In the studio this week was Neil: back from Beijing for a short visit, it was time for him to head to the decks and record a live show. The music focused on new albums and reissues from 2014 – along with an extra or two. We bookended the show with a couple of tracks from rising star Taylor McFerrin’s first release, Early Riser. Taylor is son of jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin and knowing that the album is on Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label tells you quickly that this is not a case of ‘like father, like son’. Robert Glasper and bassist Thundercat are some of the big names supporting multi-instrumentalist McFerrin to create music that moves fluidly between soul, electronica and jazz.
Next up was another new release – this time from American pianist Jason Moran whose recent concerts featured a papier mache head of his most recent inspiration, Fats Waller. The track also featured vocals – this time from bassist Meshell Ndegeocello. Following this was more evidence that the boundary between electronica and jazz continues to blur, with both Black Top and what might be called the Wesseltoft Trio using sonic manipulation to creative effect.
Following the 100th anniversary of his birth, interest in the original jazz space cadet Sun Ra has never been greater. Reissues of his albums (even the most obscure ones) continues apace but we featured a track from one of the best introductions to his work that you could possibly wish for. Strut Records was definitely one of the labels of 2014 and their 2CD compilation of Ra’s work (In the Orbit of Ra) was compiled by long serving Ra sideman Marshall Allen. Angels and Demons at Play is a typically glorious, brassy romp that’s impossible not to like.
We followed with a great reissue from drummer Horacee Arnold who recorded in the 1970s with a host of big names across two great albums, Tales of the Exonerated Flea and Tribe, both now available on a double album reissue. You might not have heard of Arnold, but you’ll know many of the great names on these two albums. Arnold’s vision was a wide-ranging one and he recruited players from all over the jazz world – bassist George Mraz, flautist Art Webb, saxophonist Sonny Fortune, percussionist Dom Um Romao, and from the Mahavishnu Orchestra, bassist Rick Laird and and keyboard player Jan Hammer. As if this wasn’t enough, Arnold was even able to access two great guitarists who continue to form the backbone of many an ECM release – Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie. The end result is one of the most fascinating, soulful and truly successful albums of the entire jazz rock genre. The album never drops into predictable jazz rock tropes and every track offers a genuine fusion of new rhythmic, melodic and harmonic concepts. This is an album to chase up and enjoy. The funky Latin groove of Benzele Windows is a good example with intricate, modal solos by Webb, Fortune and Abercrombie.
Talking of reissues, one of the best of 2014 was John Coltrane’s Offering: Live at Temple University. Much has been written about this double CD album, recorded just eight months before Coltrane’s early death from liver cancer. in 1966 ‘trane’s gig at Temple University was recorded by the university’s radio station but has only been heard in partial, poor-quality bootlegs until this year, when it was polished up and issued for this set. The music on Offering shifts between standard ideas of jazz and noise music, regularly tipping over from chords and melody and harmony into the realm of pure sound. On this night in Philadelphia, Coltrane threw in everything – a couple of extra saxophone players he knew from the area as well as Umar Ali, Algie DeWitt, and Robert Kenyatta on percussion. We don’t hear much of them because the whole thing was recorded through one microphone. The focus is clearly on the leader, but there’s no need to worry about the pressure as Coltrane is on fire – his playing (and vocalising) makes this record a must.
After the edge of the universe playing on his Live in Japan set (also recorded in 1966), Coltrane seems to return to Earth on Offering. He starts with the ever-beautiful Naima, roughs it up with Crescent, and tunes in to Rashid Ali’s intense drumming on Leo. But then, halfway through this last track, we hear something unique in all of Coltrane’s extended, various output. He sets aside his horn and starts to vocalise, singing phrases while beating on his chest to give his vocals an effect something like vibrato. The audience (or more accurately those that were left) must have been mesmerised, perhaps recognising that Coltrane had reached a point where his instrument just couldn’t convey the feelings he had locked inside.
From the intensity of this track we moved to a brief taste of one of the most joyous of returns to form from octogenarian pianist Ahmad Jamal, recorded live in Paris. The package comes as a double CD with DVD and it’s great value. In the second half of the concert, Jamal brings out special guest Yusef Lateef who was to die at the age of 93 soon after recording. The whole concert is a glorious demonstration that age is no barrier to being cool. There was more Lateef towards the end of the show with an early classic from the beginning of his career.
There was also time to squeeze in a short piece by Alsace DJ and sampler Kira Neris in a track culled from the Japan-only version of his Behind Closed Doors album and a short taste of another great reissue from 2014 which showcases Keith Jarrett’s early American trio but the ‘meat’ of this musical sandwich was the astonishing Michael Wollny Trio. Jazzwise magazine had this release at the top of their Best of 2014 – and it’s easy to see why. Wollny’s vision is more eclectic than most and the influences on this classic piano, bass, drums combination are omnivorous. Wollny takes in the Flaming Lips, Varese, writer Fredrich Nietzsche and punky priestess P!ink amongst others. We ended the show with a drum workout from Pheeroan Ak Laff and another Taylor McFerrin track. In all, an eclectic mix but then – as Frank Zappa noted – “jazz isn’t dead – it just smells funny.”
- Taylor McFerrin – Invisible/Visible – Early Riser
- Jason Moran – Ain’t Misbehavin’ – All Rise
- Black Top – Archaic Nubian Stepdub – # One
- Wesseltoft, Schwarz, Berglund – Take a Quick Break – Trialogue
- Sun Ra – Angels and Demons at Play – In the Orbit of Ra
- Horacee Arnold – Benzele Windows – Tales of the Exonerated Flea
- John Coltrane – Offering – Offering: Live at Temple University
- Ahmad Jamal – Blue Moon (encore) – Live at the Olympia
- Kira Neris – My Room – Behind Closed Doors
- Michael Wollny Trio – God is a DJ – Weltentraum
- Keith Jarrett Trio – Life, Dance – Hamburg ’72
- Heliocentrics – Prologue – The Last Transmission
- Pheeroan Ak Laff – Tzaddi Vau (part 1) – Black Fire! New Spirits!
- Yusef Lateef – Chang, Chang, Chang – Black Fire! New Spirits!
- Taylor McFerrin – Already There – Early Riser
Video this week comes from bassist Richard Bona and vocalist extraordinaire Bobby McFerrin. Enjoy!