This week’s show has a very different feel from last week’s deep jazz sounds. We began with a new discovery from Brazilian master Hermeto Pascoal and the lost Vice Versa studio sessions. The track is Casinha Pequenina – all 26 minutes of it. Recorded in Sao Paulo in just two days in 1976 and not released until November last year, this is exciting improvised music, most of it recorded in first takes and still unedited. Guitarist Toninho Horta is there but Nivaldo Ornelas on tenor saxophone is one of the highlights too. You can download the whole Far Out Records album from Bandcamp right here or find it at your local independent record store. If you like this, check out the epic Slaves Mass album recorded by Pascoal in the following year and (apparently) noted for the use of squealing pigs as one of the sound effects…
Next up was one of the edits from a new BBE Records release from the Chicago DJ and producer Mark Grusane, but featuring bandleader Choker Campbell who appeared (anonymously) as saxophonist on numerous Motown hits. Campbell was also the writer of Albert Jones’ track Mother Nature, with a string section famously sampled on the title track of one of our favourite rap albums, Common’s ecstatic Be. You can check out the wonderful Be (Intro) here.
Deep jazz is never far away from our playlists and it was a return visit to one of the best compilations from last year – this one featuring baritone sax maestro Hamiett Bluiett on the track Oasis from a Soul Note album from 1981, before heading leftfield once more with more new music. This time, the new artist is Polish/Danish band Beam, led by alto saxophonist Bartosz Czarniecki. The quartet also features Anna Roemer on guitar, Michał Nienadowski on bass and Emil Thorenfeldt on drums.
Trumpeter Marquis Hill made a name for himself in 2017 and he continues to surprise. His latest EP is simply called Meditation Tape and includes some spoken word comments from drummer Marvin ‘Bugalu’ Smith at the end of each track. It’s music to wind down with – whereas Daniel Crawford’s take on Fela’s classic Water get No Enemy is an upbeat way to end the show from his very under-rated jazz/neo-soul album The Awakening.
Hermeto Pascoal/Grupo Vice Versa – Casinha Pequenina from Viajando Como Som/The Lost ’76 Vice-Versa Studio Session
Choker Campbell edit. Mark Grusane – Carioca from The Real Sound of Mark Grusane
Hamiet Bluiett – Oasis from You Need This: an Introduction to Black Saint & Soul Note 1975-1986
Beam – Kerteminde from One
Marquis Hill – Good Morning from Meditation EP
Daniel Crawford – Water No Get Enemy from The Awakening
These are good times for jazz in the UK. There are some excellent young musicians around, including the superb quartet led by saxophonist Camilla George who I saw this week. Their pianist Sarah Tandy, who has her own trio, was something else. As a classical pianist, she’s a former BBC Young Musician of the Year but is now getting noticed as an exciting and inventive jazz artist. In performance, she just takes off and goes you cannot predict where when it’s her turn to feature, while still maintaining the level of invention while supporting others. She has been chosen by eminent jazz critic John Fordham in the current edition of Jazzwise magazine as his musician to look out for in 2018.
Ironically, this week’s CJ doesn’t contain music from any native UK artists but – in compensation – we include many excellent, pioneering musicians from the Americas.
As promised last week, I trawled through my record racks and dug out some I have ignored for a while. As a result, the first tune on the show is from Don Cherry – a world musician long before the term ‘world music’ was used as an understandable way to find music in record shops. This comes from the celebrated Mu albums, recorded on the Actuel/BYG label in Paris in 1969. Here Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell play as a duo with Cherry on flute and Blackwell on percussion. Cherry continued his explorations of music influenced by middle eastern, traditional African and Indian musics and between 1978-82 he recorded the three Codona albums for ECM with percussionist Nana Vasconcelos and sitar/tabla player Collin Walcott. These have now been reissued as a 3CD box set – highly recommended if you want to explore this pioneering music.
Kelan Philip Cohran (08 May 1927-28 June 2017) is someone whose death this year we should have acknowledged earlier on the show. His role playing mainly trumpet with the Sun Ra Arkestra from 1969-71 provided him with essential Cosmic Jazz credentials. This week he is featured playing with the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, eight of whose nine members are his sons. Look out for their new album Book of Sound just released on UK Honest Jon’s label.
Reggae in jazz is not new. When record producer Coxsone Dodd was choosing musicians in Kingston for what became The Skatalites he looked for jazz musicians and chose Don Drummond, Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook. Cedric im Brooks was another Jamaican musician brought up on jazz whom we have featured here on CJ. It was great, however, to play a 2017 released tune with a reggae-meets-jazz feel to it. Trumpeter Keyon Harrold supplied this with the title tune of his new album The Mugician. There are CJ-friendly musicians on the album including, on this powerful, forceful tune, James Poyser and Marcus Strickland.
