20 March 2021: from tough contemporary to deep contemplation to jazz dance

Here at Cosmic Jazz we travel the length of the jazz spaceways whenever we can – and if we blend this into one programme so much the better. This week the show begins with a selection of tough, free, contemporary music, then goes through a phase of more contemplative reflection and ends among the jazz dance crowd. Give it a listen and enjoy the contrasts.

1.Emma-Jean Thackray – Yang from Um Yang

Trumpeter Emma-Jean Thackray is one of the more idiosyncratic players on the current UK jazz scene. It’s difficult to predict where she’ll go next – and that’s what we like. Her most recent 12in/download is Um Yang, her long-dreamed of project dedicated to the Taoist philosophy of duality and harmony. Recorded live and cut direct to disc at Artone Studios, Haarlem in The Netherlands it’s available on vinyl through Night Dreamer Records. The disc comes with some glossy presentation and, for what is a record with only two tracks, does not come cheap. Personally, Derek could do without a sheet of photos – excellent as they are – and settle for a reduced price. The music, however, is great and features Soweto Kinch on saxophones, Lyle Barton on Fender Rhodes, Ben Kelly on sousaphone, Dwayne Kilvington on percussion, Crispin Robinson  on congas and drummer Dougal Taylor.

2. Kasia Pietrzko – Quasimode from Ephemeral Pleasure

We make no apologies for returning to the young Polish pianist Kasia Pietrzko. She is something special. Do check her out on Facebook where there are regular posts of her either playing solo piano or with other musicians. Ephemeral Pleasures was full of her own compositions and she also  arranged and produced the album. This trio CD comes with effusive praise in the liner notes from pianist Aaron Parks who describes her as patient , inquisitive, bold and filled with the sense of unforced discovery that marks true creative vision. Make no mistake, this is important, serious, intense and original music. Not easy listening, but well worth the intense concentration it demands and deserves.

3. O.N.E. Quintet – Wrotek  from One

More jazz from young Polish musicians: five young women with their first album which was also released in 2020. Like Kasia Pietrzko, it is excellent music that we have found through Steve’s Jazz Sounds. One is composed by the band members who  came together in 2015 yet went to different universities, live in different cities and contribute to different projects outside the quintet. The line-up comprises saxophone, piano, violin, double bass and drums. They create modern music jazz inspired by both folk and hip-hop. Pianist Pola Atmanska describes their music as difficult to pigeonhole, but it’s surely distinctive. I think that there is a lot of lyricism in it , but there’s also fire and strong, free sounds. Much of this can is exemplified in the tune Wrotek, which features in this week’s show.

4. Sarah Tandy – Under the Skin from Infection in the Sentence

As with all the above artists, piano and keyboard player Sarah Tandy is someone whose music we are always delighted to return to. We have played several tunes from her Jazz re:freshed debut album Infection in the Sentence, but may not have played this one before. At the time of its release she described herself as immersing myself in the myriad musical languages surrounding me. In the album I’m seeking to find a continuum between the jazz music which I grew up listening to, and the multi-faceted, genre-melting sounds of present day London. She had the musicians to support this in drummer Femi Koleoso,  saxophonist Binker Golding, bass player Mutale Chashi, and  trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, many of whom Sarah had played with for some time in London. Tandy was a one-time BBC young classical music finalist but realised while studying English Literature at Cambridge she needed jazz to express herself. Her playing is technically strong but it also has freedom and spontaneity, listen to the free-flowing pace at which her fingers zoom across the keyboards on Under the Skin. We’re told there will be new music out soon – we can’t wait.

5. Fergus McCreadie – Across Flatlands from Cairn

McCreadie’s sophomore album for Edition Records is a stunning trio release and consolidates his essential place in the current UK jazz scene (yes, it’s not all London and Manchester!).  McCreadie grew up in the Highland village of Cononbridge and – as on his first album – he’s exploring the relationship between the Scottish landscape and his music.  ​Cairn is surely going to consolidate his presence as a composer, pianist and trio leader with its combination of contemporary and jazz influences in​ mesmerising playing. Completing the trio are bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson. This is a record you must hear in whatever format you prefer – the download and CD are available direct from Edition Records here. Sadly, the stunning-looking vinyl first pressing is now sold out, but you might be able to track down copies in your independent record store.

6. Maria Schneider Orchestra – Data Lords from Data Lords

She did it! Our top release from 2020 secured a couple of Grammy Awards earlier this month – one for best large jazz ensemble and one for the tune Sputnik, voted best instrumental composition. Maria Schneider is one of the most creative artists working in jazz right now and we have been singing her praises for several years here on CJ. 2CD set Data Lords tells a tale of two opposite worlds, the digital versus the natural, and the result is two distinctive sounding discs – one cacophonous, the other euphonic. This is music to immerse yourself in – check out the beautifully presented package too via Schneider’s ArtistShare site.

