Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble – The Malcolm X Memorial

The Malcolm X Memorial (A Tribute in Music)

Philip Cohran and The Artistic Heritage EnsembleThe Malcolm X Memorial (A Tribute in Music) Zulu (1970)

A truly remarkable album.  While not so recognizably distinctive as the Artistic Heritage Ensemble’s debut album On the Beach, The Malcolm X Memorial is just as fine an achievement.  This is a deep and effective meditation on the life of one of the most significant public figures of the 20th Century.  Phil Cohran‘s songwriting reaches a high water mark in setting out the four distinct phases of Malcolm X’s life, each of which is featured with its own song named after the appellation Malcolm used in that phase.  Rather than push Malcolm X’s agenda, or try to comment on his significance — socially, politically, or otherwise — Cohran simply creates a rich backdrop that portrays the context for Malcolm’s life.  Listeners can draw their own conclusions about what the man’s life meant, but in hearing this work they unmistakably witness a transformation from familiar and humble beginnings as portrayed by the spooky blues solo from guitarist Pete Cosey that opens the set, to the confrontational tone set by the increasingly busier and driving group arrangements in the middle of the album, to the expansive possibilities suggested by the decidedly non-Western flavor of the finale.  Recorded live, The Malcolm X Memorial features many wonderful performances that could hardly have been improved in a studio.  For instance, just listen to Aaron Dodd‘s lovely tuba solo on “Malcolm Little”, and the funky electric bass on “Detroit Red.”  This is a piece of music well worth attention, and one that rewards careful and repeated listening.  The Artistic Heritage Ensemble belonged to the upper echelon of performers of their time, and, albeit posthumously, they deserve wider recognition.