10 January 2021: more best of 2020, remembering Candido and the legacy of Stanley Cowell

Welcome to the first CJ post for 2021! There is still more to play from 2020 and further respects to be paid in the show this week. We continue to explore the Black Jazz Records re-releases from RealGoneMusic and a neglected Polish masterpiece is given an airing.

  1. CándidoConga Soul from Conga Soul

Percussionist Cándido Camero died in New York on 7 November 2020 aged 99 – and so it is long overdue that we pay our respects. Derek probably encountered him most often when playing out as a DJ and using Jingo as a rapturous dancefloor filler. Cándido led various bands from the 1950s onwards, recording in the 1970s for both Blue Note and Salsoul record labels, with Jingo becoming a huge Salsoul hit – check out this extended David Rodriguez mix. Back in the early 1960s many jazz musicians were influenced by the music of Nigerian Babatunde Olatunji and his Drums of Passion album which features a version of Jin-Go-Lo-Ba. Neil notes that if you don’t have this album, look out for the deluxe version released in a 2CD package in 2009 – it contains the difficult to find More Drums of Passion follow-up record.

Jingo might have been Cándido’s moment in the club world spotlight but he was no one hit wonder and there is so much more to remember him by. Known by just his given name, Cándido Camero Guerra was born on 22 April 1921 in Havana, Cuba. He began as a bongo player but quickly realised the potential of multiple conga drums in a tuned set and he brought this innovation to New York in 1946, playing first with Machito and his AfroCuban band. It wasn’t long before he caught the attention of Dizzy Gillespie, with whom he was to record three great records. He began to feature on records by the jazz cognoscenti – from Duke Ellington to Grant Green, appearing on dozens of records leading jazz artists. The tune on this week’s CJ show is from a 1962 Roulette album entitled Conga Soul. The sleeve notes to the record stress the need for jazz to expand and that “Candido is one of those jazz artists who keeps jazz on the move”, giving any jazz he was involved in a distinct Afro-Cuban flavour. There’s a terrific lineup on this record – Milt Hinton and George Duvivier on bass, Charlie Persip on drums and – most surprisingly – Argentinian composer Lalo Schifren on piano. Schifren, of course, went on to record for CTI records but is perhaps best known for his superb soundtrack to Bullitt. Here’s the Shiftin’ Gears track from Schifren’s stunning film score – and that could well be an uncredited Cándido on congas…

2. Max Roach – Equipoise from Members, Don’t Git Weary

The last programme included a tribute to the late pianist Stanley Cowell, yet that probably did not provide a true reflection of his work as we didn’t include any of his work in bands led by other musicians. One of the most significant of his many links with other celebrated jazz artists was his association with drummer Max Roach (featured last week on the Blue Note reissue of Money Jungle. The band on Roach’s outstanding Members Don’t Git Weary album include Gary Bartz on saxophone, Jymie Merritt on bass, Andy Bey on vocals (for the title tune only) and Cowell on piano. But for it was the opportunity to meet trumpeter Charles Tolliver that was particularly  significant for Cowell because this friendship led to the foundation of the ground-breaking Strata East Records label, providing an outlet for many fellow black musicians. Roach’s album includes three Cowell compositions including Equipoise. It is a beautiful, serene piece providing comforting reassurance to the members not to ‘git weary’ because better days will come.

3. Jarrod Lawson – How Long from Be The Change

The message, though, from Jarrod Lawson is that there is still so much more to be done.  His new album invokes you to Be The Change and in the tune How Long he asks “How long will you ignore the people’s cries… How long, how long, how long”. It has even been a long time – six years in fact – since his first album was released to general acclaim. He has taken his time and proceeded carefully and it shows. As well as the vocals and compositions he has played much of the music on the album, with some particularly fine piano playing. Percussionist Sammy Figueroa and drummer Reinhardt Melz are the musicians to appear on most tracks but the band is basically multi-instrumentalist Jarrod Lawson with contributions from others. The music is not just jazz, nor just soul or R’n’B but rather blends effortlessly across genres. It is beautifully crafted and put together. It’s as slick as Steely Dan, David Sanborn or Marcus Miller but – as with these artists – this is very much intended as a compliment. We shall play more.

4. Maria Schneider Orchestra – Look Up from Data Lords

There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the two discs that form one of the most stunning releases of 2020. We featured a track from Data Lords in our 20 for 20 feature but the album is so good that a further visit is necessary. As Mike Collins notes in his excellent review for London Jazz News, Data Lords is “an expansive and brilliantly realised project, presenting two starkly contrasting views of the digital and natural world.” The music is stunning. Schneider’s writing is remarkable and the performances she delivers with her orchestra really do sound like she has inherited the mantle of Gil Evans. The two CDs contrast The Digital World and Our Natural World and the music is suitably contrasting, setting a dystopian vision against an inspiring natural perspective.As with previous releases from Maria Schneider, the record can be ordered from the crowd funding platform ArtistShare. The roll call of musicians involved include names familiar to many of our listeners – guitarist Ben Monder, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and the late Frank Kimbrough on piano. This record is highly recommended an our choice – Look Up from the second suite – is quintessential Schneider with (as Mike Collins notes) “lyricism, melody and harmony with irresistible momentum and an arrangement that injects energy seamlessly”.

5. Jeff Parker – Gnarciss from Suite for Max Brown

Guitarist Jeff Parker first came to fame with the post rock group Tortoise – and specifically their 1998 album TNT, a more jazz-inflected outing than most of their output. The title track was a clear indication of their new direction with Parker’s guitar very much to the fore. His new record on Chicago’s International Anthem label, Suite for Max Brown, is a good example of his deployment of the same studio cutup styles loved by both Tortoise and Makaya McCraven – an exploration of the intersection of live improvisation and modern digital recording techniques. But the record has a more organic heart too – listen to how the kalimba cuts into the groove on our featured track Gnarciss. Parker’s recording method is much like McCraven’s. Beginning with a digital bed of beats and samples, he lays down tracks of guitar, keyboards, bass and percussion before inviting musicians to play and improvise over his melodies. There’s no classic studio arrangement though: each musician usually works alone with Parker before he layers and assembles the individual parts into final tracks. The results feel like in-the-moment jams with the improvisational human spirit that characterises a real live recording.

6. Ken McIntyre – Miss Priss from Introducing the Vibrations/Spiritual Jazz Vol. 11 – Steeplechase Records

Saxophonist and flautist Ken McIntyre first came to prominence in the early 1960s paying alongside Eric Dolphy and Cecil Taylor but he dropped out of the performing jazz scene for many years, instead focusing on teaching in public schools and universities. He returned to the studio in 1977 to record the album Hindsight and then released five more records on the Steeplechase label. All are worth looking out for, with the excellent Introducing the Vibrations album the only one to feature Japanese trumpeter Teramasa Hino. The percussive Miss Priss includes a great solo from Hino too.

7. Cleveland Eaton – Keena from Plenty Good Eaton

It is hard to keep away from Black Jazz Records at the moment. The excellent re-release programme from RealGoneMusic began last year and continues into 2021 with this Cleveland Eaton record emerging on 8 January this year. Eaton died in the summer of 2020 and was a bass player on the label In some ways his album sums up what Black Jazz Records was about: it contains jazz (and Keena undoubtedly falls into that category) but the album also has some very funky moments, some soulful moments, and some Blaxploitation-stylings – for example, in Moe, Let’s Have a Party.  You could, in fact, say that the album is a sample of the range of black musical styles in the USA of 1975 when the album was first released.

8. Rudolph Johnson – Fonda from Spring Rain

Rudolph Johnson was a sax player from Columbus, Ohio. The album Spring Rain was his first of two releases for Black Jazz Records. Johnson was rather less inclined to party than his label mate Cleveland Eaton much more likely to spend his time in meditation, at study or at musical instrument practice. As such, he drew comparisons to John Coltrane and, indeed, you can hear the influence. This debut release for Black Jazz Records came out originally in 1971 and will be re-released by RealGoneMusic on 5 February 2021. Other musicians in Johnson’s band were drummer Raymond Pounds (who played with a variety of artists from Pharaoh Sanders to Stevie Wonder to Bob Dylan), pianist John Barnes who could be found playing with several Motown artists and bass player Reggie Jackson also features on the excellent Black Jazz record Coral Keys from Walter Bishop Jr. This album is a serious piece of work and deserves much wider recognition. Check it out.

9. Dominik Wania Trio – Oiseaux Tristes from Ravel

Also on the serious side but sadly overlooked so far by this programme is the album Ravel by Polish pianist Dominik Wania. We came across him late in 2020 as an important contributor to the group New Bone led by trumpeter Tomasz Kudyk. Derek re-discovered his solo album again recently on a mix and, when this played, realised that we needed to give it some serious attention. Released in 2013, this isn’t a new album, but it is still readily available at the always supportive Steve’s Jazz Sounds. The Ravel link is a deep one: Wania notes “During my doctoral studies in Krakow, it quickly crystallised that the subject of my doctorate would be Ravel’s music and its influence on great jazz pianists, such as Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans. I tried to show that jazz harmony is close to Ravel’s harmony.” The outcome of this research was the arrangements on Wania’s debut record as leader. Already widely recognised in Poland as a skilful and creative contributor to the work of others, Ravel more than pays respects to the French composer Maurice Ravel. There are samples, harmonies, melodies that you can recognise from the originals but this is Ravel re-interpreted, above all, to capture the emotions of Ravel’s music through a jazz medium. Oiseaux Tristes comes from Ravel’s suite Miroirs and is a typically delicate solo piano piece, performed here by the amazing Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

More Cosmic Jazz sounds next week.

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