CULT CLASSIC: MICHAEL COSMIC-PEACE IN THE WORLD AND PHILL MUSRA GROUP-CREATOR SPACES.
Cult Classic: Michael Cosmic-Peace In The World and Phill Musra Group-Creator Spaces.
In the fifties, there was a growing dissatisfaction at the limitations and constraints of bebop, hard bop and modal jazz, which was why a group of pioneering musicians decided that the time had come to alter, extend, or break down jazz conventions. This included Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor who were soon joined by Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Joe Maneri and the inimitable Sun Ra who pioneered free jazz. They discarded fixed chord changes or tempos and placed the emphasis on collective improvisation during what was an avant-garde approach to jazz and an attempt to take jazz back to its sometimes primitive and religious roots.
Some things didn’t change, and still the music continued to swing despite free jazz pioneers discarding regular meters and replacing them with frequent accelerandi and ritardando. Soon, the free jazz pioneers were looking to the jazz’s past to create the music that they believed was the future of jazz. They drew inspiration from Dixieland and African music and even began to incorporate disparate instruments that hadn’t been used in jazz before. Still, many critics were sceptical of free jazz and believed that it was a passing fad, and wouldn’t enjoy any degree of longevity.
How wrong these critics were. By the early sixties, many leading jazz musicians were part of the free jazz movement and new techniques had been adopted by the pioneers. This included the harsh overblowing that became a feature Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane’s music. Meanwhile, other musicians reinvented the way they used traditional instruments so that it elicited a variety of unconventional sounds. They played their part in this musical revolution was about to be embraced by jazz’s establishing.
By the mid-sixties, jazz’s premier labels, including Blue Note, Impulse and Prestige, had signed many of the leading lights of the free jazz movement and it was a start of a golden age of the genre. During this period, many classic free jazz albums were recorded which would influence several generations of musicians around the world.
Two of the musicians influenced by the free jazz pioneers were brothers Thomas Michael Cooper and Phillip Anthony Alfred Cooper, who were born in Chicago on April the ‘25th’ 1950 and were raised in South Side of the Windy City. Later, the Cooper family moved to Alabama and Ohio, where the twins grew up as part of middle class family.
An important part of family life for the Cooper family was the church. Both the twins sang in the choir at the St. Paul The Redeemer Episcopal Church, where, their mother was a volunteer choir director. While this was the first time they had participated in any type of organised music, the Cooper twins had already embraced music.
From an early age, the twins spent time listening to soul, jazz and R&B with father Thomas. This was the start of a lifelong love affair with music and within a few years, the twins were playing music as well as listening to it.
As the Cooper twins became teenagers, they started taking music lessons. While many teenagers in Chicago were learning to play guitar in the hope of following in the footsteps of folk singers like Bob Dylan, the Cooper twins were learning to play reed instruments. They were quick learners, and within a couple of years, were proficient and talented players.
Around 1966, the Cooper twins were sitting in a park in Chicago’s South Side when Roscoe Mitchell a tutor at South Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, passed by and noticed Phillip’s clarinet. He started talking to the Cooper twins, and invited them to the South Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, which had been formed in 1965. Although it was still a relatively new organisation, it had talented musicians who could tutor the Cooper twins.
They agreed to attend the South Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and were taught by a number of musicians, including Roscoe Mitchell, reedist Anthony Braxton and theory from Muhal Richard Abrahams. The tutors encouraged their pupils to be self-reliant and to actualise and realise their true potential as composers, musicians and theorists.
To help their pupils do this, the tutors introduced them to small instruments, which ranged from wooden flutes and cymbals to harmonicas and even tin cans. These instruments allowed musicians to expand their musical palette, by introducing a whole new range of sonic possibilities. This would something the Cooper twins would remember in the future.
Before that, saxophonist Jameel Moondoc the Cooper twins headed to the University of Wisconsin, where they were meant to further their musical education. However, when they arrived, the three students discovered that the living conditions were intolerable. There weren’t even any beds available, and they had to resort to sleeping on the floor. This was wholly unacceptable, and before long, Jameel Moondoc the Cooper twins had left the University of Wisconsin.
The Cooper twins decided to move to Boston, which had a vibrant arts and music scene. Boston had also a burgeoning free jazz scene, with many of the musicians students at the city’s various universities and colleges. These musicians became part of Boston’s underground music scene, which the Cooper twins were soon part of.
They discovered that there was a similar ethos to the South Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians within the Boston underground music scene. This made Boston a home-from-home for the Cooper twins, who had dawned the monikers Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra.
Home for Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra was a house that was literally full of musical instruments, which soon, was a place where many lengthy jam sessions took place. Over the next few weeks and months, many Boston-based musicians, made their way to Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra’s house, including radio presenter and percussionist Brian Jackson.
