All posts by Neil

Playlist – 15 October 2009

A solo show from Neil tonight with music from across the jazz spectrum and beyond.  Two pianists started the show: Texan Robert Glasper with an electric track from his Double Booked recent release, featuring Dwele on vocals, and another track from the magnificent new Steve Kuhn Coltrane tribute (see Cosmic Jazz feature for more details).  Then we poured in a percussion interlude from Airto, a classic from GSH, two left field technojazz pieces and more before heading back to the eternally inventive format of the jazz piano trio.

Included in the show was Stan Tracey’s Starless and Bible Black – subject of our most recent Jazztracks feature.

It’s all in the mix on Cosmic Jazz!

  1. Robert Glasper – All Matter
  2. Steve Kuhn Trio with Joe Lovano – Crescent
  3. Airto – After These Messages
  4. Gil Scott Heron – Spirits
  5. Black Mahogani – Black Mahogani
  6. Nik Bartsch’s Ronin – Modul 39_8
  7. Corey Wilkes – Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter
  8. The Three Sounds – Sittin’ Duck
  9. Geoff Eales Trio – Magister Ludi
  10. Abdullah Ibrahim – Ishmael
  11. Dub Colossus – Negus Dub
  12. Deodato – Do It Again
  13. Paul Motian Band – Goodbye Porkpie Hat
  14. McCoy Tyner – Naima
  15. Stan Tracey Quartet – Starless and Bible Black
  16. Vijay Iyer – Mystic Brew (Trixation version)
  17. Quantic and his Combo Barbaro – Undelivered Letter

Jazztracks 03 – Stan Tracey/Starless and Bible Black (1965)

under milk woodThere’s always been discussion about the perfect pop single – usually two or three minutes of magic in which the synthesis of melody and rhythm is honed into one precious moment. Jazz singles are rare because improvisation doesn’t lend itself to finely tuned, carefully produced music for a specific market although there have been exceptions – Stan Getz’s Desafinado, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, – and more recently Miles Davis’ Time After Time.  It’s a thin market though and something we haven’t seen much of since the 1960s.

Starless and Bible Black would never have made a good single: it’s too dark, brooding and introspective – as befits a miniature tone poem with the subject of night over Dylan Thomas’s fictional Welsh village of Llaregub.  But there’s no doubt that it is the equivalent of that elusive pop moment – because it is simply three minutes and forty five seconds of jazz perfection.

Of course, Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood suite is already a justifiable jazz classic, full of the pianist’s Monkish stabbing chords, fine solos from tenor Bobby Wellins and strong support from longtime bass partner Jeff Clyne and drummer Jackie Dougan.  In 1965 Tracey was in the middle of his residency as the house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s Club.  His compositions here memorably capture characters created by Dylan Thomas, with I Lost My Step in Nantucket sounding like a very healthy meeting between Thelonious Monk and Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther.

But for me Starless… stands head and shoulders above the rest of the tracks.  Like few other short pieces of jazz I can think of,[1] Starless… creates the mood of a tone poem, evoking a sense of welcoming darkness as Tracey’s sombre chords are punctuated by the aching clarity of Wellins’ tenor.  The track belongs to Wellins though – Tracey sets up the melody with a series of dark tones, Wellins plays it through and then the magic begins.  Like Miles Davis, he doesn’t take the obvious option of playing a variation on the theme but instead starts somewhere else altogether and runs through a series of tiny liquid phrases that drip into the mind like the slow sparkle of stars over Llaregub.  Then it’s back to the melody and before there are thoughts of another solo, Tracey brings back the opening chords and it’s over.

Nothing could be changed to improve this music.  There’s not a moment you want to add or take away.  There’s just a Welsh saudade left in the memory – a strange thing to happen when a Londoner and a Glaswegian get together – but sometimes magic happens in the most unexpected places.


[1] There is one – and it won’t be easy to get hold of.  On Don Cherry’s Relativity Suite (1975) recorded for JCOA and not available on CD, there’s a 90 second meditation which similarly features piano and saxophone – this time the alto of Carlos Ward.

Appropriately this miniature is called Desireless – and that’s just what it is.  Ward plays an achingly simple melody which induces a feeling of longing but lifts the heart too.  Is this the musical equivalent of what the Portuguese (and Brazilians) call saudade?  Impossible to translate, but something like a longing for both the past and the future, an understanding that one will never return and the other will never be known.

Jazztracks 02 – John McLaughlin/Peace One (1970)

JohnMcLaughlin-MyGoalsBeyondThis one is special.  Not yet for you perhaps, but certainly for me.  It’s close to where all this began.  You can find Peace One on the album My Goal’s Beyond, originally issued on Douglas Records in 1970 and now available (if you can find it) on a Rykodisc or Knitting Factory reissue.

