Three tributes and the wide world of jazz influences – 12/01/2024

This first Cosmic Jazz show of 2024 includes tributes to three artists who have recently died, with music ranging from Portuguese folk to classic soul jazz to neo soul. In between there’s lots of great jazz and more.

1. Sara Tavares – Balancê from Balancê

Portuguese singer Sara Tavares sadly died in November 2023 at just 45, leaving behind a small legacy of music. Although Portuguese was the main language of her songs, Tavares’ repertoire includes multilingual songs mixing in Portuguese Creole and English, sometimes even in the same song. Her third album Balancê showcased more of her Cape Verde roots and is highly recommended. You might also be able to track down an excellent 3 disc package of Balancê, her breakthrough record Mi Ma Bô and a live concert from hometown Lisbon on DVD. Derek was lucky to see Sara Tavares at the London Jazz Festival in 2006.

2. Eddie Harris and Les McCann – Compared to What from Swiss Movement

Swiss Movement is a great title – the music was recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969 and acknowledges the precision of these two jazz giants. Sadly, McCann died in December last year but his back catalogue is still widely available. Compared to What is a protest song written by Gene McDaniels and first recorded by Roberta Flack for her debut album First Take (1969). For the Montreux album, McCann is on piano and vocals and Eddie Harris is on his Varitone tenor sax. They’re joined by Benny Bailey on trumpet, the great Leroy Vinnegar on bass and on Donald Dunn on drums. A 30th Anniversary edition included the additional track Kaftan. McCann maybe best known as a soul jazz player but his adventurous early synth album Layers from 1972 is one of Neil’s favourites – here’s The Dunbar High School Marching Band. The opening tune Sometimes I Cry was famously sampled by Massive Attack for the drumbeat backdrop of Teardrop.

3. Ferge X Fisherman – Adults (feat. Jerome Thomas and Takuya Kuroda) from Good Mother

Vocalist Fritz and musician Ferge originally met as teenagers while skateboarding in their home city of Nuremberg. An immediate chemistry between the two swiftly extended to involve crack jazz quartet Nujakasha, who have become an integral part of the FXF set-up both live and in the studio. FXF have previously released three well received jazz-infused albums, but for their upcoming new record Good Mother they deploy gospel choirs, vintage strings, soulful Rhodes chords and wah-wah guitar pedals to give the entire record a distinctly ‘70s film soundtrack vibe. Adults features Blue Note trumpeter Takuya Kuroda, London-born soul singer Jerome Thomas and Barcelona native singer Ceeopatra.

4. McCoy Tyner – His Blessings from Extensions

Just reissued in the ongoing Blue Note Tone Poet vinyl series, this is an essential McCoy Tyner album from 1972 and unique in that it features Alice Coltrane on harp. Also on board with Coltrane are Gary Bartz on alto with Wayne Shorter on tenor, Ron Carter on bass and Elvin Jones (of course!) on drums. Reviewing the album for jazz.com, Jared Pauley notes that This performance matches the superb quality of previous Shorter and Tyner albums where members of the Davis and Coltrane groups recorded together. The opening track Message from the Nile is the best thing on the album but for this show we went with the reflective His Blessings which closes this highly recommend album.

5. Fumio Itabashi – Makumba from Nature/J Jazz Vol. 4 – Deep Modern Jazz from Japan

We’re huge fans of Fumio Itabashi’s many renderings of the Japanese folk tune Watarase and have featured several versions on previous shows. But this is from his debut 1979 album Nature, reissued on Soul Jazz a few years ago and more recently on Mule Musiq. The record features bass players Hideaki Mochizuki and Koichi Yamazaki, drummers Kenichi Kameyama and Ryojiro Furusawa, soprano saxophonist Yoshio Otomo and vibes player Hiroshi Hatsuyama. For a different aspect of this album check out the spiritual jazz-inflected closing track Ash.

6. Nucleus – Torrid Zone from Elastic Rock

From the album Elastic Rock (1972) – and a newly remastered 6CD box set featuring every track released by Nucleus for the Vertigo label between 1970 and 1975 – comes this perfect slice of jazz rock. The trumpeter and flugelhorn player Ian Carr saw the potential in fusing these two musical sensibilities and  Nucleus was the result – at the same time as Tony Williams was pursuing new paths with his band Lifetime and Miles Davis was experimenting on the album In a Silent Way. With saxophonist and keyboard player Karl Jenkins, the late drummer John Marshall, saxophonist Brian Smith, bassist Jeff Clyne and guitarist Chris Spedding, Nucleus recorded the ground-breaking Elastic Rock in January 1970, with the album receiving widespread praise. On a series of influential follow up albums, Carr guided a diverse band of musicians through some of the most innovative music of the time. The bargain 6CD box set is a good place to start and both Belladonna (1972) and Alleycat (1975) have recently been reissued on vinyl.