When the musicians arrived at the house, they were impressed by the variety of instruments that Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra owned. They were even more impressed to discover that Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra could play each and every one of them. There were saxophones, clarinets and even a vibraphone and Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra could seamlessly switch between instruments during the regular jam sessions and soon, rehearsals that took place.
Before long, Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra had formed a band, which featured percussionist and sometimes vocalist Brian Jackson. Rehearsals took place at Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra’s house, with the nascent band spending hours and even days honing a song until it took shape. While the songs took shape, Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra realised that something was missing from the lineup of their band.
Eventually, Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra decided to recruit poet Niozake Shange to their band, in an attempt to complete the lineup. This worked, and the band’s fusion of music and poetry proved to be a groundbreaking and revolutionary concept.
Initially, Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra’s band played anywhere that had an audience who had embrace and enjoy what they were trying to accomplish. Before long, the band had progressed to playing various coffee shops and jazz clubs, but a favourite venue was the new Black Avant-garde Coffeehouse in Boston. It was very different to the traditional jazz clubs, as it only served coffee, muffins and organic food. However, the patrons ‘got’ what Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra’s band was trying to achieve.
Within a couple of years, Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra’s band was a popular draw not just in Boston, but across the North East. They played almost non-stop travelling far and wide playing and spreading their musical message. By then, the group’s lineup was starting to take shape, and the band that featured on Michael Cosmic’s Peace In The World and Phill Musra Group’s Creator Spaces was nearly complete.
By the early seventies, the lineup of Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra’s band featured some of the leading lights of Boston’s free jazz scene. However, what the band needed was a drummer who could anchor the band and provide the heartbeat to the groundbreaking music. Fortunately, the final piece of the jigsaw fell into place around 1971 or 1972, when Turkish-born drummer Hüseyin Ertunç was introduced to Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra.
Twenty-two year old Hüseyin Ertunç had arrived in Boston in 1969, to study painting and music, and a couple of years layer, met Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra. Hüseyin Ertunç was a talented artist, who specialised in surrealist drawings, and they would later adorn the covers of Peace In The World and Creator Spaces. However, Hüseyin Ertunç was a talented and versatile drummer who when he met Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra came across as intelligent and intense. The Cooper brothers had a feeling that Hüseyin Ertunç was the man that they had been looking for.
With Hüseyin Ertunç installed as the band’s drummer, this was the start of a new chapter in their career, and one that featured a stellar lineup of gifted and versatile musicians. Among them, were guitarist and bassist Wes Riley, bassists Michael Whitaker and Miles Cosworth, pianist Michael Cochrane, saxophonist Mudon Slaughter and guitarist Rene Arlain. They player their part in what was a golden era for Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra’s band.
Despite his commitment and passion for music and his spirituality, Phill Musra had to work a couple of days jobs to pay the bills. Fortunately, one job working as a delivery driver allowed him time for his creative musings and Phill Musra found time to write The Creator Spaces, The Creator Is So Far Out and More Beautiful Vibrations From The Creator. These reflect Phill Musra’s spirituality and were partly inspired by his meditation as the music flowed through Phill Musra and onto the page. This music was very different to the music Phill Musra’s brother Michael Cosmic was making.
While Phill Musra meditated and focused on spiritual matters, Michael Cosmic had become interested in his cultural and racial heritage. He had also become politically active, and was a supporter of the Boston housing plan which resulted in desegregation of schooling within the city. Michael Cosmic’s new interests and beliefs clearly influenced his music as he wrote Arabia, We Love You Malcolm X and Peace In The World.
Although the Cooper brother were twins their different interests and beliefs, which were influencing the music that they were writing. This included the music that later, would feature on Michael Cosmic’s album Cosmic Paradise and Phill Musra’s Peace In The World. Before these albums were recorded, Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra continued to play their part in Boston’s thriving underground music scene.
That had been the case ever since Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra had arrived in Boston in the late-sixties. By the summer of 1974, they were familiar faces within Boston’s underground scene where Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra were regarded as innovative and pioneering musicians who weren’t afraid to push musical boundaries to their limits. Everyone who had seen the band live over the last couple of years realised this. However, despite playing almost non-stop over the last few years, neither Michael Cosmic nor Phill Musra had recorded an album. That was about to change.
Phill Musra Group-Creator Spaces.
The first of the Cooper twins to enter the studio was the Phill Musra Group’s debut album Creator Spaces. Phill Musra, Michael Cosmic and Hüseyin Ertunç had decided to finance the recording of the album at Egg Studios in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was engineered by Larrymar Richards, who recorded forty minutes of music.
