All posts by Derek

Week ending 21 January 2018: pianists past and present

Cosmic Jazz this week features tracks in which a pianist is either the leader of the group or is featured prominently. As always on CJ, there’s a wide variety of music – both contemporary and from the tradition.

Cecil Taylor.

We opened the show with a tribute to one of the greatest pianists jazz has produced. Cecil Taylor treated the piano like a percussion instrument, attacking the full range of the keyboard with pinpoint precision. Taylor was born in 1929 and died on 5 April 2018. The tune we featured was from his very first album, Jazz Advance. Released in 1956, it was selected by The Penguin Jazz Guide for inclusion in their 100 best albums to cover the history of jazz music. A quote from this guide on Jazz Advance sums things up perfectly – Taylor’s record remains one of the most extraordinary debuts in jazz and for 1956 it’s an incredible effort“. Indeed, there would be much incredible music to follow. [Neil writes] Taylor carved out a career as a solo performer and I was lucky enough to see him in the early 1980s at the time of one of his solo masterpieces, Garden, released in 1981. This 2LP set on HatHut Records is hard to come by now but captures Taylor at his solo best. Another album to look for is his 1974 appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival where he recorded an album called Silent Tongues. Listening to his music is not easy: better is to watch him performing – as here in an extract from a 1981 performance. This is free jazz but it is not random – Taylor heard and planned all this music before playing it. His keyboard control here is unparalleled – and it continued to be so until his last performances. Listen to this piece a few times and marvel at the precision and the structure. Apologies for the breaks in sound quality towards the end of the performance.

Unique is an easy adjective to use but it was never more true about anyone in jazz than Cecil Taylor. In an interview, he acknowledged that he felt the same about music as one of his heroes, Duke Ellington, who said It’s American music that never existed in the world until we did it. That just about sums up his contribution to jazz. No one has inherited his mantle because it is simply not possible to do so.

Interestingly, the next artist is described by Brian Priestley in Jazz: the Essential Companion as one of a strong line of pianist/composers who, like Theolonius Monk or Cecil Taylor,  are impossible to categorise except as individualists. Andrew Hill was a pianist who recorded on Blue Note during the label’s classic years but whose music is far from typical of most Blue Note recordings. I had intended to make Andrew Hill a featured artist for the month of April but as it was not possible to play any of his tunes last week there were two this week – one each from the Black Fire and Point of Departure albums. Both records include impressive support musicians with one of our favourite tenor players, Joe Henderson, common to both.

After these retrospectives it was time to go contemporary. One of the new artists whose music is now available through Steve’s Jazz Sounds is the young Polish pianist Kasia Pietrzko. She leads a trio on her first album Forthright StoriesForthright is an appropriate word both to describe the music and the emotions it evokes. After starting with some delicate drumming touches the tune Intimacy develops into a tune of fast, forthright intensity. There was a short excerpt from another of her tunes to end the show.

UK pianist Jessica Lauren has just released one track from an upcoming album. It’s already been remixed by drummer Nick Woodmansey through his alter ego Emanative and we gave you his take on Kofi Nomad. It provided a link to our show last week which raised the question Jazz or not? We think it is, but you may disagree. New York pianist Cat Toren leads a band called Human Kind – you can check out the album here on Bandcamp. Toren demonstrates that jazz can continue to be political with compositions inspired by both the free form jazz of the 1960s and a personal expression of the resurgent civil rights movement that is upon us. Jazz has always been a music of personal expression and political views are often a part of that. The tune Sanctuary City represents a very strong EP that anyone interested in contemporary jazz should buy and listen to.

The Third Generation Ensemble refers to the latest musician descendants of Chico O’Farrill and Bebo Valdes. The album Familia is a tribute to Bebo and Chico from their sons Arturo and Chucho, but the third generation is also represented – Gonki Gonki features Leyanis Valdes on piano.

  1. Cecil Taylor – Bemsha Swing from Jazz Advance
  2. Andrew Hill – Black Fire from Black Fire
  3. Andrew Hill – New Monastery from Point of Departure
  4. Kasia Pietrzko Trio – Intimacy from Forthright Stories
  5. Jessica Lauren – Kofi Nomad (Emanative remix) from Kofi Nomad
  6. Cat Toren’s Human Kind – Sanctuary City from Cat Toren’s Human Kind
  7. The Third Generation Ensemble – Gonki Gonki from Familia: Tribute to Bebo & Chico
  8. Kasia Pietrzko Trio – Zielone Oczy Grafitowe from Forthright Stories

Derek is listening to: 

Neil is listening to:

Week ending 14 April 2018: jazz or jazz-related – you decide…

On the Mixcloud tab this week is a show of what is mainly jazz-related rather than ‘strictly’ jazz music. But this begs the question of what jazz is – a debate that has been current since ‘jass music’ (as pianist Eubie Blake once described it) began at the beginning of the last century. Whatever, the music featured this week is a rich tapestry of sounds that show the range of emotions, sounds and possibilities that this extraordinary music makes possible.

[Neil writes] We began with another track from saxophonist Piotr Wojtasik’s great new album – a celebration of the legendary jazz venue in Warsaw that after almost ten years of closure reopened last year. There’s a fascinating collection of instruments deployed on this record including ocarina, shakuhachi and guest Leszek Mozdzer on a range of keyboard sounds.

Bassist Esperanza Spalding is nothing if not eclectic and her latest project generated two separate CDs. That’s not unusual, but the way in which the recordings were made certainly is. Spalding set herself the challenge of recording a new album from scratch in 77 consecutive hours, with the whole process being streamed live on Facebook. The resulting music emerged on the CD Exposure, itself limited to just 7,777 copies. If you were one of the lucky few who secured the disc (which will never be repressed) you also received a bonus disc from which our chosen track Tangerine was taken.

Back to something that Eubie Blake would have very much recognised – the sound of a New Orleans style marching band with their characteristic ‘second line’ rhythms crossed with Jewish klesmer music. Actually, the Kinetic Brass Collective come out of Norway but are led by UK sax maverick Tim Lowerson. If you want to hear more or download the new album just check out their site here on Bandcamp.

