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:

https://www.mixcloud.com/cosmicjazz/cosmic-jazz-26-sept-2020/

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…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *