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Review: The 2014 Chicago Jazz Festival

Letting things evaporate

Audience at mainstage, Chicago jazz Festival 2014
Chicago Underground Duo, Chicago Jazz Festival 2014
Clark Sommers, Chicago Jazz Festival 2014
Craig Taborn with Dave Holland PRISM, Chicago Jazz Festival 2014
Crowd at a tent stage, Chicago Jazz Festival 2014
Ernest Khabeer Dawkins (r.), Chicago Jazz Festival 2014
Jason Adasiewicz, Chicago Jazz Festival 2014
Khari B, Chicago Jazz Festival 2014
Myra Melford, Chicago Jazz Festival 2014
Stomu Takeishi, Chicago Jazz Festival 2014
Sun Ra Arkestra, Chicago Jazz Festival 2014
Terence Blanchard, Chicago Jazz Festival 2014
Tom Harrell Sextet, Chicago Jazz Festival 2014

The Sun Ra Arkestra was slow to leave the stage at Millennium Park on Sunday night, wafting a blues ever higher, loosely marching, teasing the emcees by the side of the stage. During its set, the last at the 36th annual Chicago Jazz Festival, the large ensemble preached to a mixed congregation-from Sun Ra t-shirt collectors to the jazz oblivious-but it got its message across, projecting certainty and absurdism and maybe some ideas about survival.

Ra was born 100 years ago this past May; his sound and philosophical identity took shape during his decade and a half in Chicago. He died in 1993, and his band is now led by the alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, 90 years old and an Arkestra member for most his life. Bedecked as always in sequined robes and bright, wedged hats, the group lured you in with a sing-along opener, “Interplanetary Music,” its swing feel both heavy-footed and spectral. Then a ballad, almost misanthropically enchanting, blushing without romance. On “This World Is Not My Home,” the singer Tara Middleton incanted the title line. You were hearing a concert, maybe. You were interloping on a planning session for a prison break from the ozone layer.

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Originally Published