Marcus Strickland also appears on the next selection which is complex and full of surprises. It came from the new 2017 Blue Note All Stars who comprise Lionel Loueke, Ambrose Akinmusire, Kendrick Scott, Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge and Strickland on saxes. Our choice from the album featured two masters from an ealier generation – Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock – in a version of Shorter’s tune Masqualero, first heard on the Miles Davis album Sorcerer in 1967.
Two or three weeks ago Neil posted on his current listening selection a collaboration between Chilean musicians (Newen Afrobeat) and Seun Kuti. DJ and long-established record compiler John Armstrong has now assembled a collection merging Afrobeat with another Latin American country, this time Brazil. Excellent it is too. The Camarao Orchestra, like Newen Afrobeat, show how musicians from one country can draw upon and play successfully the music of another – pretty much what many jazz musicians across the world have done since the music began… And eagle eared listeners may have that nagging feeling that they have heard a version of the riff that appears partway through the wonderful Afoxe – perhaps this link from the previously mentioned Herbie Hancock may help…
To end the show we featured a long track from William Parker released in 2002 with soul/hip hop vocals from Leena Conquest, who lists many causes including Native Americans to Civil Rights leaders. I have tried to track down this album for some time but have just managed to do so via the superb Soundclash Records in Norwich. I will play more.
Finally, a shout out to another excellent record shop, and one selling exclusively vinyl – Bury St Edmunds’ excellent Vinyl Hunter. Along with my MC buddy Derek, this week Cosmic Jazz took to the streets of Bury and presented a set of Caribbean music courtesy of Vinyl Hunter. It’s very encouraging to see a small market town the size of Bury St. Edmunds supporting analogue music and, in its dual role of cafe and record store, the place was heaving yesterday. Business is good too – Vinyl Hunter have recently opened a second store in Elmstead, Essex. It’s interesting that the current vinyl revival is not experiencing the much predicted slowdown. The fascination with the format has been taken up by advertising agencies too – vinyl is seen as not only cool but also authentic. Here it is with a Rega Planar turntable taking centre stage in a recent Specsavers advertisement. The music is Lester Bowie’s take on The Great Pretender, the title track from his 1981 ECM album. More convincingly, this is Raphael Saadiq chillin’ out in a loft apartment to his own excellent Movin’ Down the Line (Don’t You Go).
Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell – Omelejo from Mu First Part
Kelan Philip Cohran and The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – Frankincense and Myrrh from Kelan Philip Cohran and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
Keyon Harrold feat. Josh David Barrett – The Mugician from The Mugician
Blue Note All Stars feat. Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock – Masqualero from Our Point of View
Camarao Orchestra – Afoxe from John Armstrong presents Afrobeat Brazil
William Parker feat. Leena Conquest – Raining On the Moon from Raining On the Moon
17 July saw a significant anniversary in jazz – it was exactly 50 years since the death of saxophonist John Coltrane, and so here on Cosmic Jazz we have been celebrating his life and work over the last three weeks. Tonight is our final look at Coltrane’s music – but this time through the interpretation of others.
We began the show with a track featuring the classic Coltrane quartet – Coltrane on tenor saxophone, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Tunji comes from the 1962 album Coltrane and is dedicated to Babatunde Olatunji, the Nigerian percussionist who influenced Coltrane’s music.
CJ then celebrated the influence of Coltrane’s music on other musicians, beginning with one of our most underated British saxophonists Alan Skidmore on a 2CD set recorded live at the Boxford Fleece, here in Suffolk. We chose Skidmore’s take on Resolution, the second part of Coltrane’s most famous composition, A Love Supreme and followed this with a take on Countdown, first recorded by Coltrane on the Giant Steps album of 1960 – a virtual template of jazz standards including the title track, Naima and Mr P.C. The artist was the young Indonesian pianist Joey Alexander, whom we have featured on the show previously. Alexander is something of a phenomenon, having recorded his first album at the age of 11 – titled, My Favourite Things, it featured both this and his treatment of Coltrane’s Giant Steps.
We had to play at least one Pharoah Sanders tune and I chose a live version of Naima, recorded on the Crescent with Love album from 1994. Sanders was, of course, a member of Coltrane’s expanded groups of the mid and late 1960s. He first worked with Coltrane in 1965 on the Ascension album, perhaps the most free of Coltrane’s releases. His albums from the 1970s onwards featured Alice Coltrane. Now 76, Sanders continues to record although mainly as a featured artist on other’s recordings.
