Category Archives: Features

Week Ending 11 April 2020: a Herbie special!

Wow! The ever youthful Herbie Hancock is 80 years old. The pianist and jazz ambassador was born on 12 April 1940 in Chicago. Like many jazz pianists, Hancock received a classical musical education, studying from age seven. Such was his talent that his first public recital at the age of 11 was of the first movement of a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Hancock’s first recordings were with trumpeter Donald Byrd in 1961 but it wasn’t long before Blue Note gave him his first date as leader – Takin’ Off in 1962 – and his first hit with the lead off track Watermelon Man. Regarded as one of the most accomplished debuts in jazz, Takin’ Off is now available as a Blue Note reissue under their Blue Note 80 series. The album caught the attention of the ever-shrewd Miles Davis who quickly incorporated Hancock into his new quintet. Hancock was only 23 at the time – new drummer Tony Williams was just 17.

While in Davis’s band, Hancock found time to record dozens of sessions for the Blue Note label, both under his own name and as a sideman with other musicians including Wayne Shorter, Grant Green, Bobby Hutcherson, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Almost all of Hancock’s albums for Blue Note are outstanding – but particular mention must go to the 1964 outing – Inventions and Dimensions which included two Latin percussionists and featured one of my favourite Hancock compositions, the ostinato-driven Succotash. Of course, the most well known album of this period appeared the following year. Maiden Voyage is the archetypal Blue Note album and deserves to be in everyone’s collection. The title track is outstanding but there’s more to enjoy including the often covered Dolphin Dance. The personnel on this Blue Note is Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, George Coleman on tenor sax, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums. Maiden Voyage has been covered by many artists including Grant Green on his Alive! album. You can hear this reflective version right here.

Like many jazz artists of the period, Hancock was keen to incorporate electric and then electronic keyboards and, after the R&B inspired Fat Albert Rotunda album from 1969, Hancock moved into fully electronic mode with a trilogy of recordings between 1971 and 1973 – Mwandishi, Crossings and Sextant. This new sextet comprised Hancock, Buster Williams on bass, drummer Billy Hart and a trio of horn players – Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Julian Priester on trombone and multireedist Bennie Maupin. Electronics pioneer Patrick Gleeson was included on the latter two albums and was instrumental (!) in the sound of such compositions as Rain Dance. Two albums with pretty much the same personnel  were recorded under trumpeter Eddie Henderson’s name and are equally worth exploring. Start with the excellent Mars in Libra from the Realization album (1973).

And then came the big breakthrough – the 1974 album Headhunters with four extraordinary tracks, including a radical reworking of Watermelon Man. That intro and outro sound was derived from a field recording of hindewhu music from the Ba-Benzélé tribe of central Africa. Percussionist Bill Summers had heard the music on an ethnomusicology LP, The Music of the Ba-Benzélé Pygmies (1966), by Simha Arom and Genviève Taurelle. The other three cuts are the standouts too, and the 15 minute long Chameleon was to become one of Hancock’s most well known compositions. The follow-up album Thrust from 1974 was almost a successful and just as good. Hancock moved in an ever-further commercial direction with Man-Child and Secrets, each of which contained more superb tracks. I remember buying Man-Child (on vinyl, of course) the moment it came out in 1975 and was blown away by the double bassline and horns in The Traitor.  Like many of Hancock’s albums, it’s one you can return to again and again.

