Category Archives: Playlist

20 October 2020: celebrating Pharaoh Sanders and re-visiting recent selections

This week Cosmic Jazz re-visited some of the best tunes we have played since we resumed our realtime shows a few weeks ago. In addition, there’s been the significant birthday of a very important jazz artist that needs to be acknowledged.

Emma-Jean Thackray – Um  from Um Yang 

More music from one of the many younger generation artists in the UK. This EP was recorded live and cut direct-to-disc – it sounds great. Emma-Jean Thackray is a multi-instrumentalist and composer and here she has assembled a group of musicians, including Soweto Kinch, in  a studio in Haarlem in The Netherlands to produce music that sounds, free, spontaneous and exciting.

I do, however, have some problems. This record is described as an album but it contains one track of 10.19mins on one side and one track of 8.30mins  on the other. The download price on Bandcamp is £5 but the vinyl is £15. It’s not good value for money, but perhaps worse is the nature of the packaging: two inner sleeves with one plastic and one card featuring photos of the musicians and then another insert with more photos of the artists. I found the same issue with British group Nerija who released a double vinyl album, with music on only three sides! What a waste of vinyl plastic, (not an eco-friendly commodity), never mind the short changing in terms of the music. In today’s more environmentally friendly environment, perhaps artists could reduce prices by looking at the level of packaging they support. Personally, I’d rather pay less, get more music for the money and save on those valuable finite resources! Your views?

Artemis – If Its Magic from Artemis 

Artemis are a jazz supergroup of musicians that have worked solo and come together under the musical direction of pianist Renee Rosnes. They come from the US, Canada, France, Chile, Israel and Japan. The album has been released on Blue Note and includes tunes composed by group members as well as covers given their re-interpretation.  Two of the tracks on the album, including the one selected this week, has vocals provided by Cecile McClorin Salvant. If Its Magic is a Stevie Wonder composition.

Pharaoh Sanders – You’ve Got to Have Freedom from Journey to the One

4. Pharaoh Sanders – Thembi from Thembi There are two selections from a great jazz musician who has attracted the love and respect of music lovers across generations. There is a particularly good reason f or his inclusion this week, although we do not need much excuse ever to include Pharaoh Sanders. Recently, on 13 October 2020 he celebrated his 80th birthday and he is still playing. He was born in Little Rock Arkansas in 1940. His sax playing is unique, “sheets of sound” is one description that has been used. He played with John Coltrane and then after his death played with Alice Coltrane. He recorded albums for Impulse, the classic jazz label and the title tune from one of those albums Thembi is included in the show. It is an album that illustrates his interest in spirituality and non-Western instruments and sounds.

Pharoah Sanders – You’ve Got to Have Freedom from Journey to the One

The other is the anthemic You’ve Got to Have Freedom  from my personal favourite Pharaoh Sanders album Journey to the One recorded in San Francisco with tunes that exude warmth  and wholeness which ironically I find perfect for winter days. Many congratulations Pharaoh Sanders.

The music that follows are selections that we have played already and because we feel they are so good deserve a second playing as among the very best that we have played in recent weeks, they are not all new music. The first five tunes are all selections chosen by Neil.

Buddy Terry – Kamili from Awareness 

This was recorded in 1971  on the Mainstream label. Sax and flute player Buddy Terry was joined by Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet, Stanley Cowell on piano, Buster Williams on bass and Mtume on congas. The tune blended perfectly with the Pharaoh Sanders tune that preceded it.

Kahil el Zabar feat David Murray – Trane in Mind from Axiom 

Multi-instrumentalist and composer Kahil el Zabar has a distinguished guest on this tune in Sax player David Murray who provides some great playing. Pe haps, though, it is Justin Dillard with some brilliant piano that is the standout feature of the tune.

Resolution 88 – Runout Groove from Revolutions

The next three tracks all featured British artists. Resolution 88 sound as if they pay homage to Herbie Hancock’s classic mid 70s music but this is good music in its own right.

Jas Kayser – Fela’s Words from Unforced Rhythm of Grace EP 

Jas Kayser is a young British drummer. There is only music out on EP at the moment but the respect she is receiving is apparent in that she has played with the likes of Terri Lyne Carrington and Danilo Perez.

Nubya Garcia – Pace from Source 

This is a tough tune from the recently released album Source. There is sustained  quality sax playing from  Nubya Garcia and a heavy and powerful drum sound.

Dayme Arocena – African Sunshine from One Takes

Cuban vocalist, instrumentalist and composer Dayme Arocena has been one of the artists whose work I have been re-discovering in recent weeks. It took her appearance as a performer and guide to Havana on a BBC 4 TV programme to prompt this. The vocals are great, the instrumental playing is strong and whatever is performed is imbued with the feel and sounds of music that imbibes the roots and heritage of Cuba.

The Hermes Experiment – The Linden Tree from Here We Are 

This is a group that might not expect to find their music played on a jazz related programme. In fact, they are a group of young classical musicians comprising, harp, clarinet, soprano vocals and double bass. The album features their interpretations of contemporary classical pieces but has one tune, composed by Misha Mullov-Abbado, son of the classical conductor, that is distinctly jazzy. It has a sad, anti-war message but is delivered superbly in sounds that cross the divides between jazz, folk and classical music. I love it and the album is recommended.

O.N.E. Quintet – As Close AS Light from ONE

We like to provide a hearing for young musicians on Cosmic Jazz and another example has been the Polish group ONE. Thanks to the many treasures to be found at Steve’s Jazz Sounds we have been able to feature a selection of the excellent and continuous supply of jazz coming out of Poland. An example of this has been the band O.N.E. and their album ONE. The tunes are compositions by pianist Paulina Almanska and sax player Monica Muc. They have a collective sound but also provide space for all members of the quintet to feature as soloists. Their music grows on me more and more every time I hear it and like The Hermes Experiment tune has elements not only of jazz but also folk and classical.

New Bone – Longing from Longing

Another Polish quintet led by trumpeter/composer Tomasz Kudak and including pianist Dominik Wania who has had a solo album released recently on ECM Records. This is the sixth New Bone album and the music has tended to veer towards the traditional/mainstream. The addition to the group of Dominik Wania has added a new, more experimental dimension and his playing adds another unique dimension.

Ambrose Akinmusire – Roy from On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment

The programme ends with  one trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire paying  tribute to another inspirational trumpeter, the late Roy Hargrove. It is a wonderful piece of moving, powerful and meaningful music, such a fitting tribute.

08 October 2020: more global jazz – including vinyl at last!

The show this week is the usual mix of jazz and jazz-related music from across Europe to the US  and Cuba. To listen on Mixcloud just press ‘play’ below.

1. Lettuce – Blaze from Resonate

Last time the show ended with Lettuce, the collective of fine musicians from Boston, and this week we start the show with the band.  It was a good and powerful way to begin too. Lettuce are not easy to categorise: there is definitely jazz in there but there is also funk, soul and more. They started life in 1994, reconvened as undergrads at Berklee and attempted to play at various Boston jazz clubs where they would walk in and ask the club owners and other musicians if they would “let us play” – yes, that’s their story… Certainly, Lettuce sound like musicians who are enjoying themselves, know what they are doing and make forthright statement through their music. Their skills are evident from the list of top-notch hip-hop, r’n’b, soul and pop artists – the ones who can afford the very best – that have employed members of Lettuce to perform with them – drummer and leader Adam Deitch has worked with John Scofield, Ledisi, 50 Cent, the Average White Band, Talib Kweli and Pharoahe Monche amongst others.

2. Chanda Rule + Sweet Emma Band – Another Man Done Gone from Hold On 

We’ve featured Chanda Rule before – a combination of a strong jazz/gospel Chicago-born vocalist backed by European jazz virtuoso musicians delving into the music of the American South. This is one of the more well-known tunes on the album but it is given a fresh interpretation and, as Chanda acknowledges this song – like most of the tunes on the album – were given “a lyrical update”. The contribution from Czech Hammond organ player Jan Korinek is prominent and fitting, but you may be surprised to hear the inclusion of tabla, courtesy of guest Avirbhav Verma. It’s an effective combination from an album that rewards repeated listening. Appropriately in Black History Month here in the UK, the album “reaches back into some emotional roots to serve up a set of civil rights jazz vocals that remains defiant and powerful as well as being solidly appropriate for the times” [Chris Spector: Midwest Record].

3. Marek Jakubowski Quartet – Black from Colors

4. Marek Jakubowski Quartet – Rusty from Colors

We next featured two doses of Poland in colour. Marek Jakubowski is a drummer and composer leading a quartet on their third album. It’s called Colors and not surprisingly each track is named by a colour. To get a sense of the colour and musical range two of them were chosen – Black and Rusty. The former is a warm, melodic tune while the latter is a short piece. The album has strong compositions and offers space for solos, particularly from Marek Konarski on rasping sax and Jacob Szwaj on lyrical piano. Damian Kosta on bass completes the quartet. Check out the video for Red here and – as always – head to Steve’s Jazz Sounds for more great Polish and European jazz.

5. Wojciech Staroniewicz – Walk Spirit Talk Spirit from A’ Freak-An Project (Live in Gdansk)

The tune may be familiar (a McCoy Tyner composition we’ve highlighted on the show previously) but this take is from Wojciech Staronoiewicz, Polish leader of an octet and maybe rather less familiar. Just as the Tyner original is best known from the stunning live version (recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973) so the Staroniewicz version is also a live recording. This track is an addition to the tunes on this 2019 live album, all of which can also be heard on the A’Freak-An studio recording. The band has an interesting composition: Staroniewicz is one of the sax players in a saxophone quartet and for this live performance and recording session his usual band had an extended rhythm section, including Larry Okey Ugwu on percussion. The result – an invocation of the spirit of African music perhaps suggested in the title of the project. The band certainly produces a big sound and they do justice Tyner’s powerful original. It’s a telling reminder of the power of live jazz.

6. Patrice Rushen – Jubilation from Before the Dawn

I need little excuse to play Patrice Rushen – jazz piano and keyboard player (and one time chart star – remember Forget Me Nots?) . On learning that it was her birthday recently there seemed to be an additional impetus and how appropriate to have a tune entitled Jubilation. Rushen has an interesting musical resume: she was classically trained and gave her first recital aged six; she has composed symphonies; is involved in musical education in universities and still plays superb jazz with  with the likes of Marcus Miller. On this tune her band includes Hubert Laws on flute, Lee Ritenour on guitar and Harvey Mason on drums – session superstars all. The album was recorded on jazz label Prestige who usefully coupled together Before the Dawn (1974) and Prelusion (1975) onto a 2CD set in 1998. Both albums will repay your listening – check them out.