7. Cal Tjader – On Green Dolphin Street from Catch the Groove: Live at the Penthouse 1963-67

Vibes player Cal Tjader rose to fame during the Mambo craze of the late 1950s, and his bands often featured both seasoned Cuban musicians and upcoming jazz talents. Tjader and his band opened the second Monterey Jazz Festival in 1959 and he was to play there on many subsequent occasions. He signed with Verve Records in the 1960s, recording his most famous album Soul Sauce in 1964. The title track (also known as Guarachi Guaro), written by Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo, has become something of a standard and has been recorded and remixed by dozens of artists – try this Fila Brazilia remix, for example. Catch the Groove is a live double CD/triple vinyl package from Zev Feldman (the Jazz Detective) and was certainly one of Neil’s highlights from the most recent Record Store Day. If you can find a copy you’ll be rewarded with an amazingly well recorded and expansive live set that runs the gamut from jazz classics like our choice On Green Dolphin Street through to Latin originals like Davito. Most of the later tracks include the celebrated conga player Armando Peraza but also along for the ride on many of these previously unreleased tunes are pianist Clare Fischer, bassist Monk Montgomery and drummer Carl Burnett. The LP and CD versions both come with comprehensive liner notes from fellow vibes players like Gary Burton and Joe Locke and there a wealth of photos and interviews to check out too. You can catch the groove on Bandcamp if you’re quick – there are currently just five copies left!

8. Donny McCaslin – Stria from I Want More

The current crop of recent Edition Records signings include saxophonist Donny McCaslin whose new album extends the jazz boundaries even further. That’s not surprising given his most famous credential as the man behind David Bowie’s Black Star album. As he explained to Edition, the new album is a hybrid of jazz-rooted music but [one] that was acceptable to a rock audience and we knew it had to come from a sound and from the soul. It wasn’t about just getting the right music and the right musicians playing it. It was about the right sound which required the right mixer and producer. And in this case, it was Dave Fridmann [The Flaming Lips] who has never worked in jazz. But it‘s that very thing that gave us the edge. The result is I Want More – and the clue about how it sounds is in that album name. The album begins with Stria and it certainly sets the tone  a captivating track which sets the tone for what is to follow. Throughout the album there’s a tight interplay between McCaslin’s tenor sax, Jason Lindner’s synths and Wurlitzer, Tim Lefebvre’s electric bass, and Mark Guiliana’s drums – and there’s a distinctive producer’s sound here too. A CJ recommended listen.

9.   Eparapo – My Beautiful City from Take to the Streets

The word ‘eparapo’ means ‘join forces’ in Yoruba but it’s also the title of a tune by the late, great Tony Allen – drummer for Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti and lifelong friend and mentor of Dele Sosimi who also features on this album. The force behind Eparapo is bassist, composer and producer Suman Joshi who’s a longtime member of Dele Sosimi’s Afrobeat Orchestra. Vocalist on My Beautiful City is Ghanaian percussionist Afla Sackey and the band members include Tamar Osborn – saxophonist, composer, producer and bandleader of Collocutor – and trumpeter Graeme Flowers. My Beautiful City has been on heavy rotation on Jazz FM in recent months and deservedly so. You can find the album (and a bunch of remixes) here on Bandcamp.

10. Amp Fiddler – Eye to Eye from Waltz of a Ghetto Fly

We bookend the show with another sad jazz-related death and, just as Derek saw Sara Tavares in 2006, Neil saw and met Amp Fiddler at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2004 in a great triple bill along with Gilles Peterson and trumpeter Harry Beckett. Joseph ‘Amp’ Fiddler was a native of Detroit who played with George Clinton, Moodymann, Prince, the Brand New Heavies, Maxwell and many more. Perhaps even more importantly, he was a huge influence on hip hop producer J Dilla, also a native of the Motor City, introducing him to Fiddler’s Akai sampling drum machine on which the young Dilla began to create his celebrated beats, including the now iconic Welcome 2 Detroit.  You can still find the 20th Anniversary edition here on Bandcamp – listen to this instrumental version of Think Twice to hear how those hip hop beats merge with jazz in music by artists like Blue Note’s Robert Glasper. Chillin’ with Amp Fiddler seems a fitting end to this show – look out for more new music from Cosmic Jazz soon.

Neil is listening to…

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