Tag Archives: Sun Ra

04 April 2021: a Mike Westbrook birthday tribute, new J Jazz and old favourites

The latest Cosmic Jazz celebrates the early work of Mike Westbrook, finds more jazz from Japan and another Black Jazz Records re-release along with new music from Scotland, Italy and the latin quarters of New York. Yes, it’s as eclectic as always – enjoy!

Some musicians are deeply embedded in your memory as a result of their early influence on your taste and choices. The British pianist, composer and bandleader Mike Westbrook and his groups were among the very first jazz performances that Derek saw live and so inspired the lifelong love of jazz that led to the creation of Cosmic Jazz over fifteen years ago. He last saw Westbrook a few years back performing a reprise of his work to celebrate William Blake in a medieval church in Norwich – another life-affirming performance.

1. The Mike Westbrook Concert Band – Love Song No. 1 from Love Songs

2. The Mike Westbrook  Concert Band – Rosie from Marching Songs Vol. 2

3. Mike Westbrook – V/VI/VII from Metropolis 

On 21 March, 2021 Mike Westbrook celebrated his 85th birthday and so it seemed fitting to include his music this week – focusing on some of his earlier masterpieces. Westbrook studied art in Plymouth before moving to London and becoming part of Ronnie Scott’s celebrated house band in the 1960s. The art school route to jazz has been followed by other artists and it clearly nurtures a diversity of musical expression typical of Westbrook’s output – working with circus acts (see the back cover of the Love Songs album), the poet Adrian Mitchell, performing a jazz cabaret, celebrating the music of Duke Ellington, releasing a single with proceeds going to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and projects inspired by the lives of poets and painters. Throughout, Westbrook has evolved, experimenting and creating some of the most original music to emerge in jazz over the last 50 years.

Cosmic Jazz celebrates this diversity with three pieces – the first a thing of sheer beauty from Love Songs, a 1970 release with Norma Winstone on vocals, Dave Holdsworth on trumpet and flugelhorn, Malcolm Griffiths and Paul Rutherford on trombones, Mike Osborne on alto, Chris Spedding on guitar among the musicians. We followed this with a track from the second disc of Marching Song, originally issued in 1969 but re-released on CD in 2009. Marching Song was very much an anti-war album reflecting on the horrors of the twenty year long Vietnam War. In two volumes it traces the euphoria of going off to war, the awareness of what is missing – the tune Rosie on the show – and the full tragedy of conflict. Dave Holdsworth, Mike Osborne and Paul Rutherford are on this record too, as is Canadian Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn and UK sax players John Surman and Alan Skidmore.

We ended our tribute to Mike Westbrook with his 1971 masterpiece Metropolis, which tracks a day and night in the life of London. We have previously played the final tune (Part  IX) with its soaring, precise and moving trumpet solo from Harry Beckett evoking the still of the night, cars hissing past on the highway and isolated figures out on the lonely streets but this time our choice of Parts V/VI/VII detailed the wild cacophony of earlier in the day.  Metropolis is an atmospheric, powerful, full-on work and has our unequivocal recommendation as an essential record in anyone’s jazz collection. All demand to be heard in their entirety as complete suites, the way Mike Westbrook intended. Much of Mike and Kate Westbrook’s later albums are available here on Bandcamp – for his earlier work check out Westbrook’s own website and the relevant entries on Discogs. Then settle down and listen – deeply4. Sun Ra – Twin Stars of Thence (Alternate Mix) from Lanquidity (Definitive Edition)

People are sleeping, and I’m here to wake them up from their slumber.” Lanquidity is one of Sun Ra’s most popular albums and an excellent place to start on his impossibly extensive discography. Recorded and issued in 1978 on Tom Buchler’s short-lived Philly Jazz label, it represented a stylistic pivot for Ra, who had rarely paid much attention to mainstream music trends. Lanquidity is a deliberate product of its time, reflecting late-period disco, bottom-heavy funk, and dance-floor soul grooves but it remains full of surprises, idiosyncrasies, and characteristically leftfield moves. Strut Records are about to issue a complete version of the record in a new 4LP set, with all the alternate takes that were pressed for sale at a 1978 Georgia concert restored. The differences between the two versions are clear – compare the new take we played on the show with the currently available track here. Sun Ra is joined by key members of the Arkestra including John Gilmore on tenor, Marshall Allen on alto, oboe and flute, Eddie Gale and Michael Ray on trumpets, the Disco Kid (!) on guitar and Luqman Ali on percussion. Play Where Pathways Meet to the unconverted and see what happens…

5. Yasuhiro Kono Trio – Song of Island from J Jazz Vol 3: Deep  Modern Jazz from Japan

The J Jazz collections from from Tony Higgins and Mike Peden have opened many ears to the range of superb jazz that came out of Japan in the 1960-80s. The third and latest volume adds yet more artists waiting to be discovered. There’s a wide range of styles on offer across the 2CD/3LP set, with samba, funk fusion, modal, spiritual, post-bop, and bossa all getting a look in. Many tracks featured are reissued for the first time, including rare private press cuts from the Yasuhiro Kohno Trio (our selection), Masaru Imada Trio, and Hideyasu Terakawa Quartet. There’s heavy post modal bop by J Jazz legends Kohsuke Mine and Koichi Matsukaze, samba heat from Tatsuya Nakamura, Hideo Shiraki and Seiichi Nakamura and funky dance floor energy by Hiroshi Murakami, Ryojiro Furusawa Quartet and Shigeharu Mukai. As with the first two volumes, selected albums will be remastered and reissued on BBE Records as part of the Jazz Masterclass series. All three volumes of this excellent series are essential – for more on Japanese jazz and the jazu kissa tradition, check out our previous features here and here.

