All posts by Derek

16 May 2021: favourite record labels old and new + Curtis Fuller

Welcome to the latest Cosmic Jazz. Just click the Mixcloud tab (above) to hear music from two record labels – the short-lived Black Jazz Records and a British label with an international perspective, Edition Records, now celebrating 13 years of music. We also play tribute to trombonist and veteran of many a Blue Note session, Curtis Fuller, who died this week. As if that wasn’t enough – there’s jazz from Poland and some soulful and spiritual moments.

1. Yusef Lateef – The High Priest from Kyoto

First up is Art Blakey and a mid-1960s incarnation of the Jazz Messengers, featuring the late Curtis Fuller on trombone. The High Priest is a Fuller composition and features some fine trombone soloing along with Wayne Shorter’s characteristic tenor sound and Freddie Hubbard’s fluent trumpet break. By this time, Lee Morgan and Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merritt had left the Messengers and had been replaced by Hubbard, Cedar Walton and Reggie Workman. Fuller was added to create a powerful sextet that went on to record the classic Buhaina’s Delight, Free For All and Indestructible albums, the last of which has just been reissued as part of the ongoing Blue Note 80 vinyl editions. If you can find a copy, it’s well worth getting hold of. Curtis Fuller is also featured on Blue Train – John Coltrane’s sole Blue Note recording – but he also released over twenty albums under his own leadership. Recommended are his other Blue Note and Prestige dates along with two albums recorded in the 1970s for the Mainstream label – Smokin’ (1972) and Crankin’ (1973). Here’s the title track from Crankin’ which includes the young Stanley Clarke on bass and Lenny White on drums, then both starting out on their careers with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever group.

2. Yusef Lateef – Before Dawn from Before Dawn

Curtis Fuller also appears on this 1957 record from Yusef Lateef, who was even then experimenting with sounds beyond jazz. Before Dawn was recorded in April 1957 and Curtis Fuller was born in December 1934 so he was only 22 at the time. This, and the youthful-looking photo that accompanies the notes for the CD reissue, might suggest that this was an early date in his career but Fuller had, in fact, already played on sessions for the Prestige, Blue Note and Savoy record labels.  Before Dawn is an inventive tune, full of surprises and most unlike the jazz of its time. Bob Blumenthal in the CD notes  comments that “The structure is modal and the mood raga-like”, and it still stands out today as distinctive and original.  The first solo on the track is delivered by Lateef but then in comes Fuller blowing over the cacophony of backing noises. It has probably not been easy for any jazz trombone player to become a jazz superstar: it’s difficult to produce those flashy moments you can get from sax or trumpet players, and yet the trombone provides a solid, rounded sound and in the hands of someone like Curtis Fuller, an inventive one too.

3. Doug Carn – Moon Child from Infant Eyes

Two more new releases from Real Gone Music – who are working their way through the complete Black Jazz Records catalogue – were next on the show. Both tracks are from Doug Carn albums – Infant Eyes from 1971 and Revelation from 1973 – and both feature Jean Carn, Doug Carn’s then wife, on vocals. Using her five octave range, the music is powerful stuff – more spiritual than soul jazz, as evidenced by the inclusion of John Coltrane’s Welcome and Acknowledgement (from A Love Supreme). Moon Child isn’t the Pharoah Sanders tune but a Carn original and features some really excellent piano. The rest of the album includes some great Carn lyrics to versions of Wayne Shorter’s Infant Eyes and Bobby Hutcherson’s Little B’s Poem and – more than many Black Jazz records – Infant Eyes is full of strong performances and feels a really well structured album. There’s also includes a fiery cover of McCoy Tyner’s Passion Dance which holds up well against Tyner’s original recording on his 1967 The Real McCoy album.

4. Doug Carn – Feel Free from Revelation

Revelation appeared two years later and includes Olu Dara on trumpet and Rene McLean (Jackie McLean’s son) on flute and alto sax. More obviously modal in style – and certainly on Revelation – with some great guitar from Nathan Page and expressive vocals from Jean Carn. Perhaps now known more for being the father of celebrated rapper Nas, Dara is something of an unsung figure in New York’s loft scene in the 1970s. Playing alongside David Murray, James Blood Ulmer and Hamiet Bluiett, Dara later released just two albums under his own name in 1998 and 2001, neither of which demonstrate his jazz playing to any extent. Neil has both records and whilst they are charming in a downhome, chilled out bluesy kind of way they major on Dara’s guitar playing and vocals rather than his ‘jazz’ instrument, the cornet. For a taste of the tone of these two records, try Young Mama from In The World: From Natchez to Mississippi, his first solo album, but for the jazz Dara go for David Murray’s masterpiece Ming and the lovely title track on which Dara plays trumpet while Butch Morris is on cornet and George Lewis on trombone. Carn dips again into McCoy Tyner’s The Real McCoy album for the lovely Contemplation, which features some impassioned vocals from Jean Carn. It’s worth saying again that these two records are among the best of the twenty releases on the Black Jazz label. Both are likely to sell out soon and – of course – vinyl is the way to hear them.

5. Chris Potter – Southbound and The Peanut from Sunrise Reprise

Now signed to UK label Edition Records, saxophonist Chris Potter has an upcoming new trio release, Sunrise Reprise, that showcases his work on saxes and the synth samples he’s used in his solo lockdown record, There Is a Tide. Potter is just 50 but has already released over 20 albums as leader and guested on numerous others, most notably with Dave Holland, Pat Metheny and the late Paul Motian. Sunrise Reprise sees the return of his new Circuits trio with James Francies on keyboards and Eric Harland on drums. In Sept 2020, a small window emerged from the Covid-19 restrictions and Potter took the opportunity to record with his trio. As Potter explained, “All of a sudden we’re in the studio. It felt such a release, a sense of freedom to create and to express ourselves collectively. It’s this, that has been the central part of this album – it’s about the trio, our shared energy, reflecting our own thoughts and feelings from all that’s going on in the world. Eric, James, and I really needed to PLAY, to try to put into music all the intense feelings of the previous few months. The close bond we had developed playing this music together on the road led to what we felt as a cathartic musical experience in the studio, documented in one very special evening”.

7. Gretchen Parlato – E Preciso Perdoar from Flor

Also on Edition Records is singer Gretchen Parlato with a Brazilian-infused album that sees her return to recording after some years away with her family.  Back in 2011 we were championing Parlato and her trio of albums for the New York-based ObliqSound label. In A Dream (2009) featured her take on Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly – a tune we played several times on Cosmic Jazz. The tune was also featured in a beautifully restrained version on the superbly recorded Live in NYC album where Parlato’s breathy vocals accompanied sensitive arrangements and some fine playing from a band that included husband Mark Guiliana on drums and Taylor Eigsti on piano. The new album is Flor and it’s an altogether lighter, more restrained recording with an introspective approach that reflects an interest in children’s songs, including the affecting Wonderful. In a recent interview with Jazzwise, Parlato commented on  the “sense of nostalgia in choosing Brazilian music as the theme because it’s something that represents an early love as a teenager, something I’ve always loved but never really paid respect to in a full album.” In the best possible way, it’s a charming record and no track is more so than her superb cover of the Alcivando Luz tune E Preciso Perdoar. This is surely one of the most beautiful songs in any language and works in whatever arrangement – even this bass heavy take from the Red Hot and Rio album with Cesaria Evoria, Caetano Veloso and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

8. Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto – E Preciso Perdoar from The Best  Of Two Worlds

Of course, for the real thing we had to include the definitive take from Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto on their essential Best of Two Worlds album. In Neil’s view, this is simply a must-have Brazilian album. Recorded in 1976, it’s something of a reunion with Gilberto and the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim – but it’s actually more than that. The band is to die for – drummer Billy Hart, percussionist Airto Moreira, bass player Steve Swallow and pianist Albert Dailey. Vocalist Heloisa Maria Buarque de Hollanda (also known as Miucha and mother of Bebel Gilberto) is the Astrud Gilberto voice – but much better. Aguas de Marco is superb, but so is everything else. Here it is – just listen to that poetry and Getz’s concluding solo!

9. Bheki Mseleku – Cosmic Dance from Beyond The Stars

The late Bheki Mseleku was something of a phenomenon. An entirely self-taught pianist, saxophonist, guitarist and composer who grew up in Johannesburg, Mseleku moved to London in the late 1970s where in 1987 – and cradling a tenor saxophone at his piano stool – he made his debut at Ronnie Scott’s club. His 1991 album Celebration was nominated for  Mercury Music Prize (but, of course, it didn’t win). Meditations and Timelessness appeared on major label Verve in subsequent years but by 2008 Mseleku was dead from diabetes at just 53. Now comes a newly-discovered solo piano recording, overseen by long time friend and supporter Eugene Skeef who had helped Mseleku return to London in 2003. Beyond The Stars is the result: a solo piano suite which condenses Mseleku’s vision of the diversity of South African musical forms into a statement in six parts. There are references to Mseleku’s Zulu heritage and the song forms of marabi, amahubo, maskanda and nguni create a kind of musical summary of his life.

10. Leszek Kulakowski Project – Cul-de-Sac from Komeda Variations

Komeda Variations is, of course, a tribute to the work of Krzysztof Komeda, surely Poland’s most celebrated jazz composer. Komeda wrote the scores forRoman Polanski’s films Knife in the Water (1962), Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and the tune we featured in this show, Cul de Sac (1966). Komeda found success with his quartet, which included the great Tomasz Stanko on trumpet, and – until his move to Los Angeles – they would perform at the celebrated Golden Circle club in Stockholm to great acclaim. Tragically, Komeda was to suffer a brain haematoma and died in 1969. The Komeda Variations is a live concert recording by veteran Polish pianist, composer and bandleader Leszek Kulakowski quartet with Kulakowski on piano, bassist Adam Kowalewski and drummer Tomasz Sowinski, and three trumpeters – Piotr Wojtasik (another good friend of Cosmic Jazz), Tomasz Dabrowski and German Christoph Titz, playing with the Sinfonia Baltica Philharmonic Orchestra. There’s a great balance between orchestra and quartet and Kulakowski’s piano solos are full of delicate touches and inventive twists.

11. Quindependence – Road to the Promised Land from Circumstances

The Polish group Quindependence return for a second week on the show, prompted by a comment from Neil as to how good that first track is on the album really is. Released in 2017, Circumstances would appear to be their only record. Much has been made of the so-called melancholy in Polish Jazz. There is none of that here. There is a sound that feels bigger than the quintet format and there are hints of soul and gospel-tinged touches which add a warmth  and embracing feel to the music. Of course, Polish jazz does not affect just one style or tradition – there is a wealth of variety here and, coupled with what appears to be an unending profusion of new artists on the scene, there is always something new to listen to. Not sure where to start? Explore more great European jazz via the always excellent Steve’s Jazz Sounds.

12. Cannonball Adderley – Fun in the Church from Soul of the Bible/Walk Tall: the David Axelrod Years

The soul and gospel hints in the Quindependence tune suggested to Derek that the music of Cannonball Adderley would be an excellent follow-up. For anyone in the early stages of discovering jazz,  the uplifting and accessible music of alto saxophonist Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley would be an inspiration to keep on digging. Apparently, he was given the name ‘Cannonball’ at  high school because of his voracious appetite. Whatever the truth of this, Adderley’s music always had great power. No Jackie McLean acidity or David Sanborn leanness appears in his tone on alto – it’s always rich and warm, and nowhere can you hear the contrast more easily than on the iconic Kind of Blue album where he paired with John Coltrane. Adderley had joined the group two years before the recording so he was well settled in – and you hear this on his first solo on So What. It couldn’t be more different than Coltrane’s – listen to them both here. By the 1960s Adderley had his own quintet with younger brother Nat on trumpet. Many outstanding jazz musicians were to pass through the ranks of his line-ups, including the aforementioned Yusef Lateef and Adderley’s always populist (in a good way) joyous approach endeared him to live audiences. His music straddled categorisation – there’s soul jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, gospel, bossa nova and more in an extensive discography recorded both live and in the studio. We’d recommend starting with Somethin’ Else which is really a Miles Davis record with Adderley’s name on the front. The music here doesn’t put a foot wrong: Autumn Leaves is definitive with its wonderful blues-soaked Adderley solo, but everything else, including a take on Love for Sale, is cliche-free and Art Blakey on drums and Sam Jones on bass keep it swinging throughout.  Fun in the Church actually comes from one of our Cosmic Jazz favourites – the underrated Soul of the Bible album from 1972, credited to brother Nat Adderley. This album may have its detractors but for us it truly is music for the soul and music for the dancing feet. The excellent 2CD compilation Walk Tall: the David Axelrod Years includes this and other tracks from Soul of the Bible, along with tracks from later Adderley records like Accent on Africa, Why Am I Treated So Bad and Black Messiah. Highly recommended.

13. Terry Callier – Love Theme From Spartacus (4Hero Main Mix) from Love Theme From Spartacus EP

Derek has been ending the show with tunes that stretch beyond the boundaries of what might be termed jazz. Last week the show featured Callier on a tune that acknowledged the influence of John Coltrane. This week’s choice is taken from a 12in EP of remixes and can’t be called jazz, but 4Hero’s work here has its own deep qualities. It’s difficult to believe that this beautiful, gentle mix was recorded almost twenty years ago, but the work of Londoners Marc Mac and Dego has stood the test of time. Their full length records are worth exploring too, starting with the sprawling two disc set Two Pages, from 1998. The first disc is the jazzier side of their work – try the orchestral sweeps of Planetaria, complemented by Luke Parkhouse’s live drum and bass kitwork. For more Terry Callier check out another twist on Spartacus, here with UK guitarist Jim Mullen and recorded live at the Bratislava Jazz Festival. It’s a fine performance of the Spartacus Love Theme mixed with What About Me (You Gonna Do About Me), and reminds us just what a fine singer Terry Callier was.

