Welcome to a new Cosmic Jazz. This week we celebrate the range and diversity of the Edition Records label, dive into deep new jazz from Damon Locks and Jason Moran and acknowledge the 50th anniversary of the release of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, a record that should be in everyone’s collection. To listen to the show, just click on the Mixcloud tab (above left).
1.Rudd, Saft, Dunn, Pandi – Cobalt is a Divine from Strength & Power
Music this week comes from the usual diverse sources starting with Jamie Saft, the man with the longest beard in jazz. Saft is uniquely interesting: associated with John Zorn’s Tzadik Records, he could easily be seen as a serial leftfield collaborator – after all he was responsible for an anti-Semitism themed heavy metal outing called Black Shabbis. But his diversity of output is pretty remarkable – from pianist in a self-described bar band to the soloist in a John Adams opera, Saft has also recorded frequently with veteran drummer Jerry Granelli, trumpeters Wadada Leo Smith and Cuong Vu, long time friend and neighbour trombonist Roswell Rudd and released an intriguing record of Bob Dylan covers in 2006. Cobalt is a Divine (we’re not sure what that means either!) is driven by the then 80 year old trombonist and free-jazz pioneer Roswell Rudd who died a year after this recording. Having worked with free jazz pianist Cecil Taylor, Rudd knew how to punctuate Saft’s glissando vamps and hammered chords, even as Dunn and Pandi clatter and crash in the background but he could also produce the kind of blues drawls that sound almost Monk-like at the beginning of Cobalt Is a Divine. For a different side to Saft pianism, listen to him in a great duo performance with veteran drummer Jerry Granelli on First Thought, Best Thought from their excellent Nowness album.
2. Daniel Herskedal – Ice- Free and Arriving at Ellis Island from Harbour
Herskedal is a tuba player from Molde in Norway, home of the famous moldejazz festival. He’s played with fellow countryman Marius Neset (another great Edition Records signing) along with a host of other Norwegian jazz artists. There’s more than jazz in Herskedal’s playing – not for nothing was his Master’s dissertation on the relationship between jazz and the sacred Sami music form of joik. There’s a classical influence there too and all this come together in his previous album for Edition, Call for Winter, for which he won a Norwegian ‘Grammy’, or Spelleman award. The album was inspired by Norway’s stunning winter landscape, and Herskedal sought inspiration before the recording by retreating to a remote area of the Southern Sami highlands, where he built a studio and then – for two weeks – spent his time skiing, composing, and recording. The result were twelve tracks that captured the cinematic ambience of the landscape through the extraordinary range Herskedal conjures up on both tuba and bass trumpet. Subtle electronic effects add yet more atmosphere. Call for Winter is a deep record deserving of an uninterrupted listen – preferably while gazing out at a snowy landscape and sitting by an open fire. The new album Harbour will be out in July 2021 and was recorded with long term collaborators pianist Eyolf Dale and percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken. The track titles indicate the maritime theme at work here and there are references to the role ships and boats have played in people migration, from the immigration station at Ellis Island to the beaches of Lesbos in Greece. We’ve got two tracks for you here on Cosmic Jazz – listen and then head right here to Edition Records to pick up your copy (vinyl, CD or download).
3. Chris Potter – Sunrise & Joshua Trees from Sunrise Reprise
We are long time fans of Chris Potter’s ever imaginative playing here on Cosmic Jazz and his new trio recording on Edition Records doesn’t disappoint. We featured a couple of tunes in our last show and include the atmospheric opening track here. It sets up the tone of the record – sparse and subtle use of electronics set against reeds, keyboards and drums. The Circuits band lineup first appeared in 2019 on Potter’s first release on Edition Records (he’d previously been signed to ECM) and the new record continues the explorations in that first self-titled album. In many ways, Potter is the heir to Michael Brecker – muscular, soulful playing that utilises the full range of the tenor horn with energy, ambition and the harmonic understanding that Coltrane shared. Like Brecker, Potter is also good at making short, pithy statements but it’s his new-found ability on a range of instruments (pace his previous solo album There Is a Tide) and the subtle use of electronics that mark him out as unique. Potter is on tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinets, flutes and sampler with James Francies on keyboards and Eric Harland on drums.
