Category Archives: Features

Cosmic Jazz Countdown – No. 5

Derek and Neil’s top ten Cosmic Jazz tracks. In a unique paired countdown we give you our fifth place choices – Tenorio Jr.’s Nebulosa and the Robert Glasper Trio’s No Worries.

Derek: One minute and fifty-five seconds: is that long enough to make a perfect music track? In this short time, can a piece of music grip you while still leaving you wanting more?  Can you sum up everything you need to play in this short time? The answer to all of these questions is “yes” in the case of Nebulosa by Tenorio Jr.

The track can be found on Brazilan Beats 1 from Mr. Bongo records or on the Embalo album by Tenorio Jr. which is still available. Tenorio was a pianist from Brazil but sadly ‘disappeared’ in the 1970s while in Argentina at the hands of the Argentinian secret police.

Tenorio’s piano is at the forefront throughout the track. It begins with a slow, grand, almost melodramatic opening with some frilly twinkling at the piano, a pause, more frilly piano twinkling and then a crashing entry from the drums and bass. The pace from there is fast with Tenorio’s piano always right up there. It slows down at the end for the final grandiose statement from the piano, but the ending is sharp and sudden. You will need to play it again. Oh! And by the way it is a tune you will want to hum along and move your body to at the same time.

Neil: Ok, another pianist from me – but at another end of the jazz spectrum. Contemporary and cool, Robert Glasper is at home with hip hop and jazz. He records with rap artists and has had in his trio one of the most influential drummers of the last 20 years – Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave.

Glasper is an ambling Texan bear who shuffles onto the stage, chats to the audience and engages from the word go. His Blue Note albums – including the most recent release Double Booked from which this track comes – have been rave reviewed and increasingly ambitious in scope. Appearing at this year’s London Jazz Festival, he was relaxed in his approach and intense in his performance. The Barbican audience loved him! Able to mix Radiohead with Herbie Hancock and have vocal guests Mos Def and Bilal on his albums, Glasper undoubtedly has a great future ahead.

Artist Profile 01 – Michael Garrick

“It is not pretentious to describe him as the British Duke Ellington” – Steve Voce

New to Cosmic Jazz is a series of short artist profiles which will give some essential biographical detail along with key recordings to listen to. We start off with pianist Michael Garrick,who has been part of the British jazz scene since the arrival of his first recordings in 1959. Garrick is not just a pianist though: he’s a major composer and jazz educator, having held posts at the three major London music colleges in addition to holding his own jazz summer schools.

He’s recently published an autobiographical account of British jazz in the 1960s – Dusk Fire – Jazz in English Hands -and, rather belatedly, Garrick recieved the MBE in the 2010  New Year’s Honours list.

His work as pianist with the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet between 1965-69 features some of his best playing but you also need to check out Garrick’s own large scale compositions. It is these which capture his essential English take on jazz. It’s the very fact that Garrick followed his English inspirations of church and folk musics rather than the American jazz tradition that has led to the creation of his most innovative work.

For a longer account of Garrick’s life and influences check out Dennis Harrison’s excellent article on the Jazzscript website.

Selected recordings:
Don Rendall/Ian Carr Quintet – Dusk Fire (1965)
Michael Garrick – Black Marigolds (1966)
Michael Garrick – Jazz Praises at St Paul’s (1968)
Michael Garrick – Troppo (1973)
Michael Garrick – Green and Pleasant Land (2002)
Michael Garrick – Big Band Harriot (2004)

To hear Michael Garrick live in East Anglia, just head straight for Milestones Jazz Club in Lowestoft where he will be playing with Nette Robinson on 05 September.

Kind of Blue – a Cosmic Jazz view

What is there to say about this record on its 50th anniversary that hasn’t already been said?  Here at Cosmic Jazz, we’ve thought long and hard about what we could add – and the problem is that most of what we might contribute to the millions of words written on this most influential of records has already been written.

You can find out all about Kind of Blue on any number of websites and in print. Ashley Khan has written about the making of the music in his excellent Kind of Blue: the making of a modern masterpiece and Richard Williams has just added to the discussion with his recently released The Blue Moment – more on this book later.