Derek is listening to…

02 May 2021: from NY to SG – jazz friends old and new

In the internet age it’s relatively easy to be eclectic in your listening choices. Whilst many sites encourage a “If you like this, try this” approach – which can sometimes throw up surprises – more random browsing can reveal some startlingly serendipitous music. Add into that mix the musical brains of two long time jazz listeners and the results are below. And – as if these 14 tracks weren’t enough – there’s the return of Neil is listening to… at the end of this post with ten more YouTube clips.

1. George Benson – You Can Do It (Baby) from Nuyorican Soul

A few weeks back on Cosmic Jazz Derek was listening again to the essential 1997 album Nuyorican Soul and played I Am the Black Gold of the Sun featuring Jocelyn Brown on vocals. It had been a toss up as to whether to play that or another tune. When Neil was reminded of the album he mentioned straightaway that same number featuring George Benson on guitar and vocals and so we start this show with You Can Do It (Baby), created from an improvisation in the studio. Benson’s trademark rippling chords were taped and the next day producers ‘Little’ Louie Vega and Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez returned to the studio and created all new music underneath what they had recorded from Benson. Vega explained “Suddenly I heard jazzy flavoured chords and a Latin bass line and we also heard an African kind of rhythm.” The result is a masterpiece that starts with classical flourishes and moves into a solid extended groove.

2. Freddie Hubbard – First Light from First Light

That first choice led Derek to another old favourite that also includes a star turn from George Benson. This is on trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s album First Light produced by Creed Taylor for his CTI label in 1971. The title tune has a beautiful and sensitive solo from Benson playing with musicians that included – besides Hubbard – CTI stalwarts Herbie Hancock on Fender Rhodes, Ron Carter on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, Airto Moreira on percussion and Herbert Laws on flute. Recorded at the Van Gelder Studios with Rudy Van Gelder as the engineer, First Light is eleven minutes of blissful and serene intensity. The rest of the album may not reach the same standards but this number is a must have. The CD reissue includes an extended live version tagged onto the end of the album but – as always – the most immersive experience comes from vinyl and the Pure Pleasure label reissue from 2017 is the one to go for.

3. Eric Dolphy – Love Me from Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions

Made months before he cut his Blue Note masterpiece Out To Lunch, these newly excavated recordings from Resonance Records demonstrate just how differently Dolphy heard his music. On alto saxophone, flute or bass clarinet, Dolphy brought his brittle, multiphonic tones to pretty much everything he played, whether jazz standards, show tunes or original compositions. Critic John Tynan called his music “anti-jazz” and his abrasive style often meant that he struggled to get work. In 1964, Dolphy moved to Europe hoping to tap into the less restrictive free jazz environment but he died from undiagnosed diabetes in Berlin later that same year. Out To Lunch is, of course, a landmark recording and an essential jazz record but there are plenty of delights in this well produced 3LP/2CD set, almost all cuts taken from the same two-day session in the summer of 1963. There are two new solo alto saxophone takes of Love Me, the longing romantic ballad most famously recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1951. On each version, Dolphy rarely repeats himself, using pauses to let the echo of his sultry tone ring out into the studio. We played the first shorter take – on the second version, Dolphy stretches out a little more, but both are superb in-the-moment improvisations that capture his remarkable individual voice.

4. Rob Mazurek – Exploding Star Orchestra – Parable of Inclusion from Dimensional Stardust

Mazurek emerged from the 1990s Chicago scene and is a stalwart of one of our current favourite labels, International Anthem. He’s been involved with the Chicago Underground Duo, Isotope 217, Alien Flower Sutra and the São Paulo Underground. He’s also recorded with another International Anthem artist we have featured on Cosmic Jazz, guitarist Jeff Parker. Commissioned by the Chicago Cultural Center and the Jazz Institute of Chicago in 2005 to assemble a group representing the diversity of the city’s contemporary avant-garde, Mazurek amassed a 14-piece ensemble and began composing music for what became his Exploding Star Orchestra (ESO). For ESO’s latest outing, Mazurek channeled his arrangements through 11 musicians – Nicole Mitchell, Jeff Parker, Jaimie Branch, Joel Ross, Mikel Patrick Avery, Tomeka Reid, Chad Taylor, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Macie Stewart, Angelica Sanchez, and John Herndon – and commissioned his long-time lyrical collaborator Damon Locks to draft original texts for each of the titles and record vocal tracks. Dimensional Stardust is the outcome. There’s a focus on tight ensemble orchestration over passages of open improvisation with few obvious soloist moments. The whole thing is supported by the electro-acoustic poly-rhythmic percussion section pushing the music forwards alongside the collected ensemble. This is a record well worth exploring – find out more here on Bandcamp.

5. Kurt Elling feat Danilo Perez – Song of the Rio Grande (for Oscar & Valerie Martinez)  from Secrets Are the Best Stories

The first of our visits to three great vocalists on the show, Grammy-award winning Kurt Elling carries on the vocal experimentation of his fellow baritone Mark Murphy (more of whom later). Secrets Are The Best Stories is his new album on UK label Edition Records, featuring renowned pianist Danilo Pérez – also a member of Wayne Shorter’s celebrated quartet. Elling has pushed the envelope even further on this record, exploring the passion and the messages, political, personal, that inspire him. As usual, Elling’s sources are many and various: here he adapts the works of contemporary poets Franz Wright and Robert Bly, the 19th century abolitionist poet Frances E.W. Harper and Nobel-winning author Toni Morrison. In the powerful Song of the Rio Grande, Elling brings us back to the tragic poignancy of the image captured by journalist Julia de Luc for the New York Times and signalled at the head of this powerful article here.

6. Mark Murphy – Nothing Will Be As It Was Tomorrow from Brazil Song/Songbook

As far as Neil is concerned, Mark Murphy is the jazz vocalist: and he was lucky enough to see him live in his later years in the intimate setting of a UK jazz club. Murphy lived for nearly ten years in London and became a regular performer at Ronnie Scott’s club but it’s his 14 year run of superb recordings for the Muse label that followed his return to the US in 1972 that are the peak of his achievements on record. Any of these individual albums are worth looking out for: the recordings are excellent, the bands are often first rate (featuring such artists as Ron Carter, Richie Cole, Randy Brecker and David Sanborn) and Murphy inspires with his eclectic choice of songs, arrangements and original lyrics. It’s not easy to choose a single track to represent this consistent body of work, but Milton Nascimento’s Nothing Will Be As It Was Tomorrow from the superb Brazil Song record is as good a place as any to start. Nada será como antes first appeared on Nascimento’s magnificent Clube da Esquina album and was re-recorded for his first US release Milton, where he was accompanied by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock – listen here. 32 Jazz Records collated many of these Muse tracks for a series of compilations, including Songbook which also featured the awesome We’ll Be Together with Murphy creating a sense of anger and longing few singers could even fathom.

7. Marcus Resende & Index – My Heart from Marcus Resende & Index

Little is known about Marcos Resende & Index and so the 2021 release of their self-titled debut album from 1976 by the ever-reliable Far Out Recordings is very welcome. Resende was already musically accomplished on accordion and piano before he travelled to Lisbon in th e1960s to study medicine, but he continued to perform, even opening for saxophonist Dexter Gordon at the Cascais Jazz Festival in 1971. Returning to Brazil in 1974, he began to explore the range of electronic keyboards then being used by jazz artists like Herbie Hancock. Armed with his new Prophet 5, Yamaha CP-708 and Mini Moog , he formed a new quartet with Rubao Sabino (bass), Claudio Caribe (drums) and the late, great Oberdan Magalhaes of Banda Black Rio fame. The record was created with legendary sound engineer Toninho Barbosa – known as the ‘Brazilian Rudy Van Gelder’ (yes, him again!) whose impressive resume includes the era-defining classics Light as a Feather by Azymuth, Previsao Do Tempo by Marcos Valle and Quem E Quem by Joao Donato. Remarkably, the music was never released, but the tapes were presented to Far Out’s Joe Davis in 2018 and the album finally emerged in January this year.

8. Hamiet Bluiett – Footprints from Bearer of the Holy Flame

Neil’s final choice for this show is a performance of Wayne Shorter’s classic Footprints in a somewhat self-indulgent 1994 live version by baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett. It may extend itself rather too much but it’s great to hear Bluiett honking away alongside the underrated pianist John Hicks, AACM member bassist Fred Hopkins, prolific drummer Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith and percussionist Chief Bey who appeared on albums by Art Blakey and Babatunde Olatunji.  After playing with Charles Mingus and Sam Rivers, Bluiett was most well known as a member of the World Saxophone Quartet with Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and David Murray. Here they are on the title track from their 1994 album I Heard That.  The rather unwieldy baritone saxophone may be less well known as a solo instrument in jazz but its deep, dark tone is addictive and famed soloists include Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Ronnie Cuber and Serge Chaloff, the first and greatest bebop baritone player. Here he is with the classic Stairway to the Stars from his 1956 Capitol album Blue Serge. Chaloff had a tragically short life, dying at 33 in a Massachusetts hospital, with his baritone sax and a pet kinkajou alongside him.

9. Jerzy Malek – Culmination from Black Sheep

Jerzy Malek is a Polish trumpet/flugelhorn player who we were introduced to via Steve’s Jazz Sounds, that excellent source of new jazz from continental Europe. Black Sheep, released in 2019, is Malek’s eighth album and features the young Aga Derlak on piano – another distinguished player on the Polish scene. The Polish Jazz Blogspot describes the album as closer to the American jazz mainstream than the contemporary Polish one but this only shows how Polish musicians can be “completely free of any inferiority complexes in comparison to what is happening across the pond.” Quite right too. We continue to be so impressed by the endless variety of new jazz music coming from Poland.

10. Quindependence – Song for E from Circumstances

This was the debut album released in 2017 by a young Polish jazz ensemble of five members with sax/flute, trumpet, piano, drums, bass. It appears that there have not been any follow-up releases. There are seven tunes, four of which are original compositions. Two come from bass player Milosz Skwirut and pianist Michal Salmon and two are arrangements of French composer Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes, a loose suite of three piano compositions. Typical of Satie, gnossienne – which seems to derive from gnosis (or knowledge) – was a word that did not exist before Satie used it. The music of Quindependence is interesting, not always predictable and with a high standard of musicianship and complexity. There’s a genuinely soulful, gospelly ensemble feel to this music – tight arrangements, soaring trumpet from Dominik Borek and lyrical soprano sax from Krzysztof Mateiski – that’s nowhere more apparent than on the opening and closing tracks, including Song for E.

11. Chester Thompson – Weird Harold from Powerhouse 

This is from another of the Black Jazz Records re-releases from Real Gone Music, who are working their way through all twenty Black Jazz albums released initially between 1971-75. All will be available on vinyl and all are remastered at Gotta Groove Records in Cleveland, Ohio. For a look at ten of the best of these records, explore this Vinyl Factory feature on the label or – better still – check out your local record store for copies. One of Neil’s favourites in Singapore, The Analog Vault (see image above), still has a good selection available – follow them on Instagram and check out their recent display. The Analog Vault website is an excellent source for jazz and beyond – store managers Leon and Nick chat about some of their current favourites on this video – starting with Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders and Phil Ranelin! This 1971 debut recording from Chester Thompson is in the fine Hammond B3-swinging tradition of Jimmy Smith circa Back at the Chicken Shack, although on Weird Harold and the title cut there’s a more forward-thinking jazz-funk sound that leans towards Thompsons’s time with LA’s Tower of Power. He gained plenty of experience in how to generate such emotions as a long-standing player with Tower of Power and Santana. Saxophonist Rudolph Johnson, another Black Jazz Records artist, appears on Powerhouse along with drummer Raymond Pounds – who also played with Pharaoh Sanders, Stevie Wonder and the Pointer Sisters – and trombonist Al Hall whose playing credits included Johnny Hammond, Freddie Hubbard and Eddie Harris (all Cosmic Jazz favourites).

12. Terry Callier – Can’t Catch the Trane (original demo) from Life Lessons: the Best of Terry Callier

Derek has been listening to the music of singer Terry Callier for the first time in a while, following some reminiscent posts on Facebook reminding him that it was time to re-visit. Callier’s music crossed the boundaries of jazz, folk, blues, soul and funk and he was strongly influenced by the work of John Coltrane, as evidenced by our choice this week. In the 1970s Callier recorded three critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful albums, each produced by Charles Stepney, famed for working with Earth, Wind and Fire, Rotary Connection and Ramsey Lewis. Occasional Rain (1972), What Color Is Love (1973) and I Just Can’t Help Myself (1973) have all been reissued and are worthy of investigation.  Can’t Catch the Trane can be found on the last of these and it’s a powerful tune that is typical of the album. The Coltranish sax solo is by Don Myrick who went on to become a first call session musician for many soul/R and B artists. His closing tenor solo on Earth Wind and Fire’s Runnin‘ (one of Neil’s favourite EWF tunes) was nominated for a Grammy Award. Callier grew up in a Chicago project housing and was childhood friends with Curtis Mayfield, Major Lance and Jerry Butler, but his resonant baritone and love of jazz took him in a different direction, with I Just Can’t Help Myself even featuring a lush version of Duke Ellington’s Satin Doll. Callier left the music scene in the early 1980s and took courses in computer programming before graduating with a sociology degree from the University of Chicago. He re-emerged from obscurity in the late 1980s, when British DJs discovered his old recordings and began to play his songs in clubs and on the radio. Both Neil and Derek remember hearing his music on UK radio stations at this time and in the 1990s he returned to recording, releasing the album Timepeace in 1998 on Gilles Peterson’s then Talkin’ Loud label. This album is definitely worth looking out for – check out the wonderful Keep Your Heart Right as an example of his late style.  His final album on the UK Mr Bongo label was a collaboration with Robert del Naja from Bristol triphoppers Massive Attack and included Live With Me, recorded in an even better string-drenched version by the band with vocals by Callier and released on their Collected album.