The oud has become increasingly recognised as an improvisational instrument in jazz. Of course, it has been this for centuries in the middle eastern culture where it originates, but modern masters like Anouar Brahem and Dhafer Youssef are bringing it to the fore in jazz and jazz-related music. Tunisian Brahem’s new ECM recording features long time collaborator bassist Dave Holland and two new recruits – veteran drummer Jack de Johnette and British pianist Django Bates. It’s Bates who is the surprise here: a recent recruit to Manfred Eicher’s iconic jazz label, he quickly establishes a real rapport with Brahem and his peerless rhythm section. And de Johnette shows how he can move from straight ahead jazz drumming to the subtlest of cymbal splashes. Derek was absolutely right to choose two tracks from this excellent new release – it’s a great set and one well worth getting hold of.

Cosmic Jazz is always about contrasts and the music this week certainly reflected that. Up next was Chicago crate digger, record store owner and DJ Mark Grusane who here chops his way through Shabadoo’s classic Do It from 1976. You can compare with the string-driven original right here. And if you check out what Neil is listening to below, you can see his celebration of the music of Herbie Hancock – possibly the only jazz artist to successfully innovate across funk, disco, hip hop without disgracing himself! – reflects that 1976 sound with his perfect Doin’ It. The ever youthful Hancock turned 78 on 12 April and my choices this week show the range and diversity of his music. There’s no sign of him slowing down either – his new album will feature collaborations with those hippest of LA musicians, the West Coast Get Down crew – including Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington and Thundercat.

The show concluded with two more edge-of-jazz artists – the first a really underrated Californian Jarrod Lawson, whose excellent self-titled 2014 album contains the excellent Music is a Magical Way. Undoubtedly influenced by Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder, he created an individual sound that still sounds good. Maisha are part of the same London jazz explosion that has seen the rise of Nubya Garcia, Joe Armon-Jones and other artists we have featured on the show in recent months. Africa comes from their free live download available here on here on jazzre:freshed/Bandcamp. Download it now and support this new wave of talented young jazz artists!

  1. Piotr Wojtasik – Tribute 4 from Tribute to Akwarium
  2. Esperanza Spalding – Tangerine from Undeveloped
  3. Kinetic Brass Collective – Cesar de Carnaval from Kinetic Brass Collective
  4. Anouar Brahem – Blue Maqams from Blue Maqams
  5. Anouar Brahem – La Nuit from Blue Maquams
  6. Shabadoo (Mark Grusane edit) – Do it from The Real Sound of Mark Grusane
  7. Jarrod Lawson – Music and its Magical Way from Jarrod Lawson
  8. Maisha – Africa from Welcome to a new Welcome

Neil is listening to…

Derek is listening to…

Week ending 07 April 2018: contemporary sounds and crucial classics

Click the MixCloud tab to hear another Cosmic Jazz mix of mainly contemporary tunes, but with two jazz classics that are nothing less than essential listening.

There is often a link between CJ shows from one week to another and so it was this week. We began where the last one ended with some of the exciting new jazz coming out of London right now. Jazz Re:freshed is one project – and it’s an apt term, with a scene across the UK that’s totally re-invigorated. If you can, check out  the two day festival of such music at this year’s Field Day in London. This week CJ featured keyboard player Joe Armon-Jones and his contribution to We Out Here, the new Brownswood compilation. It’s no surprise that Boyd Moses and Nubya Garcia – whom we played last week – show up on this tune too. Armon-Jones will have his first album out in May. Called Starting Today, you can check out an extended live Brownswood Basement version of the title tune right here.

The first of the wonderful classics came from the Koichi Matsukaze Trio, actually a quartet in  this instance as a pianist is added to the alto sax/flute, drums and bass of the trio. It is to be found on a new BBE compilation, J-Jazz Deep Modern Jazz from Japan 1969-1984. The whole record is full of tracks never before released outside Japan and the Matsukaze tune Earth Mother with its spiritual, deep, modal vibe is perfect for Cosmic Jazz or any jazz lover. It’s one of those tunes you must have.

[Neil writes] The cover art is interesting too – it’s all taken from a website that documents the vanishing world of the jazz kissaten, the Japanese coffeehouse or bar (see photo above). The jazz cafe culture in Japan grew organically in the years after WWII as shops where fans could gather and listen to the latest records from the United States. Imported records – let alone turntables and speakers – were a luxury few could afford as Japan recovered from the war years. The act of going to a cafe and listening to a new release in a social, group setting became the norm for a generation of Japanese jazz fans. At its height, areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku in central Tokyo had dozens of these cafes and bars. Many of these places specialised in playing the new jazz releases on high quality vinyl hifi systems and the vinyl revival has sparked an interest in such venues around the world.

Whilst there are still over 100 such jazu kissa in Tokyo alone, London now has two of its own – both worth visiting. Spiritland is located in the redevelopment behind King’s Cross Station while Brilliant Corners is in the hipster’s heartland of Dalston. You can explore this unique world at the excellent tokyojazzjoints website and there’s a fine feature with some atmospheric photos on the Resident Advisor website. Singapore had its own jazu kissa until recently – the excellent Long Play in Arab Street. One of my first jobs in the city was archiving all the vinyl purchased over the years by the owner, restaurateur Geoffrey Eu. The Long Play site is now a new (and excellent) Japanese restaurant but Geoffrey hopes to reopen another jazu kissa venue soon.

Neil encouraged me some weeks ago to play a tune he sent me from the recent album The Centennial Trilogy by trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah. It is a tribute to the American jazz tradition but also draws upon the legacy of fusion, in keeping with many contemporary artists as we noted last week. The tune Encryption features the young flautist/vocalist Elena Pinderhughes. Already, she has played with such as Hubert Laws, Kenny Barron, Esperanza Spalding, Ambrose Akinmusire, Vijay Iyer, Santana and Marcos Valle. Quite an impressive and varied list. We shall follow her.

