29 November 2021: Edition Records, remixes and great contemporary jazz

On Cosmic Jazz this time is new music from the UK’s Edition Records, a couple of boundary-stretching remixes, a rare track from the late Marion Brown, contemporary artists such as Vijay Iyer,  James Brandon Lewis and a Cuban-Canadian link to end the show. As always, it’s an eclectic mix here at CJ.

  1. Kurt Elling – Superblue from Superblue

Vocalist Kurt Elling takes risks – mixing spoken word, arrangements of avant-garde jazz classics, original compositions and obscure poetry. Declared “the standout male vocalist of our time” by The New York Times, Elling has garnered unprecedented accolades – fourteen years as a DownBeat Critics Poll, awardwinner and a dozen GRAMMY nominations – and his warm, rich baritone is as recognisable as Mark Murphy’s, with whom he shares the same willingness to explore and break musical barriers.  There’s always an elegant lyricism whether interpreting the Sufi poetry of Rumi or – as on this new record – interpreting a Tom Waits tune. Secrets Are The Best Stories (2020) was his first for Edition Records and featured renowned pianist and composer Danilo Pérez from Wayne Shorter’s superb quartet. With a freewheeling attitude to verse and interpretation it was a challenging but always rewarding listen. Superblue is different – recorded with members of the jazzfunk/hiphop outfit Butcher Brown alongside guitarist Charlie Hunter, this is a groove-laden record that takes on compositions from the afore-mentioned Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard, includes a raw and stripped-down treatment of Cody Chestnutt’s The Seed, and goes all out with a dazzling take on the Tom Waits tune. The thing is, Elling has still to meet Butcher Brown as – thanks to Covid-19 – their collaboration was recorded remotely with the musicians 1000 miles apart. You wouldn’t know it. Elling revisits the Beat generation again, name-checking Kerouac’s Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in the hipsterish Dharma Bums, a wonderful road trip saga that hooks up with Wait’s grotesque narrative The Circus. Our choice is Elling’s taken on Freddie Hubbard’s fusion gem Super Blue, (a Benard Ighner composition) transformed here with serpentine lyrics into a psychedelic narrative.  As an aside, Ighner was the composer of the standard Everything Must Change, made famous by Quincy Jones and with vocals by Ighner himself.

2. Mark Lockheart – Dreamers from Dreamers

British saxophonist Mark Lockheart is also on Edition and has a new album that will be released in early 2022. We’ve got a premiere here for you – the title track is now a single that emerged earlier this month. We’ve heard the complete album and it certainly charts a new path for Lockheart, here in collaboration with Elliot Galvin (Dinosaur, Elliot Galvin Trio) on keys and synths, bass player Tom Herbert (Polar Bear, The Invisible) and Dave Smith (Robert Plant) on drums. Galvin’s use of synths and Herbert’s pedal effects are obvious additions to the sonic portfolio – and it really works here. As Lockheart explained “The grooves, the sonics and the musical character of each piece are all hugely important. The process of writing music for these musicians led me into a new sound world that’s very different from anything I’d done before”.  He has identified influences as diverse as John Zorn, Burt Bacharach, Duke Ellington and Kraftwerk – and that makes for an eclectic starting point which is clear in Dreamers. We’ll be returning to this superb new album in future shows.

3. Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh and Tyshawn Sorey – Combat Breathing from Uneasy

This new album is credited to all three musicians – Vijay Iyer on piano, Linda May Han Oh on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Iyer’s previous trio – with Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums – was one of the most significant trios of the 2010s and a group that Neil championed on this show along with Iyer’s solo piano work. I remember playing his remarkable take on Human Nature when that first emerged on the ACT label in 2012 – a genuine rearrangement with rhythmic complexity, a stunning pianistic climax and a real emotional impact. Iyer’s new trio does have a link to the previous one: dark colours, elliptical arrangements and exciting choices of covers, one of which is Cole Porter’s Night and Day – not surprisingly, given a radical overhaul. Our choice is Combat Breathing which Iyer composed after the death of Eric Garner in 2014, amid waves of protest aligned with a then recently coined movement, Black Lives Matter. Here Tyshawn Sorey gives us J Dilla -style chopped up backbeats that work with Iyer’s  intense  – indeed, ‘uneasy’ – playing, which owes more than a little to McCoy Tyner here. It’s worth watching the live video of this recording from ECM Records but do go and buy this album if you’re looking for cutting-edge piano trio music.

4. Marion Brown – Pepi’s Tempo from Awofofora

Marion Brown, who died in 2010, is another of those jazz artists who should be better known. You’ll find him credited on the sleeve notes for John Coltrane’s Ascension, on Archie Shepp’s Fire Music and on Harold Budd’s The Pavilion of Dreams – and those who know will recognise that as something of a left-field or ‘out there’ collection. In fact, Brown recorded nearly 50 albums as leader over a long career in jazz that began with a first recording on the influential ESP label in 1966. Pepi’s Tempo comes from a 1976 release, Awofofora – and if you see it on vinyl snap it up. The only copy for sale on Discogs comes from Japan and is priced at US$500! Drummer Ed Blackwell and bassist Fred Hopkins are on this one and the music comes across as first cousin to the kind of harmolodic fusion that Ornette Coleman was developing a few years later on records like Of Human Feelings – here’s Love Words from that album.

