All posts by Neil

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.

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…

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…

Big band jazz, Yussef Dayes and music from Indonesia – 18/10/23

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!

Edition Records, Matthew Halsall and more Ezra Collective – 27/09/23

This show features music from one of our favourite labels, Edition Records. Based in the UK and founded by pianist Dave Stapleton, their artist roster is now truly international. Recent signings include well established musicians like Chris Potter, Dave Holland, Kurt Elling and Donny McCaslin, but the label also champions breakthrough artists too like Fergus McCreadie, Aki Rissanen, Kneebody and Rob Luft. But there’s more on our show too – we’ve also got brand new music from High Pulp, Matthew Halsall and another track from Mercury Prize winners Ezra Collective. It’s worth mentioning here that we are strong supporters of Bandcamp and that you’ll find links to all the music on this show on the Bandcamp website.

1. High Pulp – Dirtmouth feat. from Days in the Desert

We start the show with our good friends High Pulp, whose music we have featured over the last few years. The new album is a must and, of course, you can track it down most easily right here on Bandcamp. High Pulp have recruited some big name guests for this one – harpist Brandee Younger, guitarist Jeff Parker and, on our selection, tenor saxophonist and Cosmic Jazz favourite James Brandon Lewis. The Bandcamp site offers Days in the Desert in download, CD and vinyl formats but you can also buy a High Pulp teeshirt, their special hot sauce and a snapback hat. Merchandising is getting ever more enterprising it seems.

2. Josh Arcoleo – Love of the Music from K.O.K.O

One of the most recent signings to Edition Records, Arcoleo has sat in on a number of recordings for the label before this, his new EP for the label. Something of a multi-instrumentalist, Arcoleo began his touring life with the legendary saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis when he was sixteen before gaining a place on the renowned jazz course at London’s Royal Academy of Music, winning a Yamaha Parliamentary Jazz Scholarship and the Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize – which included a recording contract with Edition Records. His debut album for the label, Beginnings, was released in 2012 to widespread critical acclaim, receiving 4* reviews in the Guardian. Arcoleo is also a founding member of the UK band Native Dancer who released their own first record Live in London earlier this year. K.O.K.O references a mantra from Pee Wee Ellis  – Keep On Keeping On – and it reflects the big instrumental hooks, heavy beats and glitchy vocal samples found on the record – and on Pee Wee Ellis tracks like this take on Make it Funky, live at London’s Hideaway Club in 2017. To find out more and buy the record, just head to the Edition Records site or Bandcamp.

3. Ben Wendell – Wanderers feat. Terence Blanchard from All One

Ben Wendell is a Vancouver native but was raised in Los Angeles. He’s already recorded with jazz artists such as Tigran Hamasyan, Antonio Sanchez and Eric Harland and is a founding member of the Grammy nominated group Kneebody who also record with Edition. His new album for the label is, uniquely, a series of duets in which he plays with a different musician on each of the six tracks. His guests stick to their primary instruments, but Wendel fills in the space around them with multiple saxophone and bassoon parts, electronic effects, and percussion. It’s a really interesting concept and includes Cecile McLorin Salvant on a version of Gershwin’s I Loves You Porgy and Hamasyan’s dark piano voicings on the original tune In Anima. Blanchard’s trumpet is – as usual – processed against Wendell’s minimalist saxophone backing. Also on this eclectic record are guitarist Bill Frisell and flautist Elena Pinderhughes. The concept and arrangements across this new record are always interesting and it’s well worth a look. Check it out again on the Edition Records website or, of course, here via Bandcamp. For a good idea of how Wendell is developing this concept of multiple parts and electronic effects, have a listen to this live solo version of I Loves You Porgy. It’s strangely affecting…

4. Aki Rissanen – Love Song from Hyperreal

Finnish pianist Aki Rissanen has released seven albums as leader, including three excellent trio albums for Edition Records, featuring his long-standing collaborators, bassist Antti Lötjönen and drummer Teppo Mäkynen. He’s perhaps best known for his work with fellow Finn, trumpeter Verneri Pohjola (qv) on Edition and ACT Records, and Hyperreal, his latest release, will certainly consolidate his growing reputation. Rissanen switches between acoustic piano and electronic keyboards and Pohjola’s emotive and poignant trumpet sound is very much to the fore. It reminds us of other similarly ethereal trumpet players, most notably Arve Henriksen. Risannen has explained his thinking about the new album: With the rapid transformation of reality to the A.I. generated virtual reality or hyperreality, we have to be aware and adapt to these things and distinguish between what is real and unreal. Pohjola’s playing here is great. We would have expected it on the more atmospheric tunes but on others he’s clearly capable of a really funky approach too. Rissanen’s approach is as varied as we would expect – hushed tones on Code Indigo and dynamic chords and clusters on Breezy. Overall, Hyperreal is highly imaginative and a recommended listen. Check it out here on Bandcamp.

5. Verneri Pohjola – Wilder Brother from The Dead Don’t Dream

And so on to Pohjola himself. The Dead Don’t Dream is another great new album from a trumpet player who has carved a secure place in Finnish jazz, starting with his tenure in Quintessence – a group we have featured before on Cosmic Jazz. Pohjola has a fine musical heritage – his father Pekka Pohjola was an internationally known bass player, performing with the jazz rock group Wigwam and releasing the album B the Magpie (or Harakka Bialoipokku) in 1975 on the then nascent Virgin record label. It was re-released on the Esoteric label in 2010 and is well worth a listen – check out the final track Life Goes On right here. In May 2020 Verneri Pohjola released his fourth album The Dead Don’t Dream featuring Tuomo Prättälä on piano and electronics, Mika Kallio on drums and gongs and Antti Lötjönen on bass. Pauli Lyytinen guests on soprano and tenor sax on our choice, Wilder Brother. There’s a new record due in November this year – look out for Monkey Mind which will include British pianist Kit Downes on piano along with former Phronesis bassist Jasper Høiby. In the meantime, you’ll find The Dead Don’t Dream here on Bandcamp.

6. Chris Hyson – Golden Boy from Sidekick

Jazz or not? We don’t care – it’s just a great tune. Chris Hyson is another Royal Academy of Music alumnus who has appeared on recent albums by Jordan Rakei and Rosie Frater-Taylor. For Sidekick he’s assembled the core unit of Joe Webb on piano with Alex Haines on guitar and brother Lloyd Haines on drums. Saxophonist Josh Arcoleo guests on the rather beautiful and dreamy Honey Magnet and indeed the whole album is suffused with strong, sunny melodies – like our choice of the opening track Golden Boy. Both this record and Arcoleo’s K.O.K.O appear on Edition Records sub-label E2 and – yes – both are available from Bandcamp.

7. Eyolf Dale – The Wayfarer from The Wayfarers

The Wayfarers is the new trio album from Norwegian pianist and composer Eyolf Dale who is again joined by long-term collaborators Per Zanussi on bass (and saw!) and Audun Kleive on drums. Dale sees this album as a journey: Music helps me to understand and realise what my feelings or emotions are about. It helps me to make choices in life. To be in contact with my own compass he says. The music blends Nordic folk, jazz and some classical influences – and although this sounds like a typical ECM label description there’s enough individuality in harmonies and tones here to make this a really distinctive record. Of course, it’s on Bandcamp – check it out here in all formats including limited edition coloured vinyl.