This included Egypt and Arabia which were penned by Michael Cosmic, plus The Creator Is So Far Out and the Phill Musra composition Creator Spaces. Anchoring the Phill Musra Group was drummer and percussionist Hüseyin Ertunç, while Phill Musra played reeds, percussion and chimes. Completing the lineup was Michael Cosmic who played reeds, organ, percussion, saxophones, flutes and zurna. Creator Spaces which featured a mixture of traditional instruments that the Cooper twins were introduced to at South Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, in Chicago. They played their part in the sound of Creator Spaces.
Having recorded the privately pressed album, and had a small run of albums pressed, Hüseyin Ertunç’s drawings adorned the original copies of Creator Spaces. On the back of the album was the liner notes, setting in stone the personnel that played on the Phill Musra Group’s debut album Creator Spaces.
Later in 1974, Creator Spaces was the first release by the newly founded Intex Sound. Creator Spaces was an ambitious and innovative album that showcased the considerable talents of the Phill Musra Group. It featured the four tracks that had been recorded at Egg Studios.
Waves of captivating, genre-melting and innovative music unfold and enchant on Egypt, as the Phill Musra Group’s playing veers between impassioned and powerful to understated, ruminative and dramatic during this eleven minute musical journey. There’s then an urgency on Arabia as saxophones unite while Hüseyin Ertunç unleashes thunderous drums that are part of a vast musical arsenal that is deployed as the arrangement ebbs and flows. Waves of cosmic music that has been influenced by Sun Ra cascade as the arrangement takes a series of twists and turns as instruments are introduced, only to disappear and sometimes, reappear. Always, the Phill Musra Group play with energy, enthusiasm and freedom that epitomises everything that is good about a small group playing free jazz.
From the moment that The Creator Is So Far Out bursts into life, the influence of Pharoah Sanders and Albert Ayler is apparent. There’s an urgency as the arrangements swirls, screeches and howls that borders on chaotic before becoming melodic and impassioned during what’s akin to a cathartic outpouring of emotion that cleanses the soul. Closing The Creator Spaces is the title-track, which is the most accessible and melodic track on Phill Musra Group’s debut album.
After the release of the Phill Musra Group’s ambitious and innovative fusion of avant-garde, contemporary jazz and free jazz in 1974, The Creator Space proved popular within Boston’s underground music community. Especially amongst those who had the Phill Musra Group live during the past few years. They were one of the top bands on the Boston free jazz scene, but were never going to get rich releasing a private press.
The three members of the Phill Musra Group had financed the recording and release of Creator Space and even designed the album cover. They had also founded Intex Sound to release the album. However, like many groups who had decided to release a private press, the Phill Musra Group had a limited budget, and decided to have only a small number of copies of The Creator Space were pressed.
While it proved a popular album within the Boston underground music scene, the Phill Musra Group’s debut album had no chance of finding a wider audience as Intex Sound didn’t have the budget or expertise to promote the album properly. This was a fact of life for bands releasing private presses and they could only hope that a bigger record company would come across the album and want to license Creator Space. Sadly that wasn’t to be. Maybe Michael Cosmic would have been luck when he recorded and released his album Peace In The World?
Michael Cosmic-Peace In The World.
As 1974 drew to a close, Michael Cosmic entered Music Designers, in Boston on the ‘6th’ of December to record his debut album Peace In The World. He had written four tracks, Arabia, We Love You Malcolm X, Space On Space and Peace In The World which would be recorded by a septet.
Augmenting Hüseyin Ertunç, Phill Musra and Michael Cosmic were acoustic bassist John Jamyll Jones, percussionist Eric Jackson and Leonard Brown who switched between tenor and soprano saxophone. Joe Chiccarelli took charge of engineering duties and later, mixed the album.
Just like Creator Spaces, Peace In The World was a self-financed private press. Some copies of Peace In The World had a hand-made sleeve with a hand-coloured drawings copied and stuck on the album cover. Rather confusingly, some copies featured Cosmic Paradise as the artist, rather than Michael Cosmic. This small number of albums had the same album covers as the rest of the run. Despite this mix up, Cosmic Paradise was released by Michael Cosmic on his new label Cosmic Records.
Arabia a twenty-one minute epic opens Cosmic Paradise, and is best described as mesmeric, urgent and melodic before becoming dramatic, thoughtful and introspective. Throughout the track, the septet make good use of their expanded musical palette as Arabia takes on new life and meaning. The tempo drops on We Love You Malcolm X where woodwinds float and cascade as drums punctuate the arrangement, a bass scampers and chimes glisten. Still there’s space within the arrangement allowing the listener to reflect and ruminate during this homage to Malcolm X.
