Cosmic Jazz Countdown – the complete list

We played these tracks earlier in the year – five favourites each. The complete list is below, followed by our original commentary on each piece. Derek’s choice first, Neil’s second.  If you don’t know this music, consider it your Cosmic Jazz primer. For us, this is music that has inspired us and shaped our thinking about jazz.

As planned, this week we’ll play all ten tracks and talk a little more about each. Of course, there are so many tracks we have missed this time – but a top ten is limited. Next time there will be Miles Davis, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Joe Henderson – and so many more CJ favourites.

So what’s on your list? Comment now or email during the show and let us know. And have a listen to Gilles Peterson this week – he’s doing a jazz special too.

  1. Black Renaissance – Black Renaissance (Body, Mind and Spirit)
  2. Charles Lloyd – Booker’s Garden (Rabo de Nube)
  3. Carmen Lundy – You’re Not in Love (Old Devil Moon)
  4. John Coltrane – Acknowledgement (A Love Supreme)
  5. Erik Truffaz – Siegfried (Bending New Corners)
  6. John McLaughlin – Peace One (My Goal’s Beyond)
  7. Gregory Porter – 1960 What? (Water)
  8. Kenny Garrett – Beyond the Wall (Beyond the Wall)
  9. Tenorio Jr – Nebulosa (Embalo)
  10. Robert Glasper – No Worries (Double Booked)

Black Renaissance – Black Renaissance (Body, Mind and Spirit)

Derek: My No. 1 Cosmic Jazz tune is Black Renaissance – both a track name and a collective of people brought together by the pianist Harry Whitaker to celebrate Martin Luther King Day on 15 January 1976.

Friends gathered in the studio, a current and ex-wife of Whittaker’s were both there and recited poetry on the record and Roberta Flack, with whom Whitaker was recording commercially successful work at the time, passed by.

The recording was released by the Japanese Baystate label without Harry Whitaker knowing, nor did he receive royalties as Baystate folded and most copies of the record vanished.  The masters of the recording were lost in a house fire at a friend of Whitaker’s and it was not widely available until the Californian label Ubiquity released the album Body Mind and Spirit in 2002 with two tracks: Black Renaissance which is 23:40 long and Magic Ritual).

Black Renaissance is a party on record, a fusion of jazz and rap before such fusions were known. It is music for the body, music for the mind and certainly music for the spirit. It was recorded in one take; it feels spontaneous and improvised, joyous but contemplative, highly innovative and always unpredictable. It alternates between wild blow-outs, moments of stillness with momentary pauses, and affirmative rap and poetry.

The strong line-up includes Azar Lawrence on sax, Buster Williams on bass, Billy Hart drums, Mtume percussion and the highly impressive Woody Shaw whose trumpet solos demand your attention for their beauty and strength, as well as a cast of singing and speaking voices in the studio cascading over each other. Whitaker’s piano thumps away behind it all and provides flowing swirls to link the various segments of the record.

Gilles Peterson on the sleeve notes to the Ubiquity records release describes Black Renaissance as “one of my all time favourite tunes, up there with Sun Ra’s Sleeping Beauty and Coltrane’s A Love Supreme”. It is my Cosmic Jazz No. 1 and as a singing/speaking /rapping voices says on the record “Can you DIG it”? Dig it you must – get that Ubiquity order in now.

As a sad footnote I should add that Harry Whitaker died in November 2010.

Charles Lloyd – Booker’s Garden (Rabo de Nube)

Neil: Charles Lloyd has turned it all around. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Lloyd was a boho trailblazer in the 1960s with his kaftans and his threads but lost it all in the 1970s. Then he was persuaded to join pianist Michel Petrucciani before making it all come good when he signed with ECM records in 1989 and releasing a string of albums showing a new maturity of tone.

Lloyd is no innovator – his style on tenor is unmistakably derived from Coltrane – but his recent body of work with ECM shows his concentrated musical wisdom generously shared with a new generation of inspirational jazzers. And there’s no better place to start than the live album Rabo de Nube.

Released in 2008 when Lloyd was 70, Rabo de Nube features seven long tracks, of which Booker’s Garden is – for me – the stand out. Like many of Lloyd’s compositions it begins with an understated wispy melody with Lloyd on alto flute. But the real magic begins when pianist Jason Moran makes his entrance. Moran has a percussive, contemporary style but his twists and turns on a dazzling solo inspire Lloyd to create a new groove that locks down the music with a new intensity before the piece ends as it began with a return to meditation.

Lloyd live is a magical experience. His shamanic role with a generation of musicians half his age is not remote like Miles Davis, but instead generous and accommodating. Lloyd knows the qualities of his fellow performers and has no need to grandstand or challenge. The result is genuine group music with Lloyd at the centre but never dominating. There’s a tenderness here that also recalls the spirituality of Impulse-era Coltrane but tempered by a searching, yearning delicacy that is uniquely Lloyd’s. I love this music and return to it frequently. It is honest: never simplistic, always interesting and throughout the CD’s 75 minutes intensely rewarding.

