Jazz in Scotland, classic Ahmad Jamal and new London sounds – 17/05/2023

This latest Cosmic Jazz channels the incredible diversity of music from the current Scottish jazz scene before revisiting piano legend Ahmad Jamal, checking out an otherworldy performance from Japan and celebrating the Miles Davis classic Bitches Brew album.

  1. Seonaid Aitken Ensemble –  Chasing Sakura: Impermanence from Chasing Sakura

In Japan, springtime cherry blossom (sakura) is widely celebrated as a symbol of rebirth – but is also a reminder of the impermanence of life.  Scottish violinist Seonaid Aitken experienced sakura in Tokyo and – after a serious accident that left her unable to walk – she returned to Scotland and composed the Chasing Sakura Suite using jazz, classical and folk idioms. It’s all performed by a string quintet accompanied by saxophone and flute. Neil is really taken with this music – there’s Steve Reich, 20th century classical quartet and some jazzy flute (from Scotland’s Helena Kay) in the mix and it all works. Available here on Bandcamp, this album is a deep trip into a contemplative world that is definitely more than the sum of its component parts.

2. Christine Tobin  – Callow from Returning Weather

Christine Tobin notes that The songs of Returning Weather are inspired by my return to Ireland after many years living abroad. I hadn’t planned, nor had I any idea that I was coming home. It was as if a great wave rolled over me and swept me along, delivering me from city to sanctuary somewhere between Boyle, Frenchpark and Ballaghaderreen. I immediately fell under the spell of the quiet beauty of this part of Co. Roscommon, the boglands and the lakes, and was struck by the warmth of the people and how welcome they made me feel. These songs chart a journey of return, the strange romance of reconnecting with a cultural background, reshaping a sense of identity and belonging, and speak of how home and dwelling are central to our sense of self. Since coming to this landscape I feel that life is a jigsaw puzzle and I’m finally starting to fit the pieces into place. I’m hovering over the map of it all now and it’s a good feeling. There are many songs of farewell, this is the music of homecoming and return. It’s worth quoting in full because this album has the same emotional depth and resonance as a previous album which took the words of W B Yeats and set them to inspiring music. Sailing to Byzantium is available here on Bandcamp – you can listen to all the songs but do then go out and buy on download or CD!

3. The Circling Sun – Bones from Spirits

Some of New Zealand’s jazz luminaries have assembled to form an all-star cluster: The Circling Sun. Channeling spiritual/modal jazz and Latin rhythms, they simultaneously echo the greats such as Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane, while maintaining a fresh perspective on ensemble dynamics. There’s a bunch of keyboards, skilfully manned by the likes of Guy Harrison and Cory Champion, along with solid horn choruses throughout. Meanwhile, providing vital foundational support are the percussion (Soundway alumnus Julien Dyne), vibraphone, acoustic bass and full choir arranged by Matt Hunter. This feels like a group that have made music over a decade or more rather than one that’s been recently formed. Highly recommended.

4. Louis Stewart – Wave from Out On His Own

It’s thanks to Scottish promoter Rob Adams (@rabjourno on Twitter) that I’ve discovered Irish guitarist Louis Stewart, who’s been under the jazz radar for decades. The reissue of an expanded version of Out On His Own is a welcome opportunity to give him his much deserved dues.  Originally released in 1977, this solo guitar album features a mix of contemporary titles and American songbook jazz standards. At the time of first release, Sunday Times critic Derek Jewell said: Louis is revealed here as a guitar virtuoso already of considerable maturity. A virtuoso in anyone’s language, and … a musician to be spoken of in the same league as Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, or, among contemporary virtuosos, Joe Pass. High praise indeed – but justified. Listen to his take on our choice for this show – the sublime Wave from Antonio Carlos Jobim. If you don’t know the tune, then here’s one of many versions by Jobim from his 1967 CTI album with the same title.

5. Ahmad Jamal – Tangerine from Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1963-1964

So – thanks to Jazz Detective Zev Feldman – we have two double albums of previously unreleased performances by the Ahmad Jamal Trio, recorded live at the Penthouse in Seattle. Have no fear though – both sound quality and performances on both these records (available in all formats) is excellent. If you’re new to Ahmad Jamal then then both albums will give you an insight into the way Jamal has reconstructed the piano trio. The key word here is space – and it’s part of the Jamal trio’s soundworld of piano, bass and drums here. The music is unhurried with lengthy interpretations of both originals and standards – like our choice ofJamal’s take on Tangerine. It clearly demonstrates just how his music works, giving each member of the trio space to contribute and impact the music. Bassist Richard Evans is featured only on the 1963 tracks on which he provides able support – as on the opening track Johnny One Note and a superb delve into Johnny Hodges’s Squatty Roo. For the remainder of the selections from 1964 he is replaced by Jamil Nasser whose superb time and tone serve Jamal well. You can hear this on the brilliant Latin tinged Bogota (ironically written by the departing bassist Evans). On drums throughout is Chuck Lampkin. This is great trio jazz and on vinyl is a quality heavyweight pressing that has a superb accompanying booklet. More than highly recommended!

