On Jan. 2, the Portland Art Museum lit up with the spirits, sounds and glitter-adorned outfits of the Sun Ra Arkestra. When the dozen-plus Arkestra members filtered onto the stage for their first show in Portland in 29 years, a hush fell over the sold-out crowd. The Arkestra, led by legendary alto-saxophonist Marshall Allen, quickly began their engaging set.
A jovial, carefree aura surrounded the experimental jazz legends, luring much of the crowd to the front of the stage to marvel at black excellence. The concert coincided with the museum's ongoing exhibit dedicated to Sun Ra, the jazz icon, artist and liberationist thinker who founded the Arkestra in the 1950s.
Since Sun Ra's death in 1993, the Arkestra has continued the otherworldly imagery he exuded. At the art museum, the collective performed uplifting, eccentric jazz accompanied by celestially philosophical chants like "Sun is here, in heaven."
Each member played and danced with the exuberance of people half their age—one member even did a few cartwheels. "Stranger in Paradise" and "I'll Wait for You" seemed particular crowd favorites, while "Angels and Demons at Play," a dual creation between Allen and Ra himself, helped drive home the innovative force of Ra's vision.
But the individual components that made the show unforgettable were secondary to letting the Arkestra's whole essence encompass you, which is exactly what the audience at the art museum did. The Arkestra gave us a one-of-a-kind experience, and one that did incredible justice to the genius of Sun Ra himself.