02 January 2022: 2021’s CJ favourites (part two)

We share more music that we have enjoyed during 2021. As in the previous show, we’ve got a mixture of new and re-releases covering a range of jazz and jazz-related styles – and, despite the our necessary reliance on mp3 files to broadcast, we are also celebrating the continued resurgence of vinyl…

1.  Daniel Herskedal – The Mariner’s Cross from Harbour

If you like atmospheric music with awe-inspiring melodies Daniel Herskedal’s sixth album for Edition Records is the music for you. A Norwegian tuba and bass trumpet player, he’s joined on this album by Eyolf Dale on piano and celesta and Helge Andreas Norbakken on drums and marimba. The Norwegian landscape has long been an influence on Herskedal’s music  and the landscape where this record was recorded is pretty unique: recorded in December 2020 at the remote Ocean Sound, the studios sit on Giske, an island on the rugged Norwegian coastline. The music on this album evokes something of that sense of ‘hygge’ – a word in both Danish and Norwegian that is all about the feelings of warmth and protection when sheltered from stormy weather and a wild sea. The landscape has always played a vital role in Herskedal’s music – and comes across as vast and deep but with that sense of minimalism in evocation the space and wild openness.

2.  STR4TA – Aspects from Aspects

2021 reminded us that Britfunk is still alive and kicking – thanks to some new compilations and STR4TA with their album Aspects. A fusion of jazz, funk, urban dance rhythms with some pop hooks, Britfunk was a UK-homegrown scene from the late 1970s onwards that proved it had lasting durability when Gilles Peterson and Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick from Britfunk pioneers Incognito got together and created STR4TA. The album appeared in March 2021 and the recreation of that pioneering British sound is faultless. There’s some concessions to the spacey synth melodies of groups like Atmosfear and Hi-Tension, but this album stands on its own as the essence of the era with a more contemporary twist. With the exception of some inane lyrics on a few tracks, this is a jazz dance must. For the session itself, Peterson and Maunick wanted to approach the music-making from the starting point that led to those early classic Brit-funk records like Freeez’s Southern Freeez or Atmosfear’s Dancing in Outer Space, capturing the raw energy and sound of the moment. Recalling his role in the process, Peterson says he was the one making sure things didn’t get too polished. “I was there at the back, telling them, no, leave it like that, cut it there, or just use that first take.” Also featured on the record are Francis Hylton on bass and Matt Cooper on both keyboards and drums. Great sound on vinyl too – check it out here on Bandcamp.

3.  Sault – Fearless from UNTITLED (Rise)

We first featured Sault in May 2021 – and this London collective still remains something of a mystery. The music seemed to arrive out of the blue: no interviews, no photos, no videos, no live appearances, no Wikipedia entry – and a perfunctory and entirely non-interactive social media presence. UNTITLED (Rise) was actually released in September 2020 but went on to be nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2021 – and, indeed, we reckon that this album is something of a masterpiece. The opening track Strong features beats spiked with explosions of dubby echo, an intricate mesh of Nile Rodgers-ish guitar and a terrific breakdown inspired by Brazilian batucada percussion while Fearless is supremely funky with flurries of disco strings and a dark, inspiring production that works against lyrics like “It hurts on the inside”. Vocalist Cleo Sol released her second album Mother in 2021 – and it’s well worth a listen too. Of course, UNTITLED (Rise) is available in all formats – check out your choice here on Bandcamp.

4.  Dexter Gordon – Tangerine from Live at Chateauvallon 1978

Neil has been listening to a lot of Dexter Gordon recently and the Record Store Day 2021 vinyl reissue of this 1978 concert sounds just great. Released on the Elemental label (who have done an equally good job with Barney Wilen’s live record – see below) the music first appeared as a double CD the previous year but the first two tunes on that set, Tangerine and More Than You Know, take up side 1 and 2 respectively on the later gatefold vinyl reissue. On Tangerine, Gordon characteristically introduces the Mercer/Schertzinger standard by reciting the opening lyrics and then stretches out with his superbly sympathetic quartet for over 20 minutes, quoting – in typical Gordon fashion – from Pop Goes the Weasel and If I Were a Bell, all with that unmistakeable burnished tone on tenor. Pianist George Cables, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Eddie Gladden are the same guys with whom he recorded the celebrated Live at Carnegie Hall a few weeks earlier and provide more than solid support. Either the single vinyl release or the 2CD full set are highly recommended.

