13 September 2020: two jazz birthdays and Analog Africa

This week’s show is a very varied one – lots of different kinds of jazz and jazz-related music from all over the world. It’s a celebration of this unique art form. We begin with two birthdays – vibes player Roy Ayers (80 years) and saxophonist Sonny Rollins (90 years).

1. Roy Ayers – Lil’s Paradise from Stoned Cold Picnic

The celebrations begins with Roy Ayers who recently celebrated his 80th birthday. He may be best known today for his jazz/soul/funk fusions but he started as a jazz player through and through. Our choice came from the 1968 Atlantic album Stoned Soul Picnic with its gathering of of jazz luminaries – Gary Bartz, Charles Tolliver, Hubert Laws, Herbie Hancock, Miroslav Vitous and Grady Tate. A close look at the album cover also shows flautist Herbie Mann (bottom left). Unusually, he didn’t play on the album but was, for this set, the producer. All three albums Ayers recorded around this time for Atlantic are worth listening to: Virgo Vibes (1967), Stoned Soul Picnic (1968) and Daddy Bug (1969). The following year, Ayers moved to Polydor and began his journey into more explicit jazz funk styles. The epic He’s Coming album from 1971 (now available on Verve) featured Harry Whitaker and Sonny Fortune, and We Live in Brooklyn, Baby remains a standout piece of music.

2. Sonny Rollins – St. Thomas from Saxophone Colossus

The second birthday celebration is from one of the giants – indeed you might say a colossus of jazz – saxophone player Sonny Rollins. The Penguin Jazz Guide described him as “the most compelling improviser in the entire history of the music”.  Recently he celebrated his 90th birthday. The tune selected was from one of his most famous albums and one of the very best from the mid-50s – an essential record for any jazz collection. Saxophone Colossus was recorded in New York in June 1956, with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Doug Watkins on bass and Max Roach on drums. The latter provides some superb, intricate playing to support the clear and distinctive sounds of Rollins on St. Thomas, a Caribbean-influenced number both in the title, with a reference to the Caribbean island and in the rhythms in the music. It’s an irresistible tune but the whole album is outstanding. Rollins’ opus is huge and it may be difficult to know where to start. We’d recommend the 1957 album Way Out West, The soundtrack to Alfie (1966), and Without a Song, Rollins’ post 9/11 recording. From Way Out West, I’m an Old Cowhand sounds magnificent – try it in this version from a Craft Recordings reissue.

3. Dayme Arocena – African Sunshine from One Takes 

The Caribbean influence remains in the next selection. Dayme Arocena is a proud Cuban – as was very apparent in a recent half hour BBC film. This saw her perform open-air with other young musicians in a courtyard in Havana as well as visiting her family and the seashore to talk about her work and the people of the island. She is impressive in what she says and in the music she performs – it’s a joyous celebration. It made me return to her music and the Eric Gale tune African Sunshine provides a fine testament to her vocal powers and to the skills of the musicians she works with as well as to the heritage. It’s an interesting choice – here’s Gale’s original for comparison.


The BBC Proms this year were much shortened and it is to their credit, especially as it is predominantly a classical music festival, that in the short two-week period for live performances there was a slot for the very interesting British band KOKOROKO. Check out the performance while you can on BBC Sounds or BBC i-Player. The Albert Hall may have been empty but the performance was great. KOKOROKO are excellent young musicians with a front line of trombone, trumpet and sax (+ vocals) supported by guitar, bass, percussion and drums. The sound manages to sound both relaxed , almost gentle, yet at the same time free and expressive. There was new music played at the Prom so perhaps we can expect an album soon. In the meantime, although the vinyl EP is now sold out, you can still find the digital download of their EP here on Bandcamp.

5. Waaju – Listening Glasses from Grown 

It was now time for some more selections from Neil in Singapore.  The next four tunes are an eclectic selection that stretch well beyond the jazz boundaries. And yet… Most conventionally with clear jazz influences is new London group Waaju. Their name means in “to urge, inspire or take action” in Mali’s Bambara language. Led by drummer and percussionist Ben Brown and comprising members from across the UK’s music scene including Waaju includes percussionist Ernesto Marichales, guitarist Tal Janes, Sam Rapley on saxophones and Joe Downard on bass. Waaju are all about connections in music: as Brown has noted “The amazing thing about music is that one can display the belief, compassion and love that takes a lifetime to acquire, in just a few seconds.” It’s something we appreciate here at Cosmic Jazz and it certainly represents the different layers of musical culture we like to promote. Grown really is a major step forward in their musical development and comes highly recommended. Listen to the whole album and then buy in analog or digital formats. All are still available here on the band’s Bandcamp site.

6. Ranil y su Conjunto Tropical – Vuela a Saturno from Limited Dance Edition

We start with Samy Ben Redjeb and his Analog Africa label. Is this the best world music reissue label at the moment? Probably. For a decade now, Germany-based Samy Ben Redjeb’s seminal Analog Africa label has been unearthing musical treasures from Africa – and now he has spread the net rather wider. Inspired by a passion for crate-digging, Ben Redjeb (originally from Tunisia) became a flight attendant with Lufthansa specifically so he could travel to Lagos, Addis Ababa and Accra on a monthly basis. The result was a series of superb recordings, beautifully annotated and presented as CDs or vinyl compilations. Now he has followed a musical trail across the Atlantic and to Peru. This music is influenced by the sounds of cumbia, more usually associated with Colombia, but this time refracted through the eyes of someone who has spent time in the Amazon rainforest. Raúl Llerena Vásquez is better known simply as Ranil – a singer, bandleader, record-label entrepreneur and larger-than-life personality who “swirled the teeming buzz of the jungle, the unstoppable rhythms of Colombian dance music, and the psychedelic electricity of guitar-driven rock and roll into a knock-out, party-starting concoction”. Assembled by Ben Redjeb from original LPs sourced from Ranil himself, this compilation presents 14 tracks available in all formats from the Analog Africa Bandcamp site. The infectious sounds of Vuela a Saturno are irresistible, but any track from this excellent compilation is worth a listen.

7. Bakaka Band – Geesiyade Halgamayou from Mogadisco: Dancing Mogadishu 1972-1991

We may not have featured music from Somalia before on Cosmic Jazz so it was time to redress the balance with a track from another superlative album compiled by the excellent Analog Africa label. Founder Ben Redjeb was responsible for introducing listeners to the raw psychedelic sounds of Benin and Togo, the glorious horn sections of Ghana on Afro-Beat Airways, the mysterious sounds of landlocked Burkina Faso with Bambara Mystic Soul and now the superb sounds of music in the Somalia capital Mogadishu in the 1970s. Mogadishu has been a trading port for centuries and the result – as in all major ports around the world – was a unique musical melting pot, heavily influenced by the arrival of disco sounds from New York and beyond. Ben Redjeb’s labour of love in assembling this music, tracking down some of the original musicians and talking to those who produced this remarkable music is evident in this inspiring collection, still available on vinyl via – of course – the Analog Africa Bandcamp site.