Kind of Blue is one of those albums that all kinds of music lovers own.  Some of them will even listen to it.  It has been the best selling jazz album for over 30 years and it still casts it net very wide.  Rapper and producer Q Tip has said – It’s like the Bible – you just have to have one in your house.  That’s not just an empty style statement either – Q Tip’s breadth of musical awareness and understanding is impressive and he knows his jazz.  So what is it that makes this singular jazz album so special and why is music that is so ubiquitous also seen as so important?

One of the reasons is the paradox at the heart of the music.  What Kind of Blue does is simultaneously both revolutionary and easy to understand.  This is not true of most great art of the last century that has gone on to define a style or movement or ism – think Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Frank Gehry’s titanium architecture or Picasso’s Guernica.  That’s one very important way in which Kind of Blue is such a remarkable piece of music: it is innovative in execution – using modal structures to challenge the jazz hegemony- but ubiqiutous in its outcome – being played in wine bars all over the world.  Complex and simple.

So how can Cosmic Jazz add to our understanding of what is special about Kind of Blue?  These quotes come from Richard Williams’ new book The Blue Moment (Faber 2009) which tries – and in part succeeds – to show how Kind of Blue has influenced contemporary music.  Readers can make up their own mind – but we’d always bring you back to pianist Bill Evans’ wise words which form the liner notes to the original album.

Its appearance, then, is a kind of contradiction between excitement and repose.

Johan Wolfgang von Goethe on the colour blue

That melody…is so strong that the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets.

Miles Davis

In almost all cultures except the classical one, the real meaning of the music is between the notes.

John Adams

There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous.  He must paint on a thin, stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment.  Erasures or changes are impossible … The resulting pictures lack the complex composition and textures of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who see will find something captured that escapes explanation.

Liner notes to Kind of Blue written by Bill Evans

Jazztracks 03 – Stan Tracey/Starless and Bible Black (1965)

under milk woodThere’s always been discussion about the perfect pop single – usually two or three minutes of magic in which the synthesis of melody and rhythm is honed into one precious moment. Jazz singles are rare because improvisation doesn’t lend itself to finely tuned, carefully produced music for a specific market although there have been exceptions – Stan Getz’s Desafinado, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, – and more recently Miles Davis’ Time After Time.  It’s a thin market though and something we haven’t seen much of since the 1960s.

Starless and Bible Black would never have made a good single: it’s too dark, brooding and introspective – as befits a miniature tone poem with the subject of night over Dylan Thomas’s fictional Welsh village of Llaregub.  But there’s no doubt that it is the equivalent of that elusive pop moment – because it is simply three minutes and forty five seconds of jazz perfection.

Of course, Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood suite is already a justifiable jazz classic, full of the pianist’s Monkish stabbing chords, fine solos from tenor Bobby Wellins and strong support from longtime bass partner Jeff Clyne and drummer Jackie Dougan.  In 1965 Tracey was in the middle of his residency as the house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s Club.  His compositions here memorably capture characters created by Dylan Thomas, with I Lost My Step in Nantucket sounding like a very healthy meeting between Thelonious Monk and Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther.

But for me Starless… stands head and shoulders above the rest of the tracks.  Like few other short pieces of jazz I can think of,[1] Starless… creates the mood of a tone poem, evoking a sense of welcoming darkness as Tracey’s sombre chords are punctuated by the aching clarity of Wellins’ tenor.  The track belongs to Wellins though – Tracey sets up the melody with a series of dark tones, Wellins plays it through and then the magic begins.  Like Miles Davis, he doesn’t take the obvious option of playing a variation on the theme but instead starts somewhere else altogether and runs through a series of tiny liquid phrases that drip into the mind like the slow sparkle of stars over Llaregub.  Then it’s back to the melody and before there are thoughts of another solo, Tracey brings back the opening chords and it’s over.

Nothing could be changed to improve this music.  There’s not a moment you want to add or take away.  There’s just a Welsh saudade left in the memory – a strange thing to happen when a Londoner and a Glaswegian get together – but sometimes magic happens in the most unexpected places.


