16 May 2021: favourite record labels old and new + Curtis Fuller

Welcome to the latest Cosmic Jazz. Just click the Mixcloud tab (above) to hear music from two record labels – the short-lived Black Jazz Records and a British label with an international perspective, Edition Records, now celebrating 13 years of music. We also play tribute to trombonist and veteran of many a Blue Note session, Curtis Fuller, who died this week. As if that wasn’t enough – there’s jazz from Poland and some soulful and spiritual moments.

1. Art Blakey – The High Priest from Kyoto

First up is Art Blakey and a mid-1960s incarnation of the Jazz Messengers, featuring the late Curtis Fuller on trombone. The High Priest is a Fuller composition and features some fine trombone soloing along with Wayne Shorter’s characteristic tenor sound and Freddie Hubbard’s fluent trumpet break. By this time, Lee Morgan and Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merritt had left the Messengers and had been replaced by Hubbard, Cedar Walton and Reggie Workman. Fuller was added to create a powerful sextet that went on to record the classic Buhaina’s Delight, Free For All and Indestructible albums, the last of which has just been reissued as part of the ongoing Blue Note 80 vinyl editions. If you can find a copy, it’s well worth getting hold of. Curtis Fuller is also featured on Blue Train – John Coltrane’s sole Blue Note recording – but he also released over twenty albums under his own leadership. Recommended are his other Blue Note and Prestige dates along with two albums recorded in the 1970s for the Mainstream label – Smokin’ (1972) and Crankin’ (1973). Here’s the title track from Crankin’ which includes the young Stanley Clarke on bass and Lenny White on drums, then both starting out on their careers with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever group.

2. Yusef Lateef – Before Dawn from Before Dawn

Curtis Fuller also appears on this 1957 record from Yusef Lateef, who was even then experimenting with sounds beyond jazz. Before Dawn was recorded in April 1957 and Curtis Fuller was born in December 1934 so he was only 22 at the time. This, and the youthful-looking photo that accompanies the notes for the CD reissue, might suggest that this was an early date in his career but Fuller had, in fact, already played on sessions for the Prestige, Blue Note and Savoy record labels.  Before Dawn is an inventive tune, full of surprises and most unlike the jazz of its time. Bob Blumenthal in the CD notes  comments that “The structure is modal and the mood raga-like”, and it still stands out today as distinctive and original.  The first solo on the track is delivered by Lateef but then in comes Fuller blowing over the cacophony of backing noises. It has probably not been easy for any jazz trombone player to become a jazz superstar: it’s difficult to produce those flashy moments you can get from sax or trumpet players, and yet the trombone provides a solid, rounded sound and in the hands of someone like Curtis Fuller, an inventive one too.

3. Doug Carn – Moon Child from Infant Eyes

Two more new releases from Real Gone Music – who are working their way through the complete Black Jazz Records catalogue – were next on the show. Both tracks are from Doug Carn albums – Infant Eyes from 1971 and Revelation from 1973 – and both feature Jean Carn, Doug Carn’s then wife, on vocals. Using her five octave range, the music is powerful stuff – more spiritual than soul jazz, as evidenced by the inclusion of John Coltrane’s Welcome and Acknowledgement (from A Love Supreme). Moon Child isn’t the Pharoah Sanders tune but a Carn original and features some really excellent piano. The rest of the album includes some great Carn lyrics to versions of Wayne Shorter’s Infant Eyes and Bobby Hutcherson’s Little B’s Poem and – more than many Black Jazz records – Infant Eyes is full of strong performances and feels a really well structured album. There’s also includes a fiery cover of McCoy Tyner’s Passion Dance which holds up well against Tyner’s original recording on his 1967 The Real McCoy album.

4. Doug Carn – Feel Free from Revelation

Revelation appeared two years later and includes Olu Dara on trumpet and Rene McLean (Jackie McLean’s son) on flute and alto sax. More obviously modal in style – and certainly on Revelation – with some great guitar from Nathan Page and expressive vocals from Jean Carn. Perhaps now known more for being the father of celebrated rapper Nas, Dara is something of an unsung figure in New York’s loft scene in the 1970s. Playing alongside David Murray, James Blood Ulmer and Hamiet Bluiett, Dara later released just two albums under his own name in 1998 and 2001, neither of which demonstrate his jazz playing to any extent. Neil has both records and whilst they are charming in a downhome, chilled out bluesy kind of way they major on Dara’s guitar playing and vocals rather than his ‘jazz’ instrument, the cornet. For a taste of the tone of these two records, try Young Mama from In The World: From Natchez to Mississippi, his first solo album, but for the jazz Dara go for David Murray’s masterpiece Ming and the lovely title track on which Dara plays trumpet while Butch Morris is on cornet and George Lewis on trombone. Carn dips again into McCoy Tyner’s The Real McCoy album for the lovely Contemplation, which features some impassioned vocals from Jean Carn. It’s worth saying again that these two records are among the best of the twenty releases on the Black Jazz label. Both are likely to sell out soon and – of course – vinyl is the way to hear them.