7. Eric Dolphy – Hat and Beard from Out to Lunch!

This was a joyous moment for Cosmic Jazz. For the first time in a long while there was vinyl played on the show. It has been a long time coming but what a way to start. Recorded in 1964, Out to Lunch! is regarded by many as Eric Dolphy’s finest work. It was to be his final recording and his only album on Blue Note as leader. With Rudy Van Gelder at the helm, the sound is excellent and the Reid Miles cover is one of the most famous in all jazz. Best seen and heard on vinyl, this is one record every jazz lover should own.  n full size on vinyl. On this tune, dedicated to Thelonious Monk, Dolphy is on bass clarinet with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Richard Davis on bass and the just-18 year old Tony Williams on drums. What a line up. As with Ornette Coleman, for some listeners, Dolphy may be an acquired taste but what he does on all of the tunes on this record is spellbinding. A few months after recording this album, Dolphy went on a European tour with the Charles Mingus Sextet and this full length video recording of the tour gives an indication of both his power and originality. The writer Ted Gioia hears Dolphy’s angular melodic lines “zigzagging from interval to interval, taking hairpin turns at unexpected junctures, making dramatic leaps from the lower to the upper register” and that’s what you’ll find on both Out to Lunch! and the linked European tour video.  If you’re looking for the best recording and an original Blue Note pressing is out of reach (at US $1500 it probably will be!) then you should check out some of the better reissues. The two Kevin Gray remastered Music Matters versions (33rpm and 45 rpm) will be hard to find except through Discogs or Ebay as they are now out of stock, but there’s 500 or so other copies waiting for you here on Discogs alone! You’ll get a taste of what the MM versions sound like on this 45rpm two disc Music Matters remastering of Hat and Beard.  Even if you’re listening on your laptop you’ll hear that Rudy van Gelder studio clarity. If you have one, plug in a DAC and some headphones – you won’t be disappointed! Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes have never had more attack and Tony Williams’ drumming is a revelation.

8. Jas Kayser – Fela’s Words from Unforced Rhythm of Grace

We start Neil’s selection of five tunes with young UK drummer Jas Kayser. After attended a Berklee College summer school, Kayser found herself with a postgraduate full scholarship and mentoring from  superstar jazz drummer Terri Lynne Carrington. The result has been a sharply inclined profile in the UK jazz community and beyond. Kayser began learning drums and piano aged nine, gravitating towards after experiencing Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters album (with its stunning drumming from Mike Clark). It was while at Berklee that she was introduced to Fela Kuti and master drummer Tony Allen (see our Cosmic Jazz feature here). The Unforced Rhythm of Grace EP was released in June 2020 and signals the arrival of a UK talent that we will undoubtedly hear more from. With reference to recent black activism and anti-racist demonstrations, Kayser acknowledges the power of using the “psychology of dancing and drums to shake the minds of people” – perhaps a reflection of Albert Ayler’s view that “music is the healing force of the universe”.

9. Maleem Mahmoud Ghania with Pharaoh Sanders – Moussa Berkiyo/Koubaliy Beria La Foh from The Trance of Seven Colours

The Gnawa music tradition from Morocco traces its roots to Kano in what is now northern Nigeria and one of its principal exponents was the late Maleem Mahmoud Ghania. Mahmoud learned this craft as a youth along with his brothers, walking from village to village, performing Gnawa trance music ceremonies with his father. He was one of the few masters, or Maleem, who continued to practice the Gnawa tradition strictly for healing and purification. Mahmoud performed music from his own repertoire at many major festivals in Morocco (including for King Hassan II), playing the three stringed lute, usually called the gimbri, which is at the heart of this ancient musical tradition. Originally released in 1994 on Bill Laswell’s Axiom imprint and produced by him, The Trance of Seven Colours album is enhanced by the addition of Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone. Recorded live in the courtyard of a private house in the medina in Essaouira, Morocco, the album is produced without the sonic manipulation for which Laswell is noted. While most of the tunes are traditional gnawa number, two – including the elegiac ballad Peace in Essaouira dedicated to guitarist Sonny Sharrock – are Sanders originals.

10. Bill Laswell – Golden Spiral from Against Empire

More Laswell but this time from his own album, again with Pharoah Sanders in tow. Laswell has dabbled in pretty much every music genre out there – from avant-jazz, rock, dub, funk, ambient, sub-bass and thrash metal – and here he manages (most of the time) to bring some of these together in a satisfying combination. It’s all based on the five drummers and percussionists Laswell deploys, including long time collaborator Adam Rudolph. Both Sanders and Herbie Hancock (himself no stranger to the ministrations of Laswell as producer) appear alongside multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum. The results are mixed but worthy of investigation as with much of Laswell’s music, but three remix projects should be investigated – Panthalassa (Miles Davis), Divine Light (Carlos Santana and Alice Coltrane) and Dreams of Freedom (Bob Marley). In all three, Laswell is able to find new nuances of meaning that deepen our understanding of the original music.

11. Maria Rita Stumpf – Lamento Africano/Rictus (Joakim remix) from Remixes

And we take a short excursion to Brazil for this next track but this time in remixed form. Maria Rita Stumpf’s music appeared on the excellent Outro Temp compilation in 2017, sparking a renewed interest in her music. She had stopped recording and performing in 1993, but returned to both in 2018, resulting in both remix projects and a new album Inkiri Om. We have featured Stumpf’s music before in a May post on Cosmic Jazz and you can check out our comments, and the Bandcamp links to her recently rediscovered album Brasiliera, on that post right here.

12. Resolution 88 – Runout Groove from Revolutions

For this one we’re back in the UK to a band that should get more attention than they do. I first heard them on a Patrick Forge podcast and recognised that – whilst they owe a huge debt to Herbie Hancock circa 1974 (the Thrust album era) – their music really is something special. On Revolutions they even manage to work in an effective concept about vinyl records. Originally from Cambridge and led by keys player Tom O’Grady, Resolution 88 can create tunes that have the staying power of Hancock’s Palm Grease and Actual Proof. Runout Groove is one of these, with a wickedly infectious bassline worthy of anything by Paul Jackson. In addition to O’Grady the band includes Rick Elsworth on drums, Alex Hitchcock on sax, bass clarinet and flute, Tiago Coimbra on bass and Oli Blake on percussion, samples and all effects. If Herbie Hancock is your baseline (pun intended) for this kind of jazz funk then you owe Resolution 88 a visit – and to ensure that the musicians themselves get a decent return on your purchase, head to the band’s Bandcamp site here.

13. Otis Brown III – The Thought of You – Part II feat.  from The Thought of You

More Blue Note but from 2014 showing that into the 21st Century Blue Note remains an essential source of music for the times. I have played this album on the show quite often because I think it is a good example of tough, contemporary  sounding music out of New York. Otis Brown is a drummer and has drawn upon an impressive cast: Keyon Harrold, who has since released fine solo work, is on trumpet, Robert Glasper is on keyboards and production and guests on vocals include Bilal, Gretchen Parlato and Nikki Ross.The music harks back to the golden age of Blue Note and the classic jazz quintet instrumentation but musicans like Otis Brown and Robert Glasper were raised on hip hop and neo soul too. The result is that this album was very much a part of the renaissance of Blue Note and a reminder that while it continues to value the classic Blue Note albums with its superb remastering programme the new sound of Blue Note is as much Dilla as Dolphy.

14. Dayme Arocena – Madres from Nueva Era

We return to Dayme Arocena. Seeing her perform on BBC4 TV recently made me dig out her music. On the half-hour TV feature, he came across as a witty, thoughtful and insightful observer of life in Cuba and the wider world. The sight of Arocena and her band  joyously playing together in what looked like a quiet back street courtyard was inspirational. She is deeply embedded in the culture and beliefs of her island and is a proud showcase for the contemporary music of Cuba, drawing on both her Santeria faith and the world of jazz. Arocena came to the notice of western audiences following her appearance on  the first of Gilles Peterson’s Havana Cultura Projects from 2008. She’s a fine singer and composer and her appearances on these albums and her own recent releases are all worthy of investigation. If you’re new to the current range of  Cuban music then it’s worth checking out Peterson’s recent 3LP collection from his various Havana Cultura projects – of course, available here on Bandcamp – but start with this fun promo video to get you started.

26 September 2020: celebrating 60 years of Giant Steps

Welcome to the latest Cosmic Jazz. A slightly longer gap than usual between shows, but this week you can enjoy 95 minutes of great jazz. Each and every show is available here on this site – just press ‘play’ below:

This week’s Cosmic Jazz rightly pays tribute to one of the great albums of the genre, and – as Charlie Parker said – ‘Now’s the Time’. 23 September 1926 was John Coltrane’s birthday and, had he lived beyond 1967, he would have been 94 years old. But more than that, 2020 marks the 60th anniversary of Giant Steps, his seminal album for Atlantic Records. In addition, we have not played his music on the shown since we resumed broadcasts and so this week we begin with three tracks from this essential album. Check out this feature on Giant Steps from Jazzwise magazine from July 2019 and look out for the Giant Steps’ 60th anniversary releases from Rhino Records on CD, vinyl and download, including 40 minutes of outtakes and illuminating liner notes by Coltrane authority Ashley Kahn.

The  original recording in 1959 drew on several musicians and different ones appeared on the tracks we played. The pianists were Tommy Flanagan or Wynton Kelly. On drums was Jimmy Cobb or Art Taylor. The one constant was Paul Chambers on bass and the first tune on the show this week was dedicated to him. The second was for Naima, Coltrane’s then wife. The third was the title tune, Giant Steps which sums up exactly what the album was in terms of the emergence of John Coltrane as an important composer, band leader and a giant of jazz.

