Sun Ra Arkestra in Portugal

The concerts of the ...

Sun Ra Arkestra in Portugal

The Sun Ra Arkestra gave three concerts in Portugal:

- one in the Summer of 1982
- two in the Summer of 1985.

Sound samples
Why this page?


Last updated on: 19-Jul-1996
Page created on: 12-May-1996
Page created by: A.Miguel Dias

The two 1985 Concerts (Jazz em Agosto/85 - Lisbon)

The Sun Ra Arkestra performed on Thursday, August 1, and on Saturday, August 3, at the first two nights of the Jazz em Agosto/85 Festival. Both the concerts were held at the open-air amphitheater of Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon.

Excerpts of these concerts were broadcast later and, fortunately, they were preserved on a 90min tape. Robert L. Campbell (rlc) heard the tape and managed to extract lots of information from it: here.

Some abridged translations from the Portuguese press on the 1985 concerts

+Correio da Manha 3/Aug/85 page 11 [1 photo]

-Packed auditorium. There were around 1500 seats prepared, but due to high demand it was decided to make room for a few hundreds more. [Such high demand is unusual for a Jazz concert.]
-12 musicians plus two dancers. [Probably incorrect (rlc)]
-Surprising visual show, colorful and bizarre.
- Amazing presence of Ra on the stage. He managed to control almost telepathically the anarchy of the orchestra.
-Several paragraphs about the philosophy and mysticism of Sun Ra.

+Diario de Lisboa 2/Aug/85 page 19 [1 photo] (Rui Eduardo Pais)

-Sun Ra is hard to catalog.
-Fully booked auditorium.
-Some descriptive paragraphs about the behavior of Sun Ra during the concert: his hands, the aerial on his turban, the dancers, the moods and twists of the music, etc. The audience was enthusiastic, reacting more to the music than to the visual. Even some non jazz fans was enjoying the performance.
-Jazz can also be theater, philosophy, mysticism. This does not necessarily erode the quality of the music.

+Expresso 10/Aug/85 page 36-R [3 photos] (Raul Vaz Bernardo)

-Two concerts given by the Sun Ra Arkestra opened the Jazz em Agosto Festival/85.
-Festive events.
-The show-off would not be viable with low quality music.
-In a music that emphasized the thrills, the improvisational skills of the musicians were immediately provoked.
-Sun Ra proved to be a musician with a notable harmonic imagination.
-"With only two brass instruments (one trumpet and one trombone), Ra intertwines them with four or six reed instruments in such a way that the whole orchestral sound, far from lacking in power, gains admirable malleability and a fluidity. The rhythm section, using an acoustic bass and an electric bass, generates a network of low frequency sounds suitable for the Sun Ra orchestrations. And last but not least the Arkestra is a world of percussion."
-Ronald Wilson showed fluency and drive in the blues pieces and in Mack the Knife (dedicated to Armstrong). In the piccolo he played with swing. Marshall Allen was very lyrical in I got it bad. John Gilmore, in good form, played tenor sax and also clarinet in Mack the Knife.
-On the second concert (Saturday), Sun Ra, in good mood, played delicious stride piano in I want to be happy. In the same piece John Gilmore played half a dozen of very inspirited chorus.
-In one of the photos, Danny Thompson is blowing his tenor saxophone while lying on the back with both legs pointing upwards. [He used to do it a lot (rlc)]

The Jazz em Agosto Festival

This Festival started up in 1984 and still lives on. Every year during the Festival, throughout August, there are around 8 concerts at Fundacao Calouste Glubenkian, two by week.

In 1985 the Festival was organized by Rui Neves, a well known personality of the Portuguese radio and jazz/improv scene. In 1985 all the groups invited to the Festival - Sun Ra Arkestra, Dave Holland Quintet and others - were his personal choices.

Also in 1985 the Festival was sponsored by the Portuguese radio network RDP Comercial FM Stereo. This network did broadcast later extracts of some of the concerts, including two 50-minute segments by the Arkestra.

The Portuguese public TV network - RTP - videotaped the concert of Dave Holland. Unfortunately they overlooked the Arkestra.

The following section includes some sound samples encoded in the AIFF-C format. They are a bit noisy due to sound-compression. Try this small one [38Kb] and check if your browser can handle it. If not, try to get help in Lisbon FM.