8. Muriel Grossman – Golden Rule from Golden Rule

Neil featured the music of Muriel Grossman in a recent post on the spiritual jazz phenomenon, and so it seemed appropriate to provide some more examples. Grossman is a sax player, vocalist and composer now living in Ibiza, although born in Austria. She should have been in the UK this summer and touring other European countries but of course was unable to do so. We hope that her European tour will be able to resume in 2021. Since her first recordings in the early 2000s, Grossmann has released a dozen albums as leader, featuring sounds ranging from hard-swinging modernist jams to free improvisation, expansive spiritual work to rhythm-focused Afrocentrism, as on the recent release, Reverence. At the centre of her work is a thread of pure and heartfelt spiritual music in the modal tradition defined by Coltrane and close collaborators like Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane. As with the music of her contemporary Nat Birchall, Grossmann’s engagement with the Coltrane tradition is sincere and deep. Jazz man have released Elevation, a compilation album that draws from her 2016 album Natural Time and from 2017’s Momentum. The tunes feature her regular quartet of Radomir Milojkovic (guitar) Uros Stamenkovic (drums) and Gina Schwarz (bass), the music on Elevation is pure sound, soul and spirit! Golden Rule has now been re-released in a double vinyl edition – check it out here on RR Gems.

9. Quindependence – Road to the Promised Land from Circumstances

Back to Derek’s selections and what is becoming a common focus on music from Eastern Europe, particularly Poland. Quindependence are a quintet comprising young musicians and the album was released originally in 2017 but apparently got lost in a flurry of Polish jazz releases at the time, so has seemingly been re-released. Very good it is too with Road to the Promised Land including a wonderful contribution from pianist Michal Salamon, which I found really touched the senses. “Quite unusual complexity” says the Polish Jazz Blogspot of the album as well as referring to “the typical Polish lyricism and melancholy” – although somehow I did not feel the melancholy in this lovely tune.

10. New Bone – So Confused from Longing

New Bone’s Longing is another Polish album described as full of lyricism and melancholy by the Polish Jazz Blogspot, but here we have another tune that does not fit the description. They are another quintet but a long-established one, started by trumpeter Tomasz Kudyk back in 1996. Since then the quintet was given  impetus towards a more adventurous approach by the arrival of pianist Dominik Wania, who has taken the music into another more adventurous dimension. Able to add both imaginative accompaniments and dramatic solos, Wania has really changed the sound of this long running group. Longing is highly recommended and – as always with Polish music can be found at the always reliable Steve’s Jazz Sounds.

11. Ambrose Akinmusire – Tide of Hyacinth from On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment

We have promoted the music of Californian trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire since his arrival on the jazz scene playing in Steve Coleman’s influential Five Elements band in 2001. His most recent recordings have been on Blue Note, beginning with When the Heart Emerges Glistening in 2007. There’s a lyricism in Akinmusire’s trumpet sound that may appear to be masked by the sheer range of sounds he conjures from his instrument and the space he gives his long standing quartet. This is cerebral music but it is always substantial and important. The selection this week – Tide of Hyacinth – is a deep, intense tune full of meaning and significance. There is some free and intense playing that demands concentration and attention, with the addition to the usual quartet format of the band of the spiritual percussion and vocals of Jesus Diaz. Like so much of the  music of Ambrose Akinmusire, this new album is highly recommended. There will be more from Akinmusire on the show in coming weeks.

12. JZ Replacement – Marmalade for Radinska from Disrespectful 

This was definitely the part of the show that was not for casual listening. In fact, though, this tune was positively measured and restrained compared to some of the music on the album Disrespectful from J Z Replacement. Their music is often furious and frenetic, as was the case with the selection on the previous show. It’s not to say this one is on the lighter side – that’s not how you would describe this trio of Jamie Murray, Zhenya Strigalev and Tim Lefebvre. Drummer Jamie Murray is a former Sun Ra Arkestra alumnus while alto sax maverick Strigalev has played with Eric Harland and Ambrose Akinmusire. Joined by bassist Lefebvre (Mark Guiliana, David Bowie) and his electronic embellishments the basic punky trio sound is taken into a sometimes more club-related territory. Whatever, JZ Replacement are always original, engaging and at times very loud. We like them!

13. Maria Joao/Ogre Electric – Say Something from Open Your Mouth

We stay unpredictable element with Portuguese vocalist Maria Joao. This is someone whose jazz credentials include working with artists such as Joe Zawinul, Gilberto Gil, Egberto Gismonti, Trilok Girtu and Manu Katche as well as performing a duet with Bobby McFerrin. Yet at the age of 64 she has taken a more urban, groove-orientated electronic approach. As she says “New things will always be our motto, so sometimes it might not be so easy to label us, but who needs labels anyway”. This new album proves her point and Say Something is pre-released as a single. I must admit to some apprehension at first and to wondering if it fitted into the show – but I believe it does and the more I hear Maria Joao’s new music the more fascinated I become.

14. Mark de Clive-Lowe – Memories of Nanzenji from Heritage I

At a time when a Japanese player of dual heritage has just won the US Open Women’s tennis final, it felt appropriate to recognise a musician of a dual heritage that includes Japan. Mark de Clive-Lowe has Japan and New Zealand in his heritage and is now resident in Los Angeles. He has recently celebrated his Japanese side through two superb albums – Heritage I and Heritage II – and Memories of Nanzenji is a serene and beautiful example. Nanzenji is a 13th Century temple in Kyoto and the temple grounds includes the picturesque Tenjuan Gardens – a place for deep meditation. Clive-Lowe has said “As I’ve grown as a person and a musician, I’ve realised that my own voice and my own story is what is most important. I can’t be honest in my art if I’m trying to speak through someone else’s voice and that’s what has led me to my motherland — to Japan and connecting through my art with my ancestral heritage”. The music in both these excellent albums goes deep into de Clive-Lowe’s Japanese ancestry and cultural roots through the lens of jazz, electronica and beats in collaboration with his LA band of musicians. The new compositions are inspired by childhood folk stories, the mythology of his motherland and his own personal experiences in Japan, all wrapped up in his jazz and sample culture influences. The material for the albums was recorded over three nights of live concerts at LA’s legendary Blue Whale jazz club in Little Tokyo with one additional day in the studio. It won’t be a surprise that both releases are available via de Clive’ Lowe’s Bandcamp site.

04 September 2020: more time; more music

Welcome to the latest Cosmic Jazz! This and every show is available here on this site at the click of the Mixcloud tab (below). This week enjoy 90 minutes of music presented by Derek.

1. Elements of Life – Berimbau from Eclipse

This was an uplifting way to start the show: a tune from an outstanding album on the classic Fania label, a double CD inspired and organised by Louis Vega using Nu Yorican musicians. The album includes many excellent re-interpretations of great tunes with all versions bringing something different and interesting to the jazz, latin, deep house and afrobeat inspired tracks. Our choice this week was the tune Berimbau – an offering to the Brazilian single stringed instrument – and written by Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell. The tune has been made famous by many different versions recorded over the years including this version from Celia Cruz and Willie Colon and one of Baden Powell’s superb versions from 1967.

