Ra, Sun - Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise
Other // Unrated // $19.95 // December 11, 2015
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted January 6, 2016
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The Film:

It's difficult to try and summarize the abstract sometimes, take for instance the musical wonder that was the late jazz musician Sun Ra. Born in Alabama, he was a rising star in the conventional jazz music environment and branched out into more futuristic or avant-garde jazz interpretations. And he loved to play and record, with more than 100 albums to his discography. When you watch A Joyful Noise, the 1980 performance film with interviews with Ra and performances by him and his orchestra (who he titles ĎArkestra') you get a sense of exploration in the songs they play.

The film is directed by Robert Mugge, who himself is an explorer in the documentarian sense, with films about Al Green, Ruben Blades, Hawaiian music and Robert Johnson to his credit. In A Joyful Noise, we get Ra's thoughts about various subjects and the band plays in various locales, from the top of the Philadelphia International Center to the Famous Ballroom in Baltimore (now renamed the Charles Theatre). Along with Ra's songs such as "Astro Black" and "Along Came Ra," the Arkestra does an interpretation of the Dexter Gordon song "Round Midnight" that can be summarized as memorable.

There is perhaps a natural tendency to reconcile A Joyful Noise with a more conventional portrait of Sun Ra, but one could and perhaps should consider that this could very well be one of the better portraits of the artist. Telling the story of Ra's philosophy and music would only involve retrospective insight by peers, historians or fans, and if you're Sun Ra, what look is looking back? You've got to look forward and outward to different directions, which would seem to be in part what his music is about. Mugge has a sense of loyalty to the subject in A Joyful Noise that gets represented well.

Jazz may be hard to grasp for some people, and Sun Ra may be harder to grasp for some more, but A Joyful Noise examines Sun Ra by Sun Ra, perhaps in the best way possible, with his words and his music. It's abstractness in this case may be its purest, and definitely worth checking out for the explorations of the man and the arkestra.

The Blu-ray:

The 1.33:1 transfer was done from an original 16mm master and restored for this Blu-ray release, and looks as good as one could expect. Colors and flesh tones have been faithfully reproduced (witness the yellows of the Famous), and film grain is discernible during viewing, and the image looks as natural as can be. Surprisingly decent viewing for a film that many cherish.


LPCM audio for this release and it sounds fine. Interviews sound clear with little hissing or mosquito noises, performance and a decent amount of low end despite no subwoofer engagement, and the songs sound clear as can be, particularly on the squeaking of a saxophone during one number. I haven't seen the standard definition release to know if this is remastered audio as well, but it sounds fine to these ears.


Some extended audio performances, worth checking out if you are a fan of the film and of Sun Ra.

Final Thoughts:

If you are in for a change of pace, A Joyful Noise gives you a fine mix of jazz from one of the more interesting people in it (from a genre that had a lot of them) over the last half century. Technically it looks and sounds good, and the extras are ambrosia for the ears. Worth exploring, much as the man himself did.

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