5.  Kahil El’Zabar’s Spirit Groove – In My House from Kahil El’Zabar’s Spirit Groove feat. David Murray

Another long tune (originally over 20 minutes but we featured the shorter radio edit) and again one that celebrates effortless jazz viruosity. It’s not strictly a 2021 release as this record came in at the very end of 2020 but – thanks to Covid – Neil didn’t get a chance to listen to his vinyl copy until October 2021! This record appeared on the new UK Spiritmuse label – beautifully presented records in gatefold sleeves that are well worth getting hold of.  Chicagoan percussionist Kahil El’Zabar has been recording for over forty years and on this album is joined by his contemporary, tenor saxophonist David Murray who is ably supported by Justin Dillard on on synth, organ and piano and young Emma Dayhuff on bass. El’Zabar himself takes up kalimba, drum kit, congas, shakers, vibes and even has a go at singing on this predominantly spiritual jazz release. As always, your best source for this record is the either the Spiritmuse or Bandcamp websites: you can find Spirit Groove here on Bandcamp – and still available in all formats.

Recording of the CD ‘La Note Bleue’. From left to right : Philippe Paringaux (scenarist of the animation film ‘Barney et la note Bleue’) and French jazz musician Barney Wilen (tenor and soprano saxophones). Monday, December 1st 1986, between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.

6.  Barney Wilen – Besame Mucho from Live at Le Petit Opportun 1989

Back in 2017, Neil finally caught up with saxophonist Barley Wilen exploring his innovative 1970 album Moshi through Youtube clips. More of that later but a little Wilen background first… His mother was French, his father a successful American dentist-turned-inventor based on the French Riviera. As a teenager, Wilen started a youth jazz club in Nice before moving to Paris in the mid50s where he worked with a number of American musicians, including Miles Davis. It’s Wilen you hear on the soundtrack to Lift to the Scaffold, the celebrated Louis Malle film, reportedly recorded while the musicians watched a live screening of the film. In 1970, Wilen assembled a team of filmmakers, technicians, and musicians to travel to Africa and record the music of native pygmy tribes before returning to Paris where he created the Moshi album, a record unlike any other in the jazz canon. Knowing just the track Zombiezar, Neil was keen to find more and was lucky enough to find a copy of the excellent 2017 reissue of this dark, eccentric music  in Singapore, complete with a DVD of Caroline de Bendern’s film À L’intention De Mlle Issoufou À Bilma, which documented Wilen’s African journey. For Record Store Day in 2021, Elemental Music went all out with a magnificent box set reissue of Wilen’s 1987 La Note Bleue, overseen by Wilen’s son Patrick. In addition to the beautifully remastered record, there’s an English-language facsimilie of the Loustal-Paringaux comic book (Barney et la note bleue) that pays tribute to Wilen in a fictionalised version of his life and an LP-sized booklet that includes great photos from the recording sessions, as well as extensive notes and contemporary ads and press cuttings. As if that weren’t enough, there’s a CD of a great previously unreleased Wilen quartet recording, made at Parisian jazz club Le Petit Opportun that features reinterpretations of La Note Bleue tunes. Wilen is joined here by Jacky Terasson on piano, Gilles Naturel on bass and Peter Gritz on drums. If you can still find it, this is one of the best jazz box sets you’ll find – well worth looking out for.

7.  Walter Bishop Jr’s 4th Cycle – Sweet Rosa from Keeper of My Soul

We continue to celebrate the re-release of Black Jazz Records music via  Real Gone Music who are steadily issuing all twenty records from the label in all formats – including, for this one, orange with black swirl vinyl edition! Keeper Of My Soul was keyboardist Walter Bishop’s second release on the label and he’s supported here by flautist/sax player Hubert Laws, bass player Gerald Brown and vibraphonist Woody Murray. Contrary to the album title, the name of the band was not The 4th Cycle; instead, as the liner notes put it, the name reflected ‘Bishop’s composition and improvisational techniques based on the Cycle of 4ths and his various personal musical cycles as performer, student and teacher.‘ The album also has a sense of spirituality informed by Bisop’s yogic studies with Parmahansa Yogananda; little wonder, then, that Keeper of My Soul was a more ambitious, electric, and ‘out’ record than its Blue Note-influenced predecessor with Bishop exploring Keith Jarrett-like free-form passages (Those Who Chant), Latin stylings (a great take on Kenny Dorham’s classic Blue Bossa which first appeared on Joe Henderson’s First Page album) and a surprisingly funky take on Summertime. We featured the strong composition Sweet Rosa – typical of the strengths of this record over its predecessor.

8.  Kenny Garrett – Sounds from the Ancestors from Sounds from the Ancestors

We have played many tunes from alto saxophonist  Kenny Garrett on Cosmic Jazz and the 2021 release of Sounds From The Ancestors just has to be celebrated. Garrett has played with many of the greats of jazz –  Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard and many more – but his new album follows something of a different path. There’s direct respect to these important influences and the music they played but also to the jazz heritage of soul, gospel and Afro-Cuban music. This title tune, which begins with Garrett playing piano, includes an important contribution from guest Pedrito Martinez on percussion. Besides his core band the album welcomes several guests who bring with them experience of different musical styles. These include Jean Baylor and Dwight Trible on vocals, Lenny White on snare drum, Maurice Brown on trumpet and Johnny Mercier on piano, organ and Fender Rhodes. The record appeared on many Best of… jazz lists in 2021 – including ours.

9.  James Brandon Lewis – Archimedean from Code of Being

Here on Cosmic Jazz we have featured tracks from Jesup Wagon, an earlier 2021 release from James Brandon Lewis but, at the end of the year, another record emerged – Code of Being on the Swiss Intakt label. It is a quartet, with Lewis on tenor, Aruan Ortiz on piano, Brad Jones on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. This is an intense and enveloping experience as evidenced by our choice on this show.  The Archimedean Spiral was the logo chosen by the visual artists Norman Lewis, Romare Bearden and others for their Spiral collective, formed on 05 July 1963. The name was symbolic of the group’s varied artists and their many different styles, yet containing the common core purpose of establishing a black identity in a predominantly white art world. Many of the artists had moved from the South to New York and felt compelled to engage in the civil rights movement as artists. Sleeve notes to the album record that when Lewis was asked to place himself within the history of American music his response was that he sees himself as part of the tradition from John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins and that he hopes to contribute to that tradition. Indeed he does, – and Archimedean is undoubtedly the most modal and Coltrane-influenced track here, and so our final tune on the show is an appropriate follow-up and end point.

10. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme, Pt. II – Resolution (Live) from A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle

As with Miles Davis, the John Coltrane records keep on coming. How many more will turn up? The latest is from a live show recorded at the Penthouse Club, Seattle on 02 October 1965 and was found among the private tapes of a friend of Coltrane, the musician and educator Joe Brazil and was released on the Impulse! label in 2021. This is a truly significant recording because it’s only the second live performance of A Love Supreme that has been committed to tape (so far). We may think of A Love Supreme as tight, deeply spiritual, revelatory music but this performance is not that. Recorded at a time of change for Coltrane, with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones still with him – although not for long – additional musicians were brought in to change and extend the sound. Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax and percussion, Carlos Ward on alto sax and Donald Rafael Garrett on bass, adding to that of Jimmy Garrison from the original quartet. The result is dramatically extended performances that allow you to experience the music in a different way – it feels live, with Elvin Jones particularly high up in the mix. Jones said in 2002 that A Love Supreme is always a spiritual experience, wherever you hear it and although the recording quality has limitations (as you might expect from a portable reel-to-reel recorder) A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle is an essential record in any jazz collection. More Cosmic Jazz sounds soon…

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