All posts by Neil

Week ending 23 May 2020: Pitchfork, PopMatters and Lee

More from the online treasure trove of jazz music, films and writing this week on Cosmic Jazz. It’s not all TikToks and Tweets out there – there’s a wealth of great writing to start with. Pitchfork and PopMatters are two go-to sites for in-depth reviews – take this recent post from Pitchfork, for example. It’s a beautifully written piece by Andy Beta on one of my favourite records in any genre – Clube da Esquina by Lo Borges and Milton Nascimento. That iconic album cover says it all – two young Brazilian playmates (whom most people might assume are Borges and Nascimento when young) who turn out to be boys captured in an ‘image a la sauvette’ moment by Carlos da Silva Assunção Filho (better known as Cafi), a local photographer. The Pitchfork feature has some lovely stuff about the back story behind this image as well as a focus on the extraordinary lyricism of the record. Thanks to hauntingly beautiful arrangements by Eumir Deodato, the tracks are themselves burnished snapshots of moments in the lives of two central figures in Brazilian music. My favourite song from the many on this double album? Without doubt, it’s the extraordinary wordless Clube da Esquina No. 2 – listen and be moved. Trust me – you’ll come back to this song again and again.

Just 19 at the time of recording Clube da Esquina, Lo Borges was supported by his mother – affectionately known as Dona Maricota – who founded the corner cafe in Belo Horizonte where teenagers would meet to test out their new songs. Nascimento would go on to become one of the most famous of Brazil’s singer songwriters, performing with a host of the world’s best jazz artists including Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Jack deJohnette and Wayne Shorter, whose 1974 album Native Dancer was a collaboration between the two. Here’s Miracle of the Fishes, composed by Nascimento and Fernando Brant, one of the Clube da Esquina songwriters and featuring a spirited tenor solo from Shorter.

Original Clube da Esquina members – including Milton Nascimento, Lô Borges, Wagner Tiso, Fernando Brant and Toninho Horta.

PopMatters‘ name may suggest that it has nothing to offer jazz lovers – but far from it. This recent piece on Joseph Bowie and his band Defunkt by Imran Khan includes an interview which has more interesting revelations about Bowie’s musical sources and his current situation. If his surname has a jazz familiarity it’s because his elder brother was Lester Bowie from the Art Ensemble of Chicago – but Joseph pursued a different path, emerging as part of the New York punk/’no wave‘ movement in the late 1970s. The result was two albums – the self-titled Defunkt from 1980 and the explosive Thermonuclear Sweat which appeared two years later. Both albums are worth searching out – look for the Rykodisc set which includes both along with some additional tracks. Standouts include Illusion and their take on the O’Jays’ For the Love of Money, both from Thermonuclear Sweat (the better release). Bowie had also played with John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards around this time, and those who remember the NME’s cassette tapes from the 1980s might recall a Lounge Lizards track (Stomping at the Corona) on the Dancing Master compilation.

It was at this point that I moved on and lost track of Defunkt and Bowie – his elder brother’s music holding a more powerful appeal. Indeed, Lester Bowie’s The Great Pretender album for ECM in 1981 included Rios Negroes – the subject of a Cosmic Jazz feature from back in the day. Whether with the Art Ensemble or his Brass Fantasy project, Lester Bowie was responsible for some of the most innovative jazz recordings in the history of this art form. He referenced the history of both jazz and popular music – listen to this take on Night Life – more usually associated with Elvis Presley – from the excellent live album The Fire This Time (1992).

So what’s Joseph Bowie up to now? The PopMatters feature and interview revealed an interesting more recent project that I’d missed – Defunkt’s One World album from 1995 which featured a version of the Art Ensemble’s People in Sorrow, written by Joseph Bowie and with vocals by Kellie Sae. Recorded in the Netherlands where Bowie now lives, this is much more of a soul record (unfortunately with a slew of unconvincing lyrics) but the band is tight and it’s good to know that after decades of drug addiction and turbulence Bowie is still making music. For the full 40 minute threnody of the AEC’s People in Sorrow, listen right here.

