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Sun Sounds Orchestra: Open the Doors E-mail
Friday, 13 January 2006 19:25
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Sun Sounds Orchestra
Open the Doors
Eastlawn Records

By John Sinclair

In the ten years since R.J. Spangler and Rick Steiger organized the 10-piece Sun Messengers jazz orchestra & dance band on Detroit's east side, an increbible series of musical & political events has brought the music of South and West Africa to American and World ears, so that now it is fairly common to hear the sounds of Hugh Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand), Fela Anikelapo Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Commander Ebenezer Ozey and a host of fellow contemporary African composers and music-makers here in the USA and indeed all over the world.

The hard-swinging versions of mbaquana, township jazz, and other modern musical forms from South Africa introduced to Detroiters by the Sun Messengers those many years ago--as part of a repertoire that contained equal parts of Sun Ra & Louis Jordan--have remained close to the hearts of the many fine young Detroit musicians who have passed through the ranks of the Sun Messengers as the band has grown into an immensely popular urban dance squad that's been heard all over the country.

While the band's book has continually expanded to include a wide range of musical styles centered on the dance floor, current and former members of the Messengers have periodically gotten together to perform under the banner of the Sun Sounds Orchestra, leaving their pop-oriented charts at home to concentrate instead on the more esoteric ancestral and Third World musics which originally brought them together.

Now we are blessed with this splendid recording of eight of the African selections from the Sun Sounds Orchestra's wide-ranging roots-music repertoire, featuring compositions by Ibrahim, Masekela, Fela, Miriam Makeba and others (plus a Steiger original, "Deep Six") performed by a stellar aggregation of present and past members of the Sun Messengers family.

Current Messengers spotlighted here include Rick Steiger, trombonist John Paxton, keyboardist Lyman Woodard, guitarist Paul Bauhof, drummer Jerome Spearman, and percussionists Akunda Hollis and R.J. Spangler; the alumni include saxophonists Mark Kieme and Larry Lamb, trumpeters James O'Donnell and Walt Szymanski, bassist Kurt Krahnke, and percussionist Steve Morris.

This extremely hip 13-piece jazz ensemble attacks its well-chosen African charts--arranged for the Sun Sounds Orchestra by Rick Steiger and John Paxton--with soul, intelligence, and emotional abandon, delivering a program of sunny, spicy sounds which is both highly danceable and exciting to hear. Solo spots feature the fluid, deeply moving tenor saxophone of Larry Lamb ("Sister Rosie," "Isomgoma," "Special Branch," "Water No Get Enemy"), Mark Kieme's dancing, darting alto saxophone ("Sister Rosie," "Nytilo-Nytilo," "Water No Get Enemy"), Walt Szymanski's brilliant trumpet work ("Isomgoma," "Water No Get Enemy"), the bongos and congas of Akunda Hollis ("Letter To Prospect Township," "Deep Six"), and Motor City keyboard star Lyman Woodard's perfectly tailored piano and Hammond organ commentaries on the two Hugh Masekela numbers ("Special Branch," "Foyi Foyi").

The four-man drum corps of Jerome Spearman, R.J. Spangler, Akunda Hollis and special guest Steve Morris locks together to lay down a thick yet elaborately detailed carpet of rhythm under the ensemble, buoyed throughout by the tasteful bass of Kurt Krahnke and Paul Bauhof's indispensable guitar.

Long-time musical comrades Rick Steiger, John Paxton and James O'Donnell submerge their considerable improvisational powers in favor of the group image here, contributing impeccable section work and an overall generosity of spirit to the successful realization of the music selected for this important project.

With this recording The Sun Sounds Orchestra truly opens up the doors to the music of their fellow artists from South and West Africa, paying their own brand of Detroit homage to these wonderful composers by accurately reproducing both the sound and the spirit of the music which has furnished them so much inspiration for so many years.

Now we have it in our hands, ready to take into our ears, hearts and minds, and, dear friends, it's been well worth the wait.

September 14, 1990

(c) 1991, 2006 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.