Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Boss of the bosses: Kelan Phil Cohran at Hyde Park Arts Center, Chicago December 2006

Went to Chicago this past weekend for the Kelan Phil Cohran talk. You can read the bio, pore over an article, and try to find this or that reissue. But these things are only partial preparation for the experience of being around KPC in realtime.

KPC—or "Brother Phil" as he's known on the Chicago jazz/heavy listening scene—is, of course, the father of all the horns in HYPNOTIC BRASS ENSEMBLE. But the discussion at the Hyde Park Art Center was part of the programming for a fascinating exhibit so he was speaking his connection to the original brother from another planet: omniversal bandleader/composer/afrofuturist Sun Ra. KPC gigged and recorded with the Sun Ra Arkestra from the late ’50s til it left Chicago for Montreal (then New York) in the early ’60s; in that time he contributed to some of best albums in the Arkestra discography including Angels And Demons At Play, Interstellar Low Ways and The Nubians Of Plutonia (HYPNOTIC completists will want to to cop Ra's Holiday For Soul Dance LP to crosscheck Cohran's composition "Dorothy's Dance" with "Pops Riff" from HYPNOTIC's 2001 CD Flipside). The Arkestra experience was so inspiring that when Ra left town, Cohran stayed behind to keep working on his own thing—a decision that led to a handful of amazing recordings and a legacy of teaching and community activism in Chicago that continues to this day.

Noting the auspicious sign of Jupiter, Mercury and Mars all lined up at the head of Scorpio, KPC started at precisely 2pm (moderator John Corbett popped up several minutes later to har har that this was the first occasion of a jazz musician starting on time) by explaining his gear: Lugz for his appreciation of the hip-hop, permanent press slacks for "the regular generation—the baby boomers," a silk tunic bought at a Beijing hotel that symbolized the respect he received on a visit to China in 1996 and a pharonic headdress as a nod to Sun Ra's pioneering use of costumes and performance art in a jazz context. From there KPC unrolled a fascinating matrix of ideas, theories, observations, polemics, funny asides and yes, HYPNOTIC backstory, all the while bringing it back to the man he referred to as Sunny. "He was so weird, you had to take a deep breath all the time," KPC explained. "But at the same time Sunny had a big heart—he really cared for people and had concern for people's misdirection in life."

Somewhat amazingly, KPC also brought his own astral soundsystem, which included a harp, a trumpet, a French horn, the legendary violin-ukes/ukelins/tuneable zithers heard in the essential song "Music From The World Tomorrow" on Angels And Demons At Play and the even more legendary frankiphones he invented and made by hand. Plus a cosmic DVD projection!

Trust I have clips of KPC rocking all those vibes live, but it's gonna take a while for me to get em together. As you might imagine there's really too much to go into it all at once; I'm gonna get that video crackin in a day or so though. For the now time peep the pix.

Rule Number 1: Don't touch the harp. Nobody touches the harp.

Rule Number 2: Don't touch anything else.

After the show KPC admitted to being a little rusty on the French horn; the narrow tubing makes it a tough instrument to fake on if you're out of practice.

OG frankiphone: priceless.

The violin-ukele zithers heard on Sun Ra's "Music From The World Tomorrow". KPC bought them for the tuning pins—they let him get to the classical Chinese tones he had been reading about.

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