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Sun Ra: Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise

Album Notes

Directed by Robert Mugge in 1980. Contains performance footage as well as Ra talking about history and "Mythocracy."

This hour-long documentary from cinematographer Robert Mugge features the avant-garde and free jazz of Sun Ra and his Arkestra at various locations throughout their native Philadelphia. The film not only examines their public performance persona, but also the bandmembers' respective roles as private citizens and community leaders throughout the Germantown section of Philly. Viewers uninitiated to Sun Ra's decidedly unique free-form approach to music or his deeply spiritual presence may fail to fully comprehend the highly advanced nature of Ra's work. As longtime Arkestra member John Gilmore (tenor sax) relates, "[Ra] was the first to introduce me to the higher forms of music...past what Bird [aka Charlie Parker] or Monk were doing." The extreme difficulty inherent in the arrangements attracted a very highly stylized coterie of musicianship within the context of the band's open-door personnel policy. Another interview segment features a laid-back discussion between Eloe Omoe (woodwind/percussion), Danny Thompson (baritone sax/percussion), and James Jacson (oboe/drums/bassoon/percussion/flute) as they elucidate on the Arkestra's unusual communal living quarters at 5626 Morton Street in the City of Brotherly Love. They unanimously agree that by fully immersing themselves in their craft, they have become exceedingly skilled and disciplined enough to be able to perform such advanced music. This is further demonstrated by several clips of rehearsals as Ra teaches each section their respective parts to a new arrangement. The performances come from a variety of locales, including high atop the roof of the Philadelphia International Center, as well as the Baltimore, MD-based Famous Ballroom and Left Bank Jazz Society Inc.. There is also footage of a special gig at Danny's Hollywood Palace in Philly. This show featured a "Requiem for Trevor Johnson," a former Arkestra member who had recently passed. Among the notable inclusions are "Astro Black," "Along Came Ra," and "We Travel the Spaceways" featuring vocalist June Tyson, as well as a profound rendering of "'Round Midnight." As explained by Ra during the video's waning moments, the title A Joyful Noise is derived directly from Sun Ra's core philosophy that the sounds he and his Arkestracreate fulfill the Old Testament scripture (Psalm 100) to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord." ~ Lindsay Planer


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