Tonight octogenarian Phil Cohran, a fixture in Chicago’s creative-music community for decades, presents a musical homage to Sun Ra at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Cohran has accomplished enough to be worthy of homage himself; he played with the earliest version of Sun Ra’s Arkestra back in the 50s, cofounded the AACM, started the Affro-Arts Theater, and in the late 60s, with his Artistic Heritage Ensemble, he created a distinctive and influential strain of African-flavored jazz-funk, distinguished by the cascading, lyric lines he played on an electrified kalimba of his own design he called the Frankiphone. He’s also spent many years as an educator.

Lately Cohran’s most celebrated production might be the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (pictured), which will take part in tonight’s concert–he’s not in the band, but it consists mostly of his sons, and he’s had a huge role in shaping its identity. (I wrote about the group in the Reader back in 2003.)

A couple years ago Hypnotic moved to New York, where they continued busking as they’d done in the Loop for several years–but out east they got noticed in a way they never had here. Since then they’ve released a couple of ten-inch singles and participated in a collection of remakes of tunes by Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen.

Hypnotic’s music pushes the jazz approach of Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy into funk and soul territory, but like much of Cohran’s work it also carries a sense of history. According to the liner notes, the song “War” uses tones “based on an ancient Chinese weather tactic whereby an emperor, having assembled his troops for battle, would call on a priest or a shaman to send rainstorms over a rival’s army.” Hypnotic has also toured in Europe and collaborated with hip-hop artists like Mos Def (you can hear a couple live tracks with him here).

I haven’t had much luck finding out exactly what Cohran has in store for tonight–he also plays trumpet, harp, and several other instruments–but aside from a single Sun Ra tune, all the music will be his. Among the several dozen musicians and dancers participating is keyboardist Robert Irving III. The show is free and starts at 6:30 PM.

Today’s playlist:

Erik Friedlander, Volac (Tzadik)
Robyn, Robyn (Konichiwa/Cherry/Intersope)
Little Milton, If Walls Could Talk (Shout/Chess)
Gloria Coleman, Soul Sisters (Impulse)
Santogold, Santogold (Downtown)