  1. John Coltrane – Mr. PC from Giant Steps (John Coltrane – tenor sax; Tommy Flanagan – piano;  Paul Chambers – bass; Art Taylor – drums)
  2. John Coltrane – Naima from Giant Steps (John Coltrane – tenor sax; Wynton Kelly – piano; Paul Chambers – bass; Jimmy Cobb – drums)
  3. John Coltrane – Giant Steps from Giant Steps (John Coltrane – tenor sax; Wynton Kelly – piano; Paul Chambers – bass; Art Taylor – drums)

4. Quindependence – Song For E from Circumstances

Next came one of our regular visits to Poland. To check out some of the excellent music available from this country, just head to Steve’s Jazz Sounds where you’ll find lots of great new Polish jazz. The band Quindependence are an example of a good young jazz group with their debut album Circumstances. It was first released four years ago, but has been re-released after seemingly getting lost. The tune Song for E features some nice work from trumpeter Dominik Borek, delicate piano from Michal Salamon and sympathetic support from Krzysztof Matejski on saxophones and flute, Miłosz Skwirut on bass and Paweł Nowak on drums.

5. Chojnacki/Migula – Kawa from Contemplation

This is another young Polish band led jointly by trumpeter Jan Chojnacki and pianist Filip Migula. The tune is from their debut album, which features original compositions, mainly from pianist Migula. The Polish Jazz Blogspot, a useful source of information on Polish jazz, identifies that the band are at their best playing ballads, which comprise half of the album and Steve’s Jazz Sounds call it “an absolute gem of a CD”. The tune Kawa is one of these ballads and helps to prove the point. The quartet also includes Bartlomiej Chojnacki on bass and Dawid Opalinski on drums. As the image (left) suggests, the final track on the album Trzepak has been released as a single – listen to a live studio version here.

6. Shirley Scott – Don’t |Look Back from One For Me. 

We like the Hammond B7 organ on Cosmic Jazz and it features here on Neil’s first selection of tracks on this week’s show. Shirley Scott played the instrument but is less well known than she should be and so it’s great to have her album One For Me (originally released in 1975 on Strata East) now reissued via the British imprint Arc Records, with which DJ Gilles Peterson is involved. The tune Don’t Look Back is a catchy, soulful piece with Harold Vick on tenor sax and Billy Higgins on drums. The notes in the record acknowledge the role of trumpeter Charles Tolliver, co-founder of Strata East Records “in making this reissue a reality”. It so happens, possibly not by coincidence even though it was one of Neil’s choices, that he is the next artist on the show.

7. Charles Tolliver – Blue Soul from Connect

Charles Tolliver is having something of a late career renaissance. This track comes from his new 2020 album on Gearbox Records and was recorded at RAK Studios in London with a line-up that features Jesse Davis on alto saxophone, Keith Brown on piano, Buster Williams on double bass, and Lenny White on drums. Blue Soul has all the grit and groove of a mid-1960s Blue Note hard-bop band while still sounding totally 2020.  Jazz favourite, saxophonist Binker Golding appears on a couple of tracks too.  Buy the album in any format (vinyl, CD and download) from Tolliver’s Bandcamp site here. The Gearbox recording is excellent and has the flavour of a classic Rudy van Gelder Blue Note session from the 1960 – so go for the vinyl option if you can!

8. Buddy Terry – Kamili from Awareness

Wow! The sinuous bass of Buster Williams again anchors this superb piece of 1970s jazz from saxophonist Buddy Terry. Kamili is by conga player Mtume and the band also includes Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet, Stanley Cowell on keyboards, Roland Prince on guitar and Mickey Roker on drums. You can hear Mtume’s own take on Kamili from the superb album led by the late Jimmy Heath called Kawaida. Mtume was a convert to the black consciousness Kawaida faith founded in 1966 by Maulana Karenga. The pan-African philosophy of kawaida (in Swahili this means ‘tradition’ or ‘reason’) was founded on an African value system with seven principles: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith). The aim was that these would serve as a catalyst to motivate, intensify, and sustain the black struggle against racism. This superb album, originally issued on the Mainstream label, is available (of course!) from the Bandcamp website here.

9. Aaron Parks – Attention Earthlings from Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man

Pianist Aaron Parks came to our attention with his excellent first Blue note release called Invisible Cinema although he was a featured pianist on one of Neil’s all time favourite records, Terence Blanchard’s A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina) with its stunning track Levees.  With a couple of ECM albums in between, Parks is now recording for Ropeadope Records (along with CJ favourite Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah) and his 2020 release with the Little Big band, II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man, is an excellent example of Charles Mingus’s definition of creativity: “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” There’s a clarity and simplicity in this music that then begins to reveal its depth and complexity in subtle shifts. As Aaron Parks explains, “I want to cast a spell to lull you into a trance where you think you know where you’re going, and then take you somewhere unexpected, almost without realizing how you got there.” The new album continues this synthesis of jazz, electronica, and post-rock but without a sense of disparate styles. Parks features on all keyboards and voice, Greg Tuohey is superb on guitar and these two soloists are very ably supported by David Ginyard Jr. on bass and Tommy Crane on drums and percussion.

10. Jonathon Jurion – Bismillahi ‘Rrahmani ‘Rrahim from Le Temp Fou

This is an interesting one. Jurion is from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe although his music is not particularly closely linked to the musical traditions of the island – gwo-ka, zouk, balakadri and more. Here he focuses on the music of alto saxophonist Marion Brown, himself something of an ethnomusicologist. Brown is less well known than he should be, but he was one of the players on Coltrane’s album Ascension which featured a much expanded front line of soloists and in the same year (1964) played on Archie Shepp’s seminal Fire Music album. Brown moved to Paris in 1967 where he met and befriended German vibraphonist and sax player Gunter Hampel with whom he recorded the soundtrack for Marcel Camus’ film Le temps fou – hence the title of this collection of Marion Brown tunes. You can hear Gunter Hampel’s Galaxie Dream band on the track Sonnenschein from his Ruomi album from 1974. Brown’s loose trilogy of albums from this period that reflect his Georgia slave heritage are all worth exploring, beginning with a very early record on the ECM label, Afternoon of a Georgia Faun. The track we chose from Jurion’s tribute album comes from a later record for Impulse! called Vista (1975). It’s actually by American minimalist composer and Brian Eno collaborator Harold Budd – here’s both the Marion Brown version and Harold Budd version of Bismillahi ‘Rrahmani ‘Rrahim.  Budd plays celeste and gong on the Brown track and Brown returns the favour on the  much more expansive Budd track from his essential 1978 album, The Pavilion of Dreams.

11. Ethnic Heritage Ensemble – Little Sunflower (for Roy Hargrove) from Be Known Ancient/Future Music

Neil’s final selection this week links directly to the next tune from Derek. Both are tributes to the late (and very great) Roy Hargrove, a trumpeter who embraced many kinds of jazz over his all-to short career. Hargrove died of kidney failure at the age of just 49 after recording over twenty albums as leader and many more as a key contributor to others. Key albums to start with are The Tokyo Sessions, Habana, Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall and the superb Earfood album which netted the glorious Strasbourg/St Denis tune – surely a future standard… Here it is in a live version from Brussels recorded in 2016 just two years before his death and with the great Sullivan Fortner on piano.

12. Ambrose Akinmusire – Roy from on the tender spot of every calloused moment 

This was the second successive tune on the show to acknowledge Roy Hargrove. He was a musician who influenced and played an important part in the lives of many of the prominent younger musicians playing today – and fellow trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire is one of them. He’s as eclectic as Hargrove was in the range of musical styles he explores – from M Base sounds with Steve Coleman to an appearance on Mortal Man, the final track of Kendrick Lamar’s influential rap album To Pimp a Butterfly. Akinmusire’s 2020 release is called on the tender spot of every calloused moment (yes, Akinmusire has a thing about lower case typography) and the tune Roy is a short piece of highly moving, sensitive and powerful music from an excellent and important trumpeter and his band.

13. The Hermes Experiment – The Linden Tree from Here We Are

This tune may be something of a surprise. It is perhaps jazzy rather than jazz and comes from a group of young British musicians who perform essentially contemporary classical music. The album can be found on Delphian Records, an Edinburgh-based label specialising in contemporary classical.  The Hermes Experiment are an ensemble with an interesting musical set-up comprising harp, clarinet, soprano vocal and double bass. The Misha Mullov-Abbado tune The Linden Tree is a good example – the lyrics are those of the traditional English song but the melody is Mullov-Abbado’s own. He explains: “For most of the piece the instrumental trio are playing rhythmic patterns underneath a much looser and flowing rendition of the folk song melody, but I then inserted some instrument-only sections where I’ve subtly introduced more of a jazzy and swing element. In particular the harp is a very interesting instrument to write for when it comes to the jazz idiom – I tried to avoid writing essentially a piano part, and came up with some little figures more suited to the instrument.” The lyrics simply but powerfully reflect on childhood, love and the cost of war and Mullov-Abbado’s arrangement has a musical feel that crosses folk, jazz and classical. The sounds are interesting, with the improvisatory clarinet of Oliver Pashley contrasting with Heloise Werner’s classical soprano voice. The rest of the album is definitely ‘contemporary classical’ with selections from Anna Meredith, Errolyn Wallen and others. We highly recommend this album and, for some jazz lovers, it could mark a venture into newish territory.

14. Lettuce – Mr. Dynamite from Resonate

We end this week’s show with a tune from a band operating in a very different universe to the Hermes Experiment. In 2019 the Boston-based Lettuce released their album Elevate and followed this in 2020 with Resonate, in fact recorded at the same sessions. Lettuce are a band of fine musicians who have worked for many top artists in hip-hop, soul and pop but whose own music is a blend of jazz, soul, funk R’n’B, Go-Go and more. Despite its title, Mr Dynamite is rather more restrained than some other Lettuce tunes, including the Go-Go anthem Checker Wrecker, a track we have featured before on the show. Nonetheless, this is uplifting music and, as such, was a perfect way to end this varied show. On reflection, it would make an equally impressive opener for a Cosmic Jazz live set – maybe in 2021? Here’s hoping…

13 September 2020: two jazz birthdays and Analog Africa

This week’s show is a very varied one – lots of different kinds of jazz and jazz-related music from all over the world. It’s a celebration of this unique art form. We begin with two birthdays – vibes player Roy Ayers (80 years) and saxophonist Sonny Rollins (90 years).