8. Matthew Halsall – Water Street from An Ever Changing View

Halsall is another artist we’ve championed over the years at CJ. Derek and Neil saw Halsall at a small venue in Suffolk many years ago – a far cry from his recent show in the iconic Royal Albert Hall in London. His new album is an evolution rather than a revolution, but it is one of his best. Neil links it back to his similarly atmospheric Fletcher Moss Park from 2012, but with more of a new age vibe – and in a good way. Halsall has talked about the inspirations for the album in a recent Jazzwise magazine interview, noting that the birdsong heard on the opening track was his connection to the times of the day when you hear birdsong – sunrise, sunset – and I pulled out a couple of field microphones on a balcony, and just started playing. It’s not a composition, more of an improvised collaboration with nature. As the feature notes, Halsall’s Manchester-based Gondwana Records has become something of a northern musical powerhouse, establishing GoGo Penguin (before their move to Blue Note) and now hosting Mammal Hands, Chip Wickham and new recruits like Jasmine Myra. The new album was birthed in isolated rural locations in the UK: I wanted my brain to be clear and fresh… setting a tone and mood for the record says Halsall. Water Street genuinely reflects this with its soundworld of flute, harp, kalimbas and glockenspiel. An Ever Changing View is highly recommended and a great place to start if you’re new to Halsall’s music – just head to Bandcamp to listen and buy.

9. Marquis Hill – Stretch (the Body) feat. Joel Ross from Rituals + Routines

Back to Edition Records and something of a leftfield choice for the label. US trumpeter Marquis Hill has been ploughing a very new age furrow in his recent releases – and Rituals and Routines is no exception. In our view, it’s not his best work and the spoken word messages sometimes just feel intrusive, but the intention is clear: the Bandcamp notes state that The quality of the rituals and routines established in life is directly correlated with one’s meaningful success and the ability to manifest in this 3D realm. We’re not sure here at CJ what that really means but the addition here of vibes player Joel Ross is a very welcome inclusion. As always, it’s on Bandcamp.

10. Ezra Collective – Smile from Where I’m Meant to Be

Wow! They did it – earlier this month, Ezra Collective became the first jazz artists ever to win the prestigious Mercury Prize and richly deserved it is too. We’ve promoted Ezra as fine examples of the new wave of British jazz with its all-inclusive approach to influences from hip hop, drum and bass, broken beat, afrobeat and grime and the resulting album is by far the best thing they’ve ever done. We can’t recommend Where I’m Meant to Be highly enough and, again, it’s available on Bandcamp in all formats. But we can’t end this Cosmic Jazz without reflecting on the acceptance speech that leader and drummer Femi Koleoso gave on the night of the awards. It included these words on how the band met: Most importantly, Ezra Collective represents something really special because we met in a youth club. This moment that we’re celebrating right here is testimony to good, special people putting time and effort into [helping] young people to play music. Right now, this is not just a result for Ezra Collective – this is not just a result for UK jazz – but this is a special moment for every single organisation across the country ploughing their efforts and time into young people playing music. These are sentiments we’re fully behind here at Cosmic Jazz – supporting the opportunity for young people to play and engage with music is a fundamental basic in education.

 More from Cosmic Jazz soon.

Braziliance! – 21/06/23

This week’s Cosmic Jazz is dedicated to the music of Brazil. We’ve long been fans of the diversity of music in this huge South American country. Like Japan, there’s something special about the way it takes a musical genre and twists it into a unique sound. So, acknowledging the recent death of Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto, this time we’re focusing on some of our favourite Brazilian sounds both old and new.

1. Otis Trio – Montag’s Dream from 74 Club

Sāo Paulo’s Otis Trio released their 74 Club album in 2014 – and then seem to have fallen silent. Surprisingly perhaps, their roots lie the European and American free jazz scenes of the 60s and 70s. Some five years in gestation and recorded on vintage analogue equipment for period authenticity, 74 Club is (as the Far Out press release of the time noted) both deftly subtle and furiously intense with the standard trio configuration of guitar, bass and drums augmented with both vibes and a posse of free blowing horn players who together create a sound which reverberates with echoes of Ornette Coleman, Sonny Sharrock and Pharoah Sanders. Whew! Montag’s Dream may start off as more of a straight ahead modal excursion with vibes very much to the fore – but it’s not long before some Pharonic tenor sax kicks in. We like it and we hope you do too.

2. Stan Getz/Joāo Gilberto – The Girl From Ipanema from Getz/Gilberto

Up next was Astrud Gilberto herself from her first recording with her then husband Joāo Gilberto and saxophonist Stan Getz. There are numerous stories around on how this young, inexperienced singer appeared on the record but her appearance inaugurated the whispery, vocal version of that languid, delicate characteristic of the bossa nova – nylon strung guitars creating a reduction/synthesis of samba percussion. Gilberto – who died earlier this month aged 83 –  sang on just two tracks on this 1964 album but this was enough to seal her place in musical history. The Girl from Ipanema might be seen as nothing more than a wine bar cliché but the lyrics remain a powerful evocation of Rio’s most famous district. We played the edited 45 single version of the tune which omits the Brazilian lyrics of Joāo Gilberto but emphasises those carioca qualities of the girl ‘who passes by’.

3. Antonio Carlos Jobim – Wave from Wave

The writer of The Girl from Ipanema, Tom Jobim, is one of Brazil’s greatest composers. The album Wave from 1967 was arranged by Claus Ogerman following his move from Germany to become the house arranger at Verve Records and so co-created hundreds of records including albums by Wes Montgomery, George Benson and Diana Krall. Wave features two of Jobim’s most famous tunes – the title track and the beautiful Triste and is the definition of that Brazilian style in which evocative and sometimes complex lyrics are embedded in an unforgettable melody: the fundamental loneliness goes whenever two can dream a dream together…

4. Baden Powell – Coisa No. 1 from Baden Powell Meets Jimmy Pratt

From the heydays of the bossa wave comes a successful cooperation between Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell and American drummer Jimmy Pratt on the unimaginatively-titled album Baden Powell Swings with Jimmy Pratt. Composer of our choice Coisa No.1, Moacir Santos is heard here on baritone saxophone. You can listen to the original orchestrated version of that Santos tune right here on the album Coisa from 1965. Coisa just means ‘thing’ and each of these ten ‘things’ are mini-masterpieces. It’s a bonafide Cosmic Jazz recommendation. Guitarist Baden Powell was, of course, deeply influenced by jazz but was also a more than proficient classical guitarist whose favourite composers included Bach and Tárrega. For another side to Baden Powell, check out Canto from his excellent MPS album Images on Guitar from 1972.

5. Tamba Trio – Influēncia do Jazz from Tamba Trio

Perhaps the most talented of all the bossa nova group of the 1960s, Tamba Trio pretty much created the bossa-pop sound, fusing bossa nova melodies with close harmony vocals. Their take on Jorge Ben’s Mas Que Nada became the best-known version of that much-covered tune. Influēncia do Jazz comes from their first self-titled album, itself full of excellent tunes including compositions Luíz Eça from the band, Jobim and Joāo Donato. In 1968, Eça reformed the band as Tamba 4 and recorded two albums for Creed Taylor’s CTI label – We and the Sea and Samba Blim. Both are worth looking out for with the former including a great take on their earlier hit Consolaçāo.