A period of consolidation followed with some superb live albums that saw Hancock’s facility with reworkings of old Blue Note classics alongside more contemporary tracks. The album Sunlight signalled another change of direction though with Hancock – ever enthusiastic about new technology – using a vocoder for the first time. The album also featured iconic bass player Jaco Pastorius on the final cut Good Question. Whilst the subsequent disco-influenced Vocoder albums received a mixed reception, Hancock continued to record with a new version of his Blue Note style VSOP group before the next breakthrough – the first jazz hip-hop tune, 1983’s Rockit from the album Future Shock. Bass player and producer Bill Laswell was to feature significantly on this and three subsequent releases, ending with Perfect Machine in 1988. It would be Hancock’s last album for six years, as he concentrated on other projects. He re-emerged with Dis is Da Drum in 1994 – a curiously-titled and rather neglected album. There’s a debt to classic 90s hip-hop scratching rhythms – easily heard in the track Mojuba – but also some acoustic piano soloing too. Also from this period is the sometimes neglected New Standard album in which Hancock performs the same trick as his mentor Miles Davis was to do a few years later – reinventing pop and rock tunes as jazz standards. Prince in a jazz arrangement? Why not – listen to the excellent Thieves in Temple with the all star band of Michael Brecker on saxes, John Scofield on guitar, Dave Holland on bass, Jack deJohnette on drums and Don Alias on percussion.

A re-reading of Gershwin’s tunes in 1998 that featured a plethora of guest stars also turned out much better than expected and generated a world tour. Nowhere is the album more surprising than on Duke Ellington’s Cotton Tail, itself a reworking of I Got Rhythm. Wayne Shorter is outstanding. The electronic album that followed Gershwin’s World, Future2Future, turned out to be rather less successful and 2005’s Possibilities took the guest star quotient rather too far.

But help was at hand through Hancock’s longtime friendship with singer Joni Mitchell, herself no stranger to jazz. River: the Joni Letters was a real return to form. Guest vocalists, including Corinne Bailey Rae on the title track, were accompanied by some beautiful piano from Hancock. Mitchell herself made an appearance but Norah Jones and Tina Turner (on Edith and the Kingpin) were almost equally effective. The distinctive tenor solo on this track is (of course) by Wayne Shorter and Prince plays (uncredited) guitar. River justifiably won the 2008 Album of the Year Grammy Award.

Hancock appeared on the 2014 Flying Lotus album You’re Dead and his new album is eagerly awaited with likely contributions from Wayne Shorter, Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington and – yes – Snoop Dogg. We will no doubt feature it here on Cosmic Jazz but, until then, here’s to Herbie Hancock – eighty years young!

Week ending 27 April 2019: spiritual sounds and more

There are contrasting moods in this week’s Cosmic Jazz show –  available via the MixCloud tab (left). The first half is on the deep, intense, even spiritual side while the second section of the show is more obviously funky – but still retaining that deep vibe we like so much.

I search my record shelves on a regular basis to find music that I have not played for some time and bring it to the show. Often I discover some great music that needs to be aired – and so it was this week. The disc selected came from Yuko Fujiyama, a pianist born in Japan, who moved to New York after encountering the music of Cecil Taylor. One night in New York in 1980 she heard someone playing a tape of Taylor’s music and this inspiration led to the free approach to improvisation characterised by this music. The album Reentry was recorded in 2000 at the Gilbert Recital Hall, Canton, New York. The track selected is titled Synaethesis and is the opening tune on the album, which gives a good idea of what the album is like. I cannot remember where or when I bought this record but I’m very pleased I did. I notice its Discogs listing gives the record five stars – I endorse that fully.

From the spiritual side came John Ellis and his album Evolution, Seeds and Streams, whose title provides a good feel for what the music is like. It was released in 2016 on the Manchester-based Gondwana label and was commissioned for the Manchester Jazz Festival. John Ellis is a pianist/keyboard player but the record includes some instruments and sounds that are not commonly found on a jazz record – kora, cello, vocal sculpture, birdsong and beatbox.

Last week the show finally caught up with the Polish sax player from Warsaw Michal Kobojek and his album The Outside. The music was so good that a second tune seemed appropriate this week. He not only leads his own group but also plays as a session musician and with other musicians, including vocalist Urszula Dudziak (who may be known to Cosmic Jazz listeners) and saxophonist Michal Urbaniak, who we have played on the show.

