Cosmic Jazz this time round presents a much shorter show but one that pays tribute to two artists we have admired and revered since the start of the show, over fifteen years ago. Mtume and Lloyd McNeil both died earlier this month and we honour them with four wonderful tunes.
1. Mtume – Yebo from Rebirth Cycle
We begin our tribute to drummer and percussionist James Mtume, by playing the sort of tune we often use to end the show. It’s not jazz but R’n’B, and it was a bonafide global chart hit in 1983 from a former jazz musician who ranged across the spectrum of contemporary, spiritual jazz and played on numerous records, including with Miles Davis at his most ‘out there’ electric phase in the 1970s. But Mtume was much more than an accomplished jazz sideman. no less. Born James Forman in 1928, Mtume was the son of saxophonist Jimmy Heath (who died last year at the age of 93) but he was raised by his stepfather – also James Forman, a saxophonist who was nicknamed ‘Hen Gates’ – which in turn became the name of a tune on Mtume’s hugely influential Alkebu-Lan (Land of the Blacks) album. For more on this, check out this Cosmic Jazz post from August this year. The drummer actually made his recorded debut with a remarkable lineup: the album Kawaida (1970) was credited to his uncle Albert Heath, but four of the five tracks were written by Mtume and the band included Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry and Buster Williams. This is a superb record and has been recently re-released – check out Maulana here.
Back to the 1970s, and when Mtume moved to New York be began to get ‘A list’ work, appearing on records by McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Lonnie Liston Smith and more with his writing becoming an ever more important feature – check out the Lonnie Liston Smith version of Mtume’s beautiful tune Sais (Egypt). Mtume was then signed by Miles Davis (who knew a good drummer when he saw one), performing and recording on landmark releases like On the Corner (1972), Get Up With It (1974) and the live in Japan records from 1975, Agharta and Pangaea. Mtume was also recording with his own ensembles – which brings us back to Alkebu-Lan (recorded live at the East Club in downtown Brooklyn in 1972), and the studio-based follow up Rebirth Cycle (recorded in 1974 but released three years later). Alkebu-Lan is claimed as the original name for the continent of Africa and this important record is full of references – both spoken and musical – to African-American origins. The Umoja Ensemble was fairly large with 15 players – and result in this live recording is thick and rather muddy – but the message of a spiritual freedom is clear. The music is an amalgam of different jazz genres – you can hear call and response chants, big band jazz, be-bop and free jazz all meshed together in a kind of organised chaos. This is music to immerse yourself into and emerge with an understanding of the way in which Black consciousness and jazz have intertwined over the years. Rebirth Cycle (1977) is a better album in many ways: there’s an extended take on Sais and a remarkable lineup of musicians, including Mtume’s father Jimmy Heath, vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and saxophonist Azar Lawrence. Yebo features basically the Miles Davis band of the time, along with Tawatha Agee on vocals. This not an easy record to find and it has never been reissued on either CD or vinyl – the only copy on offer on Discogs is priced at £300 – so Neil will be hanging on to his treasured copy!
2. Miles Davis – Mtume from Live in Tokyo 1975
In a 2018 interview with fellow percussionist Adam Rudolph, Mtume noted that when he was recruited to Miles’s band, Davis had said to him “You are my Tony” referring, of course, to drummer Tony Williams. Mtume was influential in extending the range of the hand drummer in a band: instead of providing just additional colour, the percussionist was literally at the centre of the stage – in live performance with Davis, the two musicians would play side by side. There are just a few Miles Davis compositions simply titled after the musicians that inspired them – John McLaughlin, Dual Mr Tillman Anthony – and Mtume. We’ve chosen a short version from the live in Japan concerts that produced the Agharta and Pangea albums but the original 15 minute version is here on Get Up With It. You can hear how the percussionist is at the centre of the music alongside the wah wah trumpet of Davis.
3. Lloyd McNeil – Salvation Army from Treasures
Flautist and more Lloyd McNeil (1935-2021) deserves recognition from Cosmic Jazz. He was not just a jazz artist much admired by us, but also a painter and friend of Picasso who designed his own album covers, a music anthropologist, a poet and a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The album Treasures was released originally in 1980 on McNeil’s own Baobab label in New York. but – like five other of his albums – has been re-released in all formats by the British label Soul Jazz Records. Treasures combines deep spiritual jazz with Brazilian rhythms and melodies, McNeil having spent many years involved with Brazilian musicians. This album includes the Brazilian musicians Nana Vasconcelos, Portinho and Dom Salvador alongside American jazz artist, including Cecil McBee (who also appeared on Yebo above). The tune Salvation Army illustrates the fusion perfectly with the percussion of Vasconcelos to the fore alongside Lloyd McNeil’s jazz flute.
4. The Lloyd McNeill Quartet – Home Rule from Washington Suite
Washington Suite is another Lloyd McNeill album available through Soul Jazz Records – on coloured vinyl too! It is a deeply spiritual album, first released in 1970 on another of McNeil’s labels – Asha Records in Washington DC. Originally commissioned for the Capital Ballet Company, it’s another example of how McNeill was active in multiple spheres. He grew up in the years of the Civil Rights Movement and the ideals of the Movement are imbued in his music. He was one of a number of US jazz musicians who moved to France in the 1960s which is how, while playing music on the Mediterranean coast, he met Picasso. Over the years he played with a number of prominent musicians, including Nina Simone, Eric Dolphy, Mulatu Asatke and Sabu Martinez. McNeill’s global travels took him to Brazil and West Africa informing and influencing both his music and teaching. He was a man with an impressive range of abilities and achievements who used them to promote the ideals of many Black activists at the time of self-sufficiency and empowerment.
We share more music that we have enjoyed during 2021. As in the previous show, we’ve got a mixture of new and re-releases covering a range of jazz and jazz-related styles – and, despite the our necessary reliance on mp3 files to broadcast, we are also celebrating the continued resurgence of vinyl…
1. Daniel Herskedal – The Mariner’s Cross from Harbour
If you like atmospheric music with awe-inspiring melodies Daniel Herskedal’s sixth album for Edition Records is the music for you. A Norwegian tuba and bass trumpet player, he’s joined on this album by Eyolf Dale on piano and celesta and Helge Andreas Norbakken on drums and marimba. The Norwegian landscape has long been an influence on Herskedal’s music and the landscape where this record was recorded is pretty unique: recorded in December 2020 at the remote Ocean Sound, the studios sit on Giske, an island on the rugged Norwegian coastline. The music on this album evokes something of that sense of ‘hygge’ – a word in both Danish and Norwegian that is all about the feelings of warmth and protection when sheltered from stormy weather and a wild sea. The landscape has always played a vital role in Herskedal’s music – and comes across as vast and deep but with that sense of minimalism in evocation the space and wild openness.
2. STR4TA – Aspects from Aspects
2021 reminded us that Britfunk is still alive and kicking – thanks to some new compilations and STR4TA with their album Aspects. A fusion of jazz, funk, urban dance rhythms with some pop hooks, Britfunk was a UK-homegrown scene from the late 1970s onwards that proved it had lasting durability when Gilles Peterson and Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick from Britfunk pioneers Incognito got together and created STR4TA. The album appeared in March 2021 and the recreation of that pioneering British sound is faultless. There’s some concessions to the spacey synth melodies of groups like Atmosfear and Hi-Tension, but this album stands on its own as the essence of the era with a more contemporary twist. With the exception of some inane lyrics on a few tracks, this is a jazz dance must. For the session itself, Peterson and Maunick wanted to approach the music-making from the starting point that led to those early classic Brit-funk records like Freeez’s Southern Freeez or Atmosfear’s Dancing in Outer Space, capturing the raw energy and sound of the moment. Recalling his role in the process, Peterson says he was the one making sure things didn’t get too polished. “I was there at the back, telling them, no, leave it like that, cut it there, or just use that first take.” Also featured on the record are Francis Hylton on bass and Matt Cooper on both keyboards and drums. Great sound on vinyl too – check it out here on Bandcamp.
3. Sault – Fearless from UNTITLED (Rise)
We first featured Sault in May 2021 – and this London collective still remains something of a mystery. The music seemed to arrive out of the blue: no interviews, no photos, no videos, no live appearances, no Wikipedia entry – and a perfunctory and entirely non-interactive social media presence. UNTITLED (Rise) was actually released in September 2020 but went on to be nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2021 – and, indeed, we reckon that this album is something of a masterpiece. The opening track Strong features beats spiked with explosions of dubby echo, an intricate mesh of Nile Rodgers-ish guitar and a terrific breakdown inspired by Brazilian batucada percussion while Fearless is supremely funky with flurries of disco strings and a dark, inspiring production that works against lyrics like “It hurts on the inside”. Vocalist Cleo Sol released her second album Mother in 2021 – and it’s well worth a listen too. Of course, UNTITLED (Rise) is available in all formats – check out your choice here on Bandcamp.
4. Dexter Gordon – Tangerine from Live at Chateauvallon 1978
Neil has been listening to a lot of Dexter Gordon recently and the Record Store Day 2021 vinyl reissue of this 1978 concert sounds just great. Released on the Elemental label (who have done an equally good job with Barney Wilen’s live record – see below) the music first appeared as a double CD the previous year but the first two tunes on that set, Tangerine and More Than You Know, take up side 1 and 2 respectively on the later gatefold vinyl reissue. On Tangerine, Gordon characteristically introduces the Mercer/Schertzinger standard by reciting the opening lyrics and then stretches out with his superbly sympathetic quartet for over 20 minutes, quoting – in typical Gordon fashion – from Pop Goes the Weasel and If I Were a Bell, all with that unmistakeable burnished tone on tenor. Pianist George Cables, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Eddie Gladden are the same guys with whom he recorded the celebrated Live at Carnegie Hall a few weeks earlier and provide more than solid support. Either the single vinyl release or the 2CD full set are highly recommended.
5. Kahil El’Zabar’s Spirit Groove – In My House from Kahil El’Zabar’s Spirit Groove feat. David Murray
Another long tune (originally over 20 minutes but we featured the shorter radio edit) and again one that celebrates effortless jazz viruosity. It’s not strictly a 2021 release as this record came in at the very end of 2020 but – thanks to Covid – Neil didn’t get a chance to listen to his vinyl copy until October 2021! This record appeared on the new UK Spiritmuse label – beautifully presented records in gatefold sleeves that are well worth getting hold of. Chicagoan percussionist Kahil El’Zabar has been recording for over forty years and on this album is joined by his contemporary, tenor saxophonist David Murray who is ably supported by Justin Dillard on on synth, organ and piano and young Emma Dayhuff on bass. El’Zabar himself takes up kalimba, drum kit, congas, shakers, vibes and even has a go at singing on this predominantly spiritual jazz release. As always, your best source for this record is the either the Spiritmuse or Bandcamp websites: you can find Spirit Groove here on Bandcamp – and still available in all formats.
6. Barney Wilen – Besame Mucho from Live at Le Petit Opportun 1989
Back in 2017, Neil finally caught up with saxophonist Barley Wilen exploring his innovative 1970 album Moshi through Youtube clips. More of that later but a little Wilen background first… His mother was French, his father a successful American dentist-turned-inventor based on the French Riviera. As a teenager, Wilen started a youth jazz club in Nice before moving to Paris in the mid50s where he worked with a number of American musicians, including Miles Davis. It’s Wilen you hear on the soundtrack to Lift to the Scaffold, the celebrated Louis Malle film, reportedly recorded while the musicians watched a live screening of the film. In 1970, Wilen assembled a team of filmmakers, technicians, and musicians to travel to Africa and record the music of native pygmy tribes before returning to Paris where he created the Moshi album, a record unlike any other in the jazz canon. Knowing just the track Zombiezar, Neil was keen to find more and was lucky enough to find a copy of the excellent 2017 reissue of this dark, eccentric music in Singapore, complete with a DVD of Caroline de Bendern’s film À L’intention De Mlle Issoufou À Bilma, which documented Wilen’s African journey. For Record Store Day in 2021, Elemental Music went all out with a magnificent box set reissue of Wilen’s 1987 La Note Bleue, overseen by Wilen’s son Patrick. In addition to the beautifully remastered record, there’s an English-language facsimilie of the Loustal-Paringaux comic book (Barney et la note bleue) that pays tribute to Wilen in a fictionalised version of his life and an LP-sized booklet that includes great photos from the recording sessions, as well as extensive notes and contemporary ads and press cuttings. As if that weren’t enough, there’s a CD of a great previously unreleased Wilen quartet recording, made at Parisian jazz club Le Petit Opportun that features reinterpretations of La Note Bleue tunes. Wilen is joined here by Jacky Terasson on piano, Gilles Naturel on bass and Peter Gritz on drums. If you can still find it, this is one of the best jazz box sets you’ll find – well worth looking out for.
