|(excerpted from John Corbett's liner notes) Driving down Cottage Grove you couldn’t miss it, right next to the bank, with glass-brick facade and a sign out front: Wonder Inn. A long tavern, a straight shot back to the restrooms at the rear with a bar stretching along one side and tables on the other; an odd, baroquely decorated canopy arched over the cramped stage, classic Chicago pressed-tin ceiling above it. There was music nightly from 10 PM to 4 AM, and for a very long stretch– the house band was Sun Ra and his Arkestra, in a rather economical six-piece incarnation of the ensemble featuring tenor saxophonist John Gilmore, cornetist Phil Cohran plus occasional vocals by Ricky Murray.
Over the course of the Arkestra’s Wonder Inn year-long stay, Roland Kirk came out and sat in with the band, as did Stan Getz. John Coltrane, reputedly stood out front but wouldn’t come inside, for mysterious reasons. Cohran remembers looking out into the crowd and seeing people who he would come to know better a few years later- namely the future founders of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, including Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman.
Quite a scene it must have been. At a time when suits and ties were de rigueur, Sun Ra quietly began to challenge the sartorial norm. The Wonder Inn was the place where that all jelled, the stage on which Sun Ra intensified the spectacular quality of his self-presentation. He had already introduced costume into Arkestra performances, but they became a mainstay at the Wonder Inn.
If the Wonder Inn recordings have been much speculated over during the four decades since they were made, a studio date from someplace called Majestic Hall rings only very distant bells, even for those who played on it. Majestic Hall was a fantastic session, with a slightly larger octet incarnation of the Arkestra, including Cohran on cornet, Gilmore again in gorgeous form, Marshall Allen and two other saxophonists: Gene Easton on alto and Ronald Wilson on baritone. Drummer Robert Barry is explosive on the latter track,and as with the Wonder Inn tracks, bassist Ronnie Boykins was the Arkestra’s unfailing rudder. Behind it all looms the creative fireball named Sun Ra, concocting ceaselessly creative intros, comping imaginatively, or going without horns on the fragment of "Interstellar Lo-Ways" that closes the disc.
Here then, are two late-breaking installations from a single season in the story of Sun Ra’s Chicago period, each focused on a different aspect of his concept. The Wonder Inn: Arkestra in motion, as part of the community, engaging the underground jazz intelligentsia on the south side. Majestic Hall: the grand scale of Ra’s compositional and arranging genius, the heroic efforts of his band. Yet a couple more key pieces in the big puzzle that is Sun Ra’s master-oeuvre.