Week ending 07 March 2020: the spiritual heritage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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