2. McCoy Tyner – Ebony Queen from Sahara

Having mentioned the exalted in terms of Latin music here is a musician from jazz through and through. After he left the celebrated John Coltrane Quartet, pianist McCoy Tyner went on to lead his own bands and produced a series of superb records for the Milestone label. The first of these was the epic Sahara, released in 1972 with Sonny Fortune on soprano sax, alto and flute, Calvin Hill on double bass and an electrifying pre-fusion Alphonse Mouzon on drums. Neil bought this record just a few years after its release and recalls playing it endlessly as a student – to the considerable annoyance of most of his neighbours… Whilst Tyner is rightly praised for his role in the Coltrane quartet, it is in his own records that he really began to fully develop his singular percussive style. Ebony Queen is the opening track on this album which went on to sell over 100,000 copies and represented a commercial breakthrough for Tyner who then recorded some 20 albums for Milestone over a prolific nine year period. Any one of these will reward the listener but new listeners could do well to start with Enlightenment, the Montreux Jazz Festival recording from 1973 that includes the concert favourite Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit, 20 minutes of percussive piano and a draining, exhilarating performance best seen in this video recording from the concert.

 3. JZ Replacement – Bee Bee from Disrespectful 

From the classic to the contemporary took us to JZ Replacement – an exciting trio who create original, upfront, fast, furious, frenetic and highly danceable music. Two London-based musicians – Jamie Murray on drums and Zhenya Stricalev on sax – are joined by Los Angeles bassist Tim Lefebrve. Don’t expect an easy listen: this is different, challenging, heavy music – but that’s what we like and need on Cosmic Jazz. If you enjoy the angular improvising of Ornette Coleman in his Prime Time phase (for example, on Desert Players here) then this might be right up your jazz street. The additional guitar player on this track is the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia – an unlikely alliance, but one that works.

4. New Bone – Longing from Longing 

In great contrast to JZ Replacement came contemporary music that was not highly danceable, but calm and entrancing in a very different way. New Bone are a Polish quintet founded back in 1996 by trumpeter Tomasz Kudyk. The current quintet includes pianist Dominik Wania, who we have played before on the show and who according to Polish jazz writer Adam Baruch in the Polish Jazz Blogspot has added a more adventurous approach to the band’s music. Baruch describes the album as “full of melancholy and Polish lyricism”. This title tune provided a good example. As Derek noted, Kudyk’s trumpet recalls another great Polish player, the late Tomasz Stanko. Listen to this live version of the wonderful Little Thing Jesus here.

5. O.N.E. Quintet – As Close As Light from One  

Certainly not full of melancholy (unsurprisingly, not all Polish bands exhibit this trait!) are another Polish group – the O.N.E. Quintet. One is the first album from this young group and As Close As Light was written by pianist Paulina Almanska who features on the tune. There’s plenty of space for the other musicians in the group – on violin, bass, sax and drums – in a way that provides opportunities for self-expression without anyone ever being over-dominant. We really like their music and, as ever with these Polish sounds, check them out at the always excellent Steve’s Jazz Sounds.

6. Nubya Garcia – Pace from SOURCE

The next five tunes were all selected by Neil from his base a few thousand miles away in Singapore. First up was UK sax player Nubya Garcia from her long-awaited first album that’s garnered lots of very favourable comment and doesn’t disappoint. Neil comments on the quality of her tenor sax playing across the album but there is also some different thumping, dub-sounding bass throughout from UK player Daniel Casimir. The production on this album is very much a step up from Garcia’s first EPs: recorded with producer Kwes, whose credits include Solange and Bobby Womack, Garcia is pushed into new territory that really demonstrates her diversity.  It all remains firmly rooted in jazz but there’s a range of other influences here too – from the afore-mentioned dub to cumbia and Ethio-jazz. It all works and this new album is highly recommended.

7.  Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Songs She Never Heard from Axiom 

From a brand new new live album comes a lyrical tune originally on Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s Ancestral Recall album from last year. This is an extended and atmospheric live take with featured percussion that reflects a hip hop take on the second line drumming characteristic of the trumpeter’s home city of New Orleans. The beautiful muted trumpet sounds characteristic of Scott are joined on what he calls his ‘stretch music’ by       

8. Kahil El’Zabar feat. David Murray – Trane in Mind from Spirit Groove 

Up next is Chicagoan percussionist Kahil El’Zabar on another new album that features El’Zabar’s contemporary, tenor saxophonist David Murray ably supported by Justin Dillard on piano. El’Zabar performs in various groups including his Ritual Trio and Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. He was a member of the Bright Moments collective with Joseph Jarman and Steve Colson but he’s also worked as a more mainstream sideman with Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley and Eddie Harris. The new Spirit Groove band features El’Zabar with Murray, young bassist Emma Dayhuff and Dillard on synth, organ and piano. El’Zabar takes up kalimba, drum kit, congas, shakers, vibes and even has a go at singing on this predominantly spiritual jazz release. Spirit Groove is actually on a new UK label, Spiritmuse and on vinyl is beautifully produced. As always, your best source for this record is the Bandcamp website: you can find Spirit Groove here in all formats and download.

9. Joey Alexander – Warna from Warna 

Indonesian piano prodigy Joey Alexander hails from Denpasar on the island of Bali. He was the first Indonesian to get a record into the Billboard Top 100 but Warna, his fourth album (and first for new label Verve), highlights composition rather than covers. Writing ten of twelve tracks here (with Sting’s Fragile and Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge added into the mix), Alexander has extended his range but this is a genuine trio + record. Long time bass partner Larry Grenadier deepens and enrich Alexander’s melodic inventions and new drummer Kendrick Scott is always inventive. On hand to add further colour is guest percussionist Luisito Quintero, performing the same function as Manolo Badrena in Ahmad Jamal’s trio. The other guest, flautist Anne Drummond, adds a different kind of ambience to two tracks. Just four albums in and only 17 years old, it’s interesting to speculate where Alexander might be in another ten records’ time…

10. Nat Birchall meets Al Breadwinner – African Village Dance from Sounds Almighty 

Saxophonist Nat Birchall may be known for his albums of spiritual-inflected jazz (see this earlier Cosmic Jazz feature) but his first great musical love was reggae and more specifically the dub sounds that emanated from the Kingston studios of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, King Tubby and Herman Chin Loy. Actually, if you go back to the early days of music in Jamaica you can hear that ska and jazz have close links. Listen to the Skatalites on The Guns of Navarone and you will hear this. For his 2018 album Sounds Almighty, Birchall enlisted the services of Vin Gordon, one of the original members of the Skatalites, Studio One regular and featured trombonist on so many reggae classics. The album doesn’t disappoint. It’s really a joint project between Birchall and Manchester-based Al Breadwinner, and the use of reel to reel tape machines and original analog equipment gives it a genuine authenticity. For more of Breadwinner’s music, investigate this link to his music on Bandcamp, where you will also find Vin Gordon’s excellent African Shores album and the brand new release from the Birchall/Breadwinner axis, Upright Living. Sounds Almighty is already out of print in its vinyl format but you can still get copies of the new release in this format. Those long-established links between jazz and reggae have, of course, never gone away – check out Jamaican saxophonist Dean Fraser – still going strong after many years – on contemporary reggae records from Tarrus Riley like Dem a Watch from his 2014 release Love Situation.