Dwight Trible’s rich, deep baritone voice has featured on several recent recordings – including his Living Water album of 2006 which featured a vocal version of one of Coltrane’s most beautiful tunes, Wise One. The track we featured – Dear Lord – is very much in the same tradition. It comes from Trible’s new release on Manchester based Gondwana Records and features Matthew Halsall on trumpet. We will feature more from this excellent album in future programmes. British tenor player Denys Baptiste is one of a number of jazz musicians who have released albums celebrating the music of John Coltrane in recent months, and Late Trane appears on the excellent Edition Records – our label of the year for 2016. Baptiste is joined by Nikki Yeoh on piano and keys, Gary Crosby on bass and with special guest Steve Williamson on tenor on some tracks, including the beautiful After the Rain.
Nat Birchall’s excellent website indicates his debt to his first love – Jamaican dub. This is significant as Birchall makes clear he was an enthusiastic listener before becoming a musician – sound has always been the first and most important thing about music to me, he says. In this he shares much with John Coltrane who released an album simply called Coltrane’s Sound. Writer Ben Ratcliff refers to Coltrane’s continual search for a sound in his thought-provoking book Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, identifying the restless searching that puzzled so many of those around him. As Ratliff explains in his introduction, the book is about jazz as sound. I mean ‘sound’ as it has long functioned among jazz players, as a mystical term of art: an in, every musician finally needs a sound, a full and sensible embodiment of his artistic personality, such that it can be heard, at best, in a single note. It’s easy to conclude that we have still not caught up with Coltrane’s journey, even fifty years after his death – something that’s not true now of his contemporary, Miles Davis, whose most out-there music (for example, On the Corner, released in 1972) is now appreciated as a ground-breaking work that has influenced so much modern music from Steve Reich to techno and trance. Much like those who worked with Davis at this time, Coltrane’s own sidemen in the mid sixties had little idea of what Coltrane was up to. Elvin Jones simply shrugged and said Beats the shit outta me and for many listeners this is still what is often thought of Coltrane’s experiments in sound.
We ended the show with something of a contemporary favourite. Several remixers have tried to put their own stamp on Coltrane’s iconic A Love Supreme – but none have succeeded like Berlin duo Skinnerbox. It’s not easily available anymore as a download, but you can listen to the edited dub version here on Soundcloud. Highly recommended.
Finally, to expand your thinking about John Coltrane and his influence, read this feature from Jazzwise magazine by one of our favourite writers, Kevin le Gendre. Incidentally, he would never make Neil’s elementary mistake on the show of referring to Coltrane as an alto saxophonist – although it is true that ‘trane played alto on some of his earliest recordings as well as his final Japanese tour in 1965…
John Coltrane Quartet – Tunji (alternate take) from Coltrane (Deluxe Edition)
Alan Skidmore Quartet – Resolution from Impressions of John Coltrane
Silence is golden, except on a radio show. There is a silence in this show, albeit a short one towards the end. It’s ironic really as I was about to play a tune called He Who Talks Loud Says Nothing… Suffice to say no more than such problems are usually the result of the user rather than the equipment – sorry. Do listen, though, to the show via the MixCloud tab (left) as there are some great tunes either side of the silence.
The aforementioned He Who Talks Loud Says Nothing did get played – and it is worth hearing. It’s by Polish trumpet/flugelhorn player Lukasz Korybalski from his remarkably mature debut album CMM released this year. It has been describedas providing a musical journey into something like a trance. Certainly it has a very warm and inviting feel to it. There are lovely solos, but they are woven almost into the music – and the backing throughout of drummer Lukasz Zyta is intricate and complex but in an understated way.
As so often on the programme, the show began with a tune that I had recently played and enjoyed. Cosmic Jazz seems to be going through yet another John Coltrane appreciation phase and why should I make apologies for that? 14 minutes and 09 seconds of India recorded live at the Village Vanguard on 03 November 1961, from the Impressionsalbum was just such a perfect spiritual and uplifting way to begin. Coltrane was on soprano, Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, McCoy Tyner piano, Jimmy Garrison and Reggie Workman on basses and Elvin Jones on drums. I just listen and wonder in amazement that this was recorded so long ago and at its sophistication – especially if you compare it to some of the popular jazz of the time. We’re not alone here: it’s reported that American group the Byrds had only one cassette to listen to on their late 1965 tour and that one side featured Ravi Shankar while the other had Coltrane’s Impressions and the Africa/Brass albums. They acknowledged Coltrane’s influence in their celebrated Eight Miles High. Listen to this extended instrumental version from the 1970 Filmore concert which is powered by Skip Battin’s jazzy basswork and see what you think.