By this stage the mood of the programme was beginning to shift, although only moderately with another tune from Wayne Shorter’s award winning epic 2018 album EmanonThere  was a heavier even thumping feel, however, from Theon Cross who plays the tuba, another instrument that is not found on many jazz records. He’s one of the members of the thriving young London jazz scene and has just released his first album Fyah. As with many of his contemporaries, his music crosses boundaries – from early New Orleans jazz to grime and rap. On the tune Brockley from the excellent Gilles Peterson-curated compilation album We Out Here, Cross is joined by two other members of the scene, drummer Moses Boyd and sax player Nubya Garcia.

Hammond organ player Charles Earland may have been too funky, too soulful and too much loved by the Acid Jazz crowd for many jazz followers. They have missed some gems. In 2001 Soul Brother Records in the UK released a 2CD anthology of his music. It includes three tunes from Leaving This Planet – considered one of his finest albums. One of these tunes is a version of the Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay with no less than Hubbard himself playing on it, as well as sax player Joe Henderson and drummer Harvey Mason. This should be enough to confirm Earland’s jazz credentials.

There was more from what might be described as the jazz dance scene. Kathryn Moses is a Brazilian-influenced jazz vocalist who appears on a compilation put together by British DJ Kevin Beadle. UK record labels have done much to promote Brazilian music and the now Brighton-based label Mr. Bongo has been one of the leaders. Their superb seven CD Brazilian Beats series (available in a box set) includes on Volume 3 a tune from distinctive vocalist Seu Jorge. To end Cosmic Jazz this week we went to the title track from the excellent 1977 Soul Village album from Fender Rhodes pianist Walter Bishop Jr. featuring Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn.

  1. Yoko Fujiyama – Synaethesis from Re-entry
  2. John Ellis – Flight from Evolution, Seeds & Streams
  3. Machal Kobojek – Imago from The Outside
  4. Wayne Shorter – Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean from Emanon
  5. Theon Cross – Brockley from We Out Here
  6. Charles Earland – Red Clay from Anthology
  7. Kathryn Moses – Music in my Heart from Kevin Beadle presents Private Collection Vol 2
  8. Seu Jorge – Chega No Suingue from Brazilian Beats Vol. 3
  9. Walter Bishop Jr. – Soul Village from Soul Village

Derek is listening to …..

  1. Ruby Rushton – Moonlight Woman ( Studio Session)
  2. Nick Walters & the Paradox Ensemble – Dear Old Thing
  3. Alfa Mist – Keep On
  4. Bitty McLean – Walk Away from Love
  5. Steve Williamson – Celestial Blues

 

 

08 September 2016: CJ playout!

vinyl-hunter

Cosmic Jazz‘s local specialist vinyl store (yes, we have one!) is the excellent Vinyl Hunter in Bury St Edmunds. There’s a great selection of new and used records, all the equipment you need to set up your first vinyl sound system along with excellent coffee and cakes too. It’s a haven of great sounds – and their Rough Trade-style practice of writing informative sleeve notes on all new vinyl is a good example of their attention to detail.

img_7877Following their return from Brazil, owner Rosie Hunter and son Will arrived back with an armful of rare Brazilian grooves and at CJ we thought that this was a good opportunity to spin some of our own treasured discs instore. Thanks to Vinyl Hunter‘s two Technics PL 1210s and sound system (along with a CD deck) customers enjoyed three hours of quality samba, bossa nova, drum and bass and more.

img_7883On 10 September, Vinyl Hunter will celebrate their first anniversary. It’s worth a visit to Bury St Edmunds to support this excellent new music outlet. If you’re not already into vinyl, now’s the time to start – let Ross and Will guide you and you’ll emerge with great sounds and the beginning of a lifelong music habit.