5. Sean Khan (Kaidi Tatham remix) – Starchild from Supreme Love, A Journey Through Coltrane

Londoner Kaidi Tatham is a busy man. You heard his excellent remix of Nubya Garcia’s on our last show and here he is again with another project – saxophonist Sean Khan’s tribute to the music of John Coltrane, just issued on BBE Records. Intriguingly, there are three parts to this new record: The Future Present mostly comprises material written by or closely associated with Coltrane, reimagined by a plugged in, medium-sized, with-strings-and-harp ensemble that includes takes on Acknowledgement and Afro Blue; The Past has versions of Coltrane standards including Equinox and Impressions; and finally there’s The Future Past with two remixes of Khan originals by broken-beat pioneer Kaidi Tatham. “I made a conscious effort to represent all of Coltrane’s main artistic periods,” says Khan of the album. “From hard bop, to sheets of sound, to spiritual jazz and finally his last, most experimental and cosmic period. I have never heard a record that attempts to reflect all of the great man’s epochs in this way and use the recording artist’s autobiography, my own, as a conduit to these ends. So here I am, for better, for worse.” It’s a noble project and is a very definite Cosmic Jazz recommendation.

6. SunPalace – Rude Movements (Kenny Dope Dancefloor Powder remix) – from Rude Movements: the Remixes

Now this is a quality remix: it has that extended, hypnotic percussion typical of Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzales at his best. Behind the original is an interesting story too: back in 1981, two musicians got together to make a record. Mike Collins played guitar and had just bought a Roland CR78 – the first programmable drum machine. Keith O’Connell played Fender Rhodes piano and Prophet 5 synthesizer. Excited about the quirky and unusual instrumental track they’d composed, neither musician could have predicted what was to follow… Rude Movements is now viewed by many as one of the most influential early electronic dance records: the original version was played by DJ David Mancuso, who used it to devastating effect at his infamous Loft Parties – and, in turn, introduced it to Larry Levan, Frankie Knuckles, David Morales and Kenny Dope, then all young DJs who would go on to develop what we understand by dance music today. BBE Records released this influential track along with an original demo and three other versions in a double vinyl package that includes other SunPalace compositions. The original has an impossible-to-ignore hook and is well worth listening to alongside this remix – check it out here.  BBE then delivered a 7” vinyl release of SunPalace edits in 2020 before giving us this year the full versions of Moodymann and Kenny Dope’s remixes, alongside brand new interpretations by François K, Frankie Feliciano and OPOLOPO, plus a special edit by Phil Asher. Neil reckons that the best of these is that Afro-Latin Kenny Dope version – and that’s what we included in the show.

7. Kenny Garrett – For Art’s Sake from Sound from the Ancestors

The experience of hearing Kenny Garrett and his quartet in the close setting of Pizza Express in London was an unforgettable one for Derek. To be able to see this alto saxophonist – who had already an impressive collection of his own recorded music, not to mention his work with Miles Davis – in a close-up environment was almost unreal. Accompanied by his hugely impressive rhythm section, the show was a truly memorable experience. And Garrett is back on disc again in 2021 with his first release since 2016’s Do Your Dance. The new one is on Mack Avenue Records and is called Sounds from the Ancestors. Our featured tune For Art’s Sake (a dedication to Art Blakey) is a good example of Garrett’s approach on this record – remembering the musical ancestry of jazz and including the spirit of African ancestors from church services, recited prayers, songs from the work fields, Yoruban chants and African drums. All this with tributes to Roy Hargrove and those two drum pioneers Art Blakey and Tony Allen. Indeed some tracks feature additional drummers – as on Soldiers of the Fields/Soldats de champs. Here veteran drummer Lenny White and percussionist Rudy Bird join drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. (brother to bassist and singer Thundercat aka Stephen Bruner). Perhaps for the first time, we also get to hear Garrett on electric piano as well as his more familiar alto sax. “The Spirit is in the Sound. You know it when you hear it” say the notes to the record and you can certainly hear it in this music.

8. James Brandon Lewis – Jesup Wagon from Jesup Wagon

We return to tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis who has a new album out that you can expect to hear soon on Cosmic Jazz. But earlier this year, Lewis released what is one of our favourite records of 2021, but this time with his Red Lily Quintet. This album – called Jesup Wagon – aimed to capture the essence of the life, work and vision of Dr. George Washington Carver (1864-1943) who, although most famous for developing multiple uses for peanuts, was something of a Renaissance polymath; an artist, botanist, ecologist, aesthete, musician and teacher. The ‘Jesup Wagon’ was a vehicle he used to take round to Southern farmers to demonstrate new techniques, products and implements and this title tune does indeed have a Southern feel. Lewis opens unaccompanied with a wailing sound announcing the start of the day before moving into a New Orleans rhythm as the wagon sets off for the day. William Parker (one of our current Cosmic Jazz heroes) plays bass on the record and is prominent on this tune.

9. Jane Bunnett – Inolvidable from Spirits of Havana/Chamolongo 

Our tradition of ending the show with music that crosses borders continues – even though we appear to have crossed a number of borders already during this show.  Canadian soprano saxophonist and flautist Jane Bunnett has appeared previously on the show and is another musician who deserves a wider audience. She founded and currently leads an all-female group Maqueque, and has visited Cuba for over 30 years recording with Cuban musicians. The 1998 Spirits of Havana/Chamolongo double CD brings together two records, the former released in 1992, and is where you should start if you don’t known Bunnett’s music. This 2CD set is interesting on a number of counts, including the vocals by chanteuse Merceditas Valdés, one of Cuba’s greatest interpreters of song. What you hear in her vocals as she accompanies Bunnett is an immersion in the music’s spiritual aspect as they trade phrases and lines together. Also present is Valdés’ husband, percussionist Guillermo Barreto, who passed away just before the release of the first record. Celebrated pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba is part of Bunnett’s Cuban group along with her husband and fellow traveller, Larry Cramer on trumpet and flugelhorn.

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