Cohran shines in tribute to Sun Ra
By Howard Reich | Chicago Tribune critic (firstname.lastname@example.org)
August 16, 2008
Those fortunate enough to have seen pianist-bandleader Sun Ra in concert never will forget it. Leading an army of instrumentalists, dancers, acrobats, fire-eaters and whatnot, Ra turned every performance into a multimedia spectacle.
"Space is the place" he'd cry, insisting he was thousands of years old and traveling on a journey through the galaxies.
For all his stage antics, however, Ra-who merged high craft with deep spirituality-influenced generations of musicians. Among them, Chicagoan Kelan Phil Cohran was an ideal choice to stage a Ra tribute, presented Thursday night to an audience of 7,500 at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.
But this was no mere imitation of Ra, which would have been pointless. Instead, "Kelan Phil Cohran and the Legacy of Sun Ra" evoked the spirit of Ra's work-while focusing on the substance of Cohran's.
A revered Chicago musician, octogenarian Cohran has taught and enlightened uncounted jazz artists, drawing inspiration from his own years with Ra's Arkestra, in the late 1950s and early '60s. But if Ra's work was explosive and fantastically complex, Cohran's radiated a serene majesty throughout Thursday's concert.
Assisted by a vocal choir called the Rainbow Ensemble, flanked by a corps of instrumentalists dubbed the Spiritual Journey Percussion Ensemble and accompanied by the dynamic Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Cohran presided over a music as rich in texture as Ra's but considerably less frenetic. If Ra's art thrived on furious rhythm and futuristic dissonance, Cohran's harked back to African antiquity.
You could hear it in the simplicity of the phrases the Rainbow Ensemble sang, its chanted choral passages punctuated by imploring solos, including an impassioned one from Maggie Brown.
The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble punched out aggressive motifs, nobly evoking the brass bands that flourished in the prehistory of jazz.
Cohran sat at the center of the stage-and the action-playing harp, French horn, drums and more, reflecting on Ra between numbers.
"When I was playing with him, we starved to death," Cohran told the crowd.
"He was ahead of his time--that was his only fault."
There's some consolation, though, in knowing Ra has had a worthy artistic heir in Cohran.
Rahpre Newberry—Alto Sax
Walter Clark—Tenor Sax
Kelan Phil Cohran—Harp, Zither, Frankie, Cornet
Bobby Irving 3rd—Piano
Josefe Verna—Harp Classical
Forrestine Mills (ALT)
Spirtual Journey Ensemble
Susan Afi Ward
She She Imara
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
Gabriel Hubert (Trumpet)
Saiph Graves (Trombone)
Christopher Anderson (Drums)
Tycho Cohran (Sousaphone)
Amal Baji Hubert (Trumpet)
Seba Graves (Trumpet)
Tarik Graves (Trumpet)
Jafar Baji Graves (Trumpet)
Uttuma Hubert (Baritone)
Theresa Kinkle (Support)
Booker T. LaGrone (Preacher)
Throvale Johnson (Transportation)
Delao O'Banion (Choral Director)
Ed Smith (Floor Manager)
Thomas Ramirez (Native American)
Oba William King (Emcee)
Lavon Pettis (Project Manager)
Ani Cohran (Project Assistant)
Wali Graves (Project Assistant)
Kanita Taylor (Assistant to L.P.)
Me'Aza Rivers (Spirit Dancer)
Almunique Valiant (Spirit Dancer)
Taijite Graves (Spirit Dancer)
Zenobia Finney (Spiritual Consultant)
Thomas White (Public Relations/Assistant to Ms. Aquilla Sadalla)
Jeffery Ortmann (Project Support)
Special Thanks to those who put a spell on this show: I AM, BECAUSE WE ARE, The Jazz Institute of Chicago, The Department of Cultural Affairs, The Black United Fund, Casemmie Cole Kweli & Family, Zenobia Finney, The Multi Talent Resource Center, OM Productions, The Great Black Music Project, The 63rd Street Drummers, The Sun Ra Research Group (BRAD your a genius/thanks for the dedication & support over the years to Bro Kelan), Herberts Hand Craft Items, Yadidah's Wholesum Vegan Foods, Univesity of Chicago Jazz Archives, Caro D'Offay Gallery, Funky Buddah Lounge, Parkway Ball Room, Kayra Imports, Ethiopian Diamond Restaurant, Chicago State University Department of Psychology, The Black Arrow Group, The Sacred Women of Chicago, Chief Nomo, Jazz Unites, Chicago Jazz Magazine, To the people of Pembroke Township & all the Black Farmers: MULTI TALENTED RESOURCE AGENCY, BASU FARMS, NATURES FARMS, LA MUMBA (nurture the soil), To Mama Dale Reed & the Staff at Extend Family Daycare (your extra hours and time spent naturing the children enable this show to happen!), Big Pappa JuJu (Julian Roberts),
To All the Organizations & Individuals who kept the Public Aware of this event: Bronzeville.com (Raynard Hall), Latin Jazz Society (Mike Romano, Marsha Miles, Leo Wiggins, Dr. Cuz), Sound Mind Entertainment: (Melvin Williams/Jess Williams),chicago Tribune Howard Reich, Plastic Crime Wave (Chicago Reader), Dusty Grooves, Benjermin Funke, Charles Blass, Knoxville Robinson, The African International House (Board & Staff), Dexter Randles, Lady, Kalilah, Big Will, Caryolyn Albrition (The Hyde Park Jazz Society), Jean Kemp, John Wright, Marshall Allen, The Sun Ra Arkestra..thanks for the love & the support...
To the street, web, myspace team: Nijma Esad, Fx, Thomas White (Tunji), Flo, The 63rd Street Drummers, Kanita, Micheal, Kevin, Maggie Brown, Mama Edie.....much respect, much respect for the grinding...
To Hypnotic Brass Ensemble: thank you thank you continue the legacy and have fun in Nigeria....(shake it in homage to Fela)
To all of our loved ones who crossed over in the past 6 months....thank you for smiling upon us and enabling us to cross the thershold between wolds..
There are Photos Available to Kojo Man online (Yall Look Gud)
Kelan Phil Cohran Documentary Part 1, 2, & 3
South Side of the Sun (Time Out Magazine Article)
The Chicago Blog—University of Chicago Press
Chicago Magazine Listing for 8/14
Gapers Block http://gapersblock.com/transmission/2008/08/12/kelan_phil_cohran_pays_tribute/