16 April 2016: RSD2016

16 April was Record Store Day all round the world and – of course –  Cosmic Jazz joined in the festivities.  We visited two of our local record stores – Soundclash logoSoundclash Records in Norwich and Vinyl Hunter in Bury St Edmunds. Soundclash is one of the city’s oldest record shops: established in 1991, it’s got a great selection of both vinyl and CDs in a wide range of musical genres. Vinyl Hunter maybe new in town but it’s already building a loyal customer base.  Not only is it a specialist vinyl store (with some CDs) but there’s cafe space downstairs too and – thanks to the bakery upstairs there are excellent cakes and coffee. Vinyl vinyl hunter logoHunter also carries a range of quality turntables including Lenco and Rega models – and co-founder Rosie Hunter made clear that selling good quality decks on which to play both new and secondhand vinyl is just part of their comprehensive service for customers.

soundclash record store day 01Those early morning Soundclash queues are testimony to the appeal of Record Store Day and – like the Norwich store – Vinyl Hunter had a busy inaugural RSD2016 with over 60 customers buying in the first hour. Their crate digging approach is going global too – in August the Hunters will be visiting Brazil for the Olympic Games, but Rosie confirmed that there will be time for some vinyl hunting in some of the country’s best record stores!

UK vinyl sales continue to grow year on year with a 64% increase in 2015 sales over the previous year. What looked like a passing fad is clearly now a substantial resurgence. Independent vinyl shops are a viable business proposition – the longevity of Soundclavinyl hunter 01sh and the customer service ethos of Vinyl Hunter are both testimony to this. What HMV (the sole surviving major music retailer) never succeeded in doing was to rebrand themselves as a specialist, niche service – and that’s where two of our local record shops have the edge. Cosmic Jazz salutes both. For more vinyl news, start with The Vinyl Factory or sign up to any of the other great independent record store around the country.  The music choices below celebrate RSD exclusive cuts and more – enjoy!

On Record Store Day Neil listened to: 

…………………………………………………………………………

Meanwhile, our Miles Ahead fest continues: Neil has chosen five Miles Davis tracks, each of which featured in Jez Nelson’s Sunday night Somethin’ Else prograjez nelson and don cheadlemme on Jazz FM. Much of this is Miles music that is rarely heard on the radio – and as actor/director Don Cheadle notes in his interview with Nelson, some of these tracks often centre on “meta-Miles” – Davis playing what’s not there. The music built up to the period in Miles’ life that’s at the heart of the movie – his enforced retirement from 1975 that then led to the final comeback years. The interview ended with Cheadle’s choice of Circle, from the album Miles Smiles.

On Somethin’ Else Neil listened to:

The greatest week in avantgarde jazz?

There’s a question mark at the end of this feature title – but it probably doesn’t need to be there. In one week in August 1969, a group of American musicians holed up just north of Paris produced over 12 albums worth of material. The writer Britt Robson has produced an absorbing feature for Red Bull Academy Daily and it’s so good it deserves to be read by our CJ listeners. You can check out the article here. It begins like this…

Thank God somebody bought Lester Bowie’s couch in the spring of 1969. And his chairs, bed and desk. Otherwise, the most glorious week in avant-garde jazz history would never have happened. “Lester was selling all the furniture in his house to take the band to Europe,” recalls saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell of his trumpeter-friend and cohort. “He put an ad in the [Chicago] Defender, ‘Musician sells out.’”

jazzactuel compilationMuch of the music was to appear of the BYG label, a short lived but influential avantgarde jazz imprint founded in Paris by Jean Georgakarakos, Jean-Luc Young and Fernand Boruso. You should still be able to find the 3CD collection called JazzActuel: a collection of avant garde/free jazz/psychedelia from the BYG/Actuel catalogue of 1969–1971. It was released by Charly Records in the UK.

[With grateful thanks to Britt Robson for his insightful writing. You can find more of his work on the Wondering Sound blog.]

Mark Murphy 1932-2015: an appreciation

mark murphy 01The first thing to say is that Mark Murphy was an icon. A living embodiment of Kerouac ‘hipster’ chic, Murphy truly lived the jazz life. No other jazz artist presented this so clearly through his music: Murphy recorded Kerouac stories, he wrote lyrics for modern jazz standards that incorporated bebop imagery and with his resonant baritone he nailed that mix of jazz phrasing and vocalese better than anyone. Modern singers from Kurt Elling to Gregory Porter owe him a huge debt. The shame is that in the wake of his death there aren’t the column inches to reflect that influence.