Space On Space is another twenty-one minute opus that has obviously been influenced by Albert Ayler. Here, a quintet play with power, passion, energy and urgency as the arrangement takes a series of twists and turns the music becoming jaunty, intense, hypnotic spacious and sometimes, wonderfully otherworldly. Closing the album is the hopeful, piano-led title-track Peace In The World. It’s the most melodic and accessible track but still features Michael Cosmic and his combo pushing musical boundaries to their limits and creating groundbreaking music.
Just like Phill Musra Group’s debut album The Creator Spaces, Michael Cosmic’s Peace In The World found an audience within Boston’s underground musical community. They embraced another exciting, ambitious and innovative album where Michael Cosmic and his band combined free jazz with avant-garde, contemporary jazz and experimental music. However, with Peace In The World being a private press and the label lacking the expertise and funds to promote the album properly it passed many free jazz fans by.
Across America, free jazz was still a popular genre, and a new generation of musicians were releasing albums of new and innovative music. Many were on major labels, while others like Michael Cosmic were releasing private presses like Peace In The World. This put them at a huge disadvantage and meant that there was little chance free jazz fans in other parts of America would hear the album, never mind be able to buy it. Michael Cosmic certainly wasn’t going to get rich releasing private presses, and for a man with new and added responsibilities this forced him to rethink his priorities.
By 1975, the Cooper brothers were no longer single men. They had recently married and were starting families which meant added responsibilities and indeed, expenses. This was a crunch time for Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra, who knew that they had to think about the future.
Boston still had a vibrant music scene, and Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra knew that they could stay in the city and make a living playing live. However, there weren’t the same opportunities to work as a session musician in Boston, which could provide Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra with another valuable source of income. Deep down, both Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra knew that it was time to move on, and try their luck in one of America’s music capitals.
When Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra thought about it, their favoured destination was Los Angeles which had a thriving jazz scene and much more favourable climate. Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra knew they could form a new band and establish themselves on the city’s live scene. There was also plenty of session work and musicians looking for talented musician to accompany them when they play live. After long discussions with their wives, Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra began preparing to move to LA, which was the start of a new chapter in their careers.
Before making the move to LA, Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra were invited by John Jamyll Jones to join his World’s Experience Orchestra for a very special recording session. This was the recording of the World’s Experience Orchestra’s debut album The Beginning Of A New Birth at the Oasis, in Boston, on August the ‘3rd’ 1975. That day, two lengthy tracks were recorded including The Beginning Of A New Birth and The Prayer. They were recorded during what was Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra’s musical swan-song in Boston,
After the best part of seven years, Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra departed Boston and headed for a new life in LA August 1975. A lot had happened during that time. Both Michael Cosmic and Phill Musra had established themselves as professional musicians during the Boston years and embarked upon recording careers.
The Phill Musra Group had released Creator Spaces in 1974, with Michael Cosmic releasing Peace In The World in 1975. Both albums showcase talented and innovative musicians who weren’t afraid to push musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, beyond. To do that, they combined traditional instruments with small instruments on their genre-melting albums.
They find Michael Cosmic and the Phill Musra Group fusing free jazz with elements of avant-garde, contemporary jazz , experimental music and spiritual jazz on their respective albums Cosmic Paradise and Peace In The World. Sadly, neither album reached the wider audience that it deserved.
That was always the risk when releasing an album as a private press during the seventies. It could be a classic album, but without the budget and expertise to promote the album, could pass record buyers by.
Sadly, Michael Cosmic’s Peace In The World and Phill Musra Group’s Creator Spaces both passed record buyers by and for over forty years, very few people heard either album. It was only much later that these free jazz fans discovered these albums and nowadays, they’re regarded as cult classics. They’re also regarded as two of the best privately pressed free jazz albums that were released in Boston during the first half of the seventies.
During that period, Boston had a vibrant and thriving free jazz scene, but Michael Cosmic’s Peace In The World and Phill Musra Group’s Creator Spaces were almost peerless albums. They’re also among the best free jazz private presses released on the East Coast during the first half of the seventies. That’s how good Michael Cosmic’s Peace In The World and Phill Musra Group’s Creator Spaces were. Maybe if Michael Cosmic’s Peace In The World and Phill Musra Group’s Creator Spaces had been picked up by a bigger label the albums would’ve gone on to find a wider audiences and the Cooper towns would’ve gone on to enjoy long and illustrious careers?
- Posted in: Avant Garde ♦ Experimental ♦ Free Jazz ♦ Jazz ♦ Spiritual Jazz
- Tagged: Brian Jackson, Cosmic Records, Creator Spaces, Hüseyin Ertunç, Intex Sound, Michael Cosmic, Peace In The World, Phill Musra Group, Phillip Anthony Alfred Cooper, Roscoe Mitchell, South Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Thomas Michael Cooper