Jazz now: from mainstream to the fringes – 28/03/2024

There was a really contemporary feel to Cosmic Jazz this time as we introduced listeners to David Duffy and Shake Stew, took a dive into the new trio record from pianist Vijay Iyer, checked out two more new Edition Records artists and ended with a bonafide classic from Horace Silver. It’s a continuous mix experiment this time on the show – a quick into from Derek and music choices from Neil. Go ahead and listen…

  1. David Duffy Quartet – Pulse from Where The Branches Begin

It’s thanks to Sîan Williams and the team at R!otSquad promotion that we featured David Duffy for the first time here on Cosmic Jazz – and what a great way to start the show! Duffy is a Barcelona-based Irish composer, producer and bassist and Where The Branches Begin is his debut album as a bandleader. He brings years of experience composing in the digital arts world and it’s the electronics that’s such a notable contribution to the sound of his quartet. Joining him are four players on the fringes of jazz – the Catalan Marc Martin on piano, Swedish saxman Emil Nerstrand and fellow Irishman Davie Ryan on drums. The group is augmented with Warren Walker (from the Kandinsky Effect) on additional synths and electronics creating a more ambient electronic jazz with some distinctive Scandinavian style sounds in the mix. R!ot Squad suggest that the sound is where Jan Garbarek and Cinematic Orchestra meet with Jon Hopkins and Rival Consoles with the textures of Colin Stetson and undertones of Nils Frahm and who are we to disagree… Pulse is the first single to be taken from the album and Duffy notes I love the feeling of sparse melodies floating on top of dense textures… Blending clarinets, bass clarinets, harmonium, synthesisers and bowed double bass… [these] reflect my internal experience, yet the beauty and stillness is always present, whenever you have space to hear it.

2. Robert Hood and Femi Kuti – Variations 1 from Variations

Trawling Bandcamp can be very rewarding – as evidenced by this track from the unlikely partnership of Robert Hood and Femi Kuti. Hood’s techno wizardry and Kuti’s Afrobeat sax intertwine in this short live set recorded (and filmed) at the Charles de Gaulle Paris Aéroport in 2019. It’s a joyous and surprisingly satisfying musical journey with Hood’s pads and synths meshing with Kuti’s free-flowing sax improvisations.  Producer and DJ Robert Hood is a pioneer of Detroit techno but has more recently incorporated elements of house, gospel and disco into his music. while Femi Kuti is, of course, the son of Afrobeat pioneer and activist Fela Kuti. He’s carved his musical path while retaining the polemical fire of his father.  Variations can be dowloaded from Bandcamp – and you might still be lucky enough to get a copy of the vinyl release from the same source.

3. Vijay Iyer – Compassion from Compassion

Next up were two tracks from the new album from pianist Vijay Iyer – and there’s a surprising link with the previous track: Break Stuff, a previous Vijay Iyer Trio album, included Hood, a tribute to the Detroit techno pioneer. Compassion doesn’t include any of the subtle electronics of his debut record with ECM, 2013’s Mutations but it’s none the worse for that. The (very quiet) title tune and album opener introduces the band with bell and gong sounds before bringing in the piano and bass and then straight into…

4. Vijay Iyer –  Overjoyed from Compassion

Up next, more from Iyer – these time Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyed which just crackles with energy and includes a powerful solo from Iyer – one of many on this excellent new album. There are other full-on tracks on the record and these are interspersed with more reflective pieces. The covers also include Roscoe Mitchell’s Nonaah and Free Spirits/Drummer’s Song (from John Stubblefield and Geri Allen) and the album ends with Iyer’s Ghoststrumental which includes some of the most spirited playing on this excellent new release.

5. Greg Foat and Art Themen – Sis No Hyp from Off Piste/Pulp Jazz: 21st Century Groove Music

On this new album keyboard player Greg Foat teams up with 83 year-old London saxophonist (and doctor) Art Themen on the leftfield Athens Of The North label. Off Piste was recorded in Edinburgh and features guitarist Gavin Sutherland, harpist Amanda Whiting, electric bassist Philip Achille, and drummer/percussionist Nadav Schneerson. This is Foat’s ninth album for the label and is a mix of analog synth textures, meditative grooves and cinematic landscapes. Over this comes a series of spacious, melodic improvisations from Art Themen – and it all works rather well. Our choice – Sis No Hyp – from the album is also available on an great compilation called Pulp Jazz: 21st Century Groove Music on the always excellent Aquarium Drunkard website.

