07 November 2020: Blue Note then and now

This week’s show is the usual mixture of jazz music across different styles and different ages but with a few tunes from the classic jazz label Blue Note Records – featuring new music and classic compositions – along with a Polish and Brazilian interlude.

Renee Rosnes – I.A. Blues  from Renee Rosnes

A  recent programme on BBC 4 TV in the UK on Blue Note Records (which Derek enjoyed, although Neil was less convinced) prompted the selection of some tunes from the label, including a couple of less well known ones. The sequence started with a 1990 vinyl recording from Canadian pianist and composer Renee Rosnes. The artists involved on the album illustrate the sort of company she has kept during an illustrious career that has produced seventeen records. On this particular record you can find contributions from Branford Marsalis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter among others. She has also worked with Jack deJohnette and younger musicians such as Christian McBride, Chris Potter and Nicholas Payton.

Artemis – Step Forward from Artemis 

Stepping forward to 2020 and Renee Rosnes appears on Blue Note again, but this time with a new band she leads as producer, pianist – and composer – on one of the nine tunes. The septet Artemis is something of an all star band with Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Melissa Aldana on tenor sax, Anat Cohen on clarinet, Norika Ueda on bass, Allison Miller on drums and Cecile McLorin Salvant on vocals.  Members of the band have contributed compositions but there are versions of the works of other composers, including a take on The Sidewinder by Lee Morgan and Lennon and McCartney’s Fool on the Hill. Incidentally, Renee Rosnes is third from the left on this album sleeve – check out the interview with band members and Blue Note CEO Don Was right here.

Lee Morgan – The Rajah from The Rajah 

Having mentioned Lee Morgan, it seemed appropriate to feature a track from Rajah – not one of his better known albums – partly because it was lost in the Blue Note vaults for many years. Recorded in 1965 and only released in 1984  on mono vinyl, I found a copy in a long gone second-hand record shop in Norwich which actually specialised in classical music. I did not know the record, but had the inclination that it was probably worth the £5 price tag – a view supported by its current £70 price tag on Discogs! I have never regretted this purchase and I really love this record.  As well as Lee Morgan on trumpet, it features Hank Mobley on tenor, Cedar Walton on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. Rudy Van Gelder was engineer and Alfred Lion session producer – simply classic Blue Note. The title tune we featured is actually the only Lee Morgan composition on the album – other tracks are by Cal Massey, Duke Pearson alongside a more surprising choice of the pop tunes What Now My Love and Once in A Lifetime. If you don’t have this rarity, the good news is that the The Rajah is going to be available on vinyl once more through the superb Blue Note Tone Poet series in January 2021.

Wayne Shorter – Night Dreamer from Night Dreamer 

The Blue Note TV documentary included interviews with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock sitting alongside each other and – along with other younger musicians – they were featured playing a Wayne Shorter composition. His importance to Blue Note and to jazz and his influence on younger musicians was apparent. Pianist Robert Glasper eulogised about his work and was a key musician in the performance. The 1964 album Night Dreamer was Shorter’s fourth album for the label and features McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Elvin Jones on drums – another classic lineup. At this time Shorter noted that his music was changing to a simpler quality – “I used to see a lot of chord changes, for instance, but now I can separate the wheat from the chaff.

Jelle van Giel – Tiffany’s Dodo from Songs for Everyone 

The Jelle Van Giel group is a septet based in Antwerp with leader and drummer Jelle Van Giel the principal composer for the group. Their 2017 album Songs For Everyone has now been followed by a new 2020 release titled The Journey. We featured Songs for Everyone on Cosmic Jazz and really liked the group’s melodic, uplifting and cheerful tunes that makes you want to take notice and which are difficult to avoid humming afterwards. Van Giel is joined by Carlo Nardozza on trumpet, Egor Doubay on tenor sax, Tom Bourgeois on alto sax, Tim Finoulst on guitar, Bram Weijters on piano and Janos Bruneel on bass. If you’re trying to find this excellent release then simply go to this page on the excellent Steve’s Jazz Sounds website that we have recommended many times on Cosmic Jazz.

Tomasz Wendt – North from Chapter B 

Tomasz Wendt is a young saxophonist from Poland, born 1990 in Gdandsk. He has already been honoured in Poland, winning first prize in 2015 at an international jazz composition competition and then being feted by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage in 2017. Chapter B is his second album – hence the rather less than imaginative title, we assume! The group has no bass or bass guitar but does include violin, and so provides innovative and original instrumentation that produce sounds full of emotion. Wendt is joined by Jan Smoczynski on keyboards, Pawel Dobrowolski on drums and Mateusz Smoczynski on violin and electronics.

Art Ensemble of Chicago – Mama Koko from We Are on the Edge

As on previous shows, Neil has contributed five more choices that we have featured previously, beginning with one from the newly reformed Art Ensemble of Chicago. So where to start with this influential group? The initial Roscoe Mitchell Sextet included Mitchell on tenor sax, trumpeter Lester Bowie, bassist Malachi Favors and the great Phillip Wilson on drums. All musicians were multi-instrumentalists and played a huge range of conventional and what they called ‘small instruments’ – from conch shells to whistles. In 1968 they decamped to Paris where they released some of their first records under the AEC banner. Film soundtrack Le Stances a Sophie was recorded at this time – here’s the famous Theme de Yoyo with vocals by Fontella Bass. On returning to the US in 1972 the AEC recorded more than 20 albums through to 2004 – really their period of peak creativity. Their2019 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. It’s 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 our selection, the reflective Mama Koko) and elsewhere there are contributions from flautist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid and new bassist Jaribu Shahid. 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 may not be a typical album that will appeal immediately to AEoC fans but it’s worth a listen.

