Visitors to the Detroit Institute of Arts can expect a close encounter of the "cozmic" kind Friday night when local space-age swing band Planet D Nonet plays a tribute to interstellar jazz legend Sun Ra.
Sun Ra holds a singular place in jazz history. With his pioneering use of the electric keyboard and big band "arkestra" improvisation, he created futuristic sounds and lyrics that fused outer space themes with Egyptian mythology. Clad in futuristic headgear and metallic robes, Ra, who died in 1993, was also perhaps the only American performer ever to claim he came from Saturn.
Planet D Nonet, the group behind Friday's tribute concert, is an 11-piece ensemble featuring saxophones, trumpets, a trombone and a full rhythm section. Founded by R.J. Spangler and James O'Donnell in 2007, the group's repertoire includes the swing music of Duke Ellington, the jump tunes of Louis Jordan and, of course, Ra's special blend of afro-futurist jazz.
DIA programming manager Rudy Lauerman praised the group highly and called the band's leader a veteran of Detroit's jazz community.
"R.J. spangler has been in Detroit forever," Lauerman told HuffPost. "He played with the Sun Messengers in the early '80s. He's a mainstay in the Detroit jazz scene."
The concert is part of the DIA's Friday Night Live! performance series and is tied to the museum's "Detroit Revealed: Photographs 2000-2010," an exhibit that features photos -- some of as big as seven feet across -- of iconic Detroit locations. Inspired by "Detroit Revealed," Lauerman decided to feature a series of iconic Detroit bands to coincide with the exhibit, which runs through April.
Planet D Nonet (the name is a reference to the city) fit perfectly into the theme. Lauerman is excited about the concert -- and its location as well.
Although he had the option of hosting the show in the much larger Detroit Film Theatre, Lauerman instead chose the museum's Rivera Court, the typical setting for Friday Night Live! performances. Lauerman said the court with its awe-inspiring Diego Rivera "Detroit Industry" frescoe murals offered a better atmosphere and an increased sense of initimacy.
"I prefer it to a large stage," Lauerman said, "You don't hear this kind of music every day in that kind of venue."
Planet D Nonet will play its Sun Ra Tribute at the DIA on Friday, Dec. 30, at 7 p.m. and again at 8:30 p.m. The museum is located at 5200 Woodward Ave. in Detroit. The event is free with museum admission.