Tag Archives: John Coltrane

02 May 2021: from NY to SG – jazz friends old and new

In the internet age it’s relatively easy to be eclectic in your listening choices. Whilst many sites encourage a “If you like this, try this” approach – which can sometimes throw up surprises – more random browsing can reveal some startlingly serendipitous music. Add into that mix the musical brains of two long time jazz listeners and the results are below. And – as if these 14 tracks weren’t enough – there’s the return of Neil is listening to… at the end of this post with ten more YouTube clips.

1. George Benson – You Can Do It (Baby) from Nuyorican Soul

A few weeks back on Cosmic Jazz Derek was listening again to the essential 1997 album Nuyorican Soul and played I Am the Black Gold of the Sun featuring Jocelyn Brown on vocals. It had been a toss up as to whether to play that or another tune. When Neil was reminded of the album he mentioned straightaway that same number featuring George Benson on guitar and vocals and so we start this show with You Can Do It (Baby), created from an improvisation in the studio. Benson’s trademark rippling chords were taped and the next day producers ‘Little’ Louie Vega and Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez returned to the studio and created all new music underneath what they had recorded from Benson. Vega explained “Suddenly I heard jazzy flavoured chords and a Latin bass line and we also heard an African kind of rhythm.” The result is a masterpiece that starts with classical flourishes and moves into a solid extended groove.

2. Freddie Hubbard – First Light from First Light

That first choice led Derek to another old favourite that also includes a star turn from George Benson. This is on trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s album First Light produced by Creed Taylor for his CTI label in 1971. The title tune has a beautiful and sensitive solo from Benson playing with musicians that included – besides Hubbard – CTI stalwarts Herbie Hancock on Fender Rhodes, Ron Carter on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, Airto Moreira on percussion and Herbert Laws on flute. Recorded at the Van Gelder Studios with Rudy Van Gelder as the engineer, First Light is eleven minutes of blissful and serene intensity. The rest of the album may not reach the same standards but this number is a must have. The CD reissue includes an extended live version tagged onto the end of the album but – as always – the most immersive experience comes from vinyl and the Pure Pleasure label reissue from 2017 is the one to go for.

3. Eric Dolphy – Love Me from Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions

Made months before he cut his Blue Note masterpiece Out To Lunch, these newly excavated recordings from Resonance Records demonstrate just how differently Dolphy heard his music. On alto saxophone, flute or bass clarinet, Dolphy brought his brittle, multiphonic tones to pretty much everything he played, whether jazz standards, show tunes or original compositions. Critic John Tynan called his music “anti-jazz” and his abrasive style often meant that he struggled to get work. In 1964, Dolphy moved to Europe hoping to tap into the less restrictive free jazz environment but he died from undiagnosed diabetes in Berlin later that same year. Out To Lunch is, of course, a landmark recording and an essential jazz record but there are plenty of delights in this well produced 3LP/2CD set, almost all cuts taken from the same two-day session in the summer of 1963. There are two new solo alto saxophone takes of Love Me, the longing romantic ballad most famously recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1951. On each version, Dolphy rarely repeats himself, using pauses to let the echo of his sultry tone ring out into the studio. We played the first shorter take – on the second version, Dolphy stretches out a little more, but both are superb in-the-moment improvisations that capture his remarkable individual voice.

4. Rob Mazurek – Exploding Star Orchestra – Parable of Inclusion from Dimensional Stardust

Mazurek emerged from the 1990s Chicago scene and is a stalwart of one of our current favourite labels, International Anthem. He’s been involved with the Chicago Underground Duo, Isotope 217, Alien Flower Sutra and the São Paulo Underground. He’s also recorded with another International Anthem artist we have featured on Cosmic Jazz, guitarist Jeff Parker. Commissioned by the Chicago Cultural Center and the Jazz Institute of Chicago in 2005 to assemble a group representing the diversity of the city’s contemporary avant-garde, Mazurek amassed a 14-piece ensemble and began composing music for what became his Exploding Star Orchestra (ESO). For ESO’s latest outing, Mazurek channeled his arrangements through 11 musicians – Nicole Mitchell, Jeff Parker, Jaimie Branch, Joel Ross, Mikel Patrick Avery, Tomeka Reid, Chad Taylor, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Macie Stewart, Angelica Sanchez, and John Herndon – and commissioned his long-time lyrical collaborator Damon Locks to draft original texts for each of the titles and record vocal tracks. Dimensional Stardust is the outcome. There’s a focus on tight ensemble orchestration over passages of open improvisation with few obvious soloist moments. The whole thing is supported by the electro-acoustic poly-rhythmic percussion section pushing the music forwards alongside the collected ensemble. This is a record well worth exploring – find out more here on Bandcamp.

5. Kurt Elling feat Danilo Perez – Song of the Rio Grande (for Oscar & Valerie Martinez)  from Secrets Are the Best Stories

The first of our visits to three great vocalists on the show, Grammy-award winning Kurt Elling carries on the vocal experimentation of his fellow baritone Mark Murphy (more of whom later). Secrets Are The Best Stories is his new album on UK label Edition Records, featuring renowned pianist Danilo Pérez – also a member of Wayne Shorter’s celebrated quartet. Elling has pushed the envelope even further on this record, exploring the passion and the messages, political, personal, that inspire him. As usual, Elling’s sources are many and various: here he adapts the works of contemporary poets Franz Wright and Robert Bly, the 19th century abolitionist poet Frances E.W. Harper and Nobel-winning author Toni Morrison. In the powerful Song of the Rio Grande, Elling brings us back to the tragic poignancy of the image captured by journalist Julia de Luc for the New York Times and signalled at the head of this powerful article here.

6. Mark Murphy – Nothing Will Be As It Was Tomorrow from Brazil Song/Songbook

As far as Neil is concerned, Mark Murphy is the jazz vocalist: and he was lucky enough to see him live in his later years in the intimate setting of a UK jazz club. Murphy lived for nearly ten years in London and became a regular performer at Ronnie Scott’s club but it’s his 14 year run of superb recordings for the Muse label that followed his return to the US in 1972 that are the peak of his achievements on record. Any of these individual albums are worth looking out for: the recordings are excellent, the bands are often first rate (featuring such artists as Ron Carter, Richie Cole, Randy Brecker and David Sanborn) and Murphy inspires with his eclectic choice of songs, arrangements and original lyrics. It’s not easy to choose a single track to represent this consistent body of work, but Milton Nascimento’s Nothing Will Be As It Was Tomorrow from the superb Brazil Song record is as good a place as any to start. Nada será como antes first appeared on Nascimento’s magnificent Clube da Esquina album and was re-recorded for his first US release Milton, where he was accompanied by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock – listen here. 32 Jazz Records collated many of these Muse tracks for a series of compilations, including Songbook which also featured the awesome We’ll Be Together with Murphy creating a sense of anger and longing few singers could even fathom.

7. Marcus Resende & Index – My Heart from Marcus Resende & Index

Little is known about Marcos Resende & Index and so the 2021 release of their self-titled debut album from 1976 by the ever-reliable Far Out Recordings is very welcome. Resende was already musically accomplished on accordion and piano before he travelled to Lisbon in th e1960s to study medicine, but he continued to perform, even opening for saxophonist Dexter Gordon at the Cascais Jazz Festival in 1971. Returning to Brazil in 1974, he began to explore the range of electronic keyboards then being used by jazz artists like Herbie Hancock. Armed with his new Prophet 5, Yamaha CP-708 and Mini Moog , he formed a new quartet with Rubao Sabino (bass), Claudio Caribe (drums) and the late, great Oberdan Magalhaes of Banda Black Rio fame. The record was created with legendary sound engineer Toninho Barbosa – known as the ‘Brazilian Rudy Van Gelder’ (yes, him again!) whose impressive resume includes the era-defining classics Light as a Feather by Azymuth, Previsao Do Tempo by Marcos Valle and Quem E Quem by Joao Donato. Remarkably, the music was never released, but the tapes were presented to Far Out’s Joe Davis in 2018 and the album finally emerged in January this year.

8. Hamiet Bluiett – Footprints from Bearer of the Holy Flame

Neil’s final choice for this show is a performance of Wayne Shorter’s classic Footprints in a somewhat self-indulgent 1994 live version by baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett. It may extend itself rather too much but it’s great to hear Bluiett honking away alongside the underrated pianist John Hicks, AACM member bassist Fred Hopkins, prolific drummer Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith and percussionist Chief Bey who appeared on albums by Art Blakey and Babatunde Olatunji.  After playing with Charles Mingus and Sam Rivers, Bluiett was most well known as a member of the World Saxophone Quartet with Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and David Murray. Here they are on the title track from their 1994 album I Heard That.  The rather unwieldy baritone saxophone may be less well known as a solo instrument in jazz but its deep, dark tone is addictive and famed soloists include Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Ronnie Cuber and Serge Chaloff, the first and greatest bebop baritone player. Here he is with the classic Stairway to the Stars from his 1956 Capitol album Blue Serge. Chaloff had a tragically short life, dying at 33 in a Massachusetts hospital, with his baritone sax and a pet kinkajou alongside him.

9. Jerzy Malek – Culmination from Black Sheep

Jerzy Malek is a Polish trumpet/flugelhorn player who we were introduced to via Steve’s Jazz Sounds, that excellent source of new jazz from continental Europe. Black Sheep, released in 2019, is Malek’s eighth album and features the young Aga Derlak on piano – another distinguished player on the Polish scene. The Polish Jazz Blogspot describes the album as closer to the American jazz mainstream than the contemporary Polish one but this only shows how Polish musicians can be “completely free of any inferiority complexes in comparison to what is happening across the pond.” Quite right too. We continue to be so impressed by the endless variety of new jazz music coming from Poland.

