July 9, 2023
5 pm (reading), 5:30 pm (performance)

A Strange Celestial Road: Sun Ra Arkestra with Ahmed Abdullah


Anticipating the forthcoming publication of A Strange Celestial Road: My Life in the Sun Ra Arkestra by Ahmed Abdullah, the first full-length account of life in the ensemble by any of its members, Blank Forms presents a performance by the Sun Ra Arkestra. This free event, part of Pioneers Works’s Second Sundays, will feature a reading by Abdullah at 5 pm and a rollicking performance by the Arkestra with special guest Abdullah at 5:30 pm. The book, described by Matthew Blackwell of The Wire as a “rare personal glimpse into the life of one of the 20th century’s most monumental and imposing figures,” is out everywhere September 5th and available to pre-order here. We will have limited hardback copies for sale for the event. 

During his reading, Abdullah will be joined by his wife and chief collaborator Monique Ngozi Nri, double bassist William Parker, and dancer Patricia Nicholson for a special performance

Founded in the mid-1950s, the Sun Ra Arkestra became the primary conduit through which polymath jazz composer, bandleader, pianist, poet, and philosopher Sun Ra expressed his visionary perspective. Sun Ra’s mythology transposes the forced dislocation of the African diaspora from slave ship to spaceship, wielding technology and music as an instrument for utopian Black interplanetary migration, with the Arkestra as its vehicle. When Sun Ra left planet Earth in 1993, his role as leader of the Arkestra was taken by John Gilmore before the latter’s ascension in 1995, when Marshall Allen assumed its helm. An alto saxophonist, flutist, and electronic valve instrument player who joined the Arkestra in 1958, Allen has lived, rehearsed, toured, and recorded with Sun Ra almost exclusively throughout his musical career. Allen, now age 99, and the other members of the Arkestra continue to live at the Sun Ra residence in Philadelphia, the group’s communal base of drug, alcohol, and sex-free operations since 1968. There, Allen writes fresh arrangements of Sun Ra’s tunes and composes new music for the Arkestra, committed to a life of discipline centered on the further development of Sun Ra’s musical precepts. With a massive, joyous songbook that encompasses spiritual grooves, sing-along chants, and ecstatic fire music, the Arkestra continues to traverse their namesake’s spaceways.

Ahmed Abdullah joined the Sun Ra Arkestra as a trumpeter in 1974 and remained a member for more than twenty years. Born in Harlem in 1947, he became an important figure in the New York loft jazz movement, forming the group Abdullah in 1972, and going on to found the Melodic Art-Tet with Charles Brackeen, Ronnie Boykins, and Roger Blank in the early 1970s and The Group with Marion Brown, Billy Bang, Sirone, Fred Hopkins and Andrew Cyrille in 1986. Abdullah is a co-founder of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium, has been the music director of Dianne McIntyre’s Sounds in Motion Dance Company, and is currently music director at the historic venue Sistas’ Place in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. He has been a music instructor at Carnegie Hall and Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, and teaches at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan and an elementary school in central Brooklyn

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This presentation of the Sun Ra Arkestra with Ahmed Abdullah is made possible with generous support from the Cheswatyr Foundation.