Cosmic Jazz goes offbeat, upbeat and remembers Carla Bley – 07/11/23

This show started with some blasts that sound wild, offbeat and free, but we included more conventional upbeat jazz from artists past and present. There’s also a feature on the late jazz composer Carla Bley before we end with a chilled Latin groove.

1. Yoni Mayraz – Dybbuk Tse! from Dybbuk Tse!

Derek was introduced to this artist in one of those fruitful music exchanges that it is always good to have. The music is unique and crosses the boundaries of jazz, hip-hop, breakbeats and Middle Eastern sounds. Yoni Mayraz is an skilled keyboard player/accompanist, raised in Tel-Aviv, but now based in London. The album was recorded live in spring 2022 in a dusty wooden studio. The vinyl copies that were released have long sold out. This title track provides a start to the show with sounds that brings us fresh, contemporary, dancefloor orientated jazz, but with a darker side. In fact Dybbuk Tse! relates to ancient Middle Eastern folklore  – the Dybbuk is a wandering malevolent spirit that enters the body of a person until driven out. The title of the tune is an order to remove the spirit and the album is seen as a way to exorcism through music. Sounds heavy? It is, but it also raises the spirit.

2. Luna Horns – Cherry Blossom from Luna Horns Live Sessions

Tim Lowerson, a British soprano saxophonist living in Oslo, has long been a friend of the show and we have been pleased to play the music of the various bands he has been involved with. The music has always been full of surprises, at times chaotic, but always interesting. His latest venture – Luna Horns – is no exception. In spring 2023, after jam sessions in a bar and then a crowded apartment “interpreting Edith Piaf songs in Turkish”, they realised there was a band to be formed – and that band is Luna Horns. They started to write and play together in Tim’s living room – four brass players in a small apartment in downtown Oslo. “When none of the neighbours complained, they agreed that the music must be good”. The next step was to record two tunes live – Baluba and Cherry Blossom, with the latter featured in this show. The session is released on 10 November 2023 and will be available from all the usual sources including Bandcamp, of course.

3. Carla Bley – A.I.R. (All India Radio) from Escalator Over The Hill

An ambitious mess, a bizarre free-improv classic, an all-star ego trip –  Escalator Over the Hill is all of these. At the time of release, it was certainly the longest jazz work ever. Carla Bley and librettist Paul Haines called it a ‘chronotransduction’, a term left undefined but it is certainly a kind of jazz opera. Alternatively, Marcello Carlin, writing for Stylus magazine, said It is literally whatever you want to make of it. It is devoid of every quality which you might assume would qualify it to be the greatest of all records. And yet it is that tabula rasa in its heart, the blank space which may well exist at the very heart of all music, revealing the hard truth that we have to fill in the blanks, we have to interpret what is being played and sung, and our interpretation is the only one which can possibly be valid, as we cannot discern any perspective other than our own. That may be well off the mark, but it does illustrate the range of view still held about this remarkable record. Whatever, there’s rock music, early synthesizer and ring modulator experiments, an Indian section, and repeated outbreaks of Weimar Republic cabaret in 3/4 time that both mock and revere European tradition. The libretto based on poems by Haines is pretty impenetrable and some of the band writing is pretentiously all over the place. But there are great moments in Escalator… – and the evocative A.I.R (All India Radio) is one of them. Don Cherry (who else?) is featured on his pocket trumpet. The three disc original featured an impossibly diverse range of musicians – some of whom include Gato Barbieri, Jack Bruce, Leroy Jenkins, Sheila Jordan, John McLaughlin, Enrico Rava and Linda Ronstadt.  A.I.R. (All India Radio) was later recorded by saxophonist Jan Garbarek on his brilliant Witchi-Tai-To album in 1974 – listen to that version right here.

4. Paul Bley – Ida Lupino from Open, To Love

This is Paul Bley’s version of one of his then wife’s most memorable compositions – named after the British-born Hollywood actress, director, writer, and producer who was certainly one of the most influential feminist filmmakers of the Hollywood era. The first recording of the tune to be released was from Bley’s Closer album in 1966. The Penguin Guide to Jazz claims that The key track here is Carla’s classic ‘Ida Lupino,’ which her former husband turns into a rolling, almost filmic narrative with layers and the music is indeed typical of that lyrical strand in Bley’s compositions. Bley’s subsequent recording of the tune on the ECM Open, To Love album from 1973 offers another take on this wonderful tune. Carla Bley herself featured Ida Lupino in a funky, almost easy listening variant on her Dinner Music album with an immediately recognisable guitar solo from Eric Gale. For more on Ida Lupino and the music, check out this short Jazziz magazine feature.

5. Charlie Haden – This Is Not America from Not In Our Name

In 2005, former Ornette Coleman bass player Charlie Haden gave us another incarnation of the Liberation Music Orchestra that had first appeared in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War on that first essential self-titled Impulse! label Liberation Music Orchestra record. Along with Haden, Carla Bley was the only constant fixture in the project and on this record she played piano and arranged all eight tunes.  Also on board were trumpeter MIchael Rodriguez, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, guitarist Steve Cardenas, and Miguel Zenon on alto sax.  We featured a reggae-tinged version of David Bowie and Pat Metheny’s composition This Is Not America – including a sardonic quote from the Battle Hymn of the Republic at the very end. Bley’s arrangements of tunes like America The Beautiful, Dvorak’s largo theme Going Home and Lift Every Voice and Sing are just spectacular on this moving reflection on the destruction of the American dream. This music is really neither jazz nor the inappropriately named world music, but rather a reflection on the kind of global folk ethic espoused by trumpet player Don Cherry.