Mark Murphy was born in Syracuse, New York, joining his brother’s dance band as a teenage singer. Influences were already clear – Nat King Cole, Anita O’Day and Ella Fitzgerald. Murphy was always interested in acting (he graduated in music and drama) and would go back to the stage and television when he wasn’t recording.

In 1958 he briefly moved to Los Angeles and recorded for Capitolmark murphy rah
before returning to New York and recording the Rah! album on Riverside Records. This featured versions of Horace Silver’s Doodlin’ and the standard On Green Dolphin Street. But perhaps the most productive time for Murphy was the 1970s and his time with the Muse label. These consistently good recordings feature him at his eclectic best. Albums
like Bop for Kerouac, Beauty and the Beast and – above all – Stolen mark murphy stolen momentsMoments feature imaginative arrangements, original lyrics and
great productions. Stolen Moments has the inspirational title track, Murphy’s take on Herbie Hancock’s Sly and his soaring vocals on Dori Caymmi’s sensational Like a Love(r) (O Cantador) which close the album. Several of these eighteen Muse albums – including Stolen Moments – were nominated for Grammy awards.

Murphy has also appeared on records by the Japanese nu-jazz group United Future Organization where he wrote and rapped lyrics on songs composed with his young collaborators. This collaboration opened up further new audiences in the acid-jazz and hip-hop genres, most notably in his fabulous (literally) lyrics for Dingwalls, in which he name-checked the famous north London venue where jazz dancers showed how timeless his music was.

mark murphy love is what staysWith a new Verve contract, he recorded Once to Every Heart in 2005 and Love is What Stays in 2007. Both albums featured Murphy on a range of ballads and were produced by German trumpeter Till Bronner. But for a different take on 21C Murphy try this innovative Henrik Schwartz remix from 2012. Murphy’s last recording – fittingly a limited edition on vinyl only and through the UK-based Gearbox Records – was a tribute to another iconic singer, Murphy’s contemporary Shirley Horn. Beautiful Friendship: Remembering Shirley Horn was released in 2013.

Two British DJs (both much beloved by this site) – Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge – have produced their own heartfelt tributes to Murphy. Here’s Peterson’s Mark Murphy mix from 2008 and we end this celebration of Murphy’s music with these fitting words from Forge on Facebook: So waking up today I’m filled with sadness at Mark’s passing, last time I saw him was in Tokyo, I went to his gig with Shuya Okino, he seemed very frail but was still just as mesmerising in performance, still taking risks, in the moment, going where the music took him. We chatted afterwards and I remember thinking as we left that it would probably be the last time. I’ll always remember interviewing Mark after one of his shows at Dingwalls, and asking him about the lyrics to Red Clay… he told me about how he’d phoned Freddie Hubbard to ask him about where the title had come from, Freddie had told him about playing on the red clay growing up in Indianopolis. Mark’s lyrics are so wonderfully evocative, they seem to capture a whole world, joyful and playful and naturally hip. Maybe “hip” seems an odd word to use, but Mark was an original hipster, a product and devotee of the “Beat Generation” who lovingly crafted music around Jack Kerouac’s words on more than one occasion. Like those writers, his defiance of the humdrum, his pursuit of truth and beauty, his questing soul was always searching for the chance to take flight… Mark’s voice had wings that grew out of the original counter culture, made of poetry and jazz. We have lost a consummate singer, a superb lyricist who could create sublime poetry around great jazz melodies, a fearless improviser and a legendary character. R.I.P.

I also saw Murphy live, but here in the UK in a small jazz club in the heart of rural Suffolk – a lifetime away from New York or Tokyo. It was a never to be forgotten experience, but as soon as I’m back from Beijing I’ll be reliving that classic voice all over again when all those Murphy albums are once more on the turntable.

