This week’s CJ features music chosen by Neil before his departure to Singapore. We started the show with a very different version of a tune familiar to Cosmic Jazz listeners. This week saw the 90th anniversary of John Coltrane’s birth (23 September) and so we featured two classic ‘trane compositions – Alabama and Tunji. We have played the impassioned Alabama before on the show – and told the essential backstory. If you don’t know, then check out this radio feature on Alabama which suggests that (just as with the suite A Love Supreme) Coltrane based the cadences and rhythms of the tune on the spoken word – in this case, Martin Luther King’s funeral eulogy on the four girls killed in the Montgomery firebombing. Our other two versions will be much less familiar to CJ fans.
In Movement, the new ECM album from Jack DeJohnette is a stunner. It’s a collaboration between DeJohnette and the sons of two musicians who featured in the classic Coltrane quartet – Ravi Coltrane (pictured above) and Matthew Garrison, bass playing son of Jimmy Garrison – so it seems appropriate that they should cover Alabama. In fact, all three of the album cover tunes are inspired – how about EWF’s Serpentine Fire?! The whole thing is suffused with subtle electronics from Garrison and sounds like a reinvigoration for DeJohnette who – at 74 – is arguably
on his best ever form.
The late Bernie Worrell was not just the keyboard player behind George Clinton’s funk groups Parliament and Funkadelic but an adventurous jazz pianist in his own right. He committed only one solo piano album to disc and Elevation: the Upper Air was stunning result. There are no keyboard histrionics here – just quiet reflective versions of some tunes old and new that could now be called standards. One of them is our second look at Alabama. Other surprising inclusions on this gentle album are Carlos Santana’s Samba Pa Ti and Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. It won’t be easy to find this album but it’s worth tracking down – and the excellent sound quality (thanks to producer Bill Laswell) is a bonus.
In between these two impassioned performances was alto player Arthur Blythe. With a tone all his own, Blythe is one of the most underrated alto players in jazz. When he emerged in New York aged 37, he was already fully formed as a player. For me, Blythe has the same quality of sound as trumpeter Lester Bowie – a free-influenced player who is also capable of playing older styles in an utterly personal and borderline iconoclastic way. This new four album, two CD reissue on enterprising British label BGP is highly recommended. All four albums were the result of Blythe’s contract with Columbia Records – until they dropped him in favour of rising star Wynton Marsalis. The rest – as they say – is history… I bought Blythe’s Lenox Avenue Breakdown album when it when it first appeared in 1979 – but I didn’t get Illusions, this later one. I should have done. My Son Ra is from is a blast from start to finish. Bob Stewart’s tuba is there still and James Blood Ulmer is on guitar too. This is another tribute title – it’s for his son Raschid.
I just had to follow this with some authentic John Coltrane and so chose Tunji from Coltrane (the Deluxe Edition). This version is one of the several alternative versions on the extra disc and is taken rather faster than the one which appears on the initial album release. The title is a tribute to percussionist Babatunde Olatunji, of course – and he appears here in an updated performance of his classic Drums of Passion, this time adding modern beats with the help of Airto Moreira and Mickey Hart.
Earlier this month, I was inspired by watching a rather good BBC4 television documentary on Massive Attack and their origins in the Bristol music scene of the late 1980s. It was a fascinating portrait, largely told through the eyes of the Wild Bunch collective founder Milo Johnson. Watch the full documentary Unfinished: The Making of Massive Attack along with these photographs of Bristol in the 1980s by Beezer. As Be Thankful for What You’ve Got from Blue Lines played over the end credits, I thought that this would make an excellent CJ opening track. Of course, it’s a great song but I think this version tops the excellent William DeVaughn original. By the way, Vince Montana of the Salsoul Orchestra played vibes on that original version. Here he is with the extended sextet version of the classic Heavy Vibes from a 1982 edition of Soul Train. Love the dancing…
Pianist Ahmad Jamal appears to be having a late career revival at the moment – but the reality is that he’s never gone away. Stolen Moments from The Awakening (1970) on the Impulse! label is a surely a tune that you can’t get wrong – and Jamal doesn’t disappoint, twisting and turning round the tune once he gets going with that really chordal percussive stye of his. About half way through he just runs off on another journey but is soon back with the theme – this version is just a delight. You can catch Jamal on fine live form at Marciac, France here with a radical version of Blue Moon.
Wayne Shorter is one of the greatest living jazz artists. Now in his 80s, he is still at the top of his game – for example, delighting audiences at this year’s September Monterey Jazz Festival. Here he is on his very last outing for the label with the tune Joy from Odyssey of Iska. It’s quite difficult to get hold of this one on either vinyl or CD but look out for the album and its equally elusive predecessor Mato Grosso Feio. Both albums feature that Shorter’s unique elipical compositions and his radically different playing style on tenor and soprano saxes – the former gruff and rasping, the latter lean and clear. Odyssey of Iska features two drummers and two percussionists, along with vibes too, and yet the whole feels very light and airy. Interesting. A footnote: Iska was named after Shorter’s young daughter.
Shorter began on the iconic Blue Note label and so did his contemporary Joe Henderson, one of CJ’s long time heroes. Even if you dip your musical toes into something more obscure from the extensive Henderson back catalogue (like Terra Firma from Black is the Color) you won’t go wrong. Easily dateable from the drums and the little bits of synth, this outing on Milestone is still pure deep Henderson – overdubbed on both tenor and soprano saxes along with flute too. Yes, there’s some wah wah style guitar and some synthesizer decorations, but there’s some punchy electric bass too (unusually) from Ron Carter. That’s CJ this week – keeping it in the family.
- DeJohnette/Coltrane/Garrison – Alabama from In Movement
- Arthur Blythe – My Son Ra from Illusions
- John Coltrane – Tunji from Coltrane (Deluxe Edition)
- Bernie Worrell – Alabama from Elevation: the Upper Air
- Massive Attack – Be Thankful for What You’ve Got from Blue Lines
- Ahmad Jamal – Stolen Moments from The Awakening
- Wayne Shorter – Joy from Odyssey of Iska
- Joe Henderson – Terra Firma from Black is the Color
Neil is listening to…