who liked so often to fiddle with his own tunes and those of others, it’s fitting that Sun Ra gets the same treatment here, and there’s likely to be no consternation from the faithful when, say, Marshall Allen’s flute is replaced by Eli Ahser’s trumpet and “Angels and Demons at Play” is extended threefold, into a sometimes scattered nine minutes.

The Stockhausen compositions included on Sirius Respect feel almost like segues between the Sun Ra tracks, though this doesn’t subjugate them to the level of Sirius Respect‘s second-class citizens. The openness of Stockhausen’s scores or compositional directives for these pieces allows the sextet to shape them as they wish, and while “Pisces,” one of Stockhausen’s Tierkreis segments, is transformed via a full-on jazz treatment, much of the other work by the composer makes for the disc’s most abstract work. The elegiac melody of “Leo” emerges only after a long series of drones, and “Set Sail for the Sun” remains wholly in the land of a rich, minimalist hum. The Stockhausen selections represent a more stoic, and often darker tone not usually shown by the sextet’s Sun Ra renditions, and the shift in energy between the two is often palpable. But there’s no sense that the Stockhausen tracks are any less an important part of the disc; for a group schooled in jazz, it might be easy to toss off these extracurricular endeavors, but there’s none of that here.

The disc’s last track, Josh Rutner’s merging of “Capricorn” and “Saturn,” is probably the disc’s most ambitious, but also its least successful. Rutner’s attempt at amalgamation doesn’t fully gel, leaving a single track with definite sections; it must be noted, though, that the group fjords the space between the two nicely, and while a true marriage of the two works isn’t wholly birthed, the track certainly doesn’t sound like some patchwork monstrosity.

In the end, the Respect Sextet don’t pull off their covers with the verve of their originators, but, especially in the case of the leaner arrangements of the Sun Ra tunes, these renditions are more than the standard, blind faith covers trotted out by many. It takes skill to faithfully mimic the work of the masters, but it takes more than just talent to turn seminal compositions into something new. Such work requires a balance between the integrity of the source and the spirit of the new performers, what one might call a certain brand of respect. In the case of this sextet, such respect isn’t just a part of their name, it’s also clearly part of their game.

By Adam Strohm

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