11. Ambrose Akinmusire – yesss from on the tender spot of every calloused moment

There will be more of Neil’s selections next time but it was back to one of Derek’s with a track from the 2020 release on Blue Note from trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. This is his fifth studio album and again features his regular quartet of Justin Brown on drums, Sam Harris on piano and Harish Raghavan on bass. This band have been playing and recording for over a decade – and it shows. Akinmusire writes and performs what may well be a cerebral take on jazz but the music never lacks emotional intensity, with the occasional vocals from Jesus Diaz only adding to the experience. This is music with depth and meaning and comes highly recommended. We shall play more.

12. Chanda Rule & Sweet Emma Band – Rosalie  from Hold On 

We ended this week’s show with vocalist Chanda Rule. “The songs on this album were originally written and sung by unnamed and undocumented African-American mothers, fathers, workers, prisoners, preachers, sons and daughters” says Rule and she adds “I gave many of the songs a lyrical update”. Chanda Rule was born and raised in Chicago, but is clearly influenced by the sounds of New Orleans. She has been an opening act for Kamasi Washington and has also collaborated with Donny McCaslin, but the band here comprises European jazz musicians. They bring a soulful and  gospel feel to the end of the show. More music next week on Cosmic Jazz.


26 August 2020: CJ is live again…

This week the show is shorter than usual as we’re still getting used to the new equipment and keeping it right for you. So, for a while there may be some shorter shows but more of them too. As it is, this week has five great tunes.

1. Sarah Tandy – Bradbury Street from Infection in the Sentence

Image © Benjamin Amure. 2015

This was a great start – the wonderfully inventive Sarah Tandy on piano, playing a tune that makes reference to the street where  weekly jazz jams helped get her noticed. I saw her first with Camilla George at the Cambridge Jazz Festival and have tried to keep up ever since. It was as a student at Cambridge University that Tandy changed from classical to jazz piano, and she remains simply amazing to listen to and watch. There are none of the flamboyant gestures – she just plays with an endless invention and rhythmic density. On her splendid album Infection in the Sentence she also provides much scope to the other musicians in the band – all luminaries of the current London jazz scene, including Sheila Maurice Grey on trumpet, Binker Golding on sax and Femi Koleoso on drums.

2. Jerzy Malek – In the Basement from Black Sheep

Jerzy Malek is a trumpet/flugelhorn player from Poland leading a sextet that includes Aga Derlak, an excellent young pianist. Black Sheep is his eighth album. In the Basement combines warmth and melody with depth. It makes you feel good and it moves you too. You can find out much more about Polish jazz via the Polish Jazz Blogspot where Adam Baruch provides useful informationand insights.  He describes this album as more in the American tradition than the contemporary Polish jazz scene – perhaps true, but it also reminds us that Polish jazz does not need to reflect that rather cliched view of a melancholic ECM-style approach to the music.

3. Lettuce – Resonate from Resonate

Lettuce are a US band that defy genre classification. Funk, jazz, soul, hip-hop, psychedelic, experimental are among the categories that they have drawn upon. Their seventh studio album Resonate has been released in digital formats only at present – no vinyl. Producer and engineer Russ Elevado guided the recording following his work with a number of musicians including D’Angelo, The Roots and Erykah Badu. We featured the title track on this week’s show but the whole album is worthy of attention. More than background instrumentals and deserving of a more careful listen. If (like me) you yearn for a bit of Washington GoGo music, then Checker Wrecker will bring a smile to your face. The accompanying video has a guest spot from Trouble Funk’s bass player and vocalist Big Tony Fisher.

4. Ana Mazzotti – Agua ou Nunca from Ana Mazzotti

The British Label Far Out Recordings has provided a valuable service to the world of jazz and more for over twenty-five years, with its many reissues of Brazilian music including both the popular and the less well-known. They have also issued some excellent contemporary recordings and are noticeably responsible for the resurgence of the incomparable Marcos Valle who continues to release excellent new records on this and other labels. One artist whom they re-released last year was Ana Mazzotti – a singer/composer who sadly died in her thirties and released just one album recorded in two rather different versions.

Born in Caixas, in Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul, Mazzotti began to play the accordion aged five, before moving onto the piano. By the age of twelve she was already conducting her convent school’s choir, and at twenty-one she led her city’s premier chorus, the Coral Bento Goncalves. On meeting drummer Romido Santos, Mazzotti was introduced to the music of Brazilian master Hermeto Pascoal whom she would later record with. Her debut album first appeared in 1974, but our choice comes from the re-recorded version from 1977 and is now available on all formats from Far Out. If the music has an Azymuth-like sound that’s simply because it features Jose Roberto Bertrami who co-wrote several of the tracks alongside Azymuth bassist Alex Malheiros and percussionist Ariovaldo Contestini, with Romildo Santos – who produced the album – on drums.

5. Andrew Hill – Flight from Point of Departure

Pianist Andrew Hill is one of the greats we return to frequently on Cosmic Jazz. He recorded principally on Blue Note between the years 1963 and 1970, surrounding himself with some of the great names from the label. 1964’s Point of Departure is no exception, with Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Eric Dolphy on alto, Joe Henderson on tenor, Richard Davis on double bass and Tony Williams at the drums. However, if you think you can imagine what that might sound like – be prepared to think again. Hill’s compositions are not standard Blue Note in style. They are distinctive – angular and knotty but with melodies that rise up out of the rhythm and challenge you before sinking back down again. Influenced by Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, there’s also a classicism in Hill’s music too with tones that could be Ravel or Debussy. Hill recorded five albums in his first eight months with Blue Note and they are all excellent.

He went on to record for Italian label Soul Note in the 1980s, before returning to Blue Note for a late flowering with the album Time Lines from 2005. It’s a good time to start with Hill on vinyl as two records have been released in the Blue Note 80 and Tone Poet series – check out Smoke Stack from the former and Black Fire (Hill’s debut for the label) as part of the latter, with both entirely faithful to engineer Rudy van Gelder’s vision of the best recordings in jazz.

Cosmic Jazz shows are back!

After a break of several months with nowhere to record the show, finally we are back. Sorry it’s taken so long. The Cosmic Jazz site has remained active, thanks largely to some superb pieces from Neil – check his latest entry on spiritual jazz and three contemporary purveyors. We deeply thank the many who have continued to log into the site and hope you’ll carry on doing so – especially now that there will be even more music. 

There are a few changes; the shows will mostly be longer than the one hour of the past and we’ll add in some new features too.  You may also find some ads appearing, but this simply enables us to cut costs (as opposed to making money) in what is a show self-financed by two guys who put it together for the jazzheads out there.

This first new show on our return features some Cosmic Jazz essentials we’ve made reference to over the years along with a couple of new tunes. We are so pleased to be back!

Black Renaissance – Black Renaissance from Black Renaissance Body, Mind & Soul.

This just had to be our first comeback tune. Black Renaissance emerged from a session that keyboard player Harry Whitaker arranged on 15 January 1976 – Martin Luther King Day. Made in one take in a packed studio with a party vibe, Black Renaissance is cosmic, spiritual, free and improvised. There are African roots. It has rap early in the year when rap reportedly first began. Is it one of the first rap records? It’s certainly one of  the first jazz record to incorporate rap. The musicians who turned up included Woody Shaw, Azar Lawrence, Buster Williams, Billy Hart and Mtume. Roberta Flack was in the studio too – Whitaker had been her musical director. There were subsequent stories of promised release never happening, of master tapes lost in a fire, but finally the music was found and released by the Ubiquity label in California. Let’s be thankful; the music is right up there. It’s a must-have record.