In an unexpected way, it was easy to have Lloyd fill the top spot in my Cosmic Jazz list. His music has been getting closer and closer to where I want to be with jazz over the last few years. The liner notes for Rabo de Nube feature a poem for Lloyd by Serbian-born Charles Simic. A few lines seem to sum it up:

Voice of solitude. Voice of insomnia. Call of a night bird. Continous prayer.

Carmen Lundy – You’re Not in Love (Old Devil Moon)

Derek: Carmen Lundy is a jazz singer, actress and painter. She has been singing over three decades performing largely self-penned material and has released a total of 11 recordings on which she has worked with an impressive range of jazz musicians. Yet is she as well known or celebrated in the UK as she should be? Her last performance in the UK was in 2007 and although she has been to Europe each year, since there have been no performances in the UK and none are scheduled so far for 2011.

For listeners to Cosmic Jazz, however, Carmen Lundy is no stranger. The Old Devil Moon album and, in particular, the song You’re Not in Love, has been played several times. It is simply a great tune, a melody which leaves you wanting to play just it again and then sing it to yourself once it is finished. The lyrics are a strong put down of a man. Carmen Lundy’s vocals make these emotions clear but in a way that you know she is in control, her voice is firm, definite but still enticing.

The musicians are pretty fine too. UK drummer Winston Clifford is a good choice but special mention should go to Randy Brecker on flugelhorn and – interestingly – there’s a musician who will feature strongly in my No. 1 choice next week…

John Coltrane – Acknowledgement (A Love Supreme)

Neil: Just what is there to say about A Love Supreme that is new and different? This is a canonical work in the relative short history of jazz but there can be no doubt that in 200 or more years time it will still be revered, analysed and simply enjoyed as one of the most complete pieces of music every recorded – in any genre.

The first part, Acknowledgement, is the most well known. It opens with drummer Elvin Jones striking a Chinese gong before Coltrane enters with an invocation Alice Coltrane described as like the doors opening on a beautiful city. And then it’s the bit that everyone knows – that insidious blues-based bass riff. Along with the four note phrase itself, this is the touchstone of A Love Supreme – the core of its being. The mantra ‘A love supreme’ is a return to the gospel source of ‘trane’s music, a way of rooting the music in a universal spirituality. In an interview with Ashley Khan, Wayne Shorter got it right: “I think he was going back to square one where the voice is the first announcement of your humanity – your humanity is your instrument.”

Khan’s book exploring the genesis and context of A Love Supreme is a revelation. He discusses writer Lewis Porter’s theory (but one known and understood by the jazz cogniscenti) that Coltrane’s lyrical solo on the final part of the music (Psalm) is entirely derived from a syllabic reading of his liner note poem.

Listen to this music while reading Coltrane’s heartfelt prayer and you’ll get closer to understanding why Coltrane is the only musician – jazz or otherwise – to have a Christian sect who worship him. The St John Coltrane African Orthodox Church (http://www.coltranechurch.org/) was founded by Archbishop Franzo King who heard A Love Supreme and experienced what he called “a sound baptism.” Sounds fair enough to me.

Erik Truffaz – Siegfried (Bending New Corners)

Derek: Little is often more. A jazz artist who exemplifies this dictum is the Swiss-born (although French resident) trumpet player Erik Truffaz. He is a master of spaces and a wizard at creating atmospheres.

Truffaz listened to A Kind of Blue at a young age and it shows. He has obviously also listened to In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew because you can hear that too. Yet, he has something in his sound that is distinctive. For one thing he has made successful use of a rapper, which is something that has not been achieved my much jazz-rap fusion. On Siegfried, from the Blue Note album Bending New Corners (1999), Nya delivers a low-key matter-of-fact rap over the bass, drum and piano of Marcello Giuliani, Marc Erbetta and Patrick Muller. The bass provides a constant catchy, acoustic, beat from the first beat and the piano is prominent throughout, with changes of tempo, volume and even the odd bluesy rhythm that can make you sway from side to side.

The atmospherics are at their height, though, once Truffaz enters. The trumpet soars and inspires but each solo is minimalist, controlled and measured. If you listen to Truffaz live you’ll see a cool, quiet, restrained character which reflects his musical approach. Yet the music is intense, emotional and uplifting. There is no better tune to illustrate this than Siegfried.

John McLaughlin – Peace One (My Goal’s Beyond)

Neil: This one is special for me. It’s close to where this jazz journey began. You can find Peace One on the album My Goal’s Beyond, originally issued on Douglas Records in 1970 and now available (if you can find it) on a Rykodisc or Knitting Factory reissue.