13. The John Coltrane Quartet – Song of the Underground Railroad from The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions 

The Terry Callier tune provided one play on the notion of a train so here is another from John Coltrane himself. The Underground Railroad was the metaphorical description for the safe routes by which the enslaved of the Southern states of the US could escape to the North and at the time of the recording in 1961 Coltrane had been researching spirituals and nineteenth-century folksongs. This was Coltrane’s first record on the Impulse! label with whom he would stay for the rest of his recording career and it was also his first visit to Englewood Cliffs, Rudy Van Gelder’s celebrated New Jersey studio. The quartet was made up of McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Elvin Jones on drums and, yes, two other people already mentioned in these notes made a contribution – Rudy Van Gelder as recording engineer, with orchestration from Eric Dolphy on some tracks.

14. N’Dambi – Ode 2 Nina from Tunin’ Up & Consignin’

We like to end the show with artists and tunes that stretch musical boundaries and vocalist/composer N’Dambi fits the bill. If you have not come across her check out the 2002 2CD set Tunin Up & Consignin from which Ode 2 Nina comes. Musically, N’Dambi stretches across soul/R’n’B and on this album definitely jazz. Ode 2 Nina is, of course, a dedication to Nina Simone and is delivered with soulful power and emotion, all with an amazing vocal range. The album is a mix of live and studio recordings and  contains many other surprises and highlights. It is not just jazz but – as you know – that’s how we like it on Cosmic Jazz.

Neil is listening to…

17 April 2021: boundary crossing jazz

In contrast to the geophysical and political worlds, jazz has no boundaries. We look for, find and play jazz from across the globe – and Cosmic Jazz this time truly reflects the global reach of jazz and jazz-related music with the US, Italy, Cuba and Poland all represented on the show.

Bobby Vince Paunetto – Fenway Funk from London Jazz Classics Vol. 2 

This tune can be found most easily on a Soul Jazz Music compilation of 1994 from the days of the London Jazz Dance scene – and a compilation that included two tunes we’ve played out on Cosmic Jazz live shows – Airto Moreira’s Samba de Flora and Sivuca’s take on Ain’t No Sunshine. The album ends with Fenway Funk,  originally on Paunetto’s 1975 album From Paunetto’s Point. Bobby Vince Paunetto was a vibes player prominent among New York Latin jazz/salsa musicians and Fenway Funk is a positive and rousing piece of Latin jazz. This big band collective of twelve musicians includes three sax players, trumpet and trombone, with probably Andy Gonzales on bass and the wonderful Cuban-born percussionist Manny Oquendo being the most widely known.

2. Joe Barbieri – Promemoria from Tratto Da Una Storia Vera  

We enjoyed a first play of this tune and like the album from which it comes. Promemoria is the single released ahead of the album earlier this month. Joe Barbieri is an Italian Naples-based jazz singer/songwriter and on this track there’s a clear Brazilian feel with Antonio Carlos Jobim cited as an influence on Barbieri – as was vocalist Shirley Horn with her uniquely laconic delivery. The album – including this single – presents stories from Joe’s personal and artistic life and we’ll return to Tratto Da Una Storia in coming weeks.

3. Matti Klein – Sunsqueezed from Soul Trio Live On Tape 

Also with a Brazilian connection comes keyboard player Matti Klein, musical director for the distinguished Brazilian artist Ed Motta – another of our CJ favourites. Klein’s new record is the outcome of three musicians coming together in Jazzanova’s Berlin studio – Klein on Wurlitzer and Rhodes bass with Lars Zander on tenor sax/bass clarinet and Andre Seidel on drums. It’s straight ahead soul jazz – recorded live in the studio without headphones to enhance the live and direct experience – and will be released at the end of this month via Shuffle Shack Records.

4. Raoul De Souza – Sweet Lucy from Plenitude 

After the Brazilian connections, we no feature virtuoso Brazilian trombonist Raoul De Souza. With a career spanning six decades, de Souza was born in Rio de Janeiro but moved to the US and became a go-to sideman for an impressive list of musicians including Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, Sergio Mendes, Milton Nascimento, Herbie |Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Nat Adderley, Jaco Pastorius and Jack DeJohnette. More recently he has been playing with younger musicians and this group, which came together in 2017 for a jazz festival in Hamburg, has musicians ranging in age from twenty-four to De Souza at eighty-six. There is a two trombone front line with bass, drum and piano and the soon to be released album Plenitude features traditional and contemporary Brazilian jazz merged with funk. Sweet Lucy was written by George Duke and is a new take on one of De Souza’s most celebrated tunes, originally found on the first of three albums he recorded in the late 1970s for the Capitol label.

5. Street Jazz Unit – What’s the Best Thing To Do Tomorrow from Seeing the Light/Sister Bosssa

So we head back to Italy with Brazilian flavours. This up-tempo tune was originally on the album Seeing the Light released by the Italian jazz label Schema Records and is still available in a digital download via Bandcamp right here. Put together by Nicola Conte, Street Jazz Unit featured Bruno Marini on baritone saxophone, Max M. Bassado on vocals with Giuseppe Bassi acoustic bass and  Mimmo Campanale on drums. What’s the Best Thing to Do was then included on the Sister Bossa compilation on the US label Irma. The subtitle promotes the selection of cool jazzy cuts – and this is certainly one of them. Street Jazz Unit are a good example of the way in which younger artists from the 1990s stretched out the concept of jazz to include the sounds of soul jazz and hard bop in a hip hop and club culture mix. Not always appreciated at the time, there are many good examples of this sub-genre – most notably the ambitious Jazzamatazz project which featured Guru, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Pharcyde and jazz artists like Donald Byrd,  Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Ayers and Branford Marsalis who appears on the excellent Transit Ride.

6. David Sanchez – Canto from Carib

This great tune comes from saxophonist David Sanchez’s Carib album – an exploration of his Puerto Rican heritage and its liks to the African diaspora. Sanchez noted: I wanted to approach this album as a means to pay tribute to all Afro descendent communities who have helped define my music and the culture’s broad ranging beauty and idiosyncrasies. It’s striking, and it hurts me to see the marginalization and poor sociological conditions in so many Pan African communities, which are wrongly viewed as a simple, normal circumstance of life and consequently receive a lack of attention and action to change those conditions, and systems, which continue to create inequity. This recording is part of a new series of my recordings which begins with all original pieces inspired by the musical traditions of Puerto Rico and Haiti, then travels to other Afro descendent musical traditions throughout the Americas. Carib features traditional music from these two islands, because it still amazes me how similar their music flows. I focused on the Congo-Guinee in Haitian music because it is a musical tradition shared by many other Afro descendant cultures. Haiti has an amazing and resonant history, filled with struggles; foreign occupations, revolution, independence, national disasters, embargos, long stretches of isolation, which, at times, both created a cultural vacuum in the country and also circumstances to preserve the core of many traditions coming from Africa. Some of Haiti’s struggles, reminds me of my own island. A long time oppression created by colonists has played a central part in Puerto Rico’s culture too. And after the devastation hurricane María wreaked on my island, I saw more parallels with Haiti aftermath from their tragic earthquake in 2010. Furthermore, for over a century, both islands have had their economy systematically crippled in a diversity of ways. In reality, Puerto Rico has always been a property, a casualty of imperialism, and the island has too long been in a one-sided economic relationship in which the priority has never been the well-being of country’s people. Yet the cultural identity feels very strong and omnipresent despite all the struggles colonialism usually brings, and ultimately it’s a genuine testament to the irrepressible people of Puerto Rico. The band features David Sánchez on tenor saxophone and percussion, Obed Calvaire on drums and vocals, Lage Lund on guitars, Ricky Rodriguez on bass, Luis Perdomo on piano and Fender Rhodes, Jhan Lee Aponte on percussion and Markus Schwartz on additional Haitian Percussion.

7. Jessica Lauren – Teck et Bambou from Almeria

Released in 2018, Almeria remains UK keyboard player Jessica Lauren’s most recent release. It’s a record Neil has returned to recently and it’s time for a reappraisal of this fine contribution to the British jazz scene. Lauren has an unusually minimalist approach – there’s a sense of space and restraint in much of her music – evidenced clearly on White Mountain, the opening track of her 2012 album Four. It’s here too on Teck et Bamboo (which translate as teak and bamboo) with its jungle frogs and bird calls leading into sparse percussion (Richard Ọlátúndé Baker, Phillip Harper and Cosimo Keita Cadore) and elegantly restrained saxophone from Tamar Osborne. The album is still available in all formats on Bandcamp right here. Try the vinyl if you can – it’s a great recording.

8. Janczarski & Siddik 4Tet – Caribbean Fire Dance from Contemplation

Contemplation is an album of tributes to the jazz heroes of Rasul Siddik (trumpet, flutes and vocals) and Borys Janczarski (tenor sax). Tunes by McCoy Tyner, Woody Shaw, Don Cherry, Jim Pepper and Joe Henderson’s Caribbean Fire Dance create an album of contemporary jazz classics that mix freeform and mainstream energy to excellent effect. It would be easy to assume that the Joe Henderson original might have appeared on one of his mix 1960s hard bop outings for Blue Note, but in fact the tenor saxophonist was beginning to cut loose by the time of this 1966 album – one of his very finest. Mode for Joe features a front line of trumpeter Lee Morgan, trombonist Curtis Fuller vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and is – for us – an essential Blue Note release. Just check out A Shade of Jade as an example. Fellow saxophonist Dave Liebman described Henderson’s style as an extension of Sonny Rollins, attributable mostly to his sense of phrasing and note choices and the fact that the principles of the bebop legacy are fundamental to both However, Joe took the tenor sax elsewhere technically, in areas such as his unique set of expressive devices, unending variations of articulations, fast arpeggios, trill sand the like… a looseness of rhythm that defied the bar line, his own personal way of using the high register of the horn and a tone that could go from liquid to coarse in a beat. That’s it – but we could add that Henderson is always very distinctive: his ‘voice’ is often hard and gruff, not at all the rich nasal sound of Hank Mobley, or the acid sharp alto of Jackie McLean. There’s always emotional expression, urgency and excitement and – very often – surprise in Henderson’s music. Whether you explore his 1960s Blue Note outings, his 1970s records on Milestone or his return to Blue Note for the two superb live State of the Tenor records in the 1980s, Henderson will never disappoint. Back to the excellent Janczarski & Siddik 4Tet – Michal Jaros on bass and Kazimierz Jonkisz on drums form the backbone of this excellent  group and it’s a  highly recommended record from us.

9. Miyasaka + 5 – Animals Garden from Animals Garden/J Jazz Vol. 2

This fifth release in the BBE Music J Jazz Masterclass Series is another cult rarity from Japan originally issued in 1979 on the private Japanese label ALM.  The group was a one-off project led by drummer Takashi ‘Bear’ Miyasaka and included saxophonist Koichi Matsukaze, whose Earth Mother album has also been reissued by BBE Music. With just four long tracks including the modal title tune, there’s space for the musicians to stretch out on solos that reflect the many influences of this most creative period of jazz in Japan. The vinyl and CD reissues are now sold out, but the album can still be downloaded from BBE’s Bandcamp site.

10. Lucien Johnson – Blue Rain from Wax///Wane

Neil was introduced to this record by Scots music promoter Rob Adams (Twitter: @rabjourno) who also led us to the wonderful Fergus McCreadie. Saxophonist Lucien Johnson is actually from Wellington, New Zealand but spent much of his twenties living and working in and out of Paris, meeting and playing with musicians he knew from recordings including drumming legend and long-time Paris resident Sunny Murray, the late pianist Bobby Few and drummer John Betsch’s band.  Another drummer, Makoto Sato introduced Johnson to free jazz bass legend Alan Silva (of Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra and Albert Ayler fame), and they formed a trio, going on to record the album Stinging Nettles. The current group features John Bell on vibes, Michelle Velvin on harp, Tom Callwood on bass, Cory Champion on drums and Riki Piripi on percussion and the music is deep, modal and with more than a touch of Pharoah Sanders too. With bone conduction headphones safely in place, Neil has been listening to this album on repeat while cycling in the 95% humidity that’s typical in Singapore at this time of year. It’s an excellent record and we’ll feature more in upcoming shows. Wax///Wane is available here on Bandcamp – and it’s on vinyl too.

8. Mariusz Smolinski – Song for My Girls from Ten Minutes Later 

Recent Cosmic Jazz shows have featured a number of trios, so the trend continues with a couple of tunes, beginning with Marius Smolinski – a jazz composer and piano/Fender Rhodes/Moog player from Poland. 10 Minutes Later is his debut album of melody-based mainstream jazz/fusion and was released in 2010. There are soloing opportunities for bass player Bartosz Kucz and drummer Piotr Budniak, both who come from the Polish jazz fusion scene. Polish-Jazz Blogspot, a key source of information on Polish jazz recordings, describes the music as reminiscent of Chick Corea’s recordings of the 1970s and 1980s and praises the record as yet another example of the many fine young jazz musicians emerging in Poland.

12. Harold Lopez-Nussa – Ma Petite dans la Boulangerie from Un Dia Cualquiera

In a show of returning connections, the second jazz trio featured comes from Cuban-born, New York-based jazz musicians, playing a number with a French title. The group is the traditional format of piano, bass and drums/percussion with Harold Lopez-Nussa on piano, Gaston Joya on bass and Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa (brother of Harold) on drums and percussion. There are Cuban influences but don’t expect an album of son music – this is most definitely a jazz album, with influences drawn from the conservatories and barrios of Lopez-Nussa’s homeland. Un Día Cualquiera translates as Just Another Day and some track titles reflect this. There are two versions of tunes by Ernesto Lecuona – sometimes known as ‘the Gershwin of Cuba’ – and the title track tribute to the pianist Bebo Valdés (Chucho’s father), Una Tarde Cualquiera en Paris.