7. Walter Bishop Jr’s 4th Cycle – Sweet Rosa from Keeper of My Soul
We continue to celebrate the re-release of Black Jazz Records music via Real Gone Music who are steadily issuing all twenty records from the label in all formats – including, for this one, orange with black swirl vinyl edition! Keeper Of My Soul was keyboardist Walter Bishop’s second release on the label and he’s supported here by flautist/sax player Hubert Laws, bass player Gerald Brown and vibraphonist Woody Murray. Contrary to the album title, the name of the band was not The 4th Cycle; instead, as the liner notes put it, the name reflected ‘Bishop’s composition and improvisational techniques based on the Cycle of 4ths and his various personal musical cycles as performer, student and teacher.‘ The album also has a sense of spirituality informed by Bisop’s yogic studies with Parmahansa Yogananda; little wonder, then, that Keeper of My Soul was a more ambitious, electric, and ‘out’ record than its Blue Note-influenced predecessor with Bishop exploring Keith Jarrett-like free-form passages (Those Who Chant), Latin stylings (a great take on Kenny Dorham’s classic Blue Bossa which first appeared on Joe Henderson’s First Page album) and a surprisingly funky take on Summertime. We featured the strong composition Sweet Rosa – typical of the strengths of this record over its predecessor.
8. Kenny Garrett – Sounds from the Ancestors from Sounds from the Ancestors
We have played many tunes from alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett on Cosmic Jazz and the 2021 release of Sounds From The Ancestors just has to be celebrated. Garrett has played with many of the greats of jazz – Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard and many more – but his new album follows something of a different path. There’s direct respect to these important influences and the music they played but also to the jazz heritage of soul, gospel and Afro-Cuban music. This title tune, which begins with Garrett playing piano, includes an important contribution from guest Pedrito Martinez on percussion. Besides his core band the album welcomes several guests who bring with them experience of different musical styles. These include Jean Baylor and Dwight Trible on vocals, Lenny White on snare drum, Maurice Brown on trumpet and Johnny Mercier on piano, organ and Fender Rhodes. The record appeared on many Best of… jazz lists in 2021 – including ours.
9. James Brandon Lewis – Archimedean from Code of Being
Here on Cosmic Jazz we have featured tracks from Jesup Wagon, an earlier 2021 release from James Brandon Lewis but, at the end of the year, another record emerged – Code of Being on the Swiss Intakt label. It is a quartet, with Lewis on tenor, Aruan Ortiz on piano, Brad Jones on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. This is an intense and enveloping experience as evidenced by our choice on this show. The Archimedean Spiral was the logo chosen by the visual artists Norman Lewis, Romare Bearden and others for their Spiral collective, formed on 05 July 1963. The name was symbolic of the group’s varied artists and their many different styles, yet containing the common core purpose of establishing a black identity in a predominantly white art world. Many of the artists had moved from the South to New York and felt compelled to engage in the civil rights movement as artists. Sleeve notes to the album record that when Lewis was asked to place himself within the history of American music his response was that he sees himself as part of the tradition from John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins and that he hopes to contribute to that tradition. Indeed he does, – and Archimedean is undoubtedly the most modal and Coltrane-influenced track here, and so our final tune on the show is an appropriate follow-up and end point.
10. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme, Pt. II – Resolution (Live) from A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle
As with Miles Davis, the John Coltrane records keep on coming. How many more will turn up? The latest is from a live show recorded at the Penthouse Club, Seattle on 02 October 1965 and was found among the private tapes of a friend of Coltrane, the musician and educator Joe Brazil and was released on the Impulse! label in 2021. This is a truly significant recording because it’s only the second live performance of A Love Supreme that has been committed to tape (so far). We may think of A Love Supreme as tight, deeply spiritual, revelatory music but this performance is not that. Recorded at a time of change for Coltrane, with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones still with him – although not for long – additional musicians were brought in to change and extend the sound. Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax and percussion, Carlos Ward on alto sax and Donald Rafael Garrett on bass, adding to that of Jimmy Garrison from the original quartet. The result is dramatically extended performances that allow you to experience the music in a different way – it feels live, with Elvin Jones particularly high up in the mix. Jones said in 2002 that A Love Supreme is always a spiritual experience, wherever you hear it and although the recording quality has limitations (as you might expect from a portable reel-to-reel recorder) A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle is an essential record in any jazz collection. More Cosmic Jazz sounds soon…
In 2021 Don Was, the new President of Blue Note Records, announced the creation of the Tone Poet series of vinyl reissues. Yes, all these records were to be issued only on vinyl and in editions remastered by the tone poet himself, Joe Harley. To understand what this means we need to go back a little…
Joe Harley is a key figure in the growth of jazz vinyl reissues. He co-founded the Music Matters reissues, focusing on both classic and more obscure titles from the Blue Note canon. The result was over a hundred reissues, almost all of which are now rare collectors items attracting premium prices on buying and selling websites like Discogs. Music Matters committed very early on to make buying one of their records something of an event – so they focused on gatefold packaging with often previously unseen studio photos inside. The jackets were all substantial glossy recreations and the high quality vinyl was always heavyweight 180 gram discs. The cost was high compared with your typical record store secondhand buy – but the quality was unimpeachable. As Harley acknowledged, “It was evident from the minute you pick up the record that it was special.” Notably, every single one of the 33rpm issues on the Music Matters website is out of stock. When Don Was saw and heard these records he approached Harley and asked him to apply the same high standards to a new series that would be issued by Blue Note Records itself. Harley agreed, and the result was the first series of Tone Poet titles in 2020. Many of these are now relatively hard to come by but the programme has continued and new titles emerge every month. This excellent insheepsclothinghifi interview gives us an insight into what Harley wanted to achieve and includes a link to the Youtube interview between Was and Harley that gives further details of both the background to the project and Harley’s approach to remastering.
We have provided links before to both the Blue Note Tone Poet series and now their cheaper – but equally carefully produced – Classic reissue series, but here they are again for newbies. And the Tone Poet name? Well, we can thank saxophonist icon Charles Lloyd for that one – he named Harley ‘the Tone Poet’ and went on to title his most recent Jazzwise-poll topping release Tone Poet in Harley’s honour. The result is – unexpectedly – a superb sounding record with Lloyd at the top of his mature game. Of course, it’s a Cosmic Jazz recommendation too – and for those who have left the vinyl world – it is available as a CD and download (although the latter is only for US markets).
We could have expected that the other record majors would follow suit – and this is exactly what has happened. Enter the huge Universal catalogue with access to the Verve, Impulse!, Phillips and Decca labels and more. Of course, there has always been a clutch of audiophile reissue labels with MoFi (Mobile Fidelity) being perhaps the most well known. But to this growing roster we can now add Impex, Craft, Sam, Pure Pleasure and many more – and the result is that jazz record fans have never had it so good. Neil has been crate digging for years but that now includes checking out all the new vinyl titles and reissues that have emerged over the last few years. What is fuelling this seemingly unstoppable trend?
Long before Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube, vinyl records were the physical music format – in the 1970s, vinyl sales peaked at 530 million units a year and accounted for 66% of all music format revenues, but by the 1990s this had dropped to less than 10 million units and a mere 0.1% of the market share. What happened? The arrival of CDs in 1982 signalled the virtual end of the vinyl record – cheap to produce and marketed with the tag “perfect sound, forever”, there wasn’t much hope for the seemingly outdated black wax format. And the introduction of mp3 files via iTunes was the final nail in the coffin. But – as we all know – vinyl has made an impressive comeback. For each of the past 15 years, sales of new vinyl have gradually increased. In the first half of 2021 alone, 17 million albums were sold — an 86% jump from 2020. The remaining 40 or so pressing plants around the world simply can’t keep up with a demand that is being fuelled by new generations of record buyers. But why? After all, vinyl is much more expensive to produce, is far less portable and requires relatively expensive equipment to sound good. The answer is with the buyers. 70 percent of these new collectors are the millennial generation, or those under 35. They have the purchasing power and – more importantly – the desire for some kind of tangibility after years of listening to poor quality invisible mp3s via their iPhones. A wholly passive experience is turned into an active one – from crate digging in your local record store (and coffee shop), to opening the record sleeve, dropping the stylus and reading the album cover notes. More than this, a culture has been created around vinyl – without the ubiquity of being the only recorded music format, it becomes an elected choice with tangible benefits: records can be collected, traded and displayed. And – as the trading sites like Discogs demonstrate – vinyl is becoming increasingly valuable. Whether new limited editions on coloured vinyl or original pressings from vinyl’s golden age, records are an investment. In the world of jazz, a (possible) first pressing of Hank Mobley’s Blue Note 1568 (released in 1957) was sold on eBay in 2015 for £7300 – double the previous highest price paid for any other jazz record, ever.
And so, back to Blue Note’s Tone Poets/Classics and Universal’s Acoustic Sounds jazz reissues. Let’s check out five of Neil’s favourites from these back catalogues and give some guidance on what to buy – if you can find them. First up is a recent release and so still readily available – Charles Mingus and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (Impulse! – 1963). This repressing isn’t cheap (SGD50 /£35) but is a revelation soundwise. Housed in a beautiful glossy gatefold sleeve, with the original liner notes by Mingus and his psychologist, this record belongs in every jazz collection. A six-part suite with dramatic shifts in mood and tempo, the music features a three-way brass dialogue of trumpets, trombone and tuba, swooping reeds and awe-inspiring rhythm section. Balancing delicate Spanish modes and Ellingtonian themes, the overall effect is simply breathtaking. Next up is Dexter Gordon’s One Flight Up (Blue Note – 1964). This is worth it just for the side-long Donald Byrd composition, Tanya, but Gordon’s huge tenor sound, the utter brilliance of the then-teenaged bass player Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson and rock-steady drummer Art Taylor have never sounded better. This one should come in a little less in price than the Acoustic Sounds/Impulse! records). It’s another gatefold of course and beautifully produced. Blue Note also had access to other labels too and Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Solid State – 1968) was one of the first of these reissues Neil bought. Is it Corea’s best ever record? Maybe. It’s certainly an album you’ll come back to over and again, just as Neil has. A classic piano trio with Miroslav Vitous on bass and Roy Haynes on drums, Corea moves between his own kind of hard bop and music that is much freer and ‘out there’. The sound is spectacularly good and slightly better than Neil’s excellent Japanese import version bought a few years ago. It’s back to Blue Note with McCoy Tyner’s last record for the label. Expansions was released in 1968 with Tyner fronting a remarkable band including trumpeter Woody Shaw, Shorter on tenor and Gary Bartz on alto. The opening track is appropriately titled Vision and is indeed a vision of where Tyner was heading at this time. Stunning music that pushes and pulls against the boundaries of mainstream modern jazz. Neil’s final choice takes us back to tenor legend Charles Lloyd whose new 2021 album (appropriately called Tone Poet) is an all-analogue production mastered by Joe Harley’s right-hand man Kevin Gray and includes Bill Frisell on guitar and Eric Harland on drums. It sounds fabulous and includes spirited takes on Ornette Coleman’s Rambling and Gabor Szabo’s Lady Gabor. So, there’s never been a better time to listen to vinyl. With more and more retailers opening – here in Singapore, I can walk to two great stores in ten minutes – and with new turntables regularly appearing on the market there’s an unlimited opportunity to get into music on vinyl. As Charlie Parker said, Now’s The Time.
Regular listeners to Cosmic Jazz will have noticed that we’ve moved on this year. It’s much easier to listen to the show via the Mixcloud link and we’ve now got a Twitter feed for you as well. The music choices remains as eclectic as always though – just check out some of our favourites from this year – both new releases and re-issues – and look out for an upcoming feature from Neil on how the vinyl renaissance has led to a bumper crop of audiophile jazz reissues.
1. Sivuca – Ain’t No Sunshine from Sivuca
This re-release from Real Gone Music is the perfect way to start any show – and we make no apologies for the fact we have played the tune several times previously. Brazilian accordionist/guitarist/composer and vocalist Sivuca performs the near impossible – covering a tune and making it sound better than the original. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with the Bill Withers-penned original, but Sivuca simply sizzles with joy and exuberance and adds the je ne sais quoi. His accordion comes in from time to time with warm, full and embracing tones, there is driving piano, the odd word from Sivuca sounding like a cool elder statesman and the beat all through is infectious. Then there is that choir – full of heavenly innocence and clarity that appears from time to time – pure perfection.
2. Gene Russell – Talk to My Lady from Talk to My Lady
And on to another re-release from Real Gone Music – this time as part of their mission to re-release of all twenty records on the Black Jazz Records label. Keyboard player Gene Russell was a key man at Black Jazz: producer for all the releases, appearances on several of the recordings and with two albums of his own for the label – including this second release from 1972. It’s a very different offering from the previous year’s New Direction, with Russell leading an electric band with bass player Henry Franklin to the fore and Calvin Keys on guitar. Both players recorded for Black Jazz Records in their own right and we have featured their music on previous shows. The tune has a jazz/funk feel to make the body sway, but with some restraint – this isn’t easy dancefloor stuff. Notably, Russell followed the example of Coltrane by including a surprisingly powerful take of My Favorite Thingson Talk To My Lady. Well worth searching out.
