New jazz, a Grammy winner and a tribute to Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath – 18/04/2024

There’s four fresh slices of new jazz on this show, including a Grammy winner, a sensational new tune featuring Hammond B3 guru Brian Auger and the latest from UK saxophonist Nat Birchall. Add to this a classic and overlooked take on an Erykah Badu tune, a tribute to the last of the Heath brothers and remixers supreme 4Hero. It’s all in this episode of Cosmic Jazz.

  1. Imani Winds, Harlem Quartet and more – Psalm from Passion for Bach and Coltrane

We began the show with a very unlikely award winner. The 2023 US Grammy Award for Classical  Compendium went to Jeff Scott’s composition Passion for Bach and Coltrane – a concert-length oratorio that combines elements from classical and jazz music. It features orator and poet A.B. Spellman, as well as wind quintet Imani Winds, string quartet Harlem Quartet, and jazz trio Alex Brown, Edward Perez, and Neal Smith. Phew! The music is largely based on works by J S Bach and John Coltrane – and not just in the improvised solos that are threaded through the work. Scott took the shape of the piece from Bach’s Goldberg Variations with the work opening with an A. B. Spellman poem. but Coltrane’s influence is everywhere – and the spirit of A Love Supreme is clearly in evidence. Our choice, Psalm, includes a jazz chant and Spellman’s poem that begins I will die in Havana in a hurricane. A final tune – Acknowledgement – is, of course, another link to A Love Supreme and an uplifting poem on death, renewal, and the power of love. Check out this interesting release – the download only is available from Bandcamp right here.

2. Nat Birchall – New World from New World

UK saxophonist Nat Birchall is undoubtedly an ambassador for what is often called spiritual jazz. He’s no mere acolyte of Coltrane though, being equally adept in dubwise reggae settings as he is in the world of jazz. The new album features strong compositions (like the title track) all performed by an expanded lineup of Birchall’s Unity Ensemble. There are six original compositions played by a seven-piece group featuring legendary UK tenor saxophonist, Alan Skidmore and guest percussionist Mark Wastell. Birchall appears on tenor, soprano saxes with Adam Fairhall on piano, Michael Bardon on bass, Paul Hession on drums and Lascelle Gordon on drums. As with all of Birchall’s albums, this new one is highly recommended and can be found here on Bandcamp.

3. 4Hero – I’ve Known Rivers from Another Story

Neil dipped into the drum and bass waters for this remix of I’ve Known Rivers, a take on Langston Hughes’ great poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers, made famous in the jazz world by Gary Bartz in a live performance at the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival. This version is a 4Hero remix of the version by UK saxophonist Courtney Pine on what Neil considers his best album – Modern Day Jazz Stories. The record was one of the Mercury music prize albums of the year in 1996 (but didn’t win) and featured vocalist Cassandra Wilson who appears on both I’ve Known Rivers and Billie Holiday’s Don’t Explain. The whole album was remixed the following year and – unlike some remix projects – turned out to be surprisingly successful. Outstanding are this 4Hero remix and  Flytronix’s take on Don’t Explain. For a something different, try 4 Hero’s own bossa nova lite reworking of their remix (!) – it’s here on Youtube and also on Another Story.

4. Ignacio Berroa  – Joao su Merced from Codes

The name of Ignacio Berroa might not be familiar but this Cuban drummer is a real heavyweight. Feted by Dizzy Gillespie as the only Latin drummer in the world in the history of American music that intimately knows both worlds: his native Afro-Cuban music as well as jazz Berroa performed with Gillespie from 1981 until the trumpeter’s death in 1993. Joao su Merced comes from Codes, his 2006 debut album on Blue Note. Since then, Berroa has recorded and played with a host of frontline jazz musicians including McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Jackie McLean, Michael Brecker, Milt Jackson, Jaco Pastorius, Ron Carter, Charlie Haden and many more. Codes is much more than just an average jazz debut – and the presence of Gonzalo Rubalcaba as producer and keys player is a major contributor to this success.

5. Fabiano do Nascimento and Sam Gendel – Foi Boto from The Room

Brazilian guitarist Nascimento and L.A. soprano saxophonist Gendel have collaborated on a genuinely charming duo album, seeming to just coil themselves around these beautiful melodies. There’s no effects, no percussion and no grandstanding – just two musicians weaving magic in a way that recalls the work of Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell and – to a lesser extent – the deftness of Stan Getz. Gendel is on the soprano horn throughout and so the music has a lightness of touch that perfectly complements Nascimento’s seven string guitar. And it’s all beautifully recorded too. This one is highly recommended by Neil and, of course, it’s available in all formats on Bandcamp.

6. José James – Green Eyes from On and On

Perhaps the most famous tune on Erykah Badu’s second album release Mama’s Gun, the take on Green Eyes we have here is principally a vehicle for vocalist José James – but the extended instrumental coda takes it to another level. All the songs are by Badu but they’re placed in a strong jazz context with a band of new talents like Big Yuki (from A Tribe Called Quest), Ben Williams who’s played with Kamasi Washington and young saxophonists Ebban Dorsey and Diana Dzhabbar.  The tunes cover the full spectrum of Badu’s career from Baduizm to New Amerykah Parts 1 and 2 and what’s great about them all is how the quality of songwriting is merged with sophisticated jazz arrangements. And the cover is a cute tribute to Alice Coltrane’s Journey to Satchidananda – have a look. Naturally, this can also be found here on Bandcamp and is – no surprise – highly recommended.

7. Herbie Hancock – Oh! Oh! Here He Comes from Fat Albert Rotunda

This 1969 album was centred around soundtrack music that Hancock wrote for the Fat Albert US television cartoon show. An unusual record in Hancock’s extensive canon, it has a strong R&B/soul jazz sound throughout with powerful horn riffs and lots of tight grooves from Hancock’s Fender Rhodes. There are two beautiful melodies (Tell Me a Bedtime Story and Jessica) but we chose the funky Oh! Oh! Here He Comes to celebrate the drummer of this rather stellar group, Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath, who died earlier this month at the age of  88. He’s on the album in the strong company of Joe Henderson on tenor sax, Johnny Coles on trumpet, Garnett Brown on trombone and Buster Williams on bass.

8. Tea – Ibiza Redoux feat. Brian Auger 

French guitarist Franck Balloffet and Southern California-bred keyboardist-percussionist Phil Bunch are the fusion duo Tea. Their third release Grand Cru from 2018 had several influences including jazz and soul and featured ‘the godfather of Acid Jazz’ Brian Auger on Hammond B3. After producing Auger’s solo album Language of the Heart, Tea continued the collaboration with Grand Cru – but nothing there comes close to this slice of summer that ended our show. Auger is just spectacular! Check it out here on Bandcamp – you won’t be disappointed.

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