Jazz for the spirit, the hours & the elements – 23/07/23

Cosmic Jazz this time truly lives up to its name. The music explores sounds that are spiritual, reflect the changing moods of the day and night, then reaching into the cosmos to draw upon the elements of life.

  1. Lakecia Benjamin – New Mornings from Phoenix

We start, as seems appropriate for the theme of this show, with a tune about new mornings. It is from the New York born and raised alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin and this particular number was the first single from her album Phoenix released in  January 2023 on the British label Whirlwind Recordings. The label is building up an an enviable roster of international jazz talent – including Antonio Sanchez, Gilad Hekselman, Julian Siegel and Samara Joy. Lakecia has played with a variety of  soul and jazz artists including Clark Terry, Reggie Workman, Rashied Ali James ‘Blood’ Ulmer, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and The Roots. This album includes distinguished guests like Patrice Rushen on piano and Wayne Shorter providing spoken word.  Lakecia’s clear, upfront  tone is a feature of New Mornings but listen out also for the constant, subtle rhythms from guest bassist Jahmal Nichols that permeate the tune.

2. Fergus McCreadie  Trio – Morning Moon from Forest Floor

Here on Cosmic Jazz we have been singing the praises of Fergus McCreadie and his trio for a few years now. They record for another leading British jazz label – Edition Records who, like Whirlwind, continue to grow their jazz signings. The McCreadie Trio are from Scotland and met at college when bass player David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson were trying to find a pianist – then Fergus McCreadie arrived. The trio have grown in strength and fame and now attract widespread praise and sell-out crowds at their live performances. On 11 July they played live on the BBC Radio 3 In Tune programme and they’ve also been honoured by the BBC as New Generation artists.  Morning Moon was one of the tunes they played in that R3 live session and Fergus explained it was inspired by the sensation of walking out on a cold winter’s morning and seeing the moon still there in the sky. The result is a magical and beautiful tune, inspired, like so much of his music, by the Scottish countryside. The piano playing of McCreadie on this tune is intricate, delicate and beautiful but listen out too for the imaginative and essential contributions from bass and drums.

3. Fraser Fifield – A Day Like Any Other from Secret Path

This one comes courtesy of Rob Adams and is also a north of the border creation. Scottish multi-instrumentalist Fraser Fifield has worked with Indian percussion master Zakir Hussain (cf John McLaughlin’s Shakti and much more), the ground-breaking cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson and the Dutch jazz-world music virtuosi Nordanians – and has appeared at the London Jazz Festival. He’s schooled in both the piping tradition and the soprano saxophone, but on this new release he’s transferred his skills on to the low D whistle and Secret Path is a showcase for expressive playing on this unique instrument. As Fifield himself notes: My low whistle playing has undergone quite a journey since those early teenage years – who knew so much was possible on such a simple instrument?! Secret Path was recorded in trio with Tom Bancroft on drums and Paul Harrison on Wurlitzer piano and the album is available – of course! – on Bandcamp. Check it out here, read the excellent notes by Rob Adams and then just buy the download!

4. The Circling Sun – Spirits (Part 2) from Spirits

Some of New Zealand’s jazz luminaries have assembled to form this 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. We love this record here on CJ and recommend buying the very nicely presented vinyl version complete with its Stoughton tip on jacket. You can track it down here on Bandcamp. Highly recommended.

5. Mark de Clive-Lowe, Shigeto & Melanie Charles – The Creator Has a Master Plan from Hotel San Claudio

Composer, pianist, DJ and two decade-long bridge between jazz, dance and hip-hop, Mark de Clive-Lowe (MdCL), is no stranger to Cosmic Jazz. On this new release, he hooks up with influential drummer/producer/DJ, Shigeto and Brooklyn-based, Haitian-rooted, flautist/songwriter and Verve Records artist Melanie Charles on Hotel San Claudio, a collaborative LP of spiritual jazz, live deconstructed beats, and a three-track set of Pharoah Sanders reinterpretations including the iconic The Creator Has a Master Plan. The two-part take on Sanders’ 30 minute long track as well as his iconic Love Is Everywhere are the indeed the centrepieces of Hotel San Claudio. Nothing will take the place of the original of course, but this is a bold retread that retains the blissful aura of the original.