1. Roy Ayers – Lil’s Paradise from Stoned Cold Picnic

The celebrations begins with Roy Ayers who recently celebrated his 80th birthday. He may be best known today for his jazz/soul/funk fusions but he started as a jazz player through and through. Our choice came from the 1968 Atlantic album Stoned Soul Picnic with its gathering of of jazz luminaries – Gary Bartz, Charles Tolliver, Hubert Laws, Herbie Hancock, Miroslav Vitous and Grady Tate. A close look at the album cover also shows flautist Herbie Mann (bottom left). Unusually, he didn’t play on the album but was, for this set, the producer. All three albums Ayers recorded around this time for Atlantic are worth listening to: Virgo Vibes (1967), Stoned Soul Picnic (1968) and Daddy Bug (1969). The following year, Ayers moved to Polydor and began his journey into more explicit jazz funk styles. The epic He’s Coming album from 1971 (now available on Verve) featured Harry Whitaker and Sonny Fortune, and We Live in Brooklyn, Baby remains a standout piece of music.

2. Sonny Rollins – St. Thomas from Saxophone Colossus

The second birthday celebration is from one of the giants – indeed you might say a colossus of jazz – saxophone player Sonny Rollins. The Penguin Jazz Guide described him as “the most compelling improviser in the entire history of the music”.  Recently he celebrated his 90th birthday. The tune selected was from one of his most famous albums and one of the very best from the mid-50s – an essential record for any jazz collection. Saxophone Colossus was recorded in New York in June 1956, with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Doug Watkins on bass and Max Roach on drums. The latter provides some superb, intricate playing to support the clear and distinctive sounds of Rollins on St. Thomas, a Caribbean-influenced number both in the title, with a reference to the Caribbean island and in the rhythms in the music. It’s an irresistible tune but the whole album is outstanding. Rollins’ opus is huge and it may be difficult to know where to start. We’d recommend the 1957 album Way Out West, The soundtrack to Alfie (1966), and Without a Song, Rollins’ post 9/11 recording. From Way Out West, I’m an Old Cowhand sounds magnificent – try it in this version from a Craft Recordings reissue.

3. Dayme Arocena – African Sunshine from One Takes 

The Caribbean influence remains in the next selection. Dayme Arocena is a proud Cuban – as was very apparent in a recent half hour BBC film. This saw her perform open-air with other young musicians in a courtyard in Havana as well as visiting her family and the seashore to talk about her work and the people of the island. She is impressive in what she says and in the music she performs – it’s a joyous celebration. It made me return to her music and the Eric Gale tune African Sunshine provides a fine testament to her vocal powers and to the skills of the musicians she works with as well as to the heritage. It’s an interesting choice – here’s Gale’s original for comparison.

4. KOKOROKO  – Ti-de from KOKOROKO EP

The BBC Proms this year were much shortened and it is to their credit, especially as it is predominantly a classical music festival, that in the short two-week period for live performances there was a slot for the very interesting British band KOKOROKO. Check out the performance while you can on BBC Sounds or BBC i-Player. The Albert Hall may have been empty but the performance was great. KOKOROKO are excellent young musicians with a front line of trombone, trumpet and sax (+ vocals) supported by guitar, bass, percussion and drums. The sound manages to sound both relaxed , almost gentle, yet at the same time free and expressive. There was new music played at the Prom so perhaps we can expect an album soon. In the meantime, although the vinyl EP is now sold out, you can still find the digital download of their EP here on Bandcamp.

5. Waaju – Listening Glasses from Grown 

It was now time for some more selections from Neil in Singapore.  The next four tunes are an eclectic selection that stretch well beyond the jazz boundaries. And yet… Most conventionally with clear jazz influences is new London group Waaju. Their name means in “to urge, inspire or take action” in Mali’s Bambara language. Led by drummer and percussionist Ben Brown and comprising members from across the UK’s music scene including Waaju includes percussionist Ernesto Marichales, guitarist Tal Janes, Sam Rapley on saxophones and Joe Downard on bass. Waaju are all about connections in music: as Brown has noted “The amazing thing about music is that one can display the belief, compassion and love that takes a lifetime to acquire, in just a few seconds.” It’s something we appreciate here at Cosmic Jazz and it certainly represents the different layers of musical culture we like to promote. Grown really is a major step forward in their musical development and comes highly recommended. Listen to the whole album and then buy in analog or digital formats. All are still available here on the band’s Bandcamp site.

6. Ranil y su Conjunto Tropical – Vuela a Saturno from Limited Dance Edition

We start with Samy Ben Redjeb and his Analog Africa label. Is this the best world music reissue label at the moment? Probably. For a decade now, Germany-based Samy Ben Redjeb’s seminal Analog Africa label has been unearthing musical treasures from Africa – and now he has spread the net rather wider. Inspired by a passion for crate-digging, Ben Redjeb (originally from Tunisia) became a flight attendant with Lufthansa specifically so he could travel to Lagos, Addis Ababa and Accra on a monthly basis. The result was a series of superb recordings, beautifully annotated and presented as CDs or vinyl compilations. Now he has followed a musical trail across the Atlantic and to Peru. This music is influenced by the sounds of cumbia, more usually associated with Colombia, but this time refracted through the eyes of someone who has spent time in the Amazon rainforest. Raúl Llerena Vásquez is better known simply as Ranil – a singer, bandleader, record-label entrepreneur and larger-than-life personality who “swirled the teeming buzz of the jungle, the unstoppable rhythms of Colombian dance music, and the psychedelic electricity of guitar-driven rock and roll into a knock-out, party-starting concoction”. Assembled by Ben Redjeb from original LPs sourced from Ranil himself, this compilation presents 14 tracks available in all formats from the Analog Africa Bandcamp site. The infectious sounds of Vuela a Saturno are irresistible, but any track from this excellent compilation is worth a listen.

7. Bakaka Band – Geesiyade Halgamayou from Mogadisco: Dancing Mogadishu 1972-1991

We may not have featured music from Somalia before on Cosmic Jazz so it was time to redress the balance with a track from another superlative album compiled by the excellent Analog Africa label. Founder Ben Redjeb was responsible for introducing listeners to the raw psychedelic sounds of Benin and Togo, the glorious horn sections of Ghana on Afro-Beat Airways, the mysterious sounds of landlocked Burkina Faso with Bambara Mystic Soul and now the superb sounds of music in the Somalia capital Mogadishu in the 1970s. Mogadishu has been a trading port for centuries and the result – as in all major ports around the world – was a unique musical melting pot, heavily influenced by the arrival of disco sounds from New York and beyond. Ben Redjeb’s labour of love in assembling this music, tracking down some of the original musicians and talking to those who produced this remarkable music is evident in this inspiring collection, still available on vinyl via – of course – the Analog Africa Bandcamp site.

8. Muriel Grossman – Golden Rule from Golden Rule

Neil featured the music of Muriel Grossman in a recent post on the spiritual jazz phenomenon, and so it seemed appropriate to provide some more examples. Grossman is a sax player, vocalist and composer now living in Ibiza, although born in Austria. She should have been in the UK this summer and touring other European countries but of course was unable to do so. We hope that her European tour will be able to resume in 2021. Since her first recordings in the early 2000s, Grossmann has released a dozen albums as leader, featuring sounds ranging from hard-swinging modernist jams to free improvisation, expansive spiritual work to rhythm-focused Afrocentrism, as on the recent release, Reverence. At the centre of her work is a thread of pure and heartfelt spiritual music in the modal tradition defined by Coltrane and close collaborators like Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane. As with the music of her contemporary Nat Birchall, Grossmann’s engagement with the Coltrane tradition is sincere and deep. Jazz man have released Elevation, a compilation album that draws from her 2016 album Natural Time and from 2017’s Momentum. The tunes feature her regular quartet of Radomir Milojkovic (guitar) Uros Stamenkovic (drums) and Gina Schwarz (bass), the music on Elevation is pure sound, soul and spirit! Golden Rule has now been re-released in a double vinyl edition – check it out here on RR Gems.

9. Quindependence – Road to the Promised Land from Circumstances

Back to Derek’s selections and what is becoming a common focus on music from Eastern Europe, particularly Poland. Quindependence are a quintet comprising young musicians and the album was released originally in 2017 but apparently got lost in a flurry of Polish jazz releases at the time, so has seemingly been re-released. Very good it is too with Road to the Promised Land including a wonderful contribution from pianist Michal Salamon, which I found really touched the senses. “Quite unusual complexity” says the Polish Jazz Blogspot of the album as well as referring to “the typical Polish lyricism and melancholy” – although somehow I did not feel the melancholy in this lovely tune.

10. New Bone – So Confused from Longing

New Bone’s Longing is another Polish album described as full of lyricism and melancholy by the Polish Jazz Blogspot, but here we have another tune that does not fit the description. They are another quintet but a long-established one, started by trumpeter Tomasz Kudyk back in 1996. Since then the quintet was given  impetus towards a more adventurous approach by the arrival of pianist Dominik Wania, who has taken the music into another more adventurous dimension. Able to add both imaginative accompaniments and dramatic solos, Wania has really changed the sound of this long running group. Longing is highly recommended and – as always with Polish music can be found at the always reliable Steve’s Jazz Sounds.

11. Ambrose Akinmusire – Tide of Hyacinth from On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment

We have promoted the music of Californian trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire since his arrival on the jazz scene playing in Steve Coleman’s influential Five Elements band in 2001. His most recent recordings have been on Blue Note, beginning with When the Heart Emerges Glistening in 2007. There’s a lyricism in Akinmusire’s trumpet sound that may appear to be masked by the sheer range of sounds he conjures from his instrument and the space he gives his long standing quartet. This is cerebral music but it is always substantial and important. The selection this week – Tide of Hyacinth – is a deep, intense tune full of meaning and significance. There is some free and intense playing that demands concentration and attention, with the addition to the usual quartet format of the band of the spiritual percussion and vocals of Jesus Diaz. Like so much of the  music of Ambrose Akinmusire, this new album is highly recommended. There will be more from Akinmusire on the show in coming weeks.

12. JZ Replacement – Marmalade for Radinska from Disrespectful 

This was definitely the part of the show that was not for casual listening. In fact, though, this tune was positively measured and restrained compared to some of the music on the album Disrespectful from J Z Replacement. Their music is often furious and frenetic, as was the case with the selection on the previous show. It’s not to say this one is on the lighter side – that’s not how you would describe this trio of Jamie Murray, Zhenya Strigalev and Tim Lefebvre. Drummer Jamie Murray is a former Sun Ra Arkestra alumnus while alto sax maverick Strigalev has played with Eric Harland and Ambrose Akinmusire. Joined by bassist Lefebvre (Mark Guiliana, David Bowie) and his electronic embellishments the basic punky trio sound is taken into a sometimes more club-related territory. Whatever, JZ Replacement are always original, engaging and at times very loud. We like them!

