Week ending 07 June 2018: Kamasi Washington – then and now

Musician and spiritual leader Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda

This week Cosmic Jazz provided a spiritual and religious experience both in the title of the tunes and the feel of the music,  featuring deep, reflective music for both body and soul.

If you ever wondered what Kamasi Washington was playing before he became such a jazz superstar you can find out from a record released in 2008. In 2005, the birthday of Thelonious Monk (10 October), conductor and saxophonist Jesse Sharp welcomed a group of Los Angeles musicians to the Californian Institute of the Arts in Leimert Park to a musical gathering that reflected spirit of Harold Tapscott’s celebrated Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra.  It was a large group of musicians, both young and old, some of whom had played with Tapscott himself and included some names well-known to Cosmic Jazz – Dwight Trible, Azar Lawrence, Phil Ranelin – along with a young Kamasi Washington and his current pianist Brandon Coleman. The outcome was a superb record titled The Gathering which included a total of twenty-four musicians laying down some inspirational jazz. Released ten years ago,  it was the opening track that began this week’s show. Peyote Song III was written by Jesse Sharp in the 1970s and inspired by an, er, ‘mystical session’ with native Americans in New Mexico.

Sharp encouraged this gathering of musicians to take pride in their history and culture – “it keeps the spirit of the ancestors alive,” he affirmed. The younger ones were paired with older musicians “to preserve tradition and at the same time create something new.” Brandon Coleman and Kamasi Washington were among those younger ones but the spirit that imbued that historic session is undoubtedly present in the music you can hear in Washington’s The Epic set from 2016 and now his new release Heaven and Earth. We featured The Space Traveller’s Lullaby from the Heaven disc.

Alice Coltrane and her husband John have often been described as leaders and pioneers  of what might be called spiritual jazz. This was particularly through their interest and exploration of Indian music and religion. So it seemed appropriate in this week’s show to include an Alice Coltrane track from her Transcendence record – music merging Indian scales with jazz that ends up sounding like a service of joyous devotion.

Angelus Domini literally translates as the angel of the lord and is the Roman Catholic devotion commemorating the Incarnation. Traditionally this was held at 6 am and 6 pm and the angelus bell called people to prayer. Angelus Domini, therefore, invokes religious imagery but is also the title of a tune from the Polish Oles brothers, who play drums and double bass together with the German vibraphone player Christopher Dell. The chosen track comes from their record of jazz interpretations of music from the Polish contemporary composer Henryk Gorecki, who died in 2010. Most famous for his Third Symphony, the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, Gorecki achieved huge popular success with audiences all round the world following the release of a recording of the symphony which featured soprano Dawn Upshaw.  You can hear the Lento e Largo movement here performed by Isabel Bayrakdaraian with the Sinfonietta Cracovia, conducted by John Axelrod. Listening to Angelus Domini is a similarly moving experience as befits the title and the intentions of the original.  All the music on this new release (called Gorecki Ahead) draws you into a meditative and reflective mood with its depth and meaning. Seek it out at Steve’s Jazz Sounds.

We ended the show this week with two groups informing us that The Creator Has a Master Plan. Firstly, French band Palm Unit whose record pays homage to French pianist Jef Gilson, born Jean-François Quiévreux and his Palm record label.  Gilson’s music was influenced by bebop, free jazz and West African sounds together with the unique music of Madagascar where Gilson spent several years at the end of the 1960s. He’s undoubtedly a musician who should be better known for as a talent spotter, Gilson may well have been the equal of Miles Davis, In the 60s, he introduced the jazz world to Henri Texier (who joined his orchestra when he was only sixteen), Jean-Luc Ponty, Michel Portal and Eddy Louiss along with many other celebrated French instrumentalists. Gilson was the man young American musicians in Paris turned to for help and collaboration. Lloyd Miller, Nathan Davis, Woody Shaw, Philly Joe Jones, Bill Coleman, Sahib Shihab, Hal Singer, Byard Lancaster and David Murray all recorded or toured with Gilson during their time in France. For more on Jef Gilson check out this feature on Bandcamp.

In 1965, during the Antibes/Juan Les Pins festival, it was Gilson who opened for John Coltrane and advised him backstage to perform the full suite of A Love Supreme. It was the only time Coltrane would play it onstage with his original quartet.

This new Palm Unit recording – Chant Inca – includes uKanDanZ’s saxophonist Lionel Martin, keyboardist Fred Escoffier from Le Sacre du Tympan, drummer Philippe ‘Pipon’ Garcia (who played with the Erik Truffaz Quartet), and special guest Del Rabenja, who played alongside Gilson in Madagascar on the valiha harp. We ended the show with another version of this Pharoah Sanders classic from The Brooklyn Funk Essentials. This  was more up-tempo, possibly less devotional in sound but brought a fitting and joyous end to the show.  To compare these two versions with Sanders, check out the 32 minute original from the album Karma recorded in 1969 and – to complete your listening pleasure – you might also like Carlos Santana exploring his jazz roots with his take from the Lotus live album (complete 3SACD version).  Both recordings have Leon Thomas on vocals.

  1. The Gathering – Peyote Song III from Leimert Park: Roots and Branches of Los Angeles Jazz
  2. Kamasi Washington – The Space Travellers Lullaby from Heaven of Heaven and Earth
  3. Alice Coltrane – Bhaja Govindam from Transcendence
  4. Oles Brothers and Christopher Dell – Angelus Domini from Gorecki Ahead
  5. Palm Unit – The Creator Has a Master Plan from Chant Inca, Hommage a Jef Gilson
  6. The Brooklyn Funk Essentials – The Creator Has a Master Plan from Cool and Steady and Easy

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