24 January 2021: Sivuca, new Polish music and Pharoah Sanders

This week we have a brief pre-release preview of Brazilian artist Sivuca, a mix of music from Neil featuring Pharaoh Sanders and artists that may be new to you, three piano-led Polish trios – including the wonderful Kasia Pietrzko – and important messages from Somi and Michael White’s violin-led sounds.

1. Sivuca – Ain’t No Sunshine from Sivuca

Everyone will know this tune – written and performed by Bill Withers and available on his debut album Just As I Am from 1972. In this original version the sentiments of the lyrics and the way Withers delivers it conveys messages of sadness and regret. But when the same tune is sung by Severino Dias de Oliveira (aka Sivuca) it becomes a joyous, hip-swinging, mood-changing event that brings forth the sunshine, rather than denying it. This is my favourite version of the song. For the first time, the album where you can find this version – the eponymous Sivucawill be re-released in vinyl on 26 February 2021 by our friends at Real Gone Music. Moreover, the first 750 copies will be issued in purple vinyl!

2. Sivuca – Adeus Maria Fulo from Sivuca

Adeus Maria Fulo (in translation, Goodbye Mad Maria!) was most notably covered by Os Mutantes – the Tropicalia group who played alongside Brazilian superstars like  Caetano Veloso and Airto Moreira. Sivuca’s original is an altogether more relaxed take on the song with superb saxophone contributions from Morris Goldberg who also features on Ain’t No Sunshine. Goldberg is a veteran of the South African jazz scene although he’s now based in New York. One of his most memorable contributions on record is on Dollar Brand’s iconic Mannenberg. Sivuca was from Brazil but ventured beyond to play with musicians including Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba, often proving to be a star on tours with these artists. He played accordion, guitar and keyboards, as well as having a powerful singing voice. He often used makeshift instruments alongside conventional ones and combined traditional regional Brazilian styles such as forro and choro along with jazz and bossa influences. This album originally appeared on the Vanguard label in 1973 – and it’s great to have it back again. We may have ignored Brazilian music lately and so this gives us an important reason to play more. Expect further tracks from Sivuca in coming shows.

3. Contours – Balafon A feat. Seth Sutton from Balafon Sketches

This self-release from Contours appeared in July 2020 beginning as a series of live jams in Cumbria, UK. Instrument builder, musician, painter and ceramicist Seth Sutton experimented with balafons and a gamelan alongside his homemade string and percussive instrumentation. The tracks’ foundations were built running these elements of tuned percussion through delay and reverb pedals, experimenting with interlocking polyrhythms and the overtones and textures created by the raw recordings. The group then built upon these recordings utilising a range of live instrumentation such as synthesizers, drum machines and other organic percussion – much provided by producer Tom Burford. Cellist Abel Selaocoe and saxophonist/ flautist Callum Connell feature on some tracks with violinists Simmy Singh and Beka Reid also contributing. The music was available on a cassette tape (with handprinted linocut!) but this is now sold out. Check out the digital version here on Bandcamp. Note that 100% of profits from this release are donated to charities Kids of Colour and Colours Youth Network.

4. Menagerie – Hope from Many Worlds

Australian nine-piece group Menagerie released Many Worlds, their third album, on 15 January 2021. The group was founded by producer, songwriter, guitarist and DJ Lance Ferguson and are clearly inspired by post-Coltrane jazzers and labels like Strata-East, Impulse! and Black Jazz. The track Hope could easily be from a 1970s Sonny Fortune album – it’s that good. Think, for example, of Thoughts from the undervalued album Waves of Dreams (1976). On Many Worlds there’s a fusing together of strong melodies and cosmic jazz grooves with horns, guitar solos, acoustic and electric keys, along with some funky percussion rhythms in the mix – and it all works. We’ll play more from Menagerie in coming shows. 

