12 December 2021: this year’s CJ favourites (part one)

Regular listeners to Cosmic Jazz will have noticed that we’ve moved on this year. It’s much easier to listen to the show via the Mixcloud link and we’ve now got a Twitter feed for you as well. The music choices remains as eclectic as always though – just check out some of our favourites from this year – both new releases and re-issues – and look out for an upcoming feature from Neil on how the vinyl renaissance has led to a bumper crop of audiophile jazz reissues.

1.  Sivuca – Ain’t No Sunshine from Sivuca

This re-release from Real Gone Music is the perfect way to start any show – and we make no apologies for the fact we have played the tune several times previously. Brazilian accordionist/guitarist/composer and vocalist Sivuca performs the near impossible – covering a tune and making it sound better than the original. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with the Bill Withers-penned original, but Sivuca simply sizzles with joy and exuberance and adds the je ne sais quoi. His accordion comes in from time to time with warm, full  and embracing tones, there is driving piano, the odd word from Sivuca sounding like a cool elder statesman and the beat all through is infectious. Then there is that choir – full of heavenly innocence and clarity that appears from time to time – pure perfection.

2.  Gene Russell – Talk to My Lady from Talk to My Lady

And on to another re-release from Real Gone Music – this time as part of their mission to re-release of all twenty records on the Black Jazz Records label. Keyboard player Gene Russell was a key man at Black Jazz: producer for all the releases, appearances on several of the recordings and with two albums of his own for the label – including this second release from 1972.  It’s a very different offering from the previous year’s New Direction, with Russell leading an electric band with bass player Henry Franklin to the fore and Calvin Keys on guitar. Both players recorded for Black Jazz Records in their own right and we have featured their music on previous shows. The tune has a jazz/funk feel to make the body sway, but with some restraint – this isn’t easy dancefloor stuff. Notably, Russell followed the example of Coltrane by including a surprisingly powerful take of My Favorite Things on Talk To My Lady. Well worth searching out.

3. Harry Beckett – Third Road from Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain (1965-1972)/Flare Up

Another essential re-release in 2021 was the compilation Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain (1965-1972) compiled by @TheJazzDad Tony Higgins who, along with Mike Peden, has also been responsible for the excellent J Jazz series of re-issues (more of which later). 14 tracks from top British artists, many of whom have not always received the credit they deserved, but whose important music and its influence on contemporary British artists is now being recognised. At the launch of the compilation in August 2021, the UK’s Guardian newspaper highlighted these often under-sung musicians in a useful introduction. Trumpeter Harry Beckett was born in Barbados in 1935 but came to Britain in 1954 and was quickly in demand on numerous sessions, playing for many other musicians including an extended period with British composer Graham Collier. He was in demand enough to be featured on albums by – among others – Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, Nucleus, Stan Tracey and Keith Tippett. Our choice is from his first solo album Flare Up, for which Beckett was able to assemble an impressive array of musicians – John Surman, Alan Skidmore, Mike Osborne, John Taylor and John Webb. Third Road was arranged by the afore-mentioned Graham Collier, for whose band Beckett was a member for over fifteen years.

4. Kurt Elling – Dharma Bums from SuperBlue

We’ve written quite extensively about Chicagoan singer Kurt Elling’s new release on British label Edition Records, his second for the label. Forged from the limitations of Covid, Elling and guitarist Charlie Hunter worked thousands of miles apart to create one of this year’s standout records. Alongside them were drummer Corey Fonville and DJ Harrison, both from funk group Butcher Brown, and the result was a dynamic recording different from anything Elling had previously released – perhaps more akin to the playful funk-driven music of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson (like A Real Mother For Ya) than Mark Murphy. Just listen to (and watch) this live take of Cody Chestnutt’s The Seed for evidence. This time we chose the wonderful Dharma Bums – an explicit reference to the 1958 novel by Jack Kerouac that records Kerouac’s search for enlightenment with Japhy Ryder (a thinly disguised version of poet Gary Snyder) – but there’s a whole set of Beat references across Elling’s superb lyrics, quoted here: Come on!  I’ve got a wandering feeling that it’s time for moving on/ The arms upon the clock that’s on the wall are telling me that I’ve been standing still for much too long/ A picture’s always blank before it’s drawn. The night is darkest just before the dawn/ So you bring your tender brains & I can provide the brawn/ Come On!  I’ve got a vintage Ford Falcon that is hungry for the road/ The chromium is polished in the knowledge that we’re headed for an altogether distant postal code/ Might I suggest that on the way find the mystic motherlode/ Maybe we can find our just desserts and grab ‘em à la mode!/ ‘Cause when the night falls & stars shed their sparkler dims & don’t you know that God is Pooh-Bear holding out his honeyed paws to both of us from way out there?/ And when the spirit calls and both of us are filled up to the over-brim in that mescal & sage flavored air/ Then you’ll know that you are Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise is me!

5. Gretchen Parlato – Roy Allan (feat. Airto Moreira) from Flor

One of Neil’s favourites this year was from Gretchen Parlato, another jazz artist who chose to do something very different in 2021. Also on Edition Records (what a year they’re having!), Flor is an unexpected delight after Parlato had appeared to drop out of the music scene in 2013 after her early successes. In fact, she had had a child with her husband, drummer Mark Guiliana, and for several years she devoted herself completely to motherhood. So this album arrived after two years of live touring and an enforced quarantine and completely charmed us with its Brazilian spirit and personal vision. The album opens with the gorgeous É Preciso Perdoar, a song by one of Parlato’s touchstones here, João Gilberto. Difficult to get close to any other takes of this song (including the magnificent version by Gilberto and Stan Getz) but Parlato does it. From this point on, the album never looks back. We could have chosen any of the tracks, including the Minuet from Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 or a take on David Bowie’s No Plan. Our choice is one of the late Roy Hargrove’s best tunes, Roy Allan – here transformed into a brilliant samba featuring Airto Moreira. Everything on this outstanding record works – and so is a very worthy Cosmic Jazz recommendation.

6. Da Lata – Jungle Kitten from Jungle Kitten/Asking Eyes

Da Lata are muti-instrumentalist and producer Chris Franck and DJ Patrick Forge and they returned in 2021 with a 12in cover of the underground classic Jungle Kitten by Manfredo Fest, featuring Kaidi Tatham on synths. Like Sivuca and Gretchen Parlato, Neil thinks this take achieves that rare distinction of improving on the original. You can check out Fest’s version here – what do you reckon? Previous albums by Da Lata include the excellent debut Songs from the Tin (2000) and Serious (2003). Their take on Ponteio was released by Far Out Recordings back in 1998 appearing on the excellent Brazilian Love Affair 2 compilation and the corresponding Love Affair 3 also included a De Lata take on Os Escravos de Jo (Jo’s Slaves), a Milton Nascimento/Fernando Brant composition.

7. Doug Carn – Jihad from Revelation

Black Jazz stalwart 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 have featured previously on 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 our choice – Rene McLean’s Jihad. In 2020, Carn teamed up with producer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalists Adrian Young and Ali Shaheed Muhammad for one of their Jazz Is Dead releases and the result included the atmospheric Desert Rain with its hip hop triplets and Carn back on Hammond B3.

8. Yasuhiro Trio + 1 – One – Song of Island from J Jazz Volume 3: Deep Modern Jazz from Japan

One of the many hidden narratives of post-WWII Japan is its long-running jazz scene. This taste for the most American of art forms intensified after the war, when a crackdown on what was considered the music of the enemy ended, the interests of stationed U.S. troops helped reignite the scene, and, later, touring legends found a willing market. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, Japan was a hub of jazz invention, even if much of the music recorded was released on severely limited runs or private presses, meaning it barely travelled within the country, let alone beyond it. Fifty years later, collectors and jazz kissa aficionados (see here) compilers, Higgins and Peden have given us J Jazz Volume 3: Deep Modern Jazz from Japan. This latest instalment opens with Yasuhiro Kohno Trio + One’s Song of Island and a storm of solo piano keys. When the rest of the band enters and the full arrangement kicks in, Kohno’s delightful playing sits perfectly next to guest Masahiro Kanno’s smooth vibraphone as the pair take turns in front. The cymbals don’t so much crash as hum in the background. Like many of the selections in this set, Song of Island was recorded live—polite applause greets the end of the solos—and the mastering work in London preserves a warm, organic sound. There’s evidence here that Japanese jazz drew not just from American sources – there’s West African rhythms (Hiroshi Murakami & Dancing Sphinx), samba jazz (Hideo Shiraki) and – perhaps most bizarrely – flamenco (Eiji Nakayama). It’s a great set and another BBE Records essential.

9. Matt Carmichael – Cononbridge 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 (see below). 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. Jazz trivia from Rob Adams: Cononbridge is named after Carmichael’s home town.

10. Fergus McCreadie – Cairn from Cairn

This is another important release on Edition Records. A wonderfully atmospheric record  that moves through the relaxing to the gently strident. Pianist Fergus McCreadie leads a trio with David Bowden on double bass and Stephen Henderson on drums and Cairn is his second record. It’s chockful of beautiful melodies and arrangements and we think it’s beautiful and inspiring music that lifts both soul and spirit.  All three members of the trio met at the Royal Conservatoire in Scotland and have been playing together for more than five years. McCreadie has won numerous prizes and was the under-17 Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the year and a Jazzwise magazine One to Watch in 2018. He’s influenced by Scottish traditional music and there is a feel for that and the diversity of the Scottish landscape in the music.

11. William Parker – Painter’s Winter from Painter’s Winter

Bass player William has been very busy this year on the record release front. Painter’s Winter is just one from the list which included a multi-album 10CD re-release.  This tune is haunting, eerie and spiritual, sparse and acoustic in sound with Daniel Carter featured on flute, Hamid Drake on drums and Parker on this track playing trombonium. “Painters love the winter, they hunker down and begin masterpieces’” say the sleeve notes to the album and this tune makes it sound like the painters will produce a deeply intense wintry piece of work – and the music is a spare, frosty meditation that repays repeated listening.

12. Lady Blackbird – Blackbird from Black Acid Soul

This is another sparse, stripped-down record, no percussion but bass and piano. and the voice of LA-based singer Lady Blackbird, aka Marley Munroe. What a voice it is too that she possesses and it is illustrated to the full on this Nina Simone tune, with all the power, emotion and despair that the tune evokes. The album has seven covers and four original compositions, with Sam Cooke, Tim Hardin and Irma Thomas being among the covers. Marley Munroe has been around for some time, although she’s still young. She has tried R’n’B  and even alt.rock with the sort of outcomes that can be common in the music industry. Black Acid Soul sounds like she has found where she truly belongs in a soulful/bluesy jazz mode. It looks like there should be more exciting sounds to come.

Derek is listening to…

Neil is listening to…

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