Sun Ra Arkestra | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Sun Ra Arkestra 

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Earlier this year, a small label called Evidence released its first five CD reissues of Sun Ra albums--including his earliest recordings, made in 1953 in Chicago--and the music proved at once startling and familiar. In fact, it proved startling because of its familiarity: in recent years, Sunny has increasingly returned to off-kilter, slightly campy, often ironic arrangements of jazz and pop standards--the music that predated his successful forays into free jazz, full-orchestra improvisation, and the astro-Egyptian mythology that inspired such knowing lunacy as "Space Is the Place" and "I Travel the Spaceways (From Planet to Planet)," to name two of his better-known compositions. These days, the Arkestra presents a repertoire-spanning show that reaffirms Sun Ra's unique place on the jazz landscape. The Ra mythology maintains that Sun Ra is in fact a space visitor, but even putative Saturnians get old--at least when exposed to earth's atmosphere--and Sunny has experienced significant health problems in the last few years. Such longstanding associates as John Gilmore and Marshall Allen, who've played with the Arkestra for more than 35 years, have the gray beards to back up their resumes as well. But they still play with a fire that incites the newer recruits; and the Arkestra--analogous to the pyramids of Ra's beloved Egyptian antiquity--remains among the true wonders of the modern jazz world. Tonight, 8 PM, Oak Theatre, 2000 N. Western; 235-0088.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.

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