Sun Ra and His Solar Myth Arkestra: Life Is Splendid

Sun Ra and His Solar Myth Arkestra
Life Is Splendid: Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972
(Alive!/Total Energy)


ABOUT TWO-THIRDS OF the way through the parade-beat, molten lava, free-spaz ferocity captured on this smashing live disc, Sun Ra's Arkestra slows to a vamp. Then Ra and his vocalists stop singing and start yelling. This, granted, is hardly unexpected, especially since their shouts are sandwiched between variations on what resembles a lysergically rerouted "When the Saints Go Marching In." On paper, the message transmitted by Ra and responded to by his assembled minions looks a bit silly: "If this is a planet of life, why are people dying? This is DEATH DISGUISED AS LIFE! LIFE IS SPLEN-DIIID!!!"

But since the nine individually credited songs on the back cover turn out to be one continuous play track, you're forced into the Arkestra's headspace whether you intended to go all the way there or not. And, coming when they do--after twenty-plus minutes of intense polyrhythmicX percussion rave-ups, snippets of those song-manifestoes wherein Ra calls for his audience to leave the planet, muddy space-organ slogs, a synthesizer solo that sounds uncannily like the dialup and plug-in of a T-1 modem, and vibrating horn blurts that evoke fried nerve ends--Ra and Co.'s urgent shouts still manage to startle. They even start sounding sort of logical.

Equally logical is that this mighty performance took place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the home of several of the Arkestra's most devoted disciples. The MC5 had attempted to fashion a white, rock version of Ra's controlled chaos, even covering his "Starship" for their first album, while nearby Detroit neighbor George Clinton would take more than a few cues from the Arkestra's collective thinking and outlandish stage show. Playing for a crowd that instinctively got it in a way that much of the jazz cognoscenti rarely did, Ra and crew sound completely at home--if not exactly of this earth.

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