Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise (1980)

Sun Ra (1914-1993)


Title: Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Country: USA


60-minute portrait of visionary artist Sun Ra and his avant-garde jazz Arkestra filmed in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. in 1978 and 1980.

One of jazz music's most entertaining and eccentric figures is profiled in Robert Mugge's hourlong, 1980 profile of the late bandleader-keyboardist-composer Sun Ra. "I don't consider myself one of the humans," he once said. "I'm a spiritual being," who was reputed to eschew the usual jazzman's indulgences of drugs and sex and who, despite the weird trappings (he and his big band, the Intergalactic Omniverse Arkestra, usually performed in glittery costumes that combined African, alien, and thrift-shop styles), infused his music with a strong sense of discipline and precision. Here we see Ra and the band rehearsing and performing; their "joyful noise" is free, sometimes chaotic, but also clearly blues-based, somewhat reminiscent of Monk or Mingus (there's even a rendition of "'Round Midnight"). Ra is also interviewed surrounded by the Egyptian artifacts and antiquities that were an important element of his "mythocracy." He clearly loves having an audience-and how can you not enjoy listening to a guy who also chooses the White House as a backdrop for solemn pronouncements like "I'm not a part of history-I'm more a part of mystery, which is my story"? -- Sam Graham

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