13. Maria Joao/Ogre Electric – Say Something from Open Your Mouth

We stay unpredictable element with Portuguese vocalist Maria Joao. This is someone whose jazz credentials include working with artists such as Joe Zawinul, Gilberto Gil, Egberto Gismonti, Trilok Girtu and Manu Katche as well as performing a duet with Bobby McFerrin. Yet at the age of 64 she has taken a more urban, groove-orientated electronic approach. As she says “New things will always be our motto, so sometimes it might not be so easy to label us, but who needs labels anyway”. This new album proves her point and Say Something is pre-released as a single. I must admit to some apprehension at first and to wondering if it fitted into the show – but I believe it does and the more I hear Maria Joao’s new music the more fascinated I become.

14. Mark de Clive-Lowe – Memories of Nanzenji from Heritage I

At a time when a Japanese player of dual heritage has just won the US Open Women’s tennis final, it felt appropriate to recognise a musician of a dual heritage that includes Japan. Mark de Clive-Lowe has Japan and New Zealand in his heritage and is now resident in Los Angeles. He has recently celebrated his Japanese side through two superb albums – Heritage I and Heritage II – and Memories of Nanzenji is a serene and beautiful example. Nanzenji is a 13th Century temple in Kyoto and the temple grounds includes the picturesque Tenjuan Gardens – a place for deep meditation. Clive-Lowe has said “As I’ve grown as a person and a musician, I’ve realised that my own voice and my own story is what is most important. I can’t be honest in my art if I’m trying to speak through someone else’s voice and that’s what has led me to my motherland — to Japan and connecting through my art with my ancestral heritage”. The music in both these excellent albums goes deep into de Clive-Lowe’s Japanese ancestry and cultural roots through the lens of jazz, electronica and beats in collaboration with his LA band of musicians. The new compositions are inspired by childhood folk stories, the mythology of his motherland and his own personal experiences in Japan, all wrapped up in his jazz and sample culture influences. The material for the albums was recorded over three nights of live concerts at LA’s legendary Blue Whale jazz club in Little Tokyo with one additional day in the studio. It won’t be a surprise that both releases are available via de Clive’ Lowe’s Bandcamp site.

04 September 2020: more time; more music

Welcome to the latest Cosmic Jazz! This and every show is available here on this site at the click of the Mixcloud tab (below). This week enjoy 90 minutes of music presented by Derek.

1. Elements of Life – Berimbau from Eclipse

This was an uplifting way to start the show: a tune from an outstanding album on the classic Fania label, a double CD inspired and organised by Louis Vega using Nu Yorican musicians. The album includes many excellent re-interpretations of great tunes with all versions bringing something different and interesting to the jazz, latin, deep house and afrobeat inspired tracks. Our choice this week was the tune Berimbau – an offering to the Brazilian single stringed instrument – and written by Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell. The tune has been made famous by many different versions recorded over the years including this version from Celia Cruz and Willie Colon and one of Baden Powell’s superb versions from 1967.

2. McCoy Tyner – Ebony Queen from Sahara

Having mentioned the exalted in terms of Latin music here is a musician from jazz through and through. After he left the celebrated John Coltrane Quartet, pianist McCoy Tyner went on to lead his own bands and produced a series of superb records for the Milestone label. The first of these was the epic Sahara, released in 1972 with Sonny Fortune on soprano sax, alto and flute, Calvin Hill on double bass and an electrifying pre-fusion Alphonse Mouzon on drums. Neil bought this record just a few years after its release and recalls playing it endlessly as a student – to the considerable annoyance of most of his neighbours… Whilst Tyner is rightly praised for his role in the Coltrane quartet, it is in his own records that he really began to fully develop his singular percussive style. Ebony Queen is the opening track on this album which went on to sell over 100,000 copies and represented a commercial breakthrough for Tyner who then recorded some 20 albums for Milestone over a prolific nine year period. Any one of these will reward the listener but new listeners could do well to start with Enlightenment, the Montreux Jazz Festival recording from 1973 that includes the concert favourite Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit, 20 minutes of percussive piano and a draining, exhilarating performance best seen in this video recording from the concert.

 3. JZ Replacement – Bee Bee from Disrespectful 

From the classic to the contemporary took us to JZ Replacement – an exciting trio who create original, upfront, fast, furious, frenetic and highly danceable music. Two London-based musicians – Jamie Murray on drums and Zhenya Stricalev on sax – are joined by Los Angeles bassist Tim Lefebrve. Don’t expect an easy listen: this is different, challenging, heavy music – but that’s what we like and need on Cosmic Jazz. If you enjoy the angular improvising of Ornette Coleman in his Prime Time phase (for example, on Desert Players here) then this might be right up your jazz street. The additional guitar player on this track is the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia – an unlikely alliance, but one that works.

4. New Bone – Longing from Longing 

In great contrast to JZ Replacement came contemporary music that was not highly danceable, but calm and entrancing in a very different way. New Bone are a Polish quintet founded back in 1996 by trumpeter Tomasz Kudyk. The current quintet includes pianist Dominik Wania, who we have played before on the show and who according to Polish jazz writer Adam Baruch in the Polish Jazz Blogspot has added a more adventurous approach to the band’s music. Baruch describes the album as “full of melancholy and Polish lyricism”. This title tune provided a good example. As Derek noted, Kudyk’s trumpet recalls another great Polish player, the late Tomasz Stanko. Listen to this live version of the wonderful Little Thing Jesus here.

5. O.N.E. Quintet – As Close As Light from One  

Certainly not full of melancholy (unsurprisingly, not all Polish bands exhibit this trait!) are another Polish group – the O.N.E. Quintet. One is the first album from this young group and As Close As Light was written by pianist Paulina Almanska who features on the tune. There’s plenty of space for the other musicians in the group – on violin, bass, sax and drums – in a way that provides opportunities for self-expression without anyone ever being over-dominant. We really like their music and, as ever with these Polish sounds, check them out at the always excellent Steve’s Jazz Sounds.

6. Nubya Garcia – Pace from SOURCE

The next five tunes were all selected by Neil from his base a few thousand miles away in Singapore. First up was UK sax player Nubya Garcia from her long-awaited first album that’s garnered lots of very favourable comment and doesn’t disappoint. Neil comments on the quality of her tenor sax playing across the album but there is also some different thumping, dub-sounding bass throughout from UK player Daniel Casimir. The production on this album is very much a step up from Garcia’s first EPs: recorded with producer Kwes, whose credits include Solange and Bobby Womack, Garcia is pushed into new territory that really demonstrates her diversity.  It all remains firmly rooted in jazz but there’s a range of other influences here too – from the afore-mentioned dub to cumbia and Ethio-jazz. It all works and this new album is highly recommended.

7.  Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Songs She Never Heard from Axiom 

From a brand new new live album comes a lyrical tune originally on Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s Ancestral Recall album from last year. This is an extended and atmospheric live take with featured percussion that reflects a hip hop take on the second line drumming characteristic of the trumpeter’s home city of New Orleans. The beautiful muted trumpet sounds characteristic of Scott are joined on what he calls his ‘stretch music’ by       

8. Kahil El’Zabar feat. David Murray – Trane in Mind from Spirit Groove 

Up next is Chicagoan percussionist Kahil El’Zabar on another new album that features El’Zabar’s contemporary, tenor saxophonist David Murray ably supported by Justin Dillard on piano. El’Zabar performs in various groups including his Ritual Trio and Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. He was a member of the Bright Moments collective with Joseph Jarman and Steve Colson but he’s also worked as a more mainstream sideman with Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley and Eddie Harris. The new Spirit Groove band features El’Zabar with Murray, young bassist Emma Dayhuff and Dillard on synth, organ and piano. El’Zabar takes up kalimba, drum kit, congas, shakers, vibes and even has a go at singing on this predominantly spiritual jazz release. Spirit Groove is actually on a new UK label, Spiritmuse and on vinyl is beautifully produced. As always, your best source for this record is the Bandcamp website: you can find Spirit Groove here in all formats and download.

9. Joey Alexander – Warna from Warna 

Indonesian piano prodigy Joey Alexander hails from Denpasar on the island of Bali. He was the first Indonesian to get a record into the Billboard Top 100 but Warna, his fourth album (and first for new label Verve), highlights composition rather than covers. Writing ten of twelve tracks here (with Sting’s Fragile and Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge added into the mix), Alexander has extended his range but this is a genuine trio + record. Long time bass partner Larry Grenadier deepens and enrich Alexander’s melodic inventions and new drummer Kendrick Scott is always inventive. On hand to add further colour is guest percussionist Luisito Quintero, performing the same function as Manolo Badrena in Ahmad Jamal’s trio. The other guest, flautist Anne Drummond, adds a different kind of ambience to two tracks. Just four albums in and only 17 years old, it’s interesting to speculate where Alexander might be in another ten records’ time…

10. Nat Birchall meets Al Breadwinner – African Village Dance from Sounds Almighty 

Saxophonist Nat Birchall may be known for his albums of spiritual-inflected jazz (see this earlier Cosmic Jazz feature) but his first great musical love was reggae and more specifically the dub sounds that emanated from the Kingston studios of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, King Tubby and Herman Chin Loy. Actually, if you go back to the early days of music in Jamaica you can hear that ska and jazz have close links. Listen to the Skatalites on The Guns of Navarone and you will hear this. For his 2018 album Sounds Almighty, Birchall enlisted the services of Vin Gordon, one of the original members of the Skatalites, Studio One regular and featured trombonist on so many reggae classics. The album doesn’t disappoint. It’s really a joint project between Birchall and Manchester-based Al Breadwinner, and the use of reel to reel tape machines and original analog equipment gives it a genuine authenticity. For more of Breadwinner’s music, investigate this link to his music on Bandcamp, where you will also find Vin Gordon’s excellent African Shores album and the brand new release from the Birchall/Breadwinner axis, Upright Living. Sounds Almighty is already out of print in its vinyl format but you can still get copies of the new release in this format. Those long-established links between jazz and reggae have, of course, never gone away – check out Jamaican saxophonist Dean Fraser – still going strong after many years – on contemporary reggae records from Tarrus Riley like Dem a Watch from his 2014 release Love Situation.

