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Sun Ra and his Solar Myth Arkestra: Life Is Splendid

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A document of Sun Ra’s performance at the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, Life Is Splendid captures the Arkestra in peak psychotic form-and I mean that in a good sense. While on earlier ’50s and ’60s outings, Ra’s orchestra still had one foot solidly in the camp of Fletcher Henderson’s orchestral elegance as it explored the outer reaches of the avant-garde, this post-Woodstock, post-Hendrix edition of the Arkestra is solidly tuned into the electro-psychedelic vibe of the day. The sheer intensity here makes Miles Davis’ electrified Agharta and Pangaea bands look tame by comparison. Seething and cathartic, the Arkestra connected with MC5 fans then and relates more today to Sonic Youth than to the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

The Arkestra’s 37-minute set modulates from theme to theme and mood to mood, opening on a fairly melodic note

with the two-minute, metaphysical “Enlightenment,” sung by June Tyson. The band segues to a frantic, polyrhythmic percussion jam fueled by Ra’s grungy, organ distorted tones. The raucous, over-the-top excursion “Love in Outer Space” should appeal to the fringe elements of the Medeski, Martin & Wood crowd. The sickness factor only picks up from there on “Discipline 27-11,” reaching frightening proportions during Marshall Allen’s shriekback alto solo and Ra’s own horrifically dissonant synth solo.

Ra’s anthemic “Space Is the Place” is layered with more spiky Marshall Allen statements and some throat-ripping, octave-leaping by either Tyson or one of the Space Ethnic Voices (Judith Holton, Cheryl Bank, Ruth Wright). We don’t get to hear much of tenor sax giant John Gilmore or baritone sax ace Pat Patrick throughout the disc, but we do hear drummers Lex Humphries and Alzo Wright unleash an explosion of drums and percussion on “Watusi” that sounds like every metal and wood object inside your house falling down an infinite flight of stairs. The Arkestra’s set ends with “Outer Spaceways Incorporated,” a Ra ditty that encourages the audience to sign up-just before he hits the launch button on his synth.

A disturbing and wonderful document from the archives of John Sinclair.