Here in Singapore, Neil is lucky enough to crate dig for some of the best new and used jazz records from Japan and treasures continue to be unearthed. The Mabumi Yamaguchi Quartet (with the leader on some excellent tenor and soprano saxophone) was represented on Jazz Vol. 2 and Neil tracked down the 1978 Leeward album in local vinyl store The Analog VaultDistant Thunder is a jazz-funk samba with fine choruses from each band member before Yamaguchi takes up the haunting theme of this excellent piece. The record has now been reissued on Le Tres Jazz Club – a French reissue label specialising in rare and sought after jazz titles – with the original cover and notes in Japanese.

6. Koichi Matsukaze Trio feat. Toshiyuki Daitoku  – Zekatsuma Selbst from Earth Mother

This track appeared on J Jazz Vol. 1 with the complete 1978 album later reissued on BBE as part of the Jazz Masterclass series. The second release from leader and multi-reedist Koichi Matsukaze (alto, tenor saxophone and flute), following on from an earlier live recording, Live at the Room 427 (1976), and is progressive jazz that oscillates between straight acoustic and harder hitting fusion. Again, excellent Fender Rhodes and acoustic piano from Daitoku and some fine horn playing from Matsukaze. Much of this era of Japanese jazz is informed by the US groups that toured the country, first in the immediate postwar years and then in the 1960s when big name artists visited Japan and American labels like Blue Note began pressing records under licence. Jazz centred on Tokyo and Osaka (especially its Dotonburi district) and today a monthly magazine like Swing Journal will sell four times as many copies in Japan as Downbeat does in the US. The vinyl resurgence has also impacted on the country, with Tower Records in Tokyo reopening its vinyl floor in March 2019 in response to the rising demand for analogue sourced music and jazu kissa bars and cafes opening in major cities.

7. Fergus McCreadie – Tide from Cairn

No apologies for more from this excellent sophomore album from Scots pianist Fergus McCreadie. The quietly reflective Tide is typical of the compelling music made by this trio: there’s a strong Scots voice and style but with a EST-like energy and invention. Now signed to Edition Records, McCreadie’s album is definitely one to explore. It’s not all about the pianist of course: McCreadie is part of a trio where there is no obvious grandstanding and David Bowden on bass and Stephen Henderson on drums are central to the musical architecture of each piece on the album. Check out the Bandcamp site here and buy this music – you’ll be listening on repeat for months.

8. Chester Thompson – Power House from Powerhouse  

This is the next in the line of Black Jazz Records re-releases from Real Gone Music, available from 30 April 2021. Powerhouse is also one of the rarest and most collectable from the label. Keyboard player Chester Thompson from San Francisco’s Bay Area had long stints with local groups like Tower of Power and Santana  but 1971’s Powerhouse was his debut as band leader. Along with a host of collaborators including well-known soul and jazz names like fellow Black Jazz recording artist Rudolph Johnson on sax,  drummer Raymond Pounds (Pharoah Sanders, Stevie Wonder, Pointer Sisters) and trombonist Al Hall (Johnny Hammond, Freddie Hubbard, Eddie Harris). The title track (actually labeled Power House) pretty much sums up the record: Hammond B3 grooves with horn flourishes that echo the sounds of classic Richard Holmes, Jack McDuff and Lonnie Smith arrangements with the usual high standards of recording we expect from Black Jazz.

9. Joe Barbieri – Promemoria single from Tratto Da Una Storia Vera

Joe Barbieri is an Italian jazz singer/songwriter with something of a debt to vocalists like Chet Baker, Shirley Horn and – on this tune – a strong Brazilian/Jobim influence too. Did Derek also detect a light reggae lilt? Promemoria is the first single from his forthcoming album Tratto Da Una Storia Vera (Based On a True Story) and will be released on 16 April. The album is an autobiographical piece looking back over thirty years as an artist through personal reflections with Promemoria apparently describing the “eternal battle  between regret and remorse…..But then there is always that unshakeable hope that lingers.” It’s an upbeat, positive and encouraging tune that holds great promise for the rest of the album.

10. Elements of Life – Berimbau from Elements of Life Eclipse (Disc 1)

11. Nuyorican Soul feat. Jocelyn Brown – I Am the Black Gold of the Sun from Nuyorican Soul

Here on Cosmic Jazz we both like to return and replay music that we love. And – to go back to that influence of the album as a complete musical experience to be listened to throughout – there’s a special pleasure in finding music that just works in this way. The albums from Elements of Life and Nuyorican Soul (both out of the New York Latin communities and with producer and DJ Louis Vega at the heart of things), both fall into this category. Derek chose Berimbau from Elements of Life to follow Joe Barbieri and this led to the superb Nuyorican Soul album – one more recently ‘rediscovered’. This debut concept album was released in 1997 and featured guest appearances from George Benson, Roy Ayers, Tito Puente, the Salsoul Orchestra and – on this celebrated cover of the Rotary Connection classic I Am the Black Gold of the Sun – US vocalist Joscelyn Brown. The brainchild of the Masters at Work team (Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez and ‘Little’ Louie Vega), Nuyorican Soul was a celebration of their jazzier, old-school latin influences – and it totally works. With a collection of well-chosen covers and sympathetically written new material all interpreted by some old school guests the album is a Nuyorican (New York/Puerto Rican) masterpiece that seamlessly brings together club and street into a mix that still sounds good twenty years down the line. The album includes takes on Bob James’ Nautilus  (bracketed here as MAWtilus), the Salsoul Orchestra’s Runaway and the superb original It’s Alright, I Feel It! – easily the equal to some of those classics. The album closer, George Benson’s You Can Do It (Baby) is unforgettable – listen to the full 15 minute version right here. More from Cosmic Jazz soon…

