All posts by Neil

The Portico Quartet – Isla (Realworld)


There have been great sophomore albums in the past – think of Love’s Da Capo or The Freewheeling Bob Dylan.  In the jazz world, how about Out There from Eric Dolphy in which his signature sound was forged or Robert Glasper’s second album Canvas, his first for Blue Note and the sign of far greater things to come?

This is another great second album.  Isla is a giant leap forward from Knee Deep in the North Sea, Portico’s Mercury-nominated debut release. Cosmic Jazz saw the quartet in Colchester and were only averagely impressed.  Perhaps it was something to do with the fact that Jack Wyllie’s soprano sax had to be borrowed at the very last minute (he’d forgotten his) but I think not.

The truth is that this is simply a much better record- production that does them justice, great melodies and a real integration of the Portico sound this time round.  There’s more than a feeling of the expansiveness of the Cinematic Orchestra with acoustic bass well forward in the mix to and subtle use of loops, electronics and additional instrumentation (marimba, cello, violin and viola) all balanced by John Leckie’s major league production.  Responsible for Radiohead’s The Bends, here he’s miraculously contained and expanded the Portico sound and has recognised that their unique use of the Swiss made percussion instrument the hang is much more about colouration rather than as a solo gimmick.  Nick Mulvey’s hang drum – which looks like a giant version of the old Cadbury Smash alien character – is a unique kind of steel pan that adds delicate gamelan tones to powerful soloing from Wyllie and sympathetic support from Milo Fitzpatrick on bass and Duncan Bellamy on drums.

Interestingly, Wyllie is strongest on soprano rather than tenor and ironically the music woks best when it steers away from conventional free jazz blowing (as in Clipper) where the gentle percussive soundworld clashes with Wyllie’s tenor rather than enhances it.  But the way that key tracks like Isla and Dawn Patrol build and grow and then hang around in the memory (no pun intended) is impressive.  Portico still has the cyclical minimalism of Steve Reich but the mood is darker than on Knee Deep… and across all seven tracks it works.

This is a CD to come back to and linger over.  It is deeply cinematic and could well serve a future film soundtrack.  Equally, I predict an album of remixes on the back of the Subtrak mix of Line you can hear on the Portico Myspace site.  It’s exciting to hear a band that have moved so far forward for a second album.  The anticipated ‘sophomore slump’ doesn’t apply here so the only question now is can the Porticos can raise the bar again for album number 3?  I’m looking forward to seeing them try – and in the meantime I can’t wait for the Colchester show next week.

Playlist – 12 November 2009

There’s a whole galaxy of music crammed into Cosmic Jazz tonight.  We played more from Donny McCaslin and Keith Jarrett but also some lesser known Blue Note tracks – including the favourite tunes of some very well known jazzmen.

  1. Azymuth – Chameleon
  2. Frank Morgan – Footprints
  3. Enrico Rava Quintet – Echoes of Duke
  4. Henri Texier – Dezarwa (for AT)
  5. Wayne Shorter – Witch Hunt
  6. Sonny Rollins – Strode Rode
  7. Horace Silver – In Pursuit of the 27th Man
  8. Max Roach – Equipoise
  9. Keith Jarrett Trio – Dancing
  10. Rachelle Ferrell – Don’t Waste Your Time
  11. Marcos Valle – Selva de Pedra
  12. Dorothy Ashby – Wine
  13. Joe Henderson – Miles Ahead
  14. Donny McCaslin – Fat Cat

As always, if you missed this show you can Listen Again.  If you want to save the show to listen on your mp3 player, then just download.  We welcome your comments on the music – let us know what you think.  This week’s Youtube clip is from Wayne Shorter in 1991.

He’s backed by a young band featuring Jason Rebello on keyboards and Terri Lynne Carrington on drums.  So what do you think of Shorter’s music at this time? Did his version of jazz rock work?  It’s difficult to find out as many of these 1980s albums have new been released on CD.  We’ll play some tracks from them over coming weeks on Cosmic Jazz.  Oh – and love those hairstyles!