5. Doug Carn – Power and Glory from Revelation
Doug Carn’s earliest musical influences included his mother, who was a formidable pianist and organist who had gigged with Dizzy Gillespie and knew tenor player Stanley Turrentine and organist Shirley Scott. With his wife Jean, Carn moved to southern California in 1970 and took up residence in an apartment building that also housed Earth, Wind and Fire members and both Carns featured on the band’s first two records in 1971 before signing to the new Black Jazz label. Infant Eyes (which we featured in the last CJ) was Carn’s first release on the label, with the excellent Spirit of the New Land following in 1972. Revelation is more obviously modal than previous albums and includes Olu Dara (rapper Nas’s father) on trumpet and Rene McLean (Jackie McLean’s son) on flute and alto sax. It was the final release by the Carns as a married couple and also included covers of Coltrane’s Naima and Rene McLean’s Jihad. More recently, Carn was recruited to the first of producer/DJ Carl Craig’s excellent Detroit Experiment records and – interestingly – appeared on trombonist Curtis Fuller’s 2005 album Savant. In 2020, Carn teamed up with producer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalists Adrian Young and Ali Shaheed Muhammad for one of their Jazz Is Dead releases (see below) and the result included the atmospheric Desert Rain with its hip hop triplets and Carn back on Hammond B3.
6. Damon Locks – Black Monument Ensemble – Now (Forever Momentary) Space from NOW
Damon Locks and his Black Monument Ensemble’s new album NOW was created at the end of summer 2020, following the explosion of social unrest and street violence in the US. The music was recorded in a few takes in the garden of a Chicago studio, For Locks, the impetus was more about getting together as musicians to share their feelings: “It was about resisting the darkness. It was about expressing possibility. It was about asking the question, ‘Since the future has unfolded and taken a new and dangerous shape… what happens NOW?’” The Black Monument Ensemble was originally conceived as a medium for Chicago-based multi-media artist/activist Damon Locks’s sample-based sound collage work but it’s expanded into a collective of artists, musicians, singers, and dancers working together and this very spontaneous-sounding recording emphasises the collaborative nature of the music making. The music that results is not without its antecedents – think Phil Cohran’s Artistic Heritage Ensemble, Eddie Gale’s Black Rhythm Happening, Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues, and even Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and you have some points of reference. The angry yet joyous spirit that emerges is highly recommended as a listening experience.
7. Gary Bartz, Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad – Spiritual Ideation
Jazz Is Dead (JID), is a duo comprised of soundtrack composer and producer Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, formerly from the iconic hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest. The two have come together to create records where they work with influential jazz musicians, giving them a contemporary sound. Previous collaborations have featured Roy Ayers, Marcos Valle, Azymuth and Doug Carn. Some of these have been innovative and worthy of attention – but for Neil, others have fallen rather flat (most notably the one with Marcos Valle which felt warmed-over rather than really hot. Spiritual Ideation doesn’t try to change too much of Bartz’s sound and consequently works rather well, with the 80 year old Bartz still sounding fresh and inventive. He’s got a long history in jazz, of course, joining the Miles Davis band in 1970 for the celebrated Cellar Door recordings and going on form his Ntu Troop, releasing the superb I’ve Known Rivers and Other Bodies, a Cosmic Jazz favourite, which includes the title track recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973.
8. Archie Shepp, Jason Moran – Wise One from Let My People Go
Saxophone elder Archie Shepp and pianist Jason Moran first met backstage at Belgium’s annual Jazz Middelheim Festival in 2015 and these live performances came from Paris’s annual Jazz à la Villette festival in 2017 and the 2018 edition of the Enjoy Jazz Festival in Mannheim, Germany. Despite the age differences, there are some close similarities: both were born in the deep South, raised up in the sound of the blues and black gospel with Shepp in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Moran in Houston, Texas. Both developed an ever-expanding appreciation of pioneers like Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Thelonious Monk, but with an ear for contemporary styles too: Shepp with 1960s free jazz, and Moran with hip hop of the late ‘80s through to today. With this newly released download, we hear Shepp’s singing voice too – and on Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child it’s weighty with the song’s history and deep meaning. The same is true of Let My People Go which includes some stunning piano work from Moran. On Coltrane’s Wise One there’s a breathy, stately tone from the 84 year old Shepp while Moran provides deep rippling chords underneath. It’s intensely moving (and beautifully recorded too). For the latest from Jason Moran, check out the Neil is listening to… choices below and for Coltrane’s original, listen right here.
