From time to time we like to play again some of our all-time Cosmic Jazz favourites. How do we select them? It’s difficult – there’s so many to choose from but here’s another selection for you to enjoy. We started with Black Renaissance, the masterpiece from keyboardist Harry Whitaker that became well known on its reissue in 2002. Recorded in 1976, this masterpiece fuses the influences Sun Ra, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and the Last Poets in a unique sound that simply refuses to date. This legendary session was recorded by Roy Ayers’ keyboardist Whitaker working here as the leader of the Black Renaissance group, a one-shot ensemble that featured Woody Shaw on trumpet, Azar Lawrence on saxes, Buster Williams on bass, and Mtume on percussion. The music appeared on a rare bootleg that came out briefly in Japan but eventually appeared 25 years later on the Ubiquity label – and was immediately cited by DJs and souljazzers as a a key recording. And it is. The album features just two long tracks, both of them strong ensemble numbers that build Strata East-like with spoken and singing voices in a hip, socially conscious mode. It’s a reminder of a time in music when – across the genres – exploration was the norm and so should still be celebrated as a pioneering work.
Probably uniquely, the three Heath brothers were each jazz stars – Percy on bass, Albert (Tootie) on drums and Jimmy on tenor saxophone. When performing as the Heath Brothers, they latterly recruited Jimmy’s son Mtume on drums and percussion – and he appears on this album from 1972 along with uncle Albert on drums and the great Kenny Barron on piano. In addition to the title track, the other standout is Alkebu-Lan (Land of the Blacks) which also appeared on Mtume’s first outing as leader in the same year. This extremely rare Strata East outing is a free jazz double album recorded at iconic New York venue The East, perhaps best known for an almost equally
challenging Pharoah Sanders live album that captures Sanders at his 1970s best in three lengthy track, the best of which is the opener, The Healing Song. It’s not easy to get this album now, but the whole thing is here on YouTube in a good transfer. Thematically, Alkeb
u-Lan (Land of the Blacks) – Live at the East links closely with Black Renaissance and features an all star lineup of Carlos Garnett, Leroy Jenkins, Gary Bartz, Stanley Cowell, Buster Williams and Billy Hart. Criminally, it is still to be reissued but, in the meantime, you can hear the album in full right here.
Particularly in this 90th anniversary of his birth, CJ thinks that you never have too much John Coltrane. So what could be more appropriate than the epic Song of the Underground Railroad from the Complete Africa Brass Sessions? We have featured this track several times on the show – it’s from Coltrane’s first album for the Impulse! label and features radical brass arrangements. Africa, the core piece of the initial release, was a huge influence on composer Steve Reich who said Africa, which was the piece that made the biggest impression on me, is a half an hour on E. And you would say, ‘Well, it’s impossible. It’s going to be boring, You can’t sustain that.’ But he did. You can hear the whole piece here and listen to a mesmerising performance of Reich’s celebrated Drumming here.
Up next was saxophonist Gary Bartz. Like many great saxophonists, he first appeared with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers before Miles Davis recruited him on Live/Evil (1971). It wasn’t long before he established himself as a leader with the Ntu Troop and recorded some excellent albums, including I’ve Known Rivers and Other Bodies (1973) – a live set from the Montreux Jazz Festival. Bartz had a long association with pianist McCoy Tyner and appeared on several of his albums. Look out for a more recent album from 2012 called Coltrane Rules: Tao Music Warrior which features classic Coltrane tunes, including an extended modal reading of I Concentrate on You.
Pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) recorded the classic African Marketplace in 1979 and it remains one of his finest records. The opening track Whoza Mtwana sets the scene: a series of South African folkloric anthems which play tribute to Ibrahim’s childhood, all perfectly realised in the beautiful cover art of the original vinyl sleeve. The album features alto player Carlos Ward, longtime saxophonist stalwart with Ibrahim and a 12-piece group including trombonist Craig Harris and bass player Cecil McBee. Every tune has a memorable melody but especially The Homecoming Song, Anthem for the New Nation and The Wedding. Check out the full length version of the title track here and, for a perfect encapsulation of Carlos Ward’s emotive alto playing, listen to 1:45 of sheer bliss from Don Cherry’s Relativity Suite album.
The final selection this week was a CJ favourite who also got an airing on the show last week. Joe Henderson was extensively recorded throughout his playing career – first with Blue Note, then Milestone and finally with Verve. Derek’s selection was from Henderson’s second album on Blue Note, recorded in 1963. It’s classic Blue Note in every way – engineered by Rudy van Gelder, with cover art and design by Reid Miles and photography by Blue Note founder Francis Wolff. That’s CJ this week – are any your favourites too?
- Black Renaissance – Black Renaissance from Body Mind and Spirit
- Jimmy Heath – The Gap Sealer from The Gap Sealer
- John Coltrane – Song of the Underground Railroad from Complete Africa Brass Sessions
- Gary Bartz Ntu Troop – I’ve Known Rivers from I’ve Known Rivers and Other Bodies
- Abdullah Ibrahim – Whoza Mtwana from African Marketplace
- Joe Henderson – Our Thing from Our Thing
Neil is listening to…