10. Quindependence – Song for E from Circumstances

This was the debut album released in 2017 by a young Polish jazz ensemble of five members with sax/flute, trumpet, piano, drums, bass. It appears that there have not been any follow-up releases. There are seven tunes, four of which are original compositions. Two come from bass player Milosz Skwirut and pianist Michal Salmon and two are arrangements of French composer Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes, a loose suite of three piano compositions. Typical of Satie, gnossienne – which seems to derive from gnosis (or knowledge) – was a word that did not exist before Satie used it. The music of Quindependence is interesting, not always predictable and with a high standard of musicianship and complexity. There’s a genuinely soulful, gospelly ensemble feel to this music – tight arrangements, soaring trumpet from Dominik Borek and lyrical soprano sax from Krzysztof Mateiski – that’s nowhere more apparent than on the opening and closing tracks, including Song for E.

11. Chester Thompson – Weird Harold from Powerhouse 

This is from another of the Black Jazz Records re-releases from Real Gone Music, who are working their way through all twenty Black Jazz albums released initially between 1971-75. All will be available on vinyl and all are remastered at Gotta Groove Records in Cleveland, Ohio. For a look at ten of the best of these records, explore this Vinyl Factory feature on the label or – better still – check out your local record store for copies. One of Neil’s favourites in Singapore, The Analog Vault (see image above), still has a good selection available – follow them on Instagram and check out their recent display. The Analog Vault website is an excellent source for jazz and beyond – store managers Leon and Nick chat about some of their current favourites on this video – starting with Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders and Phil Ranelin! This 1971 debut recording from Chester Thompson is in the fine Hammond B3-swinging tradition of Jimmy Smith circa Back at the Chicken Shack, although on Weird Harold and the title cut there’s a more forward-thinking jazz-funk sound that leans towards Thompsons’s time with LA’s Tower of Power. He gained plenty of experience in how to generate such emotions as a long-standing player with Tower of Power and Santana. Saxophonist Rudolph Johnson, another Black Jazz Records artist, appears on Powerhouse along with drummer Raymond Pounds – who also played with Pharaoh Sanders, Stevie Wonder and the Pointer Sisters – and trombonist Al Hall whose playing credits included Johnny Hammond, Freddie Hubbard and Eddie Harris (all Cosmic Jazz favourites).

12. Terry Callier – Can’t Catch the Trane (original demo) from Life Lessons: the Best of Terry Callier

Derek has been listening to the music of singer Terry Callier for the first time in a while, following some reminiscent posts on Facebook reminding him that it was time to re-visit. Callier’s music crossed the boundaries of jazz, folk, blues, soul and funk and he was strongly influenced by the work of John Coltrane, as evidenced by our choice this week. In the 1970s Callier recorded three critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful albums, each produced by Charles Stepney, famed for working with Earth, Wind and Fire, Rotary Connection and Ramsey Lewis. Occasional Rain (1972), What Color Is Love (1973) and I Just Can’t Help Myself (1973) have all been reissued and are worthy of investigation.  Can’t Catch the Trane can be found on the last of these and it’s a powerful tune that is typical of the album. The Coltranish sax solo is by Don Myrick who went on to become a first call session musician for many soul/R and B artists. His closing tenor solo on Earth Wind and Fire’s Runnin‘ (one of Neil’s favourite EWF tunes) was nominated for a Grammy Award. Callier grew up in a Chicago project housing and was childhood friends with Curtis Mayfield, Major Lance and Jerry Butler, but his resonant baritone and love of jazz took him in a different direction, with I Just Can’t Help Myself even featuring a lush version of Duke Ellington’s Satin Doll. Callier left the music scene in the early 1980s and took courses in computer programming before graduating with a sociology degree from the University of Chicago. He re-emerged from obscurity in the late 1980s, when British DJs discovered his old recordings and began to play his songs in clubs and on the radio. Both Neil and Derek remember hearing his music on UK radio stations at this time and in the 1990s he returned to recording, releasing the album Timepeace in 1998 on Gilles Peterson’s then Talkin’ Loud label. This album is definitely worth looking out for – check out the wonderful Keep Your Heart Right as an example of his late style.  His final album on the UK Mr Bongo label was a collaboration with Robert del Naja from Bristol triphoppers Massive Attack and included Live With Me, recorded in an even better string-drenched version by the band with vocals by Callier and released on their Collected album.

13. The John Coltrane Quartet – Song of the Underground Railroad from The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions 

The Terry Callier tune provided one play on the notion of a train so here is another from John Coltrane himself. The Underground Railroad was the metaphorical description for the safe routes by which the enslaved of the Southern states of the US could escape to the North and at the time of the recording in 1961 Coltrane had been researching spirituals and nineteenth-century folksongs. This was Coltrane’s first record on the Impulse! label with whom he would stay for the rest of his recording career and it was also his first visit to Englewood Cliffs, Rudy Van Gelder’s celebrated New Jersey studio. The quartet was made up of McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Elvin Jones on drums and, yes, two other people already mentioned in these notes made a contribution – Rudy Van Gelder as recording engineer, with orchestration from Eric Dolphy on some tracks.

14. N’Dambi – Ode 2 Nina from Tunin’ Up & Consignin’

We like to end the show with artists and tunes that stretch musical boundaries and vocalist/composer N’Dambi fits the bill. If you have not come across her check out the 2002 2CD set Tunin Up & Consignin from which Ode 2 Nina comes. Musically, N’Dambi stretches across soul/R’n’B and on this album definitely jazz. Ode 2 Nina is, of course, a dedication to Nina Simone and is delivered with soulful power and emotion, all with an amazing vocal range. The album is a mix of live and studio recordings and  contains many other surprises and highlights. It is not just jazz but – as you know – that’s how we like it on Cosmic Jazz.

Neil is listening to…

07 March 2021: classic and contemporary sounds

Welcome to a new Cosmic Jazz. This show visits two classic jazz labels – Blue Note and Black Jazz Records – and two independent contemporary UK ones – Edition Records and Far Out Recordings (see the links below for more on each). The musicians featured come from the USA, Brazil, Scotland, Poland and Jamaica (yes, even on a jazz-related show, a tribute to the late Bunny Wailer could not – and should not – be avoided). It’s essential music from both past and present.

1. Lee Morgan – The Rajah from The Rajah 

This fantastic Lee Morgan album has been re-released on vinyl via the highly recommended Blue Note Tone Poet Series, although the recording we used on the show is from the original mono version on vinyl record. The re-release is welcome. The Rajah is an album Derek goes back to frequently – probably the first  record he turns to  among several, when he wants to hear Lee Morgan. Not only is the music good, there is a powerful image of Morgan on the cover which needs the size of vinyl to be appreciated to the full. If you’d like your own copy of this mono version – good luck! Check out Discogs for the only two copies currently available on the site or enjoy the audiophile vinyl quality of the brand new Tone Poet edition. The record has not had an easy history.  It was recorded in 1966 but was not released until 1985, twelve years after Morgan’s death.  On the record, trumpeter Morgan  is accompanied a stellar group of Blue Note regulars – Hank Mobley on tenor, Cedar Walton on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Billy Higgins on drums.  As on The Rajah, the title tune played on the show and the only Morgan composition on the album, there are frequent solo blasts of power from Morgan and Mobley and it goes without saying that the other musicians are great too. This is definitely a record every Blue Note fan – no, every jazz fan – must have.

2. Gene Russell – My Favorite Things from Talk to My Lady

The twenty albums recorded for Black Jazz Records – and now all re-released via Real Gone Music – are represented in this show by keyboard player Gene Russell, who recorded two albums for the label as well as producing every album in the catalogue.  The album Talk to My Lady includes two other musicians who released music on the label – bassist Henry Franklin (a memorable performance on this track) and guitarist Calvin Keys – and includes a version of My Favorite Things which contrasts with the classic Coltrane version that followed on the show. It is much faster in tempo and considerably shorter in length than the Coltrane version but is led by some really imaginative Fender Rhodes playing from Russell himself.

3. John Coltrane – My Favorite Things from My Favorite Things

The Coltrane version had to follow: it is simply the definitive version of the tune – but which one? A recent excellent BBC Radio 4 programme, made Derek realise that although he had a few live Coltrane recordings of the tune (and there are many available), he did not have the original studio version. But he does now and so here it is. Apparently, a music  publisher brought the tune to Coltrane’s attention and, while pianist McCoy Tyner was not sure at first – Coltrane was convinced. It became both his most commercial-sounding and commercially successful release, going on to sell over 500,000 copies, and for the musicians in the band perhaps some relief after the complexity of the earlier Giant Steps from 1960, particularly the celebrated title track. That is not to say this version is not free, complex and experimental: the original Rodgers and Hammerstein melody is heard numerous times throughout, but instead of playing solos over the written chord changes (as would have been more typical), Tyner and Coltrane take extended solos over just two chords and in waltz time. Yes, this is where the modal jazz innovations of Miles Davis on Kind of Blue first met the spiritual jazz extensions of John Coltrane for the first time. Interestingly, this was not the classic Coltrane quartet that would go onto record for the Impulse! label as the bass player for this session was Steve Davis – brother in law to McCoy Tyner! In this original 1961 quartet release, Coltrane plays soprano sax for the first time on record – it had been bought for him by Miles Davis. Other live versions of My Favorite Things (of which there are many) extend Coltrane’s improvisations further – most notably in the incredible version on Coltrane’s Live in Japan album which is a challenging 57 minutes in length, but the original studio recording is the best known. According to biographer Lewis Porter, Coltrane cited  the tune as “my favorite piece of all those I have recorded”.

4. Bobby Hutcherson – Verse from Stick-Up!/Spiritual Jazz Vol 9 Blue Note Part 1

Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson was a Blue Note star for decades. He first recorded for the label with Jackie McLean in 1963 and went on to deliver over twenty records with them. Hutcherson had an original sound and style on vibes, developing complex but sometimes memorable melodies (like his much covered Little B’s Poem) along with new tones and textures. Throughout the mid-60s, he appeared on numerous celebrated records – Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch, Anthony Williams’ Life Time and Andrew Hill’s Judgement – but also featured alongside many classic Blue Note artists like Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon and Grant Green. His album Stick-Up! also includes McCoy Tyner on piano and Billy Higgins on drums and is one of the very best from this prolific mid-60s period. All tracks (bar a version of Ornette Coleman’s Una Muy Bonita) are Hutcherson compositions and the album was the final one to receive a classic Reid Miles cover. The album is still widely available, but you can also find the track on the excellent Spiritual Jazz Blue Note compilation which includes another excellent Hutcherson tune, the modal Coltrane tribute Searchin’ the Trane from his 1976 album Waiting.

