This time Cosmic Jazz goes rhythmic, percussive, soulful and – yes – into full on dance mode. But we’re not forgetting the spiritual side. We’ve featured some tunes before but this is a show for mind, body and soul – and there’s plenty here for all three. Let’s get started..
1. Lettuce – Waffles from Unify
The show starts – as it continues – with soulful, jazzy grooves and beats from the Boston-based funk outfit Lettuce. Unify is their eighth studio album and – as an indication of their funk pedigree they are joined on Keep That Funk Alive by the legendary Bootsy Collins. Let’s cut to the chase – the album doesn’t disappoint and Bootsy’s appearance alone is worth the price of admission – this one gives Trouble Funk a run for their money. Pre-pandemic, Lettuce were constantly on the road but after the touring was halted the band were, explained drummer Adam Deitch, “Dealing with the pandemic, being in separate places, trying to survive without our best friends, without touring, not to mention the political divide in this country… We really needed to unify.” Lettuce start their US tour very soon and will arrive in the UK for an appearance at London’s Scala Theatre on 20 September.
2. Emma-Jean Thackray – Venus from Yellow
We have featured several cuts from this superb album on previous shows, including our live Singapore special last month. Yellow is full of forward-sounding beats and bass, but it also goes back to cosmic jazz sounds from the 70s and so there’s plenty of Fender Rhodes and analog synths in there too. Thackray’s music really reflects both her philosophy – “move the body, move the mind, move the soul” – and, indeed, our intention in this show. Several of the tracks have already been remixed – like this Wiki remix of Golden Green on Bandcamp – check it out here. Yellow appeared at the end of 2021 as the first full-length release from multi-instrumentalist Emma-Jean Thackray whose high profile is much deserved. Of course, jazz is at the heart of the music, but there is more besides. This is certainly music for dancing: there’s soul, driving broken beats from keyboards and percussion and a mature club sensibility that’s been further enhanced by those recent remixes. On Venus Thackray is on lead vocals, delivered almost nonchalantly, with backing vocals offering responses before they all chime in with joyous calls to Venus who “showed me love.” The sound is fresh, infectious, original and contemporary. Derek and Neil both have this one on repeat and recommend that you do too.
3. The John Betsch Society – Ode to Ethiopia from Earth Blossom
France-based drummer/percussionist John Betsch released this album with his Society group in 1974 on the legendary Strata East record label. One of the rarest albums on the label until its re-release in 2008 on the French Heavenly Sweetness label, Earth Blossom was recorded in Nashville – a place with many recording studios but not noted for recording spiritual jazz… The album features Billy Puett on flutes, alto and tenor sax and bass clarinet, Bob Holmes on keys, Ed ‘Lump’ Williams on bass, Jim Bridges on guitar, Phil Royster on congas and John Betsch on drums and percussion. Betsch had spent time with singer/songwriter Tim Hardin’s group, recording an unreleased album with him (that also included members of what would become Oregon) but he left the group shortly after an appearance at the Woodstock Festival. Later, on a course at the University of Massachusetts with Archie Shepp and Max Roach, he absorbed the Afrocentric thinking of the time but his Nashville session-based band also ensured that this music has an earthier, more melodic appeal. It’s the tune Ra – Puett’s sole composition on the album – that has a purer, almost Coltrane-like touch – listen to it here. Earth Blossom is much under-valued record and is one to look out for if you can find that Heavenly Sweetness reissue.
4. Mulatu Astatke & the Heliocentrics – Anglo-Ethio Suite from Inspiration, Information Vol 3
The Ethiopian multi-instrumentalist Mulatu Astatke is deservedly known as the father of Ethio jazz. His music effectively combines a jazz sensibility with traditional Ethiopian instrumentation. Astatke is now 71 years of age but is still touring and can be seen in the UK this year at the Love Supreme Festival in July and at Manchester’s Band on the Wall in August as well as at other European dates. This album – one of a short series with the Inspiration Information title on the Strut label – takes the fusion even further as Astatke is paired with the British collective The Heliocentrics, led by English drummer and producer Malcolm Catto. Their musical experience range across jazz, hip-hop, funk, avant-garde, electronic and psychedelic music and the resulting album has a joyous feel with infectious rhythms and a spirituality from Astatke’s Coptic heritage that really sparkles. The extended Anglo-Ethio Suite is a fitting closer to this excellent album.
5. Camilla George Quartet – Mama Wati Returns from Isang
This tune has featured on Cosmic Jazz before, but it worked with the our theme for this show – and so here it is again. Mama Wati Returns is from the first 2016 album from British-based alto sax player Camilla George who in her sleeve notes acknowledges the inspiration of Kenny Garrett (see below) and includes Zara McFarlane as a guest on one of the tracks (also see below). The Quartet is comprised of three fine British musicians now well known in their own right and/or through their work with other bands: Sarah Tandy on piano, Daniel Casimir on bass and Femi Koleoso on drums – names well known to Cosmic Jazz listeners and followers of the music that has emerged from young British jazz musicians in recent years.
6. Zara McFarlane – Angie La La feat. Leron Thomas from If You Knew Her
This is another tune we have played this tune before but Derek loves it and again felt it fitted so well into the soulful, jazzy grooves of the show. It is from the 2013 album of British vocalist Zara McFarlane on the Brownswood label run by DJ Gilles Peterson. It was Peterson who asked the Houston Texas-born musician Leron Thomas to add trumpet and vocals to the tune. It opens with the strong double bass of Gavin Barras, then the piano of Taz Modi enters followed by the subtle trumpet of Leron Thomas, swirls of the harp from Rachel Gladwin, the soaring voice of Zara McFarlane and the deep, reassuring vocals of Leron Thomas, before their vocal duet interspersed with response from the trumpet. It is magnificent. Subtle, deep, rhythmic – a must-have number.
7. Kenny Garrett – Do Your Dance from Do Your Dance
An invitation to Do Your Dance is not always something you expect from jazz musicians and maybe not even from the Detroit-born alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett. Yet that is precisely what he invited you to do as the title of his 2016 album. The title tune adds percussion from Rudy Bird and rapper Donald ‘Mista Enz’ Brown Jr. to Garrett’s usual quartet and the beats across the album include swing, funk, Latin and more. In fact, when playing live, the band often invite their audience to get up and groove and you can do precisely with this track and others on the album. It’s good to remember the inextricably linked history of jazz and dance music and this is just what Garrett explores so successfully on this record.
8. Nat Adderley – Fun in the Church from Soul of the Bible.
The show this week ends with another repeated airing of a tune that brings together many of the strands that this show has been about. In Fun in the Church there’s jazz, soul, funk and gospel too. Recorded for the album Soul of the Bible in 1972 with Fleming Williams on vocals and with production from David Axelrod and Cannonball Adderley, there are some notable guests including Rick Holmes on narration, Airto Moreira on percussion, Nat Adderley on cornet and keyboards, George Duke on keyboards, Walter Booker on bass with Adderley himself on alto saxophone – the third appearance of the alto sax on our show. Interesting – is this our favourite sax? Soul of the Bible has been unfairly compared with the earlier Soul Zodiac release but this is misguided. While not consistent, the reimagining of the passages of scripture works well, George Duke’s work on keyboards is excellent and there are fine solos from the Adderley brothers. You can still track down copies of the 2005 re-release – check out Discogs here.
Look out for more Cosmic Jazz soon.