Space is the place

Take a 2-Tone label legend and 18 costumed jazz musicians and you get the Jerry Dammers Spatial AKA Orchestra, as Neil McKim discovers

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‘Tonight we’re going to be exploring themes of life, death, rebirth, possession and exorcism – in no particular order…’ wryly says a figure with a golden mask, hunched over a keyboard, surrounded by musicians and mannequins (yes, you read correctly) draped in ancient Egyptian costumes with Venetian masks and space helmets.

A version of an Erik Satie Gnossienne may seem an unlikely inclusion here, but we are in the capable hands of pianist Jerry Dammers and his Spatial AKA Orchestra – a line-up of top UK jazz musicians in a 19-piece band (excluding the mannequins) – that is currently finishing its latest UK tour.

Over the last few years, Dammers, famous for his 2-Tone record label and bands The Specials and Special AKA, has been exploring the intergalactic legacy of jazz bandleader Sun Ra and the ethereal works of John Coltrane’s widow Alice Coltrane – by gathering together a crop of touring jazz musicians who are all big names in the jazz scene in their own right.

Take saxophonists Jason Yarde, Denys Baptiste, Nathaniel Facey (of Jazz Jamaica fame), and Larry Stabbins (from ’70s prog-jazz collective Centipede) for starters, and BBC Jazz award-winning pianist Zoe Rahman, plus a whole load more.

It’s a spectacle to behold, as the costumed musicians arrive and leave playing their instruments in procession through the audience. And with a recession in the news, its timely to hear an all-new, vast shuddering big band version of Dammers’s smash hit ‘Ghost Town’ re-emerging on the music scene after 29 years. Too often, music these days is devoid of political comment or impact, but that’s certainly not the case here.

Neil McKim is production editor of BBC Music Magazine