There was what I considered a sequence of tunes that complemented each other and sounded fresh, contemporary with an element of challenge. This began with Steve Lehman and Selebeyone, went into Dinosaur and ended with Led Bib, who have a new album recently released.
Poland holds an annual Jazz Day in April. Bands perform and there is a competition for band of the year. In 2017 the winner of the Grand Prix was the pianist Adam Jarzmik and his Quintet of musical friends with their 2017 release Euphoria. Among the judges was the Cosmic Jazz favourite Piotr Wojtasik. The award was a good choice. It is a record of strong emotional sounds, mixing the contemporary with the traditional and embracing a subtle intensity.
There was a trip to Brazil at the end of the show. The voice of Milton Nascimento interwoven with the soprano sax of Wayne Shorter and the further presence on the record of Herbie Hancock, Raul de Souza and Airto Moreira among others. Finally came Baden Powell, the Brazilian guitarist who named himself after the British founder of the scout movement with a tune that epitomises the delicacy, intimacy and melodic beauty of much Brazilian bossa jazz of the 1960s/early 1970s. The album from which this track comes is something of a rarity. For a further taste, listen to one of my favourite tracks – Coisa No1 – which achieves miracles in just over three minutes…
John Coltrane – India from Impressions
Steve Lehman & Selebeyone – Laamb from Selebeyone
Dinosaur – Living Breathing from Together As One
Led Bib – Battery Power from Jazzwise sampler Babel Label 1994 – 2014
Adam Jarzmik Quintet – Euphoria from Euphoria
Lukasz Korybalski – He Who Talks Loud Says Nothing from CMM
Milton Nascimento – Saidas e Bandeiras (Exits & Flags) from Milton
Baden Powell – Rosa Flor from Swings with Jimmy Pratt
There’s a special CJ feature on the German jazz label MPS this week. As always, click the MixCloud tab (left) to listen to the show. MPS – Musik Produktion Schwarzwald (Black Forest Music Production) – was Germany’s first jazz only label and included world recognised artists like Oscar Peterson, George Duke, Lee Konitz and Charlie Mariano.
The occasion for this MPS celebration was the release of a compilation entitled Magic Peterson Sunshine, curated by the DJ Gilles Peterson, a long time fan of the label and Cosmic Jazz DJ hero. Of course, MPS recorded music by German musicians and two of these artists were included this week. First up was Gunter Hampel and his Quintet: Hampel was a versatile musician who played vibraphone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet and flute. His aim was to create a European jazz sound that moved away from the dominance of the USA. Pianist George Gruntz was an internationalist – notable musicians on our choice Nemeit include Sahib Shihab from the US, Jean-Luc Ponty from France and Eberhard Weber from Germany as well as an ensemble of North African percussionists. Gruntz produced a series of albums for MPS under the heading of Jazz Meets the World.
One of those US artists recorded by MPS was Mary Lou Williams who first released her version of the Gershwin standard It Ain’t Necessarily So on her own label in 1964 on the highly recommended album Black Christ of the Andes. We have featured a track from this release before on Cosmic Jazz (Miss D. D.), but Magic Peterson Sunshine gave us the chance to play music from this superb album again. Black Christ of the Andes can now be found on the Smithsonian Folkways label. For an example of Williams’ unique style at the piano have a look at a live performance of two original numbers – Dirge Blues and Waltz Boogie.
It’s great when you discover a wonderful piece of music that you have had in your collection but has been unjustly neglected. That happened to me this week when, finally, I played Old Land – the title track of an album by Polish trumpeter Piotr Woktasik, a musician who has played with Cosmic Jazz favourites such as Gary Bartz and Kenny Garrett. Old Land has an international cast, including the late Billy Hart on drums. This is inspiring and uplifting music featuring both instruments and voices and the album is one of the many treasures that can be found at East European and Scandinavian jazz specialiststevesjazzsounds.co.uk. Billy Hart is a contemporary of Jack deJohnette, one of our favourite drummers on CJ. He’s played with played many of the greatest names in jazz – here he is with Joe Henderson and Woody Shaw at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival in 1987.
