26 June 2021: jazz legends and ambitious newcomers

Cosmic Jazz this time includes a tribute to Brazilian trombone player Raul de Souza whose latest album we featured recently. On top of that there is a mixture of jazz and jazzy sounds, many of them new but with some older tunes too. It’s that eclectic mix that regular listeners will now expect.

1. James Brandon Lewis/Red Lily Quintet – Jesup Wagon from Jesup Wagon

Jesup Wagon is the title tune of the album of the same name from tenor saxophonist James Brandon  Lewis and the Red Lily Quintet. It is an album inspired by the work of Dr. George Washington Carver (1864-1943), a man best known for developing three hundred ways to use peanuts but who in fact did so much more. He was an artist, a botanist, an ecologist, musician and teacher who foresaw the current planetary crisis. He also invented the ‘Jesup Wagon’ which was a “movable school” that Carver designed that carried products and equipment from his laboratory to bring knowledge and new techniques to poor Southern farmers. The tune opens with Lewis playing unaccompanied and you can imagine the sound ringing out to let the farmers know that the wagon has arrived. Such a brilliant sound for the start of the show. There will be more to come in future shows from this album, which features a quintet of fine musicians – Brandon Lewis on tenor saxophone, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, Chris Hoffman on cello and Chad Taylor on drums and mbira – plus the legendary bassist William Parker guesting on two tracks.

2. Raul de Souza – A Vontade Mesmo from A Vontade Mesmo/Focus on Bossa Nova

On the last show we featured new music from Brazilian trombonist Raul de Souza. Sadly, since then de Souza has died. It’s time for a tribute via music both old and new. A Vontade Mesmo is the title track from his 1964 album – his first as a leader, but one that was not initially released outside Brazil. With de Souza’s success in the 1970s the album eventually had an international release on CD. In 1964, the bossa nova explosion was in full swing but A Vontade Mesmo isn’t bossa in the sense that Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd interpreted it. It’s instrumental Brazilian jazz that doesn’t just blow cool – rather, there’s a lot of passionate heat in de Souza’s solos – listen to his take on Vinicius de Moraes’ Voce e Eu, for example. The Sao Paulo-based Sambalanco Trio are backing de Souza on this record: that’s the great Cesar Camargo Mariano on piano, Humberto Clayber on bass and another Brazilian legend – Airto Moreira – on drums. The record is well worth looking out for. Derek found the title tune on a BMG compilation Focus on Bossa Nova but the original album is available in CD format online – de Souza is credited as as Raulzinho on the album.

3. Raul de Souza Generations Band– Apesar de Voce from Plenitude

The  final album Raul de Souza recorded was Plenitude in 2020, featuring his Generations Band, so-called because it was recorded when de Souza was in his eighties and the youngest musician of the band was in his twenties. Keyboard player Alex Correa is from Brazil but the rest of the band is comprised of young musicians from Europe. By the time of his death de Souza was living in Paris. Apesar De Voce, is a tune written by a long time friend of de Souza, Chico Barque, and is arranged by Correa. It is a good illustration of how de Souza continued to effortlessly combine Brazilian and jazz sounds. Incidentally, the sleeve notes to the album include tributes from friends and musicians that de Souza had played with over the years – Sonny Rollins, Joao Bosco, Hermeto Pascoal, Joao Donato and Nils Landgren.

4. Slowly Rolling Camera – Lost Orbits from Where the Streets Lead

British label Edition Records have a new release from Slowly Rolling Camera called Where the Streets Lead. The tune Lost Orbits provides a contemplative, mysterious yet comforting  soundscape. SRC are a band inspired by the colliding worlds of  jazz, trip-hop and cinematic soundscapes – and this track illustrates that perfectly. It’s their second album following on from their 2018 release JuniperThe new album, recorded in 2020, is greater in scale than its predecessor and includes an eight-piece string section along with some top level guests, including saxophonists Mark Lockheart and Chris Potter and bass player from Phronesis Jasper Hoiby .