[1] There is one – and it won’t be easy to get hold of.  On Don Cherry’s Relativity Suite (1975) recorded for JCOA and not available on CD, there’s a 90 second meditation which similarly features piano and saxophone – this time the alto of Carlos Ward.

Appropriately this miniature is called Desireless – and that’s just what it is.  Ward plays an achingly simple melody which induces a feeling of longing but lifts the heart too.  Is this the musical equivalent of what the Portuguese (and Brazilians) call saudade?  Impossible to translate, but something like a longing for both the past and the future, an understanding that one will never return and the other will never be known.

Jazztracks 02 – John McLaughlin/Peace One (1970)

JohnMcLaughlin-MyGoalsBeyondThis one is special.  Not yet for you perhaps, but certainly for me.  It’s close to where all this began.  You can find Peace One on the album My Goal’s Beyond, originally issued on Douglas Records in 1970 and now available (if you can find it) on a Rykodisc or Knitting Factory reissue.

We have to go back.  I’m in Wolverhampton in the UK west midlands with my schoolfriend Peter and it’s 1970.  We want music and so we dive out of the rain and into a record store.  As a nervous novitiate, I start looking through the jazz racks.  I’ve read Ross Russell’s seminal Bird Lives! and I know that I really want to like jazz  – but I’ve not heard much of it.  I flick through the album sleeves and come across My Goal’s Beyond and its simple cover art – a benign looking McLaughlin gazing serenely into the middle distance while a framed photo of a shaven headed guy (McLaughlin’s then guru Sri Chinmoy) looks out impassively alongside him.  It’s not like most of the jazz covers I’ve seen and this one seems to be drawing me in already.  I like it.

Flip the album over.  On the back is the track listing: a Charles Mingus tune, something from A Kind of Blue and a Chick Corea composition – eight in total.  This is looking good value for 19s 6d – and that’s just side A.

But the real delight doesn’t begin until I get the record home and put it carefully on the turntable.  Side A is great – McLaughlin plays overdubbed guitar with some whispery percussion fills.  The standards are beautiful and the original compositions do that McLaughlin thing of lightning runs and graceful melodies.  But it’s side B that’s the real surprise – it begins with a sitar drone, and then Charlie Haden’s insidiously cool bass line  waltzes its way through McLaughlin’s tune.  Even violinist Jerry Goodman and drummer Billy Cobham (who would later appear in McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra) tame their natural excesses to complement McLaughlin’s open soloing on acoustic guitar.

Peace Two is really the better track – if only for the searing soprano sax of Dave Liebman – but it’s the first shock of Badal Roy’s Indian percussion and the safe solidity of Charlie Haden’s bass line opening on Peace One which have entranced me ever since I first heard them on that summer evening in 1970.

Jazztracks 01 – Lester Bowie/Rios Negros (1981)

The Great PretenderHere’s the thing. Lester Bowie was a trumpet revolutionary. Whether with the Art Ensemble of Chicago or in his solo work he blazed a trail that – uniquely – looked backwards as well as forwards. Back to Bubber Miley and the Cotton Club and into the future of jazz in the 21st century.

So where can you hear this? Try the recently re-released The Great Pretender on ECM and, rather than the title track (itself a powerful deconstruction of the Platters classic), go straight to Rios Negros. Heard once, my guess is you’ll want to play it again immediately – and perhaps then, like me, you’ll want it play it again – and again – for the rest of your life.

I think I’ve only just worked out why this is. In just over seven minutes the trumpeter takes a first solo that tears the history of jazz apart. Then he creates a second coda solo that stretches out all the components of the first one and relocates them in back in the tradition – but in reverse order. The result is that we hear the history of jazz trumpet backwards so the track ends with the ghost of those early pioneers filtered through Bowie’s slurs and smears, crackles and blares. Bowie was a southerner born in St Louis, and right from the start his sound looked to jazz history and a range of other influences. Early in his career he played with blues and R and B artists including Little Milton and Rufus Thomas and in 1977 he recorded No Agreement with Fela Anikulapo Kuti. He led his Brass Fantasy for over a decade and the Art Ensemble of Chicago for thirty years. The ARC logo (shaped as a pyramid) featured the strapline Ancient to the Future – it could have been Bowie’s own musical motto.

Throughout The Great Pretender, Bowie is backed by the most sympathetic band he ever had. The late Phillip Wilson on drums is perfect and Donald Smith’s solo on Rios Negros is a delight. Hamiett Bluett provides some lovely bottom end baritone and Fred Williams is a wonderfully supportive bass player.

Rios Negros is very approachable. It’s not complex, it’s all done over a rocking latin shuffle and it’s as accessible as anyone could wish for. Play it blind and any listener who doesn’t know will say “Who’s that?!” Listen and you’ll find out about this history of jazz in just seven minutes.

Footnote: Wilson was an early member of the Art Ensemble but he was tragically murdered in New York at 50. There’s not much of his music in print these days. Donald Smith is the younger brother of Lonnie Liston Smith and you can hear him on piano on the Soul Jazz compilation Soul Jazz Loves Strata East (Dance of the Little Children) and on flute on his brother’s Expansions CD.

Cosmic Jazz Feature 5. Don Pullen

donpullenWe’ve had a Don Pullen track on our Youtube links before. This one featured the Afro-Brazilian Connection live at the Montreux Festival in 1993 playing a version of Indio Gitano which appeared on the Blue Note album Random Thoughts in 1990.

The band was put together shortly before Pullen died two years later from lymphoma. The Senegalese percussionist Mor Thiam is father of rapper Akon. Saxophonist Carlos Ward and drummer Guilherme Franco have played with many great jazz musicians over the years from Don Cherry to Keith Jarrett.

Access that clip and just watch Pullen’s piano style – especially his right hand technique. Nobody else in jazz plays like this! Pullen will start a melodic run over very heavy chords, using his right hand to roll over the keys, creating a unique sound. His playing is always very precise – yet it has this freedom in style. For an avant garde pianist, this makes his playing very approachable to new listeners. I saw Pullen play in London on his last tour and the effect was mesmerising.

For more information, check out a full and accurate biography of Don Pullen here. Pullen was born in 1941 and grew up in Virginia. Like many jazz musicians of his era, he learned the piano at an early age, playing with the choir in his local church. His cousin was a professional jazz pianist. Pullen trained as a doctor but abandoned his studies to make a career in music. His first recordings in 1964 and 1965 were with the little known Giuseppi Logan but they show his unique technique already well formed. Update: Logan’s album has just been re-released and video footage of a homeless Logan playing in Tompkin Square Park in New York has recently surfaced on Youtube – check it out!

It was in this first group that Pullen encountered free drummer Milford Graves and subsequently, he and Graves formed a duo. Pullen began to play the Hammond organ to extend his opportunities for work, transferring elements of his individual piano style to the very different sound of the Hammond. During the remainder of the 1960s and early 1970s, he played with his own organ trio in clubs and bars, worked as self-taught arranger for record companies, and accompanied various singers including Arthur Prysock and Nina Simone.

Pullen often polarized critics and suffered from two undeserved allegations. The first – despite his grounding in the church and blues – was that he was purely a free player and thus unemployable in any other context, the second that he had been heavily influenced by Cecil Taylor or was a clone of Cecil Taylor, to whose playing Pullen’s own bore a superficial resemblance. Pullen always denied that he had any link with Cecil Taylor, stating that his own style had been developed in isolation before he ever heard of the other pianist. But this isn’t the issue. I’ve seen both players live and their approach to the instrument is only superficially linked. Taylor is an incomparable technician with a style that extends well beyond jazz and into the contemporary avant garde but while Pullen’s playing has a superficial similarity (big chords, aggressive runs and apparent atonality) his music is always grounded in the lyrical and his lines may often be spiky, but they’re always deeply melodic. Taylor would never release a piece of music called Ode to Life which is more Beethoven than Bartok.

In 1973 Pullen was introduced to bass player and celebrated bandleader Charlie Mingus. Being part of the Mingus group and appearing at many concerts and on three Mingus studio recordings in 1973 and 1974 gave great exposure to Pullen’s playing and helped to persuade audiences and critics that Pullen was not really a player in the free tradition.