3. Harry Beckett – Third Road from Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain (1965-1972)/Flare Up
Another essential re-release in 2021 was the compilation Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain (1965-1972) compiled by @TheJazzDad Tony Higgins who, along with Mike Peden, has also been responsible for the excellent J Jazz series of re-issues (more of which later). 14 tracks from top British artists, many of whom have not always received the credit they deserved, but whose important music and its influence on contemporary British artists is now being recognised. At the launch of the compilation in August 2021, the UK’s Guardian newspaper highlighted these often under-sung musicians in a useful introduction. Trumpeter Harry Beckett was born in Barbados in 1935 but came to Britain in 1954 and was quickly in demand on numerous sessions, playing for many other musicians including an extended period with British composer Graham Collier. He was in demand enough to be featured on albums by – among others – Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, Nucleus, Stan Tracey and Keith Tippett. Our choice is from his first solo album Flare Up, for which Beckett was able to assemble an impressive array of musicians – John Surman, Alan Skidmore, Mike Osborne, John Taylor and John Webb. Third Road was arranged by the afore-mentioned Graham Collier, for whose band Beckett was a member for over fifteen years.
4. Kurt Elling – Dharma Bums from SuperBlue
We’ve written quite extensively about Chicagoan singer Kurt Elling’s new release on British label Edition Records, his second for the label. Forged from the limitations of Covid, Elling and guitarist Charlie Hunter worked thousands of miles apart to create one of this year’s standout records. Alongside them were drummer Corey Fonville and DJ Harrison, both from funk group Butcher Brown, and the result was a dynamic recording different from anything Elling had previously released – perhaps more akin to the playful funk-driven music of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson (like A Real Mother For Ya) than Mark Murphy. Just listen to (and watch) this live take of Cody Chestnutt’s The Seed for evidence. This time we chose the wonderful Dharma Bums – an explicit reference to the 1958 novel by Jack Kerouac that records Kerouac’s search for enlightenment with Japhy Ryder (a thinly disguised version of poet Gary Snyder) – but there’s a whole set of Beat references across Elling’s superb lyrics, quoted here: Come on! I’ve got a wandering feeling that it’s time for moving on/ The arms upon the clock that’s on the wall are telling me that I’ve been standing still for much too long/ A picture’s always blank before it’s drawn. The night is darkest just before the dawn/ So you bring your tender brains & I can provide the brawn/ Come On! I’ve got a vintage Ford Falcon that is hungry for the road/ The chromium is polished in the knowledge that we’re headed for an altogether distant postal code/ Might I suggest that on the way find the mystic motherlode/ Maybe we can find our just desserts and grab ‘em à la mode!/ ‘Cause when the night falls & stars shed their sparkler dims & don’t you know that God is Pooh-Bear holding out his honeyed paws to both of us from way out there?/ And when the spirit calls and both of us are filled up to the over-brim in that mescal & sage flavored air/ Then you’ll know that you are Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise is me!
5. Gretchen Parlato – Roy Allan (feat. Airto Moreira) from Flor
One of Neil’s favourites this year was from Gretchen Parlato, another jazz artist who chose to do something very different in 2021. Also on Edition Records (what a year they’re having!), Flor is an unexpected delight after Parlato had appeared to drop out of the music scene in 2013 after her early successes. In fact, she had had a child with her husband, drummer Mark Guiliana, and for several years she devoted herself completely to motherhood. So this album arrived after two years of live touring and an enforced quarantine and completely charmed us with its Brazilian spirit and personal vision. The album opens with the gorgeous É Preciso Perdoar, a song by one of Parlato’s touchstones here, João Gilberto. Difficult to get close to any other takes of this song (including the magnificent version by Gilberto and Stan Getz) but Parlato does it. From this point on, the album never looks back. We could have chosen any of the tracks, including the Minuet from Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 or a take on David Bowie’s No Plan. Our choice is one of the late Roy Hargrove’s best tunes, Roy Allan – here transformed into a brilliant samba featuring Airto Moreira. Everything on this outstanding record works – and so is a very worthy Cosmic Jazz recommendation.
6. Da Lata – Jungle Kitten from Jungle Kitten/Asking Eyes
Da Lata are muti-instrumentalist and producer Chris Franck and DJ Patrick Forge and they returned in 2021 with a 12in cover of the underground classic Jungle Kitten by Manfredo Fest, featuring Kaidi Tatham on synths. Like Sivuca and Gretchen Parlato, Neil thinks this take achieves that rare distinction of improving on the original. You can check out Fest’s version here – what do you reckon? Previous albums by Da Lata include the excellent debut Songs from the Tin (2000) and Serious (2003). Their take on Ponteio was released by Far Out Recordings back in 1998 appearing on the excellent Brazilian Love Affair 2 compilation and the corresponding Love Affair 3 also included a De Lata take on Os Escravos de Jo (Jo’s Slaves), a Milton Nascimento/Fernando Brant composition.
7. Doug Carn – Jihad from Revelation
Black Jazz stalwart Doug Carn’s earliest musical influences included his mother, who was a formidable pianist and organist who had gigged with Dizzy Gillespie and knew tenor player Stanley Turrentine and organist Shirley Scott. With his wife Jean, Carn moved to southern California in 1970 and took up residence in an apartment building that also housed Earth, Wind and Fire members and both Carns featured on the band’s first two records in 1971 before signing to the new Black Jazz label. Infant Eyes (which we have featured previously on CJ) was Carn’s first release on the label, with the excellent Spirit of the New Land following in 1972. Revelation is more obviously modal than previous albums and includes Olu Dara (rapper Nas’s father) on trumpet and Rene McLean (Jackie McLean’s son) on flute and alto sax. It was the final release by the Carns as a married couple and also included covers of Coltrane’s Naima and our choice – Rene McLean’s Jihad. In 2020, Carn teamed up with producer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalists Adrian Young and Ali Shaheed Muhammad for one of their Jazz Is Dead releases and the result included the atmospheric Desert Rainwith its hip hop triplets and Carn back on Hammond B3.
8. Yasuhiro Trio + 1 – One – Song of Island from J Jazz Volume 3: Deep Modern Jazz from Japan
One of the many hidden narratives of post-WWII Japan is its long-running jazz scene. This taste for the most American of art forms intensified after the war, when a crackdown on what was considered the music of the enemy ended, the interests of stationed U.S. troops helped reignite the scene, and, later, touring legends found a willing market. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, Japan was a hub of jazz invention, even if much of the music recorded was released on severely limited runs or private presses, meaning it barely travelled within the country, let alone beyond it. Fifty years later, collectors and jazz kissa aficionados (see here) compilers, Higgins and Peden have given us J Jazz Volume 3: Deep Modern Jazz from Japan. This latest instalment opens with Yasuhiro Kohno Trio + One’s Song of Island and a storm of solo piano keys. When the rest of the band enters and the full arrangement kicks in, Kohno’s delightful playing sits perfectly next to guest Masahiro Kanno’s smooth vibraphone as the pair take turns in front. The cymbals don’t so much crash as hum in the background. Like many of the selections in this set, Song of Island was recorded live—polite applause greets the end of the solos—and the mastering work in London preserves a warm, organic sound. There’s evidence here that Japanese jazz drew not just from American sources – there’s West African rhythms (Hiroshi Murakami & Dancing Sphinx), samba jazz (Hideo Shiraki) and – perhaps most bizarrely – flamenco (Eiji Nakayama). It’s a great set and another BBE Records essential.
9. Matt Carmichael – Cononbridge from Where Will the River Flow
Tenor saxophonist Matt Carmichael may be only just starting out in his career, but Where Will the River Flow is already a very assured debut. Just 21, Carmichael was a BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year in 2020 and on this fine record he draws on Scottish folk traditions in a similar way to another of our favourite young musicians from Scotland, Fergus McCreadie (see below). Indeed, McCreadie appears on WWtRF and it’s clear that he and Carmichael work well together – check out this live take on Spey and their fast flowing unison playing. As with McCreadie’s most recent album, Cairn on Edition Records, Carmichael’s original compositions are strong on melody – particularly noticeable on our choice, the title track which again features McCreadie and a torrent of tumbling runs on piano. Thanks once more to Scots music promoter Rob Adams (Twitter: @rabjourno) for this introduction: Matt Carmichael is the real deal – an exciting talent and already an original voice. Jazz trivia from Rob Adams: Cononbridge is named after Carmichael’s home town.
10. Fergus McCreadie – Cairn from Cairn
This is another important release on Edition Records. A wonderfully atmospheric record that moves through the relaxing to the gently strident. Pianist Fergus McCreadie leads a trio with David Bowden on double bass and Stephen Henderson on drums and Cairn is his second record. It’s chockful of beautiful melodies and arrangements and we think it’s beautiful and inspiring music that lifts both soul and spirit. All three members of the trio met at the Royal Conservatoire in Scotland and have been playing together for more than five years. 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. He’s influenced by Scottish traditional music and there is a feel for that and the diversity of the Scottish landscape in the music.
11. William Parker – Painter’s Winter from Painter’s Winter
Bass player William has been very busy this year on the record release front. Painter’s Winter is just one from the list which included a multi-album 10CD re-release. This tune is haunting, eerie and spiritual, sparse and acoustic in sound with Daniel Carter featured on flute, Hamid Drake on drums and Parker on this track playing trombonium. “Painters love the winter, they hunker down and begin masterpieces’” say the sleeve notes to the album and this tune makes it sound like the painters will produce a deeply intense wintry piece of work – and the music is a spare, frosty meditation that repays repeated listening.
12. Lady Blackbird – Blackbird from Black Acid Soul
This is another sparse, stripped-down record, no percussion but bass and piano. and the voice of LA-based singer Lady Blackbird, aka Marley Munroe. What a voice it is too that she possesses and it is illustrated to the full on this Nina Simone tune, with all the power, emotion and despair that the tune evokes. The album has seven covers and four original compositions, with Sam Cooke, Tim Hardin and Irma Thomas being among the covers. Marley Munroe has been around for some time, although she’s still young. She has tried R’n’B and even alt.rock with the sort of outcomes that can be common in the music industry. Black Acid Soul sounds like she has found where she truly belongs in a soulful/bluesy jazz mode. It looks like there should be more exciting sounds to come.
On Cosmic Jazz this time is new music from the UK’s Edition Records, a couple of boundary-stretching remixes, a rare track from the late Marion Brown, contemporary artists such as Vijay Iyer, James Brandon Lewis and a Cuban-Canadian link to end the show. As always, it’s an eclectic mix here at CJ.
Kurt Elling – Superblue from Superblue
Vocalist Kurt Elling takes risks – mixing spoken word, arrangements of avant-garde jazz classics, original compositions and obscure poetry. Declared “the standout male vocalist of our time” by The New York Times, Elling has garnered unprecedented accolades – fourteen years as a DownBeat Critics Poll, awardwinner and a dozen GRAMMY nominations – and his warm, rich baritone is as recognisable as Mark Murphy’s, with whom he shares the same willingness to explore and break musical barriers. There’s always an elegant lyricism whether interpreting the Sufi poetry of Rumi or – as on this new record – interpreting a Tom Waits tune. Secrets Are The Best Stories (2020) was his first for Edition Records and featured renowned pianist and composer Danilo Pérez from Wayne Shorter’s superb quartet. With a freewheeling attitude to verse and interpretation it was a challenging but always rewarding listen. Superblue is different – recorded with members of the jazzfunk/hiphop outfit Butcher Brown alongside guitarist Charlie Hunter, this is a groove-laden record that takes on compositions from the afore-mentioned Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard, includes a raw and stripped-down treatment of Cody Chestnutt’s The Seed, and goes all out with a dazzling take on the Tom Waits tune. The thing is, Elling has still to meet Butcher Brown as – thanks to Covid-19 – their collaboration was recorded remotely with the musicians 1000 miles apart. You wouldn’t know it. Elling revisits the Beat generation again, name-checking Kerouac’s Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in the hipsterish Dharma Bums, a wonderful road trip saga that hooks up with Wait’s grotesque narrative The Circus. Our choice is Elling’s taken on Freddie Hubbard’s fusion gem Super Blue, (a Benard Ighner composition) transformed here with serpentine lyrics into a psychedelic narrative. As an aside, Ighner was the composer of the standard Everything Must Change, made famous by Quincy Jones and with vocals by Ighner himself.
2. Mark Lockheart – Dreamers from Dreamers
British saxophonist Mark Lockheart is also on Edition and has a new album that will be released in early 2022. We’ve got a premiere here for you – the title track is now a single that emerged earlier this month. We’ve heard the complete album and it certainly charts a new path for Lockheart, here in collaboration with Elliot Galvin (Dinosaur, Elliot Galvin Trio) on keys and synths, bass player Tom Herbert (Polar Bear, The Invisible) and Dave Smith (Robert Plant) on drums. Galvin’s use of synths and Herbert’s pedal effects are obvious additions to the sonic portfolio – and it really works here. As Lockheart explained “The grooves, the sonics and the musical character of each piece are all hugely important. The process of writing music for these musicians led me into a new sound world that’s very different from anything I’d done before”. He has identified influences as diverse as John Zorn, Burt Bacharach, Duke Ellington and Kraftwerk – and that makes for an eclectic starting point which is clear in Dreamers. We’ll be returning to this superb new album in future shows.
3. Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh and Tyshawn Sorey – Combat Breathing from Uneasy
This new album is credited to all three musicians – Vijay Iyer on piano, Linda May Han Oh on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Iyer’s previous trio – with Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums – was one of the most significant trios of the 2010s and a group that Neil championed on this show along with Iyer’s solo piano work. I remember playing his remarkable take on Human Nature when that first emerged on the ACT label in 2012 – a genuine rearrangement with rhythmic complexity, a stunning pianistic climax and a real emotional impact. Iyer’s new trio does have a link to the previous one: dark colours, elliptical arrangements and exciting choices of covers, one of which is Cole Porter’s Night and Day – not surprisingly, given a radical overhaul. Our choice is Combat Breathing which Iyer composed after the death of Eric Garner in 2014, amid waves of protest aligned with a then recently coined movement, Black Lives Matter. Here Tyshawn Sorey gives us J Dilla -style chopped up backbeats that work with Iyer’s intense – indeed, ‘uneasy’ – playing, which owes more than a little to McCoy Tyner here. It’s worth watching the live video of this recording from ECM Records but do go and buy this album if you’re looking for cutting-edge piano trio music.
4. Marion Brown – Pepi’s Tempo from Awofofora
Marion Brown, who died in 2010, is another of those jazz artists who should be better known. You’ll find him credited on the sleeve notes for John Coltrane’s Ascension, on Archie Shepp’s Fire Music and on Harold Budd’s The Pavilion of Dreams – and those who know will recognise that as something of a left-field or ‘out there’ collection. In fact, Brown recorded nearly 50 albums as leader over a long career in jazz that began with a first recording on the influential ESP label in 1966. Pepi’s Tempo comes from a 1976 release, Awofofora – and if you see it on vinyl snap it up. The only copy for sale on Discogs comes from Japan and is priced at US$500! Drummer Ed Blackwell and bassist Fred Hopkins are on this one and the music comes across as first cousin to the kind of harmolodic fusion that Ornette Coleman was developing a few years later on records like Of Human Feelings – here’s Love Words from that album.
5. Sean Khan (Kaidi Tatham remix) – Starchild from Supreme Love, A Journey Through Coltrane
Londoner Kaidi Tatham is a busy man. You heard his excellent remix of Nubya Garcia’s on our last show and here he is again with another project – saxophonist Sean Khan’s tribute to the music of John Coltrane, just issued on BBE Records. Intriguingly, there are three parts to this new record: The Future Present mostly comprises material written by or closely associated with Coltrane, reimagined by a plugged in, medium-sized, with-strings-and-harp ensemble that includes takes on Acknowledgement and Afro Blue; The Past has versions of Coltrane standards including Equinox and Impressions; and finally there’s The Future Past with two remixes of Khan originals by broken-beat pioneer Kaidi Tatham. “I made a conscious effort to represent all of Coltrane’s main artistic periods,” says Khan of the album. “From hard bop, to sheets of sound, to spiritual jazz and finally his last, most experimental and cosmic period. I have never heard a record that attempts to reflect all of the great man’s epochs in this way and use the recording artist’s autobiography, my own, as a conduit to these ends. So here I am, for better, for worse.” It’s a noble project and is a very definite Cosmic Jazz recommendation.
6. SunPalace – Rude Movements (Kenny Dope Dancefloor Powder remix) – from Rude Movements: the Remixes
Now this is a quality remix: it has that extended, hypnotic percussion typical of Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzales at his best. Behind the original is an interesting story too: back in 1981, two musicians got together to make a record. Mike Collins played guitar and had just bought a Roland CR78 – the first programmable drum machine. Keith O’Connell played Fender Rhodes piano and Prophet 5 synthesizer. Excited about the quirky and unusual instrumental track they’d composed, neither musician could have predicted what was to follow… Rude Movements is now viewed by many as one of the most influential early electronic dance records: the original version was played by DJ David Mancuso, who used it to devastating effect at his infamous Loft Parties – and, in turn, introduced it to Larry Levan, Frankie Knuckles, David Morales and Kenny Dope, then all young DJs who would go on to develop what we understand by dance music today. BBE Records released this influential track along with an original demo and three other versions in a double vinyl package that includes other SunPalace compositions. The original has an impossible-to-ignore hook and is well worth listening to alongside this remix – check it out here. BBE then delivered a 7” vinyl release of SunPalace edits in 2020 before giving us this year the full versions of Moodymann and Kenny Dope’s remixes, alongside brand new interpretations by François K, Frankie Feliciano and OPOLOPO, plus a special edit by Phil Asher. Neil reckons that the best of these is that Afro-Latin Kenny Dope version – and that’s what we included in the show.
7. Kenny Garrett – For Art’s Sake from Sound from the Ancestors
The experience of hearing Kenny Garrett and his quartet in the close setting of Pizza Express in London was an unforgettable one for Derek. To be able to see this alto saxophonist – who had already an impressive collection of his own recorded music, not to mention his work with Miles Davis – in a close-up environment was almost unreal. Accompanied by his hugely impressive rhythm section, the show was a truly memorable experience. And Garrett is back on disc again in 2021 with his first release since 2016’s Do Your Dance. The new one is on Mack Avenue Records and is called Sounds from the Ancestors. Our featured tune For Art’s Sake (a dedication to Art Blakey) is a good example of Garrett’s approach on this record – remembering the musical ancestry of jazz and including the spirit of African ancestors from church services, recited prayers, songs from the work fields, Yoruban chants and African drums. All this with tributes to Roy Hargrove and those two drum pioneers Art Blakey and Tony Allen. Indeed some tracks feature additional drummers – as on Soldiers of the Fields/Soldats de champs. Here veteran drummer Lenny White and percussionist Rudy Bird join drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. (brother to bassist and singer Thundercat aka Stephen Bruner). Perhaps for the first time, we also get to hear Garrett on electric piano as well as his more familiar alto sax. “The Spirit is in the Sound. You know it when you hear it” say the notes to the record and you can certainly hear it in this music.
8. James Brandon Lewis – Jesup Wagon from Jesup Wagon
We return to tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis who has a new album out that you can expect to hear soon on Cosmic Jazz. But earlier this year, Lewis released what is one of our favourite records of 2021, but this time with his Red Lily Quintet. This album – called Jesup Wagon – aimed to capture the essence of the life, work and vision of Dr. George Washington Carver (1864-1943) who, although most famous for developing multiple uses for peanuts, was something of a Renaissance polymath; an artist, botanist, ecologist, aesthete, musician and teacher. The ‘Jesup Wagon’ was a vehicle he used to take round to Southern farmers to demonstrate new techniques, products and implements and this title tune does indeed have a Southern feel. Lewis opens unaccompanied with a wailing sound announcing the start of the day before moving into a New Orleans rhythm as the wagon sets off for the day. William Parker (one of our current Cosmic Jazz heroes) plays bass on the record and is prominent on this tune.
9. Jane Bunnett – Inolvidable from Spirits of Havana/Chamolongo
Our tradition of ending the show with music that crosses borders continues – even though we appear to have crossed a number of borders already during this show. Canadian soprano saxophonist and flautist Jane Bunnett has appeared previously on the show and is another musician who deserves a wider audience. She founded and currently leads an all-female group Maqueque, and has visited Cuba for over 30 years recording with Cuban musicians. The 1998 Spirits of Havana/Chamolongo double CD brings together two records, the former released in 1992, and is where you should start if you don’t known Bunnett’s music. This 2CD set is interesting on a number of counts, including the vocals by chanteuse Merceditas Valdés, one of Cuba’s greatest interpreters of song. What you hear in her vocals as she accompanies Bunnett is an immersion in the music’s spiritual aspect as they trade phrases and lines together. Also present is Valdés’ husband, percussionist Guillermo Barreto, who passed away just before the release of the first record. Celebrated pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba is part of Bunnett’s Cuban group along with her husband and fellow traveller, Larry Cramer on trumpet and flugelhorn.
Cosmic Jazz this time has a seasonal flavour with three very distinct takes on the jazz chestnut Autumn Leaves. But don’t think we’ve gone all middle-of-the-road with a bunch of schmaltzy tunes – far from it. Take a listen and you’ll see what we mean. We follow this with a journey into the deeply spiritual thanks to the latest live Coltrane music to be uncovered, and we end the show with a couple of the latest Black Jazz Records re-releases.
Rachelle Ferrell – Autumn Leaves from First Instrument
Up first is Rachelle Ferrell whose vocal gymnastics and six octave range is amply demonstrated on this choice from her debut album, First Instrument, released in 1990 on Blue Note. Despite the presence of Terence Blanchard on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor, Michel Petrucciani on piano and Stanley Clarke on bass, it’s not a wholly convincing record – but Autumn Leaves is impressive. Ferrell worked at broadening her reach and went on to have a convincing R&B hit (With Open Arms)but some reviews of more recent live shows have been less than positive. She appears to be an artist who has perhaps not fully realised her talents over the years.
2. Keith Jarrett – Autumn Leaves (Live) from At the Blue Note: The Complete Recordings (Live)
The last time that Keith Jarrett performed in public was at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2017. Then, in a surprise announcement in February 2020, he revealed that – following two strokes in 2018 – it was unlikely that he would ever perform again in public. Neil is one of millions of Jarrett fans who have followed his career from Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis sideman to one of the most respected artists in jazz. He’s probably best known for what came to be called his Standards Trio, playing alongside Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums and our choice for this show comes from a lavish 6CD ECM box set that showcases the Trio’s three nights in 1994 at the Blue Note Club in New York. Thankfully, ECM also recently re-released the single disc first set from the second night on their Touchstones series. It’s this disc that includes Jarrett’s extraordinary 26 minute take on Autumn Leaves. If this sounds indulgent, it’s not. Not a single note is wasted here. Jarrett is on fire, and his characteristic moans and groans only serve to stoke the flames in this performance that build the classic tune into a bravura performance. In three distinct movements, this treatment of Autumn Leaves both celebrates and deconstructs the song, ending with an extended vamp of the kind that Jarrett can do so well. Here, though, it feels like a natural extension to the tune and so there’s a real sense of a return to the core melody. It’s a superb performance that’s supported by the ever-inventive Peacock and DeJohnette. Once heard, this is a tune you’ll come back to again and again.
3. Harold Land feat. Philly Joe Jones – Autumn Leaves (Live) from Westward Bound! (Live)
Now this version of Autumn Leaves may seem much more conventional – but it’s not less interesting. Here at Cosmic Jazz, we like championing under-appreciated saxophonist Harold Land. Rather like Hank Mobley and Billy Harper, Land is a first-tier saxophonist whose work over the years has not always been fully appreciated – perhaps until now. Just as with Mobley and the superb Tone Poet reissues, more listeners have heard Land as a result of the vinyl revival that has seen more re-releases from his extensive back catalogue. Land joined the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet in 1954 and went on to lead his own groups with Bobby Hutcherson and Blue Mitchell. In the 1970s he adopted a tone and style more influenced by Coltrane, as shown on his two recordings for the Mainstream label. His wonderful record with the young Japanese pianist Makoto Terashita is another tour de force – here he is on the superb DragonDance. The collection of 1962-65 live dates on Westward Bound! were all recorded at The Penthouse in Seattle, Washington with some stellar musicians including Hampton Hawes, Carmell Jones, Buddy Montgomery and (as here) Philly Joe Jones on drums. Mastered by the ubiquitous Kevin Gray with an extensive booklet including an essay by jazz historian Michael Cuscuna and interviews with saxophonists Joe Lovano and Sonny Rollins, this superbly recorded disc was a 2021 Record Store Day special but is now available in all three formats and is a CJ recommendation.
4. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme Pt. II – Resolution (Live) from A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle
We’re in Seattle again for this record – also recorded live at The Penthouse Club – but this time in October 1965, just three months after the Land performance at the same venue. A lot has been said already about this historic release – for example, on Ken Micallef’s Jazz Vinyl Audiophile site – but it’s worth adding some essential background here. This is not the first live version of the A Love Supreme suite to be released: that honour goes to the live in Antibes set, released in 1998 and described at the time as the only live performance of A Love Supreme on record. But now we have another version – and it’s a whole lot more compelling. At Antibes, Coltrane’s classic quartet stick to the piece’s essential form, but here the augmented band clearly feel free to explore more new territory. Remarkably, although Coltrane was at an acknowledged peak of popularity with his jazz audience, on this evening he was playing at a small venue with a 275 people cap – and so perhaps that was one of the reasons why he wanted to consciously take his music to a different place. With Coltrane on tenor sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums – the Impulse! quartet – we also have Pharoah Sanders on tenor, multi-instrumentalist Donald Garrett on second bass, and Carlos Ward sitting in on alto sax. Both Sanders and Coltrane are also credited with percussion. The result? This is an electrifying performance: as Micallef says “Put on your safety belt and get ready to ride the waves of this incredible performance.” Micallef also makes some useful points about the relationship between the quality of the recorded sound and the quality of the performance itself. and how the rhythm section is informed by the three horn lineup. Resolution epitomises the density and emotional impact of this music. It’s a rollercoaster ride but an immersive experience that you just have to listen to.
