All posts by Neil

Week ending 07 March 2020: the spiritual heritage

Cosmic Jazz this week kicks off with what many would call ‘spiritual jazz’. About as misleading a term as – for example – ‘yacht rock’, it’s now used to describe any lost or private press jazz recording from the 1970-80s influenced by a vague Afrocentrism that includes cover art featuring at least one dashiki and some ‘tribal’ art. Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but here at CJ we might suggest that the ‘buyer beware’…

No worries though regarding our opening music choices this week, as we began the show with the genuine article – two tracks from the master Pharoah Sanders and one from current British favourites, Maisha. As always, the show is available via the Mixcloud/Listen Again tab – expect warm, spiritual, challenging and politically conscious music.

As Derek noted, in cold weather he often turns to warm-sounding music. Journey to the One was released on Californian label Theresa, Sanders’ home for most of the 1980s, and even the abstract cover art evokes a warm glow. Derek remembers getting it out to play on a cold UK winter’s day as a visitor from Los Angeles was about to arrive and it remains his favourite Pharaoh Sanders album. It’s easy to see why: some of the Impuse! label indulgences are held in check and there are memorable tunes. too. It’s not an album we have featured extensively on Cosmic Jazz although Greetings to Idris has made some previous appearances.  Of course, You’ve Got To Have Freedom is the totemic anthem that features in many a DJ’s jazz dance set, but there’s much more on this double album to enjoy. Sanders is on fine form throughout and there is excellent support from the great John Hicks on piano and – on Doktor Pitt – flugelhorn from Eddie Henderson. With no shortage of great melodies, there’s also there’s some reflective koto on Kazuko and a lovely version of Coltrane’s After the Rain.  Spiritually uplifting music indeed and warmly recommended.

Maisha are led by drummer Jake Long and are one of the finest of the current crop of British jazz artists. The band includes Amané Suganami, Twm Dylan, Tim Doyle, Yahael Camara-Onono, Shirley Tetteh and Nubya Garcia – the latter two with distinctive solos on our choice from the album, the opening tune OsirisRecorded across just three days in 2018, There Is a Place is a really fine album. There’s an organic element to the music that has emerged from the group’s two years of rehearsing and playing together. Short it may be, but this is a record to return to – as we often do both at home and here on the show. You’d be wise to buy (vinyl or CD) or download the whole album – best done here on Bandcamp. As Derek noted on the show, Maisha joined forces with saxophonist Gary Bartz at Gilles Peterson’s inaugural We Out Here Festival last year, and a studio album of that collaboration will be released in May. It’s one to look out for. To get a taste of the group live look out for the album tour – they’ll be in Norwich on 26 May – incidentally, just after the Norfolk & Norwich Festival for 2020 which features an excellent lineup this year including a number of artists we’ve featured on Cosmic Jazz. Look out for Kandace Springs, the Rob Luft Band, Oscar Jerome and Sarathy Korwar.

One record deservedly getting a lot of airplay on Cosmic Jazz is the excellent Polska from Piotr Damasiewicz & Power of the Horns Ensemble. Damasiewicz has dedicated the album to four heroes of Polish Jazz – Krzysztof Komeda, Tomasz Stanko and Piotr Wojtasik are likely to be familar to regular CJ listeners – but perhaps saxophonist Tomasz Szukalski rather less so.  In a tragic life, Szukalski did not record as much as he could – but here he is in Stanko’s quartet with an inspired version of First Song, from Stanko’s ECM recording Balladyna.

The music on Polska is big, passionate and majestic and the ensemble is well named: there are five horns, a piano, two double basses and drums. Komeda’s presence resonates throughout the four original tunes, but so, too, do echoes from beyond Poland. The opening track Billy  – which we featured this week – is named for tenor saxophonist Billy Harper who played on a number of records by  contemporary Polish artists – including Piotr Wojtasik.

2019 release We Are On the Edge is very much a 50 year celebration of the Art Ensemble of Chicago – and yet it doesn’t really sound like a typical AEoC record. Formed as an avant-garde jazz group out of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago, the AEoC have released dozens of excellent free jazz recordings over the years. We Are On the Edge is a 2CD set of studio recordings and live performances, with an extended lineup beyond the two surviving members of the group, Roscoe Mitchell and Famoumdou Don Moye. Rapper and vocalist Camae ‘Moor Mother’ Ayewa is bought on for a couple of tracks (including the reflective Mama Koko) and elsewhere there are contributions from flautist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid and new bassist Jaribu Shahid. But the complete ensemble includes a small string section, four percussionists (including Moye), electronics, and several musicians who also contribute vocals. Mama Koko has plenty of cultural and historical references with percussive West African sounds and mentions for Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey and the importance of the Congo heritage. We Are On the Edge is not an album that will appeal immediately to AEoC fans but it’s worth a listen.