But we started the show with a tune supplied by Neil. Running (Refugee Song) – written by trumpeter Keyon Harrold – features Gregory Porter and the rapper Common in music with a clear and direct message. It was released last month in honour of World Refugee Day, and is the first composition from a new venture called Compositions for a Cause – a collaboration of musicians Kenyon Harrold and Andrea Pizziconi. The song can be downloaded from refugeesong.com for a donation and is now available on iTunes for $1.99. Proceeds go to some of the world’s biggest refugee-oriented groups, including Refugees International, Human Rights First and the International Rescue Committee. Watch the moving video, listen again and (as we did) donate to this new project. There was a link to the next tune – Harrold also plays on one of our playlist regulars from Otis Brown III. The Way (Truth & Life) is one of those tough, heavy contemporary-sounding New York jazz tunes that we love so much here on Cosmic Jazz. Two weeks ago I inadvertently mixed the title track of Thomas Stronen’s album Time is a Blind Guidewith something else. Music as good as this deserves a proper hearing so we featured it again in full on this week’s show.
The show ended with a taste of Afrobeat artist Dele Sosimi, who played with Fela Kuti and again this year appears at a free festival in Christchurch Park, Ipswich (the town where this show is recorded) on Saturday 09 July 2016. Sosimi was a real highlight of last year’s festival – so it’s a gig highly recommended if you’re in the area. This year, though, I am off to the People’s Festival in Lewisham for some reggae… For an introduction to the relationship between afrobeat and the UK dance scene phenomenon of afrobeats (together with some great footage of Fela Kuti) check out this video.
Gregory Porter/Common – Running (RefugeeSong) from download
Otis Brown III – The Way (Truth & Life) from The Thought of You
Piotr Wojtasik – Old Land from Old Land
Gunter Hampel Quintet – Our Chant from Magic Peterson Sunshine
George Gruntz – Nemeit from Magic Peterson Sunshine
Mary Lou Williams – It Ain’t Necessarily So from Magic Peterson Sunshine
Thomas Stronen – Time is a Blind Guide from Time is a Blind Guide
Dele Sosimi – You No Fit Touch Am from You No Fit Touch Am
Cosmic Jazz has always had a sidebar list of recommended sites – and it’s time to add a new one to the list. UK Vibe has just uploaded an excellent review of the new Nat Birchall release Invocations but the site is home to some great in-depth features too.
Particularly recommended is the extended (and I really mean extended) piece on Keith Jarrett at 70. Read it and check out the videos too. If you’re not yet convinced by Jarrett, have a look and listen to his live reading of the classic God Bless the Childperformed here with his Standards Trio – Gary Peacock on bass and Jack de Johnette on drums.
This week’s CJ is the last from Neil for a while. Check it out via the MixCloud tab.
We opened with Gaucho – Steely Dan’s cheeky reworking of Keith Jarrett’s ‘Long As You Know You’re Living Yours. Of course, the Dan had form on this kind of thing: they pinched the opening piano motif from Horace Silver’s Song for My Father to create Rikki Don’t Lose That Number – and got away with it. But you don’t mess with Keith Jarrett – he won the law suit that resulted.
Joe Henderson is, of course, a CJ hero. We’ve featured his albums since Cosmic Jazz began in 2008 and he’s been an unexpected success when CJ goes live. This week’s tune came from his 1975 album Canyon Lady. Recorded a couple of years earlier, the music is a surprisingly adventurous mix with a strong Latin feel on most tracks. Las Palmas – yes, there’s no doubt it’s another CJ Essential. And – as we said on the show this week – it doesn’t matter where you start with Joe Henderson, whether it’s his first and appropriately titled Page One album on Blue Note (1963) or Lush Life, his tribute to the compositions of Billy Strayhorn (1992), you will strike gold. Did he record a bad album? There’s a simple answer – no. It seemed appropriate to follow with some Michael Brecker, an equally impassioned tenor player whose album Tales from the Hudson has a very strong line up including Pat Metheny on guitars and Jack de Johnette on drums. African Skies has the added bonus of McCoy Tyner on piano.
Shigeto is the stage name of Zachary Shigeto Saginaw, an American electronic musician originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan. His music is clearly influenced by jazz as is much of the Heavenly Sweetness compilation from which this track comes. You can see him live in concerthere. This year he collaborated with trumpeter Dave Douglas and drummer Mark Guiliana to create High Risk – a jazz/electronica album that works.
DJ Patrick Forge introduced Don Sebesky’s Giant Box album to me through his excellent online radio show for MiSoul. You can subscribe on Podomatic. This typically expansive kitchen sink production for CTI throws in a mix of Stravinsky and the Mahavishnu Orchestra (Firebird/Birds of Fire) and covers of Joni Mitchell (Song to a Seagull) and Jimmy Webb/the Bible (Psalm 150). You heard Paul Desmond on alto on our featured track, Song to a Seagull from Joni’s debut release – not Joe Farrell on tenor as I claimed in the programme!
