23 August 2021: deep, intense and important music

Cosmic Jazz this time includes some deep, highly serious and at times heavy music before moving to some more restrained sounds but keeping that spiritual feel and ending, as ever, with some boundary-stretching music.

  1.  Eddie Harris – Free Speech from  Artist’s Choice the Eddie Harris Anthology/Free Speech   

The work of Chicago-born multi-instrumentalist, composer, activist and arranger Eddie Harris has had many admirers – and quite a few detractors too. Harris liked to experiment and try different things but his ventures into jazz-funk, rock – and even comedy – as well as his popularity with the young jazz-dancers back in the day,  were too much for many. He was also a best-selling jazz artist with Swiss Movement – the live recording of the performance he gave with Les McCann and apparently without any time to rehearse, at the 1969 Montreux Jazz Festival.  Deservedly one of the top-selling jazz records ever, Swiss Movement is two artists at an artistic peak – listen to the wonderful Compared to What in a rare piece of black and white video from the festival. Other Eddie Harris hits include the perennial favourite Listen Here and Freedom Jazz Dance, famously recorded by Miles Davis on the Miles Smiles album. The choice that impressively opens this show is the title tune from Harris’s Free Speech album of 1970: it is important music with an important message and Harris is playing both sax and trumpet. Do not listen to the detractors, listen to the music.

2.  William Parker – Raining on the Moon from Raining on the Moon    

The Village Voice named him “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time” and DownBeat has called him “one of the most adventurous and prolific bandleaders in jazz”. We are talking here of bass player, composer and bandleader William Parker. He has also published conversations  he has had with other musicians and thinkers on spiritualism, race and culture and written and published poetry. Parker has released recently a mighty 10-disc record called Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World and he’s now released two trio albums, one of which should be on the next show. Raining on the Moon was recorded in 2001 and features Leena Conquest with earthy, strident vocals amongst the shrieks of sound emerging from the alto sax of Rob Brown. The music sounds like free jazz yet it’s also very accessible. In its review of the record Pop Matters provided an apt comment: “he proves once and for all that any divisions between mainstream jazz and its more avantgarde brethren need only be drawn in the minds of myopic listeners”. We second that.

3.  Rudolph Johnson – The Second Coming from The Second Coming 

There are more Black Jazz Records re-releases from Real Gone Music due in October. One of them is the 1973 free jazz album The Second Coming from saxophonist Rudolph Johnson. If you think from what we have played so far that Black Jazz Records was just about jazz/funk and genre stretching jazz, think again. It is a fiery, explosive piece that continued and contributed to the Coltrane legacy . It was his second album for Black Jazz so in that way the title is appropriate but the title also has a spiritual/messianic meaning and this interpretation is definitely appropriate to the music. Recorded by  the label’s key producer Gene Russell, The Second Coming is a stronger album than Johnson’s first for the label and is  deserving of a much wider audience than it received first time round.

4.  Walter Bishop Jr. –  N’dugu’s Prayer from Keeper of My Soul   

Also re-released in October on Black Jazz Records is this gem from Walter Bishop Jr. – another tune with a messianic/spiritual quality to match both the title of the tune and the title of the album: a spirituality owed in part to Walter Bishop’s studies with yogi Parmahansa Yogananda. Flautist/sax player Hubert Laws has a big part to play in the album but this tune features the pounding calls of vibraphonist  Woody Murray. The bass player is Gerald Brown who three years later found himself auditioning for Marvin Gaye before appearing on Gaye’s 1977 record Live at the London Palladium. You can hear him here on Distant Lover. Like all these re-releases from Black Jazz, Keeper of My Soul is available on vinyl with limited editions of coloured vinyl, exclusive to indie record stores. The remastered sound is good too and is faithful to the well recorded originals – and the new liner notes by Pat Thomas are a useful bonus. Get your copies now before they disappear!

5.  Nubya Garcia – Pace from SOURCE     

Neil has long recognised the significance of the music of Nubya Garcia. Derek was not so certain, but after hearing her live on BBC Radio 3 (and then two days later on BBC 4 television) at the Proms concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London, he was mightily impressed. Not so long ago the Proms were the reserve of the finest in classical music but now jazz gets an airing. This concert was a good illustration of why this is needed. The music was contemporary, refreshing and original drawing on a range of influences starting with reggae beats and ending with cumbia inflections with much in between. The quartet line-up of Garcia on sax, Joe Armon-Jones on keyboards and piano, Daniel Casimir on bass and Sam Jones on drums was augmented from time to time with trumpet and a trio of vocalists. The combinations worked so well, provided surprise and interest and fitted seamlessly into the Albert Hall setting. The concert is available via BBC Sounds (audio) and iPlayer (video). Look out too for a remix version of her album SOURCE, also due in October. At the Royal Albert Hall, Garcia included the tune Pace which – as she explained – was composed pre-pandemic to remind her to slow down from the frantic and work-heavy pace of life. The production on this album is very much a step up from Garcia’s first EPs: recorded with producer Kwes, whose credits include Solange and Bobby Womack, Garcia is pushed into new territory that really demonstrates her diversity.  It all remains firmly rooted in jazz but there’s a range of other influences here too – from the afore-mentioned cumbia through to Ethio-jazz and more. The thing is, this all works and so SOURCE comes highly recommended. A new single has already emerged from the scheduled remix album – a Kaidi Tatham take on La cumbia me esta llamando (feat. La Perla) and it’s excellent. Check it out here.

6.  Mtume and the Umoja Ensemble – Baba Hengates from  Alkebu-Lan (Land of the Blacks)

Percussionist, songwriter, and producer James Mtume might be best known for his R&B/disco classic Juicy Fruit from 1983 but his career has encompassed pioneering acoustic and electric avant-garde jazz, quiet storm classics and post-disco club hits, as well as compositions for film and television. Mtume was raised by pianist James ‘Hen Gates’ Forman (hence the title of this tune) but he is the biological son of saxophonist, Jimmy Heath – see the CJ show from 29 February 2020. After moving to California, Mtume joined the Black nationalist group US Organization whose founder Maulana Karenga created the Kwanzaa national holiday. The group was founded on what Karenga called the seven principles of African Heritage which he summarised as a communitarian philosophy: Unity (Umoja), Self-Determination (Kujichagulia), Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima), Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa), Purpose (Nia), Creativity (Kuumba), and Faith (Imani).  Mtume made his recorded debut with something of a stellar lineup: the album Kawaida (1970) was credited to his uncle Albert Heath, but four of the five tracks were written by Mtume and the band included Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry and Buster Williams. Here’s Maulana from this recently re-released record. A move to New York saw Mtume credited on a slew of records by McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Lonnie Liston Smith and between 1971 and 1975 he performed and recorded with Miles Davis on landmark releases like On the Corner and the live in Japan records Agharta and Pangaea (the image above is with Miles in concert in 1973). Mtume was also recording with his own ensembles – which brings us back to Alkebu-Lan (recorded live at the East Club in downtown Brooklyn in 1972), and the studio-based follow up Rebirth Cycle (recorded in 1974 but released three years later).  Alkebu-Lan is claimed as the original name for the continent of Africa and this important record is full of references – both spoken and musical – to African-American origins. The Umoja Ensemble was fairly large with 15 players – and result in this live recording is thick and rather muddy – but the message of a spiritual freedom is clear. The music is an amalgam of different jazz genres – you can hear call and response chants, big band jazz, be-bop and free jazz all meshed together in a kind of organised chaos. This is music to immerse yourself into and emerge with an understanding of the way in which Black consciousness and jazz have intertwined over the years. For another take on Baba Hengates, try this excellent Buddy Terry version from his 1972 Pure Dynamite album for Bob Shad’s Mainstream label.