Kasia Pietrzko is a Polish pianist, another of the many exciting young musicians emerging from Poland. She trained at the Katowice Academy of Music and also studied in New York City. She is inventive and, in her words, the trio “concentrate on overall sound and the most important being emotions”. Certainly there are quite a mix of emotions in the tune Brown and the title of her debut album –  Forthright Stories – signals her approach.

One of the very great pianists provided the next tune. Andrew Hill is someone we used to play regularly. He is always interesting, challenging and unpredictable. It is time to re-visit his music and for no other reason than his music is truly essential I shall make April 2018 the Cosmic Jazz Andrew Hill month with at least one tune on every show throughout the month. This week it was Passing Ships, the title tune of his 1969 album. It’s a beautiful, delicately and sensitively played piece recorded with many favourite Blue Note stalwarts including Ron Carter, Julian Priester, Woody Shaw, Lenny White and Joe Farrell.

The alto sax player Fredrik Kronkvist appeared on the show last week. He was back again this week but in a different context. He released an album in 2017 entitled Afro-Cuban Supreme to celebrate the centenary of Dizzy Gillespie – and very good it is too. There are fellow Swedish musicians on the album, Miruiam Aida and Martin Sjostedt, who featured last week on the show, along with Cuban conga virtuoso Eliel Lazo, Jason Marsalis from the USA on drums and Johnny Aman on bass. Their version of Manteca, which was played and co-written by Dizzy Gillespie, is superb and is one of those covers that brings a contemporary feel to a well-established tune.

The show ended with another musician who travelled from her home country to make Latin Jazz music. Canadian soprano sax/flute player Jane Bunnett has had a 25 year association with Cuban musicians on her excellent Spirits of Havana album. This 1991 recording is now available as a double CD with her 1997 recording recording, Chamalongo, and confirms Bunnett as one of the greatest non-Cuban interpreters of Afro-Cuban music. This reissue is surely another essential purchase for CJ listeners.

  1. Joe Armon-Jones – Go See from We Out Here
  2. Koichi Matsukaze Trio – Earth Mother from J-Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz from Japan 1969-1984
  3. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah feat. Elena Pinderhughes – Encryption from The Centennial Trilogy
  4. Kasia Pietrako Trio – Brown from Forthright Stories
  5. Andrew Hill – Passing Ships from Passing Ships
  6. Fredrick Kronkvist – Manteca from Afro-Cuban Supreme
  7. Jane Bunnett – La Luna Arriba from Spirits of Havana

Neil is listening to..

Week ending 31 March 2018: crossing boundaries

Welcome to this week’s Cosmic Jazz, where just clicking on that Mixcloud tab (left) opens up a world of contemporary jazz. It involves musicians from different countries and continents working together, stretching the boundaries of jazz and creating new sounds as they do so. As always, comments are welcome from our registered users.

For a second week, the show begins with one of our favourite Polish jazz groups of the moment, the Marcin Stefaniak Trio. The combination of sax, drums and bass is familar but here it’s woven into something fresh, sharp and modern.

At last I found time to play something that Neil has recommended for some time – a tune from the recent album Black Notes from the Deep by British sax player Courtney Pine. His lyrical take on Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly features vocalist Omar. Swedish alto player Fredrik Kronkvist (above) is someone who appears regularly on Cosmic Jazz – and rightly so. He has travelled from Sweden to the US where he is now based and – over the years – he’s played with a number of prominent US jazz musicians. To me [writes Neil], his tone and style is sounding even more like one of our CJ favourites – Kenny Garrett. Check this out for yourself by listening to one of Garrett’s earlier recordings in Neil’s listening choices for this week – all of which feature great alto sax performances. Kronkvist’s recent album On the Move features another Swede, Martin Sorjstedt – a bass player who also plays piano. This album also features bass player Ameen Saleem as well as drummer Gregory Hutchinson. There’s more from the first two later in the show.

There were links to these artist on Cosmic Jazz as the show gave further attention to both Sorjstedt and Saleem as band leaders in their own right. Martin Sorjstedt definitely plays piano on his album Whereaboutswith an ensemble that includes musicians from Germany, Denmark and the US as well as Sweden. Check the tune Bueno on the show for some interesting trumpet playing from Axel Schlosser. Sorsjstedt is quite a veteran – more than one hundred record productions and six solo albums – and he’s still only thirty-nine – while bass player Saleem was featured on CJ last year with his 2017 album The Groove Lab. It is a varied record and one that crosses and fuses musical genres – of which more later.

There was a contribution to the show from Cubans who have themselves crossed boundaries. Daymé Arocena is an exciting young Cuban vocalist who recorded her second album Cubafonia for the UK Brownswood label under the direction of DJ Gilles Peterson. She first came to his attention as part of the Havana Club music promotion during Peterson’s first visit to Cuba, that Daymé improvised a head-turning rumba show with Edrey, from Grammy nominated group Ogguere. Two years later, the Havana Cultura Mix: The Soundclash! album saw the beginning of her work with Gilles and the Havana Cultura platform. Arocena also released an EP of cover versions – titled One Takes – in early 2016.

Luis Nubiola is a Cuban-born sax player and composer who moved first to Costa Rica and then to Poland. His album Global Friendship (surely an apt description of his life experiences) was made with Polish musicians. It is essentially a good jazz record with some nods towards Cuba.

Fusion was once a dirty word for many jazz lovers – and perhaps because so many lacklustre records were released by jazz musicians (particularly in the 1970s) as they tried to make jazz ‘relevant to today’ with disco and fusion leanings. The same happened in the 1990s as jazz took on hiphop and rap to ‘stay in tune’. I can remember a presenter of a local radio jazz show railing against Miles Davis when he included rapping from Easy Mo Bee on his Doo-Bop album.

