“When the World was in Darkness,and darkness was ignorance...Along came Ra.”
Filmed one year after Sun Ra's induction into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, documentarian Robert Mugge's one hour profile captures Sun Ra and His Akrestra during their years spent living communally in Philadelphia's Germantown neighborhood. The film shows us the Arkestra in their communal home and in performance, equally at home in traditional venues (The Famous Ballroom in Baltimore, featuring blistering sax work by current Arkestra leader Marshall Allan, Danny's Hollywood Palace in Philidelphia) and on the rooftop of the Philadelphia International Center.
Equal time is given to interviews with several Arkestra members: John Gilmore, Danny Thompson (who operates the store Pharoah's Den in their neighborhood), and Ra himself, in front of the Carter-era White House and an Egyptian exhibit, alternating between orations about ancient Egypt, his own place in the cosmos and the current woes of the modern age.
There is a great sincerity that the film captures, in both the members of the Arkestra, and Sun Ra himself,musicians creating and rehearsing endlessly who have cast aside social lives and money to dedicate themselves fully to the creation of a truly unique music. This wasn't music made to sell records, but to give voice to men's hopes for the future and the world surrounding them.
That level of devotion is what's required to work with a Man who spoke of making music sublime enough to elevate humanity beyond Earth, to transcend reality. Ra passed away in 1993, appointing Akrestra leadership to John Gilmore, who sadly passed shortly thereafter in 1995. Since then Marshall Allan has lead the Arkestra onwards, struggling to maintain the band's home and preserving Ra's legacy.
(Sun Ra compositions featured in the film include "Astro Black," "Along Came Ra," "We Travel the Spaceways," and "Requiem for Trevor Johnson." )