Kelan Phil Cohran at the Hideout | Concert preview
The 85-year-old AACM co-founder holds court.
Phil Cohran stands tall in both the past and the far future. He cofounded the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (which held its first meeting in his Cottage Grove apartment in 1965), and from 1959 to ’61 he helped Sun Ra launch South Side clubgoers to Saturn in legendary six-hour sets at the Wonder Inn.
Though the 85-year-old’s discography is modest, powerful ’60s recordings with his Artistic Heritage Ensemble have been reissued, and his influence always dwarfed his output. Cohran created music programs for public schools and city colleges for decades, influencing countless young ears (including his sons in the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble), and his Affro-Arts Theater in the late ’60s nurtured emerging musicians, poets and activists, including those who would form Earth, Wind & Fire.
But Cohran’s history, amazing as it is, is less impressive than his artistry. His tireless studies of world music led the horn player to master (and invent) numerous instruments, and his progressive ideas plucked fresh sounds from harps and kalimbas (the latter he electrified, renaming it the “Frankiphone”). A poet, philosopher and scholar, Cohran holds court onstage, explaining how each composition fits into the planes of this world. Then he releases sounds that float far beyond our atmosphere.
Diehard fans might lament the injustice of one of Chicago’s most historically significant experimental artists playing a series spotlighting forgotten musicians (presented by Reader strip The Secret History of Chicago Music). But seeing this fascinating figure in a cozy setting should offset any perceived slight.