Robert Campbell on the 1985 Lisbon concerts

[Author of the book: The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra, Robert L. Campbell, Cadence N.Y. (1994)]

"This was one of the Arkestra's better concerts from 1985. There are more improvised numbers than usual, and Sunny is particularly inspired during the first set. There are other interesting oddities, like Ronald Wilson's piccolo solos on both blues, and the longest Eloe Omoe solo I've ever heard (on contra-alto clarinet, no less, during the improvised ballad in the second set). With Marshall, John, and Ronald Wilson all in top form the reed section is very strong." (rlc - May/1996)

Personnel and tunes (rlc 22-May-1996)

330a.  Sun Ra Arkestra

Sun Ra (p, voc); Ronnie Brown (tp, flg); Tyrone Hill (tb); Marshall Allen
(as, fl, picc, EVI, perc); John Gilmore (ts, cl, EVI, timb, voc); Eloe Omoe
(as, bcl, contra-alto cl, EVI, perc); Ronald Wilson (ts, picc); Danny Ray
Thompson (bs, as, fl, perc); James Jacson (bsn, Ancient Egyptian Infinity
Drum); Bruce Edwards (eg); Rollo Radford (eb); prob. Oscar "Bobo" Brown
(picc b); Avreeayl Ra Amen (d, perc); Tommy "Bugs" Hunter (d); unidentified
(perc); unidentified female (dance); June Tyson (voc, dance).
        Anfiteatro ao Ar Livre da Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian,
        Lisboa, August 1, 1985

1st set:
untitled improvisation [gongs, perc; arco b;            radio broadcast 1
   perc; Infinity Drum]
A Different Horizon (Ra) [JT, ens voc]                          -
untitled improvisation (Ra) [cond ens] [186Kb]                  -
Discipline 27-II (Ra) /                                         -
Children of the Sun (Ra) [SR, ens voc] [186Kb]                  -
untitled improvisation [freakout ens; Hill, tb; Gilmore, ts;    -
   p; p and Allen, as] [188Kb]
East of the Sun (Bowman) [JG voc] [214Kb][252Kb]                -
Yeah Man! (Sissle-Henderson)                                    -
unidentified blues (Ra) [p; riffs; Wilson, picc; p; eb;         -
   p; Wilson, ts; p]
Queer Notions (Hawkins)                                         -
Prelude to a Kiss (Ellington) [inc on tape]                     -

2nd set:
untitled improvisation [perc and eg; 3 EVIs]            radio broadcast 2
(The World Is Waiting) For the Sunrise (Ra) [128K]              -
   [JT, ens voc]
untitled improvisation [cond ens; Gilmore, ts]                  -
unidentified ballad (Ra) [p; Allen, as; Omoe,                   -
   contra-alto cl; p and picc b; freakout ens]
unidentified blues (Ra) [p; riffs; p; eg; p;                    -
   Wilson, picc; p; picc b and eb; p]
Blue Lou (Sampson)                                              -
Sunset on the Nile (Ra) [SR, ens voc; inc on tape]              -

"According to Artur Miguel Dias, two sections of this concert were later broadcast over RDP Comercial FM Stereo, a Portuguese radio network. Allowing for commercials and the hourly news bulletin, he estimates that each segment ran 50 minutes. The first broadcast appears to be an unedited but incomplete first set; the second broadcast appears to be derived in a similar fashion from the second set. Two incomplete tapes (missing the last 3 1/2 minutes of each broadcast) are extant. It is not known whether the unbroadcast portions of the concert were preserved. This concert (the opener for Jazz em Agosto 1985) was one of two appearances in Portugal on the summer 1985 tour. The Arkestra played to a packed house of 1500 in the open-air amphitheater.

Tunes and personnel identified by ear, with help from newspaper accounts. Various photos show Danny Ray Thompson, Marshall Allen, Ronald Wilson, John Gilmore, Eloe Omoe, and James Jacson in the reed section, along with June Tyson and an unidenitified female dancer (shown dancing with a globe; a kind of Oriental dance with a large paper canopy is also described in one of the accounts). Bruce Edwards and Rollo Radford are visible, as are two trap sets (probably manned by Avreeayl Ra Amen and Tommy Hunter) plus a setup for another percussionist (who is not visible). One newspaper story (cited by Dias) said there were 12 musicians and 2 dancers, but that seems to be an undercount. The most detailed account, by Raul Vaz Bernardo in Expresso (Aug. 10, 1985) mentions that there was just one trumpet and one trombone in the brass section. Bernardo also states that the Arkestra was carrying an electric bassist and an acoustic bassist. In photos accompanying an article in Correio da Manha (Aug. 3, 1985), Rollo Radford can be seen playing the same two-necked electric bass as on the Spanish TV broadcast. In addition, an unusually high-pitched acoustic bass can be heard (the player is not visible in the published photos). Most likely this was Oscar Brown III (aka "Bobo") who played a piccolo bass. "Sunset on the Nile" is different from the usual rendition: Sun Ra sings, "Sunset on the River Nile" instead of "Sunset on the Nile, on the River Nile," and the piece develops a mambo rhythm.

