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Jerry Dammers Spatial A.K.A Orchestra

Barbican, London

A one-man space craft hovered over the Barbican stage, high above several guitar-toting Barbarella dummies, a row of alien masks on sticks and a 19-member cosmic funk ensemble kitted out in glittery robes and an inventive range of headdresses.  On the right, pacing about a corral of keyboards and synthesizers with a Tutankhamen mask fixed to the back of his head, maestro Jerry Dammers steered an evening that both celebrated a legacy and put the joy back into live jazz.

Sun Ra- for it is this Saturnite jazz maverick they’re paying homage to- would have approved of Dammers’ Spatial A.K.A Orchestra.  Here, cleverly concealed under the clobber, were some of the UK’s finest jazzers: flautist Finn Peters, pianist Zoe Rahman and saxophonists Denys Baptiste and free-jazz-dude Larry Stabbins among them.  After bursting into the auditorium and making their pranksterish way to the stage, the ensemble channelled the collaborative, funky spirit of the Arkestra on the epic likes of ‘I’ll Wait for You’; similarly overlooked local treasure Anthony Joseph delivered ‘Nuclear War’, with spine-tingling intensity.  The orchestra kept things psychedelic and swirling through Moondog’s ‘Bird’s Lament’ and Alice Coltrane’s glorious ‘Journey in Satchindanda’; Patrick Illingworth gave requisite percussive gravitas to the latter’s ‘Om Armageddon’.

But this is also Dammers’ night; having eschewed the Specials reunion (which he dismissed derisively here) he kept the punk flag flying with a version ‘Ghost Town’ that began with a mass audience gargle.  A 15 minute free-jazz version of the Batman theme saw grins grow wider and disco balls spin faster; the call-and-reponse chants of Sun Ra’s epic ‘Space is the Place’ saw the troupe leave, funking loudly, the same way they came in.  The party continued in the foyer; a canny ploy, perhaps, to let the space craft return to Saturn.

Jane Cornwell