6. Sandra (de) Sá – Ohlos Coloridos from Sandra Sá (5)

Neil first heard this record when crate digging in the Brazilian section in a small regional record shop in the UK. Ohlos Coloridos or Colourful Eyes is the standout track from her fifth self titled album (1986). It’s based on an infectious guitar and bass riff and the lyrics refer to Sá’s Cape Verdean ancestry – You laugh at my clothes/You laugh ar my hair/You laugh at my skin/You laugh at my smile/But the truth is: you also/Have creole blood. In Brazil, tri-racial people with African, European and Amerindian heritage are referred to as sarará. Check out this live version from Brazilian television to capture some of this song’s energy.

7. Marcos Valle – Cinzento from Cinzento

Marcos Valle is something of a Cosmic Jazz hero. Neil has been lucky enough to see him live in the UK and has written previously on the Cosmic Jazz blog pages about the personal importance of Valle’s music but this is the title track on Valle’s most recent record. The set was recorded in 2020 for the independent DeckDisc label and there while there are some references back to earlier records, Valle looked to a younger generation of artists as his lyricists. These include Kassin, Moreno Veloso and rapper Emicida, who appears on two tracks on the album including this one.  Cinzento (or Grey) includes poetic lyrics about the recycling not of materials but of time and life itself. In the bridge, Valle sings: In everything I find grace/Even in the midst of disgrace/I understand and laugh at grace/That life is still for free…if everything is a cycle, I recycle and become more beautiful… While Cinzento doesn’t have the dancefloor pace of its predecessor Sempre from 2019, it’s instead a change of pace and a reaffirmation of how Valle (an impossibly youthful 79) remains a composer and performer of rare sophistication.

8. Stan Getz/Joāo Gilberto – Corcovado from Getz/Gilberto

And so we return to the inspiration for this show – the unique voice of Astrud Gilberto. Corcovado was written by Tom Jobim and is an evocation of the mountain outside Rio on which the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer stands looking out over the city. The subtitle of the song is Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars and reference a view of the mountain from the  city: Quiet nights of quiet stars/Quiet chords from my guitar/Floating on the silence that surrounds us/Quiet thoughts and quiet dreams/Quiet walks by quiet streams/And a window that looks out on Corcovado… The English lyrics by Gene Rees conclude in that typically lyrically Brazilian way: I, who was lost and lonely/Believing life was only/A bitter, tragic joke have found with you/The meaning of existence, oh, my love… There are numerous versions of this endlessly malleable song – for something different, try this surprisingly subtle drum and bass take on Corcovado from Everything But the Girl, featuring similarly breathy vocals from Tracey Thorn.

9. Sabrina Malheiros – Clareia from Clareia 

Sabrina Malheiros was born in Rio and is the daughter of Alex Malheiros – bass player with Azymuth and now the only surviving member of the original trio. Title tune Clareia comes from her 2017 album on the UK’s Far Out label. As with much of Malheiros’ music for the label, the tune was written in collaboration with her father and producer Daniel Maunick – son of Bluey Maunick, founder of British jazzfunk legends Incognito. Father Alex plays bass on much of the album and it’s a classy effort that’s well worth exploring. Incidentally, Alex Malheiros continues to record his own material – his most recent album Tempos Futuros emerged in 2021 – here’s the track Prece which returns the favour with Sabrina on vocals.  Finally, there’s a rather good IG Culture remix of Clareia that will get you moving – the 12inch record is still available here on Discogs.

We return to a more jazzy mix for the next show – look out on Twitter and Facebook for news.

Jazz in Scotland, classic Ahmad Jamal and new London sounds – 17/05/2023

This latest Cosmic Jazz channels the incredible diversity of music from the current Scottish jazz scene before revisiting piano legend Ahmad Jamal, checking out an otherworldy performance from Japan and celebrating the Miles Davis classic Bitches Brew album.

  1. Seonaid Aitken Ensemble –  Chasing Sakura: Impermanence from Chasing Sakura

In Japan, springtime cherry blossom (sakura) is widely celebrated as a symbol of rebirth – but is also a reminder of the impermanence of life.  Scottish violinist Seonaid Aitken experienced sakura in Tokyo and – after a serious accident that left her unable to walk – she returned to Scotland and composed the Chasing Sakura Suite using jazz, classical and folk idioms. It’s all performed by a string quintet accompanied by saxophone and flute. Neil is really taken with this music – there’s Steve Reich, 20th century classical quartet and some jazzy flute (from Scotland’s Helena Kay) in the mix and it all works. Available here on Bandcamp, this album is a deep trip into a contemplative world that is definitely more than the sum of its component parts.

2. Christine Tobin  – Callow from Returning Weather

Christine Tobin notes that The songs of Returning Weather are inspired by my return to Ireland after many years living abroad. I hadn’t planned, nor had I any idea that I was coming home. It was as if a great wave rolled over me and swept me along, delivering me from city to sanctuary somewhere between Boyle, Frenchpark and Ballaghaderreen. I immediately fell under the spell of the quiet beauty of this part of Co. Roscommon, the boglands and the lakes, and was struck by the warmth of the people and how welcome they made me feel. These songs chart a journey of return, the strange romance of reconnecting with a cultural background, reshaping a sense of identity and belonging, and speak of how home and dwelling are central to our sense of self. Since coming to this landscape I feel that life is a jigsaw puzzle and I’m finally starting to fit the pieces into place. I’m hovering over the map of it all now and it’s a good feeling. There are many songs of farewell, this is the music of homecoming and return. It’s worth quoting in full because this album has the same emotional depth and resonance as a previous album which took the words of W B Yeats and set them to inspiring music. Sailing to Byzantium is available here on Bandcamp – you can listen to all the songs but do then go out and buy on download or CD!

3. The Circling Sun – Bones from Spirits

Some of New Zealand’s jazz luminaries have assembled to form an all-star cluster: The Circling Sun. Channeling spiritual/modal jazz and Latin rhythms, they simultaneously echo the greats such as Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane, while maintaining a fresh perspective on ensemble dynamics. There’s a bunch of keyboards, skilfully manned by the likes of Guy Harrison and Cory Champion, along with solid horn choruses throughout. Meanwhile, providing vital foundational support are the percussion (Soundway alumnus Julien Dyne), vibraphone, acoustic bass and full choir arranged by Matt Hunter. This feels like a group that have made music over a decade or more rather than one that’s been recently formed. Highly recommended.

4. Louis Stewart – Wave from Out On His Own

It’s thanks to Scottish promoter Rob Adams (@rabjourno on Twitter) that I’ve discovered Irish guitarist Louis Stewart, who’s been under the jazz radar for decades. The reissue of an expanded version of Out On His Own is a welcome opportunity to give him his much deserved dues.  Originally released in 1977, this solo guitar album features a mix of contemporary titles and American songbook jazz standards. At the time of first release, Sunday Times critic Derek Jewell said: Louis is revealed here as a guitar virtuoso already of considerable maturity. A virtuoso in anyone’s language, and … a musician to be spoken of in the same league as Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, or, among contemporary virtuosos, Joe Pass. High praise indeed – but justified. Listen to his take on our choice for this show – the sublime Wave from Antonio Carlos Jobim. If you don’t know the tune, then here’s one of many versions by Jobim from his 1967 CTI album with the same title.