There is much excitement at the moment concerning the young/youngish jazz musicians that have emerged out of the UK. It is important, however, not to forget some of the earlier pioneers of the British jazz scene – and one of the greatest was sax player Tubby Hayes. Sadly, a combination of ill health and drugs led to an early death, but Hayes had a prolific recording history and performed regularly. I was one of those lucky enough to see him in some of my earliest jazz experiences. In December 2019 a record was released of a lost Fontana session, originally  recorded at the Philips studios in London on 24 June 1969 with Spike Wells on drums, Mike Pyne on piano and Ron Matthewson on bass. Where Am I Going?, the third take of which is on this week’s show, features a long Tubby Hayes solo. A fitting testament and highly recommended. The recording comes in two versions – go for the 2CD set if you want all the takes of these tunes. If you’re not familiar with Tubby Hayes’ music, then try the fabulous Down In the Village recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s in London and, yes, that’s Hayes on vibes rather than sax!

  1. Pharoah Sanders – Greetings to Idris from Journey to the One
  2. Pharoah Sanders – Doktor Pitt from Journey to the One
  3. Maisha – Osiris from There is a Place
  4. Piotr Damasiewicz & Power of the Horns Ensemble – Billy from Polksa
  5. Art Ensemble of Chicago – Mama Koko from We Are On the Edge
  6. Tubby Hayes – Where Am I Going? (Take 3) – from Grit, Beans and Greens (the Lost Fontana Sessions)

Derek is listening to… music inspired by his jukebox, the BBC4 documentary on Eric Burdon and a selection from Neil

Neil is listening to… music inspired by Somethin’ Else 30th Anniversary show on JazzFM

Week ending 29 February 2020: Remembering Jimmy Heath

Saxophonist Jimmy Heath performs during the Apollo Walk of Fame Induction Ceremony for Charlie Parker at The Apollo Theater on March 30, 2016.

In this week’s show we remembered saxophonist Jimmy Heath whose music we have long enjoyed and who deserves rather wider recognition. He was born in Philadelphia on October 25, 1926. It was a musical family – his father played alto sax, his mother sang in a church choir, his sister was a pianist, and his brothers were bass player Percy Heath and drummer Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath.  

One of Heath’s earliest big bands in Philadelphia included John Coltrane, Benny Golson and Ray Bryant – all stars later in their own right. While in prison serving a sentence for heroin possession, Heath composed most of the music for the celebrated Playboys recording from Chet Baker and Art Pepper. Clean from 1959, he began to successfully rebuild his career working with Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham and Gil Evans. 

In 1975, with brother Percy Heath’s Modern Jazz Quartet seemingly defunct, the three brothers got together to form – wait for it – the Heath Brothers which also included pianist Stanley Cowell. Marchin’ On, their first album together for the short lived Strata East label, is one of my favourites and includes the superb Smilin’ Billy Suite. The group went on to record several albums with this lineup – check out the soul/disco influenced Dreamin’ from 1980’s Expressions of Life.  Later albums featured Jimmy Heath’s son, percussionist Mtume who had already worked with Miles Davis and would later record the disco classic Juicy Fruit.

We selected the album The Gap Sealer, playing Angel Man, dedicated to Yusef Lateef and featuring Jimmy Heath playing alongside Kenny Barron on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Mtume on percussion. Our other cut Far Away Land was from 1973’s Love and Understanding and included Curtis Fuller on trombone, Stanley Cowell on piano, Billy Higgins on drums and Bob Cranshaw again on bass.  

Jimmy Heath taught on American university jazz programmes for over twenty years and he received Grammy nominations for two albums – and for the liner notes to the 1995 John Coltrane box set The Heavyweight Champion. During his career, Jimmy Heath performed on more than 100 albums – a record that surely deserves to be celebrated.

There was more music from Poland on the show this week, including another tune from one of my favourite albums of the moment –  Piotr Damasiewisz & Power of the Horns Ensemble. There was also a return to another Polish album with an unlikely dedication. Soundcheck, led by sax player Maciek Kocinski, have a suite dedicated to Martin Luther of Protestant Reformation fame – apparently a record that has emerged from Kocinski’s PhD thesis. The music is certainly reflective in places but it wouldn’t be at home in Luther’s Wittenberg – this is definitely contemporary jazz.

We included another track from Indonesian wunderkind Joey Alexander’s excellent download-only outtakes collection In a Sentimental Mood. This album is well worth getting hold of: although much of the music has surfaced on special editions of Alexander’s first two albums, this collection holds together in its own right. You can find it here on the ever-reliable Bandcamp.

There is always a place for new jazz from the UK and this time it was from one of Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood signings, the collective Kokoroko.  Their Afrobeat-influenced EP was released in early 2019 and the band have built up a solid live following over the year. Ti-De is an unusually reflective track from an excellent introduction to the band and features the excellent guitar work of Oscar Jerome and horns from Sheila Maurice Grey and Cassie Kinoshi. The EP is – of course – available here from Bandcamp.

