Friday, July 31, 2009

ONE OF THE GODS by Bennett Theissen [Blog]

ONE OF THE GODS by Bennett Theissen

Last night I sat for two hours transfixed listening to the new Transparency release Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Solar Research Arkestra Helsinki 1971 -- The Complete Concert and Interview. When Michael had gotten the source tape he brought it over and we listened to it then, months ago, and I thought it was one of the coolest Sun Ra tapes I had ever heard. Listening to the final version last night, mastered gorgeously by Brian Albers, I was once again in awe of this strange man whose music has become so important to me over the decades.

Who was this being who walked the earth so long, but said he came from Saturn? I first listened to Sun Ra when he was on ESP in the late 60s and I was 15 and 16, and I have to admit I couldn't understand what I was getting into, but I found it compelling. I was drawn to the extremes of jazz, but I was also drawn to the purely sci-fi aspects of him too. In early 1969 I got both Kick Out the Jams by MC5 and I got Nothing Is... by Sun Ra. MC5 had turned Ra's composition "Starship" into a driving rock song, and both albums referenced the nothing is poem ("At first nothing is..."). The Ra music was extreme honking vomiting seering jazz, exploding from my speakers, but the album was intercut with these short bursts of pop song -- "this is the theme of the stargazers, stargazers in the sky" and "if you find earth boring, just the same old same thing, come on sign up for outer space race incorporated." (It wasn't until a couple years ago that I finally heard Ra's song about Apollo 11 -- "them folks been walkin' on the moon.")

Sadly, during most of the 70s I didn't keep up with Ra too much, life was too complicated (unlike today, when with a computer you can know everything). I did catch him playing in San Francisco in 1977 and in Chicago in 1980. While I was impressed as hell by the shows, and grateful to be there, it somehow didn't feel as vital as the music I had heard when I was ten years younger. Still, it was exciting and it was beyond terrific to see the beloved audience response. Sun Ra fans got it, and appreciated it deeply. But those $1.98 space costumes and the big band feel also seemed like a bit of camouflage, a cheesy coating to something that wanted to transcend time and place and confront us all with eternity. And stuck up pretentious artiste that I am, I didn't want the cover I wanted the eternity.

Which is why Michael Sheppard's Transparency releases of recent vintage have been so important. This Helsinki show I listened to last night, it made me think I had died and gone to some permanently cool hall of heaven, where maybe only Sun Ra and Bill Burroughs and a tiny handful of others hang out. One would hard pressed to call the Helsinki show "jazz" -- because even though it definitely resembles that style, it goes so far beyond it. The closest thing I can think of would be, maybe, Miles Davis' weird r&b and funk excursions of the early 70s. Maybe. Miles was trying to branch out, but Ra didn't feel any need to expand what he was doing because he was already there. He played a form of funk, but not like any other funk you've ever heard. There's a track here, from the first set (disc one), called Love in Outer Space, and it IS a funk track, with a funky bass over a mass of percussion, but it doesn't build up so much as OUTWARD. I can imagine trying to watch all twenty nine musicians as they go through this -- thing, I don't know how to talk about it. That builds for ten minutes, then becomes a cover of the song Watusi, then becomes the thematic heartbreaker of a piece called Enlightenment, best version EVER, which is followed by an impossible to describe Ra keyboard solo which ends the first set.

The difference between this and the shows I saw? Can't put my finger on it exactly, but I think the late 60s and early 70s shows are freer, and that when he became more popular (like when he was on Saturday Night Live) he felt he had to do his schtick more entertainingly, and that he played the Cosmic Fool. Not that he was a fool, or that he ever suffered fools, but he treated it like a role, and that's what I felt in 1977 and 1980. Not in this Helsinki show. Does that make sense to you?
If you haven't seen it, you need to check out the one Sun Ra movie, called Space Is The Place, which is sadly out of print right now. (Amazon has VHS tapes for $95 if you care.) I saw it projected on a hotel wall downtown L.A. last summer, and loved every cheap exploitative minute of it. I also need to read Ra's biography, also called Space is the Place, by John Szwed, but haven't yet. I'll get it soon, now that I'm writing this. I know a bit of Ra's history, where he learned some of his composing and arranging skills, etc. I know he was a definite outsider, in all senses. Even his sexuality is strange -- he was possibly gay but more probably asesxual, and sexuality never seemed to be one of his themes. He taught at Berkeley in 1971 -- Transparency has one of his class lectures on CD and it's extremely cool and very far out. He was generous and cared about his band, and they were devoted to him. In fact, the great Marshall Allen leads the Sun Ra Arkestra in concert even today. (There is a distant possibility that Transparency may try to set up a dual concert with the Arkestra and the Slits somewhere down the line!) I know that he left this mortal coil in 1993, but maybe he's still playing dates on the rings of Saturn and he just left here and went home.

I just wanted to tell you that you really need to track down this new release and devote some time to it. It won't let you down because it's real art. We all know the eternal mantra, "He got what he wanted but he lost what he had." With Ra it should be, "He had what he wanted and he got what he lost." Sun Ra is, in my mind, One of the Gods.

For Eternity!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sun Ra Article in Print Magazine June 2009

The June 2009 issue of Print Magazine features an article about the book "Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn and Chicago's Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954-68" and the graphic-design sensibility Sun Ra and Saturn Records. Below is a short excerpt:

Solar Flare: Sun Ra's album covers were wild, inspired, and a universe away from Blue Note

A world away from the smoky, cellar-jam-session cool of [most jazz] album art, the handmade aesthetic, do-it-yourself ethos, and ripped-and-remixed imagery of [Sun Ra's] album covers and promo materials are of a piece with [the composer's] bricolaged cosmology. Desperate to escape what Ra biographer John Szwed calls the 'racially possessed' America of the Jim Crow years, Ra built an alternate worldview from scratch, cobbling it together from Flash Gordon futurism, mail-order Egyptology, Biblical hermeneutics, and 19th-century occultism. Long before men walked on the moon, Ra knew, in his bones, that he was part of the 'angel race.' Like a trans-racial Marcus Garvey beckoning humankind toward his intergalactic starliner, he urged space migration for black and white alike. The El Saturn graphics are a part of this sprawling star chart, a cosmic Baedeker pointing to Other Planes of There.

Friday, July 24, 2009

thehoundblog: Rockin' With Sun (Ra)

Rockin' With Sun (Ra)

Sun Ra (Herman Poole Blount, b. May 22, 1914 in Birmingham, Alabama according to his birth certificate, Le Sony'r Ra born on Saturn according to his passport) was one of the most prolific and significant jazz musicians of the 20th century. And one of the best dressed. He recorded hundreds of LP's, led one of the finest bands in the world for four decades, composed and arranged countless tunes. He was probably one of the few jazz musicians who could play "inside" and "outside" (ie straight or free-form) at the same time.

For those wanting more info on Sun Ra, John F. Szwed's Space Is The Place: The Lives and Times Of Sun Ra (Pantheon Books, 1997) is essential reading. In fact it's essential reading for anyone interested in jazz or just singular oddballs of the American variety. It's safe to say we'll not see the likes of Sun Ra again. Szwed's study is a good read but it's just the beginning and the study of Ra's career could fill several more volumes easily.

But I'm not the guy for that job, not being much of a jazz critic or historian, the subject of today's blog is Sun Ra's rock'n'roll output. For those who didn't know, Sun Ra was responsible for some truly unique rock'n'roll records. Although they represent a minuscule portion of his recorded output they're all interesting records, and a couple of 'em are downright masterpieces.

Sun Ra's first stab at rock'n'roll was issued on Ra's own Saturn label in 1955 by the Cosmic Rays. In classic doo wop 45 fashion one side was a ballad "Dreaming" and the other an upbeat near rocker "Daddy Gonna Tell You No Lie". Both sides have a pronounced mambo beat and feature lead singer Calvin Barron along with three unknown harmony singers. Sun plays piano, the sides were recorded in Chicago. When collectors kept asking Sunny to re-issue it he couldn't find the master tape so instead issued an a cappella version which was recorded in his living room while rehearsing the group for their studio debut.

A very strange doo-wop recorded was issued under the name of Juanita Rogers & Lynn Hollings with Mr. V's Five Joys on the Pink Clouds label in 1958 and is most certainly Sun Ra's doing. The a-side "Teenager's Letter Of Promises" is an oddball disc by any standard, even Sun Ra's. Juanita Rogers is the Frankie Lymon like lead vocal, Lynn Hollings is doing the strange narration.

Speaking of strange, Yochanan (The Space Age Vocalist) was a Chicago street character that Ra befriended. Yochanan appeared in local nightclubs and on Maxwell Street where he was booked as the Man From Outer Space, the Man From Mars and the Muck Muck Man. He claimed to be from the Sun and appeared decked out in turban (always a good look for a R&R singer), sandals, robes, etc. His performances were both eccentric and wild and as quoted on Szwed's book, one Hattie Randolph remembers catching his shtick in a nightclub in Kokomo, Indiana--"When he started his act and began leaping over the tables, one woman jumped up and shouted, 'He's possessed'! and ran out of the club". One listen to his first single and it's easy to believe.

"Hot Skillet Momma" b/w "Muck Muck (Matt Matt)" attributed to Yochanan (The Space Age Vocalist) is one of the greatest rock'n'roll records I've ever heard. It makes Screamin' Jay Hawkins sound like Johnny Mathis. The world was not ready for Yochanan in 1957 when this disc was issued, and it's probably still not ready. Sun Ra however believed in Yochanan enough to issue another single two years later-- "I'm The One From The Sun" b/w "Message To Earthmen", not quite as wild but still a great record. Saturn issued two outtakes in 1968 when "The Sun Man Speaks" was coupled with an alternate version of "Message To Earthmen".

Not really a rock'n'roll record (this one truly defies classification) is this 1974 recording "I'm Gonna Unmask The Batman" by Sun Ra and his Astro-Galactic Infinity Arkestra. Sunny seemed to have a thing for Batman as he along with a few members of the Arkestra and a couple of guys from the Blues Project cut a Batman TV theme budget LP in '66 which can be found here. Not great but interesting in a cheesy sort of way.

More on the rhythm and blues side is this 1958 Saturn 45 "Hours After" (actually a version of Erskine Hawkins' "After Hours") b/w "Great Balls Of Fire" (not the Jerry Lee Lewis hit) which shows the Arkestra at their bluesiest. This one seems like an attempt to garn some jukebox play around Chicago where the band was based at the time. Also, it's a rare example of Sun Ra recording with a guitarist, in this case Sam Thomas.

My buddy Junie Booth played bass with the Sun Ra Arkestra for many years, he told me when they went to Birmingham, Alabama for Sunny to be presented with the key to the city, midway during the ceremony Sunny turned to him and said "I hate this fuckin' town, that's why I always told people I was from Saturn".

ADDENDUM TO YESTERDAY'S POST: I forgot to mention all of the above 45s and more are available on the 2 CD set Sun Ra: The Singles (Evidence ECD22164-2). It's 49 tunes span three decades and include all the issued Saturn 45's and some alternate takes. Evidence also has fifteen Cd's of Sun Ra Saturn material covering 21 + LP's, many of which are practically impossible to find.

Griffiths, Pat. "A Space Warning from Sun Ra to the Planet Earth." Friends (London), February 2, 1971, p.2.


 [original posting]
[reposting has info about article source and smaller file scan]

Thursday, July 2, 2009



コンサートが行われた“Johnny Brenda's”(は、ジャズというよりロック・クラブで、彼らの本拠地フィラデルフィアにある。勝手に黒人中心の客層を想像していたが、実際は八割強が白人だった。年齢層は、大学生ぐらいから中高年まで、幅広かった。


Marshall Allen - alto sax, flute, Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI) 
Yah Yah Abdul-Majid - tenor sax
Knoel Scott - alto sax 
Danny Ray Thompson - baritone sax 
Fred Adams - trumpet 
Michael Ray - trumpet
Cecil Brooks - trumpet
Dave Davis - trombone, french horn, tuba
Farid Barron - keyboard 
Dave Hotep - guitar
Juini Booth - electric bass
Bill Davis - acoustic bass
Wayne A. Smith, Jr. - drums
Lamont Smith - conga drum
Elson Nascimento - surdo drum




Take Off
Planet Earth
Dreams Come True
Prelude to a Kiss
Discipline 27-II
Sometimes I'm Happy
East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Space Walk
Angels & Demons at Play


Improv Opening
Body & Soul
Way Down Yonder in New Orleans
Love in Outer Space
Blue Set (with Happy Birthday to Marshall)
Reflex Motion
When You Wish Upon a Star
Interplanetary Music
Fate in a Pleasant Mood
We Travel the Spaceways


Sun Ra Events at Philly ICA Museum in July

The staff of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) Museum in
Philadelphia have scheduled an exciting series of Wednesday evening
events in July, each of which are Sun Ra related. This is in support
of the Sun Ra Museum exhibit at the ICA in Philadelphia running
through August 2, 2009. All of the below events on July 8, 15, 22, &
29, 2009 are free and open to the public at the ICA Museum, 118 South
36th Street, Philadelphia, PA. Following the Wednesday, July 1
spectacular featuring the Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of
Marshall Allen, the events will be:

Wednesday, July 8 @ 7:00 pm:

John Szwed - A lecture by the biographic expert on all things Ra

Hear a lecture by John Szwed, the biographic expert on all things Ra.
Mr. Szwed is the author of "Space Is The Place: The Lives and Times of
Sun Ra" (Da Capo Press, 1998). He is an anthropologist, musicologist,
and historian who teaches at Columbia University. Mr Szwed has
authored many significant books covering the personalities and
artistry of jazz. Those who have previously heard John Szwed lecture
on Sun Ra will tell you that this is a not to be missed event that
will include anecdotes, insights, and information that surround the
mystery of Sun Ra.

Wednesday, July 15 @ 7:00 pm:

Outdoor Double Feature: "Brother From Another Planet" and "A Joyful
Noise" curated by Jesse Pires

The 2005 documentary "Sun Ra: Brother From Another Planet" was made by
director Don Letts for the BBC. This 59 minute film has only been
screened once before in the USA and this is its Philadelphia Premiere.
Don Letts, the legendary London DJ who introduced reggae and ska to a
generation of punk rockers, delves into the mysterious world of Sun Ra
in this British, made-for-television documentary. Sun Ra biographer
John Szwed, musician Archie Schepp, and members of Sun Ra's Arkestra
discuss the life and work of one of jazz music's pre-eminent pioneers.
For the uninitiated, "Brother From Another Planet" is a great
introduction to Sun Ra, and for Sun Ra devotees, it is required

The 1980 documentary "Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise" was made by director
Robert Mugge, who will be in attendance at this screening and he will
give an introduction to this film. Consisting of explosive live
footage of the Sun Ra Arkestra and fascinating interviews with the man
himself, "A Joyful Noise" is the complete Sun Ra experience. Filmed
in and around Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. when the Arkestra was
living in Germantown, Robert Mugge's documentary captures the group at
the height of its creative powers. Each live performance featured in
the film further illustrates the distinctive alchemy Sun Ra was able
to create with his disciplined band. Ra makes his case for a better
world through music, transcending banal, earthbound realities to
produce a strange and fascinating aesthetic fusing ancient history
with future visions.

Wednesday, July 22 @ 7:00 pm:

Saturn Never Sleeps: Sun-Ra: Lectric a night curated by King Britt and
Rucyl Mills

Saturn Never Sleeps is a carefully curated electronic experience,
created by music producer, King Britt and singer/visualist, Rucyl
Mills combining audio-visual micro-components into a thought altering
world of sight and sound. Live musicians of acoustic and electronic
inventions come together in creating the sonic bubblebath for your
listening pleasure. Visuals add the dimension needed to transport you
into a different place. For this special mission, we are dedicating
the night to reconstructing, in an improvisational way, the sounds of
jazz legend and fellow dreamer, Sun-Ra.

King Britt (electronics), Rucyl Mills (vocals & sampling), Tim Motzer
(guitartronics), Damon Bennet (keyboards & flute), Jason Senk
(visuals), and some very special guests.

Together we will be reducing Sun Ra sounds into a new context while
combining with works by artists influenced by him as well into a night
of vision!

Wednesday, July 29 @ 7:00 pm:

Death's Headquarters: In Celebration of Le Sony'Ra: curated by Ars Nova Wor=

Featuring performances by two local groups in the avant-garde spirit
of Ra and the Arkestra: Planet Y and Sonic Liberation Front.

"To save the planet, I had to go to the worst spot on Earth, and that
was Philadelphia, which was death's headquarters." -Sun Ra

An expanded 12-member Sonic Liberation Front, the Philadelphia
ensemble acclaimed for their iconoclastic combination of Free Jazz
passion and Afro-Cuban percussion, will premiere =93Jetway Confidential
No.3 (for Sun Ra)=94, a new composition dedicated to Sun Ra and
commissioned specifically for this performance, and perform an
arrangement of Sun Ra=92s =93Where Pathways Meet=94 from 1978=92s "Languidi=
recording, which featured saxophonist and SLF member Julian Pressley.
This evening will also feature a very rare appearance from Planet Y -
Buchla Music Easel master Charles Cohen and Stinking Lizaveta=92s Yanni
Papadopoulos, best described as "Subotnick meets Sun Ra meets
Schnitzler.=94 (Aquarius Records) In addition, newly-unearthed archival
films will be projected on the gallery walls.

Planet Y: Yanni Papadopoulos (dg-20 Casio digital guitar), Charles
Cohen (Buchla Music Easel)

Sonic Liberation Front: Todd Margasak (cornet), Terry Lawson (tenor
saxophone/flute), Dan Scofield (alto saxophone), Julian Pressley (alto
saxophone), Brent White (trombone), dmHotep (guitar), Travis Woodson
(guitar), Matt Engle (double-bass), Chuck Joseph (Bata drums/drumkit),
Shawn "Dade" Beckett (Bata drums/percussion),
Khari Clemmons (Bata drums), Kevin Diehl (Bata drums/drumkit).

Led by percussionist Kevin Diehl, a protege of Free Jazz pioneer Sunny
Murray, Sonic Liberation Front merges post-bop with traditional
Afro-Cuban Yoruba roots music. While other ensembles have merged Bata
drumming and jazz, none have done it with the vigor of SLF. The band
members are true students of the Lukumi tradition under the guidance
of percussionist/omo ana Chuckie Joseph, a lifelong Yoruba cultural
scholar. It=92s been said a million times that all music originates in
West Africa =AD and by returning the focus to its origins, SLF achieves
a natural eclectism that serves as a fountain of ingenuity. Ancient to
the future, indeed. For this special performance, an expanded 12-piece
SLF performs featuring some of the most notable names in
Philadelphia=92s exploratory music scene including members of the Sun Ra
Arkestra, Make A RIsing, and Shot x Shot.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sun Ra chronicled in film, lectures & more []

Sun Ra chronicled in film, lectures & more
Posted on Mon, Jun. 29, 2009
By Shaun Brady

A variety of events celebrating the singular world of jazz musician Sun Ra are being held at the Institute of Contemporary Art (118 S. 36th St., 215-898-7108, to celebrate the exhibit "Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn & Chicago's Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954-1968," which runs through Aug. 2.

Admission to all events is free.

John Szwed: Lecture by the author of "Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra." (July 8, 7 p.m.)

Outdoor Double Feature: Screenings of the 2005 documentary "Sun Ra: Brother From Another Planet" and the hourlong 1980 film "A Joyful Noise," which includes footage from the Arkestra house in Germantown. (July 15, 7 p.m.)

Saturn Never Sleeps: A sonic and visual collage created by King Britt using snippets of Sun Ra music and live experimentation. (July 22, 7 p.m.)

Death's Headquarters: In Celebration of Le Sony'r Ra: Curated by Ars Nova Workshop, performances by two local groups in the avant-garde spirit of Ra and the Arkestra: Planet Y, the duo of Charles Cohen and Yanni Papadopoulos; and Sonic Liberation Front, a 12-piece ensemble combining free jazz with Afro-Cuban percussion. (July 29, 7 p.m.)

In the beginning: Sun Ra. New exhibit explores origins of his music & personal creativity. []

In the beginning: Sun Ra New exhibit explores origins of his music & personal creativity

By SHAUN BRADY Philadelphia Daily News For the Daily News Posted on Mon, Jun. 29, 2009

IN THE OPENING scene of the 1974 film "Space Is the Place," jazz iconoclast Sun Ra sits in a fanciful extraterrestrial garden, decked out in Egyptian-inspired headdress and robes, and bemoans the sound of planet Earth as "the sound of guns, anger, frustration."

His proposal is to create a "colony for black people" on this new planet, a Utopian second chance. He ends by deciding to "teleport the whole planet here through music."

The scene captures, fully formed, Ra's idiosyncratic worldview, a unique philosophy blending science fiction, black power, mysticism, mythology and, of course, music.

"Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn & Chicago's Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954-1968," an exhibit on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art through Aug. 2, captures Ra's ideas in their developmental stages. Curated by journalist and jazz critic John Corbett, the show collects artifacts, memorabilia and artwork from Ra's years in Chicago and New York, before the move to what would be come his Arkestra's permanent home in Philadelphia.