7.  Mark de Clive-Lowe – The Offering from Heritage I   

Heritage was was the first installment of a two-album set from pianist, composer and live remixer Mark de Clive-Lowe. With a Japanese and New Zealand background, these two records were the first time de Clive-Lowe had reflected his Japanese cultural roots in music, working in collaboration with his LA band – Josh Johnson, Teodross Avery, Brandon Eugene Owens, Brandon Combs and Carlos Niño from the Build An Ark collective. In addition to his own compositions, he interprets traditional Japanese folk songs, one on each album – with a delicate solo piano rendition of Akatombo on Heritage I. The material for both albums was recorded over three nights of live concerts at LA’s legendary Blue Whale jazz club in Little Tokyo with one follow up studio session where the live group sound is tweaked with  MdC-L’s arsenal of samplers, keyboards, drum machines and grand piano to create a personal take on both jazz and what Japan – and being Japanese – means to him. We think Heritage could well be de Clive-Lowe’s best work to date and recommend both records.

8.  Matt Carmichael – Where Will the River Flow from Where Will the River Flow    

Tenor saxophonist Matt Carmichael may be only just starting out in his career, but Where Will the River Flow is already a very assured debut. Just 21, Carmichael was a BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year in 2020 and on this fine record he draws on Scottish folk traditions in a similar way to another of our favourite young musicians from Scotland, Fergus McCreadie. Indeed, McCreadie appears on WWtRF and it’s clear that he and Carmichael work well together – check out this live take on Spey and their fast flowing unison playing. As with McCreadie’s most recent album, Cairn on Edition Records, Carmichael’s original compositions are strong on melody – particularly noticeable on our choice, the title track which again features McCreadie and a torrent of tumbling runs on piano. Thanks once more to Scots music promoter Rob Adams (Twitter: @rabjourno) for this introduction: Matt Carmichael is the real deal – an exciting talent and already an original voice.

9.  James Brandon Lewis – Fallen Flowers from Jesup Wagon  

We have been playing tunes from the James Brandon Lewis album Jesup Wagon, an record that celebrates and invokes the spirit of the artist, botanist, ecologist, aesthete, musician, teacher and seer Dr. George Washington Carver (1864-1943). “Many are the tears I have shed,” Carver wrote, “because I would break the roots or flowers of some of my pets while removing them from the ground.” When he could not preserve them, he drew them. The liner notes tell us that the track “Fallen Flowers compels us to submit to the beauty, complexity, vulnerability and unknowability of the natural world.” The tune ends with a poetic meditation on “life and death, on resilience in the face of colonial violence, on the regenerative and destructive qualities of water, on tears shed for fallen flowers.” It’s powerful, moving and evocative – and this is another recommended Cosmic Jazz new release.

10. Alfa Mist feat. Lex Amor – Mind the Gap from Bring Backs    

The tradition of the programme is to end with something that crosses boundaries and this week it comes via another 2021 release that we have featured on the show – namely Bring Backs from London-based self-taught musician/composer/producer Alfa Mist. Recorded in London with Jamie Leeming (guitar), Kaya Thomas-Dyke (bass and vocals), Jamie Houghton (drums), and Johnny Woodham (trumpet), the album is stitched together as a suite, one composition rolling into the next. As with Nubya Garcia’s album, there’s a melange of different musical and cultural influences at work here, but this record emphasises the hip hop and rap influences of Alfa Mist’s youth as he discovered jazz through the samples used by his favourite producers. “There’s no access to jazz where I’m from,” he says. “There’s no way I would have come to it without finding those hip-hop records and wanting to understand them,” The tune Mind the Gap uses the the London Tube warning at certain stations to evoke the gaps and the struggles in life “we all rise and decline.” It features Lex Amor, a British rapper with Nigerian roots who has her own release, Government Tropicana which you can pick up here on her Bandcamp site.

Neil is listening to:

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