It’s been a while, but there’s British jazz (both past and present and with a strong showing from Scotland), the latest from the wonderful Kenny Garrett, a return to Poland and Belgium, some Latin touches and two more new Black Jazz Records re-releases.
- Steve Williamson – Down (Slang) from A Waltz for Grace
This 1990 record was the recording debut of this great under-rated British tenor and soprano saxophonist. Even at the young age of 25, Williamson had an original tenor sound with something of an M Base feel, but he’s not limited to this more abstract style. His soprano sax is as characteristic as his tenor playing, although this album is something of a mixed bag. Williamson likes to work with vocalists – the late Abbey Lincoln can be heard on the title track on this record and his next (Rhyme Time, 1992) featured Cassandra Wilson. Williamson likes to experiment and one of his most successful records is the intriguing #One for the Babel label which features Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas and some very spiky compositions. Derek notes that Steve Willamson once played with friends of his, the British reggae band Misty in Roots. As Steve said in an interview with UK Vibe It was amazing! ‘Misty In Roots’ used to play places like Russia and East Germany, while the wall was still up. All these places like Warsaw in Poland. It was fascinating, amazing and a real education. And – as a reminder of the record that DJ John Peel often listed as his favourite record – here’s Sodome and Gomorra from Live at The Counter Eurovision 79.
2. Colin Steele Quintet – The London Heist from The Journey Home
We’re returning once more to this second album from Scottish trumpeter Colin Steele simply because it’s very good. Rather like pianist Fergus McCreadie he’s turned to his homeland for inspiration and in doing so creates a strong identity incorporating elements of Gaelic folk music that course through the strong melodies throughout the record. Aidan O’Donnell’s bass can sound like a drone and Julian Arguelles’ soprano sax takes on the tones of the Uillean pipes. Beyond that, there’s Lee Morgan style hard bop and hints of both Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter, with Steele giving us something of the delicacy of Chet Baker too. Veteran Scottish drummer John Rae provides solid back up too. The lasting impression of this recommended record is the quality of Steele’s compositions: in addition to our featured track, The Journey Home is memorable and the closing Variations on a Dream just one tune that will ‘earworm’ its way into your head.
3. Fergus McCreadie – North from Cairn
We’ve said a lot in the last few months about the brilliant Fergus McCreadie – but it bears repeating. This young Scots pianist is signed to one of Britain’s best jazz labels, the ever-enterprising Edition Records. Edition has grown in recent years to include a raft of celebrated jazz artists – The Bad Plus, Kit Downes, Tim Garland, Ivo Neame, Chris Potter, John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler and The Snow Poets. Cairn is McCreadie’s second record and is chockful of beautiful melodies and arrangements. North is just one of those. The trio’s sound owes something of a debt to EST but McCreadie is definitely his own man. Backed by bassist David Bowden with Stephen Henderson on drums, there’s that blend of jazz and Scottish traditional music again and – just as on his first record – the music is inspired by the diversity of his native landscape. Cairn will surely consolidate McCreadie’s presence as a composer, pianist and trio leader with its combination of contemporary influences and mesmerising playing. This is a record to savour in whatever format you prefer – the download and CD are available direct from Edition Records here, but sadly the stunning-looking vinyl first pressing is now sold out, although you might be able to track down reissue copies in your independent record store.
4. Confusion Project – On the Other Hand from The Future Starts Now
It’s been a while since we visited continental Europe – and Poland in particular. So it was time to return. As ever, we acknowledge the contribution of Steve’s Jazz Sounds – an essential source for this music. Confusion Project are a trio founded in Gdansk in 2013 with drummer Adam Golicki, Michal Ciesielski on piano and Piotr Gierszewski on bass guitar. This is from the second of their three albums, with a fourth due for release soon. On the Other Hand is a tune that is still, calm, strong on melody and – like much of their music – includes complex rhythms. Over the years, the band have supported various reforestation projects and have overseen the planting of more than a thousand trees across the world.