New recommended site – UK vibe


nat-birchall_ukvibe_01Cosmic Jazz
has always had a sidebar list of recommended sites – and it’s time to add a new one to the list. UK Vibe has just uploaded an excellent review of the new Nat Birchall release Invocations but the site is home to some great in-depth features too.

Particularly recommended is the extended (and I really mean extended) piece on Keith Jarrett at 70. Read it and check out the videos too. If you’re not yet convinced by Jarrett, have a look and listen to his live reading of the classic God Bless the Child  performed here with his Standards Trio – Gary Peacock on bass and Jack de Johnette on drums.

Joe Farrell – unsung hero?

joe farrellJoe Farrell should be much better known, but his fate was to be best known for a short string of CTI records in the 1970s. Let me explain… The decade of jazz-rock has not been kind to some artists who grew their hair, dabbled with electronics or solo pyrotechnics and who adopted overindulgent production values. Of course, there are those whose musical language was enhanced by by the era – Joe Zawinul and Miles Davis for example. Their polar opposite approaches to the changing musical landscape proved of lasting value and influence to jazz – and beyond.

Joe Farrell came straight out of the jazz tradition: apprenticeships with Maynard Ferguson and Charlie Mingus led in 1968 to a place in Elvin Jones’ regular band, latterly as part of a three horn line up with Dave Liebman and Frank Foster. Farrell recorded several under-rated albums with Jones but greater recognition came with his tenure in a first incarnation of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever andjoe farrell quartet his CTI solo albums, beginning with Joe Farrell Quartet in 1970 which features a definitive version of John McLaughlin’s Follow Your Heart. To some extent these solo records were overshadowed by Farrell’s sidesman work with other CTI artists – Airto Moreira, Ray Barreto, Lalo Schifrin and George Benson but each of them features Farrell’s powerful and imaginative soloing on tenor and soprano saxes together with flute and even oboe too.

airto_free1Drug addiction and finally bone cancer led to his early death in 1986 at the age of 48 but not before he’d cemented his reputation with recordings for jazz supergroup Fuse One, more Chick Corea, Billy Cobham’s excellent first solo album Spectrum and session outings with Aretha Franklin, Patti Austin, Hall and Oates and many others. His final recording was back with Airto and his wife Flora Purim on the album Three Way Mirror.

I’ve not come across a Farrell solo that isn’t of interest – nothing was ever perfunctory or sounds phoned in. Even on his mainstream CTI albums there are tracks that feature harder edges, squeaks and squalls unexpected in this catalogue.

Selected discography:

  • 1966: Chick Corea – Tones for Joan’s Bones (Blue Note)
  • 1969: Elvin Jones – Poly-currents (Blue Note)
  • 1970: Joe Farrell Quartet (CTI)
  • 1971: Outback (CTI)
  • 1972: Chick Corea – Return to Forever (Verve)
  • 1972: Airto Moreira – Free (CTI)
  • 1972: Moon Germs (CTI)
  • 1973: Penny Arcade (CTI)
  • 1973: Don Sebesky – Giant Box (1973)
  • 1973: Billy Cobham – Spectrum (Atlantic)
  • 1974: Upon This Rock (CTI)
  • 1976: Maynard Ferguson – Primal Scream (CBS)
  • 1979: Ray Barretto – La Cuna (CTI)
  • 1980: Fuse One (CTI)

And here’s Joe Farrell in 1968 with Elvin Jones on drums and Jimmy Garrison on bass:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5MJ4o9teNs

Brainfeeder Records: is it jazz?

I’m back in the UK and so there’s a chance to record some Cosmic Jazz specials. More on those later – but first up we’ll have a close look at music that’s currently coming from California via the Brainfeeder label.

stan_getz_west_coast_jazzThere have long been contrasting scenes in jazz – and two obvious ones have been the two typified by the ‘cool’ west coast and ‘hot’ east coast scenes of the 1950s. Stan Getz and Chet Baker represented the chilled vibe of the west coast while John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy illustrated the more intense approach favoured by those musicians resident in New York. Well, today there’s another west coast vibe – and some say much of it is not even jazz.