7. Gabor Szabo – Mizrab from The Sorcerer

Szabo is perhaps best known to non-jazz audiences as the composer of Gypsy Queen (originally Gypsy 66) and later covered by Santana on their breakthrough Abraxas album, but also memorably interpreted by guitarist Larry Coryell on his Barefoot Boy album from 1971. Szabo was a Hungarian American guitarist whose early output for Impulse! Records is well worth investigating. He’d become a member of Chico Hamilton’s quintet in the 1960s (where he played alongside saxophonist Charles Lloyd) but his own releases are worth investigating. If you can track down a copy of one of his last albums, the live Belsta River recorded in Stockholm (1978), you’ll find the lengthy 24 Carat, another fine example of Szabo’s Hungarian folk roots impacting on his guitar playing. However, the Szabo album I return to most often is High Contrast, his 1970 duet release with Bobby Womack – an inspired instrumental pairing that includes the original version of Breezin’, one of George Benson’s biggest hits. This may be one of the first records that could be categorised as ‘smooth jazz’ but it is an inspirational album nonetheless.

8. Harold Land – Mtume from A New Shade of Blue

Harold Land is a really interesting tenor player. Ostensibly, a hard bop player in the 1960s, his tone darkened over the years and became more influenced by John Coltrane and modal experiments. His first records (including an excellent quintet recording The Fox from 1959) just great – check out the title track here, but it’s the later Mainstream albums that are so interesting. Neil is very taken with the enigmatically titled Choma (Burn) from 1971 which has four long tracks featuring Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. A New Shade of Blue comes from earlier in the same year and includes Hutcherson again, along with Buster Williams on bass and James (Mtume) Foreman on percussion. Reissued on vinyl in 2017, it’s well worth tracking down.

9. Nicola Conte – Rituals from Rituals

In contrast to some of the deep, intensive music earlier on the show, the last section includes artists who have been associated with the jazz-dance scenes – but this is definitely not to say they should be treated any less seriously. Nicola Conte is an Italian guitarist, DJ, producer and band leader with a prolific output and an open mind in terms of musical styles.  He has drawn upon sources from jazz to bossa nova to Italian film music to Indian classical and has a new 2021 release with Gianluca Petrella called People Need People. We, though, went back to 2008 and featured the title tune from Rituals. Very much an international project, Conte recruited musicians from Finland, Germany and the US as well as Italy. The breadth of his influences is telling and include Gabor Szabo, whom we featured earlier in the show. Rituals builds from a chilled introduction to to a strong melody that includes a fine solo from German trumpeter Till Brönner.

10. Bahama Social Club – King’s Wig from Bossa Nova Just Smells Funky

Through the Bahama Social Club we turn to dance-floor jazz with a comedic twist. They are a German-based group with guest appearances – as on this album – of like-minded musicians from other countries. Oliver Belz, previously of the JuJu Orchestra, is the lead behind the band. They are a blend of jazz, bossa nova, funk, blues, West African and Latin influences. The tune King’s Wig is, as the title suggests, great fun – but it’s also a clever blend of the traditional with more contemporary jazz dancefloor sounds. Swinging, baby! The voice introducing the tune is none other than DJ Symphony Sid (Sid Torin) who did much to popularise bebop and salsa with white audiences and is taken from his final Live from the Cheetah Club show. The cheese factor is definitely high but the music is sensational. King’s Wig is taken from Bossa Nova Just Smells Funky (surely a sideways reference to Frank Zappa’s famous dictum that “Jazz isn’t dead. It just smells funny”) was released in 2010 and became the group’s biggest success, widely acclaimed and played in Germany but also worldwide.

11. Working Week – Venceremos (We Will Win) (Jazzy Dance Special 12″ Version) from Working Nights

We end, as we began, with British musicians from a group, like those of Nicola Conte and the Bahama Social Club that included several guests to supplement their basic core. At the centre of the group was guitarist Simon Booth alongside vocalist Juliet Roberts and Larry Stabbins on saxophones and flute, but guests on Working Nights included Louis Moholo on drums, Mike Carr on organ, Guy Barker on trumpet and vocalists Tracy Thorn and Robert Wyatt. Reissued in 2012 as a 2CD set, Working Nights documents the work they produced – dance friendly but with a powerful message underneath.  Simon Booth had conceived the band as being tough, politically motivated and jazz dance based and the tune Venceremos proved this. The 12″ version is definitely  a dance floor filler, with some fine jazz playing alongside the references to  Chilean political dictatorship responsible for the death of acclaimed folk singer Victor Jara,  murdered by the CIA-backed military junta of the time. All the musicians involved gave their services for free and royalties went to the Chilean Solidarity Campaign. Perhaps remarkably, the track even reached the pop music charts – quite an achievement. The original album began with an excellent take on Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues – here’s the original video from 1985. More great music soon on Cosmic Jazz.

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