13. Abbey Lincoln – Caged Bird from Abbey Lincoln in Paris: Painted Lady 

Abbey Lincoln was an American vocalist, significant not only for her passionate and powerful singing but also her commitment to the civil rights movement. This album was recorded in Paris in 1980 with Archie Shepp – another committed activist – on saxophones, Hilton Ruiz on piano (another Latin/jazz musician on the show), Jack Gregg on bass, Freddie Waits on drums and Roy Burrowes on trumpet. The band was assembled by French  jazz promoter Gerard Torres who took advantage of Abbey Lincoln being in France at the same time as the Marion Brown quartet (Ruiz, Gregg and Waits) and Shepp’s Attica Blues Band. The result is is a record with some very fine performances, including our choice and the magnificent Throw It Away. Lincoln was married to drummer Max Roach and her unique voice is very much centre stage on the essential We Insist! recording from 1960 which includes the powerful Driva’ Man.

14. Horace Parlan – Home is Africa from African Rhythms: Afro-Centric Homages to a Spiritual Homeland

The title of this tune as well as the sub-title of the superb two-CD 2008 Blue Note compilation from which it comes, chimes well with the spirit of Abbey Lincoln’s work. It was released originally on the album Happy Frame of Mind which finally appeared under Parlan’s name in 1986, years after its recording in 1963. Pianist Horace Parlan arrived in New York in the late 1950s, joined the Charles Mingus group and appears on the seminal Ah Um from 1959. He was signed to Blue Note as a hip, soulful pianist and the group on this record has indeed a sharp, soulful line-up and includes Grant Green, Booker Ervin, Billy Higgins and Johnny Coles. Parlan is worthy of more investigation: he had a strong series of Blue Note recordings in the 1960s but then – like several other US jazz musicians of the time – left America for Copenhagen in 1973, and gained international recognition for some stunning albums on the SteepleChase label,  including a pair of superb duet sessions with the aforementioned Archie Shepp. Check out the compelling Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child from their 1977 album Goin’ Home, a collection of compelling gospel spiritual songs delivered with intense passion – making it another CJ highly recommended album.

15. Lee Morgan – Exotique from Tom Cat 

Both Neil and Derek have been listening to trumpeter Lee Morgan lately. Not only was he a fine trumpeter who died tragically too young but, as Neil has commented, Morgan was also a composer of considerable merit. Exotique is one of those compositions and it provides a wonderfully uplifting and soulful end to the show. The album Tom Cat is a Blue Note classic that – once again – was released many yeas after its initial recording in August 1964. On board for this set are McCoy Tyner on piano, Jackie McLean on alto, Curtis Fuller on trombone and Art Blakey on drums – wow! We recently included a tune from the Blue Note Tone Poet vinyl re-release of Morgan’s The Rajah: check it out if you do not know it – this record is more essential Blue Note listening. If you’d like a pristine audiophile version of Tom Cat to add to your collection then you’ll need to search out a Music Matters 2 x 45 reissue (currently from US$150 on Discogs!) or do some crate digging for one of the 1983 CD or vinyl reissues. Good luck!

Enjoy the show – more Cosmic Jazz treasures coming soon…

04 April 2021: a Mike Westbrook birthday tribute, new J Jazz and old favourites

The latest Cosmic Jazz celebrates the early work of Mike Westbrook, finds more jazz from Japan and another Black Jazz Records re-release along with new music from Scotland, Italy and the latin quarters of New York. Yes, it’s as eclectic as always – enjoy!

Some musicians are deeply embedded in your memory as a result of their early influence on your taste and choices. The British pianist, composer and bandleader Mike Westbrook and his groups were among the very first jazz performances that Derek saw live and so inspired the lifelong love of jazz that led to the creation of Cosmic Jazz over fifteen years ago. He last saw Westbrook a few years back performing a reprise of his work to celebrate William Blake in a medieval church in Norwich – another life-affirming performance.

1. The Mike Westbrook Concert Band – Love Song No. 1 from Love Songs

2. The Mike Westbrook  Concert Band – Rosie from Marching Songs Vol. 2

3. Mike Westbrook – V/VI/VII from Metropolis 

On 21 March, 2021 Mike Westbrook celebrated his 85th birthday and so it seemed fitting to include his music this week – focusing on some of his earlier masterpieces. Westbrook studied art in Plymouth before moving to London and becoming part of Ronnie Scott’s celebrated house band in the 1960s. The art school route to jazz has been followed by other artists and it clearly nurtures a diversity of musical expression typical of Westbrook’s output – working with circus acts (see the back cover of the Love Songs album), the poet Adrian Mitchell, performing a jazz cabaret, celebrating the music of Duke Ellington, releasing a single with proceeds going to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and projects inspired by the lives of poets and painters. Throughout, Westbrook has evolved, experimenting and creating some of the most original music to emerge in jazz over the last 50 years.

Cosmic Jazz celebrates this diversity with three pieces – the first a thing of sheer beauty from Love Songs, a 1970 release with Norma Winstone on vocals, Dave Holdsworth on trumpet and flugelhorn, Malcolm Griffiths and Paul Rutherford on trombones, Mike Osborne on alto, Chris Spedding on guitar among the musicians. We followed this with a track from the second disc of Marching Song, originally issued in 1969 but re-released on CD in 2009. Marching Song was very much an anti-war album reflecting on the horrors of the twenty year long Vietnam War. In two volumes it traces the euphoria of going off to war, the awareness of what is missing – the tune Rosie on the show – and the full tragedy of conflict. Dave Holdsworth, Mike Osborne and Paul Rutherford are on this record too, as is Canadian Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn and UK sax players John Surman and Alan Skidmore.

We ended our tribute to Mike Westbrook with his 1971 masterpiece Metropolis, which tracks a day and night in the life of London. We have previously played the final tune (Part  IX) with its soaring, precise and moving trumpet solo from Harry Beckett evoking the still of the night, cars hissing past on the highway and isolated figures out on the lonely streets but this time our choice of Parts V/VI/VII detailed the wild cacophony of earlier in the day.  Metropolis is an atmospheric, powerful, full-on work and has our unequivocal recommendation as an essential record in anyone’s jazz collection. All demand to be heard in their entirety as complete suites, the way Mike Westbrook intended. Much of Mike and Kate Westbrook’s later albums are available here on Bandcamp – for his earlier work check out Westbrook’s own website and the relevant entries on Discogs. Then settle down and listen – deeply4. Sun Ra – Twin Stars of Thence (Alternate Mix) from Lanquidity (Definitive Edition)

People are sleeping, and I’m here to wake them up from their slumber.” Lanquidity is one of Sun Ra’s most popular albums and an excellent place to start on his impossibly extensive discography. Recorded and issued in 1978 on Tom Buchler’s short-lived Philly Jazz label, it represented a stylistic pivot for Ra, who had rarely paid much attention to mainstream music trends. Lanquidity is a deliberate product of its time, reflecting late-period disco, bottom-heavy funk, and dance-floor soul grooves but it remains full of surprises, idiosyncrasies, and characteristically leftfield moves. Strut Records are about to issue a complete version of the record in a new 4LP set, with all the alternate takes that were pressed for sale at a 1978 Georgia concert restored. The differences between the two versions are clear – compare the new take we played on the show with the currently available track here. Sun Ra is joined by key members of the Arkestra including John Gilmore on tenor, Marshall Allen on alto, oboe and flute, Eddie Gale and Michael Ray on trumpets, the Disco Kid (!) on guitar and Luqman Ali on percussion. Play Where Pathways Meet to the unconverted and see what happens…

5. Yasuhiro Kono Trio – Song of Island from J Jazz Vol 3: Deep  Modern Jazz from Japan

The J Jazz collections from from Tony Higgins and Mike Peden have opened many ears to the range of superb jazz that came out of Japan in the 1960-80s. The third and latest volume adds yet more artists waiting to be discovered. There’s a wide range of styles on offer across the 2CD/3LP set, with samba, funk fusion, modal, spiritual, post-bop, and bossa all getting a look in. Many tracks featured are reissued for the first time, including rare private press cuts from the Yasuhiro Kohno Trio (our selection), Masaru Imada Trio, and Hideyasu Terakawa Quartet. There’s heavy post modal bop by J Jazz legends Kohsuke Mine and Koichi Matsukaze, samba heat from Tatsuya Nakamura, Hideo Shiraki and Seiichi Nakamura and funky dance floor energy by Hiroshi Murakami, Ryojiro Furusawa Quartet and Shigeharu Mukai. As with the first two volumes, selected albums will be remastered and reissued on BBE Records as part of the Jazz Masterclass series. All three volumes of this excellent series are essential – for more on Japanese jazz and the jazu kissa tradition, check out our previous features here and here.

Here in Singapore, Neil is lucky enough to crate dig for some of the best new and used jazz records from Japan and treasures continue to be unearthed. The Mabumi Yamaguchi Quartet (with the leader on some excellent tenor and soprano saxophone) was represented on Jazz Vol. 2 and Neil tracked down the 1978 Leeward album in local vinyl store The Analog VaultDistant Thunder is a jazz-funk samba with fine choruses from each band member before Yamaguchi takes up the haunting theme of this excellent piece. The record has now been reissued on Le Tres Jazz Club – a French reissue label specialising in rare and sought after jazz titles – with the original cover and notes in Japanese.

6. Koichi Matsukaze Trio feat. Toshiyuki Daitoku  – Zekatsuma Selbst from Earth Mother

This track appeared on J Jazz Vol. 1 with the complete 1978 album later reissued on BBE as part of the Jazz Masterclass series. The second release from leader and multi-reedist Koichi Matsukaze (alto, tenor saxophone and flute), following on from an earlier live recording, Live at the Room 427 (1976), and is progressive jazz that oscillates between straight acoustic and harder hitting fusion. Again, excellent Fender Rhodes and acoustic piano from Daitoku and some fine horn playing from Matsukaze. Much of this era of Japanese jazz is informed by the US groups that toured the country, first in the immediate postwar years and then in the 1960s when big name artists visited Japan and American labels like Blue Note began pressing records under licence. Jazz centred on Tokyo and Osaka (especially its Dotonburi district) and today a monthly magazine like Swing Journal will sell four times as many copies in Japan as Downbeat does in the US. The vinyl resurgence has also impacted on the country, with Tower Records in Tokyo reopening its vinyl floor in March 2019 in response to the rising demand for analogue sourced music and jazu kissa bars and cafes opening in major cities.

7. Fergus McCreadie – Tide from Cairn

No apologies for more from this excellent sophomore album from Scots pianist Fergus McCreadie. The quietly reflective Tide is typical of the compelling music made by this trio: there’s a strong Scots voice and style but with a EST-like energy and invention. Now signed to Edition Records, McCreadie’s album is definitely one to explore. It’s not all about the pianist of course: McCreadie is part of a trio where there is no obvious grandstanding and David Bowden on bass and Stephen Henderson on drums are central to the musical architecture of each piece on the album. Check out the Bandcamp site here and buy this music – you’ll be listening on repeat for months.

8. Chester Thompson – Power House from Powerhouse  

This is the next in the line of Black Jazz Records re-releases from Real Gone Music, available from 30 April 2021. Powerhouse is also one of the rarest and most collectable from the label. Keyboard player Chester Thompson from San Francisco’s Bay Area had long stints with local groups like Tower of Power and Santana  but 1971’s Powerhouse was his debut as band leader. Along with a host of collaborators including well-known soul and jazz names like fellow Black Jazz recording artist Rudolph Johnson on sax,  drummer Raymond Pounds (Pharoah Sanders, Stevie Wonder, Pointer Sisters) and trombonist Al Hall (Johnny Hammond, Freddie Hubbard, Eddie Harris). The title track (actually labeled Power House) pretty much sums up the record: Hammond B3 grooves with horn flourishes that echo the sounds of classic Richard Holmes, Jack McDuff and Lonnie Smith arrangements with the usual high standards of recording we expect from Black Jazz.

9. Joe Barbieri – Promemoria single from Tratto Da Una Storia Vera

Joe Barbieri is an Italian jazz singer/songwriter with something of a debt to vocalists like Chet Baker, Shirley Horn and – on this tune – a strong Brazilian/Jobim influence too. Did Derek also detect a light reggae lilt? Promemoria is the first single from his forthcoming album Tratto Da Una Storia Vera (Based On a True Story) and will be released on 16 April. The album is an autobiographical piece looking back over thirty years as an artist through personal reflections with Promemoria apparently describing the “eternal battle  between regret and remorse…..But then there is always that unshakeable hope that lingers.” It’s an upbeat, positive and encouraging tune that holds great promise for the rest of the album.

10. Elements of Life – Berimbau from Elements of Life Eclipse (Disc 1)

11. Nuyorican Soul feat. Jocelyn Brown – I Am the Black Gold of the Sun from Nuyorican Soul

Here on Cosmic Jazz we both like to return and replay music that we love. And – to go back to that influence of the album as a complete musical experience to be listened to throughout – there’s a special pleasure in finding music that just works in this way. The albums from Elements of Life and Nuyorican Soul (both out of the New York Latin communities and with producer and DJ Louis Vega at the heart of things), both fall into this category. Derek chose Berimbau from Elements of Life to follow Joe Barbieri and this led to the superb Nuyorican Soul album – one more recently ‘rediscovered’. This debut concept album was released in 1997 and featured guest appearances from George Benson, Roy Ayers, Tito Puente, the Salsoul Orchestra and – on this celebrated cover of the Rotary Connection classic I Am the Black Gold of the Sun – US vocalist Joscelyn Brown. The brainchild of the Masters at Work team (Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez and ‘Little’ Louie Vega), Nuyorican Soul was a celebration of their jazzier, old-school latin influences – and it totally works. With a collection of well-chosen covers and sympathetically written new material all interpreted by some old school guests the album is a Nuyorican (New York/Puerto Rican) masterpiece that seamlessly brings together club and street into a mix that still sounds good twenty years down the line. The album includes takes on Bob James’ Nautilus  (bracketed here as MAWtilus), the Salsoul Orchestra’s Runaway and the superb original It’s Alright, I Feel It! – easily the equal to some of those classics. The album closer, George Benson’s You Can Do It (Baby) is unforgettable – listen to the full 15 minute version right here. More from Cosmic Jazz soon…

20 March 2021: from tough contemporary to deep contemplation to jazz dance

Here at Cosmic Jazz we travel the length of the jazz spaceways whenever we can – and if we blend this into one programme so much the better. This week the show begins with a selection of tough, free, contemporary music, then goes through a phase of more contemplative reflection and ends among the jazz dance crowd. Give it a listen and enjoy the contrasts.