Playlist – 05 November 2009

It’s Bonfire Night here in the UK – a celebration of the hanging of 17th century parliamentary firestarter Guy Fawkes.  It must have been MP expenses in 1605 that got him all lit up.

Here in the Cosmic Jazz studio we’ve got the usual incendiary mix of great jazz to keep you warm on a cold autumn night.  New music tonight comes from Christian Prommer’s Drumlesson, Donny McCaslin and [re:jazz] and there’s more from the recent Keith Jarrett and Portico Quartet releases.

  1. Wayne Shorter – Miracle of the Fishes
  2. Jan Garbarek – Paper Nut
  3. Francisco Mora Catlett – Iron Master
  4. Ndikho Xaba and the Natives – Nomusa
  5. Soil and “Pimp” Sessions – My Foolish Heart ~ crazy in mind ~
  6. Donny McCaslin – Rock Me
  7. Big Bang – Spiral Waltz Indigo Jam Unit Remix (The GUYNAMUKAT peak time jazz dance edit)
  8. Tomasz Stanko – Sleep Safe and Warm
  9. Frank Morgan – Lullaby
  10. Keith Jarrett – London XII
  11. De La Soul – I Be Blowin’
  12. Christian Prommer’s Drumlesson – Planeteria
  13. Rosalia de Souza – Louiza Manequim
  14. Portico Quartet – Dawn Patrol
  15. Pharoah Sanders – Greetings to Idris
  16. [re:jazz] – Star Chasers

And now the return of the Youtube video!  This week it’s Keith Jarrett in a concert from the 1970s with an encore.  It sounds very like the one played in the Bremen concert (1973) and recorded on the ECM triple album released that year.

It’s not though – the little coda tacked onto the end is different.  Does anyone know when and where?


Best of 2009

Just over a year ago we featured the Best of 2008 in two shows – one in December 2008 and one in January 2009 – and it’s now time to start thinking about what we think are the best new jazz releases and reissues from 2009.

With so many loyal listeners around the world, this time we’d like you to help us.  Send us your comments via the website or direct to the show and we’ll use any nominations we get in our final judgements about the best jazz heard in 2009.

Last year we celebrated great new music from Harry Beckett, Seun Kuti, Dub Colossus, Dave Holland, Charles Lloyd and the unforgettable EST.  But what new music from 2009 will you not forget?  Send us your thoughts by selecting

  • best new release of 2009
  • best reissue of 2009
  • best live performance of 2009

We’ll publish our selection late in December and feature the music over two shows in December 2009/January 2010.  It’s your Cosmic Jazz too – so tell us what you think!

Playlist – 29 October 2009

As promised, tonight’s show featured new music from the Portico Quartet, Tony Allen and Jimi Tenor’s new project, Keith Jarrett and The Red Shadow Quartet.  We also celebrated the publication of Freedom Rhythm and Sound – a new book from Soul Jazz Records which charts the development of revolutionary jazz record cover art from 1965 to 1983 – by playing some of the artists featured in this book.  And if all this wasn’t enough, Jacob had some new exclusives following his return from Japan – in particular a wicked live extended jam from Sadao Watanabe.

If you missed Cosmic Jazz tonight then you can always listen again.  Just click on Listen Again and if you want to save the show for storing on your mp3 player you can download through RealAudio.  Enjoy!

  1. Mario Biondi – A Child Runs Free
  2. Robert Mitchell 3io – Third Stream
  3. Sadao Watanabe – Vichakani
  4. Portico Quartet – Paper Scissors Stone
  5. Hastings Street Jazz Experience – Ja Mil
  6. Gato Barbieri – Encontros, Part III
  7. Carlos Garnettt – Banks of the Nile
  8. Gilles Peterson’s Havana Cultura Band – Mami
  9. Pharoah Sanders – Upper Egypt, Lower Egypt/Feelin’ Good
  10. Red Shadow Quartet – Queequeg
  11. Tony Allen and Jimi Tenor – Three Continents
  12. Rosalia de Souza – Candomble
  13. Keith Jarrett – London VI
  14. Bill Evans – Spartacus Love Theme
  15. Don Cherry – Universal Mother

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

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.