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Planet D Nonet Annual Do-Ra

Steve Bryant By

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Planet D Nonet
Planet D Nonet Do-Ra
Detroit Institute of Art
Detroit, MI

December 28, 2012

The Detroit music scene is well known for its firm groundings in blues R&B, rock and hard-bop, which includes a large community of musicians as well as a solid fan base. What isn't as well known is that there is a sizable following for avant-garde jazz, especially for the music and mystique of Sun Ra. This interest in the legendary bandleader and visionary dates back to the early '70s when his Arkestra played the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival. In addition, quite a few area musicians are students as well as admirers of Sun Ra.

As a matter of fact, there is even a Detroit Sun Ra tribute band, The Planet D Nonet, which is headed by veteran drummer RJ Spangler. The Nonet brought its annual Do-Ra to the Detroit Institute of Art, where it performed a variety of Sun Ra charts to an enthusiastic audience in the historic Diego Rivera Court. The Nonet, which is comprised of crack area musicians, even wore fezes to mark the occasion. The set started with a classic Arkestra intro before the group dove right into an energetic rendition of "The Will Come Is Now." The tune's highlight was the energetic solos by reed players Justin Jozwiak , Tim Haldeman, and Joshua James. "Fate In A Pleasant Mood" followed, featuring a fiery djembe intro by the great Detroit percussionist Akunda Hollis.

Things really got interesting when the Nonet played "Love in Outer Space," featuring solos by trumpeter Jam O'Donnell and trombonist John "T'Bone" Paxton. However, it was an ethereal turn on "Island In The Sun" which got the crowd excited, as the group started channeling Mwandishi (pianist Herbie Hancock's early '70s, pre-Headhunters electric group). It jumped off with bassist Joel Peterson's 7/4 tumbao, accompanied by Mike Malis on Fender Rhodes and followed by James' turn on bass clarinet. Of course, no Sun Ra set would be complete without some vocal numbers, and Spangler and the group obliged with "They'll Come Back," sung by Paxton.

The second set was a mix of classic Ra and original tunes. The Nonet performed "You Never Told Me That You Cared," penned by the little-known but prodigious Detroit composer Cassius Richmond. The set's other memorable piece was "Ancient Aethepia," with the trumpet section evoking Lester Bowie and Eddie Henderson. The night ended in classic Arkestra fashion with a second-line during "Where Pathways Meet!" Performing the Sun Ra repertoire is no mean feat. You have to have an ensemble with solid musicality and strong soloists. It also helps to have players who appreciate that Arkestra spirit. Fortunately Spangler and his Nonet were up to the task.

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