A second concert at the same location took place on August 3. It included a rendition of "I Want to Be Happy" with stride piano from Ra and multiple choruses by John Gilmore. There is a chance that the second radio broadcast was from August 3; Bernardo's account tends to focus on numbers played at the ends of sets, and though he does mention that there were two blues on Aug. 1 and only one on Aug. 3, neither broadcast is long enough to clinch an identification. It is not known which night the band played "Mack the Knife" (with Gilmore on clarinet and Wilson on tenor sax) or concluded the concert with "See You Later, Alligator" (presumably backed with "Christopher Columbus," though Bernardo says it was "Rockin' in Rhythm"). On the other hand, a brief account in Diario de Lisboa from August 2 mentions both Marshall Allen's kora (normally played at the beginning of a set-and not present on either broadcast) and Omoe's contra-alto clarinet (which is featured on the second broadcast)." (rlc - May/1996)

The 1982 Concert (Vilar de Mouros/82)

The Sun Ra Arkestra performed on Wednesday, August 4, by night, at the Vilar de Mouros/82 Festival. It was the last group to perform on that full-moon night, after some other groups (including the quartet of the Portuguese bass player Saheb Sarbib with Paul Motion, Joe Ford and Booker T.) This Festival was mainly a Rock festival although it included some Jazz, Folk, etc.

To the date no tape of this concert has surfaced.

Some abridged translations from the Portuguese press on the 1982 concert

+Sete 28/Jul/82 pages 19,20 (preview)

The full program of the event is presented. The entry concerned with Sun Ra refers to the visual aspect of his performances and to the fact that Sun Ra's music included some traditional elements in an avant-garde setting.

+Expresso 7/Aug/82 page 24-R (after the concert)

In the Jazz department it was Sun Ra that gave the more successful concert. The Arkestra performed so late in the night that at 4:10, on Thursday, the audience was still asking for one more encore. There were 15 musicians and dancers on stage, all wearing wonderfully bizarre costumes. The leader played keyboards and sang out of tune. The arrangements were fabulous, from the sonic cataclysms of Sun Ra at the electric keyboards, to the lyrical and outcrying contributions of Marshall Allen and John Gillmore. A sublime performance.

+O Primeiro de Janeiro 6/Aug/82 page 30 (after the concert)

The Arkestra has been on stage for almost three hours. The musicians, impecably dressed with ritualistic costumes, made from their performance a true ritual that included, as one should expect, dance. At some moments dance mobilized most of the elements of the Arkestra.

The Vilar de Mouros Festival

Vilar de Mouros is a extremely small village, with around 600 inhabitants, at the extreme Northwest of Portugal, near the border with Spain and near the Atlantic Ocean. The nearest village that appears on road-maps is Caminha and the nearest big city is Porto. The area of Vilar de Mouros is beautifully green, with a small river, very secluded.

This Festival was, above all, a Rock festival although it included some Jazz, Folk, Classical music, etc. It was an irregular Festival: the first edition was in 1968, the second in 1971 (with Elton John and Manfred Man), the third in 1982; nowadays the festival seems to be only a fading memory from the past. [Lattest: This festival is to be reactivated this August (of 1996) as an annual Pop/Rock only festival.]

The audience was supposed to camp in the area and attend to the whole, 1 week long, festival. Regarding the 1982 edition the newspapers reported chaos. Bad organization (for example Don Cherry's Old and New Dreams did not appear), crowded people (3 improvised campsites with a capacity for 10.000 people proved insufficient), use of drugs, violence, police, high prices, etc.

The Jazz portion of the program of the 1982 edition was organized by Rui Neves and Jorge Lima Barreto, two well known personalities from the Portuguese radio and jazz/improv scene.

Why this page?

After getting my copy of Campbell's book (in March, 1996), and when browsing through it, I was struck by the remembrance that I had an old tape containing a Portuguese concert of Sun Ra! This recording was not listed in the book as I quickly checked! So I sent Robert the tape and also copies of some newspaper reports on the concert. We also exchanged some e-mail.

At some point I found the resulting material interesting enough to be preserved and this WEB page was created (little effort was needed because the all the contents was already there.) Robert also granted me permission to use his listing.


-Robert L. Campbell,
     "The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra", Cadence NY (1994) (250 pages)
     ["Cadence, Cadence Building, Redwood, NY 13679-9612, USA" / US$25]

-Newspapers archives of the public library:
     Rua Sao Pedro de Alcantara, 3
     Lisboa, Portugal

-Some broadcasts of RDP Comercial FM Stereo on 1985