It looked like something Flash Gordon might stumble upon in one of the old serials. In a cavernous fortress sat Sun Ra and a dozen or so members of His Arkestra, their sequined skull caps and metallic capes sparkling in the soft overhead glow of red and yellow lights. Just a few feet away hundreds of people and dozens of, er, beings -- spacemen, rabbits, sun gods, hideously horned creatures and sultry vamps were among the more classifiable forms -- tuned in the band's celestial jazz. Saturday night's Cosmic Costume Ball at the Pension Building was a close encounter of the strangest kind.

Seated at his electric keyboard, the darkly goggled Ra, looking like some futuristic descendant of Ray Charles, quietly piloted His Arkestra through screeching dissonant maelstroms and galloping passages of unbridled swing, through the lustrous "Stardust" and, when the hour approached, a wonderfully convoluted "Round Midnight."

The music was by turns powerful, chaotic, whimsical, mysterious and always unpredictable. But music is only a part of Ra's appeal; his show, and it was a show, incorporated vastly entertaining elements of slapstick, theater and exotic dance. By his own admission, Ra is "traveling a strange celestial road." The journey is like no other.

Tiny Desk Unit, also scheduled to appear, canceled.