6. London Brew – Miles Chases New Voodoo in the Church from London Brew

There have been plenty of projects where artists have faithfully covered entire classic albums but the groundbreaking 1970 Miles Davis album Bitches Brew has been good at resisting such treatment – as much because its cut and paste mixing from producer Teo Macero was entirely unique at the time of release.  Add to that the then unorthodox use of effects-laden Fender Rhodes piano(s), Bennie Maupin’s rumbling bass clarinet and the angular howl of John McLaughlin’s guitar. London Brew is inspired by Bitches Brew – but it is no reproduction. Recorded in December 2020 at The Church Studios in London with 12 London based artists who also took on the name London Brew. Benji B, Raven Bush, Theon Cross, Nubya Garcia, Tom Herbert, Shabaka Hutchings, Nikolaj Torp Larsen, Dave Okumu, Nick Ramm, Dan See, Tom Skinner and Martin Terefe are all contributors and the album has been released to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of Bitches Brew. The comments of Shabaka Hutchings are relevant here:  For me, that’s what Bitches Brew is. It’s a bunch of musicians making music because of the love of making music, as a social force and as a social construct. They are creating something that expresses unity and motion. That’s what it is to be alive… you know, you have unity, you have motion, and you have vibration. You don’t get any more alive than that. That’s Bitches Brew. The record is available as a 2LP set, on a 2CD pack or download from – yes – here on Bandcamp or in your local record store. Buy the vinyl and you get some superb artwork and a gatefold sleeve that mirrors the original release.

7. Masahiko Togashi with Don Cherry and Charlie Haden – Oasis from Song of Soil

Label Wewantsounds has just released the 1979 Masahiko Togashi album Song of Soil, recorded in Paris with Don Cherry and Charlie Haden and released originally on the Japanese Paddle Wheel label. Supervised by Parisian producer Martin Meissonnier – then Don Cherry’s right hand man – Song of Soil mixes Eastern influences with jazz and deep ambient soundscapes. The album is reissued here with its original artwork and remastered by King Records in Japan. The package includes a 12 page booklet with new liner notes (in English and French) by Meissonnier in conversation with Jacques Denis, along with an insightful Masahiko Togashi biography by Paul Bowler and photos from cult French photographer Philippe Gras.

8. Henry Franklin – Tribal Dance from Tribal Dance

1977’s Tribal Dance was the third studio album from American jazz double bassist Henry Franklin, a man who worked with some of jazz’s greatest names including Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Rollins and Pharoah Sanders. Having re-released its Black Jazz label predecessors The Skipper and The Skipper At Home, the Real Gone Music label has now reissued this more obviously spiritual jazz-styled album. Featured are saxophonist Charles Owens, trumpeter Jerry Rush, trombonist Al Hall Jr.,  pianist Dwight Dickerson, guitarist Kenneth Climax and Woody ‘Sonship’ Theus on drums and percussion. Theus (who took his moniker from John Coltrane’s Sun Ship album) is perhaps one of the best known of the musicians here. Known for his unique drumkits, Theus had a very open, tribal-like tone which often focused on huge high mounted Chinese cymbals. You can hear him right here on Hey Harold – an extended track from Bobby Hutcherson’s excellent Head On album from 1971. The overall sound on Tribal Dance is more Strata East than Black Jazz – and the writing and playing are strong throughout. Some tracks are very free and dense with superb playing from the whole ensemble – most notably on the final Prime Mover track. In Neil’s view, this is Franklin’s best album and so one you need to hear – and the cover’s pretty dramatic too…

9. Rebecca Vasmant Dance Yourself Free from Dance Yourself Free EP

This tune is the title track from the debut TruThoughts release from Glasgow-based musician, producer, DJ and curator Rebecca Vasmant. It’s a blend of live and electronic music that channels Vasmant’s passion for both jazz and broken beat. She notes: Dance Yourself Free came about when myself and Emilie Boyd (vocalist) were having a music day at my place. We like to sit and listen to music that we love and come up with ideas for lyrics. And that’s just what you get on this track which features Harry Weir on saxophone and Graham Costello on drums – the chatter and laughter celebrate the warmth of friendship and collaboration that radiates throughout this release. Other Glasgow-based musicians feature across the album including vocalist Nadya Albertsson, synth and bass grooves from Dave Koor along with contributions from Norman Willmore on sax, Cameron Thompson-Duncan on trumpet and Danielle Price on tuba.

10. Isis – In Essence from the 12 in single/É Soul Cultura Vol. 2

This superb jazzy house tune newly appears on a second É Soul Cultura compilation from Manchester-based DJ Luke Una on the Mr Bongo label. In May 2022, É Soul Cultura Vol.1 blends new, old, rare and under-discovered music from around the world and Piccadilly Records in Manchester made the album their top compilation of the year, with Rough Trade placing it as their number two. Vol. 1 featured the brilliant Eva from Robson Jorge and Lincoln Olivetti – a tune that Neil had on repeat play for months. This second volume gives another opportunity for Luke to share his eclectic musical journey – there’s conscious, street soul fusion gospel, Swiss psych rock, Indian inspired electronic workouts and more. Then there’s this – the Isis track In Essense, and one that apparently never leaves Luke Una’s record bag. You’re not likely to find a copy of this one (there are none available on Discogs) so this compilation will be your only chance to get your hands on this hypnotic house classic. Howard Mills is on saxophone but the vibes player is uncredited. As Luke Una says: It’s not about showing off, collector rarity, or ego-strutting – it’s all about telling stories, sharing the music, and making life’s journey mean something. In the end, of course, it’s just a compilation of other people’s music, but hopefully it’s more than that, adding something back to the pot. Which is pretty much what we try and do here at Cosmic Jazz. More music soon.




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