Astral Weeks was released 50 years ago. One of the most eye catching aspects of this year’s London Jazz Festival is a concert that captures that feeling, that spirit, that emotion. Vibes great Orphy Robinson has masterminded the concert and explains how Astral Weeks moves him still all these years on
“I first started to put together the musicians and vocalists to work on Astral Weeks last year for a concert in the centre of London. I had been speaking with a friend Colm Carty for a couple of years about the album, but it wasn’t until the night of the Bobby Hutcherson songbook tribute concert at the Church of Sound that I finally decided that I would take some time out and really get into the whole album. I previously knew individual songs like ‘Sweet Thing’, ‘Cyprus Avenue’, and ‘Astral Weeks’, so I needed to really focus and think about what I could bring to an interpretation of the album. Originally it was for a one-off concert but the response from the audience, the members of the ensemble and the critics made it obvious that this was worth looking for other opportunities to play the album live from beginning to end.
“Joe Cang was recommended to me by Tony Rémy once I had explained what I was hoping to do. Joe has been an absolute diamond with his professionalism and great voice. Sahra Gure is a new voice on the scene and has brought some beautiful energy with her. Someone to definitely watch out for in the coming years. I was fascinated by what Zara McFarlane could bring to the ensemble and she hasn’t disappointed, it’s been a perfect fit. She brings a kind of blues sensibility added to her obvious Jazz credentials. Sarah Jane Morris got in touch when it was first announced that I would be performing the album. Astral Weeks turned out to be one of her all-time favourite albums, so it’s been wonderful to have her alongside us and finally to share a stage with such an amazing talent and presence.
“Warren Smith Jr was obviously an eye catcher for me as being a percussionist it’s one of the first things I listen out for on recordings. However, seeing the name Connie Kay intrigued me more as he was from the MJQ and his background has a touch of the Caribbean like my own. The legendary Richard Davis the bassist on Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch added to a very unique group of musicians that helped to create a strong sound world that still brings people to the album 50 years later. Our ensemble of players is very strong with Mo Nazam, Rowland Sutherland, Dudley Philips, Kate Shortt. We usually have John Etheridge in with us as well but he’s on tour at the same time with the Soft Machine Legacy and so Tony Rémy has kindly stepped in to take his place.
“The hardest part of the whole project was waiting for the audience reaction to the title track ‘Astral Weeks’ on the first concert. It was an overwhelming thumbs up and a great review that made me breathe a lot easier. I have also had members of Van’s touring band being very positive to extracts of music online form the shows and radio interviews.
“We play the whole album from start to finish with a different vocalist featured on different songs. There will also be some other Van music to bring to the mix as well.”