Unpredictability was always a key component in the unique spectacles staged by Sun Ra but the veteran jazz bandleader's recent local appearances had complacently settled into a formulaic pattern of set musical and theatrical pieces. The pianist/composer reintroduced the element of surprise to his two-hour opening set at Club Lingerie on Sunday by focusing on the side of his repertoire rooted in the classic big band sound.
The swinging rhythms and lush horn voicings that dominated the material his 14-piece Arkestra performed would have shocked those who dismiss Sun Ra as the doyen of the cosmic avant garde. Sporting a new beard dyed orange-red and one of his thrift shop space cadet outfits, he even looked a bit like the late Count Basie beamed down from Saturn.
Yes, there were a few early trips to Dr. Ra's Experimental Sonic Laboratory, like Marshall Allen's swooping, darting solo on a black, box-like wind instrument that produced synthesizer-like effects. Nor was there a shortage of Ra's trademark cosmic shtick--he took the stage as the Arkestra chanted, "When the world was in darkness/Darkness was ignorance/Along came Ra," and quickly proclaimed himself a member of the angel race.
But the final 90 minutes was almost entirely given over to a musical tour of such mythical emporiums as Ra's Cocktail Lounge and Ra's Swingland Ballroom. The exciting, 10-minute stop at Ra's Blues Palace was highlighted by Ronald Wilson's honking tenor sax solo and Ra's left-hand stride piano rhythms.