07 March 2021: classic and contemporary sounds

Welcome to a new Cosmic Jazz. This show visits two classic jazz labels – Blue Note and Black Jazz Records – and two independent contemporary UK ones – Edition Records and Far Out Recordings (see the links below for more on each). The musicians featured come from the USA, Brazil, Scotland, Poland and Jamaica (yes, even on a jazz-related show, a tribute to the late Bunny Wailer could not – and should not – be avoided). It’s essential music from both past and present.

1. Lee Morgan – The Rajah from The Rajah 

This fantastic Lee Morgan album has been re-released on vinyl via the highly recommended Blue Note Tone Poet Series, although the recording we used on the show is from the original mono version on vinyl record. The re-release is welcome. The Rajah is an album Derek goes back to frequently – probably the first  record he turns to  among several, when he wants to hear Lee Morgan. Not only is the music good, there is a powerful image of Morgan on the cover which needs the size of vinyl to be appreciated to the full. If you’d like your own copy of this mono version – good luck! Check out Discogs for the only two copies currently available on the site or enjoy the audiophile vinyl quality of the brand new Tone Poet edition. The record has not had an easy history.  It was recorded in 1966 but was not released until 1985, twelve years after Morgan’s death.  On the record, trumpeter Morgan  is accompanied a stellar group of Blue Note regulars – Hank Mobley on tenor, Cedar Walton on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Billy Higgins on drums.  As on The Rajah, the title tune played on the show and the only Morgan composition on the album, there are frequent solo blasts of power from Morgan and Mobley and it goes without saying that the other musicians are great too. This is definitely a record every Blue Note fan – no, every jazz fan – must have.

2. Gene Russell – My Favorite Things from Talk to My Lady

The twenty albums recorded for Black Jazz Records – and now all re-released via Real Gone Music – are represented in this show by keyboard player Gene Russell, who recorded two albums for the label as well as producing every album in the catalogue.  The album Talk to My Lady includes two other musicians who released music on the label – bassist Henry Franklin (a memorable performance on this track) and guitarist Calvin Keys – and includes a version of My Favorite Things which contrasts with the classic Coltrane version that followed on the show. It is much faster in tempo and considerably shorter in length than the Coltrane version but is led by some really imaginative Fender Rhodes playing from Russell himself.

3. John Coltrane – My Favorite Things from My Favorite Things

The Coltrane version had to follow: it is simply the definitive version of the tune – but which one? A recent excellent BBC Radio 4 programme, made Derek realise that although he had a few live Coltrane recordings of the tune (and there are many available), he did not have the original studio version. But he does now and so here it is. Apparently, a music  publisher brought the tune to Coltrane’s attention and, while pianist McCoy Tyner was not sure at first – Coltrane was convinced. It became both his most commercial-sounding and commercially successful release, going on to sell over 500,000 copies, and for the musicians in the band perhaps some relief after the complexity of the earlier Giant Steps from 1960, particularly the celebrated title track. That is not to say this version is not free, complex and experimental: the original Rodgers and Hammerstein melody is heard numerous times throughout, but instead of playing solos over the written chord changes (as would have been more typical), Tyner and Coltrane take extended solos over just two chords and in waltz time. Yes, this is where the modal jazz innovations of Miles Davis on Kind of Blue first met the spiritual jazz extensions of John Coltrane for the first time. Interestingly, this was not the classic Coltrane quartet that would go onto record for the Impulse! label as the bass player for this session was Steve Davis – brother in law to McCoy Tyner! In this original 1961 quartet release, Coltrane plays soprano sax for the first time on record – it had been bought for him by Miles Davis. Other live versions of My Favorite Things (of which there are many) extend Coltrane’s improvisations further – most notably in the incredible version on Coltrane’s Live in Japan album which is a challenging 57 minutes in length, but the original studio recording is the best known. According to biographer Lewis Porter, Coltrane cited  the tune as “my favorite piece of all those I have recorded”.