5. Ahmad Jamal – Tangerine from Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1963-1964

So – thanks to Jazz Detective Zev Feldman – we have two double albums of previously unreleased performances by the Ahmad Jamal Trio, recorded live at the Penthouse in Seattle. Have no fear though – both sound quality and performances on both these records (available in all formats) is excellent. If you’re new to Ahmad Jamal then then both albums will give you an insight into the way Jamal has reconstructed the piano trio. The key word here is space – and it’s part of the Jamal trio’s soundworld of piano, bass and drums here. The music is unhurried with lengthy interpretations of both originals and standards – like our choice ofJamal’s take on Tangerine. It clearly demonstrates just how his music works, giving each member of the trio space to contribute and impact the music. Bassist Richard Evans is featured only on the 1963 tracks on which he provides able support – as on the opening track Johnny One Note and a superb delve into Johnny Hodges’s Squatty Roo. For the remainder of the selections from 1964 he is replaced by Jamil Nasser whose superb time and tone serve Jamal well. You can hear this on the brilliant Latin tinged Bogota (ironically written by the departing bassist Evans). On drums throughout is Chuck Lampkin. This is great trio jazz and on vinyl is a quality heavyweight pressing that has a superb accompanying booklet. More than highly recommended!

6. London Brew – Miles Chases New Voodoo in the Church from London Brew

There have been plenty of projects where artists have faithfully covered entire classic albums but the groundbreaking 1970 Miles Davis album Bitches Brew has been good at resisting such treatment – as much because its cut and paste mixing from producer Teo Macero was entirely unique at the time of release.  Add to that the then unorthodox use of effects-laden Fender Rhodes piano(s), Bennie Maupin’s rumbling bass clarinet and the angular howl of John McLaughlin’s guitar. London Brew is inspired by Bitches Brew – but it is no reproduction. Recorded in December 2020 at The Church Studios in London with 12 London based artists who also took on the name London Brew. Benji B, Raven Bush, Theon Cross, Nubya Garcia, Tom Herbert, Shabaka Hutchings, Nikolaj Torp Larsen, Dave Okumu, Nick Ramm, Dan See, Tom Skinner and Martin Terefe are all contributors and the album has been released to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of Bitches Brew. The comments of Shabaka Hutchings are relevant here:  For me, that’s what Bitches Brew is. It’s a bunch of musicians making music because of the love of making music, as a social force and as a social construct. They are creating something that expresses unity and motion. That’s what it is to be alive… you know, you have unity, you have motion, and you have vibration. You don’t get any more alive than that. That’s Bitches Brew. The record is available as a 2LP set, on a 2CD pack or download from – yes – here on Bandcamp or in your local record store. Buy the vinyl and you get some superb artwork and a gatefold sleeve that mirrors the original release.

7. Masahiko Togashi with Don Cherry and Charlie Haden – Oasis from Song of Soil

Label Wewantsounds has just released the 1979 Masahiko Togashi album Song of Soil, recorded in Paris with Don Cherry and Charlie Haden and released originally on the Japanese Paddle Wheel label. Supervised by Parisian producer Martin Meissonnier – then Don Cherry’s right hand man – Song of Soil mixes Eastern influences with jazz and deep ambient soundscapes. The album is reissued here with its original artwork and remastered by King Records in Japan. The package includes a 12 page booklet with new liner notes (in English and French) by Meissonnier in conversation with Jacques Denis, along with an insightful Masahiko Togashi biography by Paul Bowler and photos from cult French photographer Philippe Gras.

8. Henry Franklin – Tribal Dance from Tribal Dance

1977’s Tribal Dance was the third studio album from American jazz double bassist Henry Franklin, a man who worked with some of jazz’s greatest names including Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Rollins and Pharoah Sanders. Having re-released its Black Jazz label predecessors The Skipper and The Skipper At Home, the Real Gone Music label has now reissued this more obviously spiritual jazz-styled album. Featured are saxophonist Charles Owens, trumpeter Jerry Rush, trombonist Al Hall Jr.,  pianist Dwight Dickerson, guitarist Kenneth Climax and Woody ‘Sonship’ Theus on drums and percussion. Theus (who took his moniker from John Coltrane’s Sun Ship album) is perhaps one of the best known of the musicians here. Known for his unique drumkits, Theus had a very open, tribal-like tone which often focused on huge high mounted Chinese cymbals. You can hear him right here on Hey Harold – an extended track from Bobby Hutcherson’s excellent Head On album from 1971. The overall sound on Tribal Dance is more Strata East than Black Jazz – and the writing and playing are strong throughout. Some tracks are very free and dense with superb playing from the whole ensemble – most notably on the final Prime Mover track. In Neil’s view, this is Franklin’s best album and so one you need to hear – and the cover’s pretty dramatic too…

9. Rebecca Vasmant Dance Yourself Free from Dance Yourself Free EP

This tune is the title track from the debut TruThoughts release from Glasgow-based musician, producer, DJ and curator Rebecca Vasmant. It’s a blend of live and electronic music that channels Vasmant’s passion for both jazz and broken beat. She notes: Dance Yourself Free came about when myself and Emilie Boyd (vocalist) were having a music day at my place. We like to sit and listen to music that we love and come up with ideas for lyrics. And that’s just what you get on this track which features Harry Weir on saxophone and Graham Costello on drums – the chatter and laughter celebrate the warmth of friendship and collaboration that radiates throughout this release. Other Glasgow-based musicians feature across the album including vocalist Nadya Albertsson, synth and bass grooves from Dave Koor along with contributions from Norman Willmore on sax, Cameron Thompson-Duncan on trumpet and Danielle Price on tuba.

10. Isis – In Essence from the 12 in single/É Soul Cultura Vol. 2

This superb jazzy house tune newly appears on a second É Soul Cultura compilation from Manchester-based DJ Luke Una on the Mr Bongo label. In May 2022, É Soul Cultura Vol.1 blends new, old, rare and under-discovered music from around the world and Piccadilly Records in Manchester made the album their top compilation of the year, with Rough Trade placing it as their number two. Vol. 1 featured the brilliant Eva from Robson Jorge and Lincoln Olivetti – a tune that Neil had on repeat play for months. This second volume gives another opportunity for Luke to share his eclectic musical journey – there’s conscious, street soul fusion gospel, Swiss psych rock, Indian inspired electronic workouts and more. Then there’s this – the Isis track In Essense, and one that apparently never leaves Luke Una’s record bag. You’re not likely to find a copy of this one (there are none available on Discogs) so this compilation will be your only chance to get your hands on this hypnotic house classic. Howard Mills is on saxophone but the vibes player is uncredited. As Luke Una says: It’s not about showing off, collector rarity, or ego-strutting – it’s all about telling stories, sharing the music, and making life’s journey mean something. In the end, of course, it’s just a compilation of other people’s music, but hopefully it’s more than that, adding something back to the pot. Which is pretty much what we try and do here at Cosmic Jazz. More music soon.

 

 

 

Wayne Shorter – Mr Gone: 29 March 2023

In this show we play tribute to one of the foremost artists in jazz – saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter – who died recently at the age of 89. Much has been written about him elsewhere but for both Neil and Derek, Shorter has been one of the most singular voices in jazz. A practising Buddhist, science fiction devotee and masterful improviser, the death of Wayne Shorter leaves a huge hole in the jazz world. This show is devoted entirely to his music.