  1. Jimmy Heath- Alkebu-lan (Land of the Blacks) from The Gap Sealer
  2. Jimmy Heath – Angel Man from The Gap Sealer
  3. Jimmy Heath – Far Away Lands from Love and Understanding
  4. Soundcheck – Sola Gratia from Martin Luther: Suite for Jazz Quartet
  5. Joey Alexander – Footprints from In a Sentimental Mood
  6. Kokoroko – Ti-De from Kokoroko
  7. Piotr Damasiewicz & Power of the Horns Ensemble – Kleofas from Polska

Neil is listening to…

Week ending 22 February 2020: our final ECMfest

This week’s Cosmic Jazz is – as always – available on the Mixcloud tab (left). Open it for an hour of great music – mostly from Neil’s ECM label collection which has recently celebrated 50 years of jazz and more. Neil began collecting ECM music after going into a Zurich record store in 1973 and hearing the recently released Keith Jarrett 3LP Bremen/Lausanne Concerts – in the days when you shut yourself in a listening booth and heard 30 minutes of music for free before making your decision to purchase (or not). He walked away with that Keith Jarrett box set and started on a musical journey that still continues.

We began the show with the ethereal sounds of the Norwegian Tord Gustavsen Trio who appeared at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2003 just after the release of their debut album for ECM, Changing Places. Live, the textural quality of this music was sharpened further – the silences between the notes almost as important as the music itself. Gustavsen and his trio (including extraordinary drummer Jarle Vespestad) conjure floating melodies with a real verse/chorus structure that linger in your consciousness long after the music ends. Listen out, too, for the bass playing of Harald Johnsen on our choice from this album – the track title Where Breathing Starts could not be more apposite.

Another memorable live performance experienced by both Neil and Derek in the suitably resonant acoustic of Norwich Cathedral came from our second ECM artist, trumpeter Arve Henriksen. Ever since Miles Davis began using the Harmon mute and then wahwah pedals, trumpeters have realised the totally different sounds that can be created with this instrument. There’s a current trend for a much more breathy sound on trumpet – and perhaps this all began with the fourth world/ambient sounds of Jon Hassell almost 45 years ago. On his debut recording Vernal Equinox in 1973, Hassell experimented with echo and envelope filters, sometimes muti-tracking his trumpet to create a sound that was almost vocal. Listen to the 22 minute title track here for one of the inspirations of this style.  You can hear this in Henriksen’s approach but also in the music of Nils Petter Molvaer whose music we have featured previously on Cosmic Jazz. Migration is, however, an exceptional and evocative track from the stunning release Cartography.

Up next was English saxophonist John Surman from his curiously titled 1981 ECM outing The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon, a duo album with drummer Jack DeJohnette. On Nestor’s Saga, Surman is featured on bass clarinet and soprano saxophone. Surman would add more electronics in later albums for ECM, including the excellent The Road to St Ives which continued Surman’s fascination with his Devonian/Cornish heritage.

There are many albums on the ECM label that could be considered essential – but Dave Holland’s Conference of the Birds is undoubtedly one of these. A free jazz masterpiece, it really belongs in any self-respecting collection. Remarkably, this was Holland’s first album as a leader – and what a group he assembled! Holland had worked with saxophonist Anthony Braxton and drummer Barry Altschul in the group Circle (along with pianist Chick Corea) and his partnership with Altschul made for one of the most dynamic rhythm sections of the decade. Saxophonist Sam Rivers was over twenty years older than his colleagues, and he had briefly been a member of Miles Davis’ quintet in the early 1960s, before being ejected in favour of Wayne Shorter. The title track of Conference of the Birds is a surprisingly gentle, almost pastoral piece that opens with a lyrical bass solo from Holland, demonstrating how just how versatile a player he is. Holland explained the inspiration for the title in the album liner notes: While living in London I had an apartment with a small garden. During the summer around 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, just as the day began, birds would gather here one by one and sing together, each declaring its freedom in song. It is my wish to share this same spirit with other musicians and communicate it to the people. Whether Holland knew it or not (and he probably did), Conference of the Birds is also the title of the most famous collection of poems by the Persian Sufi poet Attar…

Our final ECMfest drew to a close with another title track, this time from the late Canadian flugelhorn player Kenny Wheeler. The album is an all-star affair with Holland again on bass, veteran Lee Konitz on alto sax and Bill Frisell on guitar. Unusually, there is no drummer on the record but that hasn’t prevented this timeless recording from achieving something of a cult status. It’s a remarkably restrained, lyrical recording that grows on any listener prepared to stay with it. For more Wheeler, check out the extended waltz Heyoke from the 1975 recording Gnu High. The album features Dave Holland once more but also includes Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette.

We ended the show with two very different sounds – but both artists we have seen live over the years. Joey Alexander is the extraordinary talented young pianist from Jakarta, Indonesia who just gets better and better. Now aged 16 and with a new album out soon, we featured another track from his download only collection of outtakes released at the end of 2019. This was his take on John Coltrane’s Equinox – and a very fine version it is too. The album is available from all download sources – listen here on Bandcamp.

Just as Fela Kuti was influenced by the jazz he heard while studying in the UK, there’s no doubt that jazz musicians have in turn been influenced by him. Listen to Brandford Marsalis’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and check out his stunning sampled use of Fela’s Beasts of No Nation. We chose to end the show this week with an album and title track new to Neil’s Fela collection: Fear Not For Man appears on a 2018 vinyl reissue on Knitting Factory Records and was located in one of the many excellent vinyl stores in Singapore.

  1. Tord Gustavsen Trio – Where Breathing Starts from Changing Places
  2. Arve Henriksen – Migration from Cartography
  3. John Surman – Nestor’s Saga from The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon
  4. Dave Holland Quartet – Conference of the Birds from Conference of the Birds
  5. Kenny Wheeler – Angel Song from Angel Song
  6. Joey Alexander – Equinox from In a Sentimental Mood
  7. Fela Kuti – Fear Not For Man from Fear Not For Man

Neil is listening to…

Week ending 01 February 2020: extended epics!

Cosmic Jazz is very much our show – there are no restrictions or limitations on what we can play and so – sometimes – it’s good to indulge our taste for standout long tracks. Tonight’s show is one of those with just three lengthy outings from great musicians. But we begin with some classic latin from 1968: Charlie Palmieri and a brilliant mambo from the Latin Bugalu album. Palmieri began his career with the great Tito Puente but he went on to have huge success with his own recordings, including this album on Atlantic Records. A mix of the then very fashionable bugalo (or boogaloo) and mambo tracks, the record featured Louis Ramirez on timbales, Julian Priester on trombone and Palmieri on keyboards.

The second choice is a version of Desert Fairy Princess from the Leimart Park: Roots and Branches of Los Angeles Jazz album which features the cream of the Los Angeles jazz scene at the time, including many jazz artists who would go on to achieve individual fame years later – include Kamasi Washington Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Dwight Trible. Collectively called The Gathering, this is the only recording of the full collective and if you can find the album it’s well worth getting hold of. Vocals on this version are by Dwight Trible – check out his most recent release Mothership on UK’s Gearbox Records where you’ll find yet another take on Desert Fairy Princess. The first version  is probably from the singer who provide the lyrics, Adele Sebastian. Here she is with her version of the tune from her only album as a leader.

It seemed natural to follow this track with an artist that appeared on the Roots and Branches album and went on to become something of a figurehead for the current spiritual jazz movement. Now, it may appear that any one with a tenor saxophone wearing a dashiki can be a spiritual jazz artist – but Washington is the real deal. His music may not be particularly original but he know how to write a real melody and his intensity is infectious. More than this, his ambition (releasing a 3CD album for his first record as a leader and packing it with strings and choir) is undeniable. The result – amazingly – was that The Epic album was, indeed, just that. We played the excellent Re-Run Home.

Another artist never afraid to compromise was afrobeat hero, Fela Anikulapo Kuti – or usually just Fela. Roforofo Fight appears on the album of the same name and is a typically lengthy Fela workout. It’s one of the best though, along with No Agreement and Zombie. The latter is, of course, one of Fela’s most famous and memorable tunes. In 1977, Fela and the Afrika ’70 released the album released the album Zombie – a scathing attack on the Nigerian military. The album was a real success but this infuriated the Nigerian government, who sent a large group of soldiers to attack Fela’s Kalakuta Republic compound. Fela was severely beaten, and his elderly mother was thrown from a window, causing fatal injuries. The Republic was burned down, and Fela’s studio, instruments, and many master tapes were destroyed. Fela’s response to the attack was to deliver his mother’s coffin to military barracks in Lagos and write Coffin for Head of State and Unknown Soldier (in response to the official inquiry that claimed the commune had been destroyed by an unknown soldier). Check out Zombie right here.

  1. Charlie Palmieri – Mambo Show from Latin Bugalu
  2. The Gathering – Desert Fairy Princess from Leimart Park: Roots and Branches of Los Angeles Jazz
  3. Kamasi Washington – ReRun Home from The Epic Disc 3
  4. Fela Kuti & Africa 70 – Roforofo Fight from Roforofo Fight

Neil is listening to…

Week ending 25 January 2020: some old CJ favourites

This week’s Cosmic Jazz is another pre-recorded show with some classic favourites. We began with the late Charlie Haden, bass player with Ornette Coleman but blessed with a unique sound that was used across hundreds of recordings.  Haden was among several bass players who liberated the instrument from its role as a keeper of rhythm but he also ensured that melody and harmony remained essential components of his sound. He was also part of Keith Jarrett’s American quartet but we featured a track from his band the Liberation Music Orchestra (LMO) which he founded in 1969, exploring more experimental and overtly political themes. The original lineup consisted of Haden and Carla Bley, but also included Gato Barbieri, Dewey Redman, Paul Motian and Don Cherry – a very starry array. Haden formed the LMO at the height of the Vietnam War, out of his frustration with US government policies. Haden’s goal was to use the LMO to amplify unheard voices of oppressed people, and to express his solidarity with progressive political movements from around the world. In each subsequent recording he continued to do this.  We’d recommend them all. For a different kind of Haden, try his recording with guitarist Pat Metheny which features a beautiful version of the Jimmy Webb ballad, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

One of the elder statesmen of jazz is saxophonist Charles Lloyd, still recording and performing at the age of 81. In 1966, he recorded the album Dream Weaver with his quartet – Keith Jarrett on piano, Cecil McBee on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. As Thom Jurek notes in his Allmusic review, this is a fully realized project by a band — a real band — in which each member has a unique part of the whole to contribute. Keith Jarrett piano style sounds as if it should be at odds with Lloyd’s lyrical approach on tenor – but it isn’t. And we shouldn’t forget the sterling contributions of McBee and DeJohnette who play around with the modal basis of this extended track – what a quartet this was! Lloyd went on to record a series of albums for Manfred Eicher on the ECM label – all of which are worth exploring. One of our long time favourites is the live album Rabo de Nube but listeners new to Lloyd could start with any of these. One of my favourites is Mirror from 2010 which includes a version of Brian Wilson’s Caroline, No.