Jazz photos No.2 – Sun Ra

Sun Ra and the Arkestra at South Street Seaport, New York – probably 1972

You can just see him. He’s to the right of this of this photo in the centre of the group of circling musicians. Yes, this is Sun Ra and the Arkestra circa 1972 at the South Street Seaport, New York. The photo heads an excellent recent feature from Marcus J Moore in the New York Times on Fifteen Essential Black Liberation tracks – including an excellent live version of Sun Ra’s Space is the Place. There are other delights to be found in this list too: Mtume’s Baba Hengates from the the Strata East album Alkebu-Lan: Land of the Blacks (1972) and Malika from the Ensemble Al-Salaam’s 1974 album, The Sojourner. Follow the links and discover some great music that may be new to you. If Mtume means Juicy Fruit, then have a listen to the whole of his Strata East album – now reissued on vinyl – and hear something very different. Mtume continued with his Umoja Ensemble on the Rebirth Cycle album from 1977 – but you will be lucky to find an original pressing in good condition for less than £150. For a taste of this excellent record, which gives an indication of the direction Mtume would be travelling in, try Yebo. I’ve recently been enjoying the music of Buddy Terry and there is a fine, extended version of Baba Hengates to be heard on his Pure Dynamite album for Mainstream Records (1972). Read the NYT Marcus J Moore feature and check out much more black liberation music.

Week ending 20 April 2019: from Miles to Ra

There are no themes for this week’s show but if you click the Mix Cloud tab you can listen to some great jazz from around the world – the USA, Finland, Italy, Poland, the UK, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and Egypt.

It is a while – probably too long – since we  heard from Miles Davis on the show but we put this right with the opening tune. Bitches Brew is familiar enough to many jazz listeners but nearly 50 years after the original recording was made, it still has the power to surprise. This version of Bitches Brew was recorded at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 with an audience of over 600,00 people. Davis was the only jazz act amid a host of rock and pop acts, including Jimi Hendrix, the Moody Blues, Chicago, the Doors and Joni Mitchell. It must have been quite a surprise!  Davis’s music was now moving faster than most of his audience could deal with, and the music from this 2011 release documents that change.  Andy Gill of The Independent newspaper commented in his review of the time that the music “capture[s] Davis on the cusp of creating another jazz revolution” and described its music as “jazz reconstituting after meltdown, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis: free-wheeling, edgy, unpredictable and coruscating, and about as hot as this legend of cool ever got.” Saxophonist Gary Bartz had just joined the band – and he will be performing at Gilles Peterson’s We Out Here Festival in August here in the UK.

Still in the US, there was another track from the new album by pianist/keyboard player James Francies. The quality of his playing is in no doubt and is reinforced by Chris Potter – one of the most respected sax players of the moment – selecting him to play on his recent album and to tour with him in the US. On last week’s Cosmic Jazz I enjoyed the DJ Khalab tune Dense featuring the ubiquitous Shabaka Hutchings and Italian saxophonist Tommaso Cappellato and so it seemed a good reason to play it again this week. Moving from Italy/the UK to Northern Europe, the show visited Finland and trombonist Kasperi Sarikoski and his group Nuance. Besides leading his band he is a freelance musician and composer who has played with a number of artists, including Dave Liebman and Peter Erskine. In 2017 Sarikoski moved to New York City for postgraduate study at the Julliard School of Music.

Now, it’s a while since the show made one of its regular visits to Europe. We began with trombonist Kasperi Sarikoski from Finland and a track from his new album Essence and followed this with a first play for Michal Kobojek, a sax player from Warsaw. The tune Seven Steps (and, no it’s not the Miles Davis Seven Steps to Heaven tune) showed this is an artist we have missed out on – great solos from Kobojek and his guitarist too. We will explore more. He is also a session musician and has played with other Polish artists familiar to Cosmic Jazz such as Urszula Dudziak and Michal Urbaniak. And for more information about Polish jazz and a whole bunch of incredible musicians that you’ve probably not heard of before check out this excellent Polish Jazz blogsite.

There was an indulgence with another play for the much-loved tune Tiffany’s Dodo from the Belgian drummer Jelle Van Giel and his band. The track comes from van Giel’s very accomplished debut album Songs for Everyone, released in 2015 and it’s highly recommended. For this and so much more, your ever-reliable source of new jazz from Poland and beyond is Steve’s Jazz Sounds. This excellent website will introduce to a wide range of new jazz that doesn’t often make the UK jazz press. Arve Henriksen is a Norwegian trumpet player who established links with the port city of Hull in Yorkshire UK. Alongside Elvind Aarset and Jan Bang they  produced a commissioned work for the Hull City of Culture year in 2017. The music accompanied a sound walk crossing the River Humber in Hull. Apparently, 15,000 tickets were sold – exposing more people to Henriksen’s uniquely atmospheric sound on trumpet.