5. Grupo Batuque – Tauruma from O Aperto Da Saudade/Africa Brazil

Joe Davis and his Far Out Recordings label rarely fail to deliver the goods when it comes to music from Brazil – and O Aperto Da Saudade is no exception. Each track has been selected from their prolific output for that sense of saudade. It’s a word with no direct English translation but in Portuguese describes a sense of nostalgia for something that may never return. But in longing for that certain something, whether it’s a person, a place or a time gone by, saudade holds the thing you miss close, and keeps it present despite its absence. Portuguese author Manuel de Mello calls it “A pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” In Brazil, there is an even deeper resonance: as a nation steeped in slavery, the vibrance of African culture in Brazil amplified Saudade, and it became something even more painful, but at the same time a little more rhythmic, perhaps even upbeat.

O Aperto da Saudade (translated as “the grip of saudade”), is a 2020 compilation which attempts to translate the word through the music itself. While saudade is traditionally equated with bossa nova and samba, the music here ranges from 1965 to the present day, and spans psychedelic folk, samba jazz, bossa nova and MPB. We chose the laid back Tauruma from Grupo Batuque, a constantly shifting samba collective of veteran Brazilian percussionists, drummers and musicians assembled by Joe Davis. Members have included Ivan Conti, Wilson das Neves, Robertinho Silva, Cidinho Moreira and many more. Grupo Batuque have gone on to release five albums with Far Out, including their third album, the Grammy nominated Africa Brazil which documented samba’s African roots and included the popular Tauruma.

6. Arthur Verocai – Tudo De Bom from Encore

We stayed with Brazil and Far Out for a genuine classic – Arthur Verocai and a tune from his second album Encore, which features 11 original Verocai compositions with guest musicians including Azymuth, Ivan Lins and a nine-piece string section. This record came in 2007, some 35 years after his neglected eponymous debut album  and it’s well worth chasing down. Thankfully, Far Out have recently released it again, but on vinyl too this time – and it’s available from the label right here.

Born in Rio de Janeiro on 17 June 1945, Arthur Verocai began his professional music career in 1969 and over the next few years was responsible for the orchestration of albums by Ivan Lins, Jorge Ben, Gal Costa, Quarteto em Cy, MPB 4 and Marcos Valle. In the 1970s he was hired by Brazil’s biggest TV station, TV Globo, as musical director and wrote the arrangements for many of the station’s biggest shows. In 1972, Verocai recorded his self-titled debut album on Continental Records but the combination of Brazilian influences with folksy soul and lo-fi electronica experimentations didn’t go down well – and both the album and artist subsequently vanished into obscurity. Verocai had to wait until 2004 when Joe Davis and and Dave Brinkman from the label travelled to  Brazil and began recording Encore. They recruited many of the artists who had appeared on that first 1972 record – Robertinho Silva, Paulinho, Bigorna, and this time, all three members of Azymuth. Tudo De Bom (or All the Best) is another memorable tune – with a gorgeous arrangement reminiscent of Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova.

7. Fergus McCreadie – Cairn from Cairn

Now we turn to one of Britain’s best jazz labels, the ever-enterprising Edition Records who are just about to release Chris Potter’s new trio album with James Francies and Eric Harland. Founded in 2008 by pianist Dave Stapleton, Edition has grown in recent years to include a raft of celebrated jazz artists – The Bad Plus, Kit Downes, Tim Garland, Ivo Neame, Chris Potter, John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler and The Snow Poets. We’ve played many of their records from the outset – including the celebrated trio Phronesis who were selected to support the Wayne Shorter Quartet at the Barbican Hall in 2011 – a truly memorable show. Now comes another piano trio led by Scots pianist Fergus McCreadie. Cairn is his second record and is chockful of beautiful melodies and arrangements. We chose the the title track with its debt to the lyricism of one of our favourite innovative trios, EST. Fergus McCreadie has won numerous prizes and was the under-17 Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the year and a Jazzwise magazine One to Watch in 2018. Backed by bassist David Bowden with Stephen Henderson on drums, McCreadie blends jazz and Scottish traditional music and – just as with his first record, the music is inspired by the diversity of the Scottish landscape.

8. Mariusz Smolinski – Who’s Next from Ten Minutes Later 

One of the top albums currently featured at Steve’s Jazz Sounds a specialist in jazz music from continental Europe and more besides, Ten Minutes Later is the debut album from the young Polish trio led by Mariusz Smolinski. There are eight original compositions from Smolinski, who plays both acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes. There are soloing opportunities for bass player Bartosz Kucz and drummer Piotr Budniak, both who come from the Polish jazz fusion scene. Polish-Jazz Blogspot, a key source of information on Polish jazz recordings, describes the music as reminiscent of Chick Corea’s recordings of the 1970s and 1980s and praises the record as yet another example of the many fine young jazz musicians emerging in Poland.

9. Jazzpospolita – Kwaty Cite from Przyplyw 

It’s refreshing to come across a Polish jazz release where the band does not feel it has to have title tunes and an album title in English – but, unfortunately, this means we will need to apologise for pronunciation errors with reference to both tune and album. Apologies. This is the seventh album from Jazzpospolita who are led by bass player Stefan Nowakowski. Released in 2020, it was the first album from the group for some time after personnel changes. Jazzpospolita is a quartet with bass, piano/keyboards,  drums and the driving guitar of Lukasz Borowicki which adds ambient, fusion and even rock elements to the music.

10. Lyle Workman – Noble Savage from Uncommon Meeting 

Lyle Workman is another artist who combines jazz with fusion and rock/pop. A guitarist, keyboard player and composer, Lyle Workman has some serious jazz credentials include composing a tune for the final release from drummer and jazz icon Tony Williams. Workman was invited to the session and found he was among Stanley Clarke and Herbie Hancock as well as drummer Tony Williams. The wholly instrumental album Uncommon Measures is, not surprisingly, stylistically diverse and features a 63-piece orchestra. The music has some fine arrangements and melodies and is occasionally Zappa-esque in its rich complexity – as here on our choice Noble Savage. The record is available through Blue Canoe Records.

11. Bunny Wailer – Liberation from Liberation

We believe we can apply the principle “If you like this, you will like that” on Cosmic Jazz, and that this certainly applies to reggae for many jazz lovers – including both of us. We are not alone: British saxophonist Nat Birchall is an example of a jazzer obsessed with reggae and he has released the music to prove it. Do check out this blogpost on how much reggae is important in his life and music. Throughout its history, and particularly in its early stages, jazz-feeling horns have been a prominent part of reggae. Following the death of Bunny Wailer – the member of the original Wailers trio whose music Derek plays the most – he felt that he had to put the above principle into practice. Bunny Wailer (born Neville Livingson in 1947) was strong of conviction – check out the film Fire in Babylon to see this exemplified in his spoken word as well as his music. The voice was so sweet – so gentle, yet so strong. His percussion work had the same effect and his lyrics often included a powerful Rastafarian commitment and a plea for liberation – as in this title tune from his landmark 1989 album. His albums could command the support of the very finest Jamaican musicians, with this one including no less than Sugar Minott, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare with a horn section that provides an uplifting, stirring  and joyful backdrop. For a further taste of Wailer’s beautiful tenor voice at its best try This Train from his 1976 first solo release Blackheart Man. We reckon that jazz lover needs this music too. More from Cosmic Jazz soon.

Cosmic Jazz: 20 for 20 – the best of 2020

It’s not been easy. Cosmic Jazz pays tribute to all those worldwide first response heroes who have saved  the lives of others with little thought of their own; we mourn all those many Covid-19 deaths in the jazz world; we feel the loss of the jazz venues forced to close this year; and we celebrate the amazing jazz on record and online that has sustained us through these dark months. It’s the last of these that we want to single out in our 20 for 20 feature. We’ll write at length about our ten favourite releases from this year and list ten others that we’ve both really enjoyed listening to. As always, we urge you to listen to the music on the show and then support the musicians by buying in your chosen format – preferably through a site that pays a decent rate. We continue to recommend the journey of discovery that is Bandcamp along with the constant inspiration from Steve’s Jazz Sounds along with independent record stores – like our UK local Soundclash Records and Vinyl Hunter and the Singapore havens of The Jazz Loft, the Analog Vault and Hear Records. Check them all out via the links and support and other these essential independent outlets.

Whittling down a long shortlist hasn’t been easy for for either of us, but we have each finally settled on five top choices each – four new releases and one reissue. For Neil, the year has been dominated by the arrival of two vinyl audiophile series from Universal – the new Tone Poets from Joe Harley/Don Was on Blue Note and the more recent parallel series from from Chad Kassem on Verve and associated labels. The vinyl revival does indeed continue apace with all major labels reissuing great jazz recordings on on high quality pressings. Yes, there are opportunist companies out there who churn out very poor digital CD transfers that should be avoided – but the best of the rest (Blue Note, Verve, Sam, Gearbox and others) – are giving us the best opportunity to hear the magic of vinyl. It’s all backed up by a revitalised turntable industry that has seen the launch of a number of new brands and models as well as the return of some established favourites.

Let’s begin Neil’s list with five essential purchases – starting with Nubya Garcia and her first full length album, Pace. We reviewed this record on its release in and it still stands up as one of the best from the wave of new British jazz artists. Alongside the excellent (if quirkily titled) 2019 album from saxophonist Binker Golding – Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers – Pace has real variety, great solos, deep studio production and some thumping, dub-sounding bass throughout from UK player Daniel Casimir. The production on this album is very much a step up from Garcia’s first EPs: recorded with producer Kwes, whose credits include Solange and Bobby Womack, Garcia is pushed into new territory that really demonstrates her diversity.  It all remains firmly rooted in jazz but there’s a range of other influences here too – from the afore-mentioned dub to cumbia and Ethio-jazz. Here’s the title track. It all works and the album is highly recommended. Garcia’s strongest influence is tenor player Joe Henderson but she has her own distinctive sound too. This one won’t disappoint.