In that case, perhaps justifiably so – but thankfully things have moved on and much of todays new jazz musicians start from the simple premise that they grew up listening to nu-soul, hip hop and rap. It’s not an add on, but rather an integrated part of their cultural and musical development. The result – much of their music is hip, cool and undoubtedly the place to be. From the US the likes of Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, Esperanza Spalding, Christian Scott, Keyon Harrold and our bass player Ameen Saleem have attracted new and younger admirers for jazz through their work in these current idioms. We’ll continue to feature the music of these trailblazers in upcoming CJ shows.

And, of course, in the UK there are many young musicians now following the same aesthetic. For those of us UK jazz lovers who like to think we have a progressive and open outlook to the music, these are exciting times. There were two examples in this week’s show to illustrate what is happening. Firstly, drummer, composer, producer  Moses Boyd and then sax/flute player Nubya Garcia, a beneficiary of support from the Foundation set up in memory of drummer Steve Reid. I am looking forward to seeing both of these musicians at the end of May at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival – Moses Boyd with partner Binker Golding and Nubya Garcia as a member of Maisha. Open musicians, with open minds opening further adventurous paths into the music we love.

  1. Marcin Stefaniak – Wheelers from Unveiling
  2. Courtney Pine – Butterfly from Black Notes from the Deep
  3. Fredrik Kronkvist feat Martin Sjostedt, Ameen Saleem & Gregory Hutchinson – Essential from On the Move
  4. Martin Sjostedt – Bueno from Whereabouts
  5. Ameen Saleem – Love Don’t from the Groove Lab
  6. Dayme Arocena – Mambo Na Ma from Cubafonia
  7. Luis Nubiola – The New One from Global Friendships
  8. Moses Boyd – The Balance from We Out Here
  9. Nubya Garcia – When We Are from When We Are EP

Neil is listening to…

Week ending 24 March 2018: drummers and the UK scene

Here on Cosmic Jazz we’ve been playing some of the bands that make the current UK jazz scene so exciting. Many of these are based in London, but there’s a thriving scene in many UK cities and all represent the diversity of these locations, their wealth of musical talent and the range of musical influences – from hip hop to house and beyond. What really exciting is how these bands are being promoted at some major festivals – whether it’s May’s Norfolk & Norwich Festival or London’s Field Day Festival in June. In Norwich you can catch Maisha (check them out on this week’s show), Ashley Henry and Binker and Moses. All will be performing from 10 pm in the Adnams Spiegeltent in Chapelfield Park. Field Day features a huge line up of British jazz musicians including Zara McFarlane (also on this week’s CJ), Sons of Kemet and Mammal Hands.

Maisha are led by drummer Jess Long and play spiritual and cosmic jazz, with Pharaoh Sanders and Alice Coltrane as major influences. You’ll hear West African and Afrobeat rhythms too: it’s music to make you move, music for contemplation and music for the soul all in one. Do try to get to see them if you can. The band includes Nubya Garcia on sax and Shirley Tetteh on guitar and you can download their free EP from the jazzre:freshed Bandcamp site.

The show began with the Marcin Stefaniak Trio – this time in full. This young Polish sax trio provides the sort of tough, contemporary sound that we like to feature here on Cosmic Jazz. There’s lots of new Polish jazz and more from our friends at Steve’s Jazz Sounds.

Up next on the show were selections from my colleague Neil. Emanative are part of a more established jazz scene but one also led by a drummer – in this case, Nick Woodmansey, himself the son of Woody Woodmansey, David Bowie’s drummer in the Spiders from Mars band. They’re the second of three bands led by drummers to be featured on Cosmic Jazz this week. Pianist Jessica Lauren – whom we’ve played on previous shows – is also a member.

Neil and I agree about most music we feature on CJ, but Portico Quartet may be one where we diverge. Endless is the opening track from their 2017 release Art in the Age of Automation. The band have been busy touring since July last year and they’ll be playing Norwich, Gateshead, Cheltenham, London and Manchester as part of their dates this spring and summer. I can see that the technical qualities of the sounds they create are impressive, but the music is too clinical for me and leaves me cold. Whereas I [writes Neil] think that this music is progressive, melodic, uncategorisable new jazz working in the same way that Bugge Wesseltoft’s ground-breaking albums did almost 20 years ago. Just as Wesseltoft explored the hinterland between jazz and house, so Portico merge jazz and Reichian minimalism with real dexterity. The recording sessions for Art in the Age of Automation were clearly a fertile period for the band as they are now about to release AITAOA #2, largely recorded at the same time in London. The new album is intended as a companion piece to last year’s AITAOA but it works equally as well as a stand-alone, exploring similar areas of enigmatic, widescreen minimalism alongside the more hard-hitting sounds that have become a notable part of their live shows. I think there’s no lessening of quality here – album opener Double Space is now available to download from Bandcamp here, with the rest of the album emerging at the end of next month. For a listen to this key influence, check out a mesmerising performance of Reich’s masterpiece Music for Eighteen Musicians below. Whilst Portico are not attaining this level of complexity, much of their overall sound now derives from this kind of music.

Polish trumpeter Piotr Wojtasik is a player whose music provides joy and inspiration. His album Tribute to Akwarium pays homage to a former Polish jazz club and on the show this week there is the tune Tribute 3. Like so much of his music, it featured complex, spiritual and cosmic rhythms. It’s undoubtedly more music for the body and soul.

Our third drummer/leader was Tony Allen, the man Brian Eno called perhaps the greatest drummer and probably the most important musician of the last fifty years.  This new album from the founder of Afrobeat follows on from his tribute to Art Blakey and is pure jazz. Recorded in Paris – where Allen is now based – and with excellent French musicians. Cruising features bassist Matthias Allemane. There was more from the new London jazz scene with the Ezra Collective. We’ve already played their superb version of Fela Kuti’s Colonial Mentality and this week’s tune featured the vocals of Zara McFarlane. It really shows what her voice is capable of – and we think rather more so than on much of her recent solo album. The track comes from their debut EP simply called Chapter 7.

Finally, in a show full of exciting, contemporary music, there was a tune by sax player Hamiet Bluiett from a recent re-release compilation of music from the Italian Black Saint/Soul Note label.