Don Cherry spent much time in Scandinavia in the 1970s where he perfected his vision of world music, living in the country with his wife Moki Karlsson (who created the album cover you can see left). His Organic Music Society album  was recorded  and released in Sweden in 1972 and includes an interesting take, with some different and mysterious sounds, of the Pharoah Sanders 1969 tune The Creator Has A Master Plan. A fine example of how it is possible to add something to a tune composed by another musician. Organic Music Society was reissued in 2012 on CD for the first time and whilst it’s a diffuse collection of live and studio recordings that won’t appeal to many other than Cherry completists, it’s impossible not to like this take on a Pharoah Sanders classic.

We ended the show with another curiosity – this time from another jazz outsider Sun Ra, this time recording in Egypt with one of Cairo’s most famous musicians, Salah Ragab. Sun Ra had actually first performed with his Arkestra at the foot of the pyramids in a celebrated concert in 1971, but the two tracks that form this EP were recorded in a Cairo studio while Sun Ra was on a second tour of Egypt two years later. And if you’re thinking that the opening melody sounds very familiar, the tune does appear to owe a lot to trumpeter Lee Morgan’s classic The Sidewinder. Compare for yourself here. If you like this Sun Ra track, then the second much longer tune Dawn will also be worth exploring. Like much great music, you can find it here on Bandcamp.

  1. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew from Bitches Brew Live
  2. James Francies – ANB from Flight
  3. DJ Khalab feat. Shabaka Hutchings and Tommaso Cappellato – Dense from Black Noise 2084
  4. Kasperi Sarikoski – The Payment from Essence
  5. Jelle Van Giel Group – Tiffany’s Dodo from Songs for Everyone
  6. Michal Kobojek – Seven Steps from The Outside
  7. Arve Henriksen – Pink Cherry Trees from The Heights of the Reeds
  8. Don Cherry – The Creator has a Master Plan from Organic Music Society
  9. Sun Ra & his Arkestra – Egypt Strut from Egypt Strut/Dawn EP

Neil is listening to:

18 May 2017: Cosmic Jazz plays cosmic jazz

This week’s show, available now via the Mix Cloud tab (left), is made up of four long, Old School tunes. An identifying feature of two of them at least (and maybe elements of a third) is that they are not only on a Cosmic Jazz show they are cosmic in sound, ambience and effect!

Saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders is a name many would associate with cosmic jazz. His tone is one of the most distinctive voices in jazz – full of raw, rasping overtones one moment and warm, rich and deep at others. The fire of his eleven Impulse! label albums recorded from 1967-1974 gave way to an often more lyrical exploration of jazz standards but still with that commanding tone that remains uniquely strong. For more on that golden age at Impulse! Check out this Red Bull Music Academy feature for more information – and then search out some of the albums.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now 76, Sanders is still performing, although his most recent record releases tend to be as guest slots on other albums. Some of these are well worth seeking out: we have featured two on CJ over recent years – The Voyage with Japanese band Sleep Walker and his live recording with alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett on the Sketches of MD: Live at the Iridium album. Listen to the deep Intro to Africa track here.

Both sides of Sander’s unique tenor saxophone voice can be heard on the track Love is Everywhere played in full on the show this week. It comes from one of the last of the albums Sanders recorded for Impulse! and features the under-rated piano of Joe Bonner. This is truly music that encompasses freedom and gentleness and speaks deeply of peace and understanding. Sanders, of course, played with John Coltrane in his last years – and in his more recent recordings Sanders channels ‘trane so convincingly that if you close your eyes… You can hear this clearly on this excellent 2011 live concert from London’s Jazz Cafe (here presented in full) – for example, on  the Sanders composition Nozipho that begins the show.

The Pharoah Sanders world of cosmic spirituality could apply equally to the music of  Alice Coltrane. This week’s show featured the tune Blue Nile – which includes Sanders on tenor saxophone and alto flute. Recorded in 1970, this harp/piano/tenor saxophone combination has become a template for many more recent cosmic jazz heroes, including the UK’s Matthew Halsall and Nat Birchall. Just listen to Halsall’s Tribute to Alice Coltrane here to see what we mean. Coltrane’s soaring, modal sounds can be found on Ptah, the El Daoud or the excellent Impulse! compilation Astral Meditation which is an excellent place to start your Alice Coltrane journey. Joining Coltrane and Sanders here are Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Ron Carter (bass) and Ben Riley (drums).

Last week I played the tune Black Renaissance by the band of the same name led by Harry Whitaker. The CD has two tunes only and normally I am so enraptured and mesmerised by the first that I play it over and over again. Last week, however, I left the CD playing and gave the second track some attention. Magic Ritual does not match Black Renaissance – I doubt if there is much that can – but it is good, deserves to be heard and has that same feeling of spontaneity, joy and the search for  African-centric expression.

To end the show I played as much as time would allow of what is currently my favourite Fela Kuti tune, Just Like That. You can find it on a number of Fela releases including the excellent compilation, The Two Sides of Fela,  French Barclay release and distributed here by none other than Gilles Peterson’s Talkin’ Loud label. It’s not that easy to find now but you can also get Just Like That on the Underground System album.

  1. Black Renaissance – Magic Ritual from Black Renaissance: Mind, Body and Soul
  2. Pharaoh Sanders – Love is Everywhere from Love In Us All
  3. Alice Coltrane – Blue Nile from Astral Meditations
  4. Fela Kuti and Africa 80 – Just Like That from The Two Sides of Fela – Jazz and Dance (from Jazz CD 1)

So – having whetted your appetities – would you like to listen to twelve hours of spiritual jazz? For much more of this music, listen to this magisterial, extended review of the genre from London’s NTS Radio. Thanks to Kalamu ya Salaam and his excellent Neo Griot blog for this one.