Tony Allen – The Drum Thunder Suite from Tribute to Art Blakey EP

Afrobeat legend Tony Allen was – according to Brian Eno – perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived, and the Blue Note 2017 EP was a tribute to another master kitman, Art Blakey. The album gives a new twist to some familiar Blakey tunes and was recorded live in what was then Allen’s  hometown of Paris. The record was available on a 10in EP and featured a fiery 7-piece band interpreting the Jazz Messengers classics Moanin’, A Night In Tunisia, Politely and The Drum Thunder Suite through Allen’s Afrobeat prism. The EP was produced by Vincent Taurelle, whose production credits also include Allen’s previous album Film of Life. Allen’s sound remained unique with his distinctive drum patterns appearing immediately on The Drum Thunder Suite and his Parisian group sustain the music through some some interesting soloing from Daniel Zimmerman on trombone, Nicolas Giraud on trumpet and Yann Jankielewicz on tenor sax.

Milton Nascimento and Belmondo – Nada Sera Como Antes from Belmondo & Milton Nascimento

Nada Sera Como Antes (Nothing Remains the Same/Nothing Will Be as It Was) is one of the many stand out tracks on one of Neil’s favourite albums – Nascimento’s essential Clube da Esquina album, but we feature it here through a surprising collaboration between French trumpeter Stephane Belmondo. Many have recorded this track (which owes much to several Brazilian songwriters’ love for the aforementioned Lennon and McCartney) but this version is a sensitive interpretation that sits comfortably alongside the best. Fancy other versions of Nada Sera Como Antes? Try this one from Elis Regina, this from impassioned vocalist Mark Murphy and an  another from Nascimento’s debut US release, the Milton album which features soprano sax from Wayne Shorter and piano from Herbie Hancock – “holding a teardrop of sun in the mouth of the night.”

Gato Barbieri – Bahia from Fenix

Sticking with the Brazilian theme, here’s fiery tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri and his version of the Brazilian standard Bahia. On the Flying Dutchman label, Fenix is one of Barbieri’s best albums with outstanding performances from an all star line up of Lonnie Liston Smith, Ron Carter, Lennie White and Nana Vasconcelos on berimbau. It’s well worth exploring – there are plenty of examples on Discogs on vinyl and CD.  If the tune is familiar, you may have come across it through John Coltrane’s version on the album of the same name. Bahia is something of an underrated record, partly because it was assembled by Prestige Records long after it was recorded: the music comes from 1957-58 but was not released until 1965 and the group is ‘trane’s quartet of the time –  pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Art Taylor on most tracks – another superb line up!

Keith Jarrett – Bop Be from At the Blue Note, June 4th 1994

Celebrated pianist Keith Jarrett has recently revealed that he may never play professionally again: following two strokes in 2018, he has lost the motor skills in his left hand and is unlikely to record more music. In a dazzling career that has seen him embrace the electric phase of Miles Davis, lead both a European and an American quartet, record a number of classical and solo piano albums and – perhaps most notably – lead the Standards Trio with the late Gary Peacock and Jack de Johnette, Jarrett has become one of the jazz world’s most famous figures. Neil has followed his career ever since buying the vinyl box set of his Bremen/Lausanne concerts in 1974 in the Fnac store in Zurich, Switzerland (in the days when you could listen to a whole record in a private booth!) and amassed most of his recordings, including this stand out six CD set of three nights recorded at the Blue Note Club in New York. The interplay among the trio is consistently outstanding and Jarrett does little of the ‘vocalising’ that many find irritating. Not only is the music consistently outstanding, the recording quality is – even by ECM’s exalted standards – excellent. If the six CD set is a daunting purchase, then the single disc version includes both this track and a long take on Autumn Leaves that has one of Jarrett’s best improvised vamps on record.

Binker GoldingSkinned Alive, Tasting Blood, from Abstractions of Reality Past & Incredible Feathers 

We were delighted to see that London based and born saxophonist Binker Golding won the Jazz FM 2020 Instrumentalist of the Year award. He has played with several Cosmic Jazz regulars such as Sarah Tandy, Maisha, Moses Boyd and Zara McFarlane. His 2019 album (see the long title above) was a bit of a surprise though. It’s more restrained, melodic and harmonic than much of his previous work (certainly more so than when I saw him play with Moses Boyd in the Moses and Boyd duo) and sounds in places remarkably like a Blue Note session. The musicians on the album include some of the finest young players in London – Joe Armon-Jones on piano, Daniel Casimir on double bass and Sam Jones on drums – and they form a tight quartet that amply demonstrates their jazz chops. Of the many recordings now available from the new crop of UK jazz players, this is one album to really recommend.

Shirley Scott – What Makes Harold Sing from One For Me

We ended this week’s show with the Harold in the question here being tenor saxophonist Harold Vick. The tune was composed by Hammond B3 organist Shirley Scott who along with Vick and drummer Billy Higgins formed Scott’s trio on a record released originally by the essential Strata East label in 1974. It has now been re-released by Gilles Peterson’s Arc Records with a new cover photo  by the Blue Note classic photographer Francis Wolff. Indeed, this could easily be a classic soul jazz Blue Note release from the mid 1960s. Scott recorded 40 albums and should be as well known as her then husband Stanley Turrentine on whose Blue Note records she often featured. Best heard on vinyl – of course! – this was a great soulful end to the show.

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