  1. Marcin Stefaniak Trio – Proxima Centauri from Unveiling
  2. Emanative – Ominous Shanti from single
  3. Portico Quartet – Endless from Art in the Age of Automation
  4. Piotr Wojtasik – Tribute 3 from Tribute to Akwarium
  5. Tony Allen – Cruising from The Source
  6. Maisha – Africa from Welcome to a New Welcome
  7. Ezra collective feat. Zara McFarlane – I Have a God from Chapter 7
  8. Hamiet Bluiett – Oasis from You Need This! An Introduction to Black Saint & Soul Note Recordings 1975-1985

Derek is listening to…

Neil is listening to…

Week ending 17 March 2018: Latin connections

We often talk on Cosmic Jazz about the connections between jazz and Latin music and the musicians who play both forms of music either separately or as a fusion. The show this week has some fine examples of music to illustrate this. Just click the MixCloud tab (left) to listen and enjoy.

The double album Familia released at the end of last year says it all. This is a  celebration of tradition and innovation in Afro-Latin jazz featuring the music of three generations: the grandfathers – Bebo Valdes and Chico O’Farrill – some of whose compositions and arrangements are to be found on the album and the musicianship and compositions of the sons – Chucho Valdes and Arturo O’Farrill. And that’s not forgetting the grandchildren – Jessie and Leyanis Valdes and Adam and Zack O’Farrill. It’s a family affair as Sly Stone once said. We featured two contrasting tunes from the album – Con Poco Coco which translates to with little coconut or with little money features the sons Arturo and Chucho on piano and grandson Adam O’Farrill on trumpet. It is a classic up-tempo latin jazz excursion and is in contrast to the next track, Recuerdo. This translates as memory but it veers more towards musicians of Latin heritage playing jazz. Grandchildren Jessie and Leyanis perform on piano and drums respectively with Jessie as composer and arranger.

Fredrik Kronkvist is another of the musicians introduced to us by Steve from Steve’s Jazz Sounds. He is a superb alto sax player, born in Sweden but now  New York-based where he has been able to play with and be joined by other first-rate musicians.  His repertoire is a wide one, ranging from innovative compositions, to standards – and now to Afro-Cuban music.  Not surprisingly, Kronkvist is inspired by Dizzy Gillespie who did so much to popularise the links between jazz and Latin music. He chose 2017 – the centenary of Dizzy’s birth – to release this album.

There was a final acknowledgement of classic Afro-Cuban music with a tune from an artist we have turned  to frequently on Cosmic Jazz. Percussionist Manny Oquendo was a long time member of Eddie Palmieri’s La Conjunto Perfecta band before he left to lead the quintessential New York Latin band Libre. Oquendo was born in Spanish Harlem, Brooklyn, to parents of Puerto Rican heritage and his three 1990s albums for the jazz label Milestone are all worth getting hold of. Mejor Que Nunca includes our featured track – a latin take on Kurt Weill’s jazz standard Speak Low.

Some aspects of Brazilian music also have close links to jazz and many musicians, such as Airto Moreira and Hermeto Pascoal have  have played across the genres and fused them. Indeed, Miles Davis called Pascoal one of the most important musicians on the planet and for a while he featured on some of Miles’ 1970s albums including Live Evil. This week we featured another Hermeto Pascoal track from the recently released  Viajando Com o Som: the Lost ’76 Vice-Versa Studio Session released by UK-based Far Out Records. It is another long tune that builds intricately and emotionally. Hermeto – who contributes electric piano, flute and voice to this album – was quite simply an innovative genius.

There was time for one more Brazilian tune from Neil’s selections – this time vocalist Patricia Marx featuring Seu Jorge on the excellent compilation Tokyo Moon put together by Japanese DJ Toshio Matsuura.

At this point the show moved away from Latin influences but saw the return of Fredrik Kronkvist in one of his other guises with an uplifting tune from his album On The MoveHe calls upon some influential musicians, as the album features in-demand Swedish bass /piano player Martin Sjostedt. I presume he plays piano as bassist Ameen Saleem, whose album released last year we featured on Cosmic Jazz, is also featured as is drummer Gregory Hutchinson.

Next was a touch of class from a duo of two classic jazz musicians on classic jazz label Impulse. Pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland on their duo album The Art of Conversation play with all the subtlety, beauty and devotion that players of their experience can bring. The album features compositions by both of them as well as a couple of standards. Another of Neil’s choices and one I had previously missed. Finally, there was time for an excerpt from one of our favourite Polish musicians of the moment, sax player Marcin Stefaniak and his trio – we’ll return to this new album in upcoming shows.

  1. Arturo O’Farrill and Chucho Valdes – Con Poco Coco from Familia
  2. Jessie and Leyanis Valdes – Recuerdo from Familia
  3. Fredrik Kronkvist – Gillespiana from Afro-Cuban Supreme
  4. Manny Oquendo and Libre – Speak Low from Mejor Que Nunca (Better Than Before)
  5. Grupo Vice Versa and Hermeto Pascoal – Danca do Paje from Viajando Com o Som: the Lost ’76 Vice Versa Studio Session
  6. Patricia Marx feat. Seu Jorge – Espelhos d’Agua from Tokyo Moon
  7. Fredrik Kronkvist feat .Martin Sjostedt, Ameen Saleem and Gregory Hutchinson – Glowing from On the Move
  8. Kenny Barron and Dave Holland – The Oracle from The Art of Conversation
  9. Marcin Stefaniak Trio – Proxima Centauri from Unveiling

Derek is listening to…..

  1. Luciano – Its Me Again Jah
  2. Maisha – The Night Trance
  3. Binker and Moses – The Departure
  4. Mark Murphy – Speak Low
  5. George Frideric Handel – Israel in Egypt

Week ending 10 March 2018: new music, a tribute and freedom fighters

This week’s Cosmic Jazz began with two trumpeters. The first was our favourite Polish trumpet player, Piotr Wojtasik, opening the show with joyous and uplifting exclamations of freedom from his new album Tribute to Akwarium, the name of a celebrated jazz club in Warsaw. Wojtasik is so good – and has the past experience to prove it. Jazz musicians from Poland should not be judged by the number of US jazz giants they have played, with but I cannot avoid saying that you have to take notice of someone who has played with the likes of Dave Liebman, Gary Bartz, Reggie Workman, Vincent Herring and Billy Harper.