5. Daniel Herskedal – The Beaches of Lesbos from Harbour

Also on Edition Records and to be released in July 2021 is the beautiful album Harbour from Norwegian tuba and bass trumpet player Daniel Herskedal. It is his sixth album on the label. Again the word soundscapes comes to mind in the beautiful, lyrical sounds that evoke the space and wild openness of the Norwegian landscape, although The Beaches of Lesbos has a darker overtone. Herskedal’s inspiration comes from being close to the sea and taking shelter from the storms and wild elements. There is a sense of the starkness of the Norwegian landscape but also a sense of security and warmth – especially when you put it into the context of the location for the recording, Ocean Sound Recordings – a studio situated on an island on the rugged Norwegian coastline – just check out the location image below!

6. Anthony Joseph – Calling England Home from The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for their Lives

We wanted to play in full this track from the new Anthony Joseph album which was cut short on our last show. Joseph is an award winning Trinidad-born poet, novelist, academic and musician. He is the author of four poetry collections and three novels including the 2018 novel Kitch: A Fictional Biography of a Calypso Icon detailing the life and times of Lord Kitchener – calypso performer, passenger on the Empire Windrush and writer and performer of London Is the Place for Me. He has has released seven critically acclaimed records, including the new The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running For Their Lives – the title a quote from fellow Trinidadian C L R James’ Black Jacobins, a play about the Haitian revolution. This is a cohesive, forward-looking jazz album that records both crushing oppression and real hope for change. Nowhere is this clearer than on Calling England Home, where Joseph recounts different stories of immigrants who arrived in England at different times. Each person, he says, had a difficult relationship with the idea that England was their home. The haunting instrumentation reflects this with saxophonists Jason Yarde, Colin Webster, and Shabaka Hutchings playing over the powerful rhythm section and Joseph manipulating his voice as he details the experiences of his characters – Black and been here since 1949I’ve lived here longer than home and How long do you have to live in a place/Before you can call it ‘home’? As well as an obvious link to Barbadian poet Kamau Brathwaite, Joseph calls up the spirit of Gil Scott Heron on tracks like Swing Praxis and The Gift and indeed Rod Youngs, the drummer on these tracks, collaborated with Gil Scott Heron on his excellent Spirits album – the title track an interpretation of Coltrane’s Spiritual, included here in the epic live version from the Village Vanguard.

7. World Saxophone Quartet – Little Samba from Revue

We’ve played music from some of the individual members of the WSQ on previous CJ shows, but this may be the first time we have featured the group itself. The original members were Julius Hemphill (alto and soprano saxophone, flute), Oliver Lake (alto and soprano saxophone), Hamiet Bluiett (baritone saxophone, alto clarinet), and David Murray (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet). The first three had worked together as members of the Black Artists’ Group in St Louis, Mississippi but in 1989 Hemphill left the group due to illness, with several saxophonists filling his chair in the years since. Hemphill died in 1995 after recording dozens of records, particularly for the Italian Black Saint label. His first release is the one to explore – the amazing Dogon AD from 1972. This is very much an African-centric record (as the title would suggest). Hemphill is joined by trumpeter Baikida Carroll, cellist Abdul Wadud and superb drummer Phillip Wilson and the remarkable title track is the place to start.  The WSQ principally recorded and performed as a saxophone quartet, usually with a lineup of two altos, tenor, and baritone (reflecting the composition of a classical string quartet) but were also joined later in their career by drummers, bassists, and other musicians. Revue is from 1982 and was also released on the Black Saint label. Check it out if you can.

8. D J Day – A Place To Go from Got to Get it Right EP/The Day Before

This track and the next form a considerable contrast to what has gone before on the show. DJ Day is Damien Beebe – a DJ, producer and musician from Palm Springs, California. He’s worked with a number of artists on the Stones Throw label and has also provide remixes for Quantic, People Under the Stairs – and Alice Russell (see below). His album The Day Before collects many of his single releases, including the infectious A Place to Go which also appeared on the the EP, Got To Get It Right. Eagle-eared listeners may spot the speeded-up sample from flautist Bobbi Humphrey’s Please Set Me at Ease from her 1975 album Fancy Dancer.