9. Sault – Fearless from UNTITLED (Rise)
What is there that can be said about Sault? Very little, actually, because there’s something of a mystery around this London group. What we do know is that over the last two years, Sault’s music has arrived out of the blue: no interviews, no photos, no videos, no live appearances, no Wikipedia entry, a perfunctory and entirely non-interactive social media presence. Vocalist Michael Kiwanuka got a guest artist credit on their last album UNTITLED (Black Is) released in June 2020 and we know that proceeds from the album “will be going to charitable funds”. UNTITLED (Rise) is not only their fourth album in 18 months, it’s their second double album in just over 12 weeks. Its predecessor was largely written and recorded in response to the murder of George Floyd, less than a month before it was released and was a remarkably diverse record. UNTITLED (Rise) is even better. The opening track Strong features beats spiked with explosions of dubby echo, an intricate mesh of Nile Rodgers-ish guitar and a terrific breakdown inspired by Brazilian batucada percussion while Fearless is supremely funky with flurries of disco strings and a dark, inspiring production that works against lyrics like “It hurts on the inside”. You can only admire this music and – yes – it’s not jazz, but it deserves inclusion in a show that has balanced anger, compassion, joy and love in equal measure.
10. Cochemea – Turkara from Vol 2 Baca Sewa
Flute and alto saxophone player Cochemea Gastelum leads a seven-piece band that includes a rhythm section and percussionists that are among New York’s finest. The album title Baca Sewa is Cochemea’s original family name prior to Spanish colonisation and is a semi-autobiographical dive into his family history and culture. Cochemea has played with a range of notable artists, including Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Archie Shepp and Antibalas and has supported in the studio The Roots, David Byrne and Quincy Jones among others. His musical heroes include Eddie Harris, Gary Bartz and Yusef Lateef – quite a list of Cosmic Jazz favourites – but he has developed his own distinctive style rooted in family and culture. You can track this new album down here on Daptone Records – it’s released on 16 July.
11. Sean Khan feat Sabrina Malheiros – Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser (All That You Could Be) from Palmares Fantasy
It is always fantastic to see musicians collaborating across generations and nations. So a former flute and saxophone student at Goldsmith’s College, London in the 1990s, included veteran Glasgow-born guitarist Jim Mullen on his album Palmares Fantasy – the name deriving from an escaped slaves settlement in north eastern Brazil. But the links on this record stretch much further – the album emerged from Sean Khan’s visit to Brazil in 2016 for the British label Far Out Recordings and it was here that the music took shape. Palmares Fantasy features Brazilian muti-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, Azymuth drummer Ivan Mamao Conti, bassist Paulo Russo and guest vocals from Brazilian chanteuse Sabrina Malheiros – daughter of Azymuth’s bass player Alex Malheiros – along with Cinematic Orchestra frontwoman Heidi Vogel. The album was released in 2018 and is recommended. Footnote: we first played these two versions of Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser back to back on the show three years ago – time to hear them again…
12. Lo Borges – Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser from A Via Lactea/ Blue Brazil Vol .1
The Sean Khan version of Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser includes lovely vocals and some interesting instrumentation, and playing it gave Derek the excuse to follow up with another play for a much earlier 1979 recording of the tune. He first discovered this take on the Blue Note compilation Blue Brazil, the first of three excellent compilations issued by the label. Lo Borges is from a family of musicians in Minas Gerais, Brazil, and is a singer, songwriter and guitarist. At the age of 19 he collaborated with Milton Nascimento on one of Neil’s all time favourite records, the album Clube da Esquina, which includes Nascimento’s haunting version of the tune. You can find out more about this milestone record here on Cosmic Jazz.
13. Marvin Gaye – Right On from What’s Going On
Marvin Gaye’s classic 1971 record What’s Going On turns 50 this month – and it remains as timely now as when first released. Gaye wove together the doo-wop harmonies and church hymns from his childhood, his outrage at the war in Vietnam, growing ecological concerns with the link between urban poverty and police violence – but still made a truly beautiful record. It’s disturbing that the subject matter remains just as relevant today (“trigger happy policing”, “money is tighter than it’s ever been”, “what about this overcrowded land/how much more abuse from man can she stand?’) but it’s also what makes What’s Going On totally apposite for today. So why write about this landmark recording in a jazz blog? Well, the music is suffused with jazz: whether it’s the delicate alto and tenor sax lines of Eli Fontaine or Bill Moore, the extraordinary bass guitar improvisations of James Jamerson or the sweeping arrangements by David Van De Pitte from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, this is a unique suite of songs that blend together into a concept we need to hear again today.
Neil is listening to…