The second trumpeter spent his life involved in the fight for freedom and it is time that we acknowledged his death in January this year. Hugh Masekela, was born in South Africa, has been described as “the father of African jazz” and played with another doyen of the continent’s jazz scene, Abdullah Ibrahim in the Jazz Epistles bandMasekela was an important figure in the Anti-Apartheid  Movement and composed songs for it. He had to leave South Africa firstly for the UK, then the USA, to study music settling in New York. There was even a US pop hit with Grazing in the Grass and an interesting trumpet contribution to that short piece of perfect pop by The Byrds, So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star. It is, however, as a jazz trumpeter inextricably linked to the struggles for freedom and liberation in South Africa and across the African continent that we here on Cosmic Jazz choose to remember him. Out track came from one of Masekela’s very best albums – and one recorded in London in 1972. Home is Where the Music Is was released as a double LP on Blue Thumb and was a move way from his more pop-oriented jazz records of the ’60s. Masekela wanted to create a fusion of the rhythms and melodies of his native South Africa and the more spiritual, soul-driven explorations occurring in American music at the time on labels like Strata East, Tribe, and Black Jazz. The South African and American quintet he assembled for the date is awesome. It included the South Africans saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and drummer Makaya Ntshoko along with American pianist Larry Willis and bass player Eddie Gomez who was then playing with Bill Evans. Part of the Whole opens the set with Willis on Fender Rhodes setting a blues groove that is equal parts soul-jazz and South African folk melody. The horns come in and Pukwana takes a typically fiery solo before Masekela answers on flugelhorn in tight, hard lines so typical of his style.  Home Is Where the Music Is is a spiritual soul-jazz classic and is one of the greatest recordings in Masekela’s long career. If you don’t have it – go out an get a copy!

We are very excited about the number of young jazz and jazz-related musicians on the UK scene, based mainly in London. Maisha are one of these bands, part of the Jazz Re:freshed movement and featured on the new Brownswood compilation We Out Here. Inside the Acorn features Nubya Garcia on sax and flute, Jake Long on drums and Shirley Tetteh on guitar. What’s significant about many of these new bands is the gender balance – most (like Maisha, Nerija, the Camilla George Quartet and Dinosaur) all feature strong women leaders or instrumentalists. The third contribution from the new jazz scene came from pianist Ashley Henry. In fact, it was a remarkably straight-ahead tune from someone schooled in hip-hop and other contemporary sounds. The scene is varied and full of surprises.

Then there was new music from Poland. In the case of the first, from guitarist Marek Napiorkowski, we have to mention a player from the US because sax player Chris Potter is featured and plays strongly on The Way, a tune from the new album WAWNYC. I should add, however, that in the over forty albums that he has appeared on and his many performances around the world, Marek has played with a variety of people from across the globe, including Ursula Dudziak (originally from Poland but settled in the US), Angelique Kidjo from Benin, Dhafer Youssef from Tunisia (not Morocco as I said on the programme), Pat Metheny and Marcus Miller from the US.

The next Polish contribution was a really exciting find and thanks, once again, to Steve’s Jazz Sounds for introducing me to this. The Marcin Stefaniak Trio is an interesting combination of sax (Marcin Stefaniak himself) as well as drums and double bass. The title tune from their new album Unveiling makes subtle use of the drum set alongside the sax. The trio play contemporary European jazz with reference to folk and global sounds. Their music is about improvisation that is cool and  contemplative.

Talking of contemplation, that word could be used to describe the tune this week from our pianist of the moment, Cat Toren. Legacy (for A.C.) is, of course, a tribute to pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane and features a characteristic deep, reflective solo – much like Coltrane’s own music, of course. Toren’s EP Human Kind is another expression of the struggle for freedom and justice and it’s exciting that the jazz legacy of Hugh Masekela and others is being continued by a number of contemporary jazz musicians – see for example another trumpeter, Keyon Harrold, whom we have featured on Cosmic Jazz in several previous shows.

To end there was a short burst from Chicago DJ/mixer Mark Grusane – the tune will deserve a full outing another time.

  1. Piotr Wojtasik – Stay in Time of Freedom from Tribute to Akwarium
  2. Hugh Masekela – Part of a Whole from Home Is Where the Music Is
  3. Maisha – Inside the Acorn from We Out Here
  4. Ashley Henry – Deja Vu from Ashley Henry’s 5ive
  5. Marek Napiorkowski feat. Chris Potter – The Way from WAWNYC
  6. Marcin Stefaniak Trio – Unveiling from Unveiling
  7. Cat Toren’s Human Kind – Legacy (for A.C.) from Cat Toren’s Human Kind
  8. Shabadoo (Mark Grusane edit) – Do It from The Real Sound of Mark Grusane

Derek is listening to…

Neil is listening to…

Week ending 24 February 2018: saxophone sessions

This week’s show has a very different feel from last week’s deep jazz sounds. We began with a new discovery from Brazilian master Hermeto Pascoal and the lost Vice Versa studio sessions. The track is Casinha Pequenina – all 26 minutes of it. Recorded in Sao Paulo in just two days in 1976 and not released until November last year, this is exciting improvised music, most of it recorded in first takes and still unedited. Guitarist Toninho Horta is there but Nivaldo Ornelas on tenor saxophone is one of the highlights too. You can download the whole Far Out Records album from Bandcamp right here or find it at your local independent record store. If you like this, check out the epic Slaves Mass album recorded by Pascoal in the following year and (apparently) noted for the use of squealing pigs as one of the sound effects…

Next up was one of the edits from a new BBE Records release from the Chicago DJ and producer Mark Grusane, but featuring bandleader Choker Campbell who appeared (anonymously) as saxophonist on numerous Motown hits. Campbell was also the writer of Albert Jones’ track Mother Nature, with a string section famously sampled on the title track of one of our favourite rap albums, Common’s ecstatic Be. You can check out the wonderful Be (Intro) here.