1.Emma-Jean Thackray – Yang from Um Yang

Trumpeter Emma-Jean Thackray is one of the more idiosyncratic players on the current UK jazz scene. It’s difficult to predict where she’ll go next – and that’s what we like. Her most recent 12in/download is Um Yang, her long-dreamed of project dedicated to the Taoist philosophy of duality and harmony. Recorded live and cut direct to disc at Artone Studios, Haarlem in The Netherlands it’s available on vinyl through Night Dreamer Records. The disc comes with some glossy presentation and, for what is a record with only two tracks, does not come cheap. Personally, Derek could do without a sheet of photos – excellent as they are – and settle for a reduced price. The music, however, is great and features Soweto Kinch on saxophones, Lyle Barton on Fender Rhodes, Ben Kelly on sousaphone, Dwayne Kilvington on percussion, Crispin Robinson  on congas and drummer Dougal Taylor.

2. Kasia Pietrzko – Quasimode from Ephemeral Pleasure

We make no apologies for returning to the young Polish pianist Kasia Pietrzko. She is something special. Do check her out on Facebook where there are regular posts of her either playing solo piano or with other musicians. Ephemeral Pleasures was full of her own compositions and she also  arranged and produced the album. This trio CD comes with effusive praise in the liner notes from pianist Aaron Parks who describes her as patient , inquisitive, bold and filled with the sense of unforced discovery that marks true creative vision. Make no mistake, this is important, serious, intense and original music. Not easy listening, but well worth the intense concentration it demands and deserves.

3. O.N.E. Quintet – Wrotek  from One

More jazz from young Polish musicians: five young women with their first album which was also released in 2020. Like Kasia Pietrzko, it is excellent music that we have found through Steve’s Jazz Sounds. One is composed by the band members who  came together in 2015 yet went to different universities, live in different cities and contribute to different projects outside the quintet. The line-up comprises saxophone, piano, violin, double bass and drums. They create modern music jazz inspired by both folk and hip-hop. Pianist Pola Atmanska describes their music as difficult to pigeonhole, but it’s surely distinctive. I think that there is a lot of lyricism in it , but there’s also fire and strong, free sounds. Much of this can is exemplified in the tune Wrotek, which features in this week’s show.

4. Sarah Tandy – Under the Skin from Infection in the Sentence

As with all the above artists, piano and keyboard player Sarah Tandy is someone whose music we are always delighted to return to. We have played several tunes from her Jazz re:freshed debut album Infection in the Sentence, but may not have played this one before. At the time of its release she described herself as immersing myself in the myriad musical languages surrounding me. In the album I’m seeking to find a continuum between the jazz music which I grew up listening to, and the multi-faceted, genre-melting sounds of present day London. She had the musicians to support this in drummer Femi Koleoso,  saxophonist Binker Golding, bass player Mutale Chashi, and  trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, many of whom Sarah had played with for some time in London. Tandy was a one-time BBC young classical music finalist but realised while studying English Literature at Cambridge she needed jazz to express herself. Her playing is technically strong but it also has freedom and spontaneity, listen to the free-flowing pace at which her fingers zoom across the keyboards on Under the Skin. We’re told there will be new music out soon – we can’t wait.

5. Fergus McCreadie – Across Flatlands from Cairn

McCreadie’s sophomore album for Edition Records is a stunning trio release and consolidates his essential place in the current UK jazz scene (yes, it’s not all London and Manchester!).  McCreadie grew up in the Highland village of Cononbridge and – as on his first album – he’s exploring the relationship between the Scottish landscape and his music.  ​Cairn is surely going to consolidate his presence as a composer, pianist and trio leader with its combination of contemporary and jazz influences in​ mesmerising playing. Completing the trio are bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson. This is a record you must hear in whatever format you prefer – the download and CD are available direct from Edition Records here. Sadly, the stunning-looking vinyl first pressing is now sold out, but you might be able to track down copies in your independent record store.

6. Maria Schneider Orchestra – Data Lords from Data Lords

She did it! Our top release from 2020 secured a couple of Grammy Awards earlier this month – one for best large jazz ensemble and one for the tune Sputnik, voted best instrumental composition. Maria Schneider is one of the most creative artists working in jazz right now and we have been singing her praises for several years here on CJ. 2CD set Data Lords tells a tale of two opposite worlds, the digital versus the natural, and the result is two distinctive sounding discs – one cacophonous, the other euphonic. This is music to immerse yourself in – check out the beautifully presented package too via Schneider’s ArtistShare site.

7. Gabor Szabo – Mizrab from The Sorcerer

Szabo is perhaps best known to non-jazz audiences as the composer of Gypsy Queen (originally Gypsy 66) and later covered by Santana on their breakthrough Abraxas album, but also memorably interpreted by guitarist Larry Coryell on his Barefoot Boy album from 1971. Szabo was a Hungarian American guitarist whose early output for Impulse! Records is well worth investigating. He’d become a member of Chico Hamilton’s quintet in the 1960s (where he played alongside saxophonist Charles Lloyd) but his own releases are worth investigating. If you can track down a copy of one of his last albums, the live Belsta River recorded in Stockholm (1978), you’ll find the lengthy 24 Carat, another fine example of Szabo’s Hungarian folk roots impacting on his guitar playing. However, the Szabo album I return to most often is High Contrast, his 1970 duet release with Bobby Womack – an inspired instrumental pairing that includes the original version of Breezin’, one of George Benson’s biggest hits. This may be one of the first records that could be categorised as ‘smooth jazz’ but it is an inspirational album nonetheless.

8. Harold Land – Mtume from A New Shade of Blue

Harold Land is a really interesting tenor player. Ostensibly, a hard bop player in the 1960s, his tone darkened over the years and became more influenced by John Coltrane and modal experiments. His first records (including an excellent quintet recording The Fox from 1959) just great – check out the title track here, but it’s the later Mainstream albums that are so interesting. Neil is very taken with the enigmatically titled Choma (Burn) from 1971 which has four long tracks featuring Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. A New Shade of Blue comes from earlier in the same year and includes Hutcherson again, along with Buster Williams on bass and James (Mtume) Foreman on percussion. Reissued on vinyl in 2017, it’s well worth tracking down.

9. Nicola Conte – Rituals from Rituals

In contrast to some of the deep, intensive music earlier on the show, the last section includes artists who have been associated with the jazz-dance scenes – but this is definitely not to say they should be treated any less seriously. Nicola Conte is an Italian guitarist, DJ, producer and band leader with a prolific output and an open mind in terms of musical styles.  He has drawn upon sources from jazz to bossa nova to Italian film music to Indian classical and has a new 2021 release with Gianluca Petrella called People Need People. We, though, went back to 2008 and featured the title tune from Rituals. Very much an international project, Conte recruited musicians from Finland, Germany and the US as well as Italy. The breadth of his influences is telling and include Gabor Szabo, whom we featured earlier in the show. Rituals builds from a chilled introduction to to a strong melody that includes a fine solo from German trumpeter Till Brönner.

10. Bahama Social Club – King’s Wig from Bossa Nova Just Smells Funky

Through the Bahama Social Club we turn to dance-floor jazz with a comedic twist. They are a German-based group with guest appearances – as on this album – of like-minded musicians from other countries. Oliver Belz, previously of the JuJu Orchestra, is the lead behind the band. They are a blend of jazz, bossa nova, funk, blues, West African and Latin influences. The tune King’s Wig is, as the title suggests, great fun – but it’s also a clever blend of the traditional with more contemporary jazz dancefloor sounds. Swinging, baby! The voice introducing the tune is none other than DJ Symphony Sid (Sid Torin) who did much to popularise bebop and salsa with white audiences and is taken from his final Live from the Cheetah Club show. The cheese factor is definitely high but the music is sensational. King’s Wig is taken from Bossa Nova Just Smells Funky (surely a sideways reference to Frank Zappa’s famous dictum that “Jazz isn’t dead. It just smells funny”) was released in 2010 and became the group’s biggest success, widely acclaimed and played in Germany but also worldwide.

11. Working Week – Venceremos (We Will Win) (Jazzy Dance Special 12″ Version) from Working Nights

We end, as we began, with British musicians from a group, like those of Nicola Conte and the Bahama Social Club that included several guests to supplement their basic core. At the centre of the group was guitarist Simon Booth alongside vocalist Juliet Roberts and Larry Stabbins on saxophones and flute, but guests on Working Nights included Louis Moholo on drums, Mike Carr on organ, Guy Barker on trumpet and vocalists Tracy Thorn and Robert Wyatt. Reissued in 2012 as a 2CD set, Working Nights documents the work they produced – dance friendly but with a powerful message underneath.  Simon Booth had conceived the band as being tough, politically motivated and jazz dance based and the tune Venceremos proved this. The 12″ version is definitely  a dance floor filler, with some fine jazz playing alongside the references to  Chilean political dictatorship responsible for the death of acclaimed folk singer Victor Jara,  murdered by the CIA-backed military junta of the time. All the musicians involved gave their services for free and royalties went to the Chilean Solidarity Campaign. Perhaps remarkably, the track even reached the pop music charts – quite an achievement. The original album began with an excellent take on Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues – here’s the original video from 1985. More great music soon on Cosmic Jazz.

07 March 2021: classic and contemporary sounds

Welcome to a new Cosmic Jazz. This show visits two classic jazz labels – Blue Note and Black Jazz Records – and two independent contemporary UK ones – Edition Records and Far Out Recordings (see the links below for more on each). The musicians featured come from the USA, Brazil, Scotland, Poland and Jamaica (yes, even on a jazz-related show, a tribute to the late Bunny Wailer could not – and should not – be avoided). It’s essential music from both past and present.

1. Lee Morgan – The Rajah from The Rajah 

This fantastic Lee Morgan album has been re-released on vinyl via the highly recommended Blue Note Tone Poet Series, although the recording we used on the show is from the original mono version on vinyl record. The re-release is welcome. The Rajah is an album Derek goes back to frequently – probably the first  record he turns to  among several, when he wants to hear Lee Morgan. Not only is the music good, there is a powerful image of Morgan on the cover which needs the size of vinyl to be appreciated to the full. If you’d like your own copy of this mono version – good luck! Check out Discogs for the only two copies currently available on the site or enjoy the audiophile vinyl quality of the brand new Tone Poet edition. The record has not had an easy history.  It was recorded in 1966 but was not released until 1985, twelve years after Morgan’s death.  On the record, trumpeter Morgan  is accompanied a stellar group of Blue Note regulars – Hank Mobley on tenor, Cedar Walton on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Billy Higgins on drums.  As on The Rajah, the title tune played on the show and the only Morgan composition on the album, there are frequent solo blasts of power from Morgan and Mobley and it goes without saying that the other musicians are great too. This is definitely a record every Blue Note fan – no, every jazz fan – must have.

2. Gene Russell – My Favorite Things from Talk to My Lady

The twenty albums recorded for Black Jazz Records – and now all re-released via Real Gone Music – are represented in this show by keyboard player Gene Russell, who recorded two albums for the label as well as producing every album in the catalogue.  The album Talk to My Lady includes two other musicians who released music on the label – bassist Henry Franklin (a memorable performance on this track) and guitarist Calvin Keys – and includes a version of My Favorite Things which contrasts with the classic Coltrane version that followed on the show. It is much faster in tempo and considerably shorter in length than the Coltrane version but is led by some really imaginative Fender Rhodes playing from Russell himself.

3. John Coltrane – My Favorite Things from My Favorite Things

The Coltrane version had to follow: it is simply the definitive version of the tune – but which one? A recent excellent BBC Radio 4 programme, made Derek realise that although he had a few live Coltrane recordings of the tune (and there are many available), he did not have the original studio version. But he does now and so here it is. Apparently, a music  publisher brought the tune to Coltrane’s attention and, while pianist McCoy Tyner was not sure at first – Coltrane was convinced. It became both his most commercial-sounding and commercially successful release, going on to sell over 500,000 copies, and for the musicians in the band perhaps some relief after the complexity of the earlier Giant Steps from 1960, particularly the celebrated title track. That is not to say this version is not free, complex and experimental: the original Rodgers and Hammerstein melody is heard numerous times throughout, but instead of playing solos over the written chord changes (as would have been more typical), Tyner and Coltrane take extended solos over just two chords and in waltz time. Yes, this is where the modal jazz innovations of Miles Davis on Kind of Blue first met the spiritual jazz extensions of John Coltrane for the first time. Interestingly, this was not the classic Coltrane quartet that would go onto record for the Impulse! label as the bass player for this session was Steve Davis – brother in law to McCoy Tyner! In this original 1961 quartet release, Coltrane plays soprano sax for the first time on record – it had been bought for him by Miles Davis. Other live versions of My Favorite Things (of which there are many) extend Coltrane’s improvisations further – most notably in the incredible version on Coltrane’s Live in Japan album which is a challenging 57 minutes in length, but the original studio recording is the best known. According to biographer Lewis Porter, Coltrane cited  the tune as “my favorite piece of all those I have recorded”.