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Derek is listening to:

Neil is listening to…

10 May 2017: featuring Black Renaissance

Every year as summer draws near I have to play Harry Whitaker’s sensational Black Renaissance: Mind, Body and Spirit – and in full. It is simply a wonderful piece of free, spontaneous and Afrocentric jazz, soul and rapping – before rap was known. In effect and reality, the whole piece was a jam session recorded in one take and – rather fittingly – on Martin Luther King day in 1976.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are just two tracks – Black Renaissance (side 1) and Magic Ritual (side 2). Whitaker comments on the record sleeve that “we discussed ideas the night before – just the basics like the bass lines and the drums, but that was it. It was recorded in what I call moment-to-moment.” For many years the tapes were thought to be lost forever, but they they were eventually tracked down in 2002 by the Luv’n’Haight label in California and released on Ubiquity.

Harry Whitaker was a pianist, producer, arranger and composer who played and recorded with Roy Ayers and Roberta Flack and had influential jazz friends and contacts. The record includes Woody Shaw (check out his trumpet solo), Azar Lawrence, Buster Williams, Billy Hart and Mtume. The music is essentially a  map of the African American musical canvas of 1976, with echoes of Sun Ra’s call and response, Coltrane’s tonal meditations and touches of the electronic wizardry of Herbie Hancock’s early 1970s music.  You simply need to hear this essential music – press the Mixcloud tab now! You can still track down the album on both vinyl and CD. Original Japanese pressings from 1976 come up at around £300 so go for the Lu’n’Haight reissue – around £10 for CD and a little more on vinyl. If you don’t have this jazz essential just treat yourself.

It was another tune from the Dinosaur record Together as One that started off the show. Extinct has been an ever-present on my current playlist for some time now. The clarity of the playing from each player comes out really strongly on this tune. It is jazz for our times from a significant, young British group.

I was reminded recently that a year ago this week I saw the Sun Ra Arkestra under the musical direction of Marshall Allen, now aged 92 and still as strong as ever. The orchestra continues to carry the spirit of Sun Ra and Cosmic Hop manages to combine the spiritual with the danceable. The Jelle Van Giel group from Belgium have featured regularly on the show. We like them and they merit repeated listening. There was another tune from The Devotion, US drummer John Lumpkin’s release from last year. This was one of those tunes that ends in a free and improvised blow-out (like Black Renaissance) – quite different from how it starts. The whole album, available on download, is, in fact, quite unpredictable. One tune, in particular, is very different, maybe I should try it next week…

Two other artists I saw almost a year ago were UK musicians pianist Kit Downes and cello player Lucy Railton. At that time, they were playing with Norwegian Thomas Stronin as he toured in Europe. This week we ended the show with a track from the duo’s recent release Tricko .

  1. Dinosaur – Extinct from Together as One
  2. Black Renaissance – Black Renaissance from Black Renaissance: Body, Mind and Spirit
  3. Sun Ra Arkestra – Cosmic Hop from Songs for the Sun
  4. Jelle Van Giel Group – The Truth from Songs for Everyone
  5. John Lumpkin – The Red Sea from The Devotion
  6. Kit Downes – Jinn from Tricko

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Neil is listening to…

25 January 2016: Neil’s pre-Singapore selection

This week’s CJ was a last chance for Neil to cram in some of his current listening before he heads off to Singapore. We started with more tracks from recent albums – the 2015 sophomore release from bass player Ben Williams and that excellent collection of Sun Ra singles on the Strut label which emerged at the end of last year.

We followed this with a real delight. Creating a convincing remix of the iconic A Love Supreme has to be one of the tougher remix assignments, but skinnerbox has achieved the near impossible with his take on Coltrane’s finest work. Of course, this isn’t the real thing, but it undoubtedly captures the spirit and grace of the original. Well worth hearing in its 14 minute entirety too – listen on Soundcloud here. Take in that cool twist on McCoy Tyner’s piano at 8:25 onwards.

It made sense to follow skinnerbox with another remix project – this time from Kiwi musician and producer Mark de Clive-Lowe who has put together a very convincing melange of Blue Note tracks into an impressive two part remix. You can download Part 1 of the project here for free, or buy a limited edition vinyl version from Bandcamp, Juno and other outlets. Want more new de Clive-Lowe? Then check out a track from his latest release in Neil’s listening choices below.

You might have through the next track on the show was part of de Clive-Lowe’s project (especially as we didn’t credit it on air!), but this was in fact vibesman Dave Pike, giving a refreshingly contemporary twist to the classic Besame Mucho. What really lifts the track is the drum break – shades of Joe Morello’s break on Take Five I think, but – whatever – Walter Perkins achieves something great here.

It was time to check out two singers I never tire of hearing, Mark Murphy and Gregory Porter. I’ve written elsewhere on this website about Murphy: his lyrical invention, rich tone and perennially cool demeanour will ensure he will remain one of the key jazz vocalists. I chose the excellent take on Milton Nascimento’s Nada Sera Como Antes that is one of the many killer tracks from the Muse years, although it doesn’t feature on the recently released compilation from Soul Brother Records. Instead, you can find it on the excellent Songbook collection or the indispensable 1984 album Brazil Song.