Pullen had always played piano with bass and drums behind him, feeling more comfortable this way, but in early 1975 he was persuaded to play a solo concert in Toronto. There was now a growing awareness of Pullen’s abilities and with ex-Mingus bandmembers George Adams and Dannie Richmond he appeared on some Italian label recordings before being signed in to Atlantic in 1977. With Cameron Brown on bass, this quartet made a dozen recordings until the death of Dannie Richmond in early 1988. After signing with Blue Note, they consolidated their growing reputation in the US and Europe, with their music – usually original compositions by Pullen, Adams and Richmond – ranging from blues, through ballads, to post-bop and avant-garde. Later that year, Pullen went into the studio with Gary Peacock and Tony Williams to make his first trio album New Beginnings – the start of his final period of recording – and followed this with Random Thoughts, this time with James Genus on bass and Lewis Nash on drums.

In late 1990 Pullen added a new element to his playing and his music with the formation of his African Brazilian Connection which mixed African and latin rhythms with jazz. During the last few years of his life, Pullen toured with his trio, with his African Brazilian Connection, as a solo artist, and with groups led by others, making much fine music, but sadly not enough records.

In 1994 Pullen was diagnosed with the lymphoma which eventually ended his life the following year. Today, very little of Pullen’s music is currently available on CD so grab it when you can. You may be lucky enough to track down some vinyl too. As always, here on Cosmic Jazz we’ll always do our bit. Over the next three months we’ll feature Pullen in various combinations – from solo piano to quartet.

donpullen2

Tune into Cosmic Jazz every Thursday between 8 and 10pm on www.icrfm.co.uk

Cosmic Jazz Feature 4. Jack deJohnette

deJohnetteDeJohnette is one of jazz’s most complete drummers. What’s so special about him? Let’s start with the number of people he has played with in his 40 year career – Miles Davis, Charles Lloyd, Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, John McLaughlin, David Murray, Lester Bowie, John Scofield and many more. Now add in his ability to combine free jazz styles with the deep groove of a complete funk drummer. Deepen the mix with his desire to experiment and yet maintain the tradition. Yes, deJohnette is a complete drummer – and he plays the piano and melodica too.

DeJohnette was born in Chicago in 1942. He first became known as a member of Charles Lloyd’s band. This A group featured Keith Jarrett on piano – a combination that was to surface again many years later in the Standards Trio. The drummer couldn’t have picked a moment to step into the limelight. In late 1966 the Charles Lloyd Quartet had played the Monterey Jazz Festival before going on to the Fillmore Auditorium in January of the following year. Fillmore was no ordinary date – the Quartet was opening for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and this was the start of Californian counter-culture. The Lloyd group had the distinction of recording the first ever live album at the Fillmore and this level of exposure was to change the way young audiences thought about jazz. Find out more about this period on the recently released double CD anthology Dream Weaver on Warner Jazz.

The live albums that emerged (predicatably called Love-In and Journey Within) were huge sellers and it wasn’t surprising that both deJohnette and Jarrett were to catch the eye of a jazz man famous for his talent spotting abilities. Miles Davis was on the cusp of a change in his sound. He made no secret of wanting to expand his musical palette and capture a new young market, and young guns like deJohnette and Jarrett were just what he needed. DeJohnette first appeared on Bitches Brew in 1970 – one of the most influential jazz albums ever released and he must certainly have been influenced by Davis’s recording practices. Calls to musicians would be made at very short notice and they would have very little or no idea what they were to record. Once in the studio, musicians were given just a few instructions – usually suggestions as to mood or tone. Davis liked to work this way; he thought it forced musicians to pay close attention to one another, to their own performances, or to Davis’s cues, which could change at any moment. DeJohnette must have been influenced by this freewheeling approach: he has continually sought new challenges in the music he has played, constantly creating new group combinations – from the jazz rock of Compost, the free blowing sounds of Special Edition and the timeless trio sounds of his work with Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock in the Standards Trio. In his autobiography, Miles Davis said of deJohnette “he just gave me a deep groove that I love to play over.” For his own part, de Johnette has said:

“As a child, I listened to all kinds of music and I never put them into categories. I studied classical piano and listened to opera, country and western music, rhythm and blues, jazz, swing, whatever. To me it was all music and great. I’ve kept that integrated feeling about music, all types of music, and just carried it with me, and I’ve maintained that feeling in spite of this habitual attempt to try and keep people pinned down to a certain style.”

