What would Sun Ra think? How might he react, that is, if he were told that the cosmic jazz machine he built—the Sun Ra Arkestra—was still announcing new tour dates in the distant year of 2017? Raised eyebrows, perhaps, or more likely an inscrutable half-smirk. Here in the future, however, it is not so surprising that audiences will turn out for a night of spiritual jazz presided over by Marshall Allen, the Arkestra’s longtime player of saxophone and Electronic Valve Instrument. After all, in the year following the passing of star-children Maurice White and David Bowie, the Arkestra’s sonic happenings might represent a ticket-buyer’s last chance to be a part of the utopian musical “equation” that influenced both the pop world and the counterculture in the 1970s. As morbid as it might sound, Arkestra shows are like watching a light show produced by the supernova of a long-dead star.
What’s most surprising is not that Arkestra shows still feel contemporary, but how the Arkestrian approach to jazz is healthier than it has been in decades. Pioneers like Allen and Pharoah Sanders are not only finding collaborators and kindred souls in the next generation to join them onstage—they’re damn near outnumbered by them. The range of artists and collectives boldly waving high the freak flag of cosmic jazz is surprisingly broad in 2017, and that’s not even counting Afrofuturist pop modeled on the Arkestra more in concept than in actual frequencies. Without further preamble, find below a quick lookbook of nine artists each carrying the torch for cosmic jazz in their own ways, from time-defying cross-generational holdouts like Idris Ackamoor to newer mutants like Morgan Craft and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.