Week ending 10 March 2018: new music, a tribute and freedom fighters

This week’s Cosmic Jazz began with two trumpeters. The first was our favourite Polish trumpet player, Piotr Wojtasik, opening the show with joyous and uplifting exclamations of freedom from his new album Tribute to Akwarium, the name of a celebrated jazz club in Warsaw. Wojtasik is so good – and has the past experience to prove it. Jazz musicians from Poland should not be judged by the number of US jazz giants they have played, with but I cannot avoid saying that you have to take notice of someone who has played with the likes of Dave Liebman, Gary Bartz, Reggie Workman, Vincent Herring and Billy Harper.

The second trumpeter spent his life involved in the fight for freedom and it is time that we acknowledged his death in January this year. Hugh Masekela, was born in South Africa, has been described as “the father of African jazz” and played with another doyen of the continent’s jazz scene, Abdullah Ibrahim in the Jazz Epistles bandMasekela was an important figure in the Anti-Apartheid  Movement and composed songs for it. He had to leave South Africa firstly for the UK, then the USA, to study music settling in New York. There was even a US pop hit with Grazing in the Grass and an interesting trumpet contribution to that short piece of perfect pop by The Byrds, So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star. It is, however, as a jazz trumpeter inextricably linked to the struggles for freedom and liberation in South Africa and across the African continent that we here on Cosmic Jazz choose to remember him. Out track came from one of Masekela’s very best albums – and one recorded in London in 1972. Home is Where the Music Is was released as a double LP on Blue Thumb and was a move way from his more pop-oriented jazz records of the ’60s. Masekela wanted to create a fusion of the rhythms and melodies of his native South Africa and the more spiritual, soul-driven explorations occurring in American music at the time on labels like Strata East, Tribe, and Black Jazz. The South African and American quintet he assembled for the date is awesome. It included the South Africans saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and drummer Makaya Ntshoko along with American pianist Larry Willis and bass player Eddie Gomez who was then playing with Bill Evans. Part of the Whole opens the set with Willis on Fender Rhodes setting a blues groove that is equal parts soul-jazz and South African folk melody. The horns come in and Pukwana takes a typically fiery solo before Masekela answers on flugelhorn in tight, hard lines so typical of his style.  Home Is Where the Music Is is a spiritual soul-jazz classic and is one of the greatest recordings in Masekela’s long career. If you don’t have it – go out an get a copy!

We are very excited about the number of young jazz and jazz-related musicians on the UK scene, based mainly in London. Maisha are one of these bands, part of the Jazz Re:freshed movement and featured on the new Brownswood compilation We Out Here. Inside the Acorn features Nubya Garcia on sax and flute, Jake Long on drums and Shirley Tetteh on guitar. What’s significant about many of these new bands is the gender balance – most (like Maisha, Nerija, the Camilla George Quartet and Dinosaur) all feature strong women leaders or instrumentalists. The third contribution from the new jazz scene came from pianist Ashley Henry. In fact, it was a remarkably straight-ahead tune from someone schooled in hip-hop and other contemporary sounds. The scene is varied and full of surprises.

Then there was new music from Poland. In the case of the first, from guitarist Marek Napiorkowski, we have to mention a player from the US because sax player Chris Potter is featured and plays strongly on The Way, a tune from the new album WAWNYC. I should add, however, that in the over forty albums that he has appeared on and his many performances around the world, Marek has played with a variety of people from across the globe, including Ursula Dudziak (originally from Poland but settled in the US), Angelique Kidjo from Benin, Dhafer Youssef from Tunisia (not Morocco as I said on the programme), Pat Metheny and Marcus Miller from the US.

The next Polish contribution was a really exciting find and thanks, once again, to Steve’s Jazz Sounds for introducing me to this. The Marcin Stefaniak Trio is an interesting combination of sax (Marcin Stefaniak himself) as well as drums and double bass. The title tune from their new album Unveiling makes subtle use of the drum set alongside the sax. The trio play contemporary European jazz with reference to folk and global sounds. Their music is about improvisation that is cool and  contemplative.

Talking of contemplation, that word could be used to describe the tune this week from our pianist of the moment, Cat Toren. Legacy (for A.C.) is, of course, a tribute to pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane and features a characteristic deep, reflective solo – much like Coltrane’s own music, of course. Toren’s EP Human Kind is another expression of the struggle for freedom and justice and it’s exciting that the jazz legacy of Hugh Masekela and others is being continued by a number of contemporary jazz musicians – see for example another trumpeter, Keyon Harrold, whom we have featured on Cosmic Jazz in several previous shows.

To end there was a short burst from Chicago DJ/mixer Mark Grusane – the tune will deserve a full outing another time.

  1. Piotr Wojtasik – Stay in Time of Freedom from Tribute to Akwarium
  2. Hugh Masekela – Part of a Whole from Home Is Where the Music Is
  3. Maisha – Inside the Acorn from We Out Here
  4. Ashley Henry – Deja Vu from Ashley Henry’s 5ive
  5. Marek Napiorkowski feat. Chris Potter – The Way from WAWNYC
  6. Marcin Stefaniak Trio – Unveiling from Unveiling
  7. Cat Toren’s Human Kind – Legacy (for A.C.) from Cat Toren’s Human Kind
  8. Shabadoo (Mark Grusane edit) – Do It from The Real Sound of Mark Grusane

Derek is listening to…

Neil is listening to…

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