4. Bobby Hutcherson – Verse from Stick-Up!/Spiritual Jazz Vol 9 Blue Note Part 1

Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson was a Blue Note star for decades. He first recorded for the label with Jackie McLean in 1963 and went on to deliver over twenty records with them. Hutcherson had an original sound and style on vibes, developing complex but sometimes memorable melodies (like his much covered Little B’s Poem) along with new tones and textures. Throughout the mid-60s, he appeared on numerous celebrated records – Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch, Anthony Williams’ Life Time and Andrew Hill’s Judgement – but also featured alongside many classic Blue Note artists like Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon and Grant Green. His album Stick-Up! also includes McCoy Tyner on piano and Billy Higgins on drums and is one of the very best from this prolific mid-60s period. All tracks (bar a version of Ornette Coleman’s Una Muy Bonita) are Hutcherson compositions and the album was the final one to receive a classic Reid Miles cover. The album is still widely available, but you can also find the track on the excellent Spiritual Jazz Blue Note compilation which includes another excellent Hutcherson tune, the modal Coltrane tribute Searchin’ the Trane from his 1976 album Waiting.

5. Grupo Batuque – Tauruma from O Aperto Da Saudade/Africa Brazil

Joe Davis and his Far Out Recordings label rarely fail to deliver the goods when it comes to music from Brazil – and O Aperto Da Saudade is no exception. Each track has been selected from their prolific output for that sense of saudade. It’s a word with no direct English translation but in Portuguese describes a sense of nostalgia for something that may never return. But in longing for that certain something, whether it’s a person, a place or a time gone by, saudade holds the thing you miss close, and keeps it present despite its absence. Portuguese author Manuel de Mello calls it “A pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” In Brazil, there is an even deeper resonance: as a nation steeped in slavery, the vibrance of African culture in Brazil amplified Saudade, and it became something even more painful, but at the same time a little more rhythmic, perhaps even upbeat.

O Aperto da Saudade (translated as “the grip of saudade”), is a 2020 compilation which attempts to translate the word through the music itself. While saudade is traditionally equated with bossa nova and samba, the music here ranges from 1965 to the present day, and spans psychedelic folk, samba jazz, bossa nova and MPB. We chose the laid back Tauruma from Grupo Batuque, a constantly shifting samba collective of veteran Brazilian percussionists, drummers and musicians assembled by Joe Davis. Members have included Ivan Conti, Wilson das Neves, Robertinho Silva, Cidinho Moreira and many more. Grupo Batuque have gone on to release five albums with Far Out, including their third album, the Grammy nominated Africa Brazil which documented samba’s African roots and included the popular Tauruma.

6. Arthur Verocai – Tudo De Bom from Encore

We stayed with Brazil and Far Out for a genuine classic – Arthur Verocai and a tune from his second album Encore, which features 11 original Verocai compositions with guest musicians including Azymuth, Ivan Lins and a nine-piece string section. This record came in 2007, some 35 years after his neglected eponymous debut album  and it’s well worth chasing down. Thankfully, Far Out have recently released it again, but on vinyl too this time – and it’s available from the label right here.

Born in Rio de Janeiro on 17 June 1945, Arthur Verocai began his professional music career in 1969 and over the next few years was responsible for the orchestration of albums by Ivan Lins, Jorge Ben, Gal Costa, Quarteto em Cy, MPB 4 and Marcos Valle. In the 1970s he was hired by Brazil’s biggest TV station, TV Globo, as musical director and wrote the arrangements for many of the station’s biggest shows. In 1972, Verocai recorded his self-titled debut album on Continental Records but the combination of Brazilian influences with folksy soul and lo-fi electronica experimentations didn’t go down well – and both the album and artist subsequently vanished into obscurity. Verocai had to wait until 2004 when Joe Davis and and Dave Brinkman from the label travelled to  Brazil and began recording Encore. They recruited many of the artists who had appeared on that first 1972 record – Robertinho Silva, Paulinho, Bigorna, and this time, all three members of Azymuth. Tudo De Bom (or All the Best) is another memorable tune – with a gorgeous arrangement reminiscent of Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova.

7. Fergus McCreadie – Cairn from Cairn

Now we turn to one of Britain’s best jazz labels, the ever-enterprising Edition Records who are just about to release Chris Potter’s new trio album with James Francies and Eric Harland. Founded in 2008 by pianist Dave Stapleton, Edition has grown in recent years to include a raft of celebrated jazz artists – The Bad Plus, Kit Downes, Tim Garland, Ivo Neame, Chris Potter, John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler and The Snow Poets. We’ve played many of their records from the outset – including the celebrated trio Phronesis who were selected to support the Wayne Shorter Quartet at the Barbican Hall in 2011 – a truly memorable show. Now comes another piano trio led by Scots pianist Fergus McCreadie. Cairn is his second record and is chockful of beautiful melodies and arrangements. We chose the the title track with its debt to the lyricism of one of our favourite innovative trios, EST. Fergus McCreadie has won numerous prizes and was the under-17 Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the year and a Jazzwise magazine One to Watch in 2018. Backed by bassist David Bowden with Stephen Henderson on drums, McCreadie blends jazz and Scottish traditional music and – just as with his first record, the music is inspired by the diversity of the Scottish landscape.

8. Mariusz Smolinski – Who’s Next from Ten Minutes Later 

One of the top albums currently featured at Steve’s Jazz Sounds a specialist in jazz music from continental Europe and more besides, Ten Minutes Later is the debut album from the young Polish trio led by Mariusz Smolinski. There are eight original compositions from Smolinski, who plays both acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes. There are soloing opportunities for bass player Bartosz Kucz and drummer Piotr Budniak, both who come from the Polish jazz fusion scene. Polish-Jazz Blogspot, a key source of information on Polish jazz recordings, describes the music as reminiscent of Chick Corea’s recordings of the 1970s and 1980s and praises the record as yet another example of the many fine young jazz musicians emerging in Poland.

9. Jazzpospolita – Kwaty Cite from Przyplyw 

It’s refreshing to come across a Polish jazz release where the band does not feel it has to have title tunes and an album title in English – but, unfortunately, this means we will need to apologise for pronunciation errors with reference to both tune and album. Apologies. This is the seventh album from Jazzpospolita who are led by bass player Stefan Nowakowski. Released in 2020, it was the first album from the group for some time after personnel changes. Jazzpospolita is a quartet with bass, piano/keyboards,  drums and the driving guitar of Lukasz Borowicki which adds ambient, fusion and even rock elements to the music.

10. Lyle Workman – Noble Savage from Uncommon Meeting 

Lyle Workman is another artist who combines jazz with fusion and rock/pop. A guitarist, keyboard player and composer, Lyle Workman has some serious jazz credentials include composing a tune for the final release from drummer and jazz icon Tony Williams. Workman was invited to the session and found he was among Stanley Clarke and Herbie Hancock as well as drummer Tony Williams. The wholly instrumental album Uncommon Measures is, not surprisingly, stylistically diverse and features a 63-piece orchestra. The music has some fine arrangements and melodies and is occasionally Zappa-esque in its rich complexity – as here on our choice Noble Savage. The record is available through Blue Canoe Records.

11. Bunny Wailer – Liberation from Liberation

We believe we can apply the principle “If you like this, you will like that” on Cosmic Jazz, and that this certainly applies to reggae for many jazz lovers – including both of us. We are not alone: British saxophonist Nat Birchall is an example of a jazzer obsessed with reggae and he has released the music to prove it. Do check out this blogpost on how much reggae is important in his life and music. Throughout its history, and particularly in its early stages, jazz-feeling horns have been a prominent part of reggae. Following the death of Bunny Wailer – the member of the original Wailers trio whose music Derek plays the most – he felt that he had to put the above principle into practice. Bunny Wailer (born Neville Livingson in 1947) was strong of conviction – check out the film Fire in Babylon to see this exemplified in his spoken word as well as his music. The voice was so sweet – so gentle, yet so strong. His percussion work had the same effect and his lyrics often included a powerful Rastafarian commitment and a plea for liberation – as in this title tune from his landmark 1989 album. His albums could command the support of the very finest Jamaican musicians, with this one including no less than Sugar Minott, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare with a horn section that provides an uplifting, stirring  and joyful backdrop. For a further taste of Wailer’s beautiful tenor voice at its best try This Train from his 1976 first solo release Blackheart Man. We reckon that jazz lover needs this music too. More from Cosmic Jazz soon.

06 February 2021: new releases, re-releases and more

The music on Cosmic Jazz this week comes from Brazil, Poland, the UK and the US. There are artists new to the programme, more essential Black Jazz Records re-releases and differing styles of fusion.

  1. John Surman – Dance from John Surman/Messin’ Around 3: Tighten Up

It is always good to start the show with something funky and uplifting that could even get your body moving. “One of the funkiest British jazz records” is the description to this tune in the notes to Messin’ Around 3: Tighten Up, a 2001 dancefloor jazz compilation, where this track can be found. It comes originally from  sax player John Surman’s first album of 1969, simply called John Surman, and is interesting because Surman moved on to enter vastly different territory, as top musicians so often do. His more recent output for ECM Records has been either in interesting large scale jazz groups or in multi-tracked solo ventures. This first album had a ‘Who’s Who’ of the young British jazz musicians at the time, including Mike Osborne on alto, Errol Phillip on congas, Dave Holland on double bass, Malcolm Griffiths/ Paul Rutherford on trombone and Harry Beckett/Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn.

2. Oles Brothers & Piotr Orzechowski – Waterfall from Waterfall: The Music of Joe Zawinul 

The Oles Brothers from Poland have been performing for over twenty years with Marcin on double bass and Bartlomiej on drums. They are joined on this record by young pianist Piotr Orzechowski. This is an original take on the early Weather Report music composed by Austrian pianist Joe Zawinul. The Oles Brother are quite correct in identifying the European element in these early works: they’re quite unlike the later jazz fusion style increasingly adopted by Weather Report as they became a jazz supergroup in the late 1970s. Their earlier material (the source of all these Oles Brothers interpretations) was in large part composed by Zawinul and reflects a much more ethereal, contemplative approach – as heard in Milky Way, the opening track of their first self-titled album released in 1971, and which has inspired a suite of improvisations on this record. That 1971 self titled first album is indeed a certifiable jazz classic, but the Oles Brothers – along with the subtle pianism of Piotr Orzechowski – have succeeded in creating something very special too. “We wanted to strip Zawinul’s output from fusion and electric sounds” said Marcin Oles and this is exactly what they have done in their selections from both the first and second Weather Records. Waterfall, the tune on this week’s show, is a long way removed from Zawinul’s original conception and – as with John Surman above – is further proof that the best musicians do not stay on the same path. Check this one out at  Steve’s Jazz Sounds – home to great jazz from Europe and elsewhere.

3. Janczarski & Siddik 4Tet – Contemplation from Contemplation

What a record this is! Rasul Siddik on trumpet, flutes and vocals (on their atmospheric take on Jim Pepper’s native American inspired Witchi Tai To), Borys Janczarski on tenor sax, Michał Jaros on bass and Kazimierz Jonkisz on drums play the tunes of some of their jazz heroes, including Woody Shaw, Don Cherry and Joe Henderson. Youth (Janczarski and Jaros) and experience (Siddik and the extraordinary Jonkisz) come together to create an album of contemporary jazz classics that mixes freeform and mainstream energy to excellent effect. Contemplation is one of McCoy Tyner’s most distinctive compositions and this excellent version pays tribute but has its own clear identity – compare with Tyner’s original here. It’s worth noting that the criminally neglected tenor player Jim Pepper was of Kaw and Muskogee Creek descent and his music often reflected this background. He was encouraged to tap into his native American culture by Don Cherry and the two were to collaborate on a number of albums, most notably on his 1983 record Comin’ and Goin’ which includes a version of Witchi Tai To.  Perhaps even more affecting is Pepper’s original recording of this tune on his first record (and currently one of the few in print) Pepper’s Pow Wow, which included Larry Coryell and Billy Cobham in the line up.

4. Maria Schneider – The Sun Waited For Me from Data Lords

We are huge fans of Maria Schneider’s big band recordings – and perhaps her 2020 release Data Lords is her finest achievement yet. It topped many critic poles at the end of the year – and justifiably so. Ambitious in scope and powerful in execution, the music looks at the darkness of our data-driven dystopia and contrasts it with a more contemplative and natural path. On disc 1, Ben Monder’s guitar scrabbles over the dark themes, accompanied by David Bowie saxman Donny McCaslin and the ‘trane-like solo sounds of Rich Perry. The album’s second CD is in more familiar Schneider style, closing with the sumptuous solemnity of The Sun Waited for Me. The album can only be found on the crowd-funded ArtistShare label – Schneider is a forthright advocate of musicians’ ownership of their work and the music is only available for physical or digital purchasing – no streaming allowed. We’re happy with that stance here at Cosmic Jazz!

6. Ed Motta – Daqui Pro Meier from Manual Pratico Para Festas, Bailes e Afins

Given that he’s the nephew of singer Tim Maia, it was perhaps inevitable that Ed Motta would make his way in the world of Brazilian music. However, he’s developed his own individual identity much of which derives from his deep understanding of American soul, disco and funk tropes – all of which can be found in his music. If you’ve heard his more recent music  (like the infectious Dondi from his 2013 AOR album) you’ll recognise his style immediately in this relatively early tune from 1997. Motta went on to work with Roy Ayers, 4 Hero, Seu Jorge, Incognito and others. Your starting point should be the aforementioned Steely Dan-influenced album AOR, which is a delight whether in Brazilian or English lyric versions. The superb horn section on Daqui Pro Meier is Serginho Trombone on trombone, Bidinho and Altair Martins on trumpets and Ze Carlos Birgona and Henrique Band on saxes. 

