Week Ending 12 May 2018: Timo Lassy past and present

Last week there were two tunes from the excellent new Timo Lassy album MovesIt is an album we like here on Cosmic Jazz and so there is another tune this week. The album features a variety of collaborators, one of whom – the Ricky-Tick Big Band Brass – are evident on this week’s tune Lashes. The other collaborators include Finnish Jazz sax star Eero Koivistoinen, New York based singer Joyce Elaine Yuille and Finnish rapper Paleface – all alongside Lassy’s regular five-piece band.

The new album provided an appropriate occasion to re-present some of Lassy’s past work. So, next came a tune from his 2012 album In With Lassy. This was an album in which he aimed to pay homage to jazz as the art of the now in trying to capture the essence of a ‘cooking session’ in which the tape runs free and if all goes right you capture the moment. The tune Teddy the Sweeper cooks very nicely. Finally, Lassy was a founder member of the Finnish Jazz  group The Five Corners Quintet. Their 2005 album Chasin’ the Jazz Gone By included three tunes with a very distinguished guest vocalist, the late Mark Murphy. We featured the tune Before We Say Goodbye with Murphy on suitably cool vocals and providing a superb link to what came next on the show.

The 2018 compilation Jazz Dance Fusion – music from the Muse record label put together by veteran Manchester-based DJ Colin Curtis – includes two numbers from Mark Murphy. Empty Faces (or Vera Cruz) is a tune of great beauty, a Brazilian classic written by Milton Nascimento and recorded originally by Murphy on the Muse album Sings, released in 1975. It’s one of Murphy’s best Muse albums of this period with striking interpretations of On the Red Clay, Naima and Maiden Voyage. The album features a top notch band too – Randy Brecker on trumpet, Mike Brecker on tenor, Don Grolnick on keys and David Sanborn on alto. Compare with Nascimento’s original version from his album Courage here.

On the show last week I mentioned the BBC series Latin Music USA. I promised this week to include one of the musicians that appeared on the New York Latino programme. For me, so much of the music has strong jazz influences: the big brass orchestration has a strong jazz feel and both the singers and the musicians constantly improvised. One of the most ‘political’ of them was Ruben Blades – a Panamanian singer, songwriter, actor, musician, activist, and politician – whose best work was often in collaboration with the fine trombone player Willie Colon. The tune Ganas first appeared on Blades’ 1983 Fania album El Que la Hace la Paga, the last of his many collaborations with Colon from this period. Blades is a political activist and his Buscando America album from the following year is still a timely reminder of the situation for many Hispanic people in the USA. The translated lyrics of the epic title tune include the following lines: You’ve been abducted, America/your mouth has been gagged/and today it’s our turn/ to bring you freedom

This was followed by another excellent tune from Swedish sax player Fredrik Kronkvist from his new Afro-Cuban Supreme album, a record inspired by trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s idea of bringing together different people, music and rhythms from different countries and continents. It is an eclectic mix of Afro-Cuban rhythms and Coltrane-inspired jazz and reflects the spirit of a recent feature documentary, The Jazz Ambassadors, that tells the story of the jazz artists who found themselves apologists for American propaganda in the 1950s.

It all began in 1956 when Adam Clayton Powell Jr, an African American congressman from Harlem, suggested that America send its greatest jazz musicians overseas as cultural emissaries. The State Department warmed to the idea, believing that touring mixed-race jazz groups could help deflect attention from the spiralling civil rights abuses and present a uniquely American art form that the Russians couldn’t compete with. Powell convinced his friend Dizzy Gillespie to become America’s first jazz ambassador, though the irony of the request was not lost of Gillespie. When the State Department asked him to come in for a pre-tour briefing, Gillespie responded I’ve had 300 years of briefing. I know what they’ve done to us. He went on to explain: I sort’ve liked the idea of representing America, but I wasn’t going over there to apologise for the racist policies of America. Dizzy, like all the jazz musicians who would tour on behalf of the State Department, was torn between the feelings of patriotism and his progressive politics, of hoping that America would win the cold war, and wishing that his country would actually embrace its founding ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Nicholas Payton is one of several young American jazz musicians who are making political statements, particularly on the condition of Black America past and present. Payton’s Afro-Caribbean Mixtape is a very powerful statement and The Egyptian Second Line (released as a single prior to the album) is – says the trumpeter – in the spirit of reclaiming that which colonisation sought to destroy. Payton is from New Orleans and ‘the second line’ is the group of celebrants who tag on to ‘the first line’ of official mourners in the funeral processions that are still part of life and death in the Crescent City. The Egyptian Second Line is not a track for jazz traditionalists: indeed, Payton’s trumpet feature does not come until towards the end of a number that lasts 14:56 – but it’s well worth the wait.

We ended the show this week with more commentary – this time from singer Jazzmeia Horn and her interpretation of Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s People Make the World Go Round – before providing a teaser from Brazilian iconoclast Hermeto Pascoal.

  1. Timo Lassy – Lashes from Moves
  2. Timo Lassy – Teddy the Sweeper from In With Lassy
  3. The Five Corners Quintet feat Mark Muphy – Before We Say Goodbye from Chasin’ the Jazz Gone By
  4. Mark Murphy – Empty Faces from Colin Curtis presents Jazz Funk Dance
  5. Ruben Blades – Ganas from El Que la Hace la Paga
  6. Fredrik Kronkvist – Yemaya from Afro-Cuban Supreme
  7. Nicholas Payton – The Egyptian Second Line from Afro-Caribbean Mixtape
  8. Jazzmeia Horn – People Make the World Go Round from A Social Call
  9. Hermeto Pascoal e Grupo Vice Versa – Natal (Tema das Flutas) from Viajando Com O Som

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