Phil Cohran / Philip Cohran & the Artistic Heritage Ensemble

On the Beach

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Philip Cohran is a Chicago mainstay who was part of Sun Ra's band as a trumpeter from the '50s until Ra left Chicago in 1961. He was also instrumental in helping to create the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), which spawned Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Leo Smith, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and countless others. This disc is a compilation of recorded material by his Artistic Heritage Ensemble recorded in the later '60s that is visionary in its marriage of African rhythms, funk, and jazz improvisation. The band at the time included future Miles guitar monster Pete Cosey and a couple of cats who went on to join Earth, Wind & Fire's horn section. AHE's tunes were structured around riffs and melodies created by Cohran's frankiphone, an amplified African thump piano. He played cornet as well, but the frankiphone was the backbone of the entire band -- 15 members strong. From here the horn sections would work into a harmonic read of the opening riff and begin their ascent into the body of a track, and the singers, guitarists, and percussionists would be adding color, space, and texture to all of it. "The Minstrel," which opens the set, is indicative of how the music of John Coltrane, James Brown, and Fela Kuti (whom Cohran couldn't have known about or vice versa) all came together in a seamless solidarity of black consciousness. On "Unity," one of the band's signature tunes, the groove is created not by the frankiphone, but by Cohran's violin uke, and is carried deep into the Diaspora by the percussion section, which buoys up Charles Williams' awesome space blues tenor solo. Perhaps most notable on an album where everything is beyond reproach and still sounds ahead of its time is "New Frankiphone Blues," which, according to Cohran, is "the first modal blues." Using a 16-bar form, it demonstrates melodic construction rather than harmonic. What he doesn't tell listeners is that from this nine-note melody and the resultant accompaniment by the horn section and Cosey's guitar, harmonics are shifting and moving through the groove and tempos are shifting and turning all over the place. This is a monster of a jam, where the frankiphone anchors the rhythm section and everybody else moves off to groove in soulville. There are too few records like this, too few moments in musical time where everything converges and marries the past to the future in the heart of the now. This is one album no one with a pulse should be without.

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