A spiritual and political musical finale: 06 January 2023

Have you been looking for Cosmic Jazz on Mixcloud? Fear not – we have had a problem with Mixcloud but just click here: Cosmic Jazz 06 January 2023 and you’ll find the latest show. It’s full of spiritual sounds and sentiments, alongside politically inspired tunes are among the dominant themes in this week’s show. There is new music and re-releases from the year 2022 as well as some older tunes to fit in with the overall ambience. The tempi may be more restrained than usual but the music is deep, intense and meaningful.

  1. Immanuel Wilkins – Fugitive Ritual, Selah from The 7th Hand

Alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins released his second album, The 7th Hand  on Blue Note in January this year and over the last few months it’s begun to appear on many end of year lists. No. 3 in the Jazzwise Magazine Critics Poll and No. 1 choice of jazz writer Kevin Le Gendre, who in the Black music monthly Echoes describes the record as a wily blend of post-bop and avant-garde vocabularies and truly ecstatic eruptive improvising by the leader. The record as a whole and, indeed, our CJ selection for this show has a distinctly spiritual message. Fugitive Ritual, Selah builds slowly, with the warm, gospel-like tones of Immanuel Wilkins’ alto sax providing the spiritual lead. Wilkins is ably supported by pianist Micah Thomas whose playing is always sensitive and controlled with melodies building up from his right hand while the left comments on the drum and bass support from Kweku Sumbry and Daryl Johns respectively. Flautist of the moment Elena Pinderhughes appears on two tunes and the Farafina Kan Percussion Ensemble on the opener Don’t Break. The album’s seventh and final track is a 26 minute free improvisation titled Lift in which the group departs from their tightly woven group sound into something much more free – evoking both the spirit of free jazz pioneers like Sunny Murray and Cecil Taylor or alternatively, the power of Coltrane and Elvin Jones. This is undoubtedly spiritual jazz – indeed, the whole album from the title forwards is steeped in Biblical symbolism.

2.   KARU – Nyia from An Imaginary Journey

KARU have a religious and spiritual feel drawing upon a diversity of cultures from China, to Papua New Guinea, to Mali and more and a sound that is both haunting and mysterious. The band is the project of double bass player Alberto Brutti who states that his sound explores the connection between music’s ancestral rhythm on tribal culture and the freedom of jazz. It’s all strongly evident in the tune Nyia. There are chants, pounding double bass lines, shamanic sax interludes, avant-garde electronics, samples and more. A truly border crossing of spiritual  influences and musical heritages. It is hard to determine whether the sound represents a joyful religious celebration or is providing the backdrop to the last days and it’s all part of the intriguing mystery of the record.

3.   Sunking – Uncle Kane feat Alex Dugdale from Smug

If you want jazz in short, sharp bursts from a band with a DIY underground punk attitude try Sunking and their album Smug. The tune Uncle Kane with its wild saxophone blast is possibly the shortest tune ever to appear on Cosmic Jazz. Sunking are a duo of Bobby Granfelt and Antoine Martel – also members of the Seattle-based experimental jazz collective High Pulp, whom we have featured and enjoyed on the show. We’re trying to embrace a certain amount of discomfort with the music explains Granfelt. There is certainly something unsettling and challenging about the music which never settles – but surely some of the most inventive jazz often has this effect…

4.   Jasper Høiby – Spiritual Geniuses from What it Means to be Human

Bass player Jasper Høiby found fame with the superb acoustic trio Phronesis from 2005-20 but he has gone to greater things with his work on the British Edition Records label. What It Means To Be Human is the second in a series of four albums from Høiby’s Planet B group. As with the first release from 2020, it’s the same line-up – Høiby on bass and electronics, Josh Arcoleo on saxophone, and Marc Michel on drums. Focussing on global topics of vital importance, this new release continues where the last album left off, with themes of humanity, climate change, artificial intelligence and monetary reform all intelligently juxtaposed and integrated into the music. Planet B is very much an international trio with the Dane Høiby, Arcoleo from the UK and Michel from France. Like other current jazz albums we’ve featured recently, the music is enhanced by soundscapes of electronics and interspersed with powerful, emotive text by some unique and forward-thinking women including Grace Lee Boggs, Ruby Sales and Jane Goodall.at we can do to improve.

