22 March 2017: from Chuck Berry to Mammal Hands!

The music of the late Chuck Berry was important to so many of us. Berry was no jazz musician – but he famously appeared at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival with jazz artists (including a delighted Philly Jo Jones on drums) playing Sweet Little Sixteen. Music from this event appears in Bert Stern’s celebrated Jazz On A Summer’s Day film. It’s available on a Charly Records CD along with a DVD of the film. That particular performance could well have had a lasting impact on Chuck Berry’s approach to promoters – apparently he was not the easiest artist to work with. You can hear from the recording how well  he was well received by the festival goers but, in response to his pelvic gyrations on the stage, festival promoter George Wein shouted out “disgraceful” and Berry was forced to leave the stage before his last number. Now that to me does sound disgraceful. Neil adds: For more on Berry and his lasting influence on music, read the ever enlightening Richard Williams here. My favourite Berry song? It’s a straight draw between Too Much Monkey Business and Memphis, Tennessee – both masterpieces of musical storytelling.

Last week I was part of a delighted crowd that saw Mammal Hands playing at the venue of their first-ever booking – Norwich Arts Centre. For two of the band this is also their home city. Mammal Hands are amazing: sax player Jordan Smart never rests, his brother Nick provides strong backing on piano and on drums and tablas Jesse Barrett ranges from the powerful to the subtly sublime. Moreover, the group demonstrate how jazz-related music can attract a predominantly young audience. See them live if you can and pick up their sophomore recording Floa on the ever reliable Gondwana Records out of Manchester.

Birnham is a Scottish CD pressing and packaging company who have released a number of their own albums. Whilst the artists may not be well known, CJ has enjoyed Unexpected Ride, the first release from guitarist Guilio Romano Malaisi. At the age of 18 he moved from a small Italian village to London and has stayed there ever since. He has paid his dues as a session musician and played gigs with high-profile singers. Most of his compositions on this album were written while he was between the ages of 18-20 and Randagio, the tune selected this week, when he was 18.

Polish bass player Piotr Lemanczyk is now a firm Cosmic Jazz favourite. This week he appeared twice in the different guises of his band Orange Trane. The first tune – About MV – featured British sax player Soweto Kinch and from its title and sound must reference Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. The second came from the acoustic version of Orange Trane, and showcased Lemanczyk himself and superb vibes player Dominik Bukowski.

Jazzwise magazine is an essential monthly read for jazz enthusiasts. There are excellent comprehensive record reviews, interviews with artists and some inspiring playlists. Often as a bonus, there is a free CD and the April 2017 edition includes a sampler from the essential British jazz label Edition Records from which we featured two tracks. How good are Dinosaur, a group led by trumpeter Laura Jurd? Judge for yourself but on the evidence of Extinct alone they are top class. There was also an interesting tune from Norwegian pianist Eyolf Dale from his album Wolf Valley – the title is simply a translation of his name into English… Edition have gone from strength to strength in recent years – check out their current catalogue here and for a taste of the label’s sound buy Jazzwise or the Fiona Talkington Nordic-influenced sampler Northern Edition, released last year.

Norway often features prominently on Cosmic Jazz and there was even a Norwegian connection to the two British artists at the end of the show. Kit Downes was accompanied by cellist Lucy Railton, both of whom I saw perform in Norwich last year with Norwegian musicians led by Thomas Stronin. In the audience,  were the members of Mammal Hands and the connections go further as Kit Downes is also from Norwich. A Fine City it says as you arrive – but clearly now also for the music as well as its architecture.

  1. Chuck Berry – Sweet Little Sixteen (live) from Jazz On A Summer’s Day
  2. Mammal Hands – Hillum from Floa
  3. Mammal Hands – Think Anything from Floa
  4. Guilio Romano Malaisi –Randagio from Unexpected Journey
  5. Orange Trane feat. Soweto Kinch – About MV from Interpersonal Lines
  6. Orange Trane Acoustic Trio – Fugu from Fugu
  7. Dinosaur – Extinct from Together As One
  8. Eyolf Dale – Ban Joe from Wolf Valley
  9. Kit Downes – Tricko from Tricko

Neil notes: As I was adding to this blog, I learned of the death of alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe. We have featured Blythe’s unique tone on several recent CJ shows and I’ve chosen three tracks that capture his edgy vibrato that can still draw us back to jazz’s New Orleans heritage – including a fabulous version of John Coltrane’s Equinox from Blythe’s last album as leader in 2003. We may feature more from this underrated and sometimes neglected alto player in upcoming shows.


Derek is listening to:

Neil is listening to…

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