Stevie Wonder is rightly popular with jazz artists. His credentials are impressive: he often works jazz classics into his live shows (All Blues, Giant Steps, Spain) and many of his own songs have become jazz standards. His debut album was called The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, and as a child star he released an instrumental album of harmonica solos. “His jazz chops have been pretty damn good ever since I first saw him play,” says the pianist Chick Corea, “and they seem to get better. He could comfortably sit in with any number of jazz outfits.” Herbie Hancock apparently agrees. “He’s one pop star that pretty much every jazz musician has to take seriously,” he has said. “Both as an intelligent songwriter, but also as a gifted soloist, on piano and harmonica. Having jammed with him many times, I know he has the most incredible set of ears of any musician I’ve ever worked with. He listens to what you play and he responds with amazing agility.” We featured Vijay Iyer’s take on the prescient Big Brother from Talking Book. Listen to the original here (with some powerful images too) for a reminder that sometimes things don’t change…
We ended with a real contrast – some classic Ornette Coleman (with bassist Charlie Haden very much to the fore in this recording) and then Los Angeles DJ Rick Holmes’ litany of jazz artists (and more) set to music by Roy Ayers. As I played this, I hadn’t realised that Holmes died in August this year. Pass the information; extend the knowledge…
Steely Dan – Gaucho from Gaucho
Keith Jarrett – ‘Long As You Know You’re Living Yours from Belonging
Joe Henderson – Las Palmas from Canyon Lady
Michael Brecker – African Skies from Tales from the Hudson
Shigeto – Self Compassion from Digging the Blogosphere
Don Sebesky – Song to a Seagull from Giant Box
Vijay Iyer – Big Brother from Historicity
Ornette Coleman – Law Years from the Complete Science Fiction
Rick Holmes – Remember to Remember from Life:Styles (4 Hero compilation)
Pianist Vijay Iyer continues to entend his range. I hear more emotion in his music than of late – and it sounds all the better for it. His latest release for ECM – Break Stuff – is a trio recording without the immediate touchstones of awesome cover readings like Human Nature and The Star of a Story (on his ACT album Accelerando) but it certainly repays repeated listening. You can see Iyer’s full set with his innovative trio live at Jazz Baltica 2011 below:
I’m back in Beijing as you read this but I’ll be contributing to the CJ blog as usual and listening each week to (probably) the widest range of improvised music you’ll find on any radio show. Join me.
This week’s CJ featured a remarkable new release – the appropriately titled The Epic from saxophonist Kamasi Washington. This is a triple CD set with almost three hours of music featuring a 20 strong choir, a 32 piece orchestra and Washington’s own 10 piece group. We started the show the opening track on CD1 (Change of the Guard) and ended the show with the closing track on CD3 (The Message).
Washington has most recently played with Kendrick Lamar on his excellent hip hop release To Pimp a Butterfly and Flying Lotus on his You’re Dead! album from last year – but you wouldn’t know it from The Epic. There’s no hip-hop or out-there electronics here. This triple album set references soul jazz, John Coltrane (various periods), and 1970s fusion leaders like Miles Davis and Weather Report. The Epic’s Disc 1 opener Change of the Guard begins with piano chords that sound almost entirely lifted from the playbook of McCoy Tyner and the opening theme is pure post-Impressions Coltrane. The string section element reminds us of Alice Coltrane and Washington’s tenor sax solo at the end of the track has more than a little Pharoah Sanders in its screeches and wails. As you might guess, this new release comes highly recommended.
After his widely-praised Trio Libero project with Michel Benita and Seb Rochford, Andy Sheppard has now added Eivind Aarset to his group. He made significant contributions to Sheppard’s 2008 Movements in Colour release – an album I come back to frequently. With Aarset’s ambient drones and electronic textures as a backdrop, Sheppard seems to have even more space to explore. We played the opening track Tipping Point.
I enjoyed the Jon Favreau feel good film The Chef recently and loved the soundtrack. It features a hand picked selection of latin, rare groove, tex-mex and New Orleans brass bands – all chosen expertly by music consultant Mathieu Schreyer. We featured one of my favourites from Brit Will Holland (aka Quantic) before a long excursion into one of the many classic jazz releases from that iconic jazz year of 1959. This is an essential release in any comprehensive jazz collection – drummer Shelly Manne’s group live at the Blackhawk Club in San Francisco . This 5CD set features trumpeter Joe Gordon, tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca, pianist Victor Feldman and bassist Monty Budwig and we focused on a lengthy version of Poinciana.