And – in many ways – Gregory Porter has inherited something of the Murphy mantle. There’s the tone, the space he gives his band and – something special – his own songs. Murphy was a genius at vocalese – the art of adding lyrics to existing jazz tunes or solos – but Porter is a great songwriter too. Don’t Be a Fool is an excellent example from his 2016 release Take Me to the Alley. Porter is an enigma: whilst much of his music might function as pop music it resolutely isn’t in the arrangements,  extended solos and (sometimes) challenging lyrics that don’t seem to put off his huge popular demographic. That’s right – no sell out!

We ended the show with some fun from Marcos Valle. He composed the soundtrack to a film portrait of 1970s Brazilian F1 driver Emerson Fittipaldi and if you’re unfamiliar with the huge sideburns of Brazil’s finest pre-Senna driver you can see the opening credits of Roberto Farias’s film here. We played the title music from the film but the complete soundtrack is also available on YouTube.

Before this came two jazz originals – neglected alto player Arthur Blythe and iconic pianist McCoy Tyner. The huge rolling wave that is Tyner’s Horizon and the rollicking Blythe original Down San Diego Way are both tunes that stay in the memory long after they’ve ended. Both are ones you will want to hear again – so check out the Listen Again feature on this week’s show and enjoy the music.

  1. Ben Williams – Black Villain from Coming Of Age
  2. Sun Ra – Mayan Temple from Sun Ra Singles
  3. Skinnerbox – A Love Supreme from Bandcamp download
  4. Mark de Clive-Lowe – extract from Blue Note Remixed from Bandcamp download
  5. The Dave Pike Quartet – Besame Mucho from Pike’s Peak
  6. Mark Murphy – Nothing Will Be As It Was Tomorrow from Songbook
  7. Gregory Porter – Don’t Be A Fool from Take Me to the Alley
  8. McCoy Tyner – Horizon from Horizon
  9. Arthur Blythe – Down San Diego Way from Lenox Avenue Brengakdown
  10. Marcos Valle with Azymuth – Fittipaldi Show  from O Fabuloso Fittipaldi original film score

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Neil is listening to:

15 June 2016: crossing genres

fania all starsAvailable on the MixCloud tab from CJ this week are some favourite records from the last year or so, plus a couple of older tunes. Make sure you check out all the links embedded below for max effect!

First up was a track from an old recording released in 2011 by the always-reliable Strut Records as a 40th anniversary CD and DVD of The Fania All Stars playing live at The Cheetah, New York. I played this in memory of a friend who back in the 1970s lent me two remarkable download (2)vinyl records – now rare collectors items – of the All Stars, live on Virgin Records. This was my introduction  to Latin music, and it’s been a passion that has remained strong ever since. Of course, the link between Latin music and jazz has always been there – and they come together in the umbrella term Latin jazz. Coined during the 1950s by the American media, it’s a simplistic description of a very complex cultural melting pot. There are, after all, 22 countries in Latin American with each one having an extraordinary diversity of rhythms, styles and genres that represent the individual cultural mixes of that country and its region. We selected Ray Barretto’s Cochinando, the lead off track from this excellent record of one of the most influential Latin concerts ever.

Cover_KoutéJazz-350x350Just one of those many Latin permutations was shown in the next selection from the excellent Koute Jazz compilation on French label Heavenly Sweetness. This time it was a group from Guadeloupe using Brazilian rhythms to invoke memories of the island’s original inhabitants. Catch the lovely Fender Rhodes on this one! Ed Motta is Brazilian – but don’t go to his new album Perpetual Gateways if you are looking for stereotypical Brazilian sounds. While Motta’s previous album AOR (a self conscious tribute to ‘adult oriented rock’) was a slick Steely Dan-esque affair, the new one works at delivering both soul and jazz – in fact, it’s presented as two suites of five songs each – one called Soul Gate and the other Jazz Gate. Produced by Kamau Kenyatta (Gregory ed motta perpetual gatewaysPorter) and featuring an impressive supporting cast that includes such west coast session luminaries as Patrice Rushen, Greg Phillinganes, and Hubert Laws, Perpetual Gateways is a delight. We played I Remember Julie which features Rushen and an extended acoustic piano solo – a long way away from the smooth jazzfunk of Forget Me Nots!

Ameen Saleem appeared again this week but in jazz rather than soul/R’n’B mode – both of which sit happily on his genre-hopping new release The Groove Lab. It’s great to see the current crop of US jazz artists adopting this more freewheeling approach – and making it work. We’ll be checking out saxophonist Marcus Strickland’s latest album along with the Miles Davis/Robert Glasper R’n’B collaboration, Everything’s Beautiful in future shows.

st germainOne of my very favourite records of  the last twelve months has been another record that crossed genres. St Germain is the third album from the eponymous French artist (Parisian producer Ludovic Navarre) and is a superb example of how jazz, Malian blues and contemporary beats can be merged into a seamless whole. If you do not have this record, then we regard it as an essential must-have: it may not have the spell-binding blend of jazz and house that so characterised Tourist, but it is an excellent addition to the genre crossing canon. It’s worth comparing the lead off track on St Germain (Real Blues which features Lightning Hopkins) with its spiritual predecessor from Tourist (Sure Thing with John Lee Hooker). Navarre is a late headline addition to next month’s Love Supreme jazz festival – check him out if you can.

marshall allen and the arkestraEuropean jazz, so integral to CJ, was represented this week via the Czech Republic from Ondre Sveracek and the Petr Benes Quartet – check the subtle horn playing on this one. Of course, Thomas Stronen from Norway had to appear again and to end the show we travelled the spaceways once more with the Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of 92 year old Marshall Allen.