Over the course of a career spanning six decades, veteran drummer Jerry Granelli has worked with many jazz artists – most notably with Vince Guaraldi (appearing on the landmark A Charlie Brown Christmas album in 1965) and with blues vocalist Mose Allison. Now Granelli has revisited these two collaborations from the vantage point of a more exploratory ‘now’ perspective. Never one to dwell on the past, Granelli has never revisited earlier music in this way but the opportunity to try a modern urgency with collaborators Jamie Saft and Brad Jones was clearly too good to ignore. Both Saft and Jones have worked across a broad range of musical genres, with their musical orbit including saxophonists John Zorn, Ornette Coleman and Dave Liebman, trumpeters Dave Douglas, Cuong Vu and Wadada Leo Smith, bassist Steve Swallow, drummer Bobby Previte, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams as well as collaborations with rock artists such as Elvis Costello and Iggy Pop. Granelli notes “You’re letting go of the past, you’re letting go of the present, and you’re just in the music. That’s the place you want to play from at all times. Then your whole vast experience is available to you and you can discover something new you’ve never played before. This record is a wonderful celebration of that coming together of now”. So, no room for nostalgia here as the take on Cast Your Fate to the Wind exemplifies. Mose Allison’s Your Mind is On Vacation receives a similarly free treatment with Saft coming across as the missing link between Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor.  Highly recommended. You can buy this RareNoise label album here on Bandcamp – listen and then go for the vinyl – stunning packaging and terrific sound.

Up next is Chicagoan percussionist Kahil El’Zabar who has been rather prolific with releases over the last year. We’ve featured two albums from him in recent months on Cosmic Jazz but it’s the timely and ironically titled America the Beautiful that makes the cut into Neil’s top five. It’s a relatively large ensemble joining El’Zabar this time with Corey Wilkes on trumpet and the late Hamiet Bluiett on baritone saxophone. There are two versions of the title tune, Charles Wright’s Express Yourself and a twist on Afro Blue but we’ve selected the hypnotic Jump and Shout (For Those Now Gone)There’s no doubt about the focus for this music – “Now’s the time for us to collectively invoke a confluence of trust and imagination that will enlighten a future path towards ethical humanity,” El’Zabar writes in the album’s statement of purpose.  The album is on the new UK Spiritmuse label and, not surprisingly, our recommendation is to get it on vinyl. It’s beautifully produced and a joy to look at too with great cover art from Nep Sidhu.

The Grammy Award-winning big band of Maria Schneider has produced several superb records in recent years, all emerging exclusively on the ArtistShare label, and this year’s 2CD Data Lords is another master work. Schneider started out as an assistant to noted arranger Gil Evans – and it shows. Her music has a similar depth of arrangement and an intensity that is all her own. Her long-standing opposition to big data companies and digital streaming has been well documented in articles, interviews, and congressional testimony and, since 2003, she has relied on the original crowdfunding label ArtistShare to finance her 18-piece orchestra recordings. Data Lords is the fifth of these. The first record offers warnings of the power and influence of the digital world through track titles like Don’t Be Evil (a reference to Google’s original motto) while the second record is in sharp contrast and features more of the harmonic depth of previous Schneider releases. Sanzen is named after a Japanese Buddhist temple and Look Up includes the beautiful piano of the late Frank Kimbrough who died suddenly earlier this month. Check out this Jazziz magazine streamed interview feature with Maria Schneider.

Neil’s final choice is a reissue – a record first bought on vinyl many years ago but released in 2020 as part of Blue Note’s superb Tone Poet series. Blue Note label boss Don Was has recruited analogue remastering guru Joe Harley (the Tone Poet) and engineer accomplice Kevin Gray to oversee a new series of titles, all re-engineered, remastered and repressed with extreme care. Find out more here and then check out the current titles here. The result is some awesome music, much of which has either not been previously obtainable or can only be found at extortionate prices on sites like Discogs. There are no easy recommendations here as all of the titles have something special to offer but (if you can find them) start with Chick Corea’s superb Now He Sings, Now He Sobs or Jackie McLean’s It’s Time! – but, truth be told, you won’t go wrong with any of them. So choosing just one of the new Tone Poets wasn’t easy as any of them could have been included in a Best of… list but the super-trio of Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus and Max Roach is really something special. Money Jungle (1962) was their only recording together and it’s stunning. Apparently, there were personal tensions in the studio and perhaps this contributed to the fireworks on disc. Whatever, the music from this session is tremendous throughout. Ellington wrote some tunes especially for this date and revisited other pieces, like the beautiful Fleurette Africaine and Warm Valley. The title track is a thunderous opener and there’s a wild take of Ellington’s much-recorded Caravan. This new version is the copy to have – the original pressing is too muddy by half.

These Tone Poet records may be more expensive than your standard vinyl issue, but with a decent turntable you’ll hear the difference immediately. BTW, if you’re looking for a new deck simply avoid any briefcase or console style packages and the cheaper offerings from Pioneer, Marantz and Denon as these companies have just leased their name to some very poor products that could actually damage your precious platters. Instead, start with the trusted Rega or Pro-ject ranges or, if you fancy a bit of Djing on the side, then the better offerings from Audio Technica and Technics are your starting points.

So what didn’t make this final list from Neil? Well, here’s the best of the rest of this year’s new albums – four new releases and one reissue:
  • Charles Lloyd – 8: Kindred Spirits (Blue Note)
  • Aaron Parks – Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man (Ropeadope)
  • Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Axiom (Stretch Music/Ropeadope)
  • Sun Ra Arkestra – Swirling, Swirling (Strut)
  • Art Taylor – A T’s Delight (Blue Note)

And so on to Derek’s best of the year. It’s four new releases and one reissue here too. Let’s start with young Polish pianist Kasia Pietrzko and her trio’s superb Ephemeral Pleasures album. This new record and her previous release Forthright Stories are both essential listening: the music is expressed with deep emotion, communicated with considerable intensity and is organic, honest and endlessly rewarding. Pietrzko studied at the Academy of Music in Krakow and spent time in New York, learning from Kenny Garrett and Aaron Parks among others. In 2018 she played in Krakow with the great Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and the plan was for a European tour. Sadly, Stanko died later that year and after this it was not until 2020 that she was able to release Ephemeral Pleasures with the track For T. S dedicated to Stanko.

We like to think that female jazz musicians are an essential and integral part of the jazz scene, and tdraw attention to them is to highlight the exception that in sad reality it so often is. But for this Best of 2020 fix it is interesting to note that five of our ten are groups of/led by women. It’s a really encouraging trend and one we shall see more of in 2021. Second up on Derek’s turntable is a female-led quintet, again from that jazz powerhouse that is Poland. We have marvelled before at the amount of excellent new music that emerges from this east European country but it’s really a reflection of a long jazz tradition. The O.N.E. Quintet are a group of young musicians with a debut album called – unsurprisingly – OneThere are seven tunes on this release: three by sax player Monica Muc, two by pianist Paulina Almanska, one traditional tune and one composition by Krzysztof Komeda – one of the founding fathers of jazz in Poland. The quintet includes violinist Dominika Rusinowski, who is prominent on the up-tempo number Drozina. So often, Polish jazz appears to attract a melancholy tag – in much the same way as music on the German label ECM. But this is very much not the case with O.N.E Quintet – the sounds are warm and embracing, but there is still the opportunity for soloists to take off. Checkout, for example, sax player Monica Muc here on As Close As Light.

Pianist Renee Rosnes leads a new band as producer, pianist and composer in the Blue Note septet Artemis. This is something of an all star band with Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Melissa Aldana on tenor sax, Anat Cohen on clarinet, Norika Ueda on bass, Allison Miller on drums. Members of the band come from the US, Canada, France, Chile, Israel and Japan. Two of the tracks on the self- titled album add in vocals from Cecile McLorin Salvant.  If It’s Magic is, of course, a Stevie Wonder composition from Songs in the Key of Life but there’s also a take on Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and Lennon and McCartney’s Fool on the Hill. Check out the interview with band members and Blue Note CEO Don Was right here.

We have followed the course of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire since his arrival on the scene in 2007. on the tender spot of every calloused moment (yes, it’s all in lower case) Akinmusire features his regular quartet of Justin Brown on drums, Sam Harris on piano and Harish Raghavan on bass. This band have been playing and recording for over a decade – and it shows. Akinmusire writes and performs what may well be a cerebral take on jazz but the music never lacks emotional intensity, with the occasional vocals from Jesus Diaz only adding to the experience. This is music with depth and meaning and comes highly recommended. Our selection is roy – a heartfelt tribute to fellow trumpeter Roy Hargrove, a similarly eclectic performer with a wonderful tone, who sadly died in 2018.

Saxophonist John Coltrane will never be far from our thoughts and ears here on Cosmic Jazz: he continues to provides us with music that touches heart, soul and mind – and there are times – like now – when we need just that. His instantly recognisable tenor sound is simply life affirming and this ability to provide musical transcendence is epitomised by a tune like Lonnie’s Lament from the Crescent album. Beginning in 2019, the Impulse! label embarked on a ‘vital vinyl’ reissue programme and included Coltrane’s classic 1964 recording Crescent as one of the titles. This reissue retains the original gatefold cover with liner notes by Nat Hentoff. The music was recorded in April and June 1964, produced by Bob Thiele and engineered by Rudy van Gelder. The personnel on the album is the classic Impulse! quartet: Coltrane is supported by McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. While familiar with some of the key tunes on the album, Derek did not own the record – until now. If you don’t have Crescent, then now is the time to get a reissue copy that truly reflects the deep intensity of the music. Lonnie’s Lament is the longest track on the album and includes a bass solo from Jimmy Garrison as well as some beautiful quartet playing.

