Psychedelic Jazz-Rock Fusion Video of the Day VI
Italy, 1990. YouTube comment: “What was it like going thru customs with these guys?”
Herman “Sun Ra” Blount followed his own weird vector through life and music, leading an “Arkestra” (as he deliberately misspelled it) variously prefixed with phrases like “Myth Science” or “Astro Infinity” or “Jet Set Omniverse” depending on the position of the heavens and other signs known only to Sun Ra himself. His music was as multifarious as his sci-fi nomenclature, embracing (among other things) big-band jazz, electronic experimentation, pure noise and show tunes. His straight-faced declaration to the world that he was an angelic being descended from Saturn was just the icing on the cake.
Sun Ra’s influence continues to echo in new “spiritual jazz” projects like Carlos Niño’s Build an Ark.
So what’s the rock connection? Well, the Parliament/Funkadelic inspiration is bloody obvious, MC5’s “Starship” is built around a Ra poem, Yo La Tengo covered the Sun Ra tune “Nuclear War” (as in, “Nuclear war, it’s a motherfucker.”), and in 1992 your correspondent was in the right place at the right time to catch the Arkestra sharing the bill with Sonic Youth at a free concert in Central Park. When they rolled Sun Ra out in his wheelchair (he’d had a stroke in 1990), the audience erupted into a standing ovation. Pretty cool.