We followed this with two contemporary vocalists – Lalah Hathaway (guesting on Robert Glasper’s album) and Gregory Porter (also guesting here with the soul-jazz group Ebonics). Finally – and before returning to Kamasi Washington – we featured the new releases from two giants of the contemporary jazz piano scene. The first was Keith Jarrett, here playing a solo track from his new release Creation. I’m disappointed by this release, despite all the praise it has gathered in the popular press. The tracks have nowhere near the lyrical improvisation of the classic Bremen/Lausanne or the dark depths of the Carnegie Hall concert. Thankfully, we moved quickly on to another outstanding new piano trio collection from New York pianist Vijay Iyer. CJ featured Iyer’s tribute to Detroit house pioneer Robert Hood.
We ended with another blast from Kamasi Washington – the closing track from his mammoth debut The Epic. You can see more of Washington’s longtime group in performance in this extract from an NPR Jazz Night in America concert.
Kamasi Washington – Change of the Guard from The Epic
Andy Sheppard – Tipping Point from Surrounded by Sea
Quantic and Nicodemus – Mi Swing es Tropical from The Best of Quantic
Shelly Manne and his Men – Poinciana from The Complete Live at the Blackhawk
Robert Glasper – Jesus Children from Black Radio 2
Gregory Porter – Issues of Life from Issues of LIfe
In the studio this week was Neil: back from Beijing for a short visit, it was time for him to head to the decks and record a live show. The music focused on new albums and reissues from 2014 – along with an extra or two. We bookended the show with a couple of tracks from rising star Taylor McFerrin’s first release, Early Riser. Taylor is son of jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin and knowing that the album is on Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label tells you quickly that this is not a case of ‘like father, like son’. Robert Glasper and bassist Thundercat are some of the big names supporting multi-instrumentalist McFerrin to create music that moves fluidly between soul, electronica and jazz.
Next up was another new release – this time from American pianist Jason Moran whose recent concerts featured a papier mache head of his most recent inspiration, Fats Waller. The track also featured vocals – this time from bassist Meshell Ndegeocello. Following this was more evidence that the boundary between electronica and jazz continues to blur, with both Black Top and what might be called the Wesseltoft Trio using sonic manipulation to creative effect.
Following the 100th anniversary of his birth, interest in the original jazz space cadet Sun Ra has never been greater. Reissues of his albums (even the most obscure ones) continues apace but we featured a track from one of the best introductions to his work that you could possibly wish for. Strut Records was definitely one of the labels of 2014 and their 2CD compilation of Ra’s work (In the Orbit of Ra) was compiled by long serving Ra sideman Marshall Allen. Angels and Demons at Play is a typically glorious, brassy romp that’s impossible not to like.
We followed with a great reissue from drummer Horacee Arnold who recorded in the 1970s with a host of big names across two great albums, Tales of the Exonerated Flea and Tribe, both now available on a double album reissue. You might not have heard of Arnold, but you’ll know many of the great names on these two albums. Arnold’s vision was a wide-ranging one and he recruited players from all over the jazz world – bassist George Mraz, flautist Art Webb, saxophonist Sonny Fortune, percussionist Dom Um Romao, and from the Mahavishnu Orchestra, bassist Rick Laird and and keyboard player Jan Hammer. As if this wasn’t enough, Arnold was even able to access two great guitarists who continue to form the backbone of many an ECM release – Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie. The end result is one of the most fascinating, soulful and truly successful albums of the entire jazz rock genre. The album never drops into predictable jazz rock tropes and every track offers a genuine fusion of new rhythmic, melodic and harmonic concepts. This is an album to chase up and enjoy. The funky Latin groove of Benzele Windows is a good example with intricate, modal solos by Webb, Fortune and Abercrombie.
Talking of reissues, one of the best of 2014 was John Coltrane’s Offering: Live at Temple University. Much has been written about this double CD album, recorded just eight months before Coltrane’s early death from liver cancer. in 1966 ‘trane’s gig at Temple University was recorded by the university’s radio station but has only been heard in partial, poor-quality bootlegs until this year, when it was polished up and issued for this set. The music on Offering shifts between standard ideas of jazz and noise music, regularly tipping over from chords and melody and harmony into the realm of pure sound. On this night in Philadelphia, Coltrane threw in everything – a couple of extra saxophone players he knew from the area as well as Umar Ali, Algie DeWitt, and Robert Kenyatta on percussion. We don’t hear much of them because the whole thing was recorded through one microphone. The focus is clearly on the leader, but there’s no need to worry about the pressure as Coltrane is on fire – his playing (and vocalising) makes this record a must.