"This body of work really represents the formative years of Sun Ra," Corbett explained during a tour of the exhibit. "It spans the period when he developed this persona, this myth-science as he called it, that was very invested in an exploration of space and its relevance for African-Americans as a concrete metaphor.

"By the time he settled in Philadelphia, the persona was more or less set, so this material allows us to look at how he began to construct this identity."

Sun Ra and His Arkestra have long struggled to claim their rightful place in jazz history. Ra's bizarre pronouncements, colorful costumes and sci-fi preoccupations, along with the band's at times chaotic sound, have led many to dismiss the Arkestra as a sideshow, a novelty act.

But rather than the comic-book spectacle that some critics would make it out to be, Ra's personal reinvention was deeply rooted in the troubled times in which he lived.

Born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Ala., in 1914, Ra's name change and claims to hail from Saturn were as much a repudiation of the segregation-era South as they were an attempt at self-mythologizing. His wish to colonize an Afrocentric planet could be viewed as a fantastical analog to the Back to Africa movement.

But Ra's ideas weren't all flights of fancy. As Corbett pointed out during the tour, Ra's Saturn Records was one of the first artist-run record labels.

"This was the birth of the independent music industry, which we now take as a matter of course," Corbett said. "The idea was very rooted in a local grassroots, Afrocentric community of black businesses and designers. They pulled people into the fold to make fliers for shows, to design things for them, to come up with this look that began to incorporate the mixture of space, the Bible and apocalypse, ideas that Sun Ra was leading them to explore."

The fact that this was a venture into the DIY unknown is illustrated by the fact that several sketches and even full designs for album covers on display fail to conform to the square dimensions of an actual LP.

One of the most remarkable objects in the exhibit is a pencil-and-paper collage labeled "Treasure Map for El Saturn," a blueprint for Ra's hopes both practical and fanciful. Amidst sketches of the continents and hieroglyphs are plans for a radio station and recording studio, plus 10,000 acres of land, space for apartments and hotels, "money to fight ignorance" and "food for the hungry."

"It shows his notion of how Saturn Records was going to spread around the world and enlighten everyone on the planet," Corbett said. "That was Sun Ra's stated purpose. He was very concerned about the state of the world in the mid-1950s, both in terms of race issues and in terms of the neglect of beauty."

The collage was created by Alton Abraham, Ra's longtime friend and manager, whose collection makes up the bulk of the exhibit. Corbett salvaged the material after Abraham's death in 1999, when it was threatened with destruction. The exhibit ranges from original art for album covers to business cards, broadsides that Ra handed out on Chicago street corners, even a Christmas card wishing "Better life vibrations" for the holiday season.

While the exhibit cuts off in 1968, the year that Ra moved to the house on Morton Street in Germantown that still serves as home base for the Arkestra, the bandleader's 25-year residence in the city until his death in 1993 makes Philly a logical site for the show.

"There's no place more logical for it to be than here in Philadelphia," Corbett said. "This is the place that Sun Ra finally felt comfortable enough to stay."

Today, the Arkestra is led by alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, who joined the band in the late 1950s during the period represented by the exhibit. Allen reminisced recently about being introduced to Ra's philosophy and how it changed him as a musician and as a human being.

"In the early stages, he had to first change the musicians' and the people's ideas," Allen said. "So whatever he did with those things that you see, he had a bigger job convincing people to open their minds to the space age and independence and creativity. That was hard for musicians with a traditional way of playing, and that was the biggest work of his career, changing the musicians to play his idea of things to come."

Allen will lead the Arkestra in a performance at the ICA on July 1, the first of a series of events coinciding with the exhibit. Upcoming events include a lecture by Ra biographer John Szwed on July 8; a screening of the films "Sun Ra: Brother From Another Planet" and "A Joyful Noise" on July 15; a sonic and visual collage by King Britt on July 22; and performances by Sonic Liberation Front and Planet Y curated by Ars Nova Workshop on July 29.

"When you're younger you dream about you can fly or you can jump 90 feet," Allen said. "But in reality, you have to develop yourself like an athlete. It's the same in the music."

Allen is now confronting the challenges once faced by his mentor as the Arkestra's maestro, a position he's held since 1997.

"It's a good feeling to look back at the beginning and see things when you didn't quite understand them," Allen said of viewing the exhibit.

"It's wonderful to see those things and know that I still got a job ahead of me."