6. Mark Lockheart  – Morning Smiles from Smiling

I like that it makes me smile, this album, says Mark Lockheart, as he recalls the effect when he first heard the new Edition record. Lockheart is a former member of the innovative big band Loose Tubes, which also included such contemporary UK jazz greats as Julian Argüelles, Iain Ballamy, Django Bates, Eddie Parker and Ashley Slater. The new record is much smaller in scope but there are some surprising new influences too. The band has two French horns and John Parricelli’s introduces some rockier strands too. As Lockheart has noted – Steely Dan, you know, is a massive influence on my generation. And I hear some of that on the first track. I mean, it’s a lot busier than a Steely Dan album, but it’s the groove. Also on board is Rowland Sutherland, whose breathy flute attack is the first solo instrument you hear on the record. Add in Cosmic Jazz favourites Laura Jurd on trumpet and Nathaniel Facey on alto sax and you have some fascinating new music that’s highly recommended by Neil. You’ve not got long to wait as Smiling is released at the end of March – check it out here on the Edition Records website.

7. Shake Stew – Lila from Lila

More thanks to Sîan Williams for this one – do make sure you check out the great musicians on R!otSquad, including the always excellent Lucien Johnson (see last week’s show). Award winning Austrian band Shake Stew combine hypnotic grooves and a trademark high-energy style with a more subtle and deeply spiritual vibe on their sixth album Lila. The band’s unusual configuration of two drummers, two bass players and three horns remains but on board for Lila is Viennese producer Marco Kleebauer, a key figure in the Austrian music scene and although their musical paths have been very different the collaboration has clearly worked. The title track and first single Lila is perhaps the most reflective piece to date from the band but the level of musical invention across the whole album is as inventive as ever. To check out Shake Stew in action, have a look at this video of them in performance at Westbahnstudios in Vienna with four tunes from the new record.

8. Louis Stewart Trio – Footprints from Louis the First

This is the long-awaited re-release of guitarist Louis Stewart’s 1976 debut as a leader. Beautifully remastered, you can now fully appreciate nine titles that showcase the range and breadth of Stewart’s music. Recorded in Dublin’s Trend Studios in September 1975, Louis the First captures the guitarist at his peak and includes an extra track – our featured take on Wayne Shorter’s classic Footprints – along with a 16-page booklet and a trove of previously unseen photographs. At the time Stewart was playing in Ronnie Scott’s house band in London where he played with top visiting jazz artists of the day including Over the course of his long career, Stewart appeared on over seventy albums by various great jazz names including Tubby Hayes, J J Johnson, Clark Terry and Benny Goodman. The New York Times noted that he spins out single-note lines that flow with an unhurried grace, colored by sudden bright, lively chorded phrases. His up-tempo virtuosity is balanced by a laid-back approach to ballads, which catches the mood of the piece without sacrificing the rhythmic emphasis that keeps it moving – and that pretty much sums up the qualities of this world-class guitarist. The record is available in CD or DL formats on Bandcamp – check it out here.

9. Chris Potter – Cloud Message from Eagle’s Point

Eagle’s Point is Chris Potter’s new album for Edition Records and features a modern day supergroup with pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade. Released earlier this month, the record is full of striking new compositions from saxophonist Chris Potter – the album’s dominant voice. Always technically masterful, Potter’s melodic compositions have gained in depth and purpose. Cloud Message, with its propulsive bass line, is a great demonstration of his prowess but – as Neil well knows – there is no substitute for seeing that invention and imagination at work at a live gig. If you can’t get to see Potter on stage, then any of his live records will take you there. We’d recommend the excellent Follow the Red Line from 2007 or last year’s Got the Keys to the Kingdom, both recorded at the iconic Village Vanguard Club in New York.

10. Horace Silver – Song for My Father from Song for My Father

What can we say? Steely Dan stole that opening piano figure for Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number, but this most popular of Horace Silver’s compositions also includes the rasping tenor sax of Joe Henderson. It’s simply one essential jazz album that everyone should own. As the great LondonJazzCollector blog notes, If a piano could smile, that’s what Silver’s playing would make it do. Coming originally from Cape Verde – a distinctive melting pot of West African and Portuguese culture – Silver is resolutely in the American mainstream hard  bop tradition and his rhythmic and percussive style gave him a natural home on Blue Note records for over two decades. This record was recorded in two sessions over a year apart, in 1963 and 1964, with (on the title track) the little-recorded Carmell Jones on trumpet, along with Joe Henderson on tenor sax, Teddy Smith on bass and Roger Humphries on drums. Also on the album is the Joe Henderson standard The Kicker – often covered for the hard bop challenge of its jerky phrases and tight rhythms – and initially recorded by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson on his album of the same name. And, yes, that is Horace Silver’s father, John Tavares Silver on the iconic record cover.

More from Cosmic Jazz soon – but in the meantime, here’s Neil’s selections from this week. They’re all influenced by the legend that is Tony Poole – former Essex Radio presenter, DJ, record collector and Virgo Vibes retailer – now retired in Spain but still active in jazz. Here’s the transcript of an interview with Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove to get you up to speed.

Neil is listening to…

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