The Elder Statesman is a project from New Zealander Lord Echo and the double sided single release Montreux Sunrise/Trans-Alpine Express. We love both of these tracks and Lord Echo’s solo releases too. Try the excellent third album Harmonies – all are available here on Bandcamp.

Quarteto Novo featured Hermeto Pascoal and Airto Moreira and we have loved their eponymous 1967 album from which the track Misturada comes. It’s a tune that has been recorded by many artists but here’s Moreira revisiting the tune in a live performance from earlier this year.

Singer Carmen Lundy is another longtime favourite of the show. Other than online, her music doesn’t seem to be widely available but she is currently in a late career revival, recording a string of excellent albums including Changes from 2012. Lundy’s albums are full of her own compositions – and this album is no exception. Any of her recent recordings are worth investigating including the excellent Code Noir which features a stellar lineup of Patrice Rushen on piano, Jeff Parker on guitar,  Ben Williams on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums. Here’s the track Keep Falling

We ended the show this week with a nod to last week’s Japanese jazz show. Hiromi is something of a keyboard prodigy and her album Brain from 2004 is a good example of her reworking of traditional piano trio styles. Anthony Jackson features on bass with Slovakian Martin Valihora on drums.

  1. Charlie Haden – El Quinto Regimento from Liberation Music Orchestra
  2. Charles Lloyd Quartet – Autumn Sequence from Dream Weaver
  3. The Elder Statesman – Montreux Sunrise from 7”
  4. Quarteto Novo – Misturada from Quarteto Novo
  5. Carmen Lundy – Dance the Dance from Changes
  6. Hiromi – If from Brain

Neil is listening to…

Week ending 18 January 2020: Japanese jazz special

There’s been a lot of interest in what might be called a golden age of Japanese jazz – from the 1960s through to the present day. The jazz message was celebrated in concert halls, night clubs and coffeehouses throughout the country with enthusiastic crowds welcoming not only foreign jazz artists native jazzers too. In fact, in the 1980s, Japan was the biggest per capita market in the world for jazz records. It’s even been said that Japanese jazz fans kept the jazz record industry alive through the lean years of the 1970s, when jazz was less of an influence in the USA.

We tend to know much less about this native Japanese jazz although there have been many artists who have found success internationally – Toshiko Akiyoshi, Sadao Watanabe, Teramasu Hino, and many others. But there are so many other jazz musicians to consider and in this programme we explore the music of just a few of them. We have drawn on a few great compilations – including 2019’s J-Jazz Volume 2 – as well as some of our favourite tracks.

First off was pianist Makato Terashita playing with US veteran Harold Land on the stunning 12 minute opening, Dragon Dance. Topology, the album from which this track comes, has now been re-released too. Saxophonist Koshuke Mine is a prolific artist from Tokyo who famously recorded with pianist Masabumi Kikuchi in the 1970s and also on the audiophile Three Blind Mice label. Mine’s only solo album with his new quintet featured one of our favourite Japanese pianists, Fumio Itabashi on the incendiary Daguri.

The group What’s Up are led by bass player Iwao Masuhara and he’s recorded his tune That’s Not Cool At All in a number of versions. Here he’s joined by Yoichi Tanaka on trumpet, Hideki Kawamura on tenor sax, Hideaki Hori on piano and Masanori Ando on drums.

J.A.M are a three piece who take their name from the three members, Josei (piano/keys), Akita Goldman (bass) & Midorin (drums) who are all members of the Japanese band Soil and ‘Pimp’ Sessions. Their take on Roy Haynes’ Quiet Fire takes influence from the original but they make the track very much their own with Josei’s powerful piano work and Midorin’s busy drumwork.

Kyoto Jazz Massive may have only released one album but their influence spreads far and wide. The two brothers Shuya and Yoshihiro Okino are jazz artists, DJs, producers and remixers and have also worked with Hajime Yoshizawa from Sleep Walker whom we have featured on previous shows. Soil and ‘Pimp’ Sessions have released several albums, all of which feature their signature take on what they call ‘death jazz’. A Wheel Within a Wheel is their take on a Bobby Watson track that has surfaced on a number of albums – including this version from Watson’s Horizon Quintet.

We ended the show with a track from another excellent Japanese jazz cut – this time, one from the excellent Spiritual Jazz series. This 2CD set includes some excellent music and forms a superb starting point for any listeners wanting to investigate further. Yoshio Ikeda was a bass player from Osaka who was a fixture on the Tokyo scene from the mid-1960s. In this 1978 recording, Ikeda is joined by prolific pianist Aki Takase who has recorded with many international jazz greats over a 40 year career. Here she is with a track from her most recent 2019 release Japanic which incorporates electronics from her son DJ Illvibe (Vincent von Slippenbach).