6. Noga Ritter – To The Distance from Ima

This one is a real surprise. Noga Ritter is an Israeli singer and songwriter now based in London whose debut release channels a diverse range of sources from Jewish melodies to Gnawa grooves all held together by an accomplished jazz sensibility. Fellow Israeli bass player and composer Liran Donin (from Led Bib) co-produces and is joined by premier English horn players Tony Kofi (tenor sax) and Byron Wallen (trumpet) to provide real muscle. The result is a really accomplished album with some cracking tunes and solos – including our choice of To the Distance, which features Patrick Kenny on trombone. Elsewhere there’s Senegalese sabar drums and kora from Seckou Keita on the title track along with a spoken word recital by Ritter on Crack the Shell. You can catch Noga Ritter live at the EFG London Jazz Festival in November and other tour dates can be found here. Both Ritter and her excellent band are well worth checking out if you get the opportunity. A Cosmic Jazz recommendation

7. Keith Tippett – Green & Orange Night Park from How Long This Time?…

We’ve been watching the development of the new British jazz reissue label British Progressive Jazz (BPJ) since their inception early in 2022. This record is one of their best. It features the classic Keith Tippett Group frontline of Marc Charig, Nick Evans and Elton Dean with rhythm section appearances by British jazz luminaries Jeff Clyne, Trevor Tomkins, Roy Babbington and Bryan Spring. These six previously unreleased live studio tracks were recorded in 1970, and Green & Orange Night Park would be recorded again for the brilliantly named album Dedicated To You, But You Weren’t Listening. Only 23 years old when this great music was recording, Tippett would remain something of outlier in the British jazz scene of the time.  At the time of writing, there were just 8 copies of the vinyl record left – the CD is already sold out. Head to the Bandcamp site here for more details. This is a riotous but joyful noise – check out the complete record and snap up one of the remaining vinyl copies if you can.

8. Ezra Collective – Love In Outer Space from Where I’m Meant To Be

Any jazz programme inspired by the elements has to make reference to Sun Ra and so we offer a double dose of Ra-ness to end the show. Significantly though, neither of these tracks feature Sun Ra himself. The first is from the wonderful Ezra Collective – another new London jazz scene act that we’ve been championing in recent years – and comes from their first full length album Where I’m Meant to Be. Ezra include some outstanding soloists all led by drummer Femi Koleoso, and this album is a must if you want to check out one of the most mature bands in this vibrant scene. The album includes a funky take on that evergreen classic Smile (written by Charlie Chaplin – yes, indeed!), Kojey Radical and others on vocal duties and it all ends with a great reading of Sun Ra’s Love in Outer Space. The record really does all hold together and on orange vinyl makes for a treat on the decks. We can’t recommend this one highly enough.

9. Sun Ra Arkestra – Watch The Sunshine from A Song For The Sun 

No Sun Ra here either – this record comes from 1999, some six years after the death of Sun Ra and is not to be confused with Sun Song, a 1967 title from Ra’s huge oeuvre. It’s not an easy one to find now so check out Discogs if you’d like a copy.  Perhaps unexpectedly, the Arkestra have continued since Ra’s death under the leadership of 99 year old alto sax player Marshall Allen and, indeed, they’re currently on a North American tour. It was Allen who composed and arranged Watch The Sunshine – a relaxed, if slightly chaotic number that chugs along with a minimalist, percussive, acoustic feel. There’s powerful sax from Marshall Allen, soothing vibes from Damon Choice and warming contributions in turn from trumpeter David Gordon, trombonist Tyrone Hill and guitarist Bruce Edwards. Vocalist Arnold ‘Art’ Jenkins invokes you to be yourself, free your mind and all you have to do is Watch the Sunshine. Global warming notwithstanding, it’s something we’re happy to do.

More from Cosmic Jazz soon – but in the meantime check out Neil’s Youtube selection below:

Neil is listening to… the usual eclectic mix. This week my ten track choice is informed by the new Blossom Dearie reissue, a clutch of the latest Blue Note Tone Poets, a collection of River Nile titled music I’ve assembled and an amazing live take on Africa from the newly issued John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy Evenings at the Village Gate album. Also in the mix for this selection is some rap music from Mexico, a replay of the Crusaders’ best album and some Brazilian favourites that didn’t make the cut in our last show – including more Marcos Valle, currently on a live tour around the world. Enjoy – and let us know what you think of the choices!

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