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mustcahe SOUNDTRACK: SUN RA ARKESTRA-Tiny Desk Concert #402 (October 31, 2014).

sunraSun Ra was a big band innovator who claimed to be from Saturn.  He died 20 years ago, but he would have turned 100 in 2014. And the Arkestra that bears his name keeps his spaced out spirit alive.

The band plays jazz, but most often that jazz is noisy and abrasive and seems to make no sense at all.  Sometimes it seems like it would just hurt to listen to it.  But when they gel, the music is trippy and cool.

The first song, “Along Came Ra”/”Zoom” opens with the group singing “When the world was in darkness and darkness was ignorance, along came Ra.”  And after a few times through this the chaos begins (that would be “Zoom.”  All of the horn players just start wailing on whatever.  The violin plays something, the keyboard is all over the place.  It is noise and chaos and probably hurt people’s ears there.

And then it stops and a proper jazzy song “Queer Notion” begins.   It has a catchy piano melody.  When the horns come back in, they feel slightly off somehow, as if deliberately not quite playing what you’d expect–but very close.  There’s even an electronic keyboard solo (set to a nice spacey sound).  The band leader (Marshall Allen, who is 91 and has been with the Arkestra since the early 1950s) play a “melodica” that has some kind of spacey processor on it.  And yet for all the craziness there is some real fundamental jazz beneath it.

“Angels and Demons at Play” has a trippy underlying riff with horns over the top.  The biggest surprise comes after a few minutes when the violinist sings the title slowly and dramatically.  The song builds and repeats over and over and then ends with chaos and drama.

The set ends and there is much applause and the band wishes everyone a Happy Halloween–the band came dressed complete with costumes inspired by Egyptian symbolism and science fiction.  And just when it seems like it’s over (and this surprises Bob) they start another song.

“Interplanetary Music” is a big fun sing along  with lots of clapping and it seems like the kind of thing they might end every show with.  So even though some of the music is crazy, there’s good fun at the heart of it all.

[READ: June 1, 2016] The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny

This Glorkian Warrior story was probably my least favorite of the three.  It felt really long, possibly because many of the jokes were repeated a lot.  I did get a kick out of how the mustache appears in the very first pages and then almost never makes a return appearance.

The best part of the story is that the Glorkian Warrior continues to be incredibly stupid.  When he says good morning to his coffee, super backpack says “good morning” and warrior thinks it is the coffee that talks back.  So he thinks, “I just invented talking coffee.”  He and the backpack argue for a few pages (my favorite parts are their fights because the backpack is smart and the Warrior…isn’t).

And then in cones a bunch of little kids (crazy Kochalkan characters, of course).  There’s Crazy Face, Doonky and Bronk (who only says Bronk).  The kids want to go on a mission with him but he says no. (more…)

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