We also have a run of jazz filmographies to check out at the moment: portraits- as dramatisations or documentaries of trumpeters Lee Morgan, Miles Davis and Chet Baker along with a new bio of the mysterious founder of jazz, cornetist Buddy Bolden. We have written of the excellent Birth of the Cool previously on CJ and you can now download it from BBC’s iPlayer. You should – there are memorable interviews – particularly with Frances Taylor Davis – and the story of Miles Davis remains compelling. Netflix delivers I Called Him Morgan and, while it isn’t as glossy as Birth of the Cool, it has its moments too. The story is rather less well known: trumpeter Lee Morgan was just 33 when he was shot and killed by his wife Helen Morgan while playing at Slug’s Saloon in New York in 1972. Initially, Morgan modelled himself on another trumpeter who met an early death, Clifford Brown. Both supremely talented on trumpet, Morgan went on to have the longer career, recording prolifically for Blue Note in the 1960-70s and netting the label a genuine chart hit with The Sidewinder from 1963. But there was much more to Morgan than this and, at the time of his death, the music was moving in new directions. In fact, his next release – 1966’s Search for The New Land – is a taste of where his music was heading. It was actually recorded before The Sidewinder but perhaps was shelved until Blue Note and/or his audience could catch up with him. Highlight is the 15 minute title track which features over both and closing of the film. Wayne Shorter is interviewed for I Called Him Morgan and says of this music: He was actually digging back into his roots in history – and what could be achieved with freedom. This is a favourite Lee Morgan album for many jazz fans – including myself. The sextet lineup is perfect with Wayne Shorter on tenor, Grant Green on guitar, Herbie Hancock on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. All tracks are standouts but Mr Kenyatta (a tribute to the now rather forgotten alto player Robin Kenyatta) is another classic.

Morgan went to release another sixteen albums in the nine years before his death and everyone is worth investigating. Of the lesser known releases, The Rajah is a personal favourite along with his intriguing final album, The Last Session and the wonderful In What Direction Are You Heading? My original double disc vinyl pressing is now rare but the CD can be tracked down for a reasonable price.

More lock down virtual crate digging revelations next week… In the meantime, this is some of the music Neil has been listening to over the last week:

Neil is listening to…

Week ending 16 May 2020: jazz vloggers and YouTubers

Another week, another Cosmic Jazz. For those of us who like some jazz in our lives, these seem like particularly rich times. Of course, there is no real substitute for live music, but if you’re confined to home then this seems like the ideal time to explore the numerous jazz blogs, websites and Youtube videos out there. So – not really a virtual show this week but instead music inspired by my internet exploration of two of these vlogs.

We’re trawling that deep space online where you never know what you’ll find. Let’s begin with a virtual record store and review site – The ‘In’ Groove is a record store in Phoenix, Arizona that also supplies online, with owner Mike Esposito also taking time out to do video reviews – like this one about his favourite jazz records. Mike is a hifi retailer too and so his focus is on records that sound good – I like the anecdote of the listener who thought that Take Five sounded “too good.” Of course, all of Mike’s choices are of the audiophile variety but there’s some music here that all jazz fans should have. One interesting choice is from saxophonist Nathan Davis on the French Sam label – here’s a promo video for the 3LP live recording. Davis was one of those African-American jazz artists who found himself more accepted and respected in the postwar jazz scene in Paris. Woody Shaw and Kenny Clarke were also part of this set, and you can hear them with Davis on this lovely version of Sconsolato that didn’t make it onto Davis’ 1965 record Peace Treaty, an excellent album and now about to be reissued on the Sam label with that bonus track.

Mike also includes a Three Blind Mice record – a rare label to find in the UK but one revered here in Singapore. It hails from Japan and majors on incredible recording quality – one of my go-to stores here, The Analog Vault, has the Impex re-release box set available for SGD$330 – but it is a 6 record set… For a taste of audiophile nirvana, strap on your best headphones and listen to Aqua Marine from the Isao Suzuki Quartet. Also included in this Best of… list is (predictably) Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959) and Thelonious Monk’s 1963 album Monk’s Dream. You can find both regular and audiophile titles at The Analog Vault and my favourite store here in Singapore, The Jazz Loft.