Soil & Pimp Sessions – Waltz for Goddess from Pimp Master

Soil & Pimp Sessions are included because they are favourites of the creator of this site, who birthed the Cosmic Jazz site over 20 years ago and whose expertise has enabled us to start recording again. Soil and Pimp are an outrageously wild and energetic Japanese jazz group who emerged from the Tokyo club scene in 2001. Their live performances are something else, as I have seen for myself at The Jazz Cafe. The tune Waltz for Goddess is one of their best known.

Rudolph Johnson – The Highest Pleasure from Theo Parrish’s Black Jazz Signature

This tune was released originally on Rudolph ‘Rudy’ Johnson’s album The Second Coming. I came across it via the compilation assembled by DJ and producer Theo Parrish – Black Jazz Signature Black Jazz Records 1971-1976. Black Jazz Records was a label founded in Oakland, California by pianist Gene Russell and percussionist Dick Schory, and created to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers. Just twenty albums were released between 1971 and 1975. Johnson was a sax player, seen by many as the heir apparent to Coltrane but who never produced enough records to fulfil this. On his second Black Jazz release, Johnson showed confidence in his direct, emotional approach to jazz. Staying true to his hard bop and Coltrane-inflected roots there are great contributions from bass player Kent Brinkley, drummer Doug Sides and pianist Kirk Lightsey – all musicians on the Los Angeles jazz scene of the time.

Gene Russell – Black Orchid from Gilles Peterson – Black Jazz Radio

There is more from Black Jazz Records and from another DJ compilation, this time courtesy of Gilles Peterson. Co-founder of the label, Russell was a keyboard player, both acoustic and Fender Rhodes. Black Orchid is probably one of his best-known tunes and a very beautiful one it is too. It was released originally in 1971 on the New Direction album which also features Russell’s takes on Listen Here and On Green Dolphin Street.  Black Orchid is actually a Cal Tjader tune that features on a great Three Sounds album of the same name.

O.N.E. Quintet – Drozyna from One

We have long featured Polish and other East European and Scandinavian jazz on the programme. This is thanks to the assistance of a key source for this music – the always interesting Steve’sJazz Sounds, which regularly sources excellent new music for the show. An exciting recent arrival has been the debut album One by Polish group the O.N.E. Quintet. They includes violinist Dominika Rusinowska, whose arrangement of the traditional tune Drozyna was featured on the show. The album also includes a tune from the seminal Polish composer and pianist Krzysztof Komeda with the remainder being originals by pianist Paulina Almanska and sax player Monica Muc.

Wojciech Jachna Squad – Mystery from Elements

Next comes another recent debut album from Poland entitled Elements from the Wajciech Jachna Squad. The leader is a trumpet player who has been on the Polish scene for a decade or so and has played both mainstream and avant-garde jazz. The album has a prominent role for guitarist Malek Malinowski who contributes to making music that is full of dark mystery. The selection on this week’s show – Mystery – is an appropriate summary of their style.

Chanda Rule and The Sweet Emma Band – Motherless Child from Hold On

Chanda Rule and the Sweet Emma Band have been an interesting new discovery. Chanda is a singer and song writer raised in Chicago and rooted in gospel, soul and jazz. Her version of the traditional spiritual Motherless Child combines all three. Rule has collaborated with saxophonist Donny McCaslin and provided opening sets for Kamasi Washington and India Arie. For the album Hold On she is backed by a group of fine Austrian musicians – The Sweet Emma Band, named after the renowned singer and pianist from New Orleans and the early days of jazz. They feature Paul Zauner on trombone, Mario Rom on trumpet, Jan Korinek on Hammond organ, Christian Salfellner on drums and Osian Roberts on saxophones.

The Elder Statesman – Montreux Sunrise from 7″ single

Just as the new show began with a Cosmic Jazz favourite, it seemed appropriate for the return to the end with another one, this time a more recent release. Lord Echo is Mike August, multi-instrumentalist, producer, engineer and DJ from New Zealand. He got together with two brothers from Wellington, Christopher (piano) and Daniel (double bass) Yeabsley to produce an excellent 7″ single released on the Brookyn-based Bastard Jazz label. The music is guided by Yeabsley’s ethereal piano playing to produce a wonderful, melodic, spiritual, gently-paced groove that floats away timelessly. On the other side is another gem, Trans Alpine Express. What a way to end our new show! More music soon come.

What is it about spiritual jazz?

Following on from the Tony Allen feature with a similar title, this CJ post takes a long hard look at spiritual jazz. As we have noted in a previous CJ, this blanket term seems to be applied to almost any reissue which features a dashiki-wearing tenor saxophonist who recorded in the 1970s for a private press label and has just had his album reissued on Soul Jazz Records, Jazzman or similar labels.

Well – and mentioning no names here – that may or may not be bonafide spiritual jazz. So what are we talking about? We were probably not using the term ‘spiritual jazz’ in 1965 but that’s as good a starting date as any and, of course, we’re talking John Coltrane and A Love Supreme – an album of deliberate transcendence, an entry into the world of musical mysticism and a record that has been lauded as one of the greatest jazz records ever. The thing is, it’s true. A Love Supreme is a work that has been both enjoyed and analysed for over 50 years and the more we investigate, the more there is to explore. For the deepest understanding of this truly awesome record, check out Ashley Kahn’s authoritative study at the book’s website here and for a superb investigation of Coltrane’s sound, read Ben Ratliff’s absorbing book Coltrane: the story of a sound.

In his final years Coltrane was moving forward at a dazzling pace, fusing the intensity of free jazz on such records as Ascension (1966) and Eastern-influenced experimentations like Om (recorded 1965, released 1968). A new world of exploration was opening up in jazz: the African heritage was being explored, Indian time signatures revealed new possibilities. Sound and space was now as important as music. Like-minded artists like Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, and Philip Cohran were each in their different ways exploring music both meditative and primal.

So what is spiritual jazz today? You’ve been crate digging for Don Cherry et al and you’ve come up with some great music – some celebrating the ‘trane tradition, and some not. But what of contemporary musicians? This post looks at three artists, each with a debt to Coltrane but with their own unique voices too. We’ll start with UK tenor saxophonist Nat Birchall who has been quietly releasing his own albums over the last few years and gathering acclaim from the jazz press. Best start with the 2011 album Sacred Dimension which superficially creates a Coltrane sound world (that’s Alice and John) with the use of bells, shakers and harp in addition to the more conventional quartet instrumentation. There’s Corey Mwamba on vibes too – and so the result is very definitely influenced by Pharoah Sanders, McCoy Tyner and more. Of course, there are modal bass grooves, rolling drum figures and tenor sax solos that are Coltrane influenced but what come across with all of Birchall’s releases is the sheer confidence of his sound. As reviewer Daniel Spicer noted in his online BBC music review It’s a deeply sincere homage to a master, presented with an open heart, full of passion and love. The lead track is Ancient World – presented here in this alternative take from the Live at Larissa album, recorded in Greece in 2013. Available on a double vinyl release, this album is also a must. In fact, any Birchall album from this point is recommended as are Birchall’s recent excursions into dub reggae – a long held passion that’s fully explained on Birchall’s own website, Sound Soul and Spirit where some of his favourite records includes a list of dub classics, like the glorious Java Plus from Prince Buster. Birchall has now achieved what must have been a long held ambition of recording with reggae masters Al Breadwinner and Vin Gordon on two dub recordings, Sounds Almighty (2018) and the soon to be released Upright Living. You need vinyl copies of both – head to Birchall’s Bandcamp site for more information. And – by the way – Birchall’s new jazz release, Mysticism of Sound, is a lockdown solo recording that’s as much Sun Ra space jazz as Coltrane’s Interstellar Space. All instruments – tenor and soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, Korg Minilogue synth, bass, drums, hand drums, bells, shakers – are played by Birchall. It’s essential listening!