I’m indebted to Natalie Weiner and her article on the Noisey website for prompting the rest of this post. You can check the article out here. Weiner focuses on the music coming from the SanLos angelesFrancisco based Brainfeeder which features such artists as Flying Lotus, Thundercat and Kamasi Washington – all of whom have featured on CJ. Indeed, we played Flying Lotus as long ago as 2008 when he released his sophomore album Los Angeles – named after his hometown. Was it jazz? Probably not – but, as always, that will depend on your definition.

What we are seeing in jazz over the the last five years or so is an
increasingly fertile amalgam of influences from two other musics – electronica and hip hop. This open genre-bending has, of course, always been a feature of jazz – but the music now goes much further than the rather tokenistic jazz and hip hop collaborations of the 1990s that saw the birth of such projects as rapper Guru’s collaborations with Blue Note past masters on the Jazzmatazz series.  It’s also more than pianist Robert Glasper’s authentic dives into contemporary nu soul with his Black Radio project or even Vijay Iyer’s reworkings of Detroit minimalist Robert Hood for jazz piano trio.

noise of troubleAll of this – and more – we have played on CJ. But when veteran jazz pianist and one man jazz iconoclast Herbie Hancock appears on the latest Flying Lotus release even more trad jazzheads should take note. It’s not the first time Hancock has done this of course – a recent reissue on CD is Last Exit’s The Noise of Trouble live album from 1986 which featured the pianist on the final track.

So back to Flying Lotus and some of the issues raised by Weiner in her Noisey feature. Is FlyLo jazz?  Can you make jazz music without playing an instrument? is an obvious starting question. Another would  be Does he improvise? But whether or not we have an answer to either questions, the answer really probably lies with the music.  As Kamasi Washington himself notes If it’s not called jazz, what would you call this? It can’t fit any term other than that.

Pulling the question into focus is the fact that Washington’s acclaimed album has clearly broken through. The audacity of releasing a 3CD first album and (rather immodestly) calling it simply The Epic has clearly worked. As Weiner notes, Debut albums from jazz musicians do not, traditionally, get reviewed by Rolling Stone or Pitchfork. The latter review notes that whilst there are no hip hop beats to be found on The Epic, conversely there’s a lot of jazz wovenpimp a butterfly through Kendrick Lamar’s masterly To Pimp a Butterfly – including from Washington himself. Again, the history of jazz artists gracing releases in other genres is a long and (sometimes) embarrassing one. But this is where we need to go back to the idea of a scene and look at Brainfeeder’s eclectic origins in LA’s underground beat music scene. Scenes around labels or venues usually mean that loyal and curious audiences will go with a diverse flow and spread the word. As long ago as 2011, in a Guardian newspaper feature on Brainfeeder the writer Paul McGinnis noted: The crowd is young and the most diverse group of people I have ever seen at a gig: black, white, Asian, Latino and all shades in-between; skate kids, rave kids, B-girls and preppy boys. By the end of the evening they number as many as 10,000. In the same year, Brainfeeder launched the debut of 21 year old pianist prodigy Austin Peralta (who sadly died the following year). Endless Planets was an all out jazz record that veered uncertainly in style from bop to electronica but was something of a new calling card for the label. Brainfeeder’s introduction to a straight-ahead kind of jazz taylor mcferrinband according to Flying Lotus – and an early indication of what was delivered with The Epic. Interestingly, one of the most coherent Brainfeeder releases is the first album from Taylor McFerrin, a subtle, almost ambient work from an inventive producer and vocalist whose drummer Marcus Gilmore (grandson of legendary drummer Roy Haynes) is part of Vijay Iyer’s trio.

Over the years here on CJ we’ve featured tracks from all the albums and artists mentioned in this feature – and we’ll continue to explore the boundaries of jazz – that exciting area where you make up your mind about what you hear. Is it jazz? Only you can decide. Check out the latest programme on Mixcloud and then listen out for a couple of upcoming specials from Neil, back from Beijing and ready to grab your ears and – yes – feed your brain.