Ken Micallef reviews jazz records for Downbeat and Jazz Times magazines and also writes for Stereophile magazine. But perhaps he’s best known for his quirky, opinionated Youtube channel posts. His love of jazz is deep and knowledgable and the vlogs from his New York apartment are a great listen. Here he is extolling the virtues of some ‘jazz through the cracks‘ – records that are not well known but well worth a listen. There’s so many records here that are worth looking out for if you’re able to go crate digging. How about this lovely version of Chick Corea’s Litha on the first record Micallef mentions – Stan Getz’s Sweet Rain from 1967… Getz is with Corea on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Grady Tate on drums – what’s not to like? Micallef also features new jazz artists, in this instance flautist Nicole Mitchell. Her Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds album from 2017 is new jazz to explore. Recorded live at the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Chicago in 2015, there’s an Art Ensemble of Chicago feel to the complex instrumentation, dominant percussion and attendant freedoms given to the players. Check out the opening track Egoes War for a taste of this brilliant, if challenging, record. Easier listening comes from another Micallef recommendation – pianist Tommy Flanagan’s Overseas album, recorded in Stockholm in 1957 and reissued thirty years later (with extra tracks) in 1987 on the Japanese DIW label. Flanagan’s take on Charlie Parker’s Relaxin’ at Camarillo just swings – and that’s Elvin Jones you can hear on brushes. Spend time with Macallef – you’ll learn a lot and come away with some great record recommendations.

Stereophile magazine itself is – of course – available in print and digital versions and there’s much in the latter to entertain any music lover. I particularly like the annual R2D4 (Records to Die For) lists with mini-reviews that encourage you to explore further – and often well outside your genre comfort zone. The best music writing is the kind that persuades you to listen and/or buy, and Stereophile writer do this – often rather too frequently for comfort…

As a New Yorker article from 2018 made clear, “vinyl offers the joys of possessorship: if you go to a store, talk to other music lovers, and buy a record, you are committing to your taste, to your favorite group, to your friends” – and I think that’s any record store buyer’s experience. It is not the same as the simple internet click to secure your latest download. Can you remember where you were when you bought a favourite download? It’s unlikely. In contrast, most vinyl lovers can remember clearly when and where they purchased their most treasured records. The New Yorker piece indicated that those young people buying vinyl now have joined up with two sets of people who never really gave up on the black wax: “the scratchmaster d.j.s deploying vinyl on twin turntables, making music with their hands, and the audiophiles hoarding their LPs from decades ago”. The result is a resurgent vinyl market that has been hit hard by the Covid-19 outbreak, but will hopefully bounce back so that more of us can enjoy that unique crate digging experience – perhaps best captured by this now iconic image from DJ Shadow’s essential 1996 album Endtroducing, which features two of his co-diggers and DJ associates in a record store in Sacramento, California. More great music next week here on Cosmic Jazz – and we leave you with a track from the magnificence that is Endtroducing – Building Steam with a Grain of Salt. Until next week, enjoy!

Neil is listening to…

Derek is listening to…

Week ending 09 May 2020: Covid deaths and new music

This week’s Cosmic Jazz stays with the virtual show format – click on the hyperlinks to listen to the show – and open up twice to listen and read simultaneously! This week, six artists from Neil reflect two more sad Covid-19 deaths but also provide music that’s uplifting and spiritual in scope.

First up is one of the most recent deaths from Covid-19 in the UK – Benedict Chijioke, more commonly known as rapper Ty, was one of the most eloquent musicians of his generation with a Mercury Music Prize nomination for his album Upwards in 2004. Check out Groovement (Part 1) and The Willing for an indication of why we think his work is comparable not just with his international peers but with the work of A Tribe Called Quest or De La Soul. The latter track features the distinctive trap kit sound of Tony Allen – as unmistakable as ever. You can explore much more of Tony Allen’s music in our previous post.

Detroit DJ Mike Huckaby was another recent Covid-19 victim. The phrase ‘taste maker’ is perhaps used rather too loosely, but Huck’s music choices were remarkably influential, not just in the US but in clubs around the world. Ever keen to encourage new talent, Huckaby ran DJ and production workshops in Detroit and beyond, mentoring upcoming talent with a generosity typical of his approach to music. Have a listen to The Jazz Republic for a taste of his deep house sound.