While growing up in Newark, Wayne Shorter was given the nickname Mr Gone – an indication of his otherworldy air and subsequently the title of a Weather Report album that seemed to acknowledge his slow departure from the jazz supergroup that he had co-founded with Joe Zawinul in the early 1970s. As the excellent Guardian newspaper obituary from Richard Williams recognised, Shorter’s aura of cool detachment helped him to create a musical microclimate that was unique and immediately identifiable.

Unusually, Shorter had two unique and very different tones on both his principal instruments, the tenor and soprano saxophones. On tenor, the gruff, dark complexities were contrasted with the clean, piping clarity of his soprano. Both were immediately identifiable – and there are examples of each in our tribute show. But more than this, Shorter became recognised by many as the greatest living composer in jazz with a string of tunes that were to become modern jazz standards – perhaps none more so than Footprints. His music is often characterised by quirkily angled melodies that leaves space around the notes together with an improvising structure that emphasises subtlety rather than complexity. In another wonderfully evocative phrase, Richard Williams describes Shorter’s music as like a wraith of pale smoke through a door left ajar, curling gracefully around the musical furniture before evaporating as mysteriously as it had appeared, leaving an indelible afterimage.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Ping Pong from Roots and Herbs

All of this is apparent in the music we have selected for this show and we’ve included an iconic compositions from his early days with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers to his later quartet compositions. We begin with Ping Pong which Shorter wrote for Art Blakey. It’s a typical early Shorter tune – memorable, quirky and very stylish. Neil first heard it on an old New Musical Express jazz sampler cassette from the early 1980s and was immediately drawn to this perfect example of hard bop. Familiar with Shorter’s Weather Report compositions, this was the start of Neil’s journey back through the Shorter Blue Note catalogue. Shorter spent four years with the Jazz Messengers and, by the time he came to record his first solo album for Blue Note, he was beginning to become better known as both a composer and unique voice on the tenor saxophone. His run of eleven albums for the label between 1964 and 1970 is one of the most influential series of individual jazz albums from anyone in the jazz world and all titles are highly recommended.

Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil and Infant Eyes from Speak No Evil

We’ve chosen two tunes – the first is the title track from Speak No Evil, recorded in 1966 and the third of those Blue Note albums. In his excellent tribute show on BBC6 radio, Gilles Peterson referred to it as his favourite jazz record and indeed every tune is a compositional masterpiece. The group Shorter assembled was perfect – Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. There’s a telepathic rapport with Herbie Hancock and, indeed, Richard Cook and Brian Morton in the Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings call this by far, Shorter’s most satisfying record. Second up from those Blue Note years is Infant Eyes from the same album. This is one of Shorter’s most gorgeous tunes and has – again – become something of a contemporary jazz standard. There’s a lovely vocal version by Doug and Jean Carn(e) from those excellent Black Jazz reissues on the Real Gone label.

Wayne Shorter – 12th Century Carol from Alegria

Next is Shorter at his most lyrical – and this one is a soprano sax feature. The album Alegria was released in 2003 and features the quartet that was to form Shorter’s working group for almost the next twenty years. Shorter is on tenor and soprano saxes, Danilo Perez is on piano, and with John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums this incredibly accomplished quartet released some of the best music of Shorter’s long career. Derek’s choice from this album is as enigmatic as Wayne Shorter himself – a setting of an anonymous 12 century carol that is just beautiful.

Weather Report – Three Clowns from Black Market

We follow this with a first dive into the music of Weather Report, a group Neil was fortunate enough to see twice in two of their very different incarnations. Three Clowns (a typically cryptic Shorter title) comes from 1976’s Black Market, one of the group’s most satisfying records. This tune is rather dismissed by Cook and Morton but it’s actually an atmospheric vehicle for one of Shorter’s excursions with the Lyricon, an electronic wind instrument which had only been developed a few years previously and which allowed him to match the increasingly intriguing sounds being created by Joe Zawinul on his armoury of electronic keyboards. As almost always with Weather Report, the outcome is not bombastic and driven by a desire to impress but rather, the music is subtle, emotive and – above all – creative.

Weather Report – Plaza Real from Procession

The next tune is one that Shorter has revisited a number of times, including with his later quartet. Neil saw the group perform Plaza Real in a shockingly different version on Shorter’s live tour of 2003 but it actually first appeared on the Weather Report album Procession from 1983. Here Shorter is again on soprano saxophone and using that clear, piping lyrical tone that is so immediately distinctive. The whistling (probably by Joe Zawinul) and concertina (from percussionist José Rossy) is a neat touch. This band were all about subtlety. Unfortunately, the later years of Weather Report are characterised by the marginalisation of Shorter’s nuanced approach to composition and improvisation and if you’re a beginner with the group, the early records are the ones to go for.

Wayne Shorter with Milton Nascimento – Lilia from Native Dancer

In the mid-1970s, Shorter began to extend the Brazilian influence that had been apparent on his later Blue Note records and recorded essentially a duet album with singer Milton Nascimento. Gilles Peterson remembers borrowing Native Dancer from his local library and being enchanted by the combination – and Neil recalls very clearly buying the record on release in 1975 from the late lamented Sunshine Records in Oxford. Airto Moreira is on percussion on our choice Lilia and elsewhere on the album Shorter’s Blue Note pal Herbie Hancock is featured. Nascimento’s wordless vocals are featured along with some very fine concluding soprano from Shorter and with a fabulous groove and organ swirls from Wagner Tiso this is a magical tune.

Wayne Shorter Quartet –Joy Ryder from Beyond the Sound Barrier

As we bring this all too short tribute show to an end, we come to another tune that Shorter revisited with his late quartet – the composition Joy Ryder. This take is again very different from the tune’s first incarnation, on Shorter’s 1988 album with the same title. For comparison, check out that earlier version here with, incidentally, the late and great Geri Allen on piano and keys. Neil’s view is that these later Columbia records are really due for a re-evaluation: much dismissed at the time, they now come across as not just typical of the musical zeitgeist of the time (overdriven electronic drums, for example) but actually powerful musical statements by a master composer negotiating a new sound language. Bringing the tune forward to 2005 and Shorter’s version on the live quartet album Beyond the Sound Barrier. This is such a good record and shows Shorter at the height of his later powers, revisiting some of his best compositions. Will Layman of the online review blog Pop Matters, says Beyond the Sound Barrier does more than reinforce the marvel of Wayne Shorter’s return to brilliant, challenging acoustic jazz. This collection of concert recordings makes the argument that Wayne’s long hiatus served an important artistic purpose, On Sound Barrier, Wayne’s quartet plays in a fully interactive style that eschews individual “solos” almost completely. There is not a single track that follows the usual jazz format of melody-solos-melody. Every one of these performances is a thematic exploration resembling a conversation between four equal partners—but a musical conversation of such exquisite cohesion and explosive discovery that each track seems an impossibility of grace. It’s worth giving this quote in full because it really does encapsulate what Shorter was doing with this quartet and which Neil heard in that Barbican, London concert in 2011. Definitely go for this superb record and the next one which signalled Shorter’s return to the Blue Note label after 43 years. Appropriately called Without a Net, this is another very fine album. There’s another take on Plaza Real and an extended cover of Flying Down to Rio, the title song from a 1933 musical!