5.   Sun-Mi Hong – Letter With No Words from Third Page: Resonance

As the title implies, Third Page: Resonance is the third album for Korean born, Amsterdam-based drummer Sun-Mi Hong, and it marks her debut on the Edition label. Hong is one of the rising stars in European jazz and has already built a formidable reputation, not only for her drumming – employing Korean techniques together with more conventional jazz – but also for her composing. She is the winner of the SENA Dutch Jazz Competition 2018 and Edison Award Winner 2021 in the National category for her last album A Self-Strewn Portrait (ZenneZ Records). Her current group is a quintet lineup with Nicolò Ricci on tenor saxophone, Alistair Payne on trumpet, Chaerin Im on piano and Alessandro Fongaro on bass. Hong grew up in South Korea where her passion for drumming was not encouraged and so ten years ago she relocated to Amsterdam, facing a new culture and language. The questing, changeable nature of her compositions reflect this dislocation and our choice – Letter with No Words – begins with sustained bowed bass and single piano notes before the horns introduce a melody only to have it dissolve into fractured notes from Payne’s trumpet which are then softened by Ricci’s tenor tones. These changes are typical of most of this album – it’s not an easy listen but there is no doubt about Hong’s drumming prowess or her compositional skills.

6.   Makaya McCraven – So Ubuji from In These Times

This is a really interesting 2022 record that has divided many. We have long championed the music of ‘beat scientist’ Makaya McCraven, but In These Times is really something different. McCraven himself has acknowledged the protracted genesis of this record, claiming that it’s taken him seven years to finish it. And indeed it plays very differently from his earlier releases which were assembled in much the same way as Teo Macero did in an analog form with the Miles Davis records In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew: chopping up, rearranging and overdubbing live recordings into new structures. But In These Times feels and sounds very different from this.  There’s still that rhythmic imprint of hiphop, but the whole sounds more composed, deploying subtle string arrangements and simple, hooky melodies. Yes, this is an easy listen but the simplicity is deceptive. Listen repeatedly and you hear more intricacies every time. It all feels very deliberate, and this is reinforced by the Harry Belafonte quote we hear on the opening track. It’s a sample from a radio interview that Belafonte gave to Studs Terkel, in which he talks about the John Henry story. In Belafonte’s view, Henry wasn’t against the steam drill but rather he wanted to preserve the dignity of those who had given their lives to the tunnel. I ain’t really opposed to the machine, I just feel that the machine can’t take the place of the soul and the sweat for the many men who died to help build this tunnel, It’s easy to understand the resonance of this quote for McCraven, who has based his work on the synthesis of jazz improvisation and electronic manipulation. The question now? Where will he go next?

7.   Tribe – Marcus Garvey from Hometown Detroit Sessions 1990-2014

Marcus Garvey comes from the first compilation bringing together the modern era recordings of Tribe, Detroit’s independent jazz collective. They began as a musical ensemble in 1971 co-founded by saxophonist Wendell Harrison and trombonist Phil Ranelin but soon expanded into a broad amalgam including a live collective and independent record label. Tribe album releases like Harrison’s An Evening With The Devil (1972) and Harrison and Ranelin’s A Message From The Tribe (1973) became early ‘70s milestones in Detroit jazz – and we’ve featured this music on past shows. This new Hometown compilation focuses on the later era of Tribe and Rebirth Inc., with rare and previously unreleased recordings including Harold McKinney and his McKinfolk family of musicians (Wide And Blue and dance celebration Juba); Phil Ranelin’s re-working of He The One We All Knew; Poet Mbiyu Chui (Williams Moore), pianist Pamela Wise and percussionist Djallo Djakate (the uncompromising Ode To Black Mothers and our choice, the rallying cry of Marcus Garvey). It’s a really good compilation with both available formats of LP and CD including sleeve notes by journalist Herb Boyd and rare photos from Wendell Harrison’s personal archive.

8.   Joyce with Mauricio Maestro – Feminina from Natureza (produced, arranged & conducted by Claus Ogerman)

We’ve featured this Far Out Records release previously on Cosmic Jazz but this time we have gone for the tune that began the search for this elusive record. Recorded in the US in 1977, Natureza has finally emerged – but not without its problems as the complete original tapes could not be found and some tracks emerged from a tape copy retained by Joyce herself. The Brazilian singer has long been a favourite of Cosmic Jazz and we have featured her music over the years. Despite being declared “one of the greatest singers” by Antonio Carlos Jobim and having recorded over 30 albums, Joyce never quite achieved the international recognition of the likes of Jobim, João Gilberto or Sergio Mendes all of whom had hugely successful international careers. But there was a moment when it seemed Joyce might be on the cusp of an international breakthrough: while living in New York, she met the great German producer Claus Ogerman and ended up recording Natureza. The record features fellow Brazilian musicians Mauricio Maestro (who wrote/co-wrote four of the songs), percussionist Nana Vasconcelos and drummer Tutty Moreno, and some of the most in-demand stateside players including Michael Brecker, Joe Farrell and Buster Williams. But the album was never released and Joyce didn’t get that international career. She returned to Brazil and contact with Ogerman was lost. A few years after the success of her albums Feminina and Agua E Luz in Brazil, Joyce’s music began to find its way to the UK, and Feminina became a hit on  the underground jazz-dance scene of the late 1980s. Thanks to Mr Bongo’s Dave Buttle, import copies of the Feminina album became available – and that’s when both Neil and Derek bought the first of many Joyce recordings. This much extended version did appear on a rare Brazilian compilation (where Neil first heard it) and now we have the rest of the album to enjoy. Check it out – on Bandcamp or the Far Out Records site.

9. Gilles Peterson/Lionel Loueke – Watermelon Man from HH Reimagined

More adventurous music, this time released on the British label Edition Records. Guitarist Lionel Loueke was born in the West African country of Benin, then moved on to Cote d’Ivoire, then Paris and then the US. In 2020 he released a record featuring music by his long-term mentor Herbie Hancock and now DJ and music director Gilles Peterson – an admirer of Loueke and with a shared love of Herbie Hancock’s music. On this 2022 release, Peterson and co-producer Alex Patchwork re-imagine, refocus and reinvent the 2020 release with parts of it re-recorded by Lionel Loueke. The result is an electronic, sparse, experimental sonic surprise.

10. Herbie Hancock – The Eye of the Hurricane from Maiden Voyage

Perhaps our choice was a little predictable, but no apologies for following a record paying homage to Herbie Hancock with a tune from the man himself. This one is from Maiden Voyage, one of the great Blue Note records of the 1960s recorded at the Rudy Van Gelder Studios in March 1965 with Herbie Hancock joined by Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, George Coleman on tenor sax, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums. Yes, we could have followed the electronics above with Herbie Hancock music from his more electronic vein rather then the more accessible hard bop of Maiden Voyage, but this amazing record is not without its experimentation – and on The Eye of the Hurricane it’s not before we hear Freddie Hubbard soloing at his inventive best. Just revel in the quality of this Blue Note performance – it’s six minutes of stunning creativity.

11.  St. Germain – Family Tree from St. Germain

St. Germain, alias Ludovic Navarre, sounds better every time Derek listens to him. This French composer/music director/programmer does not produce too many records , but when they arrive they demand your attention. He is an an obvious choice for our end of show genré-crossing moment with a beautiful, haunting and atmospheric tune from his self-titled 2015 album. Navarre draws on a wide range of Black musical styles – jazz, blues, reggae and more. He incorporates keyboards, saxophone and electric guitar with samples and electronic loops creating an African-influenced deep  house but with this album there’s another influence too. The balafon, the kora and – on our chosen track – the n’goni, a small lute-guitar with 4-6 strings. St Germain was recorded and mixed in Navarre’s own studio, and draws upon the experience of an international boundary crossing line-up of musicians. Family Tree includes Brazilian Jorge Bezerra on percussion (a member of the Joe Zawinul Syndicate), Malian Adama Coulibaly on vocals, kamela and n’goni (he’s played with Salif Keita), Add in Senegalese star Allaune Wade on bass, Edouard Coulibaly from Guadeloupe on saxes and, from Martinique, Didier Davidas on keys, and St. Germain does indeed present a melting pot of ideas, techniques and experience – highly recommended.

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