Week ending 28 March 2020: virtual sounds and memories

It’s virtual Cosmic Jazz again this week with our blog and music choices. Open CJ twice and you can read from one and listen on the  other!

Through jazz I discovered the music that I love were the words of Cameroonian sax player Manu Dibango. Sadly, he has died at the age of 86 from Covid-19. From a start with the seminal Congolese rumba group, African Jazz Dibango went on to release 44 albums over a lengthy career than included collaborations with the Fania All Stars, Fela Kuti, Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry and Sly and Robbie. What an eclectic mix! There are claims that his most famous tune Soul Makossa heralded the start of disco, and it was certainly a favourite at David Mancuso’s Loft from 1972 onwards. That ma-ma-se, ma-ma-sa, ma-ma-ko-sa refrain was replicated in Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ and within a few months of the song’s release over 20 different cover versions were available. Wikipedia lists almost 50 different songs with this take on ‘makossa’  – the Cameroonian dance style popularised by the Soul Makossa. Derek’s party choice, though, is the later Big Blow which is one for my box when playing out. Released in 1976, it still sounds as good and as danceable today – click on that link and get yourself moving. For Neil, it has to be 1984’s Abele Dance – one of his favourite 12in singles. Ironically, he was playing it at home in the UK in December and thinking back to live DJ sets where it surprised and delighted dancers in equal measure. Dibango’s infectious chuckles and expressions featured on many of his tracks – and they’re capable of generating big smiles everywhere they’re heard.

There is, however,  another great version of the Makossa tune – and that’s Reggae Makossa. There’s the same uplifting, swinging, jazzy sax but this time with a reggae beat, recorded in Kingston, Jamaica and New York and mixed in London. Manu leads with the vibes on this tune but Jamaican reggae rhythm kings Sly & Robbie are in there along with the Brecker Brothers on horn duties, Gwen Guthrie on vocals and a host of other distinguished musicians. It comes from the compilation album Choc ‘n’ Soul – tracks recorded by Dibango between 1978-89 and here’s the title track for you. You can find the album on the French label Fremeaux and Associes.

On a different front, but perhaps not entirely, comes more new music from Poland – sax player Wojciech Staroniewicz. He has been playing for over twenty years, starting with the Big Band Gdansk. His new album has an interesting title –  A’FreAK-aN Project – and it’s good.  The gently rocking/sax-led sound on this live take of the tune Moja Ballada suggests they might have admired Manu Dibango – check out the whole album. Tomasz Wendt is another Polish saxophonist from Gdansk but from a  much younger generation. The son of a jazz saxophonist, and a graduate of Wroclaw Academy of Music, Wendt has played with several artists we have featured on the show, including the magnificent Piotr Wojtasik. Wendt has a new album out called Chapter B – and we’ve featured the title tune in this week’s virtual show. Of course, at this time of near-worldwide lockdown, we urge you to support all the independent record stores you can. To find Staroniewicz, Wendt and other great European jazz, just check out the always excellent Steve’s Jazz Sounds.

The current coronavirus situation has led me to listen to records in my collection that I have not heard for some time – and certainly or maybe not as often as I should. Today it was the Viva Cubop series, of which I have three CDs. Cubop was set up in 1995 as the Latin jazz arm of Ubiquity records and from the the second album I chose a marimba and vibes player (definitely the instrument of the week!). Dave Pike emerged in the late ’50s and recorded with – among many artists – Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Paul Bley, Tommy Flanagan, Herbie Hancock and Clark Terry. San Dunga is crisp, fast-moving and definitely something to get you moving – and, if you find Manhattan Latin, the original album from which it comes – try not to be put off by that latin exotica cover…

Enjoy the music and stay safe.

  1. Manu Dibango – Soul Makossa from Soul Makossa
  2. Manu Dibango – Big Blow from Big Blow
  3. Mauy Dibango – Abele Dance (12in single)
  4. Manu Dibango – Reggae Makossa from Choc ‘n’ Soul
  5. Wojciech Staroniewicz – Moja Ballada from A’FreAK-aN
  6. Tomasz Wendt – Chapter B from Chapter B
  7. Dave Pike – San Dunga from Manhattan Latin

Neil is listening to…

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