16 February 2022: jazz new and old + an afrobeat classic

This time Cosmic Jazz is back into a mixture of new music from emerging artists on the US scene together with jazz from the greats.  Yes – we have Immanuel Wilkins, James Brandon Lewis, David S. Ware and Horace Tapscott in the CJ house together with more treasures for you to enjoy.

1. Somi – Love Tastes Like Strawberries (feat. Gregory Porter) from Zenzile

We start with vocalist Somi, whose new album Zenzile  (due out next month) is a tribute to singer Miriam Makeba. The release date is 04 March – what would have been Makeba’s 90th birthday. The lead single will be a take on Makeba’s classic Pata Pata but we’ve selected a tune recorded by both Makeba and her long time musical partner, trumpeter Hugh Masekela. Check out his excellent instrumental take on Strawberries here. South African Miriam Makeba was undoubtedly one of the first superstar musicians from the continent, but she endured three decades of political exile from her homeland, largely due to an impassioned speech she made at the UN in 1963 appealing for an end to apartheid. She referenced the Sharpeville Massacre in which two of her family members had been killed. Makeba was then blacklisted in the United States after her marriage to civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael and she did not return to South Africa until apartheid was dismantled in 1990. Somi’s lifelong love of Makeba’s music and personal strength has resulted in a record that she calls a “re-imagination” of Makeba’s music and she notes that the album “is my attempt to honor the unapologetic voice of an African woman who inevitably made room for my own journey and countless other African artists. In short, I owe her. We all do.” Joining her on Love Tastes Like Strawberries is singer Gregory Porter, whom Derek had the pleasure of interviewing on the show at the time of his first album release in  2010. Zenzile, incidentally, is Makeba’s given first name…

2.   Keyon Harrold – The Mugician from The Mugician

We had intended to play the title track from trumpeter Keyon Harrold’s first major label release a few weeks ago but, for reasons lost in the mists of time, it was shelved. We’re happy to return to a great modern jazz tune once more in this show. Harrold is – like many of his generation – at home in all kinds of settings. He’s recorded with Jay-Z, Beyoncé and the aforementioned Gregory Porter, and he notably recorded all the trumpet parts for Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle’s biopic of Miles Davis. We come back to The Mugician (2017) on a regular basis because it epitomises the ambitious, socially conscious, genre-bending jazz we like. Not surprising, given that Harrold cites both trumpeter Charles Tolliver and rapper Common as major influences. The result is that the record includes trip-hop and R&B elements alongside powerful jazz trumpet and a range of reflections on racism and bigotry (not surprising, given those events in Harrold’s hometown of Ferguson, Missouri). Watch Harrold celebrating the music of Miles Davis and playing his famous ‘moon and stars’ trumpet here.

3.  James Brandon Lewis – Resonance from Code of Being

There are not many artists who produce two full-length albums in a year but saxophonist James Brandon Lewis did just that in 2021 – not an easy year to produce anything! Jesup Wagon was followed at the end of the year by Code of Being from his quartet with Aruan Ortiz on piano, Brad Jones bass, Chad Taylor drums. This one is released on the Swiss label Intakt Records, an excellent source of edgy contemporary jazz. The tune Resonance begins and ends with a hymn-like quality and in-between is the improvisation, the interplay between the musicians, the fast and nimble work from pianist Aruan Ortiz and at various points the warm, full and wholesome tones from Brandon Lewis. This is serious music: as Brandon Lewis says in the liner notes My only desire is to constantly reach for the truest version of myself everyday until I exit for the next realm, and hopefully I leave nothing unturned.

4. Immanuel Wilkins – Emanation from The 7th Hand

Immanuel Wilkins is a 24-year-old alto saxophone player born and raised in Philadelphia and The 7th Hand is the  follow-up on Blue Note Records to his much-acclaimed debut Omega, rated the Best Jazz album of 2020 by the  New York Times. He has already acquired that dangerous label ‘ the future of jazz’ but there is plenty here to suggest he will be an important player. The band on the tune Emanation is a quartet with Micah Thomas on piano, Daryl Johns bass, Kweku Sumbry drums, with guests appearing on other tracks. The delicate, fast-moving runs of Wilkins interplay with the impressive piano of Micah Thomas to produce driving, contemporary, urban jazz music. The album is an hour-long suite comprised of seven movements with Emanation as the first.

5. Horace Tapscott – Niger’s Theme from The Giant is Awakened

Alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe made an appearance later in the show, but this 1969 record on the Flying Dutchman label is actually his first outing on record, here with Horace Tapscott, pianist and leader of the Los Angeles-based Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra. Here Tapscott is leading a rather unusual quintet – Blythe, Tapscott, two bassists (David Bryant and Walter Savage Jnr.) and drummer Everett Brown Jnr. The music is deep, spiritual and sounds more composed than it apparently was. Blythe went on to achieve great things, Horace Tapscott rather less so – but this record is undoubtedly one of his best and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find: our friends at Real Gone Music reissued it in 2020 – and with some copies on green vinyl too!

6. David S. Ware – Aquarian Sound from Flight of i

David S Ware firmly belongs in that ‘should be better known’ camp. A participant in the New York loft jazz scene of the 1970s, Ware didn’t record with his stunning quartet until 1989. In between, he’d spent years as a taxi driver making ends meet in the way that many avantgarde jazz musicians were required to do. The quartet was originally pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker and drummer Marc Edwards with Susie Ibarra also occupying the drum chair in later incarnations. There are dozens of recordings with this group that are well worth checking out (if you can find them) but our choice comes from one of the standout records, Flight of i from 1991. Aquarian Sound is the opening track and it’s a stunning showcase for both Ware and Shipp, whose solo on this tune is just great, with shades of McCoy Tyner that echo Ware’s Coltrane-like tones. Ware’s records aren’t easy to track down now but they are all worth investigating – see if you can find the 2005 3CD set Live in The World which includes an extended take on Aquarian Sound.