5. Aga Derlak Trio – The Word from Healing
This is a trio led by Polish pianist Agnieszka Derlak . She is an alumnus of Berklee College, where she was under the guidance of Danilo Perez and the Katowice Music Academy. Healing is from their second album released in 2017, with all the compositions by Derlak. This band is a classic jazz trio with piano, double bass and drums. The music is introvert, contemplative, dare we say even portraying Polish melancholy. It is spare, minimalist, intelligent and incredibly beautiful. There are no grand statements, no great solos yet its seeming gentleness conjures up haunting images and some considerable complexity.
6. Jelle Van Giel Group – Cape Good Hope from Songs for Everyone
This seven-piece group led by drummer Jelle Van Giel takes us to Antwerp, Belgium. Songs for Everyone was their debut album and is very definitely in the modal jazz vein. Cape Good Hope is a beautiful, accessible, melodic tune – like so much of their music – with subtle echoes of South African jazz. The official bio describes Jelle’s strength as arranging a visual story around lyrical themes that touch you – undoubtedly fair and apt comment. Many of the tunes will leave you humming them with pleasant delight when they’re over, but if that suggests they might be lightweight, then think again. This is classic jazz in the modal tradition but with a definite contemporary feel.
7. Kenny Garrett – It’s Time to Come Home (Original) from Sounds from the Ancestors
He’s back! Altoist Kenny Garret has long been a Cosmic Jazz favourite and Sounds From the Ancestors is his twentieth album as leader. There’s the expected expressiveness and assurance of tone, with some of those screams and wails that intensify the emotion. There are two tributes – the funky Hargrove is for trumpeter Roy Hargrove who died earlier this year and For Art’s Sake – an homage to drummer Art Blakey, in whose band Garrett learned his chops. The saxophonist has long been interested in musical styles from other parts of the world, and this record is no exception as it includes two tunes that blend African and Afro-Cuban and African. We featured the restrained opener, It’s Time to Come Home with its loping Latin groove, accentuated by Rudy Bird’s hand percussion. The title track starts with Garrett’s playing piano, before bursting into an Afrobeat groove and unruly Yoruba vocals by LA vocal veteran Dwight Trible.
8. Nucleus – Phaideaux Corner from Alley Cat
Back to the trumpet and the late and very great Ian Carr and his influential band Nucleus. Remembered as the partner to Don Rendell in a superb British jazz group of the 1960s, Carr went on to form Nucleus, one of the first jazzrock groups. Over a 20 year career, Nucleus released 12 albums, using an ever-changing personnel. More music has emerged since then, including some memorable live albums. In fact, it’s worth checking out the Nucleus Wikipedia entry just to see how many British jazz musicians passed through their doors – some 45 players are listed, including Harry Beckett, Kenny Wheeler, Tony Coe and Neil Ardley. Carr was not only a fine trumpeter and flugelhorn player but a notable biographer too – his work on both Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett is required reading. The Davis biography is full of insights on the life and music of the legend, including Miles’s dark reclusive period – 1975-1980. With access to the inner circle of Davis’s friends and associates, Carr includes interviews with Max Roach, George Russell, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, Joe Zawinul and Paul Buckmaster. Carr also generously quotes from other critics, including Washington Post writer Gene Russell who introduced a review of a 1974 concert by describing Davis as leading his exploring party through a dense electronic rain forest. Sensing a clearing, Davis extends his fingers in a signal and his group halts motionless as a soprano sax, electric guitar or even the leader’s trumpet slips ahead alone, reporting what he sees… It’s quoted here because this writing inspired Neil to invest more time in his jazz writing.
9. Nubya Garcia – La cumbia ne esta llama (Kaidi Tatham remix) from Source # We Move
Jazz saxophonist, composer and Mercury Prize nominee Nubya Garcia has announced a full-length reimagining of her debut album Source, released just a couple of days before this edition of Cosmic Jazz. There’s a host of remixed track including this excellent one from fellow Londoner Kaidi Tatham. Also in on the project is Georgia Anne Muldrow, KeiyaA, Moses Boyd, and more. Garcia completely distinct tone remains securely in place though and the remixes are – for the most part – subtle and intriguing. If you like Garcia’s tone on saxophone, then this one is for you. Tatham’s reworking is one of the best ,and the way his ‘drop’ at three minutes in is followed by a Herbie Hancock-inflected solo is very effective. Excellent artwork too…
10. Pucho & his Latin Soul Brothers – Maiden Voyage from The Best of Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers
Neil has recently been weeding out his extensive collection of CDs – but not before many of them had been stored on a capacious new hard drive. One of these was the Pucho anthology which includes this take on Herbie Hancock’s meditative Maiden Voyage. Not surprisingly, this uptempo take has the timbales of Henry ‘Pucho’ Brown well to the fore. Jazz icon Chick Corea was a former member of this band that got a new lease of life in the Acid Jazz years of the 1980s, when Neil saw him perform in the UK. The Best of… compilation includes 17 tracks from Pucho’s 1966-1970 heyday, intelligently weighted toward his most dance groove-oriented original material and covers, and eliminating the routine pop covers that filled out some of his LPs and so Canteloupe Island joins Maiden Voyage along with other Pucho hits, including Soul Yamie and Strange Thing Mambo.
11. Doug Carn – Mighty Mighty from Adam’s Apple
We are pleased to announce that our friends at Real Gone Music are still releasing more from the Black Jazz Records label and – as ever – each one has a limited vinyl edition, this time with 750 copies only. Doug Carn is a multi-instrumentalist, known principally for his piano and keyboard playing and Adam’s Apple (to be released in December) was the last of the four records for Black Jazz – this time without vocalist Jean Carn. The record features future star Ronnie Laws on reeds and Calvin Keys (see below) on electric guitar. Mighty, Mighty (yes, the Earth, Wind and Fire tune) has an uptempo, gospel feel, complete with almost distant-sounding choir providing the feel-good factor. There’s a good cover of Wayne Shorter’s Sanctuary and the title tune owes something of an allegiance to Shorter’s composition of the same name but is, in fact, a Doug Carn tune with some great keys from Carn himself. Like all these Black Jazz re-releases there are extensive liner notes from Pat Thomas. It is worth quoting from the notes on this album: Adam’s Apple is more energetic, funky, and futuristic than Carn’s earlier Black Jazz work. In short, sublime.”
12. Calvin Keys – Night Cry from Proceed with Caution
To follow Doug Carn with a tune from Proceed With Caution by Calvin Keys, is to illustrate the variety of Black Jazz Records. It’s by no means all funky, uptempo jazz. Proceed With Caution was originally released in 1974 and again is now released on vinyl (for the first time ever) with just 750 copies. On the record is legendary drummer Leon ‘Ndugu’ Chancler, along with fellow Black Jazz mainstays Henry Franklin on bass, Kirk Lightsey on keyboards, and Charles Owens on sax and flute. For Calvin Keys, the record was a leap forward from what he had delivered before as he told Pat Thomas for the sleeve notes: I started going to the Los Angeles School of Music studying orchestrations and I was putting it to use! The album includes some long, reflective and deep tunes including our choice of Night Cry.
13. Orquesta Akokan – Llegue con mi Rumba V2 from 16 Rayos
Orquesta Akokan are a Grammy nominated Cuban/New York based ensemble – and this album is the result of a dialogue between artists living in the United States and Cuba. 16 Rayos was recorded at the legendary Egrem Studios in Havana and is available from Daptone Records. The band is the brainchild of its three leaders – lead vocalist and composer José ‘Pepito’ Gómez, Chulo Record’s Jacob Plasse and arranger Michael Eckroth, with each bringing their experience working with Latin powerhouses to the table. Following the success of their debut album, Orquesta Akokán returned to Cuba, drawing inspiration from folklore and religious tradition to stretch the boundaries of mambo conventions. This second album expands their sound with the addition of strings and there’s a traditional Cuban feel merging the folkloric congo rhythm from Santiago de Cuba with the power of the mambo horns and some strong, forceful vocals. Drawing on the deep spiritual traditions rooted in West Africa but expressed through Cuban music , this is real uplift for the soul and release for the body. Akokan, by the way, is the Yoruba word used by Cubans to mean ‘from the heart’ – or simply ‘soul’.