Up next is Vancouver-born pianist Cat Toren, now resident in New York (rather than the UK’s northwest) and soon to release her new album Scintillating Beauty. We’ve championed Toren’s music here before on Cosmic Jazz and with advance notice of the new release here on Bandcamp it’s time to check out her take on the spiritual jazz tradition. Toren’s music is influenced by the free-form, socially conscious jazz of the late 60s but she’s also a passionate advocate of the current (and much needed) civil rights agenda. Indeed, inspiration for the music came from two quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. that Toren includes in the liner notes. The first, from Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail, gave the album its title as well as a pointed social imperative: Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty. The second quote, from the sermon Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, begins We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality and that thought provided the title for the second track on the new album, Garment of Destiny.

Toren’s previous album, released in 2017, was an inspirational one for us here at CJ and cuts featured on several shows. Human Kind was the debut of Toren’s band of that name, and the same lineup has recovened for the new album. Toren on keys, saxophonist Xavier Del Castillo, oud player Yoshie Fruchter, bassist Jake Leckie and drummer Matt Honor. Buy here from Toren’s site and the proceeds will go to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). You can check out all tracks before you buy, including the superb Legacy (for A.C.) and right here listen to an excellent live version from the Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Cat Toren’s music is highly recommended and the new album is highly recommended. Cat assures me that there will be a CD version as well as the download – both available in September from her own site or the ever-reliable Bandcamp.

Finally, we come to Muriel Grossmann, a tenor player now based in Ibiza, but born in Paris and a long time resident in Vienna. Her current quartet is very much international with Radomir Milojkovic (Belgrade) on guitar, Gina Schwarz (Vienna) on double bass and Uros Stamenkovic (Belgrade) on drums and is recently augmented by Llorens Barcelo (Mallorca) on Hammond organ. Grossmann’s quartet/quintet is very much influenced by Coltrane but – as with Toren – the bands have their own sound. You can hear just how different that is when you compare Grossmann’s take on Coltrane’s Traneing In, a track he first recorded with the Red Garland Trio in 1958. The Coltrane original is right here – and Grossmann’s soprano sax take is here on her Bandcamp site. This is intense music and – whatever we want to call it – has a spiritual deepness that truly does inherit the questing, yearning qualities of Coltrane’s unique sound. Traneing In comes from her album Golden Rule and is available from Bandcamp in all three formats – vinyl, CD and download.

The new album Reverence takes a different direction. The African influence is stronger and as Grossmann says, What jazz and African music have in common and what makes it so unique is that at its very core, as the strongest part of its foundation, each musician is dealing with a particular rhythm that contributes to the whole, therefore generating multidirectional rhythms also known as polyrhythms. The addition of Llorens Barcelo allows interplay between guitar and organ and the churning percussion maintains the kinds of locked groove over which Grossmann’s solos twist and turn. Check out this live take on Light, the final reflective track from Golden Rule.

So that’s three exploratory musicians and their bands: firmly embedded in a jazz tradition, but consciously searching for new sounds and influences from around the world to extend and develop their sound. Please support each of these artists by listening to and buying their music in whatever format you choose. Our preference remains vinyl: that symbiotic relationship in which the medium influences how the message is perceived (McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’) is never more true than when the disc is on the turntable, visibly in contact with the stylus and the listener is checking out the gatefold images or liner notes while listening to the music. As always, we promote Bandcamp whose heritage of supporting and paying artists is exemplary. It’s a service that values ownership, connects listeners directly to the artists and even rewards you with a message if someone buys music after finding it through you. Make lockdown more bearable and support those jazz musicians creatively enhancing your life.

Music is the healing force of the universe…

Five from five: CJ favourites 02

Inspired by Derek, it made sense for Neil to select out five of his CJ favourites. If you know the show well, then some tracks will not be a surprise. First up was very much a first for Neil and, arguably, the start of his lifelong obsession with jazz. No – not So What or A Love Supreme but a track from one of John McLaughlin’s more obscure releases, My Goals Beyond, which offers up the astonishing Peace One. This album was released in 1971 – just before the first incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra – and was originally issued on Douglas Records. It’s now available (if you can find it) on a Rykodisc or Knitting Factory reissue.

I first heard it in 1972 as a teenager novitiate in jazz. With no internet and little to listen to on the radio, record shops were my introduction to the music. Icons like Charlie Parker were part of my understanding of the mythology of the music, so I knew that I really wanted to like jazz. I’d just not listened to much of it. I bought My Goal’s Beyond because of the album cover: a benign looking McLaughlin gazing serenely into the middle distance while a framed photo of a shaven headed guru (Sri Chinmoy) looks out impassively alongside him. It wasn’t like most of the jazz covers I’ve seen and it drew me in immediately. The track listing on the back confirmed things – a Charles Mingus tune, something from A Kind of Blue and a Chick Corea composition among them. But the real delight didn’t begin until I got the record home and played side B. The big surprise was right there. Peace One begins with a tanpura 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 the leader’s open soloing on acoustic guitar. Dave Liebman is in fine voice on soprano and Badal Roy’s tablas along with Airto’s minimal percussion fills fit perfectly. This track has entranced me ever since I first listened to it that summer evening over forty years ago and I come back to it every year with the same sense of wide-eyed wonder.

Here’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 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 – so I’ve thrown that one into to my 5 from 5 too. Of course, it’s Fela’s record rather than Bowie’s, but his contribution – which begins six minutes into the 13 minute track absolutely fits. Just listen to how he solos over the horn riffs – it’s magical!

It’s worth noting that on The Great Pretender, Bowie is backed by the most sympathetic band he ever had. 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. Both Rios Negros and No Agreement are very approachable. This is not complex music – but one track encompasses the history of jazz in just seven minutes while the other tells you all you need to know about the enduring power of Afrobeat. Just two months before he died from liver cancer in 1999, Bowie was interviewed by journalist Jay Babcock. He was asked about the conversations he had with Fela during the time he was in Nigeria in 1977:

“So most of the time, we talked about the music. Music and its ramifications. What it implied. What is it. What can it be used for. It’s about… Basically, I always believed art is functional. It’s not just something you put in museums, it’s better for it to be used for something functional: educational usage, therapeutic usage. But it should be USED. Music should be used, not just as entertainment. I’m not saying it’s NOT entertainment. It’s EVERYTHING. It’s entertainment, it’s religion, it’s a lot of things. That’s what most of what our conversations would be about: the spiritual aspect to the music, what binds all these different types of musics together.”