After the edge of the universe playing on his Live in Japan set (also recorded in 1966), Coltrane seems to return to Earth on Offering. He starts with the ever-beautiful Naima, roughs it up with Crescent, and tunes in to Rashid Ali’s intense drumming on Leo. But then, halfway through this last track, we hear something unique in all of Coltrane’s extended, various output. He sets aside his horn and starts to vocalise, singing phrases while beating on his chest to give his vocals an effect something like vibrato. The audience (or more accurately those that were left) must have been mesmerised, perhaps recognising that Coltrane had reached a point where his instrument just couldn’t convey the feelings he had locked inside.
From the intensity of this track we moved to a brief taste of one of the most joyous of returns to form from octogenarian pianist Ahmad Jamal, recorded live in Paris. The package comes as a double CD with DVD and it’s great value. In the second half of the concert, Jamal brings out special guest Yusef Lateef who was to die at the age of 93 soon after recording. The whole concert is a glorious demonstration that age is no barrier to being cool. There was more Lateef towards the end of the show with an early classic from the beginning of his career.
There was also time to squeeze in a short piece by Alsace DJ and sampler Kira Neris in a track culled from the Japan-only version of his Behind Closed Doors album and a short taste of another great reissue from 2014 which showcases Keith Jarrett’s early American trio but the ‘meat’ of this musical sandwich was the astonishing Michael Wollny Trio. Jazzwise magazine had this release at the top of their Best of 2014 – and it’s easy to see why. Wollny’s vision is more eclectic than most and the influences on this classic piano, bass, drums combination are omnivorous. Wollny takes in the Flaming Lips, Varese, writer Fredrich Nietzsche and punky priestess P!ink amongst others. We ended the show with a drum workout from Pheeroan Ak Laff and another Taylor McFerrin track. In all, an eclectic mix but then – as Frank Zappa noted – “jazz isn’t dead – it just smells funny.”
Taylor McFerrin – Invisible/Visible – Early Riser
Jason Moran – Ain’t Misbehavin’ – All Rise
Black Top – Archaic Nubian Stepdub – # One
Wesseltoft, Schwarz, Berglund – Take a Quick Break – Trialogue
Sun Ra – Angels and Demons at Play – In the Orbit of Ra
Horacee Arnold – Benzele Windows – Tales of the Exonerated Flea
John Coltrane – Offering – Offering: Live at Temple University
Ahmad Jamal – Blue Moon (encore) – Live at the Olympia
Kira Neris – My Room – Behind Closed Doors
Michael Wollny Trio – God is a DJ – Weltentraum
Keith Jarrett Trio – Life, Dance – Hamburg ’72
Heliocentrics – Prologue – The Last Transmission
Pheeroan Ak Laff – Tzaddi Vau (part 1) – Black Fire! New Spirits!
Yusef Lateef – Chang, Chang, Chang – Black Fire! New Spirits!
Taylor McFerrin – Already There – Early Riser
Video this week comes from bassist Richard Bona and vocalist extraordinaire Bobby McFerrin. Enjoy!
This was Neil’s last CJ for a while before he heads back to Beijing so it was a chance to cram in lots of new music that we hadn’t previously played. We mixed John Surman in with Pantha du Prince, introduced some recently released early Sun Ra, revisited Jack de Johnette’s wonderful Album Album (one of the best releases of the 1980s) and heard what happened when Brad Mehldau tackled Nick Drake (again).
Special guest in the studio tonight was Martin Burley from Peppery Productions who was promoting an upcoming show at the Manor Ballroom, Ipswich. Konkoma are a Ghanaian afro funk band with a “cool, edgy” new album (the Independent) – check them out on 08 March. Tickets are available at 01473 295900.
Pantha du Prince – Spectral Split
John Surman/Jack de Johnette – Nestor’s Saga
Jean Luc Ponty – Aurora
Yaron Herman Quartet – Mojo
Jack de Johnette – Ahmad the Terrible
Brad Mehldau – Time has Told Me
Konkoma – Me Kyin Kyin
Mark de Clive Lowe – Relax… Unwind
Konkoma – Accra Jump
Solomon Ilori – (feat. Donald Byrd) – Gbo Gbo Omo Ibile (Going Home)
Sun Ra Arkestra – New Day
Walter Bishop Jr.’s 4th Cycle – N’gudu’s Prayer
Meshell Ndegeocello – Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
Keith Jarrett Trio – When I Fall In Love
Baptise Trottignon – End of the Gig
Vijay Iyer Trio – The Star of a Story
Michael White – The Blessing Song
Video this week comes from Paris-based Yaron Herman, here with his trio and performing a Nirvana tune, Heart Shaped Box (is this the influence of Mehldau again?)… and – as a special bonus – Konkoma!: