We don’t often focus on big band jazz on our show – so it was time to put that right. We featured mostly recent records – including two brand albums from the ever-creative Edition Records. We debuted the superb new album from Yussef Dayes – and you’ll really want to hear this! – and we ended with new jazz from Indonesia. And as we’ve gone to press here, news has reached us of the death of innovative pianist, big band leader, composer and arranger Carla Bley. There’s so much we could say about this important jazz musician but here’s one of her most famous compositions, Ida Lupino, in a version from her album Dinner Music. Lupino was an Anglo-American actress and singer, celebrated as a pioneering female filmmaker and the first woman to direct a film noir – The Hitch-hiker from 1953.
1.Colin Towns Mask Orchestra – The Royal Hunt of the Sun from Drama
We began with an album from composer Colin Towns that was in the running for one of the best jazz records of 2015. When he formed the Mask Orchestra in 1990, Towns brought together both new and established players on the UK jazz scene. Twenty-five years on, the Mask Orchestra released the excellent double album Drama – their seventh album with a line-up that included Alan Skidmore, Mark Lockheart and – on our selection – the late, and very great, Peter King on alto sax. As the title might suggest, the inspiration for Drama is works for theatre, featuring new and original music from Colin Towns’ extensive work in that medium, from classic plays (and films) including One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Equus and Macbeth. We began the show with The Royal Hunt of the Sun, inspired by Peter Schaffer’s 1964 play about the clash of two characters from different worlds, Atahuallpa Inca and Francisco Pizarro. This track also includes a spectacular duet between percussionists Joji Hirota and Stephan Maass.
2. Don Ellis Orchestra – Open Beauty from Electric Bath
Next up was an artist who should be better known but is undoubtedly an inspiration for much contemporary big band music. Don Ellis was an American trumpeter and bandleader who led 1960-70s big bands distinguished by their unusual instrumentation, weird time signatures and an openness towards using rock rhythms and electronics. His band included John Klemmer, Tom Scott and Milcho Leviev who went on to record with Art Pepper in his last years. Electric Bath is a good place to start with Don Ellis – there’s no less than five trumpets, three trombones, five reeds, Mike Lang on keyboards, three bassists, drummer Steve Bohannon and three percussionists. For more Don Ellis, have a listen to his 1973 Soaring album – here’s Go Back Home.
3. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – Dymaxion from Dynamic Maximum Tension
Argue’s earlier Secret Society albums have been some of Neil’s recent favourites and this new double CD set is no exception. Argue’s music always has a tightly structured thematic base and this one is no exception. Indeed, it’s the most complex of them all (so far). The music references key 20th century thinkers for ideas that can help us in the present, that we can reexamine and reconfigure for our own purposes, says Argue. These include futurist designer Buckminster Fuller, cryptanalyst-computer scientist Alan Turing, composer-arranger Bob Brookmeyer, actress-screenwriter Mae West and the master Duke Ellington – among others. Argue has said that a lot of the tracks on Dynamic Maximum Tension are reflective of my personal journey in going back to the foundations of this music and trying to find ways to incorporate that into my compositional voice. In a pre-launch interview he went on to reference several of these key influences and inspirations. For example, Tensile Curves is a response to Ellington’s Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, in which Argue uses decreasing tempo as an analog to the diminishing dynamics of the Ellington work. Listen to the celebrated 1956 Newport Jazz Festival performance of Diminuendo right here. It features that remarkable tenor solo from Paul Gonsalves that was almost entirely responsible for resurrecting Ellington’s career. Argue admires how Ellington sets up and foils expectations, doing things one doesn’t anticipate, like taking an unexpected detour on a blues form, but that all this make sense when you reflect more deeply about the music. ‘That’s jazz’ we might want to say.
4. Dave Holland Big Band – Last Minute Man from Overtime
Last Minute Man is the only tune we’ve played before on the show – but it’s so good we wanted to feature it as another good example of a contemporary big band at work. Dave Holland is, of course, the celebrated English bassist, perhaps most noted for his tenure with Miles Davis. But Holland has continued to blaze a trail across the jazz mini-genres – from the avantgarde to big band. Overtime is from 2002 (but unreleased until 2005). Holland deploys players who appeared in in his various quartets and quintets – there’s four saxophones, three trumpets and trombones, and vibes as well as bass and drums. The band includes Chris Potter, Robin Eubanks, Antonio Hart, Josh Roseman, and Alex Sipiagin among others. Chris Potter is on typically fine form and the closing track Last Minute Man is an electrifying end to this exceptional record. Seek it out if you can.
5. Nikki Iles and the NDR Bigband – Awakening from Face To Face
This great new album comes from one of the best big bands around at the moment – the NDR. Unique among Germany’s radio big bands, the NDR Bigband is a jazz ensemble composed of premier soloists of diverse backgrounds and influences who create an original and striking group sound. Like many similar bands, they began in a world of traditional radio and TV shows producing what we used to called light entertainment, but for several years they’ve ploughed a much more creative furrow – often with guest soloists, arrangers and composers. Current band members include Julius Gawlik on tenor, Peter Bolte on alto and Claus Stötter and Ingolf Burkhardt on trumpets. Here with UK pianist Nikki Iles – their Composer in Residence for 2023 – is the first fruit of this partnership, the album Face to Face. I love the NDR Bigband, says Iles, and that seems evident in this joyous music. Face to Face will be released in mid-November but you can check out the music and pre-order in all formats on the Edition Records website.
6. Yussef Dayes – Tioga Pass from Black Classical Music
This is one important record – and another example of the fertility of the UK jazz scene. Drummer Yussef Dayes has been making waves since he appeared on the South London jazz scene in 2016 with fellow Londoner Kamaal Williams on the self-titled Yussef Kamaal album. Better still was the collaboration on Blue Note with songwriter Tom Misch, What Kinda Music. Then on Brownswood in late 2020 came the Live at Joshua Tree EP. Now – a year later – we get the ambitious 19 track release Black Classical Music. Dayes’ regular quartet (which Neil had the good fortune to see in Singapore) are just the heart of a huge studio cast – new keyboardist Charlie Stacey, guitarist Miles James and studio guests including UK jazz royalty Shabaka Hutchings, Theon Cross and Sheila Maurice-Grey. The ambition of Dayes is clear and this is definitely one we’ll return to. In the meantime, listen to the opening title track and check out the McCoy Tyner influence – I’m thinking Ebony Queen here. What do you reckon?
7. Jasper Høiby – Love Song from Earthness
More new music from Edition Records that’s not released until late in November. Bassist, composer and bandleader Jasper Høiby is both creative and prolific. It was in his birthplace Copenhagen that he laid the groundwork for his career, founding Phronesis, one of the most influential jazz trios in recent memory. They opened for the Wayne Shorter Quartet at London’s Barbican in 2011 (another memorable concert Neil attended) blending intricate melodies with powerful rhythms and engaging improvisations. Since then, Høiby has gone on to release music in several different groups with musicians including Mark Guiliana, Tigran Hamasyan, and Shai Maestro. His new trio is called 3 Elements and features Noah Stoneman and Luca Caruso.
8. Royal New Zealand Air Force Jazz Orchestra – Bird of Prey from Kaiwhakatere (Navigator)
Ok – so it’s an outlier, but the Royal New Zealand Air Force Jazz Orchestra really do deserve a listen. This is exciting, adventurous big band music with guests including saxophonist Oscar Lavën, whose Questions in Red album made us take notice at the end of last year. The album was co-produced by the Wellington-based Scottish drummer, John Rae. London Jazz News noted that Several observers have already heard the mighty Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band in this team of reservists’ smartly despatched energy and there are echoes of Gil Evans and George Russell in the sense of drama and suspense created. High praise indeed.
9. Alonzo Brata – Night in Tunisia from Giant Baby Steps
We’re always interested in new talent here on Cosmic Jazz and young Alonzo Brata is a great example. On a recent work visit back to Indonesia, Neil came across Alonzo’s music and wanted to feature it here on the show. He may be only just 20, but his rich baritone is reminiscent of Mario Biondi and the infectious This Is What You Are – and that’s a direction he could easily travel in. Brata notes that I’m a young vocalist (born in 2003) with a baritone voice and a diverse range of musical interests from jazz standards to synth-wave. From an early age I was inspired by the great jazz artists and song stylists of the past such as Al Jarreau, Chet Baker, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra to mention a few. However, like many of my generation, my musical interests are wide and influenced by the gaming culture. Brata launched his YouTube channel in 2021, recorded his first studio album later that year and was nominated for in the category of Best Jazz Album by the AMI Awards (Indonesia Music Awards). That’s a pretty meteoric rise to date… Right now, he’s finding his feet genre-wise – but he’s already appeared at the huge Java Jazz Festival and will be back in the recording studio soon. Check out more on his website here.
10. Joey Alexander – Blue from Continuance
Also from Indonesia, there’s a similar story at work here. Joey Alexander has been featured several times on the show in recent years since his debut album was released at age 11. Mentored by Wynton Marsalis and Herbie Hancock, Alexander won a prestigious AMI award in 2018 for his excellent take on Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice and now he’s about to release his new record Continuance on which he’s joined by Theo Croker on trumpet, Kris Funn on bass and John Davis on drums. We featured the sprightly Blue but head to Alexander’s Bandcamp site here and listen to his reflective take on Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me.
There’s an long tradition of jazz in Indonesia and it’s worth exploring the music of other great musicians from this huge south east Asian country. Try keyboardist Indra Lesmana who has recorded prolifically with jazz artists like Charlie Haden, Tootie Heath and Airto Moreira since the 1980s and his new release – Do the Math – in this 2023 video created and directed by Lesmana himself. And what about Batavia Collective? Their name comes from the Dutch occupation name for what is now Jakarta and the surrounding hinterland, and this trio began playing covers of popular hip-hop and soul songs but have now incorporated drum and bass, jazz and broken beat into their original compositions. Inevitably, Doni Joesran, Elfa Zulham and Kenny Gabriel are often asked what kind of jazz they are playing. Their response – To tell you the truth we don’t know. We don’t even know if our music can be considered jazz or not. We just happen to play jazz and we love to party. Have a listen to Joni Indo here and then check out their Bandcamp site where you’ll find a video for the brilliant Propulsion. And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s a complete live performance on Youtube right here. If you know the music of broken beat pioneer Kaidi Tatham them you’ll really like Batavia Collective. We’ll certainly be featuring them on upcoming shows.
More from Cosmic Jazz soon, but in the meantime, here’s the return of Neil is listening to…
Music this time comes from the usual wide range of sources. There’s a focus on Javanese and Balinese gamelan and music inspired by that extraordinary microtonal universe, a selection linked to new and upcoming Tone Poet reissues from Jackie McLean and McCoy Tyner, Yussef Dayes and Kamal Williams live in the Brownswood Basement, a Keith Jarrett encore from the Tokyo ’84 DVD, Material and Nona Hendryx’s finest moment and – to finish – the all-female group Tokyo Groove Jyoshi with the infectious Funk No.1. Enjoy!
- Yussef Kamaal – Calligraphy (live)
- McCoy Tyner – His Blessings
- Jackie McLean – Boo Ann’s Grand
- Organized Konfusion – Walk Into the Sun
- Colin McPhee – Tabuh Tabuhan (finale – Quieto e Misterioso)
- Keith Jarrett – Tokyo ’84 encore
- Gamelan Salukat – Likad
- arr. Iwan Gunawan – Six Marimbas for Gamelan
- Material – Bustin’ Out (long version)
- Tokyo Groove Jyoshi – Funk No.1