So what didn’t make Derek’s final list? Here’s the best of the rest of his 2020 album choice – again, four new releases and one reissue:

  • Hermes Experiment – Here We Are
  • Jarrod Lawson – Be the Change
  • Piotr Damasiewicz & Power of the Horns Ensemble – Polska
  • Chanda Rule + Sweet Emma Band – Hold On
  • Ana Mazotti – Ana Mazotti

Look out for a brand new 2021 show coming soon…

01 December 2020: Black Jazz and beyond to the outer edges…

This week is an example of how we mix things up on Cosmic Jazz – there’s music from some of the jazz greats but also some surprises for you as we travel down a latin road in the second part of the show before making diversions into more electronic territory.


  1. John Coltrane – Lonnie’s Lament from Crescent

But we begin with a jazz master. Saxophonist John Coltrane will never be far from our thoughts and ears: he always provides us with music that touches heart, soul and mind – and there are times when we need just that. His instantly recognisable tenor sound is simply life affirming and this ability to provide musical transcendence is epitomised by a tune like Lonnie’s Lament from the Crescent album.  The Impulse! label embarked on a ‘vital vinyl’ reissue programme in 2019 and included Coltrane’s 1964 recording Crescent as one of the titles. This reissue retains the original gatefold cover with liner notes by Nat Hentoff. The music was recorded in April and June 1964, produced by Bob Thiele and engineered by Rudy van Gelder. The personnel on the album is the classic Impulse! quartet – Coltrane is supported by McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. While familiar with some of the key tunes on the album, Derek did not own the record – until now. If you don’t have Crescent, then now is the time to get a copy that truly reflects the deep intensity of the music. Lonnie’s Lament is the longest track on the album and includes a bass solo from Jimmy Garrison as well as some beautiful quartet playing. We can’t help but recommend that you also listen to this version of Lonnie’s Lament from the Pharoah Sanders Crescent With Love tribute which also includes versions of Wise One, Naima, Crescent and After the Rain – all Coltrane compositions. We’ve mentioned this album before on CJ but it is an essential one, with some of the most poignant playing of Sanders’ career and wonderful support from William Henderson, Charles Fambrough and Sherman Ferguson.

2. Kazia Pietrzko Trio – Episode II from Ephemeral Pleasures 

More Polish music from our friends at the excellent Steve’s Jazz Sounds (and don’t forget to check out the new website!). Pianist Kazia Pietrzko is an immense talent and the serious nature and depth of her music makes her an appropriate follow-up to Coltrane. She studied in Krakow and New York, including classical studies of Prokofiev. She has original compositions that are intense and full of emotion: fellow pianist Aaron Parks (whose own new music was included in the show a few weeks ago) has written the sleeve notes and comments on the music as “patient, inquisitive, bold”. The trio includes Peter Budniak on drums and Andrzej Swies on bass. In fact the tune Episode II is one of several episodes on the album and contains the second amazing bass solo of the show – this time by trio member Andrej Swies. We’ll feature more music from this new release in our next show and may well return to her excellent debut album Forthright Stories.

3. Open Trio – To the Moon and Back from Heal the World

Also at Steve’s Jazz Sounds you’ll find an album whose title Heal the World sounds like an anthem for our times, even though it was recorded in 2017. It’s from the Swedish Open Trio, led by pianist Joakim Simonsson with Daniel Olsson on drums and Par-Ola Landin on bass. We have come across the words ‘Polish melancholy’ to describe much Polish jazz but – not to be outdone – the Open Trio have been described as ‘Nordic melancholy’ – I’d rather describe them as lyrical and melodic… The jazz piano trio has  been a staple format since the 1950s and – for more Scandi-jazz trio music – the wonderful EST (or, more accurately, e.s.t) should not be ignored. Esbjörn Svensson led the trio until his untimely death in a scuba diving accident in 2008 and the excellent Live in Gothenburg was released last year. Here’s the official video of the superb From Gagarin’s Point of View from the album of the same name.

4. Cleveland Eaton – Moe, Let’s Have A Party and Kaiser from Plenty Good Eaton 

Last week we featured music from the Black Jazz Records label with the exciting news that the label Real Gone Music have obtained the rights to re-release the entire catalogue from this label run by and for black musicians. On 08 January 2021 they will re-release the 1975 album Plenty Good Eaton from bass player Cleveland Eaton, who sadly died in the summer of this year. It was recorded shortly after he had left the Ramsey Lewis band and illustrates how he crossed over from jazz to soul/funk to R’n’B to blaxploitation sounds and on to a unique jazz fusion. The two tunes on this show illustrate this variety. Playing with Eaton on this album are (from the Chess label) keyboardist Odell Brown and percussionist Morris Jennings, with Steve Galloway and Arie Brown from the Black Jazz group The Awakening. The album will be re-released on all three formats – we think it’s essential music to start the new year.

5. Jack DeJohnette – Salsa for Luisito from Sound Travels

We love latin music here at CJ and we recognise the many connections between all its many variants and the world of jazz. To mark this, we’re starting something new as a regular feature in the show. The Latin Quarter will provide a dose of latin music as an integral part of the show. We start with Jack deJohnette, usually known as a drummer but also a pianist on this album. He featured in last week’s show as part of Keith Jarrett’s trio but this week the music comes from his own Sound Travels album, recorded in 2011 and which we played on the show at that time. Scanning his music collection, Derek came across the record again and wanted to play a track. It is a superb album with a stellar line-up including Esperanza Spalding on vocals and acoustic bass, Lionel Loueke on electric guitar and Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet. Salsa for Luisito is dedicated to the captivating percussion player on the album – Luisito Quintero. The Caracas-born player has played on over fifty records to date including those of Fania stars Willie Colon, Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente. His jazz links are many and various – George Benson, Herbie Hancock, and Ravi Coltrane to name a few. More recently, he has been an integral part of Louie Vega’s Elements of Life group (see more below).

6. Louie Vega presents Luisito Quintero – Quintero’s Jam (feat. Hilton Ruiz) from Percussion Maddness Vol I

As if to illustrate this link and the careful planning that goes into each Cosmic Jazz show (!) the next tune is from Quintero himself. Now an essential part of the New York latin scene, this album is produced by another stalwart of NuYorican sounds, producer and DJ Louie Vega. We loved this album on its release in 2006 (and the remix album which we included in our CJ live shows) and there has since been a further follow-up: eight years later, Part 2 of Percussion Maddness was released along with two 7in singles.  The package is available here on Bandcamp. For Quintero’s Jam, the piano maestro Hilton Ruiz is featured.  One of Neil’s favourite piano players, Puerto Rican-born Ruiz stood astride the latin and jazz worlds with no compromise. His 1970s albums on SteepleChase and the 1980s ones on Novus are uniformly excellent, with the trio of El Camino (1988), Strut (1989) and Doin’ It Right (1989) being the place to start. Here’s Soca Serenade from Strut. Sadly, Ruiz was found dead in 2006 in mysterious circumstances in New Orleans.

7. The Hermes Experiment – The Linden Tree from Here We Are

We make no excuses for playing this tune again. For one thing its individuality fits the boundary crossing of this particular programme but we also simply love it. “Meticulously nuanced, witty and chic” says a quote from The Times on the album cover – and we won’t disagree with that. The record is comprised mainly of contemporary classical compositions from, for example, Errolyn Wallen and Anna Meredith but The Linden Tree is jazzy with classical and folk mixed in there too. It is a composition by the jazz bass player, composer and arranger Misha Mullov-Abbado, son of the classical conductor Claudio Abbado. As Gramophone noted in their review of this record, “The Hermes Experiment’s main strength lies in its ability to adapt to the particular needs, demands and peculiarities of each piece contained on this deeply engaging collection.”

8. Jackie McLean and The Cosmic Brotherhood – Camel Drive from New York Calling/Spiritual Jazz Vol 11: Steeplechase Records

McLean was one of Blue Note’s finest alto sax players but this record is from later in his career when he was working with his son René McLean and a new generation of jazz talent. The Cosmic Brotherhood’s take on 1970s advanced hard bop is full of good tunes, several by pianist Billy Gault. René McLean is on tenor, alto, and soprano sax and is a fine performer in his own right. The elder McLean doesn’t dominate the session and The Cosmic Brotherhood come across as a tight group of equals. Great percussion from drummer Michael Carvin whose duet album with McLean – Antiquity – provided the cult jazz favourite De I Comahlee Ah. In his later years, Jackie McLean may not have equalled his superb run of Blue Note classics but he was never afraid to experiment and he stands out as a Blue Note artist who changed his alto tone into something more contemporary in his later albums for the label. The turning point was his essential Let Freedom Ring album from 1962 but McLean continued to explore new sounds throughout his career. In his later years he established the African American Music Department at Hartford University in Connecticut and was celebrated as a jazz educator as much as performer. Anyone new to McLean could start with the new Blue Note bargain audiophile Tone Poet release of the 1964 It’s Time album – here’s the superb title track. You can find all the excellent Tone Poet albums here – and all are worth investigating as among the best vinyl pressings available at the moment.

9. DJ Krush and Toshinori Kondo – Mu-getsu from Ki-oku

Trumpeter Toshinori Kondo died last month. He should be better known to jazz fans. Restlessly experimental to the end, Kondo recently released a series of electronic-centred online releases (many available here on Bandcamp) but much of his earlier work is not easy to get hold of. In 1978 he moved to New York, and began performing with Bill Laswell, John Zorn and others in the New York loft scene. Back in Japan in the 1980s he worked with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Kazumi Watanabe and Herbie Hancock. Kondo’s expansive solo discography is more fusionesque – Nerve Tripper, from 2003, incorporates drum programming and strobing synthesizers. Here’s the track Open the Gate, which comes across like a fusion of Miles Davis and Jon Hassell – and that’s no bad thing. Kondo never stopped exploring and this continues in those new releases and on recent tours. His duet with turntablist DJ Krush is a likeable (if rather lightweight) release from 1996 and the golden age of trip hop. Kondo’s tone has always been Miles-like but much of this record could easily be outtakes from the posthumous Doo-Bop album of 1992 – the tone is very similar to Mystery right here.

