02 May 2021: from NY to SG – jazz friends old and new

In the internet age it’s relatively easy to be eclectic in your listening choices. Whilst many sites encourage a “If you like this, try this” approach – which can sometimes throw up surprises – more random browsing can reveal some startlingly serendipitous music. Add into that mix the musical brains of two long time jazz listeners and the results are below. And – as if these 14 tracks weren’t enough – there’s the return of Neil is listening to… at the end of this post with ten more YouTube clips.

1. George Benson – You Can Do It (Baby) from Nuyorican Soul

A few weeks back on Cosmic Jazz Derek was listening again to the essential 1997 album Nuyorican Soul and played I Am the Black Gold of the Sun featuring Jocelyn Brown on vocals. It had been a toss up as to whether to play that or another tune. When Neil was reminded of the album he mentioned straightaway that same number featuring George Benson on guitar and vocals and so we start this show with You Can Do It (Baby), created from an improvisation in the studio. Benson’s trademark rippling chords were taped and the next day producers ‘Little’ Louie Vega and Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez returned to the studio and created all new music underneath what they had recorded from Benson. Vega explained “Suddenly I heard jazzy flavoured chords and a Latin bass line and we also heard an African kind of rhythm.” The result is a masterpiece that starts with classical flourishes and moves into a solid extended groove.

2. Freddie Hubbard – First Light from First Light

That first choice led Derek to another old favourite that also includes a star turn from George Benson. This is on trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s album First Light produced by Creed Taylor for his CTI label in 1971. The title tune has a beautiful and sensitive solo from Benson playing with musicians that included – besides Hubbard – CTI stalwarts Herbie Hancock on Fender Rhodes, Ron Carter on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, Airto Moreira on percussion and Herbert Laws on flute. Recorded at the Van Gelder Studios with Rudy Van Gelder as the engineer, First Light is eleven minutes of blissful and serene intensity. The rest of the album may not reach the same standards but this number is a must have. The CD reissue includes an extended live version tagged onto the end of the album but – as always – the most immersive experience comes from vinyl and the Pure Pleasure label reissue from 2017 is the one to go for.

3. Eric Dolphy – Love Me from Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions

Made months before he cut his Blue Note masterpiece Out To Lunch, these newly excavated recordings from Resonance Records demonstrate just how differently Dolphy heard his music. On alto saxophone, flute or bass clarinet, Dolphy brought his brittle, multiphonic tones to pretty much everything he played, whether jazz standards, show tunes or original compositions. Critic John Tynan called his music “anti-jazz” and his abrasive style often meant that he struggled to get work. In 1964, Dolphy moved to Europe hoping to tap into the less restrictive free jazz environment but he died from undiagnosed diabetes in Berlin later that same year. Out To Lunch is, of course, a landmark recording and an essential jazz record but there are plenty of delights in this well produced 3LP/2CD set, almost all cuts taken from the same two-day session in the summer of 1963. There are two new solo alto saxophone takes of Love Me, the longing romantic ballad most famously recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1951. On each version, Dolphy rarely repeats himself, using pauses to let the echo of his sultry tone ring out into the studio. We played the first shorter take – on the second version, Dolphy stretches out a little more, but both are superb in-the-moment improvisations that capture his remarkable individual voice.