The Manhattan Project – Nefertiti from The Manhattan Project

We end the show with another return to a classic Shorter composition, Nefertiti. Originally, recorded by the Miles Davis Quintet of which Shorter was a key member in 1968, the composition is noted for its inversion of what usually happens in jazz. Here the horn section repeats the melody numerous times without individual solos while the rhythm section (Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums) improvises underneath, reversing their traditional role. You can hear that magisterial original take with Miles right here. Our version comes from an intriguing jazz supergroup project that involved Wayne Shorter, pianist Michel Petrucciani, keyboardist and synth player Gil Goldstein, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White. Called the Manhattan Project, they released just one album under this name in 1990 – and there’s a DVD of a live performance too.

And so that’s a dip into the extraordinary body of work created by Wayne Shorter. We’ve not had time to reflect on his last album – a 3 CD set titled Emanon which featured music for a chamber orchestra and live recordings from London in 2013. But that wasn’t all: the discs came with a lavishly produced graphic novel which reflected that lifelong interest in science fiction and satisfyingly brought Shorter’s career to a remarkable conclusion. We’ll always come back to this amazing music in future Cosmic Jazz shows, but for now this is where we end.

Cosmic Jazz at The Analog Vault: 23 February 2023

Neil from Cosmic Jazz is now back in the UK but he had time before he left the Little Red Dot to record a final set for The Analog Vault – surely one of the best and most eclectic record stores on the island. The seven years in Singapore has been an awesome experience and Neil is very sad to leave all his local friends – including Leon, Hannah and The Analog Vault collective. It’s also time to pay tribute to the other vinyl emporia who have provided so much crate digging pleasure over the years: notably Cliff and Celia at Retrocrates/The Jazz Loft whose jazz reissue choice is absolutely the best, André at Choice Cuts who are the business when it comes to hip hop new and old school, Hear Records who have such a great selection upstairs – and too many others to mention. Singapore is a real haven for crate diggers – long may it continue. So here’s those last ten choices – enjoy.

  1. Ezra Collective – No Confusion (feat. Kojey Radical) from Where I’m Meant to Be (2022)

First up is one of Neil’s favourite releases of the last year – the excellent full length album from Ezra Collective – part of the huge UK jazz scene that’s really flourishing at the moment. Ezra include some outstanding soloists and on this album they’ve got some special guests too. Let’s name check one of the best key players on the scene – Joe Armon-Jones – and give a shout out to the great Kojey Radical on vocals on this track. Elsewhere you’ll hear Sampa the Great and Emilie Sandé on vocals and a blissful mix of dubwise sounds, Afrobeat, R n B and more. The album includes a funky take on that evergreen classic Smile (written by Charlie Chaplin – yes, indeed!) and a great reading of Sun Ra’s Love in Outer Space to close the record. The record really does all hold together and on orange vinyl makes for a treat on the decks. I can’t recommend this album highly enough. I have it on all formats – but vinyl is the one to get.

2. Vibration Black Finger – Blackism from Blackism (2017)

It’s another UK band up next but – oh – so different. Vibration Black Finger aren’t well known, and this second album from them pretty much disappeared when released some five years ago – but it’s well worth a listen. Andy Smart is on treated trumpet as he awakens the ghost of Miles Davis from the revolutionary On the Corner album. The album’s eclectic mood is held together by Lascelle Lascelles’ drumming – part Can and part James Brown – but there’s lots of other stuff in the mix too. Lascelles (real name, Lascelle Gordon) was a founder of the Acid Jazz Pioneers The Brand New Heavies – but this is a whole new order of heaviness. If you like this you’d probably enjoy Sextant – a fabulous and under-rated album by the British band A Certain Ratio (or ACR). It’s just been reissued – and for a taste of the music here’s the excellent Knife Slits Water. You can’t have my original album (a mint copy will set you back over $170 on Discogs!) but you can get Blackism from those excellent guys at Bandcamp. Neil snapped it up at Joo Chiat’s Choice Cuts.

3. Herbie Hancock – Sleeping Giant from Crossings (1972)

Neil’s played Herbie Hancock in an earlier set but there’s no excuses for playing him again. The reissued album on the Speakers Corner label in a lovely gatefold jacket is something of a revelation – the sound on vinyl is way better than on my original copy (and that doesn’t always happen). The remastering is all analogue and it shows. Herbie Hancock had grown up under Miles Davis’s wing but his music here is as abstract as the late quintet but with what we would now call electronica thrown in. Dr Patrick Gleeson was the synthesizer wizard helping Hancock to achieve those other-worldly sounds but on Sleeping Giant it’s the battery of percussion that is the most memorable. This is a 20 minute + track and we played just the first seven minutes – but what a sound!

4. Nujabes – Luv (sic) Pt. 3 from Modal Soul (2005)

Jun Seba (瀬葉), who tragically died in a car accident in 2010, was a Japanese record producer, engineer, DJ and remixer who went by the name Nujabes (his name reversed) and released just two albums in his life time. Mostly instrumental – his music sampled hip hop, soul and jazz cresting a kind of triphop vibe but with breakbeat and downtempo elements too. Every single track on Modal Soul is brilliant. This is music you just want to listen to over again – and its earworm value is very high. There’s a similar tragic story behind the work of the Serbian producer Mitar Subotić who went by the name of Suba and who worked with many Brazilian artists. He tragically died in a fire in his studio but not before completing his wonderful São Paulo Confessions album – try Um Dia Comum (A Normal Day). There are clear links in the production style here.

5. Robson Jorge and Lincoln Olivetti– Eva from Robson Jorge and Lincoln Olivetti (1972)

This is the sunniest music you will hear all year – guaranteed! Neil first came across this great track on a wonderful new compilation from Mr Bongo Records and then tracked down the original album at Retrocrates here in Joo Chiat Road. Compiled by DJ Luke Una this is a great collection – and it wisely kicks off with this cut from Jorge and Olivetti’s self-titled album from 1972. Neil ended up playing it over and again and when he found the re-released album at Retrocrates it was an automatic purchase. Every track is infectious with hooks, synths and great trombone solos. Both Jorge and Olivetti were highly regarded music producers who worked with the best Brazilian musicians – Marcos Valle, Sandra Sa, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and many more. The music is full of those 1980s tropes – synths, drum machines, handclaps and more and some might say its too AOR. Actually, this is music of the highest order – impossible to recommend highly enough. Brazilliance for sure! The album is available here on Bandcamp.

6. STR4TA – Kinshasa FC from Aspects (2021)

STR4TA is the result of a joint collaboration between DJ and uber-influencer Gilles Peterson and Bluey Maunick, leader of the band Incognito (who’ve played twice at the Singapore Jazz Festival) and several other Britfunk groups including Light of the World and Freez. The music is straight out of the early 1980s – acid jazz at its best. Cheesy listening or easy listening? Either way, this is just a delight. And – if you like this – then check out their most recent 2023 release which includes Lazy Days, featuring Emma-Jean Thackray on trumpet and vocals. Like the previous choice, this is sunny summer music but this time with a British twist – the lyrics include the phrases “cotton sheets” and “pots of tea”!

