Week ending 23 May 2020: Pitchfork, PopMatters and Lee

More from the online treasure trove of jazz music, films and writing this week on Cosmic Jazz. It’s not all TikToks and Tweets out there – there’s a wealth of great writing to start with. Pitchfork and PopMatters are two go-to sites for in-depth reviews – take this recent post from Pitchfork, for example. It’s a beautifully written piece by Andy Beta on one of my favourite records in any genre – Clube da Esquina by Lo Borges and Milton Nascimento. That iconic album cover says it all – two young Brazilian playmates (whom most people might assume are Borges and Nascimento when young) who turn out to be boys captured in an ‘image a la sauvette’ moment by Carlos da Silva Assunção Filho (better known as Cafi), a local photographer. The Pitchfork feature has some lovely stuff about the back story behind this image as well as a focus on the extraordinary lyricism of the record. Thanks to hauntingly beautiful arrangements by Eumir Deodato, the tracks are themselves burnished snapshots of moments in the lives of two central figures in Brazilian music. My favourite song from the many on this double album? Without doubt, it’s the extraordinary wordless Clube da Esquina No. 2 – listen and be moved. Trust me – you’ll come back to this song again and again.

Just 19 at the time of recording Clube da Esquina, Lo Borges was supported by his mother – affectionately known as Dona Maricota – who founded the corner cafe in Belo Horizonte where teenagers would meet to test out their new songs. Nascimento would go on to become one of the most famous of Brazil’s singer songwriters, performing with a host of the world’s best jazz artists including Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Jack deJohnette and Wayne Shorter, whose 1974 album Native Dancer was a collaboration between the two. Here’s Miracle of the Fishes, composed by Nascimento and Fernando Brant, one of the Clube da Esquina songwriters and featuring a spirited tenor solo from Shorter.

Original Clube da Esquina members – including Milton Nascimento, Lô Borges, Wagner Tiso, Fernando Brant and Toninho Horta.

PopMatters‘ name may suggest that it has nothing to offer jazz lovers – but far from it. This recent piece on Joseph Bowie and his band Defunkt by Imran Khan includes an interview which has more interesting revelations about Bowie’s musical sources and his current situation. If his surname has a jazz familiarity it’s because his elder brother was Lester Bowie from the Art Ensemble of Chicago – but Joseph pursued a different path, emerging as part of the New York punk/’no wave‘ movement in the late 1970s. The result was two albums – the self-titled Defunkt from 1980 and the explosive Thermonuclear Sweat which appeared two years later. Both albums are worth searching out – look for the Rykodisc set which includes both along with some additional tracks. Standouts include Illusion and their take on the O’Jays’ For the Love of Money, both from Thermonuclear Sweat (the better release). Bowie had also played with John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards around this time, and those who remember the NME’s cassette tapes from the 1980s might recall a Lounge Lizards track (Stomping at the Corona) on the Dancing Master compilation.

It was at this point that I moved on and lost track of Defunkt and Bowie – his elder brother’s music holding a more powerful appeal. Indeed, Lester Bowie’s The Great Pretender album for ECM in 1981 included Rios Negroes – the subject of a Cosmic Jazz feature from back in the day. Whether with the Art Ensemble or his Brass Fantasy project, Lester Bowie was responsible for some of the most innovative jazz recordings in the history of this art form. He referenced the history of both jazz and popular music – listen to this take on Night Life – more usually associated with Elvis Presley – from the excellent live album The Fire This Time (1992).

So what’s Joseph Bowie up to now? The PopMatters feature and interview revealed an interesting more recent project that I’d missed – Defunkt’s One World album from 1995 which featured a version of the Art Ensemble’s People in Sorrow, written by Joseph Bowie and with vocals by Kellie Sae. Recorded in the Netherlands where Bowie now lives, this is much more of a soul record (unfortunately with a slew of unconvincing lyrics) but the band is tight and it’s good to know that after decades of drug addiction and turbulence Bowie is still making music. For the full 40 minute threnody of the AEC’s People in Sorrow, listen right here.

We also have a run of jazz filmographies to check out at the moment: portraits- as dramatisations or documentaries of trumpeters Lee Morgan, Miles Davis and Chet Baker along with a new bio of the mysterious founder of jazz, cornetist Buddy Bolden. We have written of the excellent Birth of the Cool previously on CJ and you can now download it from BBC’s iPlayer. You should – there are memorable interviews – particularly with Frances Taylor Davis – and the story of Miles Davis remains compelling. Netflix delivers I Called Him Morgan and, while it isn’t as glossy as Birth of the Cool, it has its moments too. The story is rather less well known: trumpeter Lee Morgan was just 33 when he was shot and killed by his wife Helen Morgan while playing at Slug’s Saloon in New York in 1972. Initially, Morgan modelled himself on another trumpeter who met an early death, Clifford Brown. Both supremely talented on trumpet, Morgan went on to have the longer career, recording prolifically for Blue Note in the 1960-70s and netting the label a genuine chart hit with The Sidewinder from 1963. But there was much more to Morgan than this and, at the time of his death, the music was moving in new directions. In fact, his next release – 1966’s Search for The New Land – is a taste of where his music was heading. It was actually recorded before The Sidewinder but perhaps was shelved until Blue Note and/or his audience could catch up with him. Highlight is the 15 minute title track which features over both and closing of the film. Wayne Shorter is interviewed for I Called Him Morgan and says of this music: He was actually digging back into his roots in history – and what could be achieved with freedom. This is a favourite Lee Morgan album for many jazz fans – including myself. The sextet lineup is perfect with Wayne Shorter on tenor, Grant Green on guitar, Herbie Hancock on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. All tracks are standouts but Mr Kenyatta (a tribute to the now rather forgotten alto player Robin Kenyatta) is another classic.

Morgan went to release another sixteen albums in the nine years before his death and everyone is worth investigating. Of the lesser known releases, The Rajah is a personal favourite along with his intriguing final album, The Last Session and the wonderful In What Direction Are You Heading? My original double disc vinyl pressing is now rare but the CD can be tracked down for a reasonable price.

More lock down virtual crate digging revelations next week… In the meantime, this is some of the music Neil has been listening to over the last week:

Neil is listening to…

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