Few personalities in jazz have inspired the diversity of critical comment that has been accorded Sun Ra. Assessments range from worshipful adulation to mocking derision. For every hostile observer who ridicules Ra for mystical pretensions cum show-biz savvy, there is a disciple who lauds his artistic sophistication and celebration of eternal truths. On less an authority than German critic Joachim Berendt traces a line of descent from the Cotton Club revues of Duke Ellington to a preformance of the Cosmo Angel Arkestra of this former Fletcher Henderson pianist.
Yesterday at Market 5 Gallery the wall-to-wall rhythm of eight percussionists and the free wailing of six reeds and three brass, along with dancers, occasionally bordered on musical mayhem and choreographed chaos. Yet midst the maelstrom there were moments of churning swing and high entertainment.
The leader, robed in glittering gold and silver lame, gesticulated wildly as his band screamed full force behind him. Then, trancelike at the keyboard, his eyes went heavenward as he coaxed volcanic rumblings and bat range squeals from his synthesizer.
A number's finale might have Ra waling a mean boogie bass, all instrumentalists turning to percussion, or dancers and musicians spilling into the aisles chanting and touching spectators.
Hocus pocus, mumbo jumbo and sonic inanity notwithstanding, Sun Ra puts on one hell of a good show.