I can remember the exact moment. 08 July 2005 and I was in London for a meeting with a publisher. It was the day after the notorious London bombings in which 52 people of eighteen different nationalities were killed in a series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks on the capital. I had arrived in the city around 10:30am and the sun was shining as I exited the Underground station. I could walk to the publishers’ offices and I set out – but, probably like most people travelling in London that day, rather nervously. Over my headphones came the opening bars of one of the instrumental tracks on Marcos Valle’s comeback 1998 Far Out recording, Nova Bossa Nova. Bar Ingles begins with a fade in and then Valle sets up the Fender melody and we’re off on one of his jazz fusion classics. Suddenly, I felt that, whatever evil is sent our way, music truly is the healing force of the universe. The music had became a metaphor for the way we choose to see the world. Valle was to reprise this tune when I saw him a few years ago at the Jazz Cafe, London.

Lord Echo (or Michael John August) is the much in-demand New Zealand multi-instrumentalist and producer. Originally released in 2013, his album Curiosities features a delightful summery take on The Creator Has a Master Plan with vocals by Lisa Tomlins. It’s my fifth and final Cosmic Jazz tune and – whilst it isn’t a classic cut in the way that the other four clearly are – it represents music I often return to for an inhouse daytime DJ set or simply to chill out to. The album features a typical Lord Echo mix of jazz with disco-tinged neo-soul, reggae and classic afro-beat, all in a pretty effortless way. Curiosities was preceded by the more down-tempo Melodies and followed by the excellent, more electronic and club-ready sound of third album Harmonies. All have a surfeit of cool vibes and are well worth investigating. Almost much everything is played by Lord Echo, with contributions from Lucien Johnson on tenor sax, Toby Laing on trumpet, Daniel Yeabsley on baritone sax, Will Ricketts on vibes and Julien Dyne taking care of some drum loops. Check out all three albums via the ever-reliable Bandcamp here.

So, we started in the UK, crossed over to the USA via Nigeria and Brazil and ended up way down in New Zealand. Global beats, healing sounds – truly, as Lester Bowie said, “the spiritual aspect to the music, what binds all these different types of musics together.” Stay safe.

Five from five: CJ favourites 01

This week, Derek has chosen five tunes from five countries that are essential listening for any lover of Cosmic Jazz. First up is a bonafide classic from the USA – and one that will be no surprise if you have followed us here on the show over the years. Black Renaissance is the ultimate jam session and a cult record that has achieved legendary status. With a group led by the then 26 year old pianist Harry Whitaker, the two track album was recorded in New York in 1976. It is free, expressive, wild at and noted for an early proto-rap element too. The record features Woody Shaw, Azar Lawrence, Buster Williams, Billy Hart and Mtume amongst others. Listen here – and and then listen for ever…

No surprises either with our second choice. We love the work of Polish trumpeter Piotr Wojtasik and this track has the bonus of two vocalists – Anna Maria Mbayo and Magdalena Zawartko – as well as a large ensemble of instrumentalists. Stay in Time of Freedom is an uplifting and celebratory ode to freedom and both deep spiritual rejoicing and some likely physical movement will be your inevitable response. The full album Tribute to Akwarium is worthy of your attention too – find it at Steve’s Jazz Sounds along with other great Wojtasik music (and enjoy Steve’s excellent updated site too!).

Our third selection is from revered label Blue Note, but it’s not one of the classic Rudy van Gelder engineered masterpieces from the 1960s. Instead, we head to France and the music of Erik Truffaz. Born in Switzerland, this trumpeter is an innovative minimalist with a desire to search for new contexts for his spaced-out clean sound. The album Bending New Corners contains three tunes featuring a rap from guest Nya, including the masterpiece that is Siegfried. For an idea of where Truffaz is right now, listen to the rich, dark textures of the album Being Human, recorded in collaboration with Mexican electronica artist Murcof – check it out here on Bandcamp.

Our fourth choice is the extraordinary tune Watarase by Japanese pianist and composer Fumio Itabashi. The song is a variation on a traditional Japanese folk melody and is named after the Watarase river in Japan’s Kanto region and showcases Itabashi’s Don Pullen-influenced style. This solo piano album includes three other Itabashi originals and his takes on Someday My Prince Will Come and I Can’t Get Started. Watarase has been reworked by Itabashi over the years, sometimes featuring a full band or vocal accompaniment, though it has never sounded quite as thoughtful or serene as it does here. For the full effect of its mindblowing power though you need to get hold of the double CD album that contains eight versions of this one tune, including this live one with the Kanagawa Symphony Orchestra and vocalist Yuki Kaneko. Be amazed, be truly amazed…

Derek’s final selection is from Jamaica and stretches the boundaries of jazz – but that’s just how we like it on Cosmic Jazz. Jackie Mittoo was a keyboard virtuoso, musical director at the legendary Studio One and a founding member of The Skatalites. An undoubted reggae great but, like many of his Jamaican contemporaries, with considerable jazz influences too. Hear them on Ghetto Organ – a tune derived from a blues standard by Willie Cobbs that can be found on the excellent Macka Fat album.

Three new Polish jazz releases

Here on Cosmic Jazz we welcome new music from all over the world but – thanks to Steve’s Jazz Sounds – we seem to have a special affinity with new jazz from Poland. We have marvelled before at the amount of excellent new music that emerges from this east European country but it’s really a reflection of a long jazz tradition. O.N.E. Quintet are a group of young musicians with a debut album called – unsurprisingly – One. There are seven tunes on this release: three by sax player Monica Muc, two by pianist Paulina Almanska, one traditional tune and one composition by Krzysztof Komeda – one of the founding fathers of jazz in Poland.

The quintet includes violinist Dominika Rusinowski, who is prominent on the up-tempo number Drozina. So often, Polish jazz appears to attract a melancholy tag – in much the same way as music on the German label ECM. But this is very much not the case with O.N.E Quintet – the sounds are warm and embracing, but there is still the opportunity for soloists to take off. Checkout, for example, sax player Monica Muc here on As Close As Light.

Another debut album – but this time from a squad no less – is Elements, the latest release from the Wojciech Jachna Squad. Jachna is a trumpet player who has been active on the Polish scene for a decade now and has appeared on many albums, mixing the mainstream with the avant-garde. This album is neither. The guitarist Malek Malinowski helps give the album a deep, intense, electric sound. On the tune Checkers 11 the guitar seems to ping off all over the placeuntilthe more becalming and lyrical sounds of Jachna’s trumpet appear. It’s an album full of dark mystery, accentuated by Jachna’s trumpet. Listen to the tune Philosopher’s Waltz and – if you are a philosopher (practising or aspiring) you can dance your own version of a waltz.

The new release Nada is led by guitarist Daniel Popialkiewicz. He’s a composer, lecturer and graduate of the Academy of Music at Katowice with a doctoral dissertation titled Articulation techniques of rock guitarists based on jazz music. Alongside him on these new tracks are Paweł Tomaszewski on piano and keyboards, Robert Kubiszyn on bass and Paweł Dobrowolski on drums.

