“Some call me Mister Ra. Others call me Mister Ree. You can call me Mr. Mystery.”
Sun Ra was always the most original and singular of free jazz musicians—indeed, his resonant origin story about his Saturnian roots often seemed to transport his music into another category altogether.
In 1980 Robert Mugge made an hour-long documentary on Sun Ra called A Joyful Noise, and it’s splendid. I don’t know if Mugge ever uttered the words “Let Sun Ra be Sun Ra,” but he surely thought it. Several years ago Time Out London included A Joyful Noise on its list of the 50 greatest music films ever made.
Mugge wonderfully arranged for Sun Ra to expound on his many daffy ideas while draping himself on and ambling near an authentic ancient Egyptian sphinx at the Museum of the University of Philadelphia. In another resonant bit, Sun Ra is filmed at night in front of the White House, which affords him an opportunity to observe sardonically that he hasn’t noticed a similarly lofty Black House in the vicinity.
A Joyful Noise features plenty of great music by the Arkestra, including “Calling Planet Earth” and “We Travel the Spaceways,” two key tracks from the 1963 album When Sun Comes Out. About halfway through they do a terrific rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.”
Lots of fun. Just hit play and let Sun Ra’s music and cheerfully cosmic philosophy improve your day.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Sun Ra’s business cards: ‘Why buy old sounds?’
Stunning performance by Sun Ra and his Arkestra on French TV in 1972