6. Sivuca – Rosa Na Favela from Sivuca 

We’re hot with the Real Gone Music label at the moment. This February re-release  from the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Sivuca has been only awaited. Sivuca’s music spans a gamut of influences from regional Brazilian folk styles through to jazz and bossa nova. This tune about Rosa at the favela is a gently swinging and mesmerising piece that entices you into its grooves. Sivuca supported many important artists, including the Brazilian great Airto Moreira, but also vocalists Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba. His own music is truly unique: there is a kind of restrained joyfulness laced with a certain melancholy – indeed a hint of that indefinable Portuguese saudade. It is all beautifully performed with outstanding musicianship – on the surface gentle sounding, but with real subtlety, precision and complexity underneath. Buy this album on vinyl (limited editions in green and yellow!) before it disappears and you’ll come back to it again and again.

7. Gene Russell – You Are the Sunshine of My Life from Talk To My Lady 

This month also sees two more Black Jazz re-releases from Real Gone Music with one of these the second album for the label by keyboardist Gene Russell, originally released in 1973. Russell was also a producer and much involved in the creative output of the Black Jazz Records throughout its short lifespan. The album Talk to My Lady includes some original compositions but also some covers such this lilting, almost bossa-nova like re-interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s You Are the Sunshine of My Life. Russell is accompanied on the album by bass player Henry Franklin (of whom more later) and guitarist Calvin Keys (whom we featured in previous shows). This record is indeed another example of the musical  boundary stretching that took place at this influential label. It’s to Real Gone Music’s credit that this reissue project covers all of the twenty Black Jazz releases, fully recognising both the very necessary cultural statement (the first black-owned jazz label in 50 years) and its use of state-of-the-art stereo recording techniques (including the issuing of surround-sound Quadraphonic versions of most records).

8. Jarrod Lawson – Embrace What We Are from Be the Change 

Jarrod Lawson’s second album Be The Change is highly recommended. It is almost in the Black Jazz Records tradition of seamlessly merging styles. There is jazz, there is soul, there is R’n’B all in a highly polished yet emotional and sensitive musical statement. There are political accents too – “It breaks my heart to see the rampant humanity/We can do better” Lawson pleads on this tune. As a multi-instrumentalist, he covers most of the music but longtime percussionist Sammy Figueroa features on several tracks, including our choice Embrace What We Are.

9. Henry Franklin – Little Miss Laurie from The Skipper

Our second Black Jazz choice comes from the other Real Gone Music February re-release. Bass player Henry Franklin’s first release as band leader appeared in 1972 with label co-founder Gene Russell in charge of the recording. Prior to this, Franklin had played with Latin percussionist Willie Bobo and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. There is definitely fusion in the album as a whole and this tune, Little Miss Laurie, hints at pop influences in both its title and structure. Most of the album is made up of original compositions with the organic feel so typical of the label’s output. It’s of course beautifully recorded too.  If you have not discovered Black Jazz Records as yet, now is your opportunity – but you will have to be sharp as some of the vinyl versions are already sold out. There will be more from this label as we move through the year.

24 January 2021: Sivuca, new Polish music and Pharoah Sanders

This week we have a brief pre-release preview of Brazilian artist Sivuca, a mix of music from Neil featuring Pharaoh Sanders and artists that may be new to you, three piano-led Polish trios – including the wonderful Kasia Pietrzko – and important messages from Somi and Michael White’s violin-led sounds.

1. Sivuca – Ain’t No Sunshine from Sivuca

Everyone will know this tune – written and performed by Bill Withers and available on his debut album Just As I Am from 1972. In this original version the sentiments of the lyrics and the way Withers delivers it conveys messages of sadness and regret. But when the same tune is sung by Severino Dias de Oliveira (aka Sivuca) it becomes a joyous, hip-swinging, mood-changing event that brings forth the sunshine, rather than denying it. This is my favourite version of the song. For the first time, the album where you can find this version – the eponymous Sivucawill be re-released in vinyl on 26 February 2021 by our friends at Real Gone Music. Moreover, the first 750 copies will be issued in purple vinyl!

2. Sivuca – Adeus Maria Fulo from Sivuca

Adeus Maria Fulo (in translation, Goodbye Mad Maria!) was most notably covered by Os Mutantes – the Tropicalia group who played alongside Brazilian superstars like  Caetano Veloso and Airto Moreira. Sivuca’s original is an altogether more relaxed take on the song with superb saxophone contributions from Morris Goldberg who also features on Ain’t No Sunshine. Goldberg is a veteran of the South African jazz scene although he’s now based in New York. One of his most memorable contributions on record is on Dollar Brand’s iconic Mannenberg. Sivuca was from Brazil but ventured beyond to play with musicians including Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba, often proving to be a star on tours with these artists. He played accordion, guitar and keyboards, as well as having a powerful singing voice. He often used makeshift instruments alongside conventional ones and combined traditional regional Brazilian styles such as forro and choro along with jazz and bossa influences. This album originally appeared on the Vanguard label in 1973 – and it’s great to have it back again. We may have ignored Brazilian music lately and so this gives us an important reason to play more. Expect further tracks from Sivuca in coming shows.

3. Contours – Balafon A feat. Seth Sutton from Balafon Sketches

This self-release from Contours appeared in July 2020 beginning as a series of live jams in Cumbria, UK. Instrument builder, musician, painter and ceramicist Seth Sutton experimented with balafons and a gamelan alongside his homemade string and percussive instrumentation. The tracks’ foundations were built running these elements of tuned percussion through delay and reverb pedals, experimenting with interlocking polyrhythms and the overtones and textures created by the raw recordings. The group then built upon these recordings utilising a range of live instrumentation such as synthesizers, drum machines and other organic percussion – much provided by producer Tom Burford. Cellist Abel Selaocoe and saxophonist/ flautist Callum Connell feature on some tracks with violinists Simmy Singh and Beka Reid also contributing. The music was available on a cassette tape (with handprinted linocut!) but this is now sold out. Check out the digital version here on Bandcamp. Note that 100% of profits from this release are donated to charities Kids of Colour and Colours Youth Network.

4. Menagerie – Hope from Many Worlds

Australian nine-piece group Menagerie released Many Worlds, their third album, on 15 January 2021. The group was founded by producer, songwriter, guitarist and DJ Lance Ferguson and are clearly inspired by post-Coltrane jazzers and labels like Strata-East, Impulse! and Black Jazz. The track Hope could easily be from a 1970s Sonny Fortune album – it’s that good. Think, for example, of Thoughts from the undervalued album Waves of Dreams (1976). On Many Worlds there’s a fusing together of strong melodies and cosmic jazz grooves with horns, guitar solos, acoustic and electric keys, along with some funky percussion rhythms in the mix – and it all works. We’ll play more from Menagerie in coming shows. 

5. Pharaoh Sanders – Love Is Everywhere from Live in Paris (1975)

When Pharoah Sanders played tenor saxophone with John Coltrane in the 1960s, his tone was harsh and wild. Soloing alongside Coltrane on challenging records like Ascension, Om, and Live in Japan, Sanders’ horn would shriek and howl and cry, reaching a pitch of earth-shaking intensity on pieces that pushed jazz to the limits. But after Coltrane’s death in 1967, Sanders began exploring a different path. Playing with Alice Coltrane on Ptah, the El Daoud and and Journey in Satchidananda and on his own albums for the Impulse! label, his sound was still searching, but now more lyrical in more trance-like musical settings. When Sanders and his band played Paris in 1975 his Impulse! period was behind him but this live Radio France studio set (where Cannonball Adderley, Freddie Hubbard, and Grant Green also recorded) sees a consolidation of those earlier records into extended vamps much like the second half of Upper Egypt, Lower Egypt from Tauhid – one of our perennial favourites here on Cosmic Jazz. The quality of the sound on this recording is ok too – if you’re new to this mid period Sanders, why not start here? Take care with the ending though (where did that organ come from?)…

6. Kasia Pietrzko – Dark Blue Intensity Of Life from Ephemeral Pleasures The show now enters a run of Polish jazz trios led by pianists. The first comes from Kasia Pietrzko, who we have already featured on the show and will continue to include. Perhaps we were a little slow to catch up on this 2020 release but we have tried to make up for it since. The word ‘intensity’ appears in the title of this tune – it’s a vital word to describe any of her music. It requires serious and sustained attention , but it is so deep, so emotional and powerful that it more than rewards these efforts. Do follow her on Facebook – she has released videos where she emerges onto a darkened stage, plays one of her tunes solo on piano and then walks off again. The setting and the playing is always perfect.

7. Domink Wania Trio – Une Barque Sur L’Ocean from Ravel 

This is another record we are catching up on again. We actually first played tracks from this album back in 2015 but have begun to appreciate its qualities once more and have featured several tracks in recent shows. Pianist Domink Wania is joined by Max Mucha on double bass and Dawid Fortuna on drums. Wania is an outstanding pianist and this debut album was much anticipated. It remains his only solo album but there is a long list of Polish jazz musicians on whose records he has appeared and made a major contribution, including Tomasz Stanko – one of the Polish greats. He’s also played with jazz artists from further afield, including Americans Marcus Miller, Dave Liebman, Lee Konitz, Don Byron and Eddie Henderson. He is also an educator in Krakow and Katowice and released his first solo piano album, Lonely Shadows, in November 2020. Check out this video of the track Subjective Objectivity – there’s a glimpse of ECM founder and producer Manfred Eicher in the background shadows.

8. Piotr Matusik Trio – Native Dancer from Independence 

This is the second album from pianist Piotr Matusik, released in 2020 and with all nine tunes  composed by him. There are many opportunities for Matusik’s solo improvisations but there are also opportunities for the other trio members, Alan Wykpisz on double bass and electronics, who has some particularly fine moments, and Patryk Dobosz on drums. Like so many of the Polish releases this is a record from young musicians who are developing and making their mark. How does Poland manage to produce so many? Certainly it would seem there are some outstanding academies/universities where they can study and emerge as outstanding musicians and one presumes their music education began much earlier. In a world in which musicians are finding it hard to survive there’s an important message for governments here – we can’t neglect this most universal art form and so supporting music education is an essential commitment for any country.

9. Somi – Four African Women from The Lagos Music Salon 

Somi was born in Illinois to parents who came to the US from Rwanda and Uganda. She has just released a live album with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band – Live at Alte Oper recorded at an 18th century opera house, which is currently nominated for a 2020 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.  It includes versions of tunes from her two studio albums – Petite Afrique about the situation for African immigrants in Harlem in the face of gentrification and The Lagos Music Salon which was inspired by an 18-month music sabbatical in Lagos. It is from this album that this week’s selection is taken. Somi is a performer who uses her music to tell stories and she has an impressive range of collaborators and achievements. Her activism led to a performance at the UN General Assembly for the International Day of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

10. Michael White – The Blessing Song from Pneuma 

We end the show with a tune we keep coming back to on Cosmic Jazz – we first featured it on a show in 2008! The Blessing Song was released on Impulse! – nothing unusual there – but this was a band led by Michael White, a violin player and there have not been too many of those in jazz. Besides, the violin is not always associated with music that is jaunty, danceable and totally uplifting as this track is. It is interesting to note that the people at Jazzman Records have selected this for the Spiritual Jazz 12 Impulse! compilation. It seems  pretty good to end the show, with a piece that includes the invitation Lord come into our hearts with your blessing/Lord come into our hearts with your love. We need blessings and love at this time.

10 January 2021: more best of 2020, remembering Candido and the legacy of Stanley Cowell

Welcome to the first CJ post for 2021! There is still more to play from 2020 and further respects to be paid in the show this week. We continue to explore the Black Jazz Records re-releases from RealGoneMusic and a neglected Polish masterpiece is given an airing.

  1. CándidoConga Soul from Conga Soul

Percussionist Cándido Camero died in New York on 7 November 2020 aged 99 – and so it is long overdue that we pay our respects. Derek probably encountered him most often when playing out as a DJ and using Jingo as a rapturous dancefloor filler. Cándido led various bands from the 1950s onwards, recording in the 1970s for both Blue Note and Salsoul record labels, with Jingo becoming a huge Salsoul hit – check out this extended David Rodriguez mix. Back in the early 1960s many jazz musicians were influenced by the music of Nigerian Babatunde Olatunji and his Drums of Passion album which features a version of Jin-Go-Lo-Ba. Neil notes that if you don’t have this album, look out for the deluxe version released in a 2CD package in 2009 – it contains the difficult to find More Drums of Passion follow-up record.

Jingo might have been Cándido’s moment in the club world spotlight but he was no one hit wonder and there is so much more to remember him by. Known by just his given name, Cándido Camero Guerra was born on 22 April 1921 in Havana, Cuba. He began as a bongo player but quickly realised the potential of multiple conga drums in a tuned set and he brought this innovation to New York in 1946, playing first with Machito and his AfroCuban band. It wasn’t long before he caught the attention of Dizzy Gillespie, with whom he was to record three great records. He began to feature on records by the jazz cognoscenti – from Duke Ellington to Grant Green, appearing on dozens of records leading jazz artists. The tune on this week’s CJ show is from a 1962 Roulette album entitled Conga Soul. The sleeve notes to the record stress the need for jazz to expand and that “Candido is one of those jazz artists who keeps jazz on the move”, giving any jazz he was involved in a distinct Afro-Cuban flavour. There’s a terrific lineup on this record – Milt Hinton and George Duvivier on bass, Charlie Persip on drums and – most surprisingly – Argentinian composer Lalo Schifren on piano. Schifren, of course, went on to record for CTI records but is perhaps best known for his superb soundtrack to Bullitt. Here’s the Shiftin’ Gears track from Schifren’s stunning film score – and that could well be an uncredited Cándido on congas…

2. Max Roach – Equipoise from Members, Don’t Git Weary

The last programme included a tribute to the late pianist Stanley Cowell, yet that probably did not provide a true reflection of his work as we didn’t include any of his work in bands led by other musicians. One of the most significant of his many links with other celebrated jazz artists was his association with drummer Max Roach (featured last week on the Blue Note reissue of Money Jungle. The band on Roach’s outstanding Members Don’t Git Weary album include Gary Bartz on saxophone, Jymie Merritt on bass, Andy Bey on vocals (for the title tune only) and Cowell on piano. But for it was the opportunity to meet trumpeter Charles Tolliver that was particularly  significant for Cowell because this friendship led to the foundation of the ground-breaking Strata East Records label, providing an outlet for many fellow black musicians. Roach’s album includes three Cowell compositions including Equipoise. It is a beautiful, serene piece providing comforting reassurance to the members not to ‘git weary’ because better days will come.

