Sun Ra made the connection between the cosmic and the down-to-earth at the Palomino, where the jazz visionary and his 17-piece Arkestra offered a tribute to the music from Walt Disney movies--an outgrowth of his participation in last year's heralded "Stay Awake" album, a collection of Disney music performed by diverse artists.
Ra bypassed a lot of the familiar standards Monday to focus on "stellar" selections like "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" and "Second Star to the Right." But his decision to play it straight with the arrangements led to a subdued, uneven, 75-minute opening set.
There were some unexpected pleasures: alto saxophonist Marshall Allen's lyrical turn on "Someday My Prince Will Come," trombonist Julian Priester's mellifluous tone, and Michael Ray's brassy, flashy trumpet solos. But the old-timey, almost pre-swing side of Ra's music was overemphasized, the vocals were ragged, and the rhythm section often dragged.
The most potent music came when the Arkestra settled into Kurt Weill-ish oom-pah rhythms on "Forest of No Return" and "Pink Elephants on Parade."
The crowning moment came when most of the Arkestra members marched single file through the Palomino doing some New Orleans brass-band improvising in the middle of "Whistle While You Work"--or maybe that was just the Sun Ra version of the Disney characters parading down Main Street at Disneyland. It sparked an audience whistle-along and induced--finally--the kind of giddy lunacy that's uniquely Sun Ra's.