 

Ornette Coleman 1930-2015: an appreciation

Ornette ColemanFrom onetime elevator operator to 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner is – by any stretch of the imagination – a big leap. But alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who died last week aged 85, was making big leaps right from the start. His radical approach to jazz sounded innovative in 1959 and that pitch-blurred squalling still sounds unique now. Many great horn players in jazz have a signature sound, but it’s pretty safe to say that no one sounded like Ornette – and over the last 55 years no one ever has.

Coleman was an iconoclast right to the end of his life. In 2009, he
curated the South Bank Meltdown Festival and was received rapturously by the audience who enjoyed his unique alto sax sound in harmolodic invention with post-punk singer Patti Smith, Senegalese griot Baaba Maal, jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and a Moroccan drum choir. It was a typical Coleman kind of mix and the sort of musical genre mashup that had characterised his remarkable musical journey. I was lucky enough that summer to meet him in a chance encounter with his son Denardo in their London hotel. I could only shake his hand and mumble how much I admired his music and vision – but it was a memory I’ll cherish.

For many jazz fans (and musicians) Coleman’s signature sound is still too spiky, too untutored and just too ‘out there’ to be acceptable. It seems to have been pretty much like this from the start. Coleman was born in Fort Worth, Texas – something of a musical centre for several key jazz artists including Julius Hemphill, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Dewey Redman and Charles Moffett. Most would share a stage with the alto (and sometime tenor, trumpet and violin) player in later years.
Ornette Coleman - Change of the CenturyHis early years were characterised by rejection – he was thrown out of his high school band for improvising, beaten up (and his tenor saxophone destroyed) on his first tour with a rhythm and blues band and isolated in his New York apartment in the early 1960s. The early adoption of an unconventional white plastic sax only irritated further the many critics of his sound but, surprisingly, Atlantic Records had enough faith in his singular talent to sign him for a multi-record deal, resulting in the appropriately named The Shape of Jazz to Come album in 1959.

Coleman went on to plough his singular musical furrow – whether in conventional jazz trio and quartet form, with a full symphony orchestra, incorporating traditional musicians from China or with ornette coleman - live at the golden circlehis electric (and eclectic) free funk group Prime Time – until his death this month. However, as critic John Fordham noted, he remained one of the greatest geniuses of a simple song, the song of the blues. Coleman stripped down and simplified the conventional harmonic framework of jazz, remoulding the raw materials of improvisation and casting off the formal and technical bonds of the bebop style dominating jazz during his childhood. But his saxophone sound was steeped in the slurred notes and rough-hewn intonation of 19th-century singers and saloon-front guitarists at work before jazz was even born. His affecting tone swelled with the eloquence of the human voice.

Ornette Coleman Complete Science Fiction-Sessions-L074646356920There isn’t a better way of understanding the core of Coleman’s sound than this, but really the only way to appreciate Coleman is – of course – to listen to his music. There are some obvious places to start for the untutored listener. I’d recommend Ramblin’, from the 1960 album Change of the Century if only because of Charlie Haden’s sublime bass coda which would later be pinched by Ian Dury to form the backbone of Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll. Add to this the clarity of vision of his Live at the Golden Circle trio (try the opener from Volume 1, Spaces and Places) and then go to the amazing Complete Science Fiction album and choose the opening track What Reason Could I Give? with Indian vocalist Asha Puthli. To end this avant garde feast, dive into the free funk world of Coleman’s Prime Time band and swim around Ornette Coleman - Virgin Beautyin the harmolodic freedom of Singing in the Shower from the album Virgin Beauty where he’s joined by Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. The last track also has an electric bass line that in places owes something to where your journey began with Charlie Haden’s playing on Ramblin’… And that word ‘harmolodic’? Coleman invented it because he needed something that would symbolise the equal importance of harmony, melody and rhythm. Of course. It seems a good place to end.

[With grateful thanks to John Fordham’s excellent obituary – the Guardian 12 June 2015]