Deep jazz from Edition Records and others – 07/06/2023

Cosmic Jazz this time deals out some serious and deep jazz. Expect Norman Connors (in a guise you may not recognise), a slew of contemporary artists on the Edition Records label and two artists of Latin heritage.

  1. Norman Connors – Morning Change from Dance of Magic

There are a couple of examples in this show of artists not doing what you might expect. Drummer Norman Connors is probably best known for his jazz/funk work beloved of soul and jazz clubbers. But before this he was a serious jazz musician playing with some heavyweight jazz musicians. The album Dance of Magic was his first as leader, but before that he had played with the likes of Marion Brown, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Sam Rivers, Jackie McLean and Pharaoh Sanders. There is also an impressive roster of jazz greats on Dance of Magic – Herbie Hancock, Gary Bartz, Eddie Henderson, Cecil McBee, Stanley Clarke, Alphonse Mouzon, Billy Hart, Airto Moreira and more. Our choice for this show, Morning Change, has a terrific soprano sax solo from the late Carlos Garnett, whose life we celebrated recently on Cosmic Jazz. Norman Connors was featured on Garnett’s Black Love album – the two musicians were close friends and mutually supportive. Morning Change is a tune full of mystery, deep in spiritual and contemplative sounds and definitely one for the heart and soul rather than the dancefloor.

2. Antōnio Neves and Thiaguino Silva – Das Neves from Hidden Waters: Strange and Sublime Sounds of Rio de Janeiro

This great new crowd-funded Brazilian compilation is now available on Bandcamp – check it out right here. Neil was pleased to support the project – and will receive his 2LP set in coming weeks. In the meantime, listen to this example of the endless variety of new music coming out Rio de Janeiro. Featuring 20+ artists from Rio’s resurgent music scene, each bringing an avant-garde edge to bossa nova, samba, jazz and funk. This is the sound of contemporary Rio – a melting pot that pools popular and avant-garde, cutting-edge and traditional, with echoes of everything from Tropicália, samba, disco and Candomblé to lo-fi rock, bossa nova,  experimental electronics and – yes – even jazz. We’ve chosen  jazz upstart Antônio Neves – here alongside Thiaguino Silva. Hidden Waters is compiled by Joe Osborne and Russ Slater,  with artwork by Rio’s much-loved album cover designer Caio Paiva, a sleeve insert of two essays written by eminent music journalist Leonardo Lichote and professor and critic Bernardo Oliveira, and extensive track-by-track notes written by the participating artists themselves. We’ll dip into this collection more on release later this month.

3. Gretchen Parlato & Lionel Loueke – Akwe from Lean In

This is the first track in our sequence of music from the endlessly inventive Edition Records label. Founded by pianist and producer Dave Stapleton, Edition is fast becoming one of the most diverse labels around – with these three choices amply demonstrating this truth. We loved Gretchen Parlato’s last album – 2021’s Flor – which saw her exploring both Bach and Bowie’s posthumous No Plan album. Sure, Lean In is less musically adventurous that that exceptional previous record but it’s full of little joys – including Akwe on which she’s joined by the guitar and voice of Lionel Loueke. On drums and percussion is Mark Guiliana (Parlato’s husband)…

4. Mark Guiliana – Mischief from Mischief

... which leads us nicely into this track from Guiliana himself. Coming hard on the heels of his last record for Edition, Mischief is cut from the same sessions as this record. But it’s even more loose, spontaneous and exploratory with bassist Chris Morrisey, pianist Shai Maestro, and tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby holding down the complex rhythms and wispy melodies. One review noted a comparison with Keith Jarrett’s American quartet – Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian along with Jarrett himself – and it’s not wide of the mark. This is not easy listening but do check out this unique drummer here and on other idiosyncratic recent releases.