9. Quincy Jones – Birdland from Back on the Block

What can we say about the now 88 year old Quincy Jones? Record producer, musician, songwriter, composer, arranger, and film and television producer with a career spanning over 70 years in the entertainment industry. The 28 Grammy Awards don’t get close to his achievements and influences. He first came to prominence in the 1950s as a jazz arranger before composing scores for dozens of films and TV shows. His 1964 Soul Bossa Nova is a tune that’s almost impossible not to know – even if just from the title sequence from first Austin Powers film. And did you know that Rahsaan Roland Kirk was the flautist on that tune? Jones went on to record numerous albums that remain classics: his 1970s collection alone includes Gula Matari (1971), Smackwater Jack, (1971), Body Heat (1974), and Sounds… And Stuff like That (1978). Back on the Block comes from 1989 – and could have been one of those all star disasters. It’s not. Jones astutely uses Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, George Benson, Luther Vandross, Barry White (and more) across the spread of an album that seeks – more or less successfully – to bring together a history of jazz and its influence on rap music. Birdland is, of course, the Joe Zawinul composition recorded with Weather Report. It’s almost a standard and on this version (and its intro on the album) Jones places it squarely in the jazz pantheon, even quoting Pee Wee Marquette, compere at the Birdland Club itself as he introduces a live performance by Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers. It’s a stunning take on the original (and definitive) version – linked here for comparison. Jones would go on to be involved in the touching final appearance of Miles Davis at the 1991 Montreux Jazz Festival as he performed a selection of music from his 1959 Gershwin album Porgy and Bess  just months before his death. Here’s Gone, Gone, Gone from that memorable final recording.

10. The Awakening – Just A Little Peace from Mirage

This tune shows that Black Jazz Records was not just about funky, soulful uptempo jazz. This tune befits its title Just A Little Peace. It is another Black Jazz Records re-release, available on re-mastered vinyl and CD from Real Gone Music. The Awakening were the only group on the Black Jazz roster and many feel they should be heralded as one of the great jazz groups of the 1970s, but the label’s distribution problems meant they were not as well known as they should have been. A six-piece band, they included other artists as guests on the album, including Rufus Reid on bass. Yes, it’s a combination of spiritual jazz, free jazz, soul jazz, fusion jazz and more – all of the threads common to many early 1970s African-American artists – but in this instance it is all woven into music that is genuinely greater than the sum of its part. 1973’s Mirage is less political/pan-African than its predecessor Hear, Sense and Feel, which had links to those deep Art Ensemble of Chicago/AACM roots. Instead, it’s more abstract and varied in its moods and textures. The Real Gone release is the first time Mirage has been reissued on LP and is newly remastered with informative liner notes by Pat Thomas. Original records are hard to find – and very hard to fund if you do find one. Sadly it was the last record the band made together.  Find and enjoy before the vinyl copies disappear.

11. Henry Franklin – Soft Spirit from The Skipper at Home

The calmer, gentler side of Black Jazz Records continues with another Real Gone Music re-release – this time bass player Henry Franklin’s 1974 album The Skipper at Home. ‘The Skipper’ was the nickname given to Franklin and he recorded two albums for the label but appeared on other releases by Doug Carn, Gene Russell , Calvin Keys and more. The band includes top musicians – Kirk Lightsey on keyboards, trombonist Al Hall Jr. and drummer Leon ‘Ndugu’ Chancler who played with so many of the very best names in jazz, including Miles Davis and Joe Henderson. The reissue is available on vinyl and has never before been available in that format outside Japan.

12. Cochemea – Mimbrenos from Vol. 2 Baca Sewa

Cochemea – his family name prior to Spanish colonisation – leads a seven-piece ensemble including some of New York’s finest percussionists and members of the Daptone label’s rhythm section. Mimbrenos is from a new album called Baca Sewa Vol. 2 to be released next month on Daptone Records. Percussion is a strong element in  the record and it does evokes a spiritual quality. Baca Sewa is a semi-autobiographical work which goes deep into family histories and is part of a musical  process of cultural reclamation. As a soloist, section player, and composer/arranger over the past twenty-five years, Cochemea has been featured with diverse and notable musical acts, from touring and recording with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Kevin Morby, Jon Batiste, Archie Shepp, Antibalas, the Budos Band and Robert Walter’s 20th Congress. Performance and studio work includes sitting in with Mark Ronson, The Roots, David Byrne, Beck, Rick Rubin, and Quincy Jones among many others.

