Phil Corhan and the Artistic-Ethnic Heritage Ensemble
(Recorded in Chicago, IL in 1968, reissue Artequestrium Records 2002)
From Aural Innovations #21 (October 2002)
There's something about Chicago that has fueled some of the most progressive musical movements in the postwar era. This is an old American town, sometimes forboding, dirty and claustrophobic with it's rigidly enforced segregation, failed mass public housing and the contentious populace who inhabit the place make it one of my least favorite locations in the US.
Yet every type of American music has thrived in this town (much has to do with the migration of Africans from the southern states to this city in the years 1917-1960). World renowned and copied widely is the sound known as "Chicago Blues", which is the harmonic/rhythmic basis for most of the music heard worldwide.
In the world of Jazz one can sight SUN RA, the AACM, and the less known but extremely innovative ARTISTIC HERITAGE ENSEMBLE, formed and lead by ex-Sun Ra Trumpeter/AACM founder member Phil Corhan. This is an amazing release that displays a large ensemble whose influences come from a variety of sources, and one whose influences are found in a wider variety of music coming out of the Windy City. Some of the musicians are names usually associated with the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Music) such as Drummer Robert Crowder (who recorded with and was a member of Saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell's 1968 ensemble, and Bassist Louis Satterfield, who had worked in an ensemble with Saxophonist Eddie Harris, and pianist Jody Christian. Leader Corhan had recorded on a number of Sun Ra's ground-breaking late 1950s recordings (he can be heard on SUN SONG playing brisk Bebop-influenced solos on top of Ra's African marches and Count Basie-like big band charts.
"The Minstrel" opens with a spry R & B vamp laid down by Percussion, BassGuitar Drums and amplified Kalimba, which Maurice White of the Chicago-based pop group "Earth, Wind & Fire" used to use with great effect during their live presentation. Voices enter with a chant influenced by West African "call/response" rhythmic arrangements, telling the story of a Griot with an almost Motown/Stax flavor, and their recitation is followed by a dynamite Kalimba solo and a fine Tenor Sax solo by Eugene Easton, Charles Handy's Musette and James Williams Alto. There are some fairly amazing horn arrangements on all the tunes, with different sections playing contrapuntal melodic phrases at different tempos, which shows the experience Corhan had whilst playing with "The Voice of the Cosmos".
A real surprise on this reissue is the appearance of Guitarist Pete Cosey, whose textural contributions are immeasurable, yet he has the good taste to remain part of the ensemble, never overpowering the unamplified instruments. Another major contributor is "master" Henry Gibson, and his multi-directional Percussion, which reinforces the drumline and powers the ensemble with relentless force and energy.
The band can express very delicate motifs as well. They provide some beautiful pads underneath the vocals on "Mothers", and Corhan plays an extremely evocative Trumpet solo. "Live Unity 68" presents an excerpt of the band in performance, and is full of Sun Ra Vibes, and excellent work by the Reeds; Cosey's sound is very prominent, despite the fact that he is not the principle soloist!
This is one serious piece of history, and should be heard by anyone with an interest in Afro Centrism (American style), improvising collectives and folks who enjoyed EWF before they went Pop!
Reviewed by Doug Walker