4. Rob Mazurek – Exploding Star Orchestra – Parable of Inclusion from Dimensional Stardust

Mazurek emerged from the 1990s Chicago scene and is a stalwart of one of our current favourite labels, International Anthem. He’s been involved with the Chicago Underground Duo, Isotope 217, Alien Flower Sutra and the São Paulo Underground. He’s also recorded with another International Anthem artist we have featured on Cosmic Jazz, guitarist Jeff Parker. Commissioned by the Chicago Cultural Center and the Jazz Institute of Chicago in 2005 to assemble a group representing the diversity of the city’s contemporary avant-garde, Mazurek amassed a 14-piece ensemble and began composing music for what became his Exploding Star Orchestra (ESO). For ESO’s latest outing, Mazurek channeled his arrangements through 11 musicians – Nicole Mitchell, Jeff Parker, Jaimie Branch, Joel Ross, Mikel Patrick Avery, Tomeka Reid, Chad Taylor, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Macie Stewart, Angelica Sanchez, and John Herndon – and commissioned his long-time lyrical collaborator Damon Locks to draft original texts for each of the titles and record vocal tracks. Dimensional Stardust is the outcome. There’s a focus on tight ensemble orchestration over passages of open improvisation with few obvious soloist moments. The whole thing is supported by the electro-acoustic poly-rhythmic percussion section pushing the music forwards alongside the collected ensemble. This is a record well worth exploring – find out more here on Bandcamp.

5. Kurt Elling feat Danilo Perez – Song of the Rio Grande (for Oscar & Valerie Martinez)  from Secrets Are the Best Stories

The first of our visits to three great vocalists on the show, Grammy-award winning Kurt Elling carries on the vocal experimentation of his fellow baritone Mark Murphy (more of whom later). Secrets Are The Best Stories is his new album on UK label Edition Records, featuring renowned pianist Danilo Pérez – also a member of Wayne Shorter’s celebrated quartet. Elling has pushed the envelope even further on this record, exploring the passion and the messages, political, personal, that inspire him. As usual, Elling’s sources are many and various: here he adapts the works of contemporary poets Franz Wright and Robert Bly, the 19th century abolitionist poet Frances E.W. Harper and Nobel-winning author Toni Morrison. In the powerful Song of the Rio Grande, Elling brings us back to the tragic poignancy of the image captured by journalist Julia de Luc for the New York Times and signalled at the head of this powerful article here.

6. Mark Murphy – Nothing Will Be As It Was Tomorrow from Brazil Song/Songbook

As far as Neil is concerned, Mark Murphy is the jazz vocalist: and he was lucky enough to see him live in his later years in the intimate setting of a UK jazz club. Murphy lived for nearly ten years in London and became a regular performer at Ronnie Scott’s club but it’s his 14 year run of superb recordings for the Muse label that followed his return to the US in 1972 that are the peak of his achievements on record. Any of these individual albums are worth looking out for: the recordings are excellent, the bands are often first rate (featuring such artists as Ron Carter, Richie Cole, Randy Brecker and David Sanborn) and Murphy inspires with his eclectic choice of songs, arrangements and original lyrics. It’s not easy to choose a single track to represent this consistent body of work, but Milton Nascimento’s Nothing Will Be As It Was Tomorrow from the superb Brazil Song record is as good a place as any to start. Nada será como antes first appeared on Nascimento’s magnificent Clube da Esquina album and was re-recorded for his first US release Milton, where he was accompanied by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock – listen here. 32 Jazz Records collated many of these Muse tracks for a series of compilations, including Songbook which also featured the awesome We’ll Be Together with Murphy creating a sense of anger and longing few singers could even fathom.

7. Marcus Resende & Index – My Heart from Marcus Resende & Index

Little is known about Marcos Resende & Index and so the 2021 release of their self-titled debut album from 1976 by the ever-reliable Far Out Recordings is very welcome. Resende was already musically accomplished on accordion and piano before he travelled to Lisbon in th e1960s to study medicine, but he continued to perform, even opening for saxophonist Dexter Gordon at the Cascais Jazz Festival in 1971. Returning to Brazil in 1974, he began to explore the range of electronic keyboards then being used by jazz artists like Herbie Hancock. Armed with his new Prophet 5, Yamaha CP-708 and Mini Moog , he formed a new quartet with Rubao Sabino (bass), Claudio Caribe (drums) and the late, great Oberdan Magalhaes of Banda Black Rio fame. The record was created with legendary sound engineer Toninho Barbosa – known as the ‘Brazilian Rudy Van Gelder’ (yes, him again!) whose impressive resume includes the era-defining classics Light as a Feather by Azymuth, Previsao Do Tempo by Marcos Valle and Quem E Quem by Joao Donato. Remarkably, the music was never released, but the tapes were presented to Far Out’s Joe Davis in 2018 and the album finally emerged in January this year.