4. Bobby Hutcherson – Verse from Stick-Up!/Spiritual Jazz Vol 9 Blue Note Part 1

Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson was a Blue Note star for decades. He first recorded for the label with Jackie McLean in 1963 and went on to deliver over twenty records with them. Hutcherson had an original sound and style on vibes, developing complex but sometimes memorable melodies (like his much covered Little B’s Poem) along with new tones and textures. Throughout the mid-60s, he appeared on numerous celebrated records – Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch, Anthony Williams’ Life Time and Andrew Hill’s Judgement – but also featured alongside many classic Blue Note artists like Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon and Grant Green. His album Stick-Up! also includes McCoy Tyner on piano and Billy Higgins on drums and is one of the very best from this prolific mid-60s period. All tracks (bar a version of Ornette Coleman’s Una Muy Bonita) are Hutcherson compositions and the album was the final one to receive a classic Reid Miles cover. The album is still widely available, but you can also find the track on the excellent Spiritual Jazz Blue Note compilation which includes another excellent Hutcherson tune, the modal Coltrane tribute Searchin’ the Trane from his 1976 album Waiting.

5. Grupo Batuque – Tauruma from O Aperto Da Saudade/Africa Brazil

Joe Davis and his Far Out Recordings label rarely fail to deliver the goods when it comes to music from Brazil – and O Aperto Da Saudade is no exception. Each track has been selected from their prolific output for that sense of saudade. It’s a word with no direct English translation but in Portuguese describes a sense of nostalgia for something that may never return. But in longing for that certain something, whether it’s a person, a place or a time gone by, saudade holds the thing you miss close, and keeps it present despite its absence. Portuguese author Manuel de Mello calls it “A pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” In Brazil, there is an even deeper resonance: as a nation steeped in slavery, the vibrance of African culture in Brazil amplified Saudade, and it became something even more painful, but at the same time a little more rhythmic, perhaps even upbeat.

O Aperto da Saudade (translated as “the grip of saudade”), is a 2020 compilation which attempts to translate the word through the music itself. While saudade is traditionally equated with bossa nova and samba, the music here ranges from 1965 to the present day, and spans psychedelic folk, samba jazz, bossa nova and MPB. We chose the laid back Tauruma from Grupo Batuque, a constantly shifting samba collective of veteran Brazilian percussionists, drummers and musicians assembled by Joe Davis. Members have included Ivan Conti, Wilson das Neves, Robertinho Silva, Cidinho Moreira and many more. Grupo Batuque have gone on to release five albums with Far Out, including their third album, the Grammy nominated Africa Brazil which documented samba’s African roots and included the popular Tauruma.

6. Arthur Verocai – Tudo De Bom from Encore

We stayed with Brazil and Far Out for a genuine classic – Arthur Verocai and a tune from his second album Encore, which features 11 original Verocai compositions with guest musicians including Azymuth, Ivan Lins and a nine-piece string section. This record came in 2007, some 35 years after his neglected eponymous debut album  and it’s well worth chasing down. Thankfully, Far Out have recently released it again, but on vinyl too this time – and it’s available from the label right here.

Born in Rio de Janeiro on 17 June 1945, Arthur Verocai began his professional music career in 1969 and over the next few years was responsible for the orchestration of albums by Ivan Lins, Jorge Ben, Gal Costa, Quarteto em Cy, MPB 4 and Marcos Valle. In the 1970s he was hired by Brazil’s biggest TV station, TV Globo, as musical director and wrote the arrangements for many of the station’s biggest shows. In 1972, Verocai recorded his self-titled debut album on Continental Records but the combination of Brazilian influences with folksy soul and lo-fi electronica experimentations didn’t go down well – and both the album and artist subsequently vanished into obscurity. Verocai had to wait until 2004 when Joe Davis and and Dave Brinkman from the label travelled to  Brazil and began recording Encore. They recruited many of the artists who had appeared on that first 1972 record – Robertinho Silva, Paulinho, Bigorna, and this time, all three members of Azymuth. Tudo De Bom (or All the Best) is another memorable tune – with a gorgeous arrangement reminiscent of Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova.