5. Chris Potter – Southbound and The Peanut from Sunrise Reprise

Now signed to UK label Edition Records, saxophonist Chris Potter has an upcoming new trio release, Sunrise Reprise, that showcases his work on saxes and the synth samples he’s used in his solo lockdown record, There Is a Tide. Potter is just 50 but has already released over 20 albums as leader and guested on numerous others, most notably with Dave Holland, Pat Metheny and the late Paul Motian. Sunrise Reprise sees the return of his new Circuits trio with James Francies on keyboards and Eric Harland on drums. In Sept 2020, a small window emerged from the Covid-19 restrictions and Potter took the opportunity to record with his trio. As Potter explained, “All of a sudden we’re in the studio. It felt such a release, a sense of freedom to create and to express ourselves collectively. It’s this, that has been the central part of this album – it’s about the trio, our shared energy, reflecting our own thoughts and feelings from all that’s going on in the world. Eric, James, and I really needed to PLAY, to try to put into music all the intense feelings of the previous few months. The close bond we had developed playing this music together on the road led to what we felt as a cathartic musical experience in the studio, documented in one very special evening”.

7. Gretchen Parlato – E Preciso Perdoar from Flor

Also on Edition Records is singer Gretchen Parlato with a Brazilian-infused album that sees her return to recording after some years away with her family.  Back in 2011 we were championing Parlato and her trio of albums for the New York-based ObliqSound label. In A Dream (2009) featured her take on Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly – a tune we played several times on Cosmic Jazz. The tune was also featured in a beautifully restrained version on the superbly recorded Live in NYC album where Parlato’s breathy vocals accompanied sensitive arrangements and some fine playing from a band that included husband Mark Guiliana on drums and Taylor Eigsti on piano. The new album is Flor and it’s an altogether lighter, more restrained recording with an introspective approach that reflects an interest in children’s songs, including the affecting Wonderful. In a recent interview with Jazzwise, Parlato commented on  the “sense of nostalgia in choosing Brazilian music as the theme because it’s something that represents an early love as a teenager, something I’ve always loved but never really paid respect to in a full album.” In the best possible way, it’s a charming record and no track is more so than her superb cover of the Alcivando Luz tune E Preciso Perdoar. This is surely one of the most beautiful songs in any language and works in whatever arrangement – even this bass heavy take from the Red Hot and Rio album with Cesaria Evoria, Caetano Veloso and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

8. Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto – E Preciso Perdoar from The Best  Of Two Worlds

Of course, for the real thing we had to include the definitive take from Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto on their essential Best of Two Worlds album. In Neil’s view, this is simply a must-have Brazilian album. Recorded in 1976, it’s something of a reunion with Gilberto and the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim – but it’s actually more than that. The band is to die for – drummer Billy Hart, percussionist Airto Moreira, bass player Steve Swallow and pianist Albert Dailey. Vocalist Heloisa Maria Buarque de Hollanda (also known as Miucha and mother of Bebel Gilberto) is the Astrud Gilberto voice – but much better. Aguas de Marco is superb, but so is everything else. Here it is – just listen to that poetry and Getz’s concluding solo!

9. Bheki Mseleku – Cosmic Dance from Beyond The Stars

The late Bheki Mseleku was something of a phenomenon. An entirely self-taught pianist, saxophonist, guitarist and composer who grew up in Johannesburg, Mseleku moved to London in the late 1970s where in 1987 – and cradling a tenor saxophone at his piano stool – he made his debut at Ronnie Scott’s club. His 1991 album Celebration was nominated for  Mercury Music Prize (but, of course, it didn’t win). Meditations and Timelessness appeared on major label Verve in subsequent years but by 2008 Mseleku was dead from diabetes at just 53. Now comes a newly-discovered solo piano recording, overseen by long time friend and supporter Eugene Skeef who had helped Mseleku return to London in 2003. Beyond The Stars is the result: a solo piano suite which condenses Mseleku’s vision of the diversity of South African musical forms into a statement in six parts. There are references to Mseleku’s Zulu heritage and the song forms of marabi, amahubo, maskanda and nguni create a kind of musical summary of his life.

10. Leszek Kulakowski Project – Cul-de-Sac from Komeda Variations

Komeda Variations is, of course, a tribute to the work of Krzysztof Komeda, surely Poland’s most celebrated jazz composer. Komeda wrote the scores forRoman Polanski’s films Knife in the Water (1962), Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and the tune we featured in this show, Cul de Sac (1966). Komeda found success with his quartet, which included the great Tomasz Stanko on trumpet, and – until his move to Los Angeles – they would perform at the celebrated Golden Circle club in Stockholm to great acclaim. Tragically, Komeda was to suffer a brain haematoma and died in 1969. The Komeda Variations is a live concert recording by veteran Polish pianist, composer and bandleader Leszek Kulakowski quartet with Kulakowski on piano, bassist Adam Kowalewski and drummer Tomasz Sowinski, and three trumpeters – Piotr Wojtasik (another good friend of Cosmic Jazz), Tomasz Dabrowski and German Christoph Titz, playing with the Sinfonia Baltica Philharmonic Orchestra. There’s a great balance between orchestra and quartet and Kulakowski’s piano solos are full of delicate touches and inventive twists.

11. Quindependence – Road to the Promised Land from Circumstances

The Polish group Quindependence return for a second week on the show, prompted by a comment from Neil as to how good that first track is on the album really is. Released in 2017, Circumstances would appear to be their only record. Much has been made of the so-called melancholy in Polish Jazz. There is none of that here. There is a sound that feels bigger than the quintet format and there are hints of soul and gospel-tinged touches which add a warmth  and embracing feel to the music. Of course, Polish jazz does not affect just one style or tradition – there is a wealth of variety here and, coupled with what appears to be an unending profusion of new artists on the scene, there is always something new to listen to. Not sure where to start? Explore more great European jazz via the always excellent Steve’s Jazz Sounds.

12. Cannonball Adderley – Fun in the Church from Soul of the Bible/Walk Tall: the David Axelrod Years

The soul and gospel hints in the Quindependence tune suggested to Derek that the music of Cannonball Adderley would be an excellent follow-up. For anyone in the early stages of discovering jazz,  the uplifting and accessible music of alto saxophonist Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley would be an inspiration to keep on digging. Apparently, he was given the name ‘Cannonball’ at  high school because of his voracious appetite. Whatever the truth of this, Adderley’s music always had great power. No Jackie McLean acidity or David Sanborn leanness appears in his tone on alto – it’s always rich and warm, and nowhere can you hear the contrast more easily than on the iconic Kind of Blue album where he paired with John Coltrane. Adderley had joined the group two years before the recording so he was well settled in – and you hear this on his first solo on So What. It couldn’t be more different than Coltrane’s – listen to them both here. By the 1960s Adderley had his own quintet with younger brother Nat on trumpet. Many outstanding jazz musicians were to pass through the ranks of his line-ups, including the aforementioned Yusef Lateef and Adderley’s always populist (in a good way) joyous approach endeared him to live audiences. His music straddled categorisation – there’s soul jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, gospel, bossa nova and more in an extensive discography recorded both live and in the studio. We’d recommend starting with Somethin’ Else which is really a Miles Davis record with Adderley’s name on the front. The music here doesn’t put a foot wrong: Autumn Leaves is definitive with its wonderful blues-soaked Adderley solo, but everything else, including a take on Love for Sale, is cliche-free and Art Blakey on drums and Sam Jones on bass keep it swinging throughout.  Fun in the Church actually comes from one of our Cosmic Jazz favourites – the underrated Soul of the Bible album from 1972, credited to brother Nat Adderley. This album may have its detractors but for us it truly is music for the soul and music for the dancing feet. The excellent 2CD compilation Walk Tall: the David Axelrod Years includes this and other tracks from Soul of the Bible, along with tracks from later Adderley records like Accent on Africa, Why Am I Treated So Bad and Black Messiah. Highly recommended.

13. Terry Callier – Love Theme From Spartacus (4Hero Main Mix) from Love Theme From Spartacus EP

Derek has been ending the show with tunes that stretch beyond the boundaries of what might be termed jazz. Last week the show featured Callier on a tune that acknowledged the influence of John Coltrane. This week’s choice is taken from a 12in EP of remixes and can’t be called jazz, but 4Hero’s work here has its own deep qualities. It’s difficult to believe that this beautiful, gentle mix was recorded almost twenty years ago, but the work of Londoners Marc Mac and Dego has stood the test of time. Their full length records are worth exploring too, starting with the sprawling two disc set Two Pages, from 1998. The first disc is the jazzier side of their work – try the orchestral sweeps of Planetaria, complemented by Luke Parkhouse’s live drum and bass kitwork. For more Terry Callier check out another twist on Spartacus, here with UK guitarist Jim Mullen and recorded live at the Bratislava Jazz Festival. It’s a fine performance of the Spartacus Love Theme mixed with What About Me (You Gonna Do About Me), and reminds us just what a fine singer Terry Callier was.

Derek is listening to…

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