Deep jazz is never far away from our playlists and it was a return visit to one of the best compilations from last year – this one featuring baritone sax maestro Hamiett Bluiett on the track Oasis from a Soul Note album from 1981, before heading leftfield once more with more new music. This time, the new artist is Polish/Danish band Beam, led by alto saxophonist Bartosz Czarniecki. The quartet also features Anna Roemer on guitar, Michał Nienadowski on bass and Emil Thorenfeldt on drums.

Trumpeter Marquis Hill made a name for himself in 2017 and he continues to surprise. His latest EP is simply called Meditation Tape and includes some spoken word comments from drummer Marvin ‘Bugalu’ Smith at the end of each track. It’s music to wind down with – whereas Daniel Crawford’s take on Fela’s classic Water get No Enemy is an upbeat way to end the show from his very under-rated jazz/neo-soul album The Awakening.

  1. Hermeto Pascoal/Grupo Vice Versa – Casinha Pequenina from Viajando Como Som/The Lost ’76 Vice-Versa Studio Session
  2. Choker Campbell edit. Mark Grusane – Carioca from The Real Sound of Mark Grusane
  3. Hamiet Bluiett – Oasis from You Need This: an Introduction to Black Saint & Soul Note 1975-1986
  4. Beam – Kerteminde from One
  5. Marquis Hill – Good Morning from Meditation EP
  6. Daniel Crawford – Water No Get Enemy from The Awakening

Neil is listening to…

Derek is listening to…

  1. Ntjam Rosie – Take A Good Look At me
  2. Ntjam Rosie – Never Give Up
  3. Anouar Brahem – Blue Maqams
  4. Nicholas Payton – Afro-Caribbean Mixtape
  5. Havana Meets Kingston feat Solis & Randy Valentine – Candela

Week ending 17 February 2018: ‘visionary’ jazz

The show this week was not the one I planned. I had worked out a carefully selected playlist, as usual, only to arrive at the studio to find a glasses case with no glasses. A quick search from my colleague found the first tune for me as I rushed to the car to find my driving glasses. These are not intended for close reading so this week’s show includes tunes whose titles I was able to make out on the screen. But – as it is with serendipity – the music works!

The first tune fulfilled a promise from last week when I went into raptures about the Cat Toren tune Soul. I expressed my feelings about this tune in last week’s Cosmic Jazz blog and Neil added much useful information. So I will say no more and hope that Neil can supply more of her music for future shows. [Neil notes] Yes he will! I feel the same about this excellent New York-based artist. It’s worth repeating some of the liner notes I quoted on this blog for last week’s show:

These compositions are inspired by both the free form jazz of the 1960s and a personal expression of the resurgent civil rights movement that is upon us. Jazz has always been music of expression and of the people. In the late 60s, as John and Alice Coltrane and their contemporaries were bringing jazz to new levels of experimentation and cross-culturalism, the sociopolitical climate was fraught with tension… America has come a long way, but this recent regression is a wake up call that the work is far from over.

And, of course, Toren is right. There’s a long history of jazz addressing civil rights issues and Toren and Harrold are just two of the many current musicians focusing on these issues in their chosen art form. Buy this music and you’ll help to benefit organisations fighting for civil liberties and human rights. Go to this Bandcamp link and download the Human Kind EP – then spread the word!

A familiar artist I could make out on the screen was Polish trumpeter Piotr Wojtasik (above) and, as any regular listeners or readers of this blog will know, I do not need much of an excuse to play his wonderful music, particularly from the album Old Land. It is uplifting music and with a poignant title to this week’s tune Recognition, Understanding, Acceptance.

There was a tune from a new Polish album Hourglass by the Szymon Lukowski Quintet. The leader plays tenor and alto sax and the quintet is made up with vibes and marimba, bass, drums and a featured guitarist from Austria, Hannes Riepler. As always with the East European  jazz you know where to find it – the ever reliable Steve’s Jazz Sounds.

Neil has a drummer of the moment and it is Makaya McCraven. He describes him as a beat architect. The album In the Moment comprises mostly short tracks recorded live and then edited, mixed and worked on in the studio. The result is something like the explorations of Teo Macero with Miles Davis – an innovative rewiring of the original jams.

A big favourite among many lovers of jazz-related music for the last couple of years has been saxophonist Kamasi Washington and what better way to  celebrate his 37th birthday than to play a track from his excellent 2017 EP Harmony of Difference. It’s a scaled down release after his 3CD masterpiece The Epic, but one well worth exploring. All the usual trademarks are there – a big sound, a big choir and a big-sounding lead tenor player. Great music.

 

 

 

It is not easy to take on a Fela Kuti tune. It was a risky move for the Ezra Collectivewho are part of the new London jazz scene which is getting a lot of mainstream press attention at the moment. In fact, this year’s Friday lineup for London’s Field Day festival there’s so many of these new young artists it almost amounts to a (very welcome) takeover. The Ezra Collective certainly mix it up on their first EP with a melange of dub, jazz and afrobeat.  Their take on Fela’s Colonial Mentality is really inventive and the results are  surprisingly good – even to the ears of someone as besotted with his music as me.

The African feel continued with a track from The Oneness of Juju. James ‘Plunky’ Branch has led a number of incarnations of this group and this one produced the excellent Space Jungle Luv album. It was originally issued in 1976 and subsequently reissued by the enterprising Strut label, who also put out a now hard-to-find 2CD compilation. African Rhythms is a well anthologised tune though, and you’ll find it on a number of compilations. Early in his career, Branch recorded with the influential Strata East label and – by some accounts – knew both Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman. Pedigree…

To end this week’s show we went back to a classic tune, but in a recently released version. Thelonious Monk’s Light Blue comes from the excellent 2017 release Les liaisons dangereuses, the soundtrack to Roger Vadim’s 1957 film. Along with Sam Jones on bass and Art Taylor on drums, the music features tenor saxophonists, Charlie Rouse and Barney Wilen. This 2CD release is a great lost great recording and well worth investing in to celebrate Thelonious Monk’s centenary year. Your jazz fact for this week is that Monk is (still) one of only five jazz musicians to have ever graced the cover of the celebrated Time magazine – an achievement not even Miles Davis realised. Genius.