8. Hamiet Bluiett – Footprints from Bearer of the Holy Flame

Neil’s final choice for this show is a performance of Wayne Shorter’s classic Footprints in a somewhat self-indulgent 1994 live version by baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett. It may extend itself rather too much but it’s great to hear Bluiett honking away alongside the underrated pianist John Hicks, AACM member bassist Fred Hopkins, prolific drummer Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith and percussionist Chief Bey who appeared on albums by Art Blakey and Babatunde Olatunji.  After playing with Charles Mingus and Sam Rivers, Bluiett was most well known as a member of the World Saxophone Quartet with Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and David Murray. Here they are on the title track from their 1994 album I Heard That.  The rather unwieldy baritone saxophone may be less well known as a solo instrument in jazz but its deep, dark tone is addictive and famed soloists include Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Ronnie Cuber and Serge Chaloff, the first and greatest bebop baritone player. Here he is with the classic Stairway to the Stars from his 1956 Capitol album Blue Serge. Chaloff had a tragically short life, dying at 33 in a Massachusetts hospital, with his baritone sax and a pet kinkajou alongside him.

9. Jerzy Malek – Culmination from Black Sheep

Jerzy Malek is a Polish trumpet/flugelhorn player who we were introduced to via Steve’s Jazz Sounds, that excellent source of new jazz from continental Europe. Black Sheep, released in 2019, is Malek’s eighth album and features the young Aga Derlak on piano – another distinguished player on the Polish scene. The Polish Jazz Blogspot describes the album as closer to the American jazz mainstream than the contemporary Polish one but this only shows how Polish musicians can be “completely free of any inferiority complexes in comparison to what is happening across the pond.” Quite right too. We continue to be so impressed by the endless variety of new jazz music coming from Poland.

10. Quindependence – Song for E from Circumstances

This was the debut album released in 2017 by a young Polish jazz ensemble of five members with sax/flute, trumpet, piano, drums, bass. It appears that there have not been any follow-up releases. There are seven tunes, four of which are original compositions. Two come from bass player Milosz Skwirut and pianist Michal Salmon and two are arrangements of French composer Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes, a loose suite of three piano compositions. Typical of Satie, gnossienne – which seems to derive from gnosis (or knowledge) – was a word that did not exist before Satie used it. The music of Quindependence is interesting, not always predictable and with a high standard of musicianship and complexity. There’s a genuinely soulful, gospelly ensemble feel to this music – tight arrangements, soaring trumpet from Dominik Borek and lyrical soprano sax from Krzysztof Mateiski – that’s nowhere more apparent than on the opening and closing tracks, including Song for E.

11. Chester Thompson – Weird Harold from Powerhouse 

This is from another of the Black Jazz Records re-releases from Real Gone Music, who are working their way through all twenty Black Jazz albums released initially between 1971-75. All will be available on vinyl and all are remastered at Gotta Groove Records in Cleveland, Ohio. For a look at ten of the best of these records, explore this Vinyl Factory feature on the label or – better still – check out your local record store for copies. One of Neil’s favourites in Singapore, The Analog Vault (see image above), still has a good selection available – follow them on Instagram and check out their recent display. The Analog Vault website is an excellent source for jazz and beyond – store managers Leon and Nick chat about some of their current favourites on this video – starting with Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders and Phil Ranelin! This 1971 debut recording from Chester Thompson is in the fine Hammond B3-swinging tradition of Jimmy Smith circa Back at the Chicken Shack, although on Weird Harold and the title cut there’s a more forward-thinking jazz-funk sound that leans towards Thompsons’s time with LA’s Tower of Power. He gained plenty of experience in how to generate such emotions as a long-standing player with Tower of Power and Santana. Saxophonist Rudolph Johnson, another Black Jazz Records artist, appears on Powerhouse along with drummer Raymond Pounds – who also played with Pharaoh Sanders, Stevie Wonder and the Pointer Sisters – and trombonist Al Hall whose playing credits included Johnny Hammond, Freddie Hubbard and Eddie Harris (all Cosmic Jazz favourites).