5. Calvin Keys – Proceed with Caution from Proceed With Caution
And we end with one of our frequent visits to Black Jazz Records and two more re-releases from Real Gone Music who are working their way through all twenty releases on this iconic label. This time, we’ve got the second album from guitarist Calvin Keys along with the fourth and final release on the label from Doug Carn. Up first is Keys from 1974 on another album that contains the range regular listeners will have come to expect from a Black Jazz album – there’s post-bop, soul jazz and a little funk on this date. Keys is well supported by Charles Owens on saxophones and flute, Oscar Brashear on trumpet, Al Hall Jr. on trombone, Kirk Lightsey on Fender Rhodes, Henry Franklin on bass and Leon ‘Ndugu’ Chancler on drums. Proceed with Caution – which, like the other tracks an original composition – starts with a dreamy, Wes Montgomery-style mode and ends with fast driving bop licks with great flue and Fender solos in between. Other tracks are similarly inventive, with Aunt Lovey something of a standout here, as Keys turns on his best funky Grant Green tone.
6. Doug Carn – Sanctuary from Adam’s Apple
The selection from keyboard player Doug Carn was also released in 1974 and is noted for including young saxophonist Ronnie Laws, who had worked with Earth, Wind and Fire before that band’s big commercial breakthrough. Of the others, guitarists Nathan Page and Calvin Keys had both performed with organist Jimmy Smith. Carn frequently added lyrics to established jazz classics and on this album he gives this treatment to Wayne Shorter’s tune Sanctuary with then wife Jean Carn(e) on vocals. The tune had surfaced first on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew from 1970 and appears as a reflective coda on the fourth side of the original album. Here’s that original version. It’s a pity that this was Carn’s final record for Black Jazz, as there is real evidence here of his move in a different direction – Adam’s Apple is more funky, more electronic and more risky than the three earlier sets. Even the cover is different too – gone is the Black Jazz house style, replaced here with a white background and a silkscreen style repeated image. In 2015 Carn revisited some of his Black Jazz catalogue, recording versions of songs from these four records on My Spirit, a live recording from the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, California.
It’s been a while, but there’s British jazz (both past and present and with a strong showing from Scotland), the latest from the wonderful Kenny Garrett, a return to Poland and Belgium, some Latin touches and two more new Black Jazz Records re-releases.
Steve Williamson – Down (Slang) from A Waltz for Grace
This 1990 record was the recording debut of this great under-rated British tenor and soprano saxophonist. Even at the young age of 25, Williamson had an original tenor sound with something of an M Base feel, but he’s not limited to this more abstract style. His soprano sax is as characteristic as his tenor playing, although this album is something of a mixed bag. Williamson likes to work with vocalists – the late Abbey Lincoln can be heard on the title track on this record and his next (Rhyme Time, 1992) featured Cassandra Wilson. Williamson likes to experiment and one of his most successful records is the intriguing #One for the Babel label which features Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas and some very spiky compositions. Derek notes that Steve Willamson once played with friends of his, the British reggae band Misty in Roots. As Steve said in an interview with UK Vibe It was amazing! ‘Misty In Roots’ used to play places like Russia and East Germany, while the wall was still up. All these places like Warsaw in Poland. It was fascinating, amazing and a real education. And – as a reminder of the record that DJ John Peel often listed as his favourite record – here’s Sodome and Gomorra from Live at The Counter Eurovision 79.
2. Colin Steele Quintet – The London Heist from The Journey Home
We’re returning once more to this second album from Scottish trumpeter Colin Steele simply because it’s very good. Rather like pianist Fergus McCreadie he’s turned to his homeland for inspiration and in doing so creates a strong identity incorporating elements of Gaelic folk music that course through the strong melodies throughout the record. Aidan O’Donnell’s bass can sound like a drone and Julian Arguelles’ soprano sax takes on the tones of the Uillean pipes. Beyond that, there’s Lee Morgan style hard bop and hints of both Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter, with Steele giving us something of the delicacy of Chet Baker too. Veteran Scottish drummer John Rae provides solid back up too. The lasting impression of this recommended record is the quality of Steele’s compositions: in addition to our featured track, The Journey Home is memorable and the closing Variations on a Dream just one tune that will ‘earworm’ its way into your head.
3. Fergus McCreadie – North from Cairn
We’ve said a lot in the last few months about the brilliant Fergus McCreadie – but it bears repeating. This young Scots pianist is signed to one of Britain’s best jazz labels, the ever-enterprising Edition Records. 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. Cairn is McCreadie’s second record and is chockful of beautiful melodies and arrangements. North is just one of those. The trio’s sound owes something of a debt to EST but McCreadie is definitely his own man. Backed by bassist David Bowden with Stephen Henderson on drums, there’s that blend of jazz and Scottish traditional music again and – just as on his first record – the music is inspired by the diversity of his native landscape. Cairn will surely consolidate McCreadie’s presence as a composer, pianist and trio leader with its combination of contemporary influences and mesmerising playing. This is a record to savour in whatever format you prefer – the download and CD are available direct from Edition Records here, but sadly the stunning-looking vinyl first pressing is now sold out, although you might be able to track down reissue copies in your independent record store.
4. Confusion Project – On the Other Hand from The Future Starts Now
It’s been a while since we visited continental Europe – and Poland in particular. So it was time to return. As ever, we acknowledge the contribution of Steve’s Jazz Sounds – an essential source for this music. Confusion Project are a trio founded in Gdansk in 2013 with drummer Adam Golicki, Michal Ciesielski on piano and Piotr Gierszewski on bass guitar. This is from the second of their three albums, with a fourth due for release soon. On the Other Hand is a tune that is still, calm, strong on melody and – like much of their music – includes complex rhythms. Over the years, the band have supported various reforestation projects and have overseen the planting of more than a thousand trees across the world.
5. Aga Derlak Trio – The Word from Healing
This is a trio led by Polish pianist Agnieszka Derlak . She is an alumnus of Berklee College, where she was under the guidance of Danilo Perez and the Katowice Music Academy. Healing is from their second album released in 2017, with all the compositions by Derlak. This band is a classic jazz trio with piano, double bass and drums. The music is introvert, contemplative, dare we say even portraying Polish melancholy. It is spare, minimalist, intelligent and incredibly beautiful. There are no grand statements, no great solos yet its seeming gentleness conjures up haunting images and some considerable complexity.
6. Jelle Van Giel Group – Cape Good Hope from Songs for Everyone
This seven-piece group led by drummer Jelle Van Giel takes us to Antwerp, Belgium. Songs for Everyone was their debut album and is very definitely in the modal jazz vein. Cape Good Hope is a beautiful, accessible, melodic tune – like so much of their music – with subtle echoes of South African jazz. The official bio describes Jelle’s strength as arranging a visual story around lyrical themes that touch you – undoubtedly fair and apt comment. Many of the tunes will leave you humming them with pleasant delight when they’re over, but if that suggests they might be lightweight, then think again. This is classic jazz in the modal tradition but with a definite contemporary feel.
7. Kenny Garrett – It’s Time to Come Home (Original) from Sounds from the Ancestors
He’s back! Altoist Kenny Garret has long been a Cosmic Jazz favourite and Sounds From the Ancestors is his twentieth album as leader. There’s the expected expressiveness and assurance of tone, with some of those screams and wails that intensify the emotion. There are two tributes – the funky Hargrove is for trumpeter Roy Hargrove who died earlier this year and For Art’s Sake – an homage to drummer Art Blakey, in whose band Garrett learned his chops. The saxophonist has long been interested in musical styles from other parts of the world, and this record is no exception as it includes two tunes that blend African and Afro-Cuban and African. We featured the restrained opener, It’s Time to Come Home with its loping Latin groove, accentuated by Rudy Bird’s hand percussion. The title track starts with Garrett’s playing piano, before bursting into an Afrobeat groove and unruly Yoruba vocals by LA vocal veteran Dwight Trible.
8. Nucleus – Phaideaux Corner from Alley Cat
Back to the trumpet and the late and very great Ian Carr and his influential band Nucleus. Remembered as the partner to Don Rendell in a superb British jazz group of the 1960s, Carr went on to form Nucleus, one of the first jazzrock groups. Over a 20 year career, Nucleus released 12 albums, using an ever-changing personnel. More music has emerged since then, including some memorable live albums. In fact, it’s worth checking out the Nucleus Wikipedia entry just to see how many British jazz musicians passed through their doors – some 45 players are listed, including Harry Beckett, Kenny Wheeler, Tony Coe and Neil Ardley. Carr was not only a fine trumpeter and flugelhorn player but a notable biographer too – his work on both Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett is required reading. The Davis biography is full of insights on the life and music of the legend, including Miles’s dark reclusive period – 1975-1980. With access to the inner circle of Davis’s friends and associates, Carr includes interviews with Max Roach, George Russell, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, Joe Zawinul and Paul Buckmaster. Carr also generously quotes from other critics, including Washington Post writer Gene Russell who introduced a review of a 1974 concert by describing Davis as leading his exploring party through a dense electronic rain forest. Sensing a clearing, Davis extends his fingers in a signal and his group halts motionless as a soprano sax, electric guitar or even the leader’s trumpet slips ahead alone, reporting what he sees… It’s quoted here because this writing inspired Neil to invest more time in his jazz writing.
9. Nubya Garcia – La cumbia ne esta llama (Kaidi Tatham remix) from Source # We Move
Jazz saxophonist, composer and Mercury Prize nominee Nubya Garcia has announced a full-length reimagining of her debut album Source, released just a couple of days before this edition of Cosmic Jazz. There’s a host of remixed track including this excellent one from fellow Londoner Kaidi Tatham. Also in on the project is Georgia Anne Muldrow, KeiyaA, Moses Boyd, and more. Garcia completely distinct tone remains securely in place though and the remixes are – for the most part – subtle and intriguing. If you like Garcia’s tone on saxophone, then this one is for you. Tatham’s reworking is one of the best ,and the way his ‘drop’ at three minutes in is followed by a Herbie Hancock-inflected solo is very effective. Excellent artwork too…
10. Pucho & his Latin Soul Brothers – Maiden Voyage from The Best of Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers
Neil has recently been weeding out his extensive collection of CDs – but not before many of them had been stored on a capacious new hard drive. One of these was the Pucho anthology which includes this take on Herbie Hancock’s meditative Maiden Voyage. Not surprisingly, this uptempo take has the timbales of Henry ‘Pucho’ Brown well to the fore. Jazz icon Chick Corea was a former member of this band that got a new lease of life in the Acid Jazz years of the 1980s, when Neil saw him perform in the UK. The Best of… compilation includes 17 tracks from Pucho’s 1966-1970 heyday, intelligently weighted toward his most dance groove-oriented original material and covers, and eliminating the routine pop covers that filled out some of his LPs and so Canteloupe Island joins Maiden Voyage along with other Pucho hits, including Soul Yamie and Strange Thing Mambo.
11. Doug Carn – Mighty Mighty from Adam’s Apple
We are pleased to announce that our friends at Real Gone Music are still releasing more from the Black Jazz Records label and – as ever – each one has a limited vinyl edition, this time with 750 copies only. Doug Carn is a multi-instrumentalist, known principally for his piano and keyboard playing and Adam’s Apple (to be released in December) was the last of the four records for Black Jazz – this time without vocalist Jean Carn. The record features future star Ronnie Laws on reeds and Calvin Keys (see below) on electric guitar. Mighty, Mighty (yes, the Earth, Wind and Fire tune) has an uptempo, gospel feel, complete with almost distant-sounding choir providing the feel-good factor. There’s a good cover of Wayne Shorter’s Sanctuary and the title tune owes something of an allegiance to Shorter’s composition of the same name but is, in fact, a Doug Carn tune with some great keys from Carn himself. Like all these Black Jazz re-releases there are extensive liner notes from Pat Thomas. It is worth quoting from the notes on this album: Adam’s Apple is more energetic, funky, and futuristic than Carn’s earlier Black Jazz work. Inshort, sublime.”
12. Calvin Keys – Night Cry from Proceed with Caution
To follow Doug Carn with a tune from Proceed With Caution by Calvin Keys, is to illustrate the variety of Black Jazz Records. It’s by no means all funky, uptempo jazz. Proceed With Caution was originally released in 1974 and again is now released on vinyl (for the first time ever) with just 750 copies. On the record is legendary drummer Leon ‘Ndugu’ Chancler, along with fellow Black Jazz mainstays Henry Franklin on bass, Kirk Lightsey on keyboards, and Charles Owens on sax and flute. For Calvin Keys, the record was a leap forward from what he had delivered before as he told Pat Thomas for the sleeve notes: I started going to the Los Angeles School of Music studying orchestrations and I was putting it to use! The album includes some long, reflective and deep tunes including our choice of Night Cry.
