Timelessness meets spaceiness

published June 19, 2014 | posted by detroit

Wednesday, June 18,2014

Worlds collide at Summer Solstice Jazz Festival

by Lawrence Cosentino

The Summer Solstice Jazz Festival brings two raucous flavors of jazz into its tent this weekend — ecstatic “space mu sic” and jubilant New Orleans-style brass — in a venue only East Lansing can offer.

Saturday afternoon in the courtyard of MSU’s Broad Art Museum, Detroit’s Planet D Nonet will pay tribute to the 100th birthday of bandleader/pianist/composer/mystic Sun Ra, the avatar of Afrofuturism who claimed to hail from Saturn. Why the Broad? Along with the Wharton Center, the Broad Museum is joining the festival’s growing list of MSU partners, and there’s no better place to showcase the cosmic vibes of Sun Ra than a museum many folks have already compared to a spaceship.

The task of getting the cosmic travelers safely back to Earth — or at least to the Albert Avenue parking lot and the rest of the festival — was left to professionals with sousaphones.

After the Planet D concert, a full-tilt Mardi Gras procession with beads, dancing and costumes will make its way from the Broad to the main festival area, to the whoops and whumps of Chicago’s Lowdown Brass Band.

If you weren’t around to hear Sun Ra at East Lansing’s Stables club in the 1970s, you owe it to yourself to dig the next best thing.

“He´s the cosmic master,” bluesman RJ Spangler of the Planet D Nonet declared. “He took it into the Space Age for sure.”

A big swing sound, crack arrangements, be-boppy twists and turns and frequent bursts of interplasmic modulation made Sun Ra’s music unique in all the universe. Throw Duke Ellington’s orchestra into a cyclotron and you might have some idea. But Saturday’s tribute is not a sterile exercise in hero worship: Several Planet D members have close ties with Sun Ra and his legendary band, the Arkestra. Spangler first heard the Arkestra in Ann Arbor in the 1970s, got caught in its gravitational field and ended up hanging out with members of the band and talking with Ra.

“Detroit has a close connection with Sun Ra´s band,” Spangler explained. (The “D” in “Planet D” stands for “Detroit.”) " A lot of the guys who came through that band were Detroiters and were close to me. They´d fill me in on everything and that´s been with me all my life.”

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