7. Gil Scott-Heron – Spirits from Spirits

Neil remembers very clearly picking this up on vinyl in 1994, and it has featured on his turntable in the years since. Spirits was Gil Scott Heron’s triumphant return to the studio after a 12 year absence and – although there is some vocal deterioration – this is a politically charged, spiritual record on which the strong lyrics added to John Coltrane’s Equinox to become the title track are a real highlight. Long-time co-writer Brian Jackson returned on piano and Ron Holloway from Scott Heron’s Amnesia Express group was back on saxophone. It’s not just on Spirit that the jazz influences are strong and this is a consistent record that belongs in any collection. The CD reissue has some bonus tracks, but the vinyl is something of a standout pressing and is worth seeking out.

8. Flora Purim – This is Me from If You Will

After a 15 year hiatus, Flora Purim releases her new record on the Strut label in April. We’ve got a preview for you here with the tune This Is Me. The new album is a celebration of her music and collaborations, with new compositions alongside fresh versions of her favourite personal songs – the title track is a reprise from her work with George Duke on the 2000 album Cool – here’s the original version from that record. Twenty years before, Duke had recorded A Brazilian Love Affair, which included Brazilian Sugar – also featuring Flora Purim on vocals. The new album also includes a take on 500 Miles High – a song from the late Chick Corea’s Return To Forever band which included Purim too. If You Will brings together many of Purim’s closest circle of musicians including husband Airto Moreira, guitarist José Neto, her daughter Diana Purim on vocals and percussionist Celso Alberti. As with Scott Heron, the 79 year old voice may not be what it was, but – on the evidence of this tune – this is definitely a record to seek out. A vinyl version can be pre-ordered from Bandcamp here.

9. Lester Bowie – For Fela from African Children

More trumpet, but this time from Art Ensemble of Chicago member, Lester Bowie. Recorded for the Italian Horo label in 1978, African Children is a genuine lost treasure. Recorded in a single day, this double vinyl album features several side-long tracks including For Fela. Bowie is joined by Arthur Blythe on alto, Amina Claudine Myers on keys, Malachi Favors on bass and Phillip Wilson, one of Neil’s favourite drummers. In his Guardian obituary for Bowie, jazz writer John Fordham noted that in between Art Ensemble tours, Bowie would sometimes pack a bag and head for the airport with his trumpet, sure that it wouldn’t let him starve. On this basis, he stayed in Jamaica for a year and the locals would enquire after his health if they didn’t hear him practising. In Nigeria, he worked with Fela Kuti and Fordham writes: “Bowie recalled once that he was at his wits’ end in Lagos in 1977, telling himself “Lester, you finally ____ up, you can’t play your way out of this. Then a guy told me to go see Fela Kuti. I took a cab to Fela’s place and a little African guy comes out and says: ‘You play jazz? You from Chicago? Well, you’ve come to the right place, ’cause we’re the baddest band in Africa.’ Then Fela tells me to play a blues, my speciality. I played a couple of bars and he says: ‘Go get his bags, he’s moving in’. I stayed with him about a year, and it was fantastic.” You can hear Bowie on an essential Fela album, No Agreement – here’s the extended title track. Just relish that moment after the five minute mark when Bowie enters – it’s pure magic! His breathy slurring and fiery, rhythmic stabs are a perfect fit for Fela’s music. You’ll pay over €100 for a mint copy of African Children but this is definitely one to go crate digging for.

10. Fela Kuti – Sorrow, Tears & Blood from Sorrow, Tears & Blood

After Neil’s choice of a tune for Fela, it seemed appropriate to follow it with music from the man himself. Derek has been lucky to see two of Fela’s UK performances, including his only UK show outside London at the Cambridge Junction. He has also had interesting conversations with a friend who knows Fela’s family and who interviewed him in The Shrine – Fela’s club and cultural centre in Lagos – resulting in an article for The Guardian newspaper. The tune Sorrow, Tears & Blood builds in the classic Fela style, but the overall pace is more restrained than many of his tunes, possibly as a result of its subject matter, In 1974 Fela established the Kalakuta Republic around his home in defiance of the Government and the Nigerian establishment. The Republic grew in popularity in the neighbourhood, despite harassment and attacks from the authorities. Throughout Fela was not to be silenced and at the Festival for Black Arts and Culture (FESTAC) held in Lagos in 1977 he performed Zombie – one of his most potent satires against the Nigerian military. Zombie quickly became hugely popular but this then outraged the Nigerian army who sent in 1000 armed soldiers to attack the Republic. Fela’s house was burnt down, its occupants were beaten and his mother was thrown from a first floor window. She later died from her injuries. Sorrow, Tears and Blood was written in the wake of this attack and the lyrics describe the scene: Everybody run, run, run/ Everybody scatter, scatter/ Some people lost some bread/ Some people just die…Them leave sorrow, tears and blood/Them regular trademark. It’s a powerful polemic which still retains its potency. You can easily find the album on CD backed with another excellent Fela record Opposite People (1977), but Bandcamp can provide a vinyl version via Fela’s Kuti’s site right here. As Fela said, Music is the weapon. Music is the weapon of the future.  More Cosmic Jazz music soon.

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