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.

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