I first heard it in 1970 as a teenager novitiate in jazz. With no internet and little to listen to on the radio, record shops were my introduction to the music. Icons like Charlie Parker were part of my understanding of the mythology of the music, so I know that I really wanted to like jazz. I’d just not listened to much of it. I bought My Goal’s Beyond on because of the album cover: a benign looking McLaughlin gazing serenely into the middle distance while a framed photo of a shaven headed guru (Sri Chinmoy) looks out impassively alongside him. It wasn’t like most of the jazz covers I’ve seen and it drew me in immediately. The track listing on the back confirmed things – a Charles Mingus tune, something from A Kind of Blue and a Chick Corea composition among them.

But the real delight didn’t begin until I got the record home and played side B. The real surprise is here.  It begins with a sitar drone, and then Charlie Haden’s insidiously cool bass line waltzes its way through McLaughlin’s tune. Even violinist Jerry Goodman and drummer Billy Cobham (who would later appear in McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra) tame their natural excesses to complement the leader’s open soloing on acoustic guitar. Dave Liebman is in fine voice on soprano and Badal Roy’s tablas along with Airto’s minimal percussion fills fit perfectly.

This track has entranced me ever since I first listened to it that summer evening over forty years ago and I come back to it every year with the same sense of wide-eyed wonder.

Gregory Porter – 1960 What? (Water)

Derek: Sometimes a tune has it all – soul, power, energy, emotion, strong vocals, lively instrumentation and conscious lyrics. Gregory Porter’s 1960 What? from the album released in 2010 has all of these. The evidence is there from the opening moments with the bass of Aaron James soon to be joined by the piano of Chip Crawford then a full horn section. It continues through the vocals, the choral responses, further horn blasts, the clear and crisp trumpet and trombone solos, the vocals again until the bass and piano finally take things  down and away.

It could be as much a soul, blues or gospel tune as a jazz one. In fact, it is all of these.   At times it reminds me of The Temptations and Motown – the tune is after all about the burning and uprisings on the streets of Motor City Detroit in 1960. Mahalia Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway are cited understandably as influences on the CD sleeve notes.

Yet there is plenty of jazz here. Unusually for a vocalist, Gregory Porter gives considerable scope to the musicians. The solos are not clipped, fleeting moments but give free rein to what is in the main a young bunch of New York musicians. Porter himself is more of a veteran coming through musical theatre, including a long Broadway run in It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues.

I have only recently heard this tune for the first time but it had an immediate impact and has been chosen as my No. 4 Cosmic Jazz tune.  I know that others have been similarly affected. By the way – the rest of the CD is great too.

Kenny Garrett – Beyond the Wall (Beyond the Wall)

Neil: Born in Detroit in 1960, Kenny Garrett joined Miles Davis’s touring group front line in the last decade of his life. It was a spot with history – John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter had been there before – but Garrett made it his own. Video of live concerts show Miles very obviously enjoying Garrett’s exceptional empathy with his temperamental boss.

This title track from the album Beyond the Wall is probably his finest hour. Like Art Pepper, David Sanborn, Ornette Coleman and many more, Garrett has his own distinctive tone on alto – you can’t mistake it for anyone else. It’s a slightly acid sound that seems to have become more clear and defined over the years. He’ll wail like Pharoah and spew out clusters like Coltrane but – like his contemporary Brandford Marsalis – he’ll happily experiment with soul, funk and hip hop.

Like ‘trane too, there’s a sense that he’s pursuing a path of musical enlightenment – evidenced in his solos as he rocks back and forth with the music. Nowhere is this more clear than on this 2006 album where he’s backed by a stellar band, including Mugrew Miller on piano and the sensational Brian Blade on drums. Best of all, the rest of the album is as good as this. Pharoah Sanders himself guests on some tracks and listening to them together is a rewarding experience.

So where to go for more Garrett? Try Pursuance (1999), his album of Coltrane covers – with Pat Metheny on exilarating form – or, from ten years earlier, Amandla (1989) – his only studio album with Miles Davis. To hear Garrett stretching out, you’re more likely to enjoy some of the bootleg and official releases of the Davis band in concert. Try the Warner Brothers release Live Around the World (1996) to hear him really pulling apart a 12 minute version of Human Nature. Garrett doesn’t appear on alto until 5:35 minute in but when he does it all builds into something quite electrifying. You can just make out Davis’s hoarse comments at the end of the track: “Kenny, Kenny, can I – oh man – that was nothing man – I do that every night”. A man of much less than a few words, for Davis this kind of acknowledgement was praise indeed. Unexpectedly, Garrett’s own Sketches of MD: Live at the Iridium (2008) is rather flat and predicatable by comparison.

But hey, he’s still only just fifty: Garrett will be one of the current great alto players for the next twenty years. There’s a lot more to come as he continues his spiritual quest.

Tenorio Jr – Nebulosa (Embalo)

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

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

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

Robert Glasper – No Worries (Double Booked)

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

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

So that’s it – our top ten. What do you think? Comments below…

Neil

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