  1. Makoto Terashita meets Harold Land – Dragon Dance from J-Jazz Vol. 2
  2. Koshuke Mine Quintet – Daguri from J-Jazz Vol. 2
  3. What’s Up – That’s Not Cool At All from Lost & Found
  4. J.A.M. – Quiet Fire from Just A Maestro
  5. Kyoto Jazz Massive – Between the Lights from Spirit of the Sun
  6. Soil and ‘Pimp’ Sessions – A Wheel Within A Wheel from Pimp Master
  7. Yoshio Ikeda – Whispering Weeds from Spiritual Jazz 8

Neil is listening to…

Week ending 11 January 2020: surprising ECM sounds

Welcome to the new year! This was a rare solo show from Neil (before he heads back to Singapore) but it was a chance for more music from the ever-surprising ECM label, celebrating 50 years of great music. The photo above shows label founder Manfred Eicher and his longtime recording engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug (who died in 2019) at the mixing desk, probably in the Rainbow Studios, Oslo. We chose this second set of ECM tracks to showcase the full range of ECM recordings – and what better way to begin than with the twin guitar talents of Bill Frisell and John Scofield on a superb album led by bass player Marc Johnson. We could have played any track from Bass Desires (which went on to become the name of the band for their second album for the label) but we chose Samurai Hee-Haw. Worth listening out for is a superb version of Coltrane’s Resolution. Making up this fine quartet is the drummer Peter Erskine – one-time member of Weather Report. Both Frisell and Scofield ‘rock out’ much more than we might expect but that’s perhaps because this music was recorded in 1986 when both guitarists were exploring the outer edges of the genre.

Pat Metheny was a real stalwart of the early years of the ECM label and – along with Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek – one of their most popular artists. His first album for the label also introduced many jazz listeners to the bass playing talents of Jaco Pastorius, but we chose the ever popular Phase Dance, a track from the self-titled Pat Metheny Group, his second ECM album. Metheny’s live take on Are You Going With Me is perhaps the most famous tune from this period – but have you heard this lovely vocal version from Polish singer Anna Maria Jopek which possibly outplays the original?

Joey Alexander’s Think Of One (which I mistakenly attributed to Wynton Marsalis) is, in fact a Thelonious Monk composition – although it is the title track of the very first Marsalis album I bought way back on its release in 1983. The Marsalis version is more restrained and reverential than the more freewheeling approach taken by Joey Alexander. You can hear the Marsalis take right here. Alexander’s take captures the spirit of Monk’s always quirky compositions – and the superb support from drummer This track and six others come from an album of out-takes from Alexander’s first two studio recordings, My Favourite Things and Countdown that’s only available as a download – what a pity! There is no sense in which these are second rate recordings and it’s so worth checking out this EP length collection on here on Bandcamp. I’d love to play this one on vinyl though… Alexander (now aged 16 by the way) has a new release for 2020 titled Warna. You can hear the track Down Time here on Alexander’s website and the complete release should be out soon.

Keith Jarrett’s Dancing has also long been a personal favourite of mine. It’s from the album Changeless which is more riff-bound than many of the great recordings from Jarrett’s Standards Trio that are now available on the label. Untypically, this album features just four original Trio compositions rather than the selection of the great American standards one would expect. It’s still a delight to hear as Jarrett builds four strong melodies out of nothing but his characteristic piano vamps, accompanied by the ever inventive Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

We faded into the percussion and piano that introduced another classic ECM track – but one that is worlds away from the Jarrett repertoire and certainly much less well known. Trombonist Julian Priester was both a member of Sun Ra’s Arkestra and Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi group, but on this ECM release from 1974 he is accompanied  by some other stellar players, including Hadley Caliman, Bill Connors, Ngudu Chancler and Eric Gravatt. Anchored by a sensationally simple bass riff from bassist Ron McClure Love Love is almost 20 minutes of wildly inventive pure 70s style group improvisation.  It’s closer in spirit to late 1970s Miles Davis than  almost anything else from the period.

English bassist Dave Holland’s album Extensions is another magnificent ECM record. We played the opening tune Nemesis (unfortunately, in two parts…) but could have featured any of the tracks from this superb Holland album.  The guitarist in this quartet is the normally restrained Kevin Eubanks, but here he’s on fire – and is more than ably supported by Steve Coleman on saxophones.

We stayed with the label for a very different kind of music – a beautifully restrained record from tabla master Zakir Hussain, and one of a few albums in which he is the leader. He’s accompanied here by guitarist John McLaughlin and saxophonist Jan Garbarek. The album Making Music also includes contributions from Hariprasad Chaurasia on bansuri flute.

The show ended with a very different kind of ECM sound from Swiss keyboard player Nik Bartsch and his Ronin group. All his albums feature music that is heavily programmed rather than improvised and has more in common with minimalist composers like Steve Reich than jazz structures. The distinguishing characteristics of Bartsch’s music are consistent across all his ECM releases: the modular constructions, the polymetric pulses, the complex interlocking patterns and repetitive motifs. This version of Modul 42 comes from a 2CD live album recorded in Europe.

  1. Bass Desires – Samurai Hee-Haw from Bass Desires
  2. Pat Metheny – Phase Dance from Pat Metheny Group
  3. Joey Alexander – Think Of One from In A Sentimental Mood
  4. Keith Jarrett – Dancing from Changeless
  5. Dave Holland Quartet – Nemesis from Extensions
  6. Zakir Hussain – Sunjog – from Making Music
  7. Ronin – Modul 42 from Live

Neil is listening to…

Cosmic Jazz live – Derek plays out!

From time to time, Cosmic Jazz goes live and we’ve recently enjoyed playing sets at the excellent Vinyl Hunter record store in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Now there’s a new venue – and it’s another record store – and but this time in Woodbridge, Suffolk. Hex Records is a new venture and Cosmic Jazz was pleased to play out here recently. Here’s some of the music Derek featured in his set…

Derek was playing…

Week ending 21 December 2019: a full on ECMfest

ECM Records is 50 years old – and Cosmic Jazz needs no excuse for a celebration of this incredible label’s output over the years. In the last few shows, Derek has been featuring some of ECM’s huge and diverse repertoire but this is the first show devoted to the label. As noted in previous shows, ECM has a unique profile in jazz characterised by distinctive art direction, the wizardry of recording engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug and probably the most diverse roster of jazz and jazz related artists in the history of the music.

We began with Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and the title track from his essential 1997 album Khmer, recently released for the first time on vinyl. You can hear Molvaer talking about the album right here. Molvaer’s breathy tone on trumpet suits the ambient sounds of samplers and percussion that suffuse the album.  He’s stated that the album was an attempt to incorporate all the influences on his music – from Brian Eno, to Steve Reich and to the drum and bass sounds of the time.

Up next was another ECM stalwart, Paul Motian. I first came across his album Conception Vessel as long ago as 1972 – one of the very first ECM releases that featured Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden. Tonight’s show featured a track from one of his later albums for the label and one with an unusual line up – two saxophonist and three guitarists for starters. The album is also unusual in that it celebrates the compositions of Charlie Mingus, hence the inclusion of the classic Goodbye Porkpie Hat – itself an elegy for saxophonist Lester Young who had died just two months before Mingus recorded the track in 1959.

Rios Negroes has been a longtime favourite track of mine. Lester Bowie somehow manages to capture the history of jazz in just one track. Whether with the Art Ensemble of Chicago or in his solo work he blazed a trail that – uniquely – looked backwards as well as forwards. Back to Bubber Miley and the Cotton Club but also into the future of jazz in the 21st century. In just seven minutes across the track Bowie takes a first solo that slurs and smears, crackles and blares in a mix of early jazz and contemporary sounds. Bowie was a southerner born in St Louis and early in his career he played with blues and r and b artists including Little Milton and Rufus Thomas. On Fela Kuti’s No Agreement album he makes a distinctive contribution that works perfectly against the afrobeat sounds. The band on The Great Pretender is the most sympathetic he ever had. The late Phillip Wilson on drums is perfect and Hamiett Bluiett provides some lovely bottom end baritone.

Chick Corea is one of jazz music’s great survivors – and at 78 he’s still making great music with both his electric band and his piano trio. Corea has recorded for ECM from the very beginning – his two solo piano improvisation albums were recorded in 1971. Our selection is from one of the two excellent trio records Corea recorded for the label in the 1980s alongside Miroslav Vitous on bass and the legendary Roy Haynes on drums. This track is actually a solo outing for Haynes – but there will be more from this and Corea’s more recent trio recordings in upcoming shows.

Our second appearance from Lester Bowie is from the group he co-led for many years until his death in 1999 – the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Their Odwalla Theme was a signature composition by the band and often featured in live shows. More idiosyncratic music came from one of the first groups that represented a unique take on what we might (incorrectly) call ‘world music’. Here at CJ we firmly believe that all music is world music with the global presence of jazz blazing a trail for all kinds of musical collaborations. Codona was named after its three members – Collin Walcott, Don Cherry and Nana Vasconcelos. They used world music traditions authentically, in the sense that each individual in the group had decades of study and immersion in a wide range of music from all four corners of the earth. None of their sounds were watered down or fusion-like. Instead, they played free like the deep jazz artists they were. Codona were all about listening to each other but with humour and playfulness so that the music feels artless and totally improvised. Our choice came from the first of three albums and melded together two Ornette Coleman tunes with one by Stevie Wonder – and all in under four minutes. And what an album cover too!

ECM might be a European label but much of their earlier recordings emanated from the USA – including pianist Steve Kuhn, recording here with his extended trio of Steve Swallow on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Sue Evans on percussion. The opening track on the album sounds utterly contemporary – it could have ben recorded yesterday rather than 45 years ago.  Whilst Kuhn only recorded two albums for ECM, Jan Garbarek has appeared on hundreds. We could have chosen any of his recordings as a leader, his work with Keith Jarrett in his European quartet or any of his many collaborations. Like John Coltrane on tenor, Wayne Shorter on soprano or Art Pepper on alto, Garbarek has a unique tone – especially on his curved (rather than straight) soprano saxophone. It’s heard clearly on the track we played from his live 2CD release Dresden. Recorded in 2007, Garbarek’s band for this record is Rainer Bruninghaus on keys, Yuri Daniel on bass and Manu Katche on drums. Paper Nut is a Shankar composition and Garbarek takes the lead melody on his saxophone rather than Shankar’s distinctive electric violin.

Our final two tracks are real outliers for the label. Leo Smith, now Pulitzer Prize winner Wadada Leo Smith and one of the most prolific jazz musicians of the moment, recorded just this one album for ECM and early in his career too. On Tastalun, Smith is joined by – yes – Lester Bowie and Kenny Wheeler, both also on trumpet.  We ended the show with musical maverick Jon Hassell who has been ploughing his own unique furrow for many years. Hassell’s music is on the cusp of ambient and jazz with strong Arabic and Asian influences. It’s all brought together on his 1986 Power Spot album. Our third track from a trumpeter, the title tune Power Spot showcases Hassell’s unique processed trumpet sound alongside lots of electronics and guitar treatments from Michael Brook.

  1. Nils Petter Molvaer – Khmer from Khmer
  2. Paul Motian Band – Goodbye Pork Pie Hat from Garden of Eden
  3. Lester Bowie – Rios Negroes from The Great Pretender
  4. Chick Corea – Hittin’ It from Live in Europe
  5. Art Ensemble of Chicago – Odwalla Theme from Coming Home Jamaica
  6. Codona – Colemanwonder from Codona 1
  7. Steve Kuhn – Trance from Trance
  8. Jan Garbarek – Paper Nut from Dresden
  9. Leo Smith – Tastalun from Divine Love
  10. Jon Hassell – Power Spot from Power Spot

Neil is listening to…

Week ending 28 July 2019: jazz old and new

This week’s CJ paid another visit to some of the more obscure corners of jazz and featured another selection of great tunes, both old and new. We began with more from guitarist Jack Wilkins’ Windows album but this time a take on Wayne Shorter’s Pinocchio, a track that initially featured on Miles Davis’ Nefertiti from 1968 and then again ten years later with Weather Report on the Mr Gone album. Drummer Makaya McCraven is no stranger to Cosmic Jazz but we haven’t featured much from his most recent album, recorded live in London in 2017 and featuring Soweto Kinch on saxophone, Theon Cross on tuba, Joe Armon-Jones on Fender Rhodes, Nubya Garcia on saxophone and Kamaal Williams on keys – the cream of new British jazz talent.

Two great tracks next, with the first from a favourite alto sax player, Art Pepper. The raw, lived-in sound of his later recordings reflect a life of hardship and addiction which began with alcoholic absent parents – a 14 year old runaway mother and an absent merchant seaman father. It’s perhaps not surprising that the young Pepper quickly picked up a serious heroin habit that saw him for extended periods in jail in the 1950s and 60s. The title of one of his best albums Straight Life was also the title of his biography, written by his devoted wife Laurie. The title track is a classic late Pepper composition, recorded many times throughout his later career. Our recording is not easy to get hold of and comes from one of the many recordings compiled by Laurie Pepper following his death in 1982. The band is one of Pepper’s best – pianist George Cables, bassist David Williams and drummer Carl Burnett. This live concert was recorded in Japan in 1981, the year before Pepper’s death and is a superb performance throughout with ace versions of Body and Soul, Besame Mucho and Mr Beautiful. So many of these later Pepper albums are stunning and one of the very best is a 4CD set of the complete Ronnie Scott residency in 1980. If you can find it on vinyl you’ll need £140 or so although it’s still available on CD for £55… The recording quality is great and Pepper is superb throoughout.

Flautist James Newton should be much better know. His album The African Flower is a unique take on seven Duke Ellington songs and again features an all star band – violinist John Blake, alto player Arthur Blythe, cornetist Olu Dara and more. The 11 minutes of Virgin Jungle is a highlight. Good luck with finding this one!

Our fifth track was from another under-recorded jazz artist, the alto player Azar Lawrence. His 2014 album, The Seeker, is a really good demonstration of his spiritual jazz credentials and is one of several albums released since 2007 in something of a musical renaissance. Up next was a bona fide classic and now pretty much a contemporary jazz standard. Chick Corea’s Spain is – like Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez – an ode to the country and, indeed, the tune opens with a direct quote from Rodrigo. The song has gone on to be recorded by many greats including Art Farmer, Rare Silk, Stevie Wonder and Al Jarreau. And finally, another great track from a pioneering contemporary label, Soundway Records – African Vibration’s Hinde in a remixed version by Julien Dyne. Glorious!

  1. Jack Wilkins – Pinocchio from Windows
  2. Makaya McCraven – Run ‘Dem from Where We Come From
  3. Art Pepper – Straight Life from The Complete Abashiri Concert
  4. James Newton – Virgin Jungle from The African Flower
  5. Azar Lawrence – Venus Rising from The Seeker
  6. Chick Corea – Spain from Light as a Feather
  7. African Vibration – Hinde (Julien Dyne rework)

Derek is listening to    

  1. Lacksley Castell – Mr. Government Man
  2. Misty in Roors – Oh Wicked Man
  3. Sonny Rollins – Way Out West
  4. Ben Comeau Ensemble – A Song of Innocence & Experience – Dark Sacred Nights
  5. Ruby Rushton – Moonlight Woman (Studio Session)