Week ending 16 February 2019: jazz and rap today

Cosmic Jazz was back live this week with Derek for the first time since mid-December 2018. There is nothing wrong with pre-recorded shows –  but a live show does add a certain unpredictability and je ne sais quoi. There was also some music to catch up on too – records released last year to which we have not done justice.

It was Neil who first introduced CJ listeners to Emanative, aka drummer Nick Woodmansey. He’s certainly part of the thriving new London jazz scene, but Nick has been around longer than many of the current crop of feted young lions. But like so many of those new artists, he has always listened to and produced more than just jazz. It shows in his music and last year’s much lauded release Earth reflected this. We played the track Iyaami which begins with a long balafon solo before guest Dele Sosimi (formerly of Fela Kuti’s Egypt 80 and then of Femi Kuti’s Positive Force), delivers a lyric about the universality of all mothers – including Mother Earth. The album constantly sifts its axis from Indian classical to space jazz to vocal reflections on the state of the planet. It’s an ambitious recording and all the better for it. Highly recommended, especially on the double vinyl version!

John Ellis – a pianist, composer, and producer from the north west of England was another one of Neil’s choices. He was new to me, but many of his past and present associations are not. Ellis was a founder member of the Cinematic Orchestra and his 2016 record Evolution: Seeds & Streams is released on the Gondwana label, run by Cosmic Jazz favourite Matthew Halsall, who was also executive producer on this record. It’s really interesting music – I loved the tune. Opening track Flight uses an analogue synth pattern as a base before building building into something restrained, flowing and rhythmic. Layering birdsong, piano, bass and kora with an excellent Ellis piano solo. Again, this album comes recommended by CJ. The Cinematic Orchestra themselves have a long awaited new album out on 15 March. We’ll catch up with it in upcoming shows.

Jazz is constantly evolving – and one the most lasting influences is clearly that of rap. We can probably trace this back to the early 1990s and the work of Gil Scott Heron, rap groups like Gang Starr and The Digable Planets sampling jazz records and real time collaboration projects like Guru’s first Jazzamataz album. Since then, rap and jazz have learned how to live together in numerous collaborations, and it seems to be an increasing trend to find the appearance of rappers in the work of artists we feature. We saw it last year, for example, in the work of Keyon Harrold and in Nicholas Peyton’s Twi-Life and way back in 1999 we were listening to trumpeter Erik Truffaz and his collaborations with rapper Nya (see CJ w/e 02 February for more on this). So we featured two further examples of rap and jazz working together this week. Firstly from EABS, the exciting band of young Polish musicians who are not afraid to incorporate aspects of the music they grew up listening to and who make what is a sound for our times. More surprisingly, perhaps, was to find a rapper on the latest record from the exquisite trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, the man who makes tunes with the longest titles in jazz. Origami Harvest is Akinmusire’s most adventurous work to date, a collaboration with the Mivos string quartet and rapper Kool AD. This album is also one that’s not afraid to bring politics into the music too – on Americana the Mivos Quartet’s Philip Glass-style minimalism mutates slowly while Kool AD spins out conversational lines about America’s savage histories, brutal legacies, illusory democracies, feudal tendencies. As this alliance matures and grows we can expect to see much more rap in jazz in 2019. On Cosmic Jazz we are open to it all.

Finally, there was time for something perhaps more conventional than the rest of the show. But no apologies because, quite simply, Polish trumpeter Piotr Wojtasik is right up there among the programme’s favourites and among the most-played. His music combines uplift, depth,  joy and more besides. To Whom It May Concern is his 2018 release but go to Steve’s Jazz Sounds and you will find many more albums to enjoy.

  1. Emanative – Iyaami from Earth
  2. John Ellis – Flight from Evolution, Seeds and Streams
  3. EABS – Step into the Light from Repetitions (Letters to Krzystof Komeda)
  4. Ambrose Akinmusire – A Blooming Bloodfruit in a Hoodie from Origami Harvest
  5. Piotr Wojtasik – Out of Scale from To Whom It May Concern

Derek is listening to…

Neil is listening to…

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