Ann Arbor Weather:
Friday July 03, 2020
Follow us: facebook twitter RSS feed
PD9 Sun Ra Band

PD9 Sun Ra Band

Celebrating the Cosmic Jazz of Sun Ra

by Piotr Michalowski

From the February, 2020 issue

Sun Ra, who appeared on this planet as Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, 105 years ago, led a life that encompassed the whole history of jazz before he decamped for the planet Saturn, where he claimed to have been transported and experienced a spiritual transformation.

In the 1940s he moved to Chicago, where he played piano and wrote arrangements for a broad array of settings, from blues singers to society bands. He eventually began to lead his own groups in local clubs, leading up to the formation of his Arkestra, which featured his own compositions as well as standards. He led the band for decades, moving to New York and finally to Philadelphia and touring Europe and the Middle East. As was the case with Duke Ellington, whom he admired immensely, several musicians, such as saxophonists John Gilmore and Marshall Allen, stayed with him for most of the journey.

The music he created over the years is difficult to define, ranging from the big band era (Ra actually played in a later version of the Fletcher Henderson orchestra) through modal and polytonal versions of hard bop to highly abstract avant-garde outings. Jazz critic Robert Campbell described his range as "everything from 1930s hotel-band schmaltz to synthesizer pieces that twittered and clunked like a demented Pac-Man machine." He created a complex idiosyncratic intellectual Black Myth, which asserted alienation from the dominant white culture, associated his people's blackness with the blackness and infinite dimensions of space, and pointed to a better future.

The master may have moved on to outer space, but the Arkestra lives on, led by ninety-five-year-old Marshall Allen. Others remain dedicated to Sun Ra's music as well. Chief among them is Detroit's own PD9 Sun Ra Band, led by drummer RJ Spangler. This group, not unlike Ra, surveys decades of jazz history: the blues, the roots of the swing bands in the works of Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, and Bennie Moten, and Ra's

...continued below...

own cosmic excursions. They are particularly fond of compositions from his early Chicago days, such as the fast-paced boppy "Saturn," which became the Arkestra's theme song, or the much more complex mysterious processional "Ancient Aiethiopia," a harbinger of more avant jazz to come.

During his last decade or so, Ra often looked back to his early days by featuring tunes by Fletcher and Horace Henderson and their contemporaries. including "King Porter Stomp," and "Big John Special" made famous by Benny Goodman as showcases for trumpeters Bunny Berigan and Harry James. PD9 takes particular delight when delving into such tunes, tipping a hat to their own swing era repertoire concerts. Most important, however, is their invocation of the very spirit of Sun Ra in their vibrant and sometimes irreverent celebration of the theatrical and spiritual nature of musical enactment. Their public performances are pure joy.

The PD9 Sun Ra Band plays the Blue LLama jazz club at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on February 22.     (end of article)

[Originally published in February, 2020.]


Bookmark and Share
Print Comment E-mail

You might also like:

Restaurants with Senior Discounts
A clickable zoomable map
Restaurants with Diapering Facilities
A clickable zoomable map
The Reinvention of a Therapist
Jo Benson promises to help women struggling during the pandemic. But clients have reason to be wary.
Michael Betzold
Special Services
Susan Ringler-Cerniglia
Tracking the Covid-19 pandemic
Eve Silberman
Covid Campaigning
With door-knocking out, candidates look for alternatives.
James Leonard
Mexican, Latin and Southwestern Restaurants
Riverside Arts Center turns to online art to bring people together
Artistic livestreams and an online photo gallery show the diverse culture of Ypsi artists.
Stephanie Sorter
Out: Art Van
In: Loves Furniture
Trilby MacDonald
Subscribe to the Ann Arbor Observer
One of the finest university art museums in the country, UMMA holds collections representing 150 yea
Level One Bank. We're here for you. Click here for the latest updates about banking centers.
One of the finest university art museums in the country, UMMA holds collections representing 150 yea