7. Fergus McCreadie – Cairn from Cairn

Now we turn to one of Britain’s best jazz labels, the ever-enterprising Edition Records who are just about to release Chris Potter’s new trio album with James Francies and Eric Harland. Founded in 2008 by pianist Dave Stapleton, Edition has grown in recent years to include a raft of celebrated jazz artists – The Bad Plus, Kit Downes, Tim Garland, Ivo Neame, Chris Potter, John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler and The Snow Poets. We’ve played many of their records from the outset – including the celebrated trio Phronesis who were selected to support the Wayne Shorter Quartet at the Barbican Hall in 2011 – a truly memorable show. Now comes another piano trio led by Scots pianist Fergus McCreadie. Cairn is his second record and is chockful of beautiful melodies and arrangements. We chose the the title track with its debt to the lyricism of one of our favourite innovative trios, EST. Fergus McCreadie has won numerous prizes and was the under-17 Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the year and a Jazzwise magazine One to Watch in 2018. Backed by bassist David Bowden with Stephen Henderson on drums, McCreadie blends jazz and Scottish traditional music and – just as with his first record, the music is inspired by the diversity of the Scottish landscape.

8. Mariusz Smolinski – Who’s Next from Ten Minutes Later 

One of the top albums currently featured at Steve’s Jazz Sounds a specialist in jazz music from continental Europe and more besides, Ten Minutes Later is the debut album from the young Polish trio led by Mariusz Smolinski. There are eight original compositions from Smolinski, who plays both acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes. There are soloing opportunities for bass player Bartosz Kucz and drummer Piotr Budniak, both who come from the Polish jazz fusion scene. Polish-Jazz Blogspot, a key source of information on Polish jazz recordings, describes the music as reminiscent of Chick Corea’s recordings of the 1970s and 1980s and praises the record as yet another example of the many fine young jazz musicians emerging in Poland.

9. Jazzpospolita – Kwaty Cite from Przyplyw 

It’s refreshing to come across a Polish jazz release where the band does not feel it has to have title tunes and an album title in English – but, unfortunately, this means we will need to apologise for pronunciation errors with reference to both tune and album. Apologies. This is the seventh album from Jazzpospolita who are led by bass player Stefan Nowakowski. Released in 2020, it was the first album from the group for some time after personnel changes. Jazzpospolita is a quartet with bass, piano/keyboards,  drums and the driving guitar of Lukasz Borowicki which adds ambient, fusion and even rock elements to the music.

10. Lyle Workman – Noble Savage from Uncommon Meeting 

Lyle Workman is another artist who combines jazz with fusion and rock/pop. A guitarist, keyboard player and composer, Lyle Workman has some serious jazz credentials include composing a tune for the final release from drummer and jazz icon Tony Williams. Workman was invited to the session and found he was among Stanley Clarke and Herbie Hancock as well as drummer Tony Williams. The wholly instrumental album Uncommon Measures is, not surprisingly, stylistically diverse and features a 63-piece orchestra. The music has some fine arrangements and melodies and is occasionally Zappa-esque in its rich complexity – as here on our choice Noble Savage. The record is available through Blue Canoe Records.

11. Bunny Wailer – Liberation from Liberation

We believe we can apply the principle “If you like this, you will like that” on Cosmic Jazz, and that this certainly applies to reggae for many jazz lovers – including both of us. We are not alone: British saxophonist Nat Birchall is an example of a jazzer obsessed with reggae and he has released the music to prove it. Do check out this blogpost on how much reggae is important in his life and music. Throughout its history, and particularly in its early stages, jazz-feeling horns have been a prominent part of reggae. Following the death of Bunny Wailer – the member of the original Wailers trio whose music Derek plays the most – he felt that he had to put the above principle into practice. Bunny Wailer (born Neville Livingson in 1947) was strong of conviction – check out the film Fire in Babylon to see this exemplified in his spoken word as well as his music. The voice was so sweet – so gentle, yet so strong. His percussion work had the same effect and his lyrics often included a powerful Rastafarian commitment and a plea for liberation – as in this title tune from his landmark 1989 album. His albums could command the support of the very finest Jamaican musicians, with this one including no less than Sugar Minott, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare with a horn section that provides an uplifting, stirring  and joyful backdrop. For a further taste of Wailer’s beautiful tenor voice at its best try This Train from his 1976 first solo release Blackheart Man. We reckon that jazz lover needs this music too. More from Cosmic Jazz soon.

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