13. Orquesta Akokan – Llegue con mi Rumba V2 from 16 Rayos
Orquesta Akokan are a Grammy nominated Cuban/New York based ensemble – and this album is the result of a dialogue between artists living in the United States and Cuba. 16 Rayos was recorded at the legendary Egrem Studios in Havana and is available from Daptone Records. The band is the brainchild of its three leaders – lead vocalist and composer José ‘Pepito’ Gómez, Chulo Record’s Jacob Plasse and arranger Michael Eckroth, with each bringing their experience working with Latin powerhouses to the table. Following the success of their debut album, Orquesta Akokán returned to Cuba, drawing inspiration from folklore and religious tradition to stretch the boundaries of mambo conventions. This second album expands their sound with the addition of strings and there’s a traditional Cuban feel merging the folkloric congo rhythm from Santiago de Cuba with the power of the mambo horns and some strong, forceful vocals. Drawing on the deep spiritual traditions rooted in West Africa but expressed through Cuban music , this is real uplift for the soul and release for the body. Akokan, by the way, is the Yoruba word used by Cubans to mean ‘from the heart’ – or simply ‘soul’.
The release of the wonderful new compilation Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain (1965-1972) – which is being followed by the vinyl release of seminal albums by several featured artists – provided the inspiration to produce a programme of all British jazz. It’s an exciting mixture of music with a range of styles demonstrating that British jazz has always had endless invention, world class musicians and distinctive voices of its own.
Mike Westbrook – Collective Improvisation from Metropolis
We like to start the show with a piece of music that is dramatic, powerful and makes you pay attention. This week is no exception – in fact it is a shining example. Pianist and composer Mike Westbrook wrote Metropolis, a jazz interpretation of a day in the life of the city of London, during 1968-69. Over the years, the piece has been played in various configurations from four to twenty-five musicians. This track is from the twenty-five musicians version, written with an Arts Council bursary and first performed at the Mermaid Theatre, London, 18 May, 1969. The opening track on this album (simply, Side 1, Track 1), is a collective improvisation and a mighty impressive one. It includes Malcolm Griffiths and Paul Rutherford on trumpets, Mike Osborne and Ray Warleigh on alto saxes, Harry Miller on bass, John Marshall on drums, Mike Westbrook on piano, with solos from Alan Skidmore on tenor (who appeared as bandleader in our last Cosmic Jazz show) and Dave Holdsworth on trumpet.
2. The Joe Harriott & Amancio D’Silva Quartet – Jaipur from Hum Dono/Impressed
The occasion of this all-British show is the release of Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain 1965-72, but Tony Higgins (who compiled and wrote the invaluable sleeve notes for this release) has been involved in other British jazz re-release compilations with DJ and label owner Gilles Peterson. Two releases emerged from this collaboration – Impressed and Impressed 2 – and we featured tracks from both on this show. Each are testament to the long-established diversity in terms of heritage and nationality on the British jazz scenes. Tenor sax player Joe Harriott was born in Kingston, Jamaica and became one of the most original and powerful jazz musicians of the post-war era in Britain. Guitarist Amancio D’Silva was born in Goa and was at one time employed by the Maharajah of Jaipur. Both Harriott and D’Silva recorded albums under their own names. You’ll also hear Dave Green on bass, Bryan Spring on drums, Ian Carr on trumpet and Norma Winstone MBE (born in Bow, East London) who provides her trademark wordless vocals. Winstone recently celebrated her 80th birthday (23 September) and remains a tireless performer on the jazz scene. Hum Dono (recorded in 1969 and re-released in 2015 ) was actually her first recording and is well worth seeking out. With her then-husband pianist John Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, she performed and recorded three albums for the ECM label as a member of the trio Azimuth (no relation to the Brazilian trio with a similar name). These were issued as a 3CD box set in 1994 and are an excellent introduction to Winstone’s vocal prowess. Her own 1987 album Somewhere Called Home, also on ECM, has often been called a classic – the AllMusic review notes “It’s not only a watermark of Winstone’s career but, in the long line of modern vocal outings released since the romantic vocal tradition of Fitzgerald and Vaughan ended with free jazz and fusion, the disc stands out as one most original yet idyllic of vocal jazz recordings… A must for fans looking for something as cozy as a golden age chanteuse, but without all the gymnastic scatting and carbon copy ways of many a contemporary jazz singer.”
3. The Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet – Prayer from Dusk Fire
There are several musicians in this first section of the show that Derek has seen live over the years. They include Mike Westbrook – with on one occasion Norma Winstone, Tubby Hayes and Harry Beckett – but the first (and the one that got him into jazz) was probably the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet. Tenor/soprano saxophonist/clarinettist Don Rendell and trumpet/flugelhorn player Ian Carr led an inventive quintet that developed a unique and distinctive British sound that was very definitely not re-working US jazz. Dave Green was on bass (as he was on Jaipur above), Trevor Tompkins on drums and the ever-creative Michael Garrick on piano. Prayer was, in fact, a Garrick composition and reflected his spiritual interests – indeed, Derek saw him perform once on the organ of Norwich Cathedral where he played music from his album Jazz Praises, originally recorded at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Prayer is a superb choice from this album: Garrick’s composition and his piano contributions are stunning and Rendell’s clarinet playing has immense presence. This is one of our favourite albums from this quintet and we’ll continue to sing its praises: it’s available on a single CD with the earlier Shades of Blue record and – if you can find it – on a superb vinyl pressing from Jazzman Records, who located and acquired the original analogue master tapes from the Universal vaults, created masters at Abbey Road Studios and produced audiophile quality pressings which sound superb.
4. Tubby Hayes and The Paul Gonsalves All Stars – Don’t Fall Off The Bridge from Change of Setting/Impressed 2
To hear saxophonist Tubby Hayes live was a truly memorable event. Derek remembers a performance on a warm summer’s evening to a packed crowd at the Bull’s Head, Barnes Bridge sometime in the late 1960s. From 1957 to 1959, Hayes joined Ronnie Scott in co-leading a quintet, the Jazz Couriers – one of the most fondly remembered British jazz groups. Unusually for the time, Hayes also played in the US, performing at the Half Note in New York, the Boston Jazz Workshop and Shelly Manne’s Manne-hole in Los Angeles. Back in London, Hayes formed his own big band, working in television, film and radio, and even having his own television series (1961–1962, and 1963) but by the mid-1960s it was harder for British jazz musicians to make a living as touring jazzmen. Hayes was also compromised by his own lifestyle, with a combination of relationship, alcohol and narcotic issues which, by the end of the 1960s, had begun to publicly affect his career. With heart problems complicating his situation, it was perhaps not unexpected that Hayes died at the age of 38 during a second heart operation. Almost all of his records have now been reissued on CD and there’s an excellent CD box set available of the Fontana records. Saxophonist Simon Spillett is a notable Hayes scholar and has published a very readable biography, The Long Shadow of the Little Giant and in 2015 a DVD documentary Tubby Hayes: A Man in Hurry appeared – see the trailer here. Our choice of tune can be found on the Impressed 2 compilation and originally appeared on Hayes’ 1967 album Change of Setting. US sax player Paul Gonsalves was a member of Duke Ellington’s band but the remainder of his All-Stars on this record were British and included Tony Coe on alto and Ronnie Scott on tenor. Again, this album was recorded at the celebrated Lansdowne Studios in London and the track title refers to the middle passage (or bridge) of this modal tune.
5. Harry Beckett – Third Road from Flare Up/Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain (1965-1972)
Trumpeter Harry Beckett was another Caribbean musician active in the UK: a Barbadian born in 1935 who moved to the UK in his late teens and played (uncredited) trumpet in the 1962 British film noir All Night Long along with other contemporary luminaries of the London jazz scene (including Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck who were in the country at the time). Watch the film (here’s the original trailer – a London-centred take on Shakespeare’s Othello – and you’ll see Tubby Hayes in there too… On CJ, we have previously played Harry Beckett’s emotional, warm and calming duet with Mike Westbrook at the end of the Metropolis record featured above (Metropolis IX). The tune draws comparisons with Stan Tracy/Bobby Wellins’ Starless and Bible Black: both are essential pieces of music that you will play time and time again. In a long career, Beckett played with many of the top names in British jazz including John Surman, Mike Gibbs, Stan Tracey and more besides. One of his final records was a dub-centred experiment with Adrian Sherwood from On-U Sounds – this is Something Special. Third Road appeared on Flare Up, Beckett’s debut album and takes some inspiration from the second great Miles Davis quintet but is both funkier and freer. The group is something of an all-star set up with a triple-sax front line is comprised of John Surman, Mike Osborne and Alan Skidmore. Frank Ricotti is on vibes and an uncredited John Taylor appears on Fender Rhodes. The record was reissued by Jazzprint in 2005, and contains excellent liner notes by noted British jazz writer Richard Williams – whose thebluemoment blog is always good reading. Flare Up is pretty much essential listening for anyone interested in British jazz from this most creative period. Third Road and three other tunes were written and arranged by Graham Collier, another undersung British jazz pioneer.
6. Jazz Jamaica – War from Motorcity Roots
In 1991, and inspired by the rhythms of traditional Jamaican music, Gary Crosby – one of Britain’s leading jazz bass players – gathered a group of musicians to play a fusion of mento, ska, reggae and jazz alongside Jamaican folksongs. The result was Jazz Jamaica. As the nephew of veteran Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin, it was perhaps not surprising that Crosby should move in this direction. With an expanded line up that included guest soloists, including Andy Sheppard, Soweto Kinch and Alex Wilson, Jazz Jamaican morphed into the Jazz Jamaica All Stars, a 20-piece band featuring vocals, five saxophones, four trumpets, and four trombones with a rhythm section of double bass, piano, drums, guitar and percussion. Motorcity Roots – a reworking of classic Motown songs was released in 2005 – we chose Edwin Starr’s powerful War.
7. Emma-Jean Thackray – Our People from Yellow
We are loving this outstanding new release from British trumpeter Emma-Jean Thackray and featured another track this week. The sources of inspiration on this eclectic record are hugely diverse but there’s one that might go unnoticed: as a teenager in Yorkshire, Thackray was the principal trumpeter in her local brass band and the use of brass here, with a sousaphone joining the trombone, trumpet, and saxophone, seems to hark back to that tradition – itself something of a reflection of New Orleans brass too. This sits very happily alongside the more ‘cosmic’ hippieish influences on this (literally) delightful record. With choral hooks like “To listen is to know and to know is to love”, “The sun it grows us… The sun is life” and “We are all our people… We are one and the same” you’ll come away from this record feeling challenged, rewarded and – hopefully – at peace.
8. Laura Jurd – Jumping In from Stepping Back, Jumping In
Another UK trumpeter, Mercury-prize nominated Laura Jurd, works in a dazzling array of contexts including Dinosaur, her experimental jazz quartet which uses electronica, Celtic folk, world music influences in a successful a neo-fusion mash-up. Jurd seems to constantly push against the constraints of whatever lineup she works in. She emerged through the ranks of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra but also featured in the atmospheric post-rock outfit Blue-Eyed Hawk, played the Miles Davis role in a reimagining of Sketches of Spain, added a string quartet to a jazz trio and with Stepping Back, Jumping In moves from a kind of edgy minimalism to a Bartok-flavoured mid-European folk. But other influences are thrown in too – British-Iranian composer Soosan Lolavar plays the santoor (a kind of hammered dulcimer) and our opening track choice features guitarist Rob Luft on banjo. Another track, Companion Species, is an extraordinary nine minute piece written by the Norwegian Ansja Lauvdal and Heida K Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck, where the collision of styles is described by Guardian reviewer John Lewis as “something that resembles the Art Ensemble of Chicago entering Afrobeat territory”. The result of all this is a somewhat schizophrenic record that doesn’t entirely work – but you can’t knock the endless invention.
9. Camilla George Quartet – Mami Wati Returns/Usoro from Isang
At this stage of the programme we featured British artists that Derek has heard more recently. He saw Camilla George and Sarah Tandy playing together as part of the Camilla George Quintet at the start of August at Snape Maltings in Suffolk. They are both on this tune along with Femi Koleoso on drums and Daniel Casimir on bass – who also appeared at Snape. Mami Wati Returns/Usoro continues the tradition in British jazz of drawing upon the diverse heritages of the players. On the album Isang, George references both the land of her birth (Nigeria) and the Grenadian side of her family background along with references to West African folktales – Mami Wati is an African water spirit who appears in the shape of a mermaid. Interestingly, George has performed in Jazz Jamaica – reflecting a recurrent theme in this programme that there has always been close links among the different generations of British jazz musicians.
10. Sarah Tandy – Snake In The Grass from Infection In The Sentence
One of the best of the new crop of British musicians is keyboardist Sarah Tandy, whose invention is always a joy to behold. The music simply flow out of her and she makes it all look so relaxed, easy, and almost nonchalant. On Cosmic Jazz we loved her album Infection in the Sentence and it’s always worth featuring another tune from this highly recommended record – this time Snake in the Grass. As we’ve indicated before, there are plans for a follow-up release – perhaps by the end of the year – but until then check out her 2019 release, available here on Bandcamp.