This is the third album by Polish Jazz guitarist/composer Daniel Popiałkiewicz, recorded in a quartet setting with a stellar lineup consisting of keyboardist Paweł Tomaszewski, bassist Robert Kubiszyn and drummer Paweł Dobrowolski. The ten original compositions on the album are all by Popiałkiewicz and the music is melodic, quirky, and unpredictable. We wonder whether the guitarist is familiar with East London too, given the title of the tune Lea Bridge Road. For more Polish jazz – and music from many other European destinations – head to Steve’s Jazz Sounds and explore.

Jazz photos No.3 – Miles Davis 1970

Miles Davis, lounging on a bed of skins with an unidentified woman, wearing suede-patched, zip-front vest from Hernando’s New York, and canvas built-up-heel, slip-on shoes by Franco Pachetti.

This photo heads an excellent feature on the interesting Burning Ambulance website. It dates from a few back – in fact, 2014 when the Complete Live at the Fillmore box set was released – but it’s a good introduction to this most fertile of periods in the vast Davis chronology. You can read the whole thing right here – and if you’re new to the music of Miles in the 1970s then this is one place to start. The sheer volume of music from that first year of the decade is now staggering. Thanks to box sets, official reissues, lost concert recordings and a bunch of bootlegs you could listen to music from this most fertile period for hours. And you should. We should now recognise that 1970 was a creative peak for Miles – but where to start with this music?

Let’s begin with the albums released in the two years before – 1968 and 1969. July 1968 gave us Miles in the Sky, a stepping stone into a new era for for the trumpeter. There’s a new interest in electric instruments and the two recording dates take us from the twisted modality of Paraphernalia to Stuff, recorded five months later. The former track includes a guest slot from guitarist George Benson who sets the tone of the track with a defining riff right at the start. It sound like bebop but it’s been turned inside out. Drummer Tony Williams (then just 23) is all over this track and the elliptical Wayne Shorter (writer of this piece) even references his own Footprints at one point. The remaining three tracks are more typical of this quintet’s zenith of collective improvisation – perhaps some of the most ‘together’ music ever recorded. This is rightly regarded as an epitome of small group jazz: often termed the Second Great Quintet, the interplay between this group over six studio albums and one live box set (The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel) is extraordinary. The music is always about the group and never just Miles. There’s a telepathic fluidity about this music – and never more so than on the Plugged Nickel sets – that is unique in jazz. Perhaps paradoxically, you should start with the last of these records – the aforementioned Filles de Kilimanjaro. The new Mrs Davis, Betty Mabry, appears on the cover and Miles apparently titled the record after his recent investment in the Kilimanjaro African Coffee company. All track titles are in French and the music forms a kind of organic suite in the key of F. It’s an album to listen to as one continuous piece: some of the music is more chilled with Ron Carter on electric bass and Herbie Hancock’s Fender Rhodes being responsible for some of this, but it’s also that Miles’s trumpet is also more restrained throughout. Less well known is that Miles’ old collaborator Gil Evans had a hand in two of the tracks – Petit Machins is his composition and the introduction to Madamoiselle Mabry owes something to Jimi Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary which had been recorded the previous year. Perhaps it was all an indication of what was to come on the truly ground breaking It’s a Silent Way album from the following year.

This is as essential as Kind of Blue: it’s a record that anyone interested in contemporary music of whatever genre needs to hear – again and again. But the reason isn’t Miles Davis – it’s Teo Macero, Miles’ longtime producer who here creates an indefinable magic from a pile of studio recordings from one day – 18 February 1969. Macero created a kind of electric sonata from hours of tape, splicing together music from one three hour long session. The result was entirely unique at the time – two long tracks, each with three ‘movements’ containing repeated musical elements synthesised into something magnificent. Rolling Stone writer Lester Bangs described In A Silent Way as “the kind of album that gives you faith in the future of music. It is not rock and roll, but it’s nothing stereotyped as jazz either. All at once, it owes almost as much to the techniques developed by rock improvisors in the last four years as to Davis’ jazz background. It is part of a transcendental new music which flushes categories away and, while using musical devices from all styles and cultures, is defined mainly by its deep emotion and unaffected originality”. Listen to the groove on It’s About That Time around nine minutes into the track – a sound that will stay with you long after the music has ended. This version is from the Complete In A Silent Way Sessions, one of the Legacy box sets that are now so collectable.

So what could possibly follow that? The answer this time is Bitches Brew, the 1970 double album – and the very first Miles record I bought. Davis assembled an even bigger group of musicians than on It’s A Silent Way and Teo Macero spliced and edited with yet more aplomb than before. Recorded across three days in September 1969, the music takes giant steps towards a rock idiom without ever becoming rock. The core band of Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Chick Corea and Jack DeJohnette was augmented by Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, John McLaughlin, Larry Young, Lenny White, Juma Santos and Bennie Maupin. Miles had written simple chord charts but he told the musicians to play anything that came to mind as long as they used his chosen chord. The musicians were confused – but this very loose structure certainly inspired Davis: his trumpet playing is aggressive and explosive across much of the double album and the closing solo on Miles Runs the Voodoo Down is simply breathtaking.

In his superb book Miles Beyond, the Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991, Paul Tingen paved the way for a critical re-assessment of the prolific 1970-75 era prior to Miles’ five year retirement from music. Tingen notes that “Bitches Brew also pioneered the application of the studio as a musical instrument, featuring stacks of edits and studio effects that were an integral part of the music.” Tape loops, delays, reverb and echo were all used along with intensive tape editing, Pharaoh’s Dance, for example, contains 19 edits – its famous stop-start opening is entirely constructed in the studio, using repeat loops of certain sections. As Tingen notes, the editing is amazingly precise – “a one-second-long fragment that first appears at 8:39 is repeated five times between 8:54 and 8:59… Bitches Brew not only became a controversial classic of musical innovation, it also became renowned for its pioneering use of studio technology.” It’s a gateway to the increasingly challenging music that Miles Davis was to make over the next five years – there’s always more to explore…

Jazz photos No.2 – Sun Ra

Sun Ra and the Arkestra at South Street Seaport, New York – probably 1972

You can just see him. He’s to the right of this of this photo in the centre of the group of circling musicians. Yes, this is Sun Ra and the Arkestra circa 1972 at the South Street Seaport, New York. The photo heads an excellent recent feature from Marcus J Moore in the New York Times on Fifteen Essential Black Liberation tracks – including an excellent live version of Sun Ra’s Space is the Place. There are other delights to be found in this list too: Mtume’s Baba Hengates from the the Strata East album Alkebu-Lan: Land of the Blacks (1972) and Malika from the Ensemble Al-Salaam’s 1974 album, The Sojourner. Follow the links and discover some great music that may be new to you. If Mtume means Juicy Fruit, then have a listen to the whole of his Strata East album – now reissued on vinyl – and hear something very different. Mtume continued with his Umoja Ensemble on the Rebirth Cycle album from 1977 – but you will be lucky to find an original pressing in good condition for less than £150. For a taste of this excellent record, which gives an indication of the direction Mtume would be travelling in, try Yebo. I’ve recently been enjoying the music of Buddy Terry and there is a fine, extended version of Baba Hengates to be heard on his Pure Dynamite album for Mainstream Records (1972). Read the NYT Marcus J Moore feature and check out much more black liberation music.

Cosmic Jazz on Ipswich Online Radio