10. Maria Joao/OGRE Electric – Respiros from Open Your Mouth 

By now in the show we had strayed from any straight and narrow jazz path, and so it made sense to continue forging ahead. Here we are talking about an artist who has worked with the likes of Joe Zawinul, Egberto Gismonti, Bobby McFerrin and Manu Katche among others but Portuguese vocalist Maria Joao appears to have gone more experimental as she has got older. Now 64, her latest release Open Your Mouth is an excursion into electronic music via her group OGRE Electric . As she says “to explore, never settle, and be on the lookout for new things will always be our motto, so sometimes it may not be so easy to label us. But who needs labels anyway?” Well, maybe they are helpful sometimes – but we’re no fan of carelessly generalised labels ourselves. On Cosmic Jazz, the music speaks for itself. 

11. Lettuce – House of Lett (jackLNDN remix) – Resonate from Resonate Remixed EP 

And so we end this show with the genre-breaking US band Lettuce. They’ve been busy over the last couple of years releasing two albums – Elevate (2019) and Resonate (2020) – but then following this up with an excellent EP of remixes from Resonate. This is typical of their experimental and unpredictable approach to music and so fits the feel of this programme perfectly. On this show we have now reached out beyond any arbitrary jazz boundaries and this tune is an excellent example. As aware as we are of those casually generated labels referred to above, the promotional material for Lettuce suggests that their music is (quote) “[a] Funk-jazz-soul-hiphop-psychedelic-jam”. Sounds reasonable to us. More soon.

26 September 2020: celebrating 60 years of Giant Steps

Welcome to the latest Cosmic Jazz. A slightly longer gap than usual between shows, but this week you can enjoy 95 minutes of great jazz. Each and every show is available here on this site – just press ‘play’ below:

This week’s Cosmic Jazz rightly pays tribute to one of the great albums of the genre, and – as Charlie Parker said – ‘Now’s the Time’. 23 September 1926 was John Coltrane’s birthday and, had he lived beyond 1967, he would have been 94 years old. But more than that, 2020 marks the 60th anniversary of Giant Steps, his seminal album for Atlantic Records. In addition, we have not played his music on the shown since we resumed broadcasts and so this week we begin with three tracks from this essential album. Check out this feature on Giant Steps from Jazzwise magazine from July 2019 and look out for the Giant Steps’ 60th anniversary releases from Rhino Records on CD, vinyl and download, including 40 minutes of outtakes and illuminating liner notes by Coltrane authority Ashley Kahn.

The  original recording in 1959 drew on several musicians and different ones appeared on the tracks we played. The pianists were Tommy Flanagan or Wynton Kelly. On drums was Jimmy Cobb or Art Taylor. The one constant was Paul Chambers on bass and the first tune on the show this week was dedicated to him. The second was for Naima, Coltrane’s then wife. The third was the title tune, Giant Steps which sums up exactly what the album was in terms of the emergence of John Coltrane as an important composer, band leader and a giant of jazz.

  1. John Coltrane – Mr. PC from Giant Steps (John Coltrane – tenor sax; Tommy Flanagan – piano;  Paul Chambers – bass; Art Taylor – drums)
  2. John Coltrane – Naima from Giant Steps (John Coltrane – tenor sax; Wynton Kelly – piano; Paul Chambers – bass; Jimmy Cobb – drums)
  3. John Coltrane – Giant Steps from Giant Steps (John Coltrane – tenor sax; Wynton Kelly – piano; Paul Chambers – bass; Art Taylor – drums)

4. Quindependence – Song For E from Circumstances

Next came one of our regular visits to Poland. To check out some of the excellent music available from this country, just head to Steve’s Jazz Sounds where you’ll find lots of great new Polish jazz. The band Quindependence are an example of a good young jazz group with their debut album Circumstances. It was first released four years ago, but has been re-released after seemingly getting lost. The tune Song for E features some nice work from trumpeter Dominik Borek, delicate piano from Michal Salamon and sympathetic support from Krzysztof Matejski on saxophones and flute, Miłosz Skwirut on bass and Paweł Nowak on drums.

5. Chojnacki/Migula – Kawa from Contemplation

This is another young Polish band led jointly by trumpeter Jan Chojnacki and pianist Filip Migula. The tune is from their debut album, which features original compositions, mainly from pianist Migula. The Polish Jazz Blogspot, a useful source of information on Polish jazz, identifies that the band are at their best playing ballads, which comprise half of the album and Steve’s Jazz Sounds call it “an absolute gem of a CD”. The tune Kawa is one of these ballads and helps to prove the point. The quartet also includes Bartlomiej Chojnacki on bass and Dawid Opalinski on drums. As the image (left) suggests, the final track on the album Trzepak has been released as a single – listen to a live studio version here.

6. Shirley Scott – Don’t Look Back from One For Me. 

We like the Hammond B7 organ on Cosmic Jazz and it features here on Neil’s first selection of tracks on this week’s show. Shirley Scott played the instrument but is less well known than she should be and so it’s great to have her album One For Me (originally released in 1975 on Strata East) now reissued via the British imprint Arc Records, with which DJ Gilles Peterson is involved. The tune Don’t Look Back is a catchy, soulful piece with Harold Vick on tenor sax and Billy Higgins on drums. The notes in the record acknowledge the role of trumpeter Charles Tolliver, co-founder of Strata East Records “in making this reissue a reality”. It so happens, possibly not by coincidence even though it was one of Neil’s choices, that he is the next artist on the show.

7. Charles Tolliver – Blue Soul from Connect

Charles Tolliver is having something of a late career renaissance. This track comes from his new 2020 album on Gearbox Records and was recorded at RAK Studios in London with a line-up that features Jesse Davis on alto saxophone, Keith Brown on piano, Buster Williams on double bass, and Lenny White on drums. Blue Soul has all the grit and groove of a mid-1960s Blue Note hard-bop band while still sounding totally 2020.  Jazz favourite, saxophonist Binker Golding appears on a couple of tracks too.  Buy the album in any format (vinyl, CD and download) from Tolliver’s Bandcamp site here. The Gearbox recording is excellent and has the flavour of a classic Rudy van Gelder Blue Note session from the 1960 – so go for the vinyl option if you can!

8. Buddy Terry – Kamili from Awareness

Wow! The sinuous bass of Buster Williams again anchors this superb piece of 1970s jazz from saxophonist Buddy Terry. Kamili is by conga player Mtume and the band also includes Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet, Stanley Cowell on keyboards, Roland Prince on guitar and Mickey Roker on drums. You can hear Mtume’s own take on Kamili from the superb album led by the late Jimmy Heath called Kawaida. Mtume was a convert to the black consciousness Kawaida faith founded in 1966 by Maulana Karenga. The pan-African philosophy of kawaida (in Swahili this means ‘tradition’ or ‘reason’) was founded on an African value system with seven principles: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith). The aim was that these would serve as a catalyst to motivate, intensify, and sustain the black struggle against racism. This superb album, originally issued on the Mainstream label, is available (of course!) from the Bandcamp website here.

9. Aaron Parks – Attention Earthlings from Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man

Pianist Aaron Parks came to our attention with his excellent first Blue note release called Invisible Cinema although he was a featured pianist on one of Neil’s all time favourite records, Terence Blanchard’s A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina) with its stunning track Levees.  With a couple of ECM albums in between, Parks is now recording for Ropeadope Records (along with CJ favourite Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah) and his 2020 release with the Little Big band, II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man, is an excellent example of Charles Mingus’s definition of creativity: “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” There’s a clarity and simplicity in this music that then begins to reveal its depth and complexity in subtle shifts. As Aaron Parks explains, “I want to cast a spell to lull you into a trance where you think you know where you’re going, and then take you somewhere unexpected, almost without realizing how you got there.” The new album continues this synthesis of jazz, electronica, and post-rock but without a sense of disparate styles. Parks features on all keyboards and voice, Greg Tuohey is superb on guitar and these two soloists are very ably supported by David Ginyard Jr. on bass and Tommy Crane on drums and percussion.

10. Jonathon Jurion – Bismillahi ‘Rrahmani ‘Rrahim from Le Temp Fou

This is an interesting one. Jurion is from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe although his music is not particularly closely linked to the musical traditions of the island – gwo-ka, zouk, balakadri and more. Here he focuses on the music of alto saxophonist Marion Brown, himself something of an ethnomusicologist. Brown is less well known than he should be, but he was one of the players on Coltrane’s album Ascension which featured a much expanded front line of soloists and in the same year (1964) played on Archie Shepp’s seminal Fire Music album. Brown moved to Paris in 1967 where he met and befriended German vibraphonist and sax player Gunter Hampel with whom he recorded the soundtrack for Marcel Camus’ film Le temps fou – hence the title of this collection of Marion Brown tunes. You can hear Gunter Hampel’s Galaxie Dream band on the track Sonnenschein from his Ruomi album from 1974. Brown’s loose trilogy of albums from this period that reflect his Georgia slave heritage are all worth exploring, beginning with a very early record on the ECM label, Afternoon of a Georgia Faun. The track we chose from Jurion’s tribute album comes from a later record for Impulse! called Vista (1975). It’s actually by American minimalist composer and Brian Eno collaborator Harold Budd – here’s both the Marion Brown version and Harold Budd version of Bismillahi ‘Rrahmani ‘Rrahim.  Budd plays celeste and gong on the Brown track and Brown returns the favour on the  much more expansive Budd track from his essential 1978 album, The Pavilion of Dreams.

11. Ethnic Heritage Ensemble – Little Sunflower (for Roy Hargrove) from Be Known Ancient/Future Music

Neil’s final selection this week links directly to the next tune from Derek. Both are tributes to the late (and very great) Roy Hargrove, a trumpeter who embraced many kinds of jazz over his all-to short career. Hargrove died of kidney failure at the age of just 49 after recording over twenty albums as leader and many more as a key contributor to others. Key albums to start with are The Tokyo Sessions, Habana, Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall and the superb Earfood album which netted the glorious Strasbourg/St Denis tune – surely a future standard… Here it is in a live version from Brussels recorded in 2016 just two years before his death and with the great Sullivan Fortner on piano.