12. Terry Callier – Can’t Catch the Trane (original demo) from Life Lessons: the Best of Terry Callier

Derek has been listening to the music of singer Terry Callier for the first time in a while, following some reminiscent posts on Facebook reminding him that it was time to re-visit. Callier’s music crossed the boundaries of jazz, folk, blues, soul and funk and he was strongly influenced by the work of John Coltrane, as evidenced by our choice this week. In the 1970s Callier recorded three critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful albums, each produced by Charles Stepney, famed for working with Earth, Wind and Fire, Rotary Connection and Ramsey Lewis. Occasional Rain (1972), What Color Is Love (1973) and I Just Can’t Help Myself (1973) have all been reissued and are worthy of investigation.  Can’t Catch the Trane can be found on the last of these and it’s a powerful tune that is typical of the album. The Coltranish sax solo is by Don Myrick who went on to become a first call session musician for many soul/R and B artists. His closing tenor solo on Earth Wind and Fire’s Runnin‘ (one of Neil’s favourite EWF tunes) was nominated for a Grammy Award. Callier grew up in a Chicago project housing and was childhood friends with Curtis Mayfield, Major Lance and Jerry Butler, but his resonant baritone and love of jazz took him in a different direction, with I Just Can’t Help Myself even featuring a lush version of Duke Ellington’s Satin Doll. Callier left the music scene in the early 1980s and took courses in computer programming before graduating with a sociology degree from the University of Chicago. He re-emerged from obscurity in the late 1980s, when British DJs discovered his old recordings and began to play his songs in clubs and on the radio. Both Neil and Derek remember hearing his music on UK radio stations at this time and in the 1990s he returned to recording, releasing the album Timepeace in 1998 on Gilles Peterson’s then Talkin’ Loud label. This album is definitely worth looking out for – check out the wonderful Keep Your Heart Right as an example of his late style.  His final album on the UK Mr Bongo label was a collaboration with Robert del Naja from Bristol triphoppers Massive Attack and included Live With Me, recorded in an even better string-drenched version by the band with vocals by Callier and released on their Collected album.

13. The John Coltrane Quartet – Song of the Underground Railroad from The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions 

The Terry Callier tune provided one play on the notion of a train so here is another from John Coltrane himself. The Underground Railroad was the metaphorical description for the safe routes by which the enslaved of the Southern states of the US could escape to the North and at the time of the recording in 1961 Coltrane had been researching spirituals and nineteenth-century folksongs. This was Coltrane’s first record on the Impulse! label with whom he would stay for the rest of his recording career and it was also his first visit to Englewood Cliffs, Rudy Van Gelder’s celebrated New Jersey studio. The quartet was made up of McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Elvin Jones on drums and, yes, two other people already mentioned in these notes made a contribution – Rudy Van Gelder as recording engineer, with orchestration from Eric Dolphy on some tracks.

14. N’Dambi – Ode 2 Nina from Tunin’ Up & Consignin’

We like to end the show with artists and tunes that stretch musical boundaries and vocalist/composer N’Dambi fits the bill. If you have not come across her check out the 2002 2CD set Tunin Up & Consignin from which Ode 2 Nina comes. Musically, N’Dambi stretches across soul/R’n’B and on this album definitely jazz. Ode 2 Nina is, of course, a dedication to Nina Simone and is delivered with soulful power and emotion, all with an amazing vocal range. The album is a mix of live and studio recordings and  contains many other surprises and highlights. It is not just jazz but – as you know – that’s how we like it on Cosmic Jazz.

Neil is listening to…

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