  1. Cat Toren’s Human Kind – Soul from Human Kind
  2. Piotr Wojtasik – Recognition, Acceptance, Understanding from Old Land
  3. Szymon Lukowski Quintet – Hourglass from Hourglass
  4. Makaya McCraven – The Jaunt from In the Moment
  5. Kamasi Washington – The Truth from Harmony of Difference EP
  6. Ezra Collective – Colonial Mentality from Chapter 7 EP
  7. Oneness of Juju – African Rhythms from Space Jungle Luv
  8. Thelonious Monk – Light Blue from Les liasons dangereuses soundtrack

Neil is listening to…

 

Week ending 10 February 2018: more 2017 jazz from Poland and the US

In this first live show of 2018, Cosmic Jazz caught up with some great music from the old year. Technical problems aside there was some great music to listen to – click that MixCloud tab (left) and check it out.

Up first was a moving track from one of my favourite discs of 2017. MB Lament from Keyon Harrold’s sophomore release The Mugician is a tribute to Michael Brown, the young man shot dead by police in Harrold’s home town of Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. The Mugician is a good example of the way in which many current jazz artists seek to explore the boundaries of their music: there’s reggae, neo-soul, spoken word and some inspiring orchestration here. Harrold’s sound is close to Terence Blanchard’s and it’s all bound up in a socially conscious framework. This music means something – and that’s Harrold’s intention.

There is still some interesting Polish music to catch up on from 2017. The Improvisation Quartet on their debut album have produced what a Polish critic described as one of the finest moments in Polish jazz for 2017. The musicians play tunes based on folkloric song using clarinet, double bass, drums and piano – and it’s co-ordinated by the  outstanding Dominik Wania, who we have met already on Cosmic Jazz.

Another debut album came from the Patrycjusz Gruzecki Trio. Gruzecki himself is a trumpet/flugelhorn player  and combines with the interesting mix of drums and Hammond organ, which provides both swing and  groove to the music. More conventional is the pianist Kuba Stankiewicz (see photo above) – a more established member of the Polish jazz scene. His record is a dedication to Henryk Wars, a composer of Polish jazz standards. The music is mainstream but has a calming effect especially when played among some of the less conventional material on the programme.

From time to time you hear music that is simply amazing, music that leaves you in awe and wonder, music that moves you physically and spiritually. Neil, my co-presenter of Cosmic Jazz has just introduced me to a new example. Cat Toren is a pianist leading a band which she says is inspired by the jazz of the 60s and 70s but music, though, is so much more than a re-working of the past – it is simply wonderful. So much so, that I will not be able to resist playing the same tune all over again next week and after that I hope Neil will have more of her music available to play. Check out some of her live performances on YouTube (see Neil’s listening selections for the previous week’s show) but – more importantly – go and buy this album. [Neil notes] Joining Toren on keyboards are Xavier Del Castillo on sax, Yoshie Fruchter on guitar and oud, Jake Leckie on bass and Matt Honor on drums. Toren’s liner notes are worth quoting: These compositions are inspired by both the free form jazz of the 1960s and a personal expression of the resurgent civil rights movement that is upon us. Jazz has always been music of expression and of the people. In the late 60s, as John and Alice Coltrane and their contemporaries were bringing jazz to new levels of experimentation and cross-culturalism, the sociopolitical climate was fraught with tension. There were benefits held for the Congress Of Racial Equality (CoRE) at the infamous Five Spot Cafe, Nina Simone was singing Mississippi Goddam at Carnegie Hall and producer/concert promoter Norman Granz was demanding that venues adhere to mixed seating for his Jazz at the Philharmonic tours which featured artists such as Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald. America has come a long way, but this recent regression is a wake up call that the work is far from over.

And, of course, Toren is right. There’s a long history of jazz addressing civil rights issues and Toren and Harrold are just two of the many current musicians focusing on these issues in their chosen art form. Buy this music and you’ll help to benefit organisations fighting for civil liberties and human rights. Go to this Bandcamp link and download the Human Kind EP – then spread the word!

Also from Neil came Makaya McCraven, who Neil describes as the drummer of the moment. I can see why. His 2CD set In the Moment includes some of Chicago’s finest musicians and the tune on the show is a haunting, percussive piece. His music draws upon different musical genres but the spirit is definitely jazz.

The show ends with a short improvised piece from two British jazz masters – free saxophonist Evan Parker and celebrated bass player Dave Holland. Funds raised from downloads of the tune go to raising funds to save the Vortex Jazz Club in London. You can make your own contribution here.

Parker describes the Vortex as my haven from the demands of the road… the Vortex is for me, a space to play ‘free jazz’ I cannot imagine life without it’  New York-based Holland has dropped into the club on a few occasions to take in the odd Evan Parker gig as well as to take in the unique Vortex vibe created by the musicians who perform here and volunteers who look after the place. He says …the Vortex plays a vital role in the cultural life of London providing performance opportunities for both a UK and international community of musicians… its imaginative programming introduces new listening experiences to its audience. Both jazz greats will play sets live at the Vortex on 02 March 2018, donating 100% of ticket sales to the club.

  1. Keyon Harrold – MB’s Lament from The Mugician
  2. Improvisation Quartet – 193  from Free-Folk-Jazz
  3. Makaya McCraven – In the Moment from In the Moment
  4. Cat Toren’s Human Kind – Soul from Human Kind
  5. Kuba Stankiewicz Trio – Let the Chips Fall from The Music of Henryk Wars
  6. Patrycjusz Gruzecki Trio – First Flight from Something About
  7. Evan Parker and Dave Holland – Bass and Tenor Duet (untitled) – Download

Neil is listening to…

Derek is listening to..