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Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the second album by Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, The Malcolm X Memorial (A Tribute in Music), had been reissued on CD by a new Hyde Park indie called Katalyst Entertainment. The album, recorded live in 1968 at the Affro-Arts Theater, was released sometime in the early 70s on Cohran’s Zulu Record imprint. It’s very rare. In 2001 former Chicagoan Jamie Hodge reissued the group’s excellent, eponymous debut (often called On the Beach, after one of its tracks) on his Aestuarium label, and while the second album doesn’t match the singular brilliance of that debut — where Cohran leads his group through gorgeously hypnotic jazz-funk originals distinguished by his electric kalimba lines — it’s still a special document.
As the title suggests, the disc is a musical interpretation of the life of Malcolm X. There’s some nice urban blues — with extended guitar playing by Pete Cosey — and a portrayal of drug-and-alcohol-fueled excesses in a kind of jazz jump blues called “Detroit Red.” Another piece captures his transformation from morally bankrupt street tough to spiritually-awake visionary. The album features Cohran on trumpet rather than kalimba, and there aren’t many examples of the former Sun Ra Arkestra member playing his horn during this era. There are also some excellent performances by future Earth, Wind & Fire members like Louis Satterfield (bass) and Donald Myrick (baritone sax). Among the other key figures in the band were tuba player Aaron Dodd, drummer Bob Crowder, and percussionist Master Henry Gibson. The reissue comes at a great time — it’s a valuable piece of progressive black culture in Chicago at the end of the 60s, which compliments the mid-50s activity of Sun Ra captured in the exhibition currently at the Hyde Park Art Center .