We have to go back.  I’m in Wolverhampton in the UK west midlands with my schoolfriend Peter and it’s 1970.  We want music and so we dive out of the rain and into a record store.  As a nervous novitiate, I start looking through the jazz racks.  I’ve read Ross Russell’s seminal Bird Lives! and I know that I really want to like jazz  – but I’ve not heard much of it.  I flick through the album sleeves and come across My Goal’s Beyond and its simple cover art – a benign looking McLaughlin gazing serenely into the middle distance while a framed photo of a shaven headed guy (McLaughlin’s then guru Sri Chinmoy) looks out impassively alongside him.  It’s not like most of the jazz covers I’ve seen and this one seems to be drawing me in already.  I like it.

Flip the album over.  On the back is the track listing: a Charles Mingus tune, something from A Kind of Blue and a Chick Corea composition – eight in total.  This is looking good value for 19s 6d – and that’s just side A.

But the real delight doesn’t begin until I get the record home and put it carefully on the turntable.  Side A is great – McLaughlin plays overdubbed guitar with some whispery percussion fills.  The standards are beautiful and the original compositions do that McLaughlin thing of lightning runs and graceful melodies.  But it’s side B that’s the real surprise – it begins with a sitar drone, and then Charlie Haden’s insidiously cool bass line  waltzes its way through McLaughlin’s tune.  Even violinist Jerry Goodman and drummer Billy Cobham (who would later appear in McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra) tame their natural excesses to complement McLaughlin’s open soloing on acoustic guitar.

Peace Two is really the better track – if only for the searing soprano sax of Dave Liebman – but it’s the first shock of Badal Roy’s Indian percussion and the safe solidity of Charlie Haden’s bass line opening on Peace One which have entranced me ever since I first heard them on that summer evening in 1970.

London Jazz Festival 13-22 November 2009

Yes, it’s time for the London Jazz Festival – and we think it’s bigger and better than last year!  This year’s London Jazz Festival shows the amazing diversity of jazz – just as we do on Cosmic Jazz.  More than in previous years, there’s a whole range of fringe events taking place around the city across the ten day programme.

Jazz Voice starts it all off with a night of vocal contrasts at the Barbican before moving into a series of performances that range from Gilberto Gil to Cleveland Watkiss.  The Festival open windows into jazz – there’s  workshops and family events, live interviews with key Festival artists and a huge programme of free music across the city.

The big names this year include Sonny Rollins, Kurt Elling, Tomasz Stanko, Chick Corea, Sheila Jordan, Branford Marsalis, Carla Bley, John Surman, Dave Holland and Marcus Miller.  Rising stars include Empirical, Robert Glasper and Vijay Iyer.

There are performances by artists and groups that we’ve championed here on Cosmic Jazz – Carols Lopez-Real, the Robert Mitchell 3io and the Barcode Trio – all artists we’ve featured here on the show.

During the Festival we’ll be featuring music from many of the artists appearing across the ten days.  To find out more, about artists and venues check out the website at www.londonjazzfestival.org.uk

Jazztracks 01 – Lester Bowie/Rios Negros (1981)

The Great PretenderHere’s the thing. Lester Bowie was a trumpet revolutionary. Whether with the Art Ensemble of Chicago or in his solo work he blazed a trail that – uniquely – looked backwards as well as forwards. Back to Bubber Miley and the Cotton Club and into the future of jazz in the 21st century.

So where can you hear this? Try the recently re-released The Great Pretender on ECM and, rather than the title track (itself a powerful deconstruction of the Platters classic), go straight to Rios Negros. Heard once, my guess is you’ll want to play it again immediately – and perhaps then, like me, you’ll want it play it again – and again – for the rest of your life.

I think I’ve only just worked out why this is. In just over seven minutes the trumpeter takes a first solo that tears the history of jazz apart. Then he creates a second coda solo that stretches out all the components of the first one and relocates them in back in the tradition – but in reverse order. The result is that we hear the history of jazz trumpet backwards so the track ends with the ghost of those early pioneers filtered through Bowie’s slurs and smears, crackles and blares. Bowie was a southerner born in St Louis, and right from the start his sound looked to jazz history and a range of other influences. Early in his career he played with blues and R and B artists including Little Milton and Rufus Thomas and in 1977 he recorded No Agreement with Fela Anikulapo Kuti. He led his Brass Fantasy for over a decade and the Art Ensemble of Chicago for thirty years. The ARC logo (shaped as a pyramid) featured the strapline Ancient to the Future – it could have been Bowie’s own musical motto.

Throughout The Great Pretender, Bowie is backed by the most sympathetic band he ever had. The late Phillip Wilson on drums is perfect and Donald Smith’s solo on Rios Negros is a delight. Hamiett Bluett provides some lovely bottom end baritone and Fred Williams is a wonderfully supportive bass player.

Rios Negros is very approachable. It’s not complex, it’s all done over a rocking latin shuffle and it’s as accessible as anyone could wish for. Play it blind and any listener who doesn’t know will say “Who’s that?!” Listen and you’ll find out about this history of jazz in just seven minutes.