6. Johnathan Blake – West Berkley St. from Passage

The record Passage is a Blue Note debut for the accomplished and widely experienced drummer Johnathan Blake, although he has played on a number of Blue Note records previously.  In fact, he’s been featured with many well-known artists loved by us here at Cosmic Jazz, including Pharaoh Sanders,  Ravi Coltrane, Avishai Cohen, Donny McCaslin, Maria Schneider and Chris Potter. Passage is a tribute to his father, the jazz violinist John Blake Jr.. The music is inventive, warm and at times funky, with an impressive line-up in the quintet – Cuban pianist David Virelles, from whom you can hear some wonderful, delicate flowing notes on this tune West Berkley St., Immanuel Wilkins, one of the young jazz players of the moment, on alto saxophone, Joel Ross on vibraphone – another noticeable presence on this tune – and Dezron Douglas on acoustic bass.

7. Harold Lopez-Nussa – Funky from Timba A La Americana

More new music – this time from Cuban pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa who last year left Cuba with his family to live in Toulouse, South-West France, where the album Timba A La Americana was recorded and released this year. He describes the album as very different from my previous ones and certainly it is different to the trio album Un Dia Cualquiero which we have previously featured on the show. For example, there’s a quintet of musicians creating a more spontaneous feel to the music. There is some continuity with the earlier record though as his brother Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa plays drums on both albums and both also retain the influence of Lopez-Nussa’s Cuban heritage – the word Timba used in the title of the album refers to a Cuban musical genre. Indeed, from the opening bars of this tune Funky there are unmistakeable Cuban sounds coming from the piano of Lopez-Nussa. As with Johnathan Blake, this is a Blue Note debut.

8. Yussef Dayes – Black Classical Music (feat. Venna & Charlie Stacey) from Black Classical Music

One of most eagerly anticipated jazz releases of 2023, the new Yussef Dayes album continues to delight. The first time Neil heard this opening track he was immediately reminded of our next choice, McCoy Tyner’s Ebony Queen, and he commented on this in our previous blog post. Now you get a chance to hear the two tracks side by side – so what do you think? This ambitious full length debut record is a sprawling, 19-track debut opus which self-consciously straddles all kinds of musical influences. As a result, it touches on spiritual jazz, dub music, reggae, jazz funk, R&B, drum and bass and more, but somehow manages to hold this together to create a cohesive whole – all underpinned by Dayes’ frenetic drumming style.

9. McCoy Tyner – Ebony Queen from Sahara

Ah – how great to hear this on the show! Many years ago, this was an early introduction for Neil to the music of McCoy Tyner. Probably Tyner’s greatest album of many recorded for Milestone Records, Sahara is a triumph from start to finish. Tyner’s piano work is even more explosive than usual and every member of the quartet here are on fire. Just listen to Sonny Fortune’s soprano sax on Ebony Queen – the opening track on this record – and the sheer power of Alphonse Mouzon’s incendiary drum work. Neil has lost count of the number of times he has listened to this record – and each listening brings new insights into the music. The title track Sahara is a side-long exploration that contrasts with the ferocity of Ebony Queen and Rebirth and over the course of its 23 minutes has beautiful percussion and flute interludes alongside some of Tyner’s very best playing on record. Even Valley of Life – a solo performance by Tyner on the Japanese koto (as seen on the record cover) – has complete commitment rather a cursory orientalism. As the Allmusic review notes, Sahara is an astonishingly good record and belongs in every jazz fan’s collection.

10. Raul De Souza – Funk Das Meninas from Plenitude

Derek is sure there are some musicians who don’t get noticed as much as they deserve because of the instrument they play. For example, trombonists might come into this category – which is why it took the 2021 release Plenitude by veteran trombonist Raul De Souza before we realised what an important contribution he had made to Brazilian music, often through the recordings of his many compatriots. We are talking here of the likes of Sergio Mendes, Milton Nascimento, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira and Tom Jobim as well as jazz artists such as Herbie Hancock, Jack De Johnette, Jaco Pastorius, Cannonball Adderley and Sonny Rollins. Sadly, De Souza died in Paris shortly after Plenitude album was released but it had already marked a new phase in his career as it was recorded with his Generations Band, comprising European musicians much younger than himself – the youngest being aged 24 while De Souza was 86. At the time of its release in 2021, we featured the record on Cosmic Jazz but, as we have the freedom to return at any time to music we like it deserves another outing. The tune Funk Das Meninas provides a serious, deep, yet somehow relaxing and satisfying way in which to end this edition of the show. More Cosmic Jazz coming your way soon. Now, have a listen to a little of the music we have both been checking out this week.

Derek is listening to…

Neil is listening to…

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