Über Sun Ra
Dressing in flowing, priestly robes and solemnly claiming to originate from the planet Saturn, pianist/composer/bandleader/all-around jazz guru Sun Ra made music of enigmatic, magisterial beauty for half a century. Beginning his career in Chicago in the 1940s, Ra soon assembled the Arkestra, a tightly-knit group of musicians that would stay together in one form or another for the next fifty years. With adventurous ease, they handled his unorthodox, exploratory compositions that combined elements of Swing, Bop, and avant-garde music. His delicate, cosmic late-'50s compositions turned to urgent atonality in the '60s, thriving upon all the disparate musical elements which his material encompassed: searing, carnival-like organ and synth solos, West African rhythms, twittering Chamber Music passages, howling Free Jazz solos, rousing Big Band anthems, lovely Swing melodies, and the otherworldly singing of June Tyson. Sometimes, band members would take the microphone to preach a cosmic, Afrocentric consciousness which inspired many political movements of the day. Though Sun Ra left this planet in 1993, his music is here to stay.