Sometimes a Twitter post or online article can start a search that yields unexpected rewards. I can’t remember how this one started, but I ended up with Maria Rita Stumpf and her Brasileira remixes. The original Brasileira album, released in 1988 and her first recording, was all but lost but has now been rediscovered and remastered. The music features and is inspired by one of Brazil’s ethnic minorities, the Kamaiura.

The complete album is available here on Bandcamp but have a listen to one of the standout tracks – Cantico Brasileira No. 3 (Kamaiura). This tune in turn led me to the remixes – just two tracks, of which this – the same Cantico Brasileira No.3 – is the second. The remix artist is Carrot Green – and here’s another of his stunning transformations, the hypnotic Ponto Das Caboclas from Camila Costa.

To avoid confusion, Cosmic Jazz points out that Maria Rita Stumpf and Maria Rita are not one and the same. Both are Brazilian singers but Maria Rita (full name Maria Rita Camargo Mariano is the daughter of famed singer Ellis Regina and pianist/arranger Cesar Camargo Mariano. Her self-titled debut album was released to some acclaim in 2004 – here’s the Milton Nascimento album opener, A Festa. Since then she’s released half a dozen albums, with 2008’s Samba Meu perhaps the most worthy of further investigation.

Hard bop tenor player Charlie Rouse had a ten year partnership with pianist Thelonious Monk but his own recordings are often surprisingly good too. A new discovery for me was the album Bossa Nova Bacchanal which – at first glance – might look like an attempt to cash in on that 1960s bossa nova craze. But the album is much more than this. For a start, there’s the players – Kenny Burrell on guitar, Willie Bobo on drums and Carlos ‘Patato’ Valdes on congas. The Haitian-influenced Merci Bon Dieu is a good example of the strengths of this record – it’s much more of a jazz than bossa album. Good luck on finding a vinyl copy of this record! Rouse is there on many of Monk’s classic Columbia recordings, including the superlative Monk’s Dream – an album that belongs in every jazz collection. The album opens with a new recording of the title track – check it out here.

DJ Gilles Peterson’s has been making good use of his lockdown situation by delving deep into his phenomenal record collection and presenting a selection of top 20s on his Worldwide FM radio channel. The Brazilian Jazz 20 was especially rewarding with all tracks worthy of your attention. I’ve listened to the programme four times already since it was broadcast earlier this month. Don’t think you’ve missed it either – you can catch up right here. Standout tracks? Too many to mention – but if you don’t know Dom Um Romao’s superb Spirit of the Times record on the Muse label (1975) then listen to Gilles’ choice The Angels and you’ll want to investigate further. Before this album was released, Romao was performing percussion duties in Weather Report – listen to him here on the sinewy Cucumber Slumber from Mysterious Traveller (1974) and with new bass player Alphonso Johnson up in the mix too.

Finally, in the mix this week was something new from Texan (largely) instrumental trio Khruangbin. With a name taken from the Thai word for airplane, their music can be described as a mix of funk, psychedelia, Iranian and Thai styles and – yes – a little jazz too. Their debut album The Universe Smiles on You was widely acclaimed and their sophomore release Con Todo el Mundo went on to be released in a special dub version Hasta el Cielo last year. Out in a few weeks will be their 2020 album Mordechai – from which the chart friendly Time (You and I) is the first release, out in June. The video features UK comedians Stephen K Amos and Lunda Anele-Skosana making sandcastles in some familiar London streets…

Neil is listening to…

Derek is listening to…

What was it about Tony Allen?

Tony Allen – the drummer who created the rhythm behind Afrobeat – died on 30 April in Paris aged 79. Brian Eno famously called him “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived” – but not for the reasons you might expect. Tony Allen was not one to showboat or solo but he created a deceptively simple syncopation that became the infectious base for the most influential beat to emerge from the African continent – just called Afrobeat. Rather like the Winstons’ famous ‘Amen break‘ Tony Allen’s Afrobeat has shimmied its way around the world since its spiritual master Fela Kuti acknowledged that, “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat.” The thing is – and in whatever context – when Allen played just a few opening bars, you knew that this immediately recognisable sound must be him.