12. Ambrose Akinmusire – Roy from on the tender spot of every calloused moment 

This was the second successive tune on the show to acknowledge Roy Hargrove. He was a musician who influenced and played an important part in the lives of many of the prominent younger musicians playing today – and fellow trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire is one of them. He’s as eclectic as Hargrove was in the range of musical styles he explores – from M Base sounds with Steve Coleman to an appearance on Mortal Man, the final track of Kendrick Lamar’s influential rap album To Pimp a Butterfly. Akinmusire’s 2020 release is called on the tender spot of every calloused moment (yes, Akinmusire has a thing about lower case typography) and the tune Roy is a short piece of highly moving, sensitive and powerful music from an excellent and important trumpeter and his band.

13. The Hermes Experiment – The Linden Tree from Here We Are

This tune may be something of a surprise. It is perhaps jazzy rather than jazz and comes from a group of young British musicians who perform essentially contemporary classical music. The album can be found on Delphian Records, an Edinburgh-based label specialising in contemporary classical.  The Hermes Experiment are an ensemble with an interesting musical set-up comprising harp, clarinet, soprano vocal and double bass. The Misha Mullov-Abbado tune The Linden Tree is a good example – the lyrics are those of the traditional English song but the melody is Mullov-Abbado’s own. He explains: “For most of the piece the instrumental trio are playing rhythmic patterns underneath a much looser and flowing rendition of the folk song melody, but I then inserted some instrument-only sections where I’ve subtly introduced more of a jazzy and swing element. In particular the harp is a very interesting instrument to write for when it comes to the jazz idiom – I tried to avoid writing essentially a piano part, and came up with some little figures more suited to the instrument.” The lyrics simply but powerfully reflect on childhood, love and the cost of war and Mullov-Abbado’s arrangement has a musical feel that crosses folk, jazz and classical. The sounds are interesting, with the improvisatory clarinet of Oliver Pashley contrasting with Heloise Werner’s classical soprano voice. The rest of the album is definitely ‘contemporary classical’ with selections from Anna Meredith, Errolyn Wallen and others. We highly recommend this album and, for some jazz lovers, it could mark a venture into newish territory.

14. Lettuce – Mr. Dynamite from Resonate

We end this week’s show with a tune from a band operating in a very different universe to the Hermes Experiment. In 2019 the Boston-based Lettuce released their album Elevate and followed this in 2020 with Resonate, in fact recorded at the same sessions. Lettuce are a band of fine musicians who have worked for many top artists in hip-hop, soul and pop but whose own music is a blend of jazz, soul, funk R’n’B, Go-Go and more. Despite its title, Mr Dynamite is rather more restrained than some other Lettuce tunes, including the Go-Go anthem Checker Wrecker, a track we have featured before on the show. Nonetheless, this is uplifting music and, as such, was a perfect way to end this varied show. On reflection, it would make an equally impressive opener for a Cosmic Jazz live set – maybe in 2021? Here’s hoping…

What is it about spiritual jazz?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music is the healing force of the universe…

Jazz photos No.1 – Reggie Workman

Former Coltrane bassist Reggie Workman, New York – 2020

Bass player Reggie Workman is now 83 and living in Harlem, New York. In an interview for the Vulture online magazine he reminisced about his time with John Coltrane, the recent deaths of some jazz greats (and his friends) and what he thinks about life right now. Through all of this, and while stuck at home, Workman has tried to maintain his cosmic outlook. “Our bodies are on the planet for a longer time or a shorter time depending on how we live, what things that we’ve done through our life,” he says. “Whatever that is, whatever time that is, our contributions are significant, their contributions are significant. And we have to be thankful for what they give.”  And here’s one of Workman’s stellar contributions to the Complete Live at the Village Vanguard set – John Coltrane’s classic Spiritual with John Coltrane on soprano and tenor sax, Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, McCoy Tyner on piano, Garvin Bushell on contrabass bassoon, Workman on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. This twenty one minute take on Spiritual was recorded on the last of four nights on 05 November 1961.

Week ending 14 March 2020: McCoy Tyner tribute and J Z Replacement

Sadly there are occasions when we have to remember the lives and music of jazz artists. Recently, the late Jimmy Heath (who incidentally can be seen in the new – and excellent – Miles Dayis documentary, Birth of the Cool) was remembered on Cosmic Jazz and this week it was time for Tyner. Pianist McCoy Tyner was a hugely influential figure in the history of the music whose influence extended long beyond his tenure with John Coltrane.

McCoy Tyner (1938-2020) was, of course, a member of one of the greatest jazz quartets in history and an influential pianist in his own right. This classic quartet featured John Coltrane on tenor and soprano sax, Jimmy Garrison on bass, Elvin Jones on drums and Tyner on piano – with their ultimate achievement being the masterpiece A Love Supreme – recorded over the course of one evening in December 1964 and released in January 1965.

McCoy Tyner met John Coltrane in 1957 at a club in Philadelphia, the city in which he was born, and he joined Coltrane’s new quartet in October 1960, staying with him until 1965, by which time he complained that the music had grown so loud he could not hear the piano. During this time, he made his own records for the Impulse! label including the superb Nights of Ballads & Blues which featured Tyner’s sensitive interpretation of Ellington’s Satin Doll. We began the show with Passion Dance from the The Real McCoy, his first solo album for the Blue Note label from 1967. The wonderful tenor playing on the track is from Joe Henderson, one of our CJ favourites and the album also features the beautiful Tyner original Contemplation.

We had to reflect Tyner’s time with the John Coltrane Quartet and rather than focus on A Love Supreme, we instead chose Slow Blues, a tune from the album Both Directions At Once – The Lost Album, recorded in 1963 and released until 2018. Tyner then went on to record his own albums from Impulse!, Blue Note and Milestone. This week’s CJ included two tunes from that Blue Note period. The Real McCoy features an impressive quartet with the aforementioned Joe Henderson on tenor, Ron Carter on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, while Time For Tyner has Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Herbie Lewis on bass and Freddie Waits on drums. The later album (recorded in 1968) has both original compositions and the standards that Tyner often returned to and we chose the superb African Village. There’s a great Japanese jazz festival trio live version right here. There’s no information on the band but this was recorded in 2009 with Christian McBride on bass and an unknown drummer.

In all his music Tyner stayed with acoustic instruments only and never used electric keyboards or synthesisers.  This reflected his unique piano style – particularly on his original compositions – with the left hand pounding out the chords while his right hand explored runs up and down the keyboard. Tyner always made his presence felt but he was also prepared to allow for spaces in between as evidenced in his beautiful ballad playing. He told Nat Hentoff  “I play what I live. Therefore, just as I can’t predict what kinds of experiences I’m going to have, I can’t predict the directions in which my music will go, I just want to write and play my instrument as I feel”. John Coltrane said: “McCoy Tyner holds down the harmonies, and that allows me to forget them. He’s sort of the one who gives me wings and lets me take off the ground from time to time.” We shall return to this wonderful pianist in later shows.

By contrast, there is a first play for a band that sounds rather different. J Z Replacement are loud – verging at times on the frantic, with a bundle of experimental energy. It’s original music performed by hey are original and they include three excellent musicians who cleverly put together sounds that blend together as a whole despite all the chaos that is seemingly going on. They are two London-based musicians, Jamie Murray on drums who has played with the Sun Ra Arkestra and Zhenya Strigalev on sax who has played with Ambrose Akinmusire and Eric Harland. They are joined by in-demand LA bass player Tim Lefebvre. If you want some music that is edgy, contemporary and could even get you dancing round the room, check out their album Disrespectful, the title of which is probably very appropriate.

Ana Mazzotti was described as “a supermusician” by her distinguished fellow Brazilian Hermeto Pascoal. Sadly, she died in her thirties with only two albums as her heritage. The first was recorded in 1974 and involved Jose Robert Bertrami from Azymuth. It did not sell well and in 1977 she tried again with re-workings of the same tunes. Both albums have been now re-released by specialist UK Brazilian label Far Out. The show includes a tune from the 1977 version. Both albums are worth checking out – and it’s fascinating to compare the different versions of the same songs. Great arrangements too. Up next was a track from Cuban singer Dayme Arocena. At the end of 2019 she released Sonocardigram on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label ,from which we played Para el Amor: Cantar! Arocena was first associated with an artist we really like here on CJ – Canadian Jane Bunnett – singing in her Maqueque group in 2015 and then releasing her own debut EP Nueva Era later the same year. Sonocardiagram takes things a whole step further with Arocena supported by current Cuban masters including pianist and arranger Jorge Luis Lagarza Pérez, bassist Rafael Aldama Chiroles and drummers José Carlos Sánchez and Marcos Morales Valdés.

The show ended with yet another great artist that my colleague Neil has introduced to me. Muriel Grossman was born in Paris, grew up in Vienna and has lived for some time on an island that is noted for its music but maybe not jazz –  Ibiza. She plays spiritual/modal jazz that is deep, warm and engaging. There is no doubt she knows the music of Coltrane, McCoy Tyner et al. Her music is released on the Dreamland Records label and the title track of the album Golden Rule was featured this week. She’s another artist we shall return to in coming weeks. I need to find more of her music and any Cosmic Jazz follower would be well advised to do so too.

  1. McCoy Tyner – Passion Dance from The Real McCoy
  2. John Coltrane – Slow Blues from Both Directions at Once – The Lost Album
  3. McCoy Tyner – African Village from Time For Tyner
  4. J Z Replacement – Five Cymbals for Jamie from Disrespectful
  5. Ana Mazotti – Agora Ou Nunca Mais from Ana Mazotti
  6. Dayme Arocena – Para el Amor: Cantar! from Sonocardiogram
  7. Muriel Grossman – Golden Rule from Golden Rule

Week ending 22 February 2020: our final ECMfest

This week’s Cosmic Jazz is – as always – available on the Mixcloud tab (left). Open it for an hour of great music – mostly from Neil’s ECM label collection which has recently celebrated 50 years of jazz and more. Neil began collecting ECM music after going into a Zurich record store in 1973 and hearing the recently released Keith Jarrett 3LP Bremen/Lausanne Concerts – in the days when you shut yourself in a listening booth and heard 30 minutes of music for free before making your decision to purchase (or not). He walked away with that Keith Jarrett box set and started on a musical journey that still continues.