The diversity of deJohnette’s output since his time with Miles has been immense. He’s in demand as a special projects drummer, is the kitman of choice for many big names and he leads his own groups, many of which include the biggest names in jazz. Recently, deJohnette has even taken to making music as an aid to meditation. A couple of years ago, I saw him playing with a live group that accompanied the full length silent feature film about the world’s first black heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson.

So where to start with listening to this peerless drummer? Any choices will be personal but here’s a few places to begin – the track name is followed by the CD that you’ll find it on:

Charles Lloyd – Dream Weaver (The Charles Lloyd Anthology – Warner Jazz)
Miles Davis – Miles Runs the Voodoo Down (Bitches Brew – Columbia)
Jack deJohnette – India (Special Edition – ECM)
The Standards Trio – Autumn Leaves/Up for It (Up for It – ECM)

If you can’t get access to these tracks, don’t worry. We’ll be playing them on the show in coming weeks in the new year.

deJohnette2

Tune into Cosmic Jazz every Thursday between 8 and 10pm on www.icrfm.co.uk.

Alan Bramwell on Blue Note

bluenoteI have a lot to thank Grant Green for.

As a fan of soul and funk music I have always loved the guitarist’s funkier sides for many years without knowing much about him or his story. But, after reading Richard Cook’s Blue Note Records- the Biography I now have a much fuller picture of the “Great Green” as I call him. I learned how Blue Note founder Alfred Lion had given the young Green an opportunity to lead his first debut session in November 1960 – but then rejected the session as unsatisfactory even though it included the pianist Wynton Kelly and drummer Philly Joe Jones. It would be left on the shelf gathering dust for forty years. By the time it was released in 2001, Green had recorded thirty solo albums for the label, was recognised as a genius and had been dead for over twenty years.

It was Grant Green’s story that was partly my inspiration for a series of radio shows currently being broadcast on Ipswich Community Radio (105.7FM and www.icrfm.co.uk) on Monday between 5-6pm. They tell the story of this much loved record label, started by two German immigrants (Alfred Lion and Max Margulis) which was to become one the greatest and most recognisable brands in musical history.

All that happened seventy years ago and in 2009 Blue Note will celebrate 70 years of inspirational jazz music. Today – after many transitions, trials and musical fashions – the label remains a powerful force in jazz.

Of course its roster of artists is very different. In Alfred Lion’s day you wouldn’t see a single vocalist but instead the instrumental talents of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Kenny Burrell and the ubiquitous Art Blakey‘s Messengers were at the heart of Blue Note.
bluenote2
Today the label is home to the most diverse range of artists a label could have – from vocalist Norah Jones to hip hop producer Madlib. Hundreds of rap artists have sampled Blue Note grooves over recent years, giving the label a hip profile with a new younger generation.

Within months of its launch, in May 1939, an early flyer described Blue Note as “a musical and social manifestation”. And that’s the spirit that current Director Bruce Lundval has skilfully managed to maintain. Blue Note lives!

[Blue Note covers by Reid Miles – graphic artist]

Alan Bramwell

Tune into Cosmic Jazz every Thursday between 8 and 10pm on www.icrfm.co.uk

Jazz on UK Radio

With Jazz FM’s relaunch there’s a little more jazz on the radio. Most of it is smooth rather than cosmic but worth listening to are Mike Chadwick’s weekend programmes – Latin Party (Friday 19-00 to 21-00), Saturday Night Experience (Saturday 20.00 – 23.00) and Cutting Edge (Sunday 22.00 – 00.00).

Check out Jazz FM at www.jazzfm.com

For more jazz on radio try BBC R3 and Jez Nelson’s excellent Jazz on 3 programme.
More details here.