Week ending 08 June 2019: jazz instrumentation

Piano, double bass, drums, saxophone and trumpet are probably the most common instruments to be found on jazz records. Maybe also guitar would push close for inclusion in such a list. But other instruments have found their way into jazz over the years and a click on the MixCloud tab (left) will provide some examples.

First up is the violin. Yes, we may be able to name some violin players in jazz – but probably not that many.  The show began with an interesting and distinctive player. On The Blessing Song from his 1972 Impulse! album Pneuma, Michael White manages to move the violin far away from – for example –  its string quartet context.  Instead, here it’s a beat-driven, up-front instrument which, along with the constant percussion and piano, enables the tune to swing along to an irresistible rhythm that you have to move to. There are also choir-like voices invoking the Lord in the background – always a hit with me. This is the perfect tune to open a show or to listen to any time.

The vibraphone. Again, we could all name some jazz vibes players, but the vibes are not the easiest of instruments to carry along to the average gig and this may be a factor that explains its comparative rarity. One of the finest vibraphonist in jazz has to be Bobby Hutcherson and we find him on McCoy Tyner’s 1968 Blue Note recording Time for Tyner from which Little Madimba appears. With Hutcherson and Tyner on this exemplary Blue Note recording from the famed Rudy van Gelder studios are Herbie Lewis on bass and Freddie Waits on drums.

Brazilian musician Hermeto Pascoal can be found playing a range of instruments even more unfamiliar to most jazz audiences. He makes guest appearances on Palmares Fantasy, a recent album release by UK sax player Sean Khan. On one tune Pascoal is credited as playing a glass of water… Indeed, his view is that anything can be an instrument – a carpets, a chair, a pint of beer, body parts. A pig famously features on his celebrated 1977 album Slaves Mass but on Waltz for Hermeto he simply plays the melodica. Incidentally, also on this tune are other instruments not common in jazz – viola, cello and (again) violin.

The piano/double bass/drums trio is most certainly a common jazz line-up and there are many, many fine examples to be found. One of our current favourites is RGG a trio of young Polish musicians.  They have rightly been included in a list of distinguished Polish jazz and their music is deep, spiritual and moving. On the  tune Gloria tibi Domine (Praise to the Lord?) listen out for some lovely subtle touches from drummer Maciej Garbowski.

The Quantum Trio features another unusual jazz trio format – sax, piano and drums. Polish musicians sax player Michal Jan Ciesielsji and piano player Kamil Zawislak met their drummer Luis Mora Marus in Rotterdam. He  had reached the Netherlands via Brazil and before that his country of birth, Chile. What is not unusual for anything in the way of Polish jazz is that their music can be found and got hold of at the excellent Steve’s Jazz Sounds.

Neil has sent some of the music he has been listening to. Nerija are a large UK-based band, The musicians include many of the young players that have made such an impact on the London jazz scene recently – including Cassie Kinoshi, Shirley Tetteh, Rosie Turton and Nubya Garcia. Currently available is their first EP – check it out here on Bandcamp – but look out, too, for live performances from these musicians either in Nerija, other groups or as leaders of their own band.

Mark de Clive-Lowe is a musician/producer who has two new releases, both exploring his heritage. Appropriately titled Heritage I and Heritage II these new albums may be the best music he’s produced so far. De Clive-Lowe was born in New Zealand with Japanese and New Zealand parents but has since moved, first to London and then Los Angeles. The Japanese folk song, O Edo Nihonbashi, comes from the second of these albums, both of them recorded largely live at LA’s Blue Whale club.  Heritage II opens with a meditative solo piano introduction that refers back to the more reflective heritage-based music on Heritage I before giving way to Dilla-inspired beats and basslines. Interestingly, there is no overdubbing or post-production on either album – De Clive-Lowe juggles grand piano, synths, drum machines, samplers and more to create layer upon layer of fascinating music. It’s one of those tunes that had me wondering as it started – but by the end I was enveloped in a cacophony of noise and interesting sounds. I’d recommend starting with Heritage I and exploring de Clive-Lowe’s take on Japanese culture, including an original that sounds like a traditional folk tune – the beautiful Memories of Nanzenji. Check out, too, this traditional interpretation of O Edo Ninonbashi. Both of these new albums are available on Bandcamp here and come highly recommended.

Neil also sent along one of our shared club favourites from ‘back in the day’ – the Snowboy acoustic mix of Keni Burke’s classic Risin’ to the Top. I have this along with four other versions on  12″ vinyl. It is jazzy rather than jazz but I love it. Keni Burke was a member of the Five Stairsteps group – described as the ‘First Family of Soul’ before the Jacksons assumed the title. Their biggest hit was O-o-h Child (sic), a track recently covered in a jazz context by both Kamasi Washington and vocalist Dwight Trible on his album Cosmic.

We chose to finish with another of our favourite artists – alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, who ended the show with his tribute to drummer ‘Philly Joe’ Jones. The track is from Garrett’s fourth and most recent release on the Mack Avenue label – titled Do Your Dance, it really is just that. Garrett works his way through a set of original songs that exploit dance rhythms in subtle, unexpected ways. While there are dance beats from swing, funk, Latin, and more throughout the album, the concept is probably more to do with simply ‘doing your own thing’ – a trait that runs deep in Garrett’s music. Philly is more of a swinging post-bop outing than a reflection of the smooth grooves of Gamble and Huff’s classic Philly soul (although the eclectic Garrett could probably do that too). Elsewhere on the album is the interesting Wheatgrass Shot (Straight to the Head) featuring rapper Donald “Mista Enz” Brown which, as one reviewer commented, “sounds like the Roots making an ECM album” and the buoyant Calypso Chant which owes more than a little to Sonny Rollins and his classic St. Thomas.

  1. Michael White – The Blessing Song from Pneuma
  2. McCoy Tyner – Little Madimba from Time for Tyner
  3. Sean Khan feat. Hermeto Pascoal – Waltz for Hermeto from Palmares Fantasy
  4. RGG – Gloria tibe Domine from Memento (Polish Jazz Vol. 81)
  5. Quantum Trio – Streams from Red Fog
  6. Nerija – Pinkham from Nerija EP
  7. Mark de Clive-Lowe – O Edo Nihonbashi from Heritage II
  8. Keni Burke – Risin’ to the Top (Snowboy’s Acoustic Mix) from Badmeaningood Vol. 3
  9. Kenny Garrett – Philly from Do Your Dance

Neil is listening to…

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