We began the show with the ethereal sounds of the Norwegian Tord Gustavsen Trio who appeared at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2003 just after the release of their debut album for ECM, Changing Places. Live, the textural quality of this music was sharpened further – the silences between the notes almost as important as the music itself. Gustavsen and his trio (including extraordinary drummer Jarle Vespestad) conjure floating melodies with a real verse/chorus structure that linger in your consciousness long after the music ends. Listen out, too, for the bass playing of Harald Johnsen on our choice from this album – the track title Where Breathing Starts could not be more apposite.

Another memorable live performance experienced by both Neil and Derek in the suitably resonant acoustic of Norwich Cathedral came from our second ECM artist, trumpeter Arve Henriksen. Ever since Miles Davis began using the Harmon mute and then wahwah pedals, trumpeters have realised the totally different sounds that can be created with this instrument. There’s a current trend for a much more breathy sound on trumpet – and perhaps this all began with the fourth world/ambient sounds of Jon Hassell almost 45 years ago. On his debut recording Vernal Equinox in 1973, Hassell experimented with echo and envelope filters, sometimes muti-tracking his trumpet to create a sound that was almost vocal. Listen to the 22 minute title track here for one of the inspirations of this style.  You can hear this in Henriksen’s approach but also in the music of Nils Petter Molvaer whose music we have featured previously on Cosmic Jazz. Migration is, however, an exceptional and evocative track from the stunning release Cartography.

Up next was English saxophonist John Surman from his curiously titled 1981 ECM outing The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon, a duo album with drummer Jack DeJohnette. On Nestor’s Saga, Surman is featured on bass clarinet and soprano saxophone. Surman would add more electronics in later albums for ECM, including the excellent The Road to St Ives which continued Surman’s fascination with his Devonian/Cornish heritage.

There are many albums on the ECM label that could be considered essential – but Dave Holland’s Conference of the Birds is undoubtedly one of these. A free jazz masterpiece, it really belongs in any self-respecting collection. Remarkably, this was Holland’s first album as a leader – and what a group he assembled! Holland had worked with saxophonist Anthony Braxton and drummer Barry Altschul in the group Circle (along with pianist Chick Corea) and his partnership with Altschul made for one of the most dynamic rhythm sections of the decade. Saxophonist Sam Rivers was over twenty years older than his colleagues, and he had briefly been a member of Miles Davis’ quintet in the early 1960s, before being ejected in favour of Wayne Shorter. The title track of Conference of the Birds is a surprisingly gentle, almost pastoral piece that opens with a lyrical bass solo from Holland, demonstrating how just how versatile a player he is. Holland explained the inspiration for the title in the album liner notes: While living in London I had an apartment with a small garden. During the summer around 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, just as the day began, birds would gather here one by one and sing together, each declaring its freedom in song. It is my wish to share this same spirit with other musicians and communicate it to the people. Whether Holland knew it or not (and he probably did), Conference of the Birds is also the title of the most famous collection of poems by the Persian Sufi poet Attar…

Our final ECMfest drew to a close with another title track, this time from the late Canadian flugelhorn player Kenny Wheeler. The album is an all-star affair with Holland again on bass, veteran Lee Konitz on alto sax and Bill Frisell on guitar. Unusually, there is no drummer on the record but that hasn’t prevented this timeless recording from achieving something of a cult status. It’s a remarkably restrained, lyrical recording that grows on any listener prepared to stay with it. For more Wheeler, check out the extended waltz Heyoke from the 1975 recording Gnu High. The album features Dave Holland once more but also includes Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette.

We ended the show with two very different sounds – but both artists we have seen live over the years. Joey Alexander is the extraordinary talented young pianist from Jakarta, Indonesia who just gets better and better. Now aged 16 and with a new album out soon, we featured another track from his download only collection of outtakes released at the end of 2019. This was his take on John Coltrane’s Equinox – and a very fine version it is too. The album is available from all download sources – listen here on Bandcamp.

Just as Fela Kuti was influenced by the jazz he heard while studying in the UK, there’s no doubt that jazz musicians have in turn been influenced by him. Listen to Brandford Marsalis’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and check out his stunning sampled use of Fela’s Beasts of No Nation. We chose to end the show this week with an album and title track new to Neil’s Fela collection: Fear Not For Man appears on a 2018 vinyl reissue on Knitting Factory Records and was located in one of the many excellent vinyl stores in Singapore. The island state (where Neil is based) is something of a haven for record lovers – including those looking for jazz releases old and new.

  1. Tord Gustavsen Trio – Where Breathing Starts from Changing Places
  2. Arve Henriksen – Migration from Cartography
  3. John Surman – Nestor’s Saga from The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon
  4. Dave Holland Quartet – Conference of the Birds from Conference of the Birds
  5. Kenny Wheeler – Angel Song from Angel Song
  6. Joey Alexander – Equinox from In a Sentimental Mood
  7. Fela Kuti – Fear Not For Man from Fear Not For Man

Neil is listening to…

Week ending 30 November 2019: jazz in the 1970s

Full service is resumed! Cosmic Jazz is back on the Mixcloud tab once more. Tonight’s show was a pre-record and – as is so often the case in these circumstances – we take a journey back to some great tunes from the past.

A good place to start is the 1970s – often seen as a decade of watered down jazz subject to the corrupting influences of soul, funk and disco. The reality is far from this. Whilst some artists clearly ‘sold out’ and sought to popularise their music through a tokenistic application of these outside influences, other musicians created new sounds whilst remaining in the tradition. From that decade much music has been re-released, often on independent British labels. It’s not always the well-known names that are featured either. A case in point is keyboard player Walter Bishop Jr. Raised in Harlem, Bishop played with the likes of Art Blakey, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and others. From the early 60s he led his own band and recorded two albums for the Black Jazz label in the early 1970s. After a spell teaching in Los Angeles he returned to New York and signed with Muse records for whom he made five albums between 1975-79. The Soul Village album of 1977 was one of these. Re-released in 2014 by the superb Soul Brother Records in the UK, Soul Turnaround was one of four tunes on the album that he had previously recorded on Black Jazz.

Saxophone elder Gary Bartz has raised his profile in recent years, thanks to some excellent recordings and an appearance at this year’s inaugural We Out Here festival where he shared the stage with British newcomers and CJ favourites Maisha. Back again in the UK this month, he headlined at the London Jazz Festival and is apparently currently in the studio with Maisha. We await the results with interest! In the 1970s Bartz was recording with Miles Davis – most notably on the Live Evil album. The full 6CD Cellar Door set has Bartz throughout and, whilst it’s not the most indispensable of the Davis box sets, it’s worth a listen. Separately at this time, Bartz was recording with his Ntu Troop band on Milestone Records – including two excellent Harlem Bush Music albums, now available on one BGP label compilation. Celebrated vocalist Andy Bey is featured on Celestial Blues, a tune he recorded again on his Experience and Judgment album. You can compare it here.

The Black Jazz label has its own story to tell. For a label that lasted only a little over five years, it has a sizeable footprint in the world of jazz. Founded by Oakland based pianist and producer Gene Russell, the Black Jazz imprint stood apart from bland middle of the road jazz styles and aligned firmly to the rise of black consciousness and the electric experimentations of Miles Davis and others.

More than that, Black Jazz records of the 1970s were all issued in a surround-sound Quadraphonic version and so the recording quality was often much higher than for other independent labels. Gene Russell died young in 1981 and left the catalogue in limbo but tracks were already being adopted by UK acid jazzers and hip-hop musicians in the early ’90s before the whole catalogue was reissued by Japanese speciality label Snow Dog Records between 2012-13. Label compilations from Gilles Peterson and Theo Parrish (which we have sourced for this week’s CJ selection) have spread the word and you’ll find a great selection of ten excellent Black Jazz albums in this Vinyl Factory feature.

From the Peterson record Black Jazz Radio, we have chosen a Henry Franklin track and from Parrish’s Black Jazz Signature there is a tune from Rudolph Johnson. Both compilations are essential listening.

It is easy in jazz to leave out the greatest and try to spread the word of those that have been forgotten or overlooked, but here on Cosmic Jazz  we try to do both. There is always time for John Coltrane and we try to represent the many phases of his work. The album Stellar Regions was recorded in February 1967 and so is among Coltrane’s last recordings. Not released until 1995, it showcases some of the more lyrical music Coltrane was making in his later years. We chose the fire and fury of the alternate take of Sun Star with Alice Coltrane on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Rashied Ali on drums. Our illustration is a take on the album cover by Danish artist K Pakula.

The show ended with more from a DJ compilation and music released originally on the Muse label. Colin Curtis has been based in the North-West of England but has travelled far beyond and has been playing what the title of his 2CD compilation calls Jazz Dance Fusion for many years. The final two tunes came from Disc One of this release and featured firstly guitarist Ron Eschete , with Carol Eschete on vocals and then percussionist Emmanuel K. Rahim and his band The Kahliqs.

  1. Walter Bishop Jr. – Soul Turnaround from Soul Turnaround
  2. Gary Bartz Ntu Troop – Celestial Blues from Harlem Bush Music
  3. Henry Franklin – Beauty & the Electric Tub from Gilles Peterson – Black Jazz Radio
  4. Rudolph Johnson – Time & Space from Theo Parrish’s Black Jazz Signature
  5. John Coltrane – Sun Star (Alternate Take) from Stellar Regions
  6. Ron Eschete – To Let You Know from Colin Curtis Presents Jazz Dance Fusion
  7. Emmanuel Rahim & the Kahliqs – Spirit of Truth from Colin Curtis Presents Jazz Dance Fusion

Derek is listening to… 

Neil is listening to…