5. Kurt Elling and Charlie Hunter – Boogie Down from Guilty Pleasures (feat. Nate Smith)

Another Edition partnership and one that, again, really works.  Charlie Hunter has an extraordinary command of the custom eight string guitar he uses – and it’s great in this combination with Grammy-award winning vocalist Kurt Elling. Like Mischief, this EP follows on from a previous record – the excellent SuperBlue album – with this one being released in February 2023. Chicagoan Elling is one of the most thoughtful jazz vocalists around today with the knack of mining lyric sources as diverse as Persian mystic Rumi and beat poet Jack Kerouac. This choice is a little more conventional though – Al Jarreau’s  Boogie Down. On drums throughout is the great Nate Smith whose own Edition records are well worth checking out.

6. Kenny Wheeler – Smatter from Gnu High

ECM (Editions of Contemporary Music) has been a go-to label for jazz enthusiasts since their inception by producer Manfred Eicher in the 1970s. Neil remembers his first ECM purchase very clearly: the superb Keith Jarrett solo piano Bremen/Lausanne box set which he bought in Zurich in 1973. Kenny Wheeler’s Gnu High features Jarrett on piano along with Dave Holland on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. The longest track is Heyoke at 22 minutes – fresh and inventive throughout with wonderful drumming from DeJohnette – but we chose Smatter, the shortest piece at just under six minutes. It showcases Wheeler’s supremely melodic approach to the flugelhorn, emphasising what the Allmusic review noted as the warm and cool stance only Wheeler wields, making seemingly simple music deep and profound. Exactly.

7. Arturo O’Farrill & Chucho Valdes – Fathers, Mothers, Sons, Daughters from Familia: Tribute to Bebo and Chico

Our second challenge to preconceptions comes with the next two tunes which include prominent contributions from trumpeter Adam O’Farrill. His grandfather was the Cuban composer and arranger Chico O’Farrill and his father the composer and pianist Arturo O’Farrill who has played with many Latin and jazz musicians in New York. In 2017 Arturo O’Farrill worked with veteran Cuban pianist, arranger and bandleader Chucho Valdes to produce the album Familia – not only a tribute to their fathers (both prominent Cuban musicians), but – as the title suggests – something of a family affair with contributions from several members of their own current families. Our choice of  Fathers, Mothers, Sons, Daughters includes Adam O’Farrill as a featured soloist. The cover of the CD makes a forthright statement: This recording is not about piano, Latin jazz or Cuba and this tune (although with a trace of Latin influence) proves that point.

8. Mary Halvorson – Amaryllis from Amaryllis

Adam O’Farrill is also featured on this tune providing a fierce solo as a member of the avant-garde New York jazz group led by Mary Halvorson. Derek was fortunate to see  the group with Adam O’Farrill on trumpet at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam earlier this year. They are definitely not a Latin jazz outfit. They provide a challenging but engrossing and enriching listening experience. It is not surprising to find Adam O’Farrill in this band. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York among a rich variety of musical experiences, with both parents as musicians – his mother Alison Deane is a classical pianist. He leads his own band Stranger Days which includes his brother Zack O’Farrill as drummer – check out the self-titled album here on their Bandcamp page.  O’Farrill’s website bio describes his music as both abstract and personal, writing compositions that reflect subjects such as being mixed race, growing up in New York, family history, and spirituality. The people he has performed with make for an impressive list and  include Vijay Iyer, Hiromi, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Samora Pinderhughes and Mulatu Astatke.

9.    Oded Tzur – Noam from Isabela

2022’s Isabela is the second ECM album from New York-based saxophonist/composer Oded Tzur and his quartet. His first album for the label identified Tzur’s consummate ability to meld Eastern and Western traditions while exploring new connections between American jazz, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Israeli traditions. Here, the saxophonist constructs a suite-like sequence across the different tracks, balancing restrained meditative sounds with more powerful statements. Our choice of Noam is perhaps the most hymn-like – only towards the end showing some grain in the saxophone voice. The quartet is Nitai Hershkovits on piano, Petros Klampanis on bass and the better known Johnathon Blake on drums. They’ve worked with Tzur for over five years now – and it shows.

More from Cosmic Jazz soon.

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