7. Barney Wilen – Zombiezar from Moshi (1972)

In 1970 French saxophonist Barney Wilen got together a team of filmmakers, technicians and musicians to travel to Africa so they could record the music of native tribes. The result emerged two years later – a dark mix of sound effects, background chatter, African rhythms and avantgarde jazz. Zombiezar is absolutely the funkiest track on the album which you can get on Bandcamp  in a fantastic 2LP set along with a CD of the film made about this amazing expedition. Cut with French and African players including guitarist Pierre Chaze, pianist Michel Graillier and percussionist Didier Leon, this is music with few precedents or followers, covering a range from extraterrestrial dissonance to earthbound, streetlegal funk. Wilen pays little heed to conventional structure, assembling tracks like Afrika Freak Out and Zombizar from the bricolage of street sounds, local music and his studio band. At the time of writing, The Analog Vault had a copy of the original release too – check it out if you’re there!

8. Sun Ra Arkestra – Love on a Faraway Planet from Hours After (1989)

Neil had been wanting to play Sun Ra at The Analog Vault for ages and he was pleased to track down this two record set of music recorded back to back in 1986 in Milan, Italy with a version of the Arkestra including Marshall Allen and John Gilmore on tenor saxes. At age 98 Allen still leads the Arkestra on worldwide tours, making him the oldest living jazz musician still playing and touring. So what can we say about Sun Ra? Well, first up, he claimed that he is literally not of this earth but was born on the planet Saturn and was sent to earth to promote world peace. His music ranges from wild keyboard solos to works for big bands of over 30 musicians. Also in the mix are electronic sounds, chants and spoken word pieces. Neil was lucky enough to see Sun Ra perform in London around the time this record was created – and what an experience! The full band on stage, female vocalists and a huge array of percussionists with Ra controlling everything with sweeps of his free hand while the other one stabs at his keyboards. The music was wild and unruly – free jazz at its best. Here in the UK, Neil has dozens of Sun Ra albums – and he recorded 100s of them, often privately. For an introduction to Ra you can’t get better than Lanquidity from 1978 and the track Where Pathways Meet. Then start exploring…

9. Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – Exodus from King Scratch (2022)

We’re now into a completely different genre of music but one that’s familiar – reggae. Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry was without doubt the most influential producer on the island of Jamaica and this is his early take on Bob Marley’s Exodus. It’s typical of his work – lots of studio effects, found sound elements and tape manipulation that create a looser (and better) sound that on the more processed Marley version. Perry was one of the first Jamaican producers to create alternative dub versions of songs and even whole albums. For an introduction to music on vinyl from his complete career, this new King Scratch compilation is a great place to start. Then check out classic albums like Super Ape (1976) and the wonderful Arkology 3CD box set from 1997 that’s still available on Discogs.

10. Etienne de Crécy – Le Patron est Devenu Fou from Super Discount (1996)

We ended the show with something that’s clearly not jazz – but that’s what we like to do! In French the tune’s title means ‘The boss (shop owner) has gone mad’ – referring to the Super Discount of the title. The tracks on this compilation are credited to different French musicians but there’re all produced by Etienne de Crécy who themed the record Super Discount using one of his own DJ names. The music is essentially a French twist on American house music and became known as ‘The French Touch’ and was really popular in the late 1980-90s. Daft Punk, Air, Cassius and others all came out of this scene. De Crécy released Super Discount in 1998 and it’s a great kind of summary of this influential style: samples, repeated hooks and filter and phaser effects all set in a consistent ‘four on the floor’ beat perfect for the clubs of the times. It still sounds great today!

For more updates on what’s happening at TAV don’t forget to check out both their Instagram account and excellent blog. We’ll be sharing regular links on Cosmic Jazz with our friends in Singapore – watch this space for more!

08 October 2022: Pharoah Sanders – journey towards the light

We have another Cosmic Jazz special for you here as we celebrate the remarkable life and extraordinary music of Pharoah Sanders whose death earlier this month signals the end of a musical era that began with saxophonist John Coltrane. In the last years of his life, before his death from liver cancer at the age of just 41, Coltrane took the much younger Sanders under his wing including him in his post-Quartet groups – more of which later.

Following his tenure with Coltrane, Sanders went on to become the true father of ‘spiritual jazz’ – a loose term that encompasses much but which centres on modal structures, Afro-Asian timbres and an ambience that seeks to create a transcendental state for both musicians and listeners. At his death, Sanders was the inspiration for so many younger artists – including the UK’s Matthew Halsall, New Zealand’s Lucien Johnson and, of course, Kamasi Washington from the USA. His final performance was at Gilles Peterson’s We Out There festival in the UK – perhaps a fitting end to a 50 year career as he performed with his UK group in front of fans young and old. Sanders was born Farrell Sanders in Little Rock, Arkansas before moving to Oakland, California and then to New York. Here he practised long and hard before being spotted by Coltrane who encouraged the young saxophonist to find his own unique sound – and what a magisterial sound it was! Immediately recognisable with a distinct use of harmonics, overtones and shrieking high notes this was a sound that explored the limits of the tenor saxophone’s register. But Sanders could be lyrical and tender too – in his later years covering American songbook standards favoured by his mentor, John Coltrane.

Pharoah Sanders recorded prolifically for the Impulse! label between the late 1960s and mid-70s with albums including ones we’re featuring on this show – Tauhid, Thembi, Jewels Of Thought, Wisdom Through Music, Black Unity and Elevation. From the late 1970s onwards his music changed direction somewhat and he found a new audience with 1979’s Journey to the One on the Theresa label.  This included the anthemic You’ve Got to Have Freedom with the great John Hicks on piano. Sanders collaborated with many other musicians over his long career, creating unlikely but memorable partnerships including with the post-punk UK group 23 Skidoo, Moroccan Gnawa musician Maleem Mahmoud Ghania and Kahil El Zabar’s Ritual Trio. Most recently, last year he worked with Sam Shepard under his producer guise of Floating Points, along with none less that the London Symphony Orchestra in a moving testament to a lifelong career of exploratory music making. As Kevin Le Gendre noted in his excellent Jazzwise obituary, he was channeling spirits that are set to live on in hearts and minds for years to come. His loss is keenly felt. His legacy is eternal.

1. Pharaoh Sanders – Greetings to Idris from Journey to the One

Our tribute begins with Greetings to Idris from that wonderful Journey to the One album. Idris is, of course, drummer Idris Muhammad who went on to release his own eclectic funk-driven albums. On the reflective Kazuko (Peace Child) he incorporates the Japanese koto, just as McCoy Tyner did on his superb Sahara album. Journey to the One also features Coltrane’s After The Rain in a straight reading much like Coltrane’s original. Sanders deploys a much larger group on this album including pianist John Hicks, flugelhorn player Eddie Henderson, bassist Ray Drummond and Idris Muhammad. Greetings To Idris is one of the many highlights of this record, released as a double LP in 1980, with excellent solos from Sanders and Hicks and the album also contains You’ve Got to Have Freedom – long associated with the UK jazz dance scene – with which we end this tribute set. It’s one of many memorable compositions on a faultless record that belongs in anyone’s collection.