Footnote: Wilson was an early member of the Art Ensemble but he was tragically murdered in New York at 50. There’s not much of his music in print these days. Donald Smith is the younger brother of Lonnie Liston Smith and you can hear him on piano on the Soul Jazz compilation Soul Jazz Loves Strata East (Dance of the Little Children) and on flute on his brother’s Expansions CD.

Playlist – 24 September 2009

Tonight’s Cosmic Jazz featured new music from Steve Kuhn and Vijay Iyer, a track from the just released Fat Freddy’s Drop CD and Albert Ayler recorded at John Coltrane’s funeral!  For more on Kuhn’s excellent new ECM CD,  find out more about what we think of Mostly Coltrane in our review section.

We started with Max Roach and then threw some Roy Ayers, John Scofield and McCoy Tyner into the mix.  It’s all here on Cosmic Jazz – live at at our new start time of 8:30pm.

  1. Max Roach – Freedom Day
  2. Fat Freddy’s Drop – Big BW
  3. John Coltrane – Seraphic Light
  4. Albert Ayler – Love Cry/Truth is Marching In/Our Prayer (live at John Coltrane’s funeral 21 July 1967)
  5. Tenorio JR – Consolacao
  6. EST – Dodge the Dodo
  7. Eddie Harris, Nils Landgren, Bernard Purdie with the WDR Big Band – Wade in the Water
  8. Hank Mobley – East of the Village
  9. John Scofield – A Go Go
  10. The Juju Orchestra – Do It Again
  11. Roy Ayers – He’s Coming
  12. Max Roach – Effi
  13. Steve Kuhn – Song of Praise
  14. Hajime Yoshizawa – Yoake -Dawn-
  15. Vijay Iyer Trio – Galang
  16. McCoy Tyner – African Village

Well – we didn’t expect thirty minutes less music time, but we still crammed in sixteen tracks of Cosmic Jazz!

Let us know what you think of the show and send us a comment.

Steve Kuhn – Mostly Coltrane (ECM)

kuhn mostly coltrane

There have been a lot of Coltrane influenced releases recently but this new one (2009) must surely be one of the best.  Steve Kuhn and Coltrane have history: in 1960 at the age of 21, Kuhn was playing piano on a Coltrane quartet tour in New York.  It didn’t last – he was replaced after eight weeks by McCoy Tyner who stayed with the quartet through most of the great Impulse recordings of the 1960s.

On this new ECM recording, Kuhn’s trio is augmented by Joe Lovano on tenor (and one track, tarogato – a Hungarian reed instrument also favoured by Charles Lloyd).  The music throughout is stunning.  This set begins with Coltrane’s Welcome and ends with Kuhn’s solo piano meditation simply called Trance.

In between, the trio and Lovano work their way through the Coltrane repertoire including late originals like Crescent and Living Space together with standards like I Want to Talk about You and The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.  It all works. Kuhn’s playing is vibrant and tender. He might once have been compared with Bill Evans but here Kuhn plays with exquisite control one minute and almost free abandon the next.  In the remarkable Configuration (originally on Coltrane’s 1967 release Stellar Regions) he does all this and more.  Kuhn isn’t at all like Tyner – all block chords and modal runs.  Rather, his tone is impressionistic, with solos often built up from tiny runs and clustered arpeggios.

As for Lovano, he may play with Ravi Coltrane in the Saxophone summit group but the sound here is really all his own.  It’s fiery but controlled, with a tone that has echoes of ‘trane when it suits the mood best (as in the gorgeous Song of Praise) but melodically inventive too in a way that his recent Folk Art CD on Blue Note didn’t demonstrate.  Nowhere is this more clear than on    The Night has a Thousand Eyes where he spirals out tenor lines of such warmth and lightness that smiling is the only permitted response.

Drummer Joey Baron is all Elvin Jones one minute and then Roy Haynes the next, but even at his most thunderous (Configuration ) there’s always there’s the delicate stickwork that marks out his style.   Live at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival a few years ago, I saw Baron use a wider range of sticks and mallets with greater intensity and depth than any drummer I can think of, and he brings that artistry to this set too. There’s just a couple of solo spots for bassist Finck but both are deep and lyrical and across the full 75 minutes of Mostly Coltrane his interplay with the others is stunning.

This group just really like playing together and producer Manfred Eicher and his New York engineer James Farber capture this with the usual ECM clarity.  Tribute albums don’t always work but this one does.  I love this album and will be playing it for years to come.  As they say, if you’re going to buy one Coltrane-flavoured CD this year – make it Mostly Coltrane.

Cosmic Jazz Club live at Saints

Just time for a reminder that Cosmic Jazz goes live at Saints Wine Bar on Wednesday 23 September when this time we’re going latin.  Expect a Cosmic Jazz Club mix with Brazilian, jazz and club favourites.

Tickets are £3 for admission and a tapas taster or £10 for admission and a full tapas selection – available from Saints on St Peter’s Street, Ipswich.

Call in or call on 01473 252438. We’ll be playing from 7.30 ’til late. See you there!