The Planet D Nonet is a Detroit based big little band that plays a range of music form jump blues to repertoire jazz performances. The music of Sun Ra has been one of the sources that they mined in the past, and they were joined at the end of the last year by trumpeter Michael Ray, an alumni of Sun Ra's Arkestra, who has continued to play Sun Ra's music in his own groups. The result is a new album Rays of the Sun on Eastlawn Records that provides new interpretations of Sun Ra's repertoire.
The origin of this recording happened when drummer RJ Spangler, one of the leaders of Planet D heard from Michael that he would be in Detroit. It was recorded at bassist Joel Peterson’s place, Trinosophies, and recorded (in Spangler’s words) “in the style of a Grateful Dead taper,” given a small budget. Co-leader trumpeter James O’Donnell and trombonist John Paxton have also known Ray for a number of years. Ray apparently fit in well with the Nonet and the band either played Joshua James arrangements or Rob E. Cohen’s transcriptions.
Joshua James is one of the stand-out players here on baritone and soprano saxophonists as well as clarinet and bass clarinet. Mention also must be made of the keyboards of Mike Malis and Daniel Bennett’s clarinet. Ray is of course playing familiar music (some of which he also plays in his own Kosmic Krewe) and contributes some lead vocals as the rhythm section percolates in support of the marvelous interplay amongst the horns and some nice soloing. While there are some chanting, it is briefer than one might experience during Sun Ra’s live performances which were very theatrical in addition to musical.
The music here is more of Sun Ra’s cosmic 1960s and 1970s mode with a bit less focus on some of the more Tadd Dameron-ish bop stylings of Sun Ra’s fifties band or Sun Ra’s revisiting of classic Fletcher Henderson arrangements that the prior East Lawn recording of Sun Ra’s music We Travel The Spaceways. The band sounds pretty solid and plays they interstellar numbers with a real feel for Sun Ra’s own performances (that have been well documented) although the sound lacks some bite (likely a result of how it was recorded) which is the only quibble with this production. It should be noted that poet John Sinclair recites one of Sun Ra’s poems for a bonus performance of There is Change in the Air. This can be obtained from http://cdbaby.com and more information can be found on http://www.eastlawnrecords.com.
I received my review copy from Eastlawn Records. Here is the Planet D Nonet playing some Sun Ra.