2. Pharaoh Sanders  – Morning Prayer from Thembi

Greetings to Idris is appropriately followed by Morning Prayer from 1971’s Thembi,  the fourth of those Impulse! albums and featuring Lonnie Liston Smith on keyboards, Michael White on violin and Roy Haynes on drums. Recorded with two different ensembles, Thembi was a departure from the slowly developing, side-long, mantra-like grooves Pharoah Sanders had been pursuing on his earlier Impulse! albums. The tunes are much more concise but also more diverse too – lots of percussion, a bass solo from Cecil McBee (on the track simply called Love) and Bailophone Dance which both mixes everything together in a percussive blender and often sounds more like Don Cherry than Pharoah Sanders. Morning Prayer is a percussion-driven tune win which Sanders gives a noticeable amount of space to his fellow travellers – it’s a wonderful choice from Derek. Of particular interest on this album is the opening track Astral Travelling, composed by Lonnie Liston Smith, and the first time he’d ever played electric piano. Sanders’ tone here on soprano is just gorgeous.

3. Pharaoh Sanders – Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt from Tauhid

The first of Neil’s choices and a tune which features Sanders’ distinctive screeching over Sonny Sharrock’s hypnotic guitar line and Henry Grimes’ magical bassline. We featured just the second half of this side-long piece. The tune has been sampled and used in a number of different contexts: the bass line in Herbie Hancock’s Rockit uses the vocal melody from Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, various elements of the track were also used by J Dilla in his fragment Upper Gogypt, Lower Gogypt and Ras G and the African Space Program sampled the tune on the track Sunrise. Strangely, Impulse! haven’t had a vinyl reissue programme for these wonderful albums but if you can find an original copy of this 1967 release or one of the better Japanese reissues the recording is excellent.

4. Pharaoh Sanders – High Life from Wisdom Through Music

Wisdom Through Music is one the lesser known Impulse! releases but it features some fine music, including High Life – something of an outlier in the Sanders canon. As the title suggests, High Life is a tribute to the music style of West Africa and Sanders really does emulate the high life style with an stellar band including Joe Bonner on piano, Cecil McBee and several percussionists, including Miles Davis alumni Mtume and Badal Roy.  This record and Village of the Pharoahs were reissued by Impulse! on a single CD in 2011 and this ‘two for one’ set is worth looking out for. Village of the Pharoahs is probably the stronger album of the two, but both records (released originally in 1973) have their great moments.

5. Pharaoh Sanders –  Jitu from Shukuru

Next up is from one of the best of the Theresa label albums, Shukuru from 1985. We could probably do without the synth choir but Jitu is a sparking tune. Support comes from William Henderson on keys (including the rather dated sounding Kursweil 520), Ray Drummond on bass and Idris Muhammad again on drums – and vocalist Leon Thomas on two tunes. There are a couple of standards from the American songbook here – something Sanders would increasingly include in his later albums. So first up is Sanders’ take on Body and Soul (recorded by Coltrane too) which has a spacious, lush and more conventional sound as does the second Coltrane-influenced tune – Too Young to Go Steady, which appeared on Coltrane’s beautiful Ballads album and includes a lovely solo from Henderson on acoustic piano. Shukuru was re-released on vinyl in 2022 on Pure Pleasure Records and is well worth looking out for.

6. Pharaoh Sanders – Peace in Essaouira  from The Trance of Seven Colors

The later, more lyrical Sanders is also featured on a more unusual album – a collaboration with Gnawa master guimbri player Maleem Mahmoud Ghania. Peace in Essaouira begins with an extensive Sanders solo – and it’s a good one. Ghania is heard on lead vocals, tbel (tambourine), and Guimbri, a bass-like, hollow-bodied instrument roughly three feet in length. The body, which can be struck by the musician as the strings are plucked, is covered with camel skin, while the strings are made from goat intestines. The title of the album refers to the fact that in Gnawa trance ceremonies (which can last eight or more hours over one night) the Maleem, or master musician, guides the group through a cycle of invocation of seven spirit states, each of which is characterised by a different colour, rhythm, melody and type of incense. Originally released in 1994 on bassist/ producer Bill Laswell’s Axiom imprint, The Trance Of Seven Colors is a wonderful record – and easy to get hold of now that it’s a recent reissue on vinyl – you can track it down here on Bandcamp.

7. Sleepwalker feat Pharaoh Sanders – The Voyage from The Voyage

It was to be expected that Sanders had something of a cult following in Japan, beginning in 1966 when Coltrane took on his first and only tour of the country leading to the Live in Japan recording from 1973. This included less than half of the two concerts which were only released in their entirety in a 4CD set in 1991. Sanders’ playing here is definitely at the more extreme end of his repertoire! More typical of Sander’s later output is this collaboration with Japanese jazzers Sleep Walker on their album The Voyage from 2006. Led by keyboard player Hajime Yoshizawa, Masato Nakamura on saxes, Tomokazu Sugimoto on bass and Nobuaki Fujii on drums. Sanders appears only on the final title track and is superb – but the album is worth getting hold of for the other tracks too (a couple of which feature vocals from Bémbé Ségué and Yukimi Nagano). There are copies available on Discogs – have a look here and see what you can find.

8. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme from A Love Supreme Live in Seattle

We went back to Pharoah Sanders with John Coltrane for the next choice – from the recently unearthed live version of A Love Supreme, recorded in Seattle at the Penthouse Club in 1965. The music on this unique take on A Love Supreme is pretty extraordinary. The recording places Elvin Jones’ drums front and centre but the additions to Coltrane’s regular quartet (Coltrane, Jones, McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison) of Pharoah Sanders on tenor, alto saxophonist Carlos Ward and a second bassist, Donald ‘Raphael’ Garrett, changes both the sound and the feel of the music. The spiritual fire of A Love Supreme is now added to with the more chaotic, ‘out there’ approach brought largely to the group by Sanders. It’s magnificently executed and – as a record of where Coltrane was heading in his later years – well worth getting hold of.

9. Pharaoh Sanders – The Creator has a Master Plan from Live in Paris (1975)

Next up in this Pharoah Sanders special is a live take on The Creator Has a Master Plan from a 1975 concert in Paris from an album also still available on Bandcamp. The band includes Calvin Hill on bass with Danny Mixon on piano and organ and Gregg Bandy on drums. A better recording than the previous track, this features some excellent playing from Sanders and some crazy chords from Mixon on the Radio France Auditorium theatre organ. It’s a recognition that seeing Sanders perform live was always a remarkable experience. One of the Youtube videos we have featured before on the show is the remarkable footage of him playing in an abandoned subway in Los Angeles – and it’s time to show it again. The tune is a version of Kazuko (Peace Child) from Journey to the One and Sanders is accompanied by Paul Arslanian on the harmonium at the other end of the tunnel. Check it out right here – it’s simply beautiful.

10. Pharaoh Sanders – You’ve Got to have Freedom from Journey to the One

We end the show with a perennial favourite – from Journey to the One comes the majestic You’ve Got to Have Freedom. It’s as good a place as any to end this celebration of the life and music of one of the most remarkable musicians of our age. With the same personnel as Greetings to Idris which began our show – that’s John Hicks on piano, Ray Drummond on bass and Idris Muhammad on drums together with (on this track only) Eddie Henderson on flugelhorn – this is a celebrated jazz dance classic and a tune we never tire of. We reckon it’s impossible not to feel better after listening to this glorious music which is why – as with Miles, ‘trane and a few others – Pharoah Sanders is a jazz musician we return to over and again at Cosmic Jazz as we all journey towards the light. More great music coming soon.