Week ending 24 March 2018: drummers and the UK scene

Here on Cosmic Jazz we’ve been playing some of the bands that make the current UK jazz scene so exciting. Many of these are based in London, but there’s a thriving scene in many UK cities and all represent the diversity of these locations, their wealth of musical talent and the range of musical influences – from hip hop to house and beyond. What really exciting is how these bands are being promoted at some major festivals – whether it’s May’s Norfolk & Norwich Festival or London’s Field Day Festival in June. In Norwich you can catch Maisha (check them out on this week’s show), Ashley Henry and Binker and Moses. All will be performing from 10 pm in the Adnams Spiegeltent in Chapelfield Park. Field Day features a huge line up of British jazz musicians including Zara McFarlane (also on this week’s CJ), Sons of Kemet and Mammal Hands.

Maisha are led by drummer Jess Long and play spiritual and cosmic jazz, with Pharaoh Sanders and Alice Coltrane as major influences. You’ll hear West African and Afrobeat rhythms too: it’s music to make you move, music for contemplation and music for the soul all in one. Do try to get to see them if you can. The band includes Nubya Garcia on sax and Shirley Tetteh on guitar and you can download their free EP from the jazzre:freshed Bandcamp site.

The show began with the Marcin Stefaniak Trio – this time in full. This young Polish sax trio provides the sort of tough, contemporary sound that we like to feature here on Cosmic Jazz. There’s lots of new Polish jazz and more from our friends at Steve’s Jazz Sounds.

Up next on the show were selections from my colleague Neil. Emanative are part of a more established jazz scene but one also led by a drummer – in this case, Nick Woodmansey, himself the son of Woody Woodmansey, David Bowie’s drummer in the Spiders from Mars band. They’re the second of three bands led by drummers to be featured on Cosmic Jazz this week. Pianist Jessica Lauren – whom we’ve played on previous shows – is also a member.

Neil and I agree about most music we feature on CJ, but Portico Quartet may be one where we diverge. Endless is the opening track from their 2017 release Art in the Age of Automation. The band have been busy touring since July last year and they’ll be playing Norwich, Gateshead, Cheltenham, London and Manchester as part of their dates this spring and summer. I can see that the technical qualities of the sounds they create are impressive, but the music is too clinical for me and leaves me cold. Whereas I [writes Neil] think that this music is progressive, melodic, uncategorisable new jazz working in the same way that Bugge Wesseltoft’s ground-breaking albums did almost 20 years ago. Just as Wesseltoft explored the hinterland between jazz and house, so Portico merge jazz and Reichian minimalism with real dexterity. The recording sessions for Art in the Age of Automation were clearly a fertile period for the band as they are now about to release AITAOA #2, largely recorded at the same time in London. The new album is intended as a companion piece to last year’s AITAOA but it works equally as well as a stand-alone, exploring similar areas of enigmatic, widescreen minimalism alongside the more hard-hitting sounds that have become a notable part of their live shows. I think there’s no lessening of quality here – album opener Double Space is now available to download from Bandcamp here, with the rest of the album emerging at the end of next month. For a listen to this key influence, check out a mesmerising performance of Reich’s masterpiece Music for Eighteen Musicians below. Whilst Portico are not attaining this level of complexity, much of their overall sound now derives from this kind of music.

Polish trumpeter Piotr Wojtasik is a player whose music provides joy and inspiration. His album Tribute to Akwarium pays homage to a former Polish jazz club and on the show this week there is the tune Tribute 3. Like so much of his music, it featured complex, spiritual and cosmic rhythms. It’s undoubtedly more music for the body and soul.

Our third drummer/leader was Tony Allen, the man Brian Eno called perhaps the greatest drummer and probably the most important musician of the last fifty years.  This new album from the founder of Afrobeat follows on from his tribute to Art Blakey and is pure jazz. Recorded in Paris – where Allen is now based – and with excellent French musicians. Cruising features bassist Matthias Allemane. There was more from the new London jazz scene with the Ezra Collective. We’ve already played their superb version of Fela Kuti’s Colonial Mentality and this week’s tune featured the vocals of Zara McFarlane. It really shows what her voice is capable of – and we think rather more so than on much of her recent solo album. The track comes from their debut EP simply called Chapter 7.

Finally, in a show full of exciting, contemporary music, there was a tune by sax player Hamiet Bluiett from a recent re-release compilation of music from the Italian Black Saint/Soul Note label.

  1. Marcin Stefaniak Trio – Proxima Centauri from Unveiling
  2. Emanative – Ominous Shanti from single
  3. Portico Quartet – Endless from Art in the Age of Automation
  4. Piotr Wojtasik – Tribute 3 from Tribute to Akwarium
  5. Tony Allen – Cruising from The Source
  6. Maisha – Africa from Welcome to a New Welcome
  7. Ezra collective feat. Zara McFarlane – I Have a God from Chapter 7
  8. Hamiet Bluiett – Oasis from You Need This! An Introduction to Black Saint & Soul Note Recordings 1975-1985

Derek is listening to…

Neil is listening to…

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