Welcome to another Cosmic Jazz! Our celebration acknowledges the 80th birthday of drum maestro Jack DeJohnette, but we also remember two jazz artists who died recently. British saxophonist Barbara Thompson is remembered with a Neil Ardley track and we also acknowledge prolific songwriter and singer Lamont Dozier with one of his greatest compositions. And – of course – there’s much more besides for your contemplation and enjoyment.
- Orrin Evans – Mynah/The Eleventh Hour from The Magic of Now
Pianist Orrin Evans studied with Kenny Barron at Rutgers University, played as a sideman with various groups, spent three years with The Bad Plus and then decided to branch out on his own. The result is The Magic of Now album for which he’s assembled a quartet. It includes Bill Stewart on drums, with whom he had played in Steve Wilson’s band and of whom he says his cymbal choice, the tuning of his tom-tom, the way he plays his bass drum It’s not like anybody else and alto sax the is the young player Immanuel Wilkins, whose recent album The 7th Hand we have featured previously on Cosmic Jazz. Incidentally, Wilkins as an 11 year-old attended a summer camp where Evans was an instructor. Now Evans says can hear in his music and conversation a dedication to culture, a dedication to building a library, a dedication to history. On bass is Vicente Archer who provides a powerful drive to the opening of Mynah (composed by Stewart), before Evans and Wilkins come in with their solos. Without a break the tune goes effortlessly into the Mulgrew Miller tune The Eleventh Hour which Evans had been determined to record for some time.
2. Melissa Aldana – Los Ojos de Chile from 12 Stars
Melissa Aldana is a tenor saxophonist born in 1988 in Santiago, Chile who was already playing in Santiago jazz clubs in her teens where she was spotted by Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez. He invited invited her to play at the Panama Jazz Festival – and also to apply for US music schools. She ended up training at the Berklee College of Music before moving to New York to train under veteran tenor player George Coleman. The album 12 Stars is her first solo recording for Blue Note, although she has previously recorded for the label with the group Artemis, whose record we’ve also played on Cosmic Jazz. The title is linked to the tarot symbols which she studied during lockdown and then composed music for each of the symbols. Los Ojos de Chile (The Eyes of Chile) was inspired by the uprisings of people in Chile who got shot by police officers using riot shotguns with rubber bullets. Many of them lost their sight. Chilean musicians in New York played and raised money for an organisation called Los Ojos de Chile which provided money for those who were affected and so it’s not surprising that the music on the album has, overall, a sense of gravity, intensity and deep sincerity.
3. Jack DeJohnette – India from Special Edition
Drummer Jack DeJohnette is one of our Cosmic Jazz heroes. Neil was lucky enough to see him perform in London in 2005 when he celebrated the music of Miles Davis and in particular the album Jack Johnson. With a backdrop screening of William Cayton’s legendary 1971 documentary charting the life of the first black heavyweight boxing champion of the world, DeJohnette was teamed up with four of the British scene’s hottest young musicians – saxophonist Jason Yarde; trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Byron Wallen; David Okumu on guitar; and Neville Malcolm holding down the bass. It was a memorable demonstration of DeJohnette’s tumbling drum rolls matched to the fight footage, with cymbal crashes accentuating each jab from Johnson. But DeJohnette is much more than a heavyweight percussionist. He was the drummer in Keith Jarrett’s longtime standards trio but he began his career in the influential Charles Lloyd group of the 1960s before working with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew in 1970. He moved to ECM Records in the mid 70s for a sequence of superb albums – we chose his take on Coltrane’s India from the essential Special Edition record – a first outing for his group, with saxophonists David Murray and Arthur Blythe in tow. The track follows their take on Central Park West, another Coltrane standard from his 1960 album Coltrane’s Sound – check it out right here. This one has DeJohnette on melodica – and India features DeJohnette on both piano and drums. Blythe and Murray are sensational on alto and bass clarinet respectively. It’s a superb record and a definite Cosmic Jazz recommendation.
4. Neil Ardley – Rainbow Four from Kaleidoscope of Rainbows
Originally released in 1976 and promptly proclaimed a landmark of British jazz-rock (Melody Maker termed it “one of the great musical achievements of our age”), Kaleidoscope of Rainbows includes contributions from Ian Carr, Tony Coe, Dave MacRae (no relation!) and saxophonist Barbara Thompson who died recently. The record was very much part of the astonishingly vibrant British jazz scene of the time, recently captured in the superb Tony Higgins compilation Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain (2021) – check out a Guardian newspaper review here. The reissue of Kaleidoscope of Rainbows was timed to coincide with a memorial service for Ardley following the composer’s death in February 2004 and the music works as a complete suite, with Rainbow Four showcasing Thompson’s superb solo on soprano saxophone. Married to drummer Jon Hiseman, Thompson composed music for film and television, wrote a musical of her own and songs for the United Jazz and Rock Ensemble and her small group Paraphernalia. Journeys In Modern Jazz: Britain (2021) is still available on double CD and double vinyl with the latter having a beautifully produced 20,000 word essay on jazz in Britain. Look out to for the Jazz in Britain site on Bandcamp – lots of great music here too.
5. High Pulp – Astral Travelling from Mutual Attraction Vol. 1
High Pulp are an experimental Seattle collective with a cross-pollinated jazz fusion, hip-hop, post-rock, and electronic sound. Mutual Attraction Vol. 1 is the first of three EPs that were further expanded on in their 2022’s Pursuit of Ends album. Before that came three Mutual Attraction albums, with this one celebrating the music of Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra. Much of the group’s sound stems from drummer/bandleader Bobby Granfelt’s infectious beats and here he’s joined by longtime bandmates keyboardists Rob Homan and Antoine Martel, guitarist Scott Rixon, and saxophonists Andrew Morrill and Victory Nguyen. Together, they play with a textured, deeply analog groove aesthetic that draws from a wide array of influences but here tempered to focus on the more hypnotic spiritual elements of these three influences. All three Mutual Attraction EPs are worth exploring – with Vol. 2 focused on beatmaster J Dilla and Vol.3 on rapper Frank Ocean.
6. Archie Shepp/Jason Moran – Wise One from Let My People Go
We first featured this duo in 2021, when we also played their take on John Coltrane’s Wise One. Saxophone elder Archie Shepp and pianist Jason Moran first met backstage at Belgium’s annual Jazz Middelheim Festival in 2015 and these live performances came from Paris’s annual Jazz à la Villette festival in 2017 and the 2018 edition of the Enjoy Jazz Festival in Mannheim, Germany. Despite the age differences, there are some close similarities: both were born in the deep South, raised up in the sound of the blues and black gospel with Shepp in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Moran in Houston, Texas. Both developed an ever-expanding appreciation of pioneers like Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Thelonious Monk, but with an ear for contemporary styles too: Shepp with 1960s free jazz, and Moran with hip hop of the late ‘80s through to today. Their version of Let My People Go includes some stunning piano work from Moran and on Wise One there’s a breathy, stately tone from the 84 year old Shepp while Moran provides deep rippling chords underneath. It’s moving (and beautifully recorded too). For Coltrane’s original, listen right here.
7. Mark Murphy – Why and How from Midnight Mood
This Mark Murphy album Midnight Mood was released in 1967 on the iconic German jazz label MPS with the US vocalist teaming up with members of the Francy Boland and Kenny Clarke Big Band for a recording made in Köln. Recently, this track appeared on a Jazzwise magazine MPS sampler – the label founded in 1968 by audio engineer Hans George Brunner-Schwer (HGBS) built a sophisticated recording studio in the living room of his house. It was later moved to larger premises but, starting with pianist Oscar Peterson, he was able to attract a number of artists from around the world into his studio – musicians impressed by the audio quality of the recordings. These included George Shearing, Monty Alexander, Don Ellis, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Ella Fitzgerald, Sun Ra, Mark Murphy, Ali Akbar Khan, Baden Powell and many more. There were also recordings from young German jazz artists before the label concentrated on classical music. In 1983 HGBS sold most of his rights to Polygram and after his death in 2004 the recordings dried up – but then his son began to revive the jazz recordings. In 2014 the label found a new home with the German label Edel Edel who have combined a programme of new music releases with digging out and re-releasing past treasures – including this one. The album also includes one of Neil’s favourite Murphy songs tracks – his take on Jimmy Woode’s gorgeous Sconsolato.
8. Somi – Jike’lemaweni feat. Angelique Kidjo from Zenzile: the Reimagination of Miriam Makeba
We’ve featured this excellent album from singer Somi before on CJ. Zenzile is an ambitious and fully realised tribute to South African singer Miriam Makeba and it’s really something special. The lead single was a take on Makeba’s classic Pata Pata and that was been followed by Khuluma, featuring South African singer songwriter Msaki. This time round we’ve chosen Jike’lemaweni featuring Benin’s Angelique Kidjo who has been just as innovative with her 2018 reimagining of Talking Head’s masterpiece Remain In Light. Check out her superb take on The Great Curve. Somi’s lifelong love of Makeba’s music and personal strength shines through on this record 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.” Highly recommended.
9. Lamont Dozier – Going Back To My Roots from Peddlin’ Music On the Side
On the principle that if you like jazz you will like this, it seems appropriate to remember Lamont Dozier who died earlier this month. He is undoubtedly best known as a member of Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team for Motown that produced hits for Marvin Gaye, Martha & the Vandellas, The Four Tops, The Isley Brothers, The Supremes and many others. After the partnership broke up Lamont Dozier went solo and later worked and supported other musicians. Derek has two much-loved solo albums Bittersweet (1979) and Peddlin’ Music On The Side (1977). It is on the latter that Dozier’s masterpiece Going Back To My Roots can be found. At the time he was working with the South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and, along with McKinley Jackson, Masekela arranged the rhythm for the tune. It is a tune that builds and builds with strident piano (Joe Sample), thumping bass (Wilton Fender), up-front percussion (Paulinho da Costa and Bill Summers), a heavenly choral response and occasional whistles and screams. It is a joyful, exhilarating and wonderful experience – a must-hear/must-have record. Going back to my Roots/To the place of my birth/Back down to earth sings Dozier and these words along words in the chorus from an unspecified African language, the use of Nigerian saxophonist Orlando Julius (not credited on the record sleeve) and the percussive sounds have led to the assumption that this was Dozier’s statement of African consciousness inspired by the Roots TV series. But in an interview with Blues & Soul in 1977, Dozier denied this and stated that while living in Los Angeles his roots were in Detroit and he needed to keep returning there. Some still continue to interpret it otherwise. There have been several covers of the tune but the original is the one. Play it loud – celebrate and enjoy.