Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Michael Ray & the Cosmic Krewe Live at Jimmy's - by John Sinclair

Michael Ray & the Cosmic Krewe Live at Jimmy s
Base Camp Records

By John Sinclair

A live concert is the perfect introduction to Michael Ray & the Cosmic Krewe, and this sweaty set of performances from the big stage at Jimmy's in uptown New Orleans during JazzFest is definitely the next best thing to being there.

Of course we re missing the brilliant neon light projections of Jerry Theriot and the high-charged interpretive dancing of Aussetua Amenkin which take the Cosmic Krewe's stage presentations into a whole nother dimension, but the music shines brightly out of the digital grooves of this compact disc and the Krewe is spontaneously enhanced by the presence in its midst of guitarist Trey Anastasio and drummer Jon Fishman of Phish.

Founded in the very early 1990s after trumpeter Michael Ray migrated from the Sun Ra house in Philadelphia to settle in New Orleans, the Cosmic Krewe has slowly and steadily evolved through countless rehearsals and live performances into the hot, tight, fiercely experimental ensemble heard on this recording.

The Krewe has also evolved into sort of a skewed bi-coastal aggregation of stellar instrumentalists drawn from the rich New Orleans music community Ray, drummer Eddie Dejan and percussionist Michael Skinkus and the far-flung creative precincts of the Northeast, which have yielded up saxophonist Dave The Truth Grippo, pianist Adam Klipple, trombonist Don Glasgo, bassist Stacy Starkweather and percussionist Steve Ferraris.

A quick look at Michael Ray's musical resume clearly reveals the roots of the unique fusion of experimental jazz and contemporary dance music that he calls cosmic funk. Since 1978 the trumpet star has functioned as the intergalactic tone specialist for the Sun Ra Arkestra while serving simultaneously as a key member of the horn section for the popular R&B group Kool & the Gang.

Splitting his work time between these two prominent ensembles, Ray came upon a way to fuse the disparate idioms into a Jazz Funk of the Future that could take the music straight down the middle of the rhythmic spectrum and all the way out the realm of free group improvisation.

Settled in New Orleans and convalescing from a serious knee injury sustained in a terrible fall from a slippery stage surface while performing an outdoor concert with the Sun Ra Arkestra in 1991, Ray began to develop the concept of the Cosmic Krewe as a means of realizing his musical ideas.

Ray meditated at length on the twin questions of repertoire and personnel, inviting a small cadre of carefully selected musicians to come over and rehearse some Sun Ra compositions and some of Michael's own original works. The neon sculptor Jerry Theriot was a frequent visitor, and he and Michael explored the possibility of incorporatng Theriot's imaginative creations into the Cosmic Krewe's presentations.

A short residency by Sun Ra & the Arkestra at a college in the Northeast opened the door to a second universe of adventurous players Ray could draft into the Cosmic Krewe. Percussionist Steve Ferrari was named Captain of the Krewe, and trombonist Don Glasgo soon proved one of the Krewe's steadiest members. Dave Grippo, Adam Klipple and Stacy Starkweather came in, and Ray formed a close musical friendship with the guys in Phish while performing with the Krewe in the jam band's home base of Burlington, VT.

Soon Ray started bringing his New England mob down to New Orleans for JazzFest performances and recording sessions and mixing them in with stellar Crescent City musicians like Eddie Dejan, guitarist Carl LeBlanc, saxophonists Tony Dagradi, Tim Green and Clarence Johnston III, and a bevy of percussionists including Kenyatta Simon and fellow Sun Ra alumnus Samurai Celestial.

The fully constituted Krewe soon established its reputation for brilliance, intelligence, excitement and daring by means of a series of legendary performances like the time they almost tore down the Jazz Tent at the Jazz & Heritage Festival when the capacity audience leaped to its feet and started dancing like crazy.

Michael Ray & the Cosmic Krewe can be heard on CD with their debut album on Evidence Records and their 1998 recording for the New Orleans label Monkey Hill, a potent mixture of Sun Ra compositions and original works by Ray and members of the Krewe titled Funk If I Know The disc under hand is the band's first live recording, and it shows off the Krewe's distinct identity to great effect. The music on this disc is the product of another legendary evening with the Cosmic Krewe: the night Trey Anastasio and Jon Fishman joined the band on-stage at Jimmy's music club for a romp through the Krewe's characteristic repertoire.

There are four Sun Ra numbers, including the classics Astro Black and Dancing Shadows, Ray's rearrangement of Ra's space travelogue Saturn #2, plus Neverness and Face the Music. Adam Klipple contributes his composition Pathology, Don Glasgo reprises his Crescent City tribute, Beans and Rice, and Ray weighs in with Champions (a song originally written for Kool & the Gang), the anthemic Earth Rite and Red & Green, a neon work devised in collaboration with Jerry Therio.

A great night, a great band and some really great music: That's the Cosmic Krewe live at Jimmy's one night during JazzFest. Dig it!

New Orleans
October 30, 2002

(c) 2002, 2006 John Sinclair. All Rights reserved.


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