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 we simply must acknowledge.

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, (itself 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 It’s 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 and include clarinetist Anat Cohen, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer Allison Miller. Two of the tracks on their self titled Blue Note album – including our choice for this week – have vocals provided by Cecile McLorin Salvant.  If It’s Magic is, of course, a Stevie Wonder composition from Songs in the Key of Life, and features harp from Dorothy Ashby – here she is on her own Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby album with The Moving Finger.

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

Pharoah Sanders celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this month (13 October) and he’s still performing – check out his performance here in the UK at London’s Jazz Cafe in 2011. We’ve chosen two tracks to represent this iconic performer who has attracted the love and respect of jazz lovers across generations. Farrell Sanders was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1940 and first performed in New York, where he came to the attention of Sun Ra who encouraged him to use the name ‘Pharoah.’ Sanders first recorded with John Coltrane on the Ascension album in 1965 and then got his own Impulse! label contract and recorded a string of great releases, beginning with Tauhid (1967) and ending with Elevation in 1974. All of these records are recommended with the early Karma (1969) and the later Black Unity and Thembi (1971) perhaps the best places to start – but don’t forget the later albums too, many of them on the Theresa label. Throughout, Sanders’ tenor saxophone playing is unique with his overblowing, harmonics and ‘sheets of sound’ techniques well to the fore on most tracks but he’s also one of the foremost interpreters of Coltrane’s ballads – have a listen to After the Rain on the 1979 outing Journey to the One, Derek’s personal favourite Pharoah Sanders record. Here on the show we played the anthemic You’ve Got to Have Freedom from this superb album, recorded in San Francisco and released on the Theresa label in 1979.  Eddie Henderson is on flugelhorn with John Hicks and Joe Bonner on piano and keyboards and all tunes exude a warmth and wholeness which, rather ironically, Derek finds perfect for winter days in the UK. Our congratulations to jazz master Pharaoh Sanders – long may he continue to record and perform live.

Pharaoh Sanders – Thembi from Thembi 

Many of Sanders’ Impulse! albums experiment with a wide range of percussion and non-Western instruments and include the eastern modalities that were the basis for the spiritual sounds that have influenced many of the current crop of UK musicians, including Matthew Halsall and Nat Birchall.  Thembi explored shorter tracks, introduced the violin of Michael White into the group and included Lonnie Liston Smith’s Fender Rhodes for the first time on the opening track Astral Traveling. Over the six tracks on the album, Sanders explores a huge variety of instruments, including tenor, soprano, alto flute, fifes, the African balafon, assorted small percussion, and even a cow horn. There’s much less of his trademark tenor screaming, limited mostly to the thunderous cacophony of Red, Black & Green and some parts of Morning Prayer. Astral Traveling is a shimmering, pastoral piece, Love is an intense, five-minute bass solo by Cecil McBee and Morning Prayer and Bailophone Dance (which are segued together) add an expanded percussion section devoted exclusively to African instruments. We chose the title track to represent this transitional record – and would recommend it if you’re new to Pharoah Sanders. You can still find a few vinyl copies of the original Impulse! record with its gatefold sleeve but at a high price – better to go for a Verve reissue from 2018 for around €30.

The music that follows are selections that we have played already on the show but are so good they deserve a second playing. The first five tunes are all selections chosen by Neil from his base in Singapore. Most are recent vinyl purchases from the excellent Bandcamp site – always worth exploring for music both old and new.

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. You can hear Mtume’s own take on Kamili here from the superb album led by the late Jimmy Heath called Kawaida – highly recommended too. Mtume was a convert to the black consciousness Kawaida faith and the term umoja (unity) provided the name of his Umoja Ensemble who released the celebrated Alkebu-Lan – Land Of The Blacks (Live At The East) album on Strata East Records. This is the track Utama – track down the album if you can. The violinist is the great Leroy Jenkins and that surging piano is by Stanley Cowell.

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

Up next was Chicagoan percussionist Kahil El’Zabar on another new album that features El’Zabar’s contemporary, tenor saxophonist David Murray, ably supported by Justin Dillard with some brilliant piano that’s perhaps the standout feature of this tune. 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.

Resolution 88 – Runout Groove from Revolutions

The next three tracks all featured British artists.  Resolution 88 certainly owe a huge debt to Herbie Hancock circa 1974 (the Thrust album era) but 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, the band can create tunes that have the staying power of Hancock’s Palm Grease and Actual ProofRunout Groove is one of these, with a wickedly infectious bassline worthy of anything by Hancock’s then electric bass player 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.

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. 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”.

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. 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.

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 she performs is imbued with the feel and sounds of the roots and heritage of Cuba. 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.

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. The Linden Tree has a sad, anti-war message but is delivered superbly in sounds that cross the divides between jazz, folk and classical music. The improvisatory clarinet of Oliver Pashley contrasts with Heloise Werner’s classical soprano voice singing the words of the traditional English folk song to Mullov-Abbado new tune . The rest of the album is definitely ‘contemporary classical’ with selections from Anna Meredith, Errolyn Wallen and others. I love this record and we highly recommend what could be, for some jazz lovers, a venture into newish territory.

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.  As Close As Light was written by Almanska who features on the tune but – as with the best jazz – there’s plenty of space for the other musicians in the group.

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 their music has tended to veer towards the traditional/mainstream but we think the quintet has moved twards a more adventurous approach with the arrival of Wania, who has taken the music into a rather different dimension. Able to add both imaginative accompaniments and dramatic solos, Wania has really changed the sound of this long running group. Kudak’s trumpet recalls another great Polish player, the late Tomasz Stanko. Listen to this live version of the wonderful Little Thing Jesus here.

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. Hargrove 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. More CJ music soon.

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