5. Pharaoh Sanders – Love Is Everywhere from Live in Paris (1975)

When Pharoah Sanders played tenor saxophone with John Coltrane in the 1960s, his tone was harsh and wild. Soloing alongside Coltrane on challenging records like Ascension, Om, and Live in Japan, Sanders’ horn would shriek and howl and cry, reaching a pitch of earth-shaking intensity on pieces that pushed jazz to the limits. But after Coltrane’s death in 1967, Sanders began exploring a different path. Playing with Alice Coltrane on Ptah, the El Daoud and and Journey in Satchidananda and on his own albums for the Impulse! label, his sound was still searching, but now more lyrical in more trance-like musical settings. When Sanders and his band played Paris in 1975 his Impulse! period was behind him but this live Radio France studio set (where Cannonball Adderley, Freddie Hubbard, and Grant Green also recorded) sees a consolidation of those earlier records into extended vamps much like the second half of Upper Egypt, Lower Egypt from Tauhid – one of our perennial favourites here on Cosmic Jazz. The quality of the sound on this recording is ok too – if you’re new to this mid period Sanders, why not start here? Take care with the ending though (where did that organ come from?)…

6. Kasia Pietrzko – Dark Blue Intensity Of Life from Ephemeral Pleasures The show now enters a run of Polish jazz trios led by pianists. The first comes from Kasia Pietrzko, who we have already featured on the show and will continue to include. Perhaps we were a little slow to catch up on this 2020 release but we have tried to make up for it since. The word ‘intensity’ appears in the title of this tune – it’s a vital word to describe any of her music. It requires serious and sustained attention , but it is so deep, so emotional and powerful that it more than rewards these efforts. Do follow her on Facebook – she has released videos where she emerges onto a darkened stage, plays one of her tunes solo on piano and then walks off again. The setting and the playing is always perfect.

7. Domink Wania Trio – Une Barque Sur L’Ocean from Ravel 

This is another record we are catching up on again. We actually first played tracks from this album back in 2015 but have begun to appreciate its qualities once more and have featured several tracks in recent shows. Pianist Domink Wania is joined by Max Mucha on double bass and Dawid Fortuna on drums. Wania is an outstanding pianist and this debut album was much anticipated. It remains his only solo album but there is a long list of Polish jazz musicians on whose records he has appeared and made a major contribution, including Tomasz Stanko – one of the Polish greats. He’s also played with jazz artists from further afield, including Americans Marcus Miller, Dave Liebman, Lee Konitz, Don Byron and Eddie Henderson. He is also an educator in Krakow and Katowice and released his first solo piano album, Lonely Shadows, in November 2020. Check out this video of the track Subjective Objectivity – there’s a glimpse of ECM founder and producer Manfred Eicher in the background shadows.

8. Piotr Matusik Trio – Native Dancer from Independence 

This is the second album from pianist Piotr Matusik, released in 2020 and with all nine tunes  composed by him. There are many opportunities for Matusik’s solo improvisations but there are also opportunities for the other trio members, Alan Wykpisz on double bass and electronics, who has some particularly fine moments, and Patryk Dobosz on drums. Like so many of the Polish releases this is a record from young musicians who are developing and making their mark. How does Poland manage to produce so many? Certainly it would seem there are some outstanding academies/universities where they can study and emerge as outstanding musicians and one presumes their music education began much earlier. In a world in which musicians are finding it hard to survive there’s an important message for governments here – we can’t neglect this most universal art form and so supporting music education is an essential commitment for any country.

9. Somi – Four African Women from The Lagos Music Salon 

Somi was born in Illinois to parents who came to the US from Rwanda and Uganda. She has just released a live album with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band – Live at Alte Oper recorded at an 18th century opera house, which is currently nominated for a 2020 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.  It includes versions of tunes from her two studio albums – Petite Afrique about the situation for African immigrants in Harlem in the face of gentrification and The Lagos Music Salon which was inspired by an 18-month music sabbatical in Lagos. It is from this album that this week’s selection is taken. Somi is a performer who uses her music to tell stories and she has an impressive range of collaborators and achievements. Her activism led to a performance at the UN General Assembly for the International Day of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

10. Michael White – The Blessing Song from Pneuma 

We end the show with a tune we keep coming back to on Cosmic Jazz – we first featured it on a show in 2008! The Blessing Song was released on Impulse! – nothing unusual there – but this was a band led by Michael White, a violin player and there have not been too many of those in jazz. Besides, the violin is not always associated with music that is jaunty, danceable and totally uplifting as this track is. It is interesting to note that the people at Jazzman Records have selected this for the Spiritual Jazz 12 Impulse! compilation. It seems  pretty good to end the show, with a piece that includes the invitation Lord come into our hearts with your blessing/Lord come into our hearts with your love. We need blessings and love at this time.

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