11. Ambrose Akinmusire – yesss from on the tender spot of every calloused moment

There will be more of Neil’s selections next time but it was back to one of Derek’s with a track from the 2020 release on Blue Note from trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. This is his fifth studio album and again features his regular quartet of Justin Brown on drums, Sam Harris on piano and Harish Raghavan on bass. This band have been playing and recording for over a decade – and it shows. Akinmusire writes and performs what may well be a cerebral take on jazz but the music never lacks emotional intensity, with the occasional vocals from Jesus Diaz only adding to the experience. This is music with depth and meaning and comes highly recommended. We shall play more.

12. Chanda Rule & Sweet Emma Band – Rosalie  from Hold On 

We ended this week’s show with vocalist Chanda Rule. “The songs on this album were originally written and sung by unnamed and undocumented African-American mothers, fathers, workers, prisoners, preachers, sons and daughters” says Rule and she adds “I gave many of the songs a lyrical update”. Chanda Rule was born and raised in Chicago, but is clearly influenced by the sounds of New Orleans. She has been an opening act for Kamasi Washington and has also collaborated with Donny McCaslin, but the band here comprises European jazz musicians. They bring a soulful and  gospel feel to the end of the show. More music next week on Cosmic Jazz.

 

26 August 2020: CJ is live again…

This week the show is shorter than usual as we’re still getting used to the new equipment and keeping it right for you. So, for a while there may be some shorter shows but more of them too. As it is, this week has five great tunes.

https://www.mixcloud.com/cosmicjazz/cosmic-jazz-260820/

1. Sarah Tandy – Bradbury Street from Infection in the Sentence

Image © Benjamin Amure. 2015

This was a great start – the wonderfully inventive Sarah Tandy on piano, playing a tune that makes reference to the street where  weekly jazz jams helped get her noticed. I saw her first with Camilla George at the Cambridge Jazz Festival and have tried to keep up ever since. It was as a student at Cambridge University that Tandy changed from classical to jazz piano, and she remains simply amazing to listen to and watch. There are none of the flamboyant gestures – she just plays with an endless invention and rhythmic density. On her splendid album Infection in the Sentence she also provides much scope to the other musicians in the band – all luminaries of the current London jazz scene, including Sheila Maurice Grey on trumpet, Binker Golding on sax and Femi Koleoso on drums.

2. Jerzy Malek – In the Basement from Black Sheep

Jerzy Malek is a trumpet/flugelhorn player from Poland leading a sextet that includes Aga Derlak, an excellent young pianist. Black Sheep is his eighth album. In the Basement combines warmth and melody with depth. It makes you feel good and it moves you too. You can find out much more about Polish jazz via the Polish Jazz Blogspot where Adam Baruch provides useful informationand insights.  He describes this album as more in the American tradition than the contemporary Polish jazz scene – perhaps true, but it also reminds us that Polish jazz does not need to reflect that rather cliched view of a melancholic ECM-style approach to the music.

3. Lettuce – Resonate from Resonate

Lettuce are a US band that defy genre classification. Funk, jazz, soul, hip-hop, psychedelic, experimental are among the categories that they have drawn upon. Their seventh studio album Resonate has been released in digital formats only at present – no vinyl. Producer and engineer Russ Elevado guided the recording following his work with a number of musicians including D’Angelo, The Roots and Erykah Badu. We featured the title track on this week’s show but the whole album is worthy of attention. More than background instrumentals and deserving of a more careful listen. If (like me) you yearn for a bit of Washington GoGo music, then Checker Wrecker will bring a smile to your face. The accompanying video has a guest spot from Trouble Funk’s bass player and vocalist Big Tony Fisher.

4. Ana Mazzotti – Agua ou Nunca from Ana Mazzotti

The British Label Far Out Recordings has provided a valuable service to the world of jazz and more for over twenty-five years, with its many reissues of Brazilian music including both the popular and the less well-known. They have also issued some excellent contemporary recordings and are noticeably responsible for the resurgence of the incomparable Marcos Valle who continues to release excellent new records on this and other labels. One artist whom they re-released last year was Ana Mazzotti – a singer/composer who sadly died in her thirties and released just one album recorded in two rather different versions.

Born in Caixas, in Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul, Mazzotti began to play the accordion aged five, before moving onto the piano. By the age of twelve she was already conducting her convent school’s choir, and at twenty-one she led her city’s premier chorus, the Coral Bento Goncalves. On meeting drummer Romido Santos, Mazzotti was introduced to the music of Brazilian master Hermeto Pascoal whom she would later record with. Her debut album first appeared in 1974, but our choice comes from the re-recorded version from 1977 and is now available on all formats from Far Out. If the music has an Azymuth-like sound that’s simply because it features Jose Roberto Bertrami who co-wrote several of the tracks alongside Azymuth bassist Alex Malheiros and percussionist Ariovaldo Contestini, with Romildo Santos – who produced the album – on drums.

5. Andrew Hill – Flight from Point of Departure

Pianist Andrew Hill is one of the greats we return to frequently on Cosmic Jazz. He recorded principally on Blue Note between the years 1963 and 1970, surrounding himself with some of the great names from the label. 1964’s Point of Departure is no exception, with Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Eric Dolphy on alto, Joe Henderson on tenor, Richard Davis on double bass and Tony Williams at the drums. However, if you think you can imagine what that might sound like – be prepared to think again. Hill’s compositions are not standard Blue Note in style. They are distinctive – angular and knotty but with melodies that rise up out of the rhythm and challenge you before sinking back down again. Influenced by Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, there’s also a classicism in Hill’s music too with tones that could be Ravel or Debussy. Hill recorded five albums in his first eight months with Blue Note and they are all excellent.

He went on to record for Italian label Soul Note in the 1980s, before returning to Blue Note for a late flowering with the album Time Lines from 2005. It’s a good time to start with Hill on vinyl as two records have been released in the Blue Note 80 and Tone Poet series – check out Smoke Stack from the former and Black Fire (Hill’s debut for the label) as part of the latter, with both entirely faithful to engineer Rudy van Gelder’s vision of the best recordings in jazz.

Cosmic Jazz shows are back!

After a break of several months with nowhere to record the show, finally we are back. Sorry it’s taken so long. The Cosmic Jazz site has remained active, thanks largely to some superb pieces from Neil – check his latest entry on spiritual jazz and three contemporary purveyors. We deeply thank the many who have continued to log into the site and hope you’ll carry on doing so – especially now that there will be even more music. 

There are a few changes; the shows will mostly be longer than the one hour of the past and we’ll add in some new features too.  You may also find some ads appearing, but this simply enables us to cut costs (as opposed to making money) in what is a show self-financed by two guys who put it together for the jazzheads out there.

This first new show on our return features some Cosmic Jazz essentials we’ve made reference to over the years along with a couple of new tunes. We are so pleased to be back!

Black Renaissance – Black Renaissance from Black Renaissance Body, Mind & Soul.

This just had to be our first comeback tune. Black Renaissance emerged from a session that keyboard player Harry Whitaker arranged on 15 January 1976 – Martin Luther King Day. Made in one take in a packed studio with a party vibe, Black Renaissance is cosmic, spiritual, free and improvised. There are African roots. It has rap early in the year when rap reportedly first began. Is it one of the first rap records? It’s certainly one of  the first jazz record to incorporate rap. The musicians who turned up included Woody Shaw, Azar Lawrence, Buster Williams, Billy Hart and Mtume. Roberta Flack was in the studio too – Whitaker had been her musical director. There were subsequent stories of promised release never happening, of master tapes lost in a fire, but finally the music was found and released by the Ubiquity label in California. Let’s be thankful; the music is right up there. It’s a must-have record.

Soil & Pimp Sessions – Waltz for Goddess from Pimp Master

Soil & Pimp Sessions are included because they are favourites of the creator of this site, who birthed the Cosmic Jazz site over 20 years ago and whose expertise has enabled us to start recording again. Soil and Pimp are an outrageously wild and energetic Japanese jazz group who emerged from the Tokyo club scene in 2001. Their live performances are something else, as I have seen for myself at The Jazz Cafe. The tune Waltz for Goddess is one of their best known.

Rudolph Johnson – The Highest Pleasure from Theo Parrish’s Black Jazz Signature

This tune was released originally on Rudolph ‘Rudy’ Johnson’s album The Second Coming. I came across it via the compilation assembled by DJ and producer Theo Parrish – Black Jazz Signature Black Jazz Records 1971-1976. Black Jazz Records was a label founded in Oakland, California by pianist Gene Russell and percussionist Dick Schory, and created to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers. Just twenty albums were released between 1971 and 1975. Johnson was a sax player, seen by many as the heir apparent to Coltrane but who never produced enough records to fulfil this. On his second Black Jazz release, Johnson showed confidence in his direct, emotional approach to jazz. Staying true to his hard bop and Coltrane-inflected roots there are great contributions from bass player Kent Brinkley, drummer Doug Sides and pianist Kirk Lightsey – all musicians on the Los Angeles jazz scene of the time.

Gene Russell – Black Orchid from Gilles Peterson – Black Jazz Radio

There is more from Black Jazz Records and from another DJ compilation, this time courtesy of Gilles Peterson. Co-founder of the label, Russell was a keyboard player, both acoustic and Fender Rhodes. Black Orchid is probably one of his best-known tunes and a very beautiful one it is too. It was released originally in 1971 on the New Direction album which also features Russell’s takes on Listen Here and On Green Dolphin Street.  Black Orchid is actually a Cal Tjader tune that features on a great Three Sounds album of the same name.

O.N.E. Quintet – Drozyna from One

We have long featured Polish and other East European and Scandinavian jazz on the programme. This is thanks to the assistance of a key source for this music – the always interesting Steve’sJazz Sounds, which regularly sources excellent new music for the show. An exciting recent arrival has been the debut album One by Polish group the O.N.E. Quintet. They includes violinist Dominika Rusinowska, whose arrangement of the traditional tune Drozyna was featured on the show. The album also includes a tune from the seminal Polish composer and pianist Krzysztof Komeda with the remainder being originals by pianist Paulina Almanska and sax player Monica Muc.