  1. Fania All Stars – Cocinando from Our Latin Thing
  2. Guadeloupe Reflexions – Samba Arawak from Koute Jazz
  3. Ed Motta – I Remember Julie from Perpetual Gateways
  4. Ameen Saleem – Korinthis from The Groove Lab
  5. St. Germain – Family Tree from St. Germain
  6. Ondre Sveracek – Meditation from Calm
  7. Petr Benes Quartet – My Little Ruth from Pbq+1
  8. Thomas Stronen – As We Wait For Time from Time Is A Blind Guide
  9. Sun Ra Arkestra – Galactic Voyage from Song For The Sun

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Derek is listening to:

Neil is listening to:

01 June 2016: featuring Thomas Stronen and Norwegian jazz

thomas stronenRecently I went to a performance by Thomas Stronen at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016. It was simply an amazing, highly memorable experience and if you click the MixCloud tab (left) you can hear some of the tunes from the album Time Is A Blind Guide on which Stronen’s set was based.

The music wa2467_X_1 (1)s intense, spiritual, emotional jazz drawing upon classical, Far Eastern and traditional Norwegian influences. The combination of Lucy Railton on cello (not a common jazz instrument), Hakan Aase on violin and  Ole Morton Vagan on double bass created a beautiful, warm, melodic sound – check the tune Pipa for an example of this. The subtle, precise drumming of Thomas Stronen, interacting with the flowing and adventurous piano of Kit Downes was mesmerising – listen to The Stone Carriers which was also featured on this week’s CJ. The album is on ECM and is very highly recommended.

tord gustavsen what was saidAlso on ECM is the album What was said by Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen with Afghan/German voice Simin Tander singing in Pashto and English accompanied by Jarle Vespestad on drums. This is another ECM group I have heard live this year – excellent too, but edged out by Thomas Stronen.

Also from Norway this week came LEO,  (Love Exit Orchestra) featuring vocalist Sheila Simmenes whose many interests include jazz and Brazilian music and Lucky Novak, a quirky, original and experimental Norwegian band with a British saxophonist.

shela simmenesAll the music this week was recorded in Europe and featured – with the odd exception – European musicians. This included more music available at Steve’s Jazz Sounds. For example, Spanish, a modal tune from Czech Republic saxophonist Ondrej Sveracek on his album CalmThis also includes US drummer Gene Jackson with a controlled, complex  feature towards the end of the tune. Also, for the first time on Cosmic Jazz came the Cracow Jazz Collective, an eight-piece band featuring young Polish jazz musicians with compositions by pianist Mateusz Gaweda. Take a look at the No More Drama video for more from this exciting collective.

erik truffaz doni doniDoni Doni, the new record from Erik Truffaz, is still on the CJ ‘tables. This time, it was a contrast from his more ambient, relaxed and minimalist sounds. Finally, there was a chance to catch part of Archangelo from Raphael available on Spiritual Jazz 2. Raphael was a US pianist but the album was recorded in Belgium with Belgian musicians.

  1. Ondrej Sveracek – Spanish from Calm
  2. Cracow Jazz Collective – Polish Drama from No More Drama
  3. Thomas Stronen – The Stone Carriers from Time Is A Blind Guide
  4. Thomas Stronen – Tide from Time from Time is a Blind Guide
  5. Thomas Stronen – Everything Disappears 1 from Time is a Blind Guide
  6. Thomas Stronen – Pipa from Time is a Blind Guide
  7. Tord Gustavsen – Sweet Melting from What was said
  8. LEO (Love Extra Orchestra) – Don’t Get Me Wrong from preview copy
  9. Lucky Novak – Ornette from Up! Go!
  10. Erik Truffaz Quartet – Fat City from Doni Doni
  11. Raphael – Archangelo from Spiritual Jazz 2

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Derek is listening to:

Neil is listening to:

25 May 2016: jazz from the Czech Republic and France

Click the MixCloud tab (left) to hear a selection of mainly contemporary jazz from continental Europe with a couple of oldies from elsewhere thrown in.

sun ra arkestra a song for the sunRecently I heard the Sun Ra Arkestra live led by the 92 year old Marshall Allen. It was quite a spectacle with Allen’s sax well to the fore and reminiscent of Pharoah Sanders’ loud rasping tone.  It seemed appropriate to start with a piece from the Arkestra under Allen’s direction – but not a free jazz blow-out as might be expected but rather The Way You Look Tonight, written by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern in 1936 but given an Arkestra rethink.

It was long overdue that CJ featured more music from Steve’s Jazz Sounds, so there were a couple of gems from the Czech Republic. As is so often the case, there were musicians linking across the tracks. First off was tenor player Ondrej Sveracek and the title tune from his album Calm. The Dutch drummer Erik Ineke on hearing  Sveracek’s music commented that Coltrane’s in the house – sounds interesting. The album also features the US drummer Gene Jackson whose CV includes work with Kevin Eubanks, Hugh Masekela, Andrew Hill, Joe Lovano, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

petr benes quartetThe Petr Benes Quartet (+1) are also based in the Czech Republic. The tune Unusual Neighborhood is as interesting as the title and tenor player Ondrej Sveracek features here alongside his bass player Tomas Baros. From Poland came the excellent Algorythm: having heard them on my iPod selection during the week, they had to be circulated more widely. Check out their excellent album Segments – we’ve featured tracks from it before on Cosmic Jazz.