11. Binker Golding – Fluorescent Black from Abstractions of Reality Past & Incredible Feathers
Which brings us finally to another fine British musician who Neil has seen performing in London – saxophonist Binker Golding who is linked to Gary Crosby through his Tomorrow’s Warriors programme – indeed, he’s now the Musical Director of the Tomorrow’s Warriors Youth Orchestra. As a prolific sideman Golding has performed with an impressive array of cross-generational jazz talent including vocalist Zara McFarlane, pianists Sarah Tandy and Ashley Henry and bands such as Moses Boyd’s Exodus and Maisha – all of whom have featured previously on Cosmic Jazz. Parallel to his other musical activities, Golding also leads a long running quartet featuring the talents of three more rising stars of the London jazz scene, pianist Joe Armon-Jones, bassist Daniel Casimir and drummer Sam Jones. These three regularly work together as a unit and also form part of saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s highly regarded quartet. Abstractions… represents Golding’s much anticipated début in the classic saxophone led quartet format. The album was recorded at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London and mixed in New York by the celebrated recording engineer James Farber, who has worked with such giants of the music as saxophonists Joe Lovano and Michael Brecker and pianist Brad Mehldau. Golding says “It’s about experiences I had throughout my teenage years and twenties. It’s about remembering, forgetting, thinking you’ve forgotten and remembering again. It’s about people and friends that you’ll never see again and times that you can’t go back to, so you have to settle for the memory of them instead, whilst holding on to some hope for the future”. In this wholly acoustic quartet format Golding’s playing has been compared to that of saxophone greats such as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane – and, yes, there’s something re-assuringly conventional about Golding’s sound here, particularly when compared to his more abstract, freely structured recordings with Moses Boyd. The writing is firmly within the jazz tradition and the result is is more like a conventional Blue Note record from the 1960s – but this is clearly a deliberate intention on Golding’s part. Fluorescent Black is the closing tune and – fittingly – features Golding at his most Coltrane-like as he stretches out on tenor around an infectious riff based theme. It’s an impressive album and one well worth hearing – especially on vinyl. You can get it directly from his Bandcamp site here. The black wax version is still available, including in a rather nice gatefold Japanese edition shipped in limited quantities to the US and UK.
The show this week starts with some tunes where the music is stripped back to essentials, moves on to contemporary British sounds and then later includes some classic British jazz. There’s a slot for one of Miles Davis’ last recordings from a live concert in Vienne, France and we end with an interesting Cuban/US musical merger.
1. Samara Joy – Stardust from Samara Joy
Eighteen year old US vocalist Samara Joy has her debut album released on the London-based indie label Whirlwind Records. The Bronx-born singer graduated this year from Purchase College in New York State but – more importantly for us – won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal competition for 2019. Previous winners have included Cosmic Jazz favourite Jazzmeia Horn so it made good sense to check out Samara Joy. That win opened the jazz door for Joy and she recorded her self-titled album earlier this year with guitarist Pasquale Grasso, double bass player Ari Roland and drummer Kenny Washington. They provide intricate but delicate and subtle backing on this album of classics from the American songbook and this trio alongside the emotional power of Samara Joy’s voice provide interesting interpretations – as can be heard on the Hoagy Carmichael/Mitchell Parish standard Stardust, recorded by Nat King Cole and a host of others. It’s a difficult tune to play or sing but among Neil’s favourite versions would be this superb one from John Coltrane and Willie Nelson’s 1978 take that demonstrated he was much more than just a country singer. Joy gives this classic tune a kind of candid simplicity that feels like the jazz equivalent of bedroom folk – a young woman reflecting on her future life. It’s an affecting combination and, whilst the record has few surprises, this is an engaging debut from a singer with huge promise.
2. Cassandra Wilson – Blue Light Til Dawn from Blue Light Til Dawn
The gentle use of electric instrumentation on Samara Joy prompted the selection of a tune from an album where the vocalist made minimal use of electric sounds – namely Cassandra Wilson’s superb Blue Note debut Blue Light Til Dawn. Released back in 1993 this album has truly stood the test of time, still sounding cool and contemporary. In 2014 Blue Note re-released the record to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Wilson’s European tour based on the album, with three additional live recordings. The album has a strong blues element with two Robert Johnson tunes, classic soul from Ann Peebles tune and two sublime takes on Joni Mitchell’s Black Crow and Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey. The album also has three of Cassandra Wilson’s own compositions, including the title track we featured on the show.
3. William Parker – Happiness from Painter’s Winter
Bass player William Parker is a jazz man of the moment. There seems to be a stream of releases from him of which Painters Winter is one of the most recent. William Parker plays trombonium and shakuhachi as well as bass, Daniel Carter is on trumpet, alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet and flute and Hamid Drake on drums – a trio who first played together in the early 1970s and have kept in touch. The music takes the show further along in an acoustic vein, but the music sound heavy, deep and intensive. William Parker describes the journey in his sleeve notes Daniel Carter, Hamid Drake and William Parker are on the road called ‘Happiness’ looking for rare flowers. Flowers without preset chords yet changing moods tempos and colors according to the story they are telling.
4. Emma-Jean Thackray – Venus from Yellow
Meanwhile, Emma-Jean Thackray is a jazz trumpeter of the moment and Yellow is her first full length release. Initial reviews suggested a mix of Sun Ra, Flying Lotus, Funkadelic and Alice Coltrane but on listening this is simply an album that works. Thackray may have said that she approached the record “by trying to simulate a life-changing psychedelic experience” – which explains something of the overall sound of this great new record – but mixing disco and New Orleans brass, soaring string arrangements and a vocal choir has resulted in an album that easily earns our recommendation. For an insight into Thackray’s thinking about Yellow, check out her recent interview with New York’s Jazz Vinyl Lover Ken Micallef.
5. GoGo Penguin – Signal in the Noise from GoGo Penguin
We’ve championed GoGo Penguin since their first record Fanfares which appeared in 2012, and the self-titled GoGo Penguin is their fifth full length album. Emerging from Manchester, this trio – pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Rob Turner – are located in that hinterland between EST, Aphex Twin and Phillip Glass – minimalism, trip hop, electronica and, of course, jazz. In 2015 they signed to Blue Note with the powerful A Humdrum Star appearing in 2018. It was at this time Neil saw the trio at the Singapore Jazz Festival (see photo) and was hugely impressed by their performance. Now in their mid-30s, GoGo Penguin make crisp, confident trio music that’s beautifully recorded – especially Nick Blacka’s bass on tracks like Atomised – here in an excellent live version – and also one of the tracks that was remixed on a follow up release, GGP/RMX.
6. Bernard Maseli Septet – Jerks at the Audience from Good Vibes of Milian
Jerzy Milian played vibraphone in Krzysztof Komeda’s band in the late 1950s before becoming a composer, arranger, leader and conductor of numerous bands and orchestras in Poland. He was a long-time leader of the Polish Radio and Television Entertainment Orchestra in Katowice writing pop music, jazz and ballet, film, symphonic and opera scores. Remarkably, in the 1980s the night-time UK BBC2 test pattern – which was accompanied by background music – included pieces by Jerzy Milian and this led to the formation of a cult group of fans who would gather together to play their off-screen recordings of the music. For this tribute to Milian’s compositions, four Polish vibraphonists got together and recorded Good Vibes of Milian live at a Polish music festival in 2017. The band was led by Bernard Maseli on vibes and marimba accompanied by vibists Bartosz Pieszka, Dominik Bukowski and Karol Szymanowski with Bogusław Kaczmar on piano, Michał Kapczuk on double bass and Marcin Jahr on drums. The album is available here on Bandcamp. For more music from Jerzy Milian himself, you could start with the rare album Ashkabad Girl which was re-released in 2003 on Obuh Records. There were only 350 hand numbered copies, so good luck finding one – but check out this original version of Mloty na widwni (Jerks at the Audience) for a taste of Milian’s music. If you like this (and Neil does!) there’s a mint copy on Discogs for £300…
7. Miles Davis – Human Nature from Merci Miles! Live at Vienne
In July 1991, just two months before he died, Miles Davis played an electrifying set at one of his favourite live venues in Vienne, south eastern France and now – 30 years later – this previously unreleased performance has been released as Merci, Miles! Live At Vienne in a 2CD/2LP set. There are two compositions by Prince (Jailbait and Penetration) but far more interesting is this extended take on Michael Jackson’s Human Nature, first recorded by Miles on his You’re Under Arrest album from 1985. Human Nature and Cyndi Lauper’s Time after Time were to become concert staples in these last years and this version of the Steve Porcaro tune features an extended, impassioned alto sax solo from Kenny Garrett. Musically, Davis had cut down his touring band to just five musicians: gone were the multiple keyboardists, guitarists, and percussionists. The result is that the band members play less, but they play tighter. This almost final take on Human Nature is stretched out to 18 minutes but there’s no flab here. Indeed, Davis something of a revelation: his Harmon mute playing is full of flexibility and style, with those famous silences separating the short phrases that bring the band down to a whisper. There are echoes of the flamenco sounds of Sketches of Spain and Siesta, some classic bebop lines and those childlike melodies that first surfaced in Jean Pierre. Garrett gives it everything (as was typical of the live London performances that Neil witnessed at this time) and at the end of Garret’s screaming solo there’s no restatement fo the melody – indeed, Davis is already into the chords of Time After Time. It’s a great performance. [Thanks to writer Allan Mitchie for some inspiration here.]
8. The Alan Skidmore Quintet – Old San Juan from Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain
Alan Skidmore may be the UK’s homegrown John Coltrane. Indeed, he’s recorded five albums of largely Coltrane music, including an excellent live album at one of our favourite small venues, the Fleece pub in the Suffolk village of Boxford, called Impressions of John Coltrane (on ITM Records). Along with the others – Tribute to ‘Trane (on Miles Music), After the Rain (also Miles Music), Berlin (on ITM) and Naima (also ITM) – this live recording is well worth seeking out. We’ve featured tracks from this album previously on Cosmic Jazz (see our Coltrane tribute show on 19 July 2017) and here’s Skidmore’s take on Impressions from that superb live album. As a teenager Skidmore witnessed at first hand the 1961 appearance of the John Coltrane Quintet at the legendary Walthamstow Granada Theatre concert – even gaining access to the green room after the show and sitting just feet away from Coltrane himself. This was a really significant performance, recorded just a week after Coltrane’s celebrated appearance at the Village Vanguard. His quintet of the time included Eric Dolphy as well as McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman and Elvin Jones. There’s an excellent personal reminiscence of saxophonist Evan Parker’s teenage visit to the show here on the London Jazz News blog. An occasional drummer himself, Skidmore has worked with both of Coltrane’s regular 1960s kitmen – Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali – and has performed with a host of British jazz artists including Alexis Korner (1964), John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (1964), Ronnie Scott (1965), Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames (1970), Mike Westbrook (1970-71), Mike Gibbs (1970-71), and Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood Of Breath (1971). In 1969, he formed his own quintet with Kenny Wheeler, Tony Oxley, John Taylor and Harry Miller), with which he won the best soloist and best band awards at the Montreux International Jazz Festival and gained a scholarship to Berklee College Of Music. In 1973, he co-founded S.O.S., probably one of the first all-saxophone bands, with Mike Osborne and John Surman. He has subsequently formed various small groups of his own, including El Skid (co-led with Elton Dean), SOH (with Ali Haurand and Tony Oxley), and Tenor Tonic (with Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers and Tony Levin), and has worked with the George Gruntz Concert Band, the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, the Charlie Watts Orchestra, Stan Tracey, Mose Allison, Van Morrison, Georgie Fame again, and with the West German Radio Band. In the 1970s and beyond, Skidmore increasingly worked in Europe where – as he acknowledged – jazz was properly supported: “They’ve got this thing in Germany and other European countries where you turn up to do a gig and, nine times out of ten, it’s recorded by local or national radio… Jazz musicians in Germany are well treated. Your music is art.” Without doubt, Skidmore is one of the finest saxophonists the UK has produced and Tony Higgins’ superb new compilation Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain recognises this through the selection of an inspirational track from the album Once Upon a Time (1970). The comprehensive booklet that accompanies this essential 2LP/2CD set makes clear the excellence of this performance: As Skidmore told Alyn Shipton “If you listen to it today, it’s a fresh as paint. It sounds like it was recorded last week.” (Jazz Library, BBC R3 – March 2012). The extended John Warren composition Old San Juan comes from that 1970s quintet with Wheeler, Oxley, Taylor and Warren and is a fine example of Skidmore’s superb tenor playing. Again – if you can find it – the album is a total recommendation, but this new 2021 compilation from Tony Higgins (follow him on Twitter @TheJazzDad) is a a real gem: buy on vinyl to get two superbly remastered discs (from Gearbox Records in London) and Higgins’ comprehensive 20,000 word essay – check out the album trailer here. It’s worth noting here that Tony Higgins was also responsible for the excellent annotations that accompanied the two editions of the Impressed collection that Gilles Peterson curated for Universal. They’re still available on either CD or vinyl. Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain is an essential compilation and will be supplemented by an upcoming reissue programme of British jazz albums with all vinyl pressed at Gearbox in London. Don’t miss out on this collection though – it’s a truly superb assemblage of British jazz talent.