Wojciech Jachna Squad – Mystery from Elements

Next comes another recent debut album from Poland entitled Elements from the Wajciech Jachna Squad. The leader is a trumpet player who has been on the Polish scene for a decade or so and has played both mainstream and avant-garde jazz. The album has a prominent role for guitarist Malek Malinowski who contributes to making music that is full of dark mystery. The selection on this week’s show – Mystery – is an appropriate summary of their style.

Chanda Rule and The Sweet Emma Band – Motherless Child from Hold On

Chanda Rule and the Sweet Emma Band have been an interesting new discovery. Chanda is a singer and song writer raised in Chicago and rooted in gospel, soul and jazz. Her version of the traditional spiritual Motherless Child combines all three. Rule has collaborated with saxophonist Donny McCaslin and provided opening sets for Kamasi Washington and India Arie. For the album Hold On she is backed by a group of fine Austrian musicians – The Sweet Emma Band, named after the renowned singer and pianist from New Orleans and the early days of jazz. They feature Paul Zauner on trombone, Mario Rom on trumpet, Jan Korinek on Hammond organ, Christian Salfellner on drums and Osian Roberts on saxophones.

The Elder Statesman – Montreux Sunrise from 7″ single

Just as the new show began with a Cosmic Jazz favourite, it seemed appropriate for the return to the end with another one, this time a more recent release. Lord Echo is Mike August, multi-instrumentalist, producer, engineer and DJ from New Zealand. He got together with two brothers from Wellington, Christopher (piano) and Daniel (double bass) Yeabsley to produce an excellent 7″ single released on the Brookyn-based Bastard Jazz label. The music is guided by Yeabsley’s ethereal piano playing to produce a wonderful, melodic, spiritual, gently-paced groove that floats away timelessly. On the other side is another gem, Trans Alpine Express. What a way to end our new show! More music soon come.

Five from five: CJ favourites 02

Inspired by Derek, it made sense for Neil to select out five of his CJ favourites. If you know the show well, then some tracks will not be a surprise. First up was very much a first for Neil and, arguably, the start of his lifelong obsession with jazz. No – not So What or A Love Supreme but a track from one of John McLaughlin’s more obscure releases, My Goals Beyond, which offers up the astonishing Peace One. This album was released in 1971 – just before the first incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra – and was originally issued on Douglas Records. It’s now available (if you can find it) on a Rykodisc or Knitting Factory reissue.

I first heard it in 1972 as a teenager novitiate in jazz. With no internet and little to listen to on the radio, record shops were my introduction to the music. Icons like Charlie Parker were part of my understanding of the mythology of the music, so I knew that I really wanted to like jazz. I’d just not listened to much of it. I bought My Goal’s Beyond because of the album cover: a benign looking McLaughlin gazing serenely into the middle distance while a framed photo of a shaven headed guru (Sri Chinmoy) looks out impassively alongside him. It wasn’t like most of the jazz covers I’ve seen and it drew me in immediately. The track listing on the back confirmed things – a Charles Mingus tune, something from A Kind of Blue and a Chick Corea composition among them. But the real delight didn’t begin until I got the record home and played side B. The big surprise was right there. Peace One begins with a tanpura drone, and then Charlie Haden’s insidiously cool bass line waltzes its way through McLaughlin’s tune. Even violinist Jerry Goodman and drummer Billy Cobham (who would later appear in McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra) tame their natural excesses to complement the leader’s open soloing on acoustic guitar. Dave Liebman is in fine voice on soprano and Badal Roy’s tablas along with Airto’s minimal percussion fills fit perfectly. This track has entranced me ever since I first listened to it that summer evening over forty years ago and I come back to it every year with the same sense of wide-eyed wonder.

Here’s the thing. Lester Bowie was a trumpet revolutionary. 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 and into the future of jazz in the 21st century. So where can you hear this? Try The Great Pretender on ECM and, rather than the title track (itself a powerful deconstruction of the Platters classic), go straight to Rios Negros. Heard once, my guess is you’ll want to play it again immediately – and perhaps then, like me, you’ll want it play it again – and again – for the rest of your life.

I think I’ve only just worked out why this is. In just over seven minutes the trumpeter takes a first solo that tears the history of jazz apart. Then he creates a second coda solo that stretches out all the components of the first one and relocates them in back in the tradition – but in reverse order. The result is that we hear the history of jazz trumpet backwards so the track ends with the ghost of those early pioneers filtered through Bowie’s slurs and smears, crackles and blares. Bowie was a southerner born in St Louis, and right from the start his sound looked to jazz history and a range of other influences. Early in his career he played with blues and R and B artists including Little Milton and Rufus Thomas and in 1977 he recorded No Agreement with Fela Anikulapo Kuti – so I’ve thrown that one into to my 5 from 5 too. Of course, it’s Fela’s record rather than Bowie’s, but his contribution – which begins six minutes into the 13 minute track absolutely fits. Just listen to how he solos over the horn riffs – it’s magical!

It’s worth noting that on The Great Pretender, Bowie is backed by the most sympathetic band he ever had. Phillip Wilson on drums is perfect and Donald Smith’s solo on Rios Negros is a delight. Hamiett Bluett provides some lovely bottom end baritone and Fred Williams is a wonderfully supportive bass player. Both Rios Negros and No Agreement are very approachable. This is not complex music – but one track encompasses the history of jazz in just seven minutes while the other tells you all you need to know about the enduring power of Afrobeat. Just two months before he died from liver cancer in 1999, Bowie was interviewed by journalist Jay Babcock. He was asked about the conversations he had with Fela during the time he was in Nigeria in 1977:

“So most of the time, we talked about the music. Music and its ramifications. What it implied. What is it. What can it be used for. It’s about… Basically, I always believed art is functional. It’s not just something you put in museums, it’s better for it to be used for something functional: educational usage, therapeutic usage. But it should be USED. Music should be used, not just as entertainment. I’m not saying it’s NOT entertainment. It’s EVERYTHING. It’s entertainment, it’s religion, it’s a lot of things. That’s what most of what our conversations would be about: the spiritual aspect to the music, what binds all these different types of musics together.”

I can remember the exact moment. 08 July 2005 and I was in London for a meeting with a publisher. It was the day after the notorious London bombings in which 52 people of eighteen different nationalities were killed in a series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks on the capital. I had arrived in the city around 10:30am and the sun was shining as I exited the Underground station. I could walk to the publishers’ offices and I set out – but, probably like most people travelling in London that day, rather nervously. Over my headphones came the opening bars of one of the instrumental tracks on Marcos Valle’s comeback 1998 Far Out recording, Nova Bossa Nova. Bar Ingles begins with a fade in and then Valle sets up the Fender melody and we’re off on one of his jazz fusion classics. Suddenly, I felt that, whatever evil is sent our way, music truly is the healing force of the universe. The music had became a metaphor for the way we choose to see the world. Valle was to reprise this tune when I saw him a few years ago at the Jazz Cafe, London.

Lord Echo (or Michael John August) is the much in-demand New Zealand multi-instrumentalist and producer. Originally released in 2013, his album Curiosities features a delightful summery take on The Creator Has a Master Plan with vocals by Lisa Tomlins. It’s my fifth and final Cosmic Jazz tune and – whilst it isn’t a classic cut in the way that the other four clearly are – it represents music I often return to for an inhouse daytime DJ set or simply to chill out to. The album features a typical Lord Echo mix of jazz with disco-tinged neo-soul, reggae and classic afro-beat, all in a pretty effortless way. Curiosities was preceded by the more down-tempo Melodies and followed by the excellent, more electronic and club-ready sound of third album Harmonies. All have a surfeit of cool vibes and are well worth investigating. Almost much everything is played by Lord Echo, with contributions from Lucien Johnson on tenor sax, Toby Laing on trumpet, Daniel Yeabsley on baritone sax, Will Ricketts on vibes and Julien Dyne taking care of some drum loops. Check out all three albums via the ever-reliable Bandcamp here.

So, we started in the UK, crossed over to the USA via Nigeria and Brazil and ended up way down in New Zealand. Global beats, healing sounds – truly, as Lester Bowie said, “the spiritual aspect to the music, what binds all these different types of musics together.” Stay safe.

Week ending 30 May: Chicago jazz now

Another week of the ‘circuit breaker’ as we call lockdown here in Singapore. It’s going well: everyone wears face masks when outside or in stores as they are required to, most stores remain closed but hawker centres and many restaurants are open for take away food and drinks. Shopping malls require a temperature check and ID before entry and so do major supermarkets. The TraceTogether app was launched in March and has been running successfully ever since. The recent surge in infections among the migrant community has been checked and daily local cases are in single or double figures. All Covid-19 cases are published and the recent locations of those infected is made public too. Erosion of public liberty? Sure. But no one complains. Why? Number of Covid-19 cases to date 34,884. Number of deaths 23. As they say – it’s not rocket science.

The Art Ensemble of Chicago in characteristic pose

But there are other issues to address on Cosmic Jazz this week. We draw attention to recent events in America and reflect on how little has changed. Chicago’s riots of 1919 began with the death of Eugene Williams, a black man, and the current US-wide riots began with the death of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis on 25 May, 2020. Chicago has once more experienced the pain of racial conflict and – as this post is being compiled – the situation continues to worsen.

Thanks to ongoing enlightened governance, Chicago may have escaped the worst of the USA’s racial tensions over the years, but the jazz scene in the windy city has continued to cast a light on what’s happening stateside. The current Chicago scene has some key players who reflect the social activism espoused by perhaps the city’s most famous crusading musician, Curtis Mayfield. From People Get Ready to Right On for the Darkness, Mayfield knew exactly how to capture the mood of the time, and the axis of jazz musicians around the latest incarnation of the Art Ensemble of Chicago have their own stories to tell. We’ll start with current bass player Junius Paul whose own album Ism reflects some of the current tensions through its own sizeable canvas of influences. “It’s just bringing more awareness of those things, so blacks can know their past, and history and that everybody can know, not just us”, he told Jazzwise while in London to play with Shabaka Hutchings. “Obviously, we have to know because it’s ours, but everybody needs to know what’s going on… black, white and in between.”  There’s a fascinating Bandcamp interview here which allows you to access all the music on the album. Listen to the featured tracks Baker’s Dozen and Ase before exploring the whole album and you’ll get an idea of the breadth of this record.