3. Jarrod Lawson – How Long from Be The Change

The message, though, from Jarrod Lawson is that there is still so much more to be done.  His new album invokes you to Be The Change and in the tune How Long he asks “How long will you ignore the people’s cries… How long, how long, how long”. It has even been a long time – six years in fact – since his first album was released to general acclaim. He has taken his time and proceeded carefully and it shows. As well as the vocals and compositions he has played much of the music on the album, with some particularly fine piano playing. Percussionist Sammy Figueroa and drummer Reinhardt Melz are the musicians to appear on most tracks but the band is basically multi-instrumentalist Jarrod Lawson with contributions from others. The music is not just jazz, nor just soul or R’n’B but rather blends effortlessly across genres. It is beautifully crafted and put together. It’s as slick as Steely Dan, David Sanborn or Marcus Miller but – as with these artists – this is very much intended as a compliment. We shall play more.

4. Maria Schneider Orchestra – Look Up from Data Lords

There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the two discs that form one of the most stunning releases of 2020. We featured a track from Data Lords in our 20 for 20 feature but the album is so good that a further visit is necessary. As Mike Collins notes in his excellent review for London Jazz News, Data Lords is “an expansive and brilliantly realised project, presenting two starkly contrasting views of the digital and natural world.” The music is stunning. Schneider’s writing is remarkable and the performances she delivers with her orchestra really do sound like she has inherited the mantle of Gil Evans. The two CDs contrast The Digital World and Our Natural World and the music is suitably contrasting, setting a dystopian vision against an inspiring natural perspective.As with previous releases from Maria Schneider, the record can be ordered from the crowd funding platform ArtistShare. The roll call of musicians involved include names familiar to many of our listeners – guitarist Ben Monder, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and the late Frank Kimbrough on piano. This record is highly recommended an our choice – Look Up from the second suite – is quintessential Schneider with (as Mike Collins notes) “lyricism, melody and harmony with irresistible momentum and an arrangement that injects energy seamlessly”.

5. Jeff Parker – Gnarciss from Suite for Max Brown

Guitarist Jeff Parker first came to fame with the post rock group Tortoise – and specifically their 1998 album TNT, a more jazz-inflected outing than most of their output. The title track was a clear indication of their new direction with Parker’s guitar very much to the fore. His new record on Chicago’s International Anthem label, Suite for Max Brown, is a good example of his deployment of the same studio cutup styles loved by both Tortoise and Makaya McCraven – an exploration of the intersection of live improvisation and modern digital recording techniques. But the record has a more organic heart too – listen to how the kalimba cuts into the groove on our featured track Gnarciss. Parker’s recording method is much like McCraven’s. Beginning with a digital bed of beats and samples, he lays down tracks of guitar, keyboards, bass and percussion before inviting musicians to play and improvise over his melodies. There’s no classic studio arrangement though: each musician usually works alone with Parker before he layers and assembles the individual parts into final tracks. The results feel like in-the-moment jams with the improvisational human spirit that characterises a real live recording.

6. Ken McIntyre – Miss Priss from Introducing the Vibrations/Spiritual Jazz Vol. 11 – Steeplechase Records

Saxophonist and flautist Ken McIntyre first came to prominence in the early 1960s paying alongside Eric Dolphy and Cecil Taylor but he dropped out of the performing jazz scene for many years, instead focusing on teaching in public schools and universities. He returned to the studio in 1977 to record the album Hindsight and then released five more records on the Steeplechase label. All are worth looking out for, with the excellent Introducing the Vibrations album the only one to feature Japanese trumpeter Teramasa Hino. The percussive Miss Priss includes a great solo from Hino too.

7. Cleveland Eaton – Keena from Plenty Good Eaton

It is hard to keep away from Black Jazz Records at the moment. The excellent re-release programme from RealGoneMusic began last year and continues into 2021 with this Cleveland Eaton record emerging on 8 January this year. Eaton died in the summer of 2020 and was a bass player on the label In some ways his album sums up what Black Jazz Records was about: it contains jazz (and Keena undoubtedly falls into that category) but the album also has some very funky moments, some soulful moments, and some Blaxploitation-stylings – for example, in Moe, Let’s Have a Party.  You could, in fact, say that the album is a sample of the range of black musical styles in the USA of 1975 when the album was first released.

8. Rudolph Johnson – Fonda from Spring Rain

Rudolph Johnson was a sax player from Columbus, Ohio. The album Spring Rain was his first of two releases for Black Jazz Records. Johnson was rather less inclined to party than his label mate Cleveland Eaton much more likely to spend his time in meditation, at study or at musical instrument practice. As such, he drew comparisons to John Coltrane and, indeed, you can hear the influence. This debut release for Black Jazz Records came out originally in 1971 and will be re-released by RealGoneMusic on 5 February 2021. Other musicians in Johnson’s band were drummer Raymond Pounds (who played with a variety of artists from Pharaoh Sanders to Stevie Wonder to Bob Dylan), pianist John Barnes who could be found playing with several Motown artists and bass player Reggie Jackson also features on the excellent Black Jazz record Coral Keys from Walter Bishop Jr. This album is a serious piece of work and deserves much wider recognition. Check it out.

9. Dominik Wania Trio – Oiseaux Tristes from Ravel

Also on the serious side but sadly overlooked so far by this programme is the album Ravel by Polish pianist Dominik Wania. We came across him late in 2020 as an important contributor to the group New Bone led by trumpeter Tomasz Kudyk. Derek re-discovered his solo album again recently on a mix and, when this played, realised that we needed to give it some serious attention. Released in 2013, this isn’t a new album, but it is still readily available at the always supportive Steve’s Jazz Sounds. The Ravel link is a deep one: Wania notes “During my doctoral studies in Krakow, it quickly crystallised that the subject of my doctorate would be Ravel’s music and its influence on great jazz pianists, such as Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans. I tried to show that jazz harmony is close to Ravel’s harmony.” The outcome of this research was the arrangements on Wania’s debut record as leader. Already widely recognised in Poland as a skilful and creative contributor to the work of others, Ravel more than pays respects to the French composer Maurice Ravel. There are samples, harmonies, melodies that you can recognise from the originals but this is Ravel re-interpreted, above all, to capture the emotions of Ravel’s music through a jazz medium. Oiseaux Tristes comes from Ravel’s suite Miroirs and is a typically delicate solo piano piece, performed here by the amazing Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

More Cosmic Jazz sounds next week.

23 December 2020: Stanley Cowell, the Black Jazz label and a touch of the contemporary

This show looks back to pay respect to the music of the late Stanley Cowell, previews more Black Jazz Records re-releases and then goes more contemporary with Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah and Alfa Mist.

1. Stanley Cowell – I’m Tryin’ To Find a Way from New World (also available on Kev Beadle Presents Private Collection Vol. 2)

2. Stanley Cowell  – Let Me Love You (Let Me Be Me) from Talkin’ ‘bout Love (also available on BGP presents Jazz Funk)

3. Stanley Cowell – Travellin’ Man from Travellin’ Man (also available on MC/Mastercuts Jazz Cafe)

The jazz pianist, record label founder and educator Stanley Cowell died on 17 December 2020. The show begins with three selections that display the versatility of a musician who was classically trained but was essentially a jazz pianist, yet turns up on a British BGP label compilation of jazz funk. He was born in Toledo, Ohio, went to college at the University of Michigan, where he met Roland Kirk and then moved to New York. He played in the groups of many top jazz artists – for example, Sonny Rollins, Marion Brown and Max Roach. It was while playing for the latter that he met trumpeter Charles Tolliver. They both appeared on the essential Max Roach album Members Don’t Git Weary with its Stanley Cowell standard Equipoise. Together they produced an album but found themselves frustrated by the limited recompense that major labels offered to jazz artists at the time. Their answer was to start their own record label Strata East. It was an important contribution to the Black Arts Movement, with Pan-African influences, releasing many records and becoming one of the most successful black-led labels of the time. Cowell continued his work as a sideman with – for example – the Heath Brothers, Bobby Hutcherson, Arthur Blythe and Art Pepper. From the 1980s Cowell concentrated more on his work as an educator at universities in New York. He retired in 2013 but continued to make some public appearances, releasing the album Juneteenth in 2015. Cowell’s New World album with its iconic Statue of Liberty cover is a great place to start with with his music. His fourth and final record for the Galaxy label, New World (1981) has the considerable advantage of a rhythm section with Cecil McBee on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. All the tunes are excellent and the album begins with an inspiring version of Duke Ellington’s ballad Come Sunday. The second choice comes from Cowell’s 1978 Talkin’ ’bout Love album which takes an altogether funkier route  – as epitomised in the cut The Stroker which has more than touch of the blaxploitation movie soundtrack about it. The final choice is a bona fide Cowell classic: the title track from his 1992 Travellin’ Man album on the Black Lion Records label which also features a trio version of Blues for the Viet Cong.

4. Rudolph Johnson – Diswa from Spring Rain

From Strata East to another important independent black-led record label – Black Jazz Records. Real Gone Music are re-releasing the entire catalogue – an exciting development for us here at Cosmic Jazz. We have played tunes from the first batch of re-releases and in this show we have two more. Rudolph Johnson was a sax player from Columbus, Ohio. His playing drew comparisons with John Coltrane and he shared Coltrane’s devotion to constant practice and meditation. The album Spring Rain was his first of two releases for Black Jazz Records and his first as a band leader after work as a sideman. The album has sounds ranging from  bebop to soul jazz and a touch of funk. The other musicians in the band were drummer Raymond Pounds (who played with a variety of artists from Pharaoh Sanders to Stevie Wonder to Bob Dylan), pianist John Barnes who could be found playing with several Motown artists and bass player Reggie Jackson also features on the excellent Black Jazz record Coral Keys from Walter Bishop Jr.

5. Calvin Keys – Shawn-Neeq from Shawn-Neeq

The Rudolph Johnson record will be released, along with Shawn-Neeq from Calvin Keys, on 5 February 2021 for Black History Month in the USA. Calvin Keys is a guitarist and Shawn-Neeq was his first Black Jazz release. We’ve featured music from his other Black Jazz album on an earlier Cosmic Jazz show – see here. Keys spent the 1960s supporting organ players such as Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Jack McDuff. For this his first record as a leader he wanted to play with a piano player and chose Larry Nosh whose credits included work for L.A. Express, Eddie Harris, Bill Withers and Etta James. Also featured are bass player Lawrence Evans, drummer Bob Brave and flautist/songwriter Owen Marshall. Following this release, Keys became an important figure on the Bay Area Jazz scene and the new sleeve notes include an interview with him. Guitarist Pat Metheny was to acknowledge Calvin Keys as an influence.

6. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Guinnevere from Axiom 

This is Scott aTunde Adjuah’s third live album and was recorded at the Blue Note Club in New York in 2020 and so must have been one of the last pre-lock down live releases. In the session he took a number of songs from previous albums and reworked them but this choice is actually a version of David Crosby’s Guinnevere. It really bears little relation to the original melody, however, and is more inspired by the Miles Davis version which first appeared in an edited version on a unreleased tracks compilation Circle in the Round (1979) but is really part of the Bitches Brew sessions and can be found on more complete versions of that celebrated album. Listen to it here. Derek remembers David Crosby being the subject of a feature in the UK New Musical Express paper in its punk years heyday, sharing the good news that he had cancelled a UK trip! Indeed, Derek, his stock has risen since then and he is currently acclaimed for a recent trilogy of records with a band of much younger musicians, including Michael League and Bill Laurence from Snarky Puppy. Scott aTunde Adjuah’s version is not only based on the Davis interpretation but outdoes it in many ways, and includes a trumpet solo that went on to win the improvised jazz solo of the year in this year’s Grammy Awards. The Davis original has a tendency to ramble and would undoubtedly have benefitted from the studio wizardry of producer Teo Macero that is so much a part of the original four album sides of Bitches Brew.

7. Alfa Mist – Galaxy from Blue Note Re:imagined 

Alfa Mist is from the UK and like Scott takes influences from other contemporary urban music. He is a London-born pianist, producer, multi-instrumentalist and rapper. He came up through grime and hip hop but, inspired by jazz samples he heard, he taught himself piano at the age of 17. His music reflects a range of influences: it is interesting, contemporary and an example of the eclectic sounds that are making their mark on the younger artists of the contemporary British scene and so it’s not surprising that he was selected from this influential group to contribute Eddie Henderson’s Galaxy to the new Blue Note Re:imagined compilation. For those of a nervous disposition towards such reworkings it is reassuring to note that this new album bears little resemblance to the 2004 Blue Note Revisited project, in which a group of celebrated DJs and turntablists face-lifted some classic Blue Note tracks, this one sticks to bona fide new UK jazz artists. Sixteen classic tracks are reworked to create a bridge between Blue Note’s past and future, with contributions from Shabaka Hutchings, Ezra Collective, Nubya Garcia, Mr Jukes, Steam Down, Skinny Pelembe, Emma-Jean Thackray, Poppy Ajudha, Jordan Rakei and Jorja Smith. Not everything works but there are some excellent and original takes on Blue Note tunes old and new. An early favourite of mine was Jorja Smith’s version of St Germain’s Rose Rouge – you can compare the original with the new version here.