9. Dick Morrissey Quartet – Storm Warning from Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain
Our second choice from this new compilation is a hard bop bossa workout from tenor saxophonist Dick Morrissey’s 1960s quartet. Morrissey emerged in the early 1960s in the wake of Tubby Hayes, Britain’s pre-eminent sax player at the time. Morrissey made his name as a hard bop player, appearing regularly at the Marquee Club from 1960 and, with his quartet, made regular appearances at the celebrated Bull’s Head in Barnes. In the 1970s, Morrissey met up with Glaswegian guitarist Jim Mullen and the pair went on to form a partnership that lasted over 16 years with Morrissey-Mullen becoming Britain’s foremost jazz-fusion band. Morrissey was a session saxophonist for many pop artists too, and his is the saxophone solo you hear on the Vangelis theme from the film Blade Runner. He died in 2000, with Steve Voce writing in TheIndependent newspaper that Morrissey had the “… ability to get through to an audience. He was one of the great communicators of jazz and… able to communicate with his listeners and quickly to establish a bond with them… Like Charlie Parker before him, he was somehow able to lift audiences that knew little or nothing about his music”.
10. Orquesta Akokan – 16 Rayos from 16 Rayos
Orquesta Akokan are a Grammy nominated Cuban/New York based ensemble – and this album is the result of a dialogue between artists living in the United States and Cuba. 16 Rayos was recorded at the legendary Egrem Studios in Havana and will be released in October on Daptone Records. The band is the brainchild of its three leaders – lead vocalist and composer José ‘Pepito’ Gómez, Chulo Record’s Jacob Plasse and arranger Michael Eckroth, with each bringing their experience working with Latin powerhouses to the table. Following the success of their debut album, Orquesta Akokán returned to Cuba, drawing inspiration from folklore and religious tradition to stretch the boundaries of mambo conventions. The second album expands their sound with the addition of strings and there’s a traditional Cuban feel merging the folkloric congo rhythm from Santiago de Cuba with the power of the mambo horns and some strong, forceful vocals. Drawing on the deep spiritual traditions rooted in West Africa but expressed through Cuban music , this is real uplift for the soul and release for the body. Akokan, by the way, is the Yoruba word used by Cubans to mean ‘from the heart’ – or simply ‘soul’. It’s a fitting way to end this show – look out for more deep Cosmic Jazz sounds soon.
Cosmic Jazz this time includes some deep, highly serious and at times heavy music before moving to some more restrained sounds but keeping that spiritual feel and ending, as ever, with some boundary-stretching music.
Eddie Harris – Free Speech from Artist’s Choice the Eddie Harris Anthology/Free Speech
The work of Chicago-born multi-instrumentalist, composer, activist and arranger Eddie Harris has had many admirers – and quite a few detractors too. Harris liked to experiment and try different things but his ventures into jazz-funk, rock – and even comedy – as well as his popularity with the young jazz-dancers back in the day, were too much for many. He was also a best-selling jazz artist with Swiss Movement – the live recording of the performance he gave with Les McCann and apparently without any time to rehearse, at the 1969 Montreux Jazz Festival. Deservedly one of the top-selling jazz records ever, Swiss Movement is two artists at an artistic peak – listen to the wonderful Compared to What in a rare piece of black and white video from the festival. Other Eddie Harris hits include the perennial favourite Listen Here and Freedom Jazz Dance, famously recorded by Miles Davis on the Miles Smiles album. The choice that impressively opens this show is the title tune from Harris’s Free Speech album of 1970: it is important music with an important message and Harris is playing both sax and trumpet. Do not listen to the detractors, listen to the music.
2. William Parker – Raining on the Moon from Raining on the Moon
The Village Voice named him “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time” and DownBeat has called him “one of the most adventurous and prolific bandleaders in jazz”. We are talking here of bass player, composer and bandleader William Parker. He has also published conversations he has had with other musicians and thinkers on spiritualism, race and culture and written and published poetry. Parker has released recently a mighty 10-disc record called Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World and he’s now released two trio albums, one of which should be on the next show. Raining on the Moon was recorded in 2001 and features Leena Conquest with earthy, strident vocals amongst the shrieks of sound emerging from the alto sax of Rob Brown. The music sounds like free jazz yet it’s also very accessible. In its review of the record Pop Matters provided an apt comment: “he proves once and for all that any divisions between mainstream jazz and its more avantgarde brethren need only be drawn in the minds of myopic listeners”. We second that.
3. Rudolph Johnson – The Second Coming from The Second Coming
There are more Black Jazz Records re-releases from Real Gone Music due in October. One of them is the 1973 free jazz album The Second Coming from saxophonist Rudolph Johnson. If you think from what we have played so far that Black Jazz Records was just about jazz/funk and genre stretching jazz, think again. It is a fiery, explosive piece that continued and contributed to the Coltrane legacy . It was his second album for Black Jazz so in that way the title is appropriate but the title also has a spiritual/messianic meaning and this interpretation is definitely appropriate to the music. Recorded by the label’s key producer Gene Russell, The Second Coming is a stronger album than Johnson’s first for the label and is deserving of a much wider audience than it received first time round.
4. Walter Bishop Jr. – N’dugu’s Prayer from Keeper of My Soul
Also re-released in October on Black Jazz Records is this gem from Walter Bishop Jr. – another tune with a messianic/spiritual quality to match both the title of the tune and the title of the album: a spirituality owed in part to Walter Bishop’s studies with yogi Parmahansa Yogananda. Flautist/sax player Hubert Laws has a big part to play in the album but this tune features the pounding calls of vibraphonist Woody Murray. The bass player is Gerald Brown who three years later found himself auditioning for Marvin Gaye before appearing on Gaye’s 1977 record Live at the London Palladium. You can hear him here on Distant Lover. Like all these re-releases from Black Jazz, Keeper of My Soul is available on vinyl with limited editions of coloured vinyl, exclusive to indie record stores. The remastered sound is good too and is faithful to the well recorded originals – and the new liner notes by Pat Thomas are a useful bonus. Get your copies now before they disappear!
5. Nubya Garcia – Pace from SOURCE
Neil has long recognised the significance of the music of Nubya Garcia. Derek was not so certain, but after hearing her live on BBC Radio 3 (and then two days later on BBC 4 television) at the Proms concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London, he was mightily impressed. Not so long ago the Proms were the reserve of the finest in classical music but now jazz gets an airing. This concert was a good illustration of why this is needed. The music was contemporary, refreshing and original drawing on a range of influences starting with reggae beats and ending with cumbia inflections with much in between. The quartet line-up of Garcia on sax, Joe Armon-Jones on keyboards and piano, Daniel Casimir on bass and Sam Jones on drums was augmented from time to time with trumpet and a trio of vocalists. The combinations worked so well, provided surprise and interest and fitted seamlessly into the Albert Hall setting. The concert is available via BBC Sounds (audio) and iPlayer (video). Look out too for a remix version of her album SOURCE, also due in October. At the Royal Albert Hall, Garcia included the tune Pace which – as she explained – was composed pre-pandemic to remind her to slow down from the frantic and work-heavy pace of life. 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 cumbia through to Ethio-jazz and more. The thing is, this all works and so SOURCE comes highly recommended. A new single has already emerged from the scheduled remix album – a Kaidi Tatham take on La cumbia me esta llamando (feat. La Perla) and it’s excellent. Check it out here.
6. Mtume and the Umoja Ensemble – Baba Hengates from Alkebu-Lan (Land of the Blacks)
Percussionist, songwriter, and producer James Mtume might be best known for his R&B/disco classic Juicy Fruit from 1983 but his career has encompassed pioneering acoustic and electric avant-garde jazz, quiet storm classics and post-disco club hits, as well as compositions for film and television. Mtume was raised by pianist James ‘Hen Gates’ Forman (hence the title of this tune) but he is the biological son of saxophonist, Jimmy Heath – see the CJ show from 29 February 2020. After moving to California, Mtume joined the Black nationalist group US Organization whose founder Maulana Karenga created the Kwanzaa national holiday. The group was founded on what Karenga called the seven principles of African Heritage which he summarised as a communitarian philosophy: Unity (Umoja), Self-Determination (Kujichagulia), Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima), Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa), Purpose (Nia), Creativity (Kuumba), and Faith (Imani). Mtume made his recorded debut with something of a stellar lineup: the album Kawaida (1970) was credited to his uncle Albert Heath, but four of the five tracks were written by Mtume and the band included Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry and Buster Williams. Here’s Maulana from this recently re-released record. A move to New York saw Mtume credited on a slew of records by McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Lonnie Liston Smith and between 1971 and 1975 he performed and recorded with Miles Davis on landmark releases like On the Corner and the live in Japan records Agharta and Pangaea (the image above is with Miles in concert in 1973). Mtume was also recording with his own ensembles – which brings us back to Alkebu-Lan (recorded live at the East Club in downtown Brooklyn in 1972), and the studio-based follow up Rebirth Cycle (recorded in 1974 but released three years later). Alkebu-Lan is claimed as the original name for the continent of Africa and this important record is full of references – both spoken and musical – to African-American origins. The Umoja Ensemble was fairly large with 15 players – and result in this live recording is thick and rather muddy – but the message of a spiritual freedom is clear. The music is an amalgam of different jazz genres – you can hear call and response chants, big band jazz, be-bop and free jazz all meshed together in a kind of organised chaos. This is music to immerse yourself into and emerge with an understanding of the way in which Black consciousness and jazz have intertwined over the years. For another take on Baba Hengates, try this excellent Buddy Terry version from his 1972 Pure Dynamite album for Bob Shad’s Mainstream label.
7. Mark de Clive-Lowe – The Offering from Heritage I
Heritage was was the first installment of a two-album set from pianist, composer and live remixer Mark de Clive-Lowe. With a Japanese and New Zealand background, these two records were the first time de Clive-Lowe had reflected his Japanese cultural roots in music, working in collaboration with his LA band – Josh Johnson, Teodross Avery, Brandon Eugene Owens, Brandon Combs and Carlos Niño from the Build An Ark collective. In addition to his own compositions, he interprets traditional Japanese folk songs, one on each album – with a delicate solo piano rendition of Akatombo on Heritage I. The material for both albums was recorded over three nights of live concerts at LA’s legendary Blue Whale jazz club in Little Tokyo with one follow up studio session where the live group sound is tweaked with MdC-L’s arsenal of samplers, keyboards, drum machines and grand piano to create a personal take on both jazz and what Japan – and being Japanese – means to him. We think Heritage could well be de Clive-Lowe’s best work to date and recommend both records.
8. Matt Carmichael – Where Will the River Flow from Where Will the River Flow
Tenor saxophonist Matt Carmichael may be only just starting out in his career, but Where Will the River Flow is already a very assured debut. Just 21, Carmichael was a BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year in 2020 and on this fine record he draws on Scottish folk traditions in a similar way to another of our favourite young musicians from Scotland, Fergus McCreadie. Indeed, McCreadie appears on WWtRF and it’s clear that he and Carmichael work well together – check out this live take on Spey and their fast flowing unison playing. As with McCreadie’s most recent album, Cairn on Edition Records, Carmichael’s original compositions are strong on melody – particularly noticeable on our choice, the title track which again features McCreadie and a torrent of tumbling runs on piano. Thanks once more to Scots music promoter Rob Adams (Twitter: @rabjourno) for this introduction: Matt Carmichael is the real deal – an exciting talent and already an original voice.
9. James Brandon Lewis – Fallen Flowers from Jesup Wagon
We have been playing tunes from the James Brandon Lewis album Jesup Wagon, an record that celebrates and invokes the spirit of the artist, botanist, ecologist, aesthete, musician, teacher and seer Dr. George Washington Carver (1864-1943). “Many are the tears I have shed,” Carver wrote, “because I would break the roots or flowers of some of my pets while removing them from the ground.” When he could not preserve them, he drew them. The liner notes tell us that the track “Fallen Flowers compels us to submit to the beauty, complexity, vulnerability and unknowability of the natural world.” The tune ends with a poetic meditation on “life and death, on resilience in the face of colonial violence, on the regenerative and destructive qualities of water, on tears shed for fallen flowers.” It’s powerful, moving and evocative – and this is another recommended Cosmic Jazz new release.
10. Alfa Mist feat. Lex Amor – Mind the Gap from Bring Backs
The tradition of the programme is to end with something that crosses boundaries and this week it comes via another 2021 release that we have featured on the show – namely Bring Backs from London-based self-taught musician/composer/producer Alfa Mist. Recorded in London with Jamie Leeming (guitar), Kaya Thomas-Dyke (bass and vocals), Jamie Houghton (drums), and Johnny Woodham (trumpet), the album is stitched together as a suite, one composition rolling into the next. As with Nubya Garcia’s album, there’s a melange of different musical and cultural influences at work here, but this record emphasises the hip hop and rap influences of Alfa Mist’s youth as he discovered jazz through the samples used by his favourite producers. “There’s no access to jazz where I’m from,” he says. “There’s no way I would have come to it without finding those hip-hop records and wanting to understand them,” The tune Mind the Gap uses the the London Tube warning at certain stations to evoke the gaps and the struggles in life “we all rise and decline.” It features Lex Amor, a British rapper with Nigerian roots who has her own release, Government Tropicana which you can pick up here on her Bandcamp site.