Trumpeter Marquis Hill features on Ism but his own releases are just as strong. His 2018 album Modern Flows II is an excellent example of his recent work. Prayer for the People begins with afrobeat drumming before introducing rapper M’Reid Green, along with rising Blue Note talent Joel Ross on vibes. It Takes a Village is equally powerful and this time features Brandon Alexander Williams on rap vocals. It’s all an excellent example of how jazz has embraced the current rap scene – and to powerful effect. Modern Flows II is highly recommended and available on download here on Bandcamp. Whilst Joel Ross may have gone more mainstream for his first Blue Note release, his music is equally interesting. Yana from the album captures the way that Blue Note has with vibes players – think of Bobby Hutcherson – ethereal and deep. It’s a fine debut.

Self proclaimed beat scientist Makaya McCraven’s drums have driven much of the music of the current Chicago scene, some of it centred on famed venue The Velvet Lounge where Junius Paul cut his teeth as the resident bassist. Owned by Chicago saxophonist Fred Anderson, the venue closed in 2109 although its jazz credentials really ended on Anderson’s death in 2010. Anderson is another musician who really should be better known – listen to him here on Saxoon from his 1979 album Dark Day featuring Chicagoan Hamid Drake on drums. McCraven has been responsible for a number of projects on both sides of the Atlantic and he’s been featured with several of the current crop of British jazz musicians on recordings in London. Perhaps the best place to start with his music is the excellent In the Moment album, now available in a deluxe 3CD/vinyl set – check it out here on Bandcamp. This new version include another 40 minutes of music from the initial 48 hours of live, improvised performance recorded at 1 venue over 12 months and 28 shows. Mostly short tracks at under three minutes, each has something to recommend but, for a longer groove try, Finances from the deluxe edition. In the Moment features an honorary Chicagoan currently making waves with his solo records, guitarist Jeff Parker. He first came to fame with the post rock group Tortoise – and specifically their 1998 album TNT, a more jazz-inflected than most of their output. The title track is a clear indication of this new direction with Parker’s guitar very much to the fore. Currently riding high with his new album for the label, Parker’s music continues to evolve.

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 of loops, samples and beats. But the record has a more organic heart too – listen to how the kalimba cuts into the groove on the short 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.

Which brings us full circle to one of the sources of this current creative river of Chicago jazz – the AACM, or Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians – the collective that gave us the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Founded back in 1965 by Muhal Richard Abrams and Phil Cohran numerous influential jazz musicians have passed through the ranks of the AACM. Percussion Kahil El’Zabar, for example, became their chairman in 1975 – and I’m currently really enjoying his What It Is! album from 2012 on Delmark Records. Here’s the lead off track The Nature Of, featuring Kevin Nabors on tenor sax and on Justin Dillard on Hammond B3 organ and – yes – Junius Paul on bass. This record really does swing! For more El’Zabar try his Ritual Trio and a tune from the excellent African N’da Blues album, featuring the great Pharoah Sanders. Here is the delightful Africanos/Latinos with Susana Sandoval on vocals and Malachi Favors from the Art Ensemble of Chicago on bass.

So where to start with the AEC themselves? Let’s begin at the beginning. The initial Roscoe Mitchell Sextet included Mitchell on tenor sax, trumpeter Lester Bowie, bassist Malachi Favors and the great Phillip Wilson on drums. All of musicians were multi-instrumentalists and played a huge range of conventional and what they called ‘small instruments’ – from conch shells to whistles. In 1968 they decamped to Paris where they released some of their first records under the AEC banner. Film soundtrack Le Stances a Sophie was recorded at this time – here’s the famous Theme de Yoyo with vocals by Fontella Bass. On returning to the US in 1972 the AEC recorded more than 20 albums through to 2004 – really their period of peak creativity.

Take this example of their extraordinary live performances – complete with face paints (and Lester Bowie in his characteristic doctor’s coat) at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1991. They were very much still on fine form here with their original lineup before Lester Bowie’s death in 1999. The tune is the signature Ohnedaruth which appeared first on the excellent Phase One album from 1971. If you’re looking for a good quality live recording, Urban Bushmen on the ECM label captures the group on tour in 1980 or – for a more chaotic, but inspired, live recording – try the famous Bap-tizum from 1972 on Atlantic. This also features a lengthy take on Ohnedaruth – compare the two!

More inspirational music next week on Cosmic Jazz. Until then – enjoy!

Neil is listening to…

Week ending 23 May 2020: Pitchfork, PopMatters and Lee

More from the online treasure trove of jazz music, films and writing this week on Cosmic Jazz. It’s not all TikToks and Tweets out there – there’s a wealth of great writing to start with. Pitchfork and PopMatters are two go-to sites for in-depth reviews – take this recent post from Pitchfork, for example. It’s a beautifully written piece by Andy Beta on one of my favourite records in any genre – Clube da Esquina by Lo Borges and Milton Nascimento. That iconic album cover says it all – two young Brazilian playmates (whom most people might assume are Borges and Nascimento when young) who turn out to be boys captured in an ‘image a la sauvette’ moment by Carlos da Silva Assunção Filho (better known as Cafi), a local photographer. The Pitchfork feature has some lovely stuff about the back story behind this image as well as a focus on the extraordinary lyricism of the record. Thanks to hauntingly beautiful arrangements by Eumir Deodato, the tracks are themselves burnished snapshots of moments in the lives of two central figures in Brazilian music. My favourite song from the many on this double album? Without doubt, it’s the extraordinary wordless Clube da Esquina No. 2 – listen and be moved. Trust me – you’ll come back to this song again and again.

Just 19 at the time of recording Clube da Esquina, Lo Borges was supported by his mother – affectionately known as Dona Maricota – who founded the corner cafe in Belo Horizonte where teenagers would meet to test out their new songs. Nascimento would go on to become one of the most famous of Brazil’s singer songwriters, performing with a host of the world’s best jazz artists including Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Jack deJohnette and Wayne Shorter, whose 1974 album Native Dancer was a collaboration between the two. Here’s Miracle of the Fishes, composed by Nascimento and Fernando Brant, one of the Clube da Esquina songwriters and featuring a spirited tenor solo from Shorter.

Original Clube da Esquina members – including Milton Nascimento, Lô Borges, Wagner Tiso, Fernando Brant and Toninho Horta.

PopMatters‘ name may suggest that it has nothing to offer jazz lovers – but far from it. This recent piece on Joseph Bowie and his band Defunkt by Imran Khan includes an interview which has more interesting revelations about Bowie’s musical sources and his current situation. If his surname has a jazz familiarity it’s because his elder brother was Lester Bowie from the Art Ensemble of Chicago – but Joseph pursued a different path, emerging as part of the New York punk/’no wave‘ movement in the late 1970s. The result was two albums – the self-titled Defunkt from 1980 and the explosive Thermonuclear Sweat which appeared two years later. Both albums are worth searching out – look for the Rykodisc set which includes both along with some additional tracks. Standouts include Illusion and their take on the O’Jays’ For the Love of Money, both from Thermonuclear Sweat (the better release). Bowie had also played with John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards around this time, and those who remember the NME’s cassette tapes from the 1980s might recall a Lounge Lizards track (Stomping at the Corona) on the Dancing Master compilation.

It was at this point that I moved on and lost track of Defunkt and Bowie – his elder brother’s music holding a more powerful appeal. Indeed, Lester Bowie’s The Great Pretender album for ECM in 1981 included Rios Negroes – the subject of a Cosmic Jazz feature from back in the day. Whether with the Art Ensemble or his Brass Fantasy project, Lester Bowie was responsible for some of the most innovative jazz recordings in the history of this art form. He referenced the history of both jazz and popular music – listen to this take on Night Life – more usually associated with Elvis Presley – from the excellent live album The Fire This Time (1992).

So what’s Joseph Bowie up to now? The PopMatters feature and interview revealed an interesting more recent project that I’d missed – Defunkt’s One World album from 1995 which featured a version of the Art Ensemble’s People in Sorrow, written by Joseph Bowie and with vocals by Kellie Sae. Recorded in the Netherlands where Bowie now lives, this is much more of a soul record (unfortunately with a slew of unconvincing lyrics) but the band is tight and it’s good to know that after decades of drug addiction and turbulence Bowie is still making music. For the full 40 minute threnody of the AEC’s People in Sorrow, listen right here.

We also have a run of jazz filmographies to check out at the moment: portraits- as dramatisations or documentaries of trumpeters Lee Morgan, Miles Davis and Chet Baker along with a new bio of the mysterious founder of jazz, cornetist Buddy Bolden. We have written of the excellent Birth of the Cool previously on CJ and you can now download it from BBC’s iPlayer. You should – there are memorable interviews – particularly with Frances Taylor Davis – and the story of Miles Davis remains compelling. Netflix delivers I Called Him Morgan and, while it isn’t as glossy as Birth of the Cool, it has its moments too. The story is rather less well known: trumpeter Lee Morgan was just 33 when he was shot and killed by his wife Helen Morgan while playing at Slug’s Saloon in New York in 1972. Initially, Morgan modelled himself on another trumpeter who met an early death, Clifford Brown. Both supremely talented on trumpet, Morgan went on to have the longer career, recording prolifically for Blue Note in the 1960-70s and netting the label a genuine chart hit with The Sidewinder from 1963. But there was much more to Morgan than this and, at the time of his death, the music was moving in new directions. In fact, his next release – 1966’s Search for The New Land – is a taste of where his music was heading. It was actually recorded before The Sidewinder but perhaps was shelved until Blue Note and/or his audience could catch up with him. Highlight is the 15 minute title track which features over both and closing of the film. Wayne Shorter is interviewed for I Called Him Morgan and says of this music: He was actually digging back into his roots in history – and what could be achieved with freedom. This is a favourite Lee Morgan album for many jazz fans – including myself. The sextet lineup is perfect with Wayne Shorter on tenor, Grant Green on guitar, Herbie Hancock on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. All tracks are standouts but Mr Kenyatta (a tribute to the now rather forgotten alto player Robin Kenyatta) is another classic.

Morgan went to release another sixteen albums in the nine years before his death and everyone is worth investigating. Of the lesser known releases, The Rajah is a personal favourite along with his intriguing final album, The Last Session and the wonderful In What Direction Are You Heading? My original double disc vinyl pressing is now rare but the CD can be tracked down for a reasonable price.

More lock down virtual crate digging revelations next week… In the meantime, this is some of the music Neil has been listening to over the last week:

Neil is listening to…