31 July 2022: summer vibes and serious jazz

For this show – recorded in record-breaking UK summer weather – the music of Brazil and the Latin community of New York seemed appropriate. We also acknowledged Gilberto Gil’s 80th birthday, and the 55th anniversary of John Coltrane’s tragically early death at the age of just 40. Music selected by Neil in Singapore and Derek in the UK included deep jazz from Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders and funky, sunny Latin beats to bookend the show. Throughout, we stayed cool – enjoy the vibes!

1.   Lettuce – Let the World Know from Unify

The show starts – as it has done before  – with soulful, jazzy grooves and beats from the Boston-based funk outfit Lettuce. Unify is their eighth studio album and it doesn’t disappoint. 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 are now well into their 50 date world tour and will be in the UK for an appearance at London’s Scala Theatre on 20 September.

2.   Sabrina Malheiros – Vai Maria from Clareia

As often on Cosmic Jazz, we changed the tone with a Brazilian sequence. Singer/songwriter Sabrina Malheiros – daughter of the Azymuth bass player Alex Malheiros – produces cool but joyful samba/ jazz influenced music, and her record Clareia (released on the UK’s Far Out label in 2017) is a wonderful example of the genre. The record was produced in London by Daniel Maunick, son of Incognito founder Bluey Maunick – himself no stranger to Singapore, where he has performed with Incognito on many occasions. The family links are often so strong in Brazilian music: Neil is still recovering from singer Joyce’s superb performance as part of the annual Jazz in July concerts here. During the show with husband and drummer Tutty Moreno, she chose a song about the remarkable Caymmi family from Bahia – father Dorival Caymmi and musical children Dori, Danilo and Nana (who was briefly married to Gilberto Gil). Caymmi may not be as well known, but he’s perhaps second only to Tom Jobim in creating the modern Brazilian songbook with compositions that reflect Bahian landscape where he grew up. Most famous song? Probably Promise of a Fisherman – presented here in an original recording from Caymmi and again in a celebrated version by Santana from their Brazilian-influenced Borboletta album.

3.   Friends from Rio – Cravo e Canela (Cinnamon and Clove) from Friends from Rio Vol. 2

Friends from Rio is a project begun by Far Out label founder Joe Davis to bring together many of their artists in a project originally aimed at the dance floors of London. Started in 1994, Friends from Rio releases continued to appear on the label – the last one emerging in 2014. Cravo e Canela was written by another Brazilian musical heavyweight, the great Milton Nascimento and has been recorded by many musicians over the years. It first appeared on one of Neil’s all-time favourite records – Nascimento’s superb collaboration with Lô Borges called Clube da Esquina – listen to that version right here. This is string-driven take on the tune – light, but with a driving core. It works well in a club context too!

4,   Gilberto Gil – Toda Menina Bahiana from Realce

Realce is one of Gilberto Gil’s most disco-influenced albums and is very much a document of the end of military dictatorship in Brazil. Released in 1979, the aforementioned Dorival Caymmi features on one track (Marina) and Não Chore Mais is a string-soaked take on Vincent Ford and Bob Marley’s tune No Woman, No Cry. Our choice, the summery Toda Menina Bahiana is one of Gil’s most recorded tunes and, once more, a celebration of Bahian life – and particularly its girls (meninas). Now, in a rather unlikely partnership with Amazon, you can see Gil demonstrating that Brazilian family vibe in At Home with the Gils (Em Casa Com os Gil)!

5.   Mark de Clive-Lowe – Thembi from Freedom

And so began a short set of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders tunes and influences, selected by Neil in Singapore beginning with pianist, composer and live remixer Mark de Clive-Lowe who’s back with a 2LP/CD set featuring the music of Pharoah Sanders. As with previous records, this one was recorded live at LA’s legendary Blue Whale jazz club in Little Tokyo with MdC-L’s arsenal of samplers, keyboards, drum machines and grand piano alongside longtime associates Teodross Avery on saxophone, Corbin Jones on bass, drummer Tommaso Cappellato and Carlos Niño on percussion. This time round though, they’ve recruited renowned spiritual jazz vocalist Dwight Trible on some numbers. It’s a fine set and well worth exploring. The vinyl edition is sold out on Bandcamp but you can get hold of the DL and CD versions right here.

6.   Pharaoh Sanders – I Want to Talk About You from Live in Paris (1975)

This rare live recording captures Sanders in Paris with  I Want to Talk About You, one of Coltrane’s most beautiful ballads. Neil was reminded of this tune when he heard it performed live by the Ravi Campbell Trio in Choice Cuts, one of his favourite record stores and clubs here in Singapore and it seemed appropriate to feature this version. The later Sanders has often recorded the standards Coltrane featured on many of his earlier albums, and this 1975 recording (released in 2020 and still available on vinyl here on Bandcamp) is a good example. There are versions of The Creator Has a Masterplan and Love is Everywhere too.

7.   Sean Khan – Afro Blue from Supreme Love: A Journey Through Coltrane

This take on a Coltrane classic comes from saxophonist Sean Khan’s tribute, issued last year on BBE Records. Intriguingly, there are three parts to the album: 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 BlueThe 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. Our choice of Afro Blue features some fine soprano sax from Sean Khan and a vocal by the Cinematic orchestra’s Heidi Vogel. “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 Cosmic Jazz recommendation.

8.   Nat Birchall – Mode for Trane from Tunji

UK saxophonist Nat Birchall is a long-time advocate of the music and sound of John Coltrane and here he’s taken a tune from pianist Billy Gault – another jazz musician who should be better known – check out another of his great modal compositions The Time of This World is at Hand from the early album When Destiny Calls. Birchall is on something of a roll at the moment – he’s released several superb albums over the last few years including Cosmic Language (2018), The Storyteller (2019), Ancient Africa (2021), Afro Trane (from earlier this year) and – most recently – his new album Spiritual Progressions, which will be released in August 2022.

9.   John Coltrane – But Not For Me (Mono) from My Favorite Things (2022 Remaster)

Back in the UK in June, Neil couldn’t help but buy the newly issued 2LP mono and stereo version of Coltrane’s classic My Favorite Things record from 1961. The back story is that in March 1960 while on tour in Europe, Miles Davis bought a soprano saxophone for Coltrane – an  instrument used in the early days of jazz but (with the exception of Steve Lacy) somewhat rare in the 1950s and 60s. Coltrane was intrigued, and he began to play it in performance. In the summer of 1960 he put together what would be the first version of his classic Quartet with McCoy Tyner on piano, Steve Davis on bass and Elvin Jones on drums.  It was this group that would feature on My Favorite Things. According to Lewis Porter’s biography, Coltrane described the album is “my favorite piece of all those I have recorded”.

10. The Janet Lawson Quintet – So High from The Janet Lawson Quintet

We last featured vocalist Janet Lawson in February 2021 following her death earlier in the year. A singer who used her voice as another instrument, Lawson collaborated with many jazz luminaries over the years, including Chick Corea, Ron Carter, Cedar Walton, Duke Pearson and Eddie Jefferson and many others. Most of her work was in New York clubs and from 1968-69 was a regular guest on Steve Allen’s New York TV show. Lawson was also involved in improvisational acting, teaching master classes in vocal improvisation and was a founder member of Women In Music, a group of six musicians. So High was a staple at the legendary Sunday afternoon sessions at Dingwalls in London. You can still download her 1981 debut here on Bandcamp, but her follow up album Dreams Can Be from 1984 will be more difficult to track down. Here’s the title track featuring the same excellent band and some lovely scat singing from Lawson herself.

11. Nuyorican Soul – Habriendo el Dominante from Nuyorican Soul

Here on Cosmic Jazz we both like to return and replay music that we love. This debut concept album was released in 1997 and featured guest appearances from George Benson, Roy Ayers, Tito Puente, the Salsoul Orchestra and – on the celebrated cover of the Rotary Connection classic I Am the Black Gold of the Sun – US vocalist Joscelyn Brown. The brainchild of the Masters at Work pairing of Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez and ‘Little’ Louie Vega, Nuyorican Soul was a celebration of their jazzier, old-school latin influences – and it totally works. With a collection of well-chosen covers and sympathetically written new material all interpreted by some old school guests the album is a Nuyorican (New York/Puerto Rican) masterpiece that seamlessly brings together club and street into a mix that still sounds good twenty years down the line. The album includes takes on Bob James’ Nautilus (bracketed here as MAWtilus), the Salsoul Orchestra’s Runaway and the superb original It’s Alright, I Feel It! – easily the equal to some of those classics. The album closer, George Benson’s You Can Do It (Baby) is unforgettable – listen to the full 15 minute version right here. This time round we chose the pure Latin sounds of the gorgeously-produced Habriendo el Dominante – what an end to the show!

More from Cosmic Jazz soon…

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