13. Matti Klein – Rocket Swing from Soul Trio Live on Tape

Matti Klein leads a soulful jazz outfit with an album recorded in Berlin. The Soul Trio started as an idea rather than a group: three musicians met in a Berlin studio in 2018 with a producer and played a series of live sessions which were taped. None wore headphones and there was no acoustic separation – each musician finding their desired space live and direct, and so locking into the immediacy of the groove. The album Soul Trio Live On Tape was the result, initially available as a limited fan-only item at live shows. Now it gets an official release on LP, CD and digital formats. Matti Klein is known for his work as musical director for the Brazilian superstar Ed Motta, but here he is heard taking  a strong lead on Wurlitzer and Fender Rhodes.

14. Rachelle Ferrell – You Don’t Know What Love Is from First Instrument

Someone Derek knows – a jazz fan – recently posted on Facebook that there are no good female jazz vocalists around at the moment. Has he not heard of Cecile McLorin Salvant, Jazzmeia Horn and the extraordinary Cassandra Wilson among many others? He did post, as an example of a vocalist he admired, a tune from the Rachelle Ferrell 1990 album First Instrument. It’s a good choice: Ferrell stretched her vocal chords to some amazing places on this record, sadly, but much of what she has recorded since appears to have been much less jazz orientated. Nevertheless, this is an essential album to have and to hear and this prompted Derek to re-visit a tune from it (again).

15. Alice Russell – To Know This from My Favourite Letters

This week Derek returns to his usual ending to the show with a tune that is jazzy but not jazz. The selection was prompted by hearing British vocalist Alice Russell doing a words and music feature with Gilles Peterson on his BBC6 radio show as she has a new album appearing later in the year. Russell is based in Brighton but was originally from a small town in Suffolk, the county in the UK where this show is recorded. She has an amazing, powerful, soulful, bluesy, jazzy voice. It is quite  a presence. She  is quite a presence live. Derek saw her at the Old Pumphouse venue as part of the Aldeburgh Festival Fringe some years ago. Russell and her band could make even these somewhat basic surroundings feel intimate and warm. To Know This is from the 2005 Tru Thoughts album My Favourite Letters – an excellent place to start with her music as it demonstrates her versatility as a singer and arranger. Russell is always moving on: she promises something very different from her new record and we look forward to its release. More from Cosmic Jazz soon.

Neil is listening to…

Just as Neil was completing this blogpost, the death of trumpeter and composer Jon Hassell was announced. If you’re not familiar with his work, this Guardian obituary should provide a good basic primer to his life, while this feature from the Vinyl Factory will do the same for his music. Hassell was not a jazz artist but  his influence of  musicians in many genres, including jazz, is profound. A selection of favourites is below:

Brian Eno and David Byrne worked with Jon Hassell for the 1981 recording My Life in the Bush of Ghosts but edited him out of the credits for that album.  This angered Hassell, but Eno acknowledged the profound influence the trumpeter had on his work and Hassell’s concept of Fourth World music, on which he wrote:

FOURTH WORLD IS A KIND OF PHILOSOPHICAL GUIDELINE, A CREATIVE POSTURE, DIRECTED TOWARDS THE CONDITIONS CREATED BY THE INTERSECTION OF TECHNOLOGY WITH INDIGENOUS MUSIC AND CULTURE. THE UNDERLYING GOAL IS TO PROVIDE A KIND OF CREATIVE MIDWIFERY TO THE INEVITABLE MERGING OF CULTURES WHILE PROVIDING AN ANTIDOTE TO A GLOBAL “MONOCULTURE” CREATED BY MEDIA COLONIZATION.

THE UNDERLYING PREMISE IS THAT EACH INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ MUSIC AND CULTURE – THE RESULT OF THEIR UNIQUE RESPONSE TO THEIR UNIQUE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT – FUNCTIONS IN THE SAME WAY AS, AS AN “ELEMENT” IN THE PERIODIC TABLE OF CHEMISTRY: AS PURE BUILDING BLOCKS FROM WHICH ALL OTHER “CULTURAL COMPOUNDS” WILL ARISE.

IN OTHER WORDS, THESE CULTURES ARE OUR “VOCABULARY” IN TRYING TO THINK ABOUT WAYS TO RESPOND TO OUR PLACE IN THE NEW GEOGRAPHY CREATED BY OUR MEDIA WORLD, AND MUST BE RESPECTED RELATIVE TO THEIR IMPORTANCE TO OUR SURVIVAL.

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