I once saw the trumpeter Erik Truffaz perform at Norwich Arts Centre to an audience of about 25 people – something of an embarrassing insult to a fine jazz adventurer who changes personnel, draws on many outside influences and yet maintains a pitch-perfect ambient calm in his playing. His new release Doni Doni includes contributions from Malian singer Rokia Traore, but the tune tonight featured the hip hop artibending new cornersst Oxino Puccino. I added another Erik Truffaz tune which included another rapper – this time Nya –  from the 1999 Blue Note album Bending New Corners which first introduced me to his work. Check out Truffaz performing Doni Doni Part 2 at the World Stock Festival in Paris.

ameen saleemOne of my favourite musicians was the enthusiastic comment made by trumpeter Roy Hargrove about bass player Ameen Saleem. You can see why from the tune Possibilities on Saleem’s new album The Groove LabHis bass provides a firm and prominent beat throughout the tune which has Cyrus Chestnut on piano, Greg Hutchinson on drums and Stacy Dillard on tenor sax. Hargrove is featured on the album but not on this track. The music throughout is varied – expect to hear soul and funk as well as jazz.

spiritual jazz 4Finally on tonight’s show, an excerpt from a long tune I heard during the week. A co-operation between radical vibes player Bobby Hutcherson and sax player Harold Land recorded in what was then Yugoslavia, now Serbia. It is a deep, deep cosmic tune and is available on the superb compilation Spiritual Jazz 4.

  1. The Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen – The Way You Look Tonight from A Song for the Sun
  2. Ondrej Sveracek – Calm from Calm
  3. Petr Benes Quartet – Unusual Neighborhood from Pbq + 1
  4. Algorhythm – Sorry for the Delay from Segments
  5. Erik Truffaz feat Nya – Sweet Mercy from Bending New Corners
  6. Erik Truffaz Quartet feat Oxinno Puccino – Le Complement du Verbe from Doni Doni
  7. Ameen Saleem – Possibilities  from The Groove Lab
  8. Bobby Hutcherson/Harold Land Quintet – The Creators from Spiritual Jazz Vol 4

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Derek is listening to:

  • Thomas Stronen – Pipa
  • Thomas Stronen – Lost Souls
  • Erik Truffaz – Siegfried
  • Papa Wemba feat. Barbara Kanam – Triple Option
  • Misty in Roots – Oh! Wicked Man

Neil is listening to:

18 May 2016: some Cosmic Jazz favourites

Cosmic Jazz is back and, to mark our return, the programme features a few favourites.

otis brown iii the thought of youOne such is drummer Otis Brown III  – heard here in two opening tracks.  First, supporting Somi on her Nigeria inspired album The Lagos Music Salon and then on his own record The Thought Of You, where on You’re Still the One the jazz cool but warm and enticing voice of Gretchen Parlato draws you in.  You can see Gretchen Parlato appearing in her own right here.

kenny garrettAny Cosmic Jazz programme of favourites could not exclude Kamasi Washington, an ever-present artist on the show nor alto player Kenny Garrett. This week we chose the title track from his award-winning album Pushing The World Away. The memory of seeing his quartet perform in such a close and intimate setting at the Pizza Express Jazz  Club in Dean Street, London a few years ago still lingers firmly in the memory…

bugge wesseltoft and friendsKeyboard player Bugge Wesseltoft recorded an excellent album in 2015 with his friends – including trumpeter Erik Truffaz who has his own excellent new album out this year.  I shall play tunes from it in coming weeks but, for this edition of Cosmic Jazz, check out the collaboration on the track Play It.

Songs by Johnny Nash have not often appeared on Cosmic Jazz but I simply love the version of I Can see Clearly Now by Roy Nathanson’s Sotto Voce with Roy’s son Gabriel featured on lead vocal and trumpet. In case you do not reach this stage of the programme via MixCloud you can hear it here and at the same time view the bleak and alluring cover of the album.

nuyorican soulLatin and soul – probably more accurately a combination of both – but all with New York connections, completed the show. The wonderful Charlie Palmieri of New York latino heritage started the segment with a tune that was re-released on a compilation of his work on the Atlantic Masters series. Elements of Life from Eclipse and Jocelyn Brown from the album Nuyorican Soul continued the latin New York sounds. The link between the two is arranger and DJ Louis Vega. elements of life eclipseBest known as a record producer now, Vega comes from latin royalty. His uncle was Hector Lavoe of the celebrated Fania All Stars, and Vega has lent his name to hundreds of records since the 1990s when he began DJing and remixing with fellow house star Kenny Gonzales in the Masters at Work partnership. Here at CJ we always emphasize the close links between much Latin music and jazz – just one small part of that global jazz thing.

  1. Somi – Four African Women from The Lagos Music Salon
  2. Otis Brown III (feat. Gretchen Parlato) – You’re Still The One from The Thought Of You
  3. Kamasi Washington – Leroy and Lanisha from The Epic
  4. Kenny Garrett – Pushing The World Away  from Pushing The World Away
  5. Bugge Wesseltoft – Play It from Bugge and Friends
  6. Roy Nathanson’s Sotto Voce – I Can See Clearly Now from Complicated Day
  7. Charlie Palmieri – Mambo Show from Latin Bugalu
  8. Elements of Life – Berimbau from Eclipse
  9. Jocelyn Brown – I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun from Nuyorican Soul

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Derek is listening to:

Neil is listening to: