Remembering Ahmad Jamal, Tito Puente, Ivan Conti and Simon Emmerson – 23/04/23

Cosmic Jazz remembers  and celebrates, with some joyous tunes from the music of three musicians we respect who died recently and one musician who died in the year 2000 but whom we need to remember at the centenary of his birth.

1. Ahmad Jamal – Dynamo from Live in Marciac

Some years ago now Derek was in south-west France and, during a conversation about jazz, a local informed him of the jazz festival held annually in the region in the town of Marciac. It’s a significant festival – this year lasting from 20 July to 5 August. Check out Jazz in Marciac 2023 – there’s an impressive line-up.  On 5 August 2014 a very distinguished guest headlined the programme – pianist Ahmad Jamal who sadly died earlier this month at the age of 92. The live  CD recording from that date is a great favourite of Derek’s and is accompanied by an equally excellent DVD – check out their take on Blue Moon right here. Ahmad Jamal is joined by Reginald Veal on bass, Herlin Riley on drums and Manolo Badrena on percussion. The use of both drums and percussion responding to the piano is a strong feature of the tune Dynamo and throughout there is repetition of four strident notes from Jamal on the piano followed by a drum response before he sails off with intricate free-flowing piano interludes. Catherine Vallon-Barry, one of the co-producers of the CD, wrote in the sleeve notes to Monsieur Ahmad Jamal Just one word: merci… Thank you for that fiery energy, that power, that knowledge of harmony of sound, touch, voice, colour – and the understanding smiles. This is all there in Dynamo – enjoy.

2. The Ahmad Jamal Trio  – Poinciana (The Song of the Tree)  from Pavanne for Ahmad

I live until he makes another record commented Miles Davis of Ahmad Jamal. From  the other end of Ahmad Jamal’s career comes his tune Poinciana  recorded in New York on 25 October 1955 with Ray Crawford on guitar and Israel  Crosby on bass and re-released by Cherry Red Records in 2006.  Jamal (born 1930) began to play the piano at the age of three and made his professional debut at the age of eleven. Ironically, the Cherry Red release notes claim that  by the late fifties and sixties he was one of the most popular jazz acts. As we can see from the track above and the live response to it,  that popularity continued long after then. His version of the tune Poinciana became a hit when released on his album Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing in 1958 and it remained a signature tune  for him.  The Cherry Red CD notes describe this music as profoundly elegant , inspirational and full of quiet joy.  Jamal’s use of space  and silence are usually among some of the first words used to describe his music, but if you want to find out more  we recommend  this recent tribute by fellow pianist Liam Noble in London Jazz News. So where to start with Jamal? How about the record that Noble refers to – Digital Works from 1985 and that more contemporary take on Poinciana? Even better is the superb Impulse! album from 1970 The Awakening. This has just been re-released on vinyl via Jack White’s Third Man Records – and it sounds great. Neil’s favourite is an easy choice – Jamal’s perfect version of Oliver Nelson’s Stolen Moments. In his book The House That Trane Built: The Story Of Impulse Records, Ashley Kahn writes that The Impulse titles caught Jamal in stylistic transition, fusing his signature characteristics of the Fifties—elegance, economy, and shifting rhythms—with more contemporary approaches to jazz piano. This included choosing more up-to-date material, like tunes from McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock. For this second great trio, Jamal is joined byJamil Nasser on bass and Frank Gant on drums. Interestingly, this album has become heavily plundered for hip-hop samples – Naz, DJ Premier/Gang Starr and Common all borrowing riffs and loops from this wonderful record.

3. Tito Puente – Oye Como Va from El Rey Bravo

If you have ever attended a salsa event or even if you have followed US rock music from the early 1970s, you have probably heard a version of the cha-cha-cha  tune Oye Como Va – written and first released in 1962 by Tito Puente, the American (of Puerto Rican descent)  timbales player, bandleader and composer. It was popularised for rock audiences by Carlos Santana on the best-selling Abraxas album and there have been many other versions from Julio Iglesias, Irakere and Celia Cruz among others. Try this live version from Santana at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2011. There are always good reasons to play this tune but this time it’s in celebration of the centenary of Puente’s birth on 20 April 1923. Playing right up to the end, he died in 2000 after a live performance. Oye Como Va is indeed a classic: the pace is restrained by typical Latin standards, but from the opening notes the groove is deep and constant with the full effect of Tito Puente’s Latin orchestra allowing the tune to build and build so it always became  a sure-fire hit on any dancefloor. Oye como va, mi ritmo (Listen how it goes, my rhythm) is what the chorus sings – and, indeed, it’s a rhythm guaranteed to get the body moving.

4. Tito Puente – Be-Bop feat. Maynard Ferguson from Flavours of Latin Jazz/Special Delivery

Jazz is such an important element in Latin music and Latin Jazz is a well-established music category in its own right. In case further evidence is required look no further than this tune, a Tito Puente version of a Dizzy Gillespie number featuring Canadian jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson recorded in 1996 for the jazz label Concord Picante. This album – Special Delivery – is recommended as a great place to start with Puente and jazz – Hilton Ruiz features on some tracks and Puente can be heard on vibes too. With Puente jazz elements were everywhere in his music: the Latin Jazz compilation from which this track is taken includes Puente’s version of tunes by Sonny Rollins (Airegin) and Miles Davis (All Blues). Puente’s version of Paul Desmond’s Take Five from his Concord Picante record Mambo Diablo (1985) is another starting point. This great record is just about to be re-released on vinyl so get it while you can. All of these tunes have that Nuyorican Latin interpretation of jazz music – not surprising, as Puente grew up largely in New York’s Spanish Harlem and remained rooted in  the life and culture of that community.

5. Azymuth – Roda Pião (Spiritual South mix) from Gilles Peterson Back in Brazil/Brazilian Soul

Ivan Conti (aka Mamao) who died earlier this month was the drummer for Brazilian jazz/funk/samba trio Azymuth. He was widely regarded as one of the great contemporary Brazilian drummers and also a composer and arranger/producer. He was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1946 and was part of the bossa nova/samba scene of the 1960s but it was as a founder member of the trio Azymuth that he will be best known for. Formed in 1973, Azymuth recorded for the US label Milestone but then transferred to the British Far Out label, reviving their fortunes for new, younger listeners. They’ve been favourites among the British jazz dance scene and tracks from the group can be found on compilations from DJs such as Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge. Mamao also made solo albums and collaborated with hip-hop artist Madlib via the Jackson Conti moniker (Madlib’s real name is Otis Jackson) – here’s Praca de Republica from their album Sujinho. Azymuth’s music  has been regularly remixed by DJs and so we chose a Spiritual South remix of a tune from the Brazilian Soul album on Far Out but also on Gilles Peterson’s excellent Back in Brazil compilation from 2006.

6. Working Week – Venceremos (We Will Win) (Jazz Dance Special 12″ Version) from Working Nights

The British guitarist.DJ/producer Simon Emmerson (aka Simon Booth with Working Week) died on 12 March 2013. Among the groups he played in were the Afro-Celt Sound System, The Imagined Village with notable production duties included the impressive Firin’ in Fouta for the Senegalese artist Baaba Maal.  It was, however, his work with the group Working Week that most attunes with Cosmic Jazz. Essentially a trio with Julie Roberts on vocals and saxophone/flute player Larry Stabbins, this core were joined by guests including Louis Moholo, Julie Tippetts, Guy Barker, Ray Warleigh, Harry Beckett, Annie Whitehead and Malcolm Griffiths. The group’s first single Venceremos (We Will Win) with its militant lyrics of resistance and dedicated to the Chilean singer Victor Jara – tragically murdered by the CIA – was released originally as a 7″ single with vocals from Tracy Thorn, Robert Wyatt and Chilean Claudia Figueroa. The ten minute 12″ version though is the one that really demands attention with its driving, relentless Latin beat, strong percussive grooves and fiery solos from Larry Stabbins and Harry Beckett. Truly a dancefloor hit that still moves body and soul.

More from Cosmic Jazz very soon.


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