Listen to a few examples just to prove the point. Sebastian Tellier’s La Ritournelle isn’t Afrobeat – but this could only be Tony Allen. Similarly, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s 5:55 is nowhere near it – but Tony Allen is unmistakeable. So how did this start?

Allen was born in Lagos, Nigeria and was largely self taught as a drummer. He had grown up listening to the dominant juju style, but American jazz was a big influence too – drummers Art Blakey and Max Roach in particular. When he came across the sounds of Ghanaian drummer Guy Warren (later known as Kofi Ghanaba), Allen realised that you could mix Nigerian and Ghanaian tribal drum rhythms with bop idioms. Soon he was hired by Sir Victor Olaiya to play drums with his Cool Cats group (left). Allen later gave a nod to the start of his drumming career on on the track Cool Cats from his 2017 album The Source.

When Fela Kuti invited Allen to audition for a new group he was forming the two soon became a partnership. “How come you are the only guy in Nigeria who plays like this – jazz and highlife?” Kuti asked him. The pair formed the Koola Lobitos group, playing a mix of highlife, traditional Yoruba music, jazz, funk, salsa and calypso driven by Allen’s polyrhythmic beats. Fela would later give this musical stew the name Afrobeat and with his dazzling arrangements, charismatic personality, and explicit human rights activism, Fela Kuti and Afrika ’70 could only succeed. The result was an unparalled period of creativity resulting in over thirty Fela albums that featured Allen but was ended by Fela’s ego and his control over rights and royalties. Allen took some key members of Afrika ’70 with him and the result was some fine recordings, including the superb N.E.P.A. (or Never Expect Power Only – the alternative acronym for the Nigerian Electrical Power Authority). Here’s When One Road Close as an example of this more punchy style – complete with dub effects too.

This experimentation was the start of a period in which Allen deconstructed Afrobeat, fusing it with electronica, dub and rap. But the jazz roots were never far away and in 2017 came Allen’s tribute to Art Blakey – and this Afrobeat take on the classic Moanin’ has that syncopated drum sound right there from the start. And as Allen continued to release albums that expanded on his Afrobeat origins his last release from March 2020 was a much delayed project with the late Hugh Masekela appropriately titled Rejoice – here’s the wonderful Slow Bones. Now, continue your celebration of the life and music of this true legend – choose any track from the list below. You won’t be disappointed.

More Tony Allen…

Week ending 02 May 2020: new jazz sounds

This week’s Cosmic Jazz reverts to our current virtual show format – three tunes from Neil and three from Derek. The current lockdown has encouraged more online purchasing, but we’d recommend using the independent sites and those where a higher proportion of the profit goes direct to the musicians themselves. For example, if you purchase any music in whatever format from Bandcamp on Friday 01 May, then 100% of that purchase price will go to the artists themselves. In the 30 days since the first 100% promotion, music fans have paid Bandcamp artists $14.29 million. With musicians in all genres unable to perform live, it’s a nobrainer. Check out all the jazz new releases here and support musicians through this difficult time.

First up this week is a track from the new release by UK tenor saxophonist Tony Kofi, Another Kind of Soul. It’s his tribute to Cannonball Adderley, and was recorded live at Luton’s Bear Club in 2019. The album features Andy Davies on trumpet, pianist Alex Webb, bassist Andrew Cleyndert and Alfonso Vitale on drums. The album is best heard in limited edition vinyl but is available in digital formats – check it out here on the Juno Records site.

Kofi has cited the work of Adderley as an early inspiration.  “The first recording I ever heard of Cannonball’s was of the Quintet with the opening track “Arriving Soon.” It opens with his lone saxophone. I was 17 and from that moment on, I was hypnotised as if the pied piper had called out to me. I swore that before I got a good technique on the saxophone, I would first acquire a voice that people could recognise and relate to. Cannonball’s sound is like a human voice. He had his own personal sound, which is like finding the rarest diamond that only belongs to you. His sense of rhythm was a revelation,” says Tony Kofi of the jazz giant. This record comes highly recommended by Cosmic Jazz – buy on vinyl for the real deal!

The setlist includes Adderley brothers classics like Things Are Getting Better, Work Song, Sack O’Woe, and boasts two originals. A Portrait of Cannonball explores Adderley’s breadth of style and was composed for the project by Alex Webb. Operation Breadbasket is a Kofi composition which pays tribute to Cannonball’s support of young jazz musicians.  Mercy, mercy, mercy!

Up next is something new from Blue Note – it’s the fruits of a collaboration between UK singer songwriter and beatmaker Tom Misch and drummer Yussef Dayes. What Kinda Music is not deep but it is good, relaxed listening. Check out the title track and lead single here.Some of the album feels like part of the South London jazz scene with saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi and bassist Rocco Palladino in two of two tracks, Storm Before the Calm and Lift Off. It’s available in digital and analogue formats.

We’ve long been fans of the ensemble Maisha, led by drummer Jake Long. At last year’s Gilles Peterson-curated We Out Here Festival, UK headliner Gary Bartz performed with Maisha and the fruits of this collaboration were then developed into an album on the new UK-based direct-to-disc Night Dreamer label. The album will be released on the label on 29 May but you can check out the tracks Harlem to Haarlem (where the album was recorded) and Leta’s Dance right here, right now. Again, why not give your turntable a treat with this one and go for the vinyl option!

Polish pianist/composer Krzystof Herdzin has released an album entitled The Book of Secrets. It’s Volume 84 in the Polish Jazz series, started in 1965 by the state recording company. Herdzin is a veteran of the Polish jazz scene. He has released twenty albums and has appeared on other records across different genres of music. This album was recorded with a quartet, although there are other guests. It includes US saxophonist Rick Margitza, bass player Robert Kubiszyn and Cezary Konrad on drums. Time starts with Herdzin prominent on piano, gathering pace to quite some speed with Kubiszyn on bass also to the fore. Later Margitza appears from the shadows and trades with Konrad on drums and then the bass. It’s good, contemporary jazz.

Chandra Rule is a Chicago-born vocalist “rooted in gospel, but with a heart full of soul and a voice blessed with jazz”. She has collaborated with New York sax player Donny McCaslin and has performed as an opening act for quite a varied list of performers – Kamasi Washington, India Arie, Regina Belle and The Whispers. On her new album Hold On she’s backed by the Sweet Emma Band, a quintet of European jazz virtuosos. Chandra acknowledges “a sea of ancestral energy supporting me, guiding my flight” and describes Hold On as “a musical libation to them”.

Seven of the nine tunes on the album she says were “originally written and sung by unnamed and undocumented African-American mothers, fathers, workers, prisoners, preachers, sons and daughters.” Chandra has updated the lyrics to “support us through a new time”. tune Rosalie is raw, earthy, rootsy and pared down to essentials. A fitting, powerful and emotional testament to the origins of the music. Sweet Emma, incidentally was a renowned pianist and singer from New Orleans and, in a link with Neil’s choices, Nat and Cannonball Adderley dedicated their song Sweet Emma to her.

Maybe it is the times but I have been finding myself listening to some music on the soul/jazz borders. Some might find it too smooth, even sugary, but I am not afraid to confess a partiality for the music. My attention was drawn to a piece in the March edition of Echoes music magazine on US vocalist Lindsey Webster. I confess that perhaps the line under the photo indicating that she had just made an album with the man she recently divorced did encourage me to read further, but I was already aware of her. Previous references in Echoes through had already drawn attention to Webster’s music and so I was intrigued by the prospect of her new album, A Woman Like Me. Yes, it has ex-husband Keith Slattery on keys and he contributes to what is a highly polished and professional sound which combines remarkably well with the warmth and intimacy of Webster’s voice. Listen with an open mind to One Step Forward and you could enjoy it as much as I do.

Derek is listening to…

Neil is listening to…

Week ending 18 April 2020: Covid-19 and jazz deaths

Back to a regular, but virtual, Cosmic Jazz this week. There have been far too many Covid-19 related deaths around the world over the last few months. We mourn those who have passed and think of those left behind, but this post focuses on some of those in the jazz world who have been the recent victims of this global epidemic. There’s a lot of music in this week’s ‘show’ and a long read too. Why not open two CJ’s simultaneously and you can read and listen at the same time?

We start with the two most recently announced deaths – those of bassist Henry Grimes and saxophonist Guiseppi Logan. There are some fascinating parallels between these two jazz artists: both were involved in the free jazz scene on New York in the early 1960s and both vanished in the 1970s and were believed to have died. In 2008 Logan was spotted playing in a New York park and in 2002 Grimes was tracked down by a jazz fan in near destitution in a Los Angeles apartment. Like Miles Davis, Henry Grimes was a student at the Julliard School of Music in New York and had already established himself as a versatile bass player in the 1950s. He can be seen on Bert Stern’s Jazz on a Summer’s Day film at the Newport Jazz Festival of 1958. Just 22 years old, Grimes played with six different groups at the Festival – including Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk (you can see him in this brief clip of Stern’s from the film) and Lee Konitz. For more on the film and its relationship with American culture it’s worth reading Nate Chinen’s deep dive for WBGO right here. Grimes appeared on several great jazz records of this time, including two of my favourites – drummer Roy Haynes’ Out of the Afternoon (1962), which also included Tommy Flanagan on piano and Roland Kirk on saxes. Listen to the fantastic Moon Ray here.

Grimes was also on the earlier Lee Konitz album Tranquility (1957). The latter is a quiet masterpiece of which Jason Ankeny of Allmusic says: crafted with startling precision and economy, Tranquility extols the virtues of mood and shape with Talmudic zeal, towering astride thought and expression. …Rarely is music so profoundly cerebral also so deeply heartfelt. Both of these albums should be in your collection. Listen to the track Lennie Bird right here (likely a tribute to two huge influences, Lennie Tristano and Charlie Parker). Later in the 60s, Grimes was closely involved in the growing free jazz scene, appearing on records by Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor and and Archie Shepp.  He was the bassist on Pharoah Sanders’ Tauhid (1967). That’s him on a track I return to over and again – Upper Egypt, & Lower Egypt (Part 2) with its hypnotic Grimes bassline that’s first introduced around 9 minutes into the song. Younger readers may have come across this in samples from Herbie Hancock, J Dilla and Ras G. Pitched up, it was the bedrock of Mr Spock’s Words and Poets 12in single (if you can find it!). After Grimes’ return in 2002, musicians and fans offered help – most notably fellow bass player, William Parker who donated a green painted bass (nicknamed Olive Oil/Oyl) and soon Grimes was back in the recording studio. A notable early outing at this time was for trumpeter Dennis González in his excellent Rive Nile Suite album (2003). Check out Part II: the Nile runs through my heart. Grimes went on to record with dozens of noted jazz musicians including David Murray, Rashied Ali, Bill Dixon, Joe Lovano and Cecil Taylor. He appeared at numerous festivals and it’s calculated that he may have made up to 1000 appearances at live events since his return in 2003. Here he is (playing that green bass) at a benefit concert in 2012.

Sadly, Giuseppi Logan was not as lucky on his return.  He was a collaborator with Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders and Bill Dixon before recording two albums for the French ESP-Disk label (noted for its pioneering of free jazz) and his own quartet at the times was made up of pianist Don Pullen, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Milford Graves. The self titled album is not easy to find but, as ever, Youtube can help out – listen to Bleecker Partitia here. A considerable drug habit marginalised Logan, and then his erratic behaviour began to take its toll on his music. He was spotted in various locations in New York and was the subject of short films by Suzannah Troy as well as those who recorded him at one of his favourite places, Tompkins Square Park. His comeback record was released in 2010 – here’s a slightly rusty take on Miles Davis’ Freddie Freeloader that sounds rather more like a Sun Ra out-take. Logan died at a nursing home on 17 April.

The passing of alto great Lee Konitz two days earlier is especially sad. Konitz was the last surviving member of the revolutionary nonet that created Birth of the Cool in 1957 – here’s Gerry Mulligan’s Jeru from that album. The first great Miles Davis record, Birth of the Cool signalled a new post-Bop jazz sound and – until last week – Konitz was the only surviving member of that original nonet. Konitz was an incredibly open musician  – from his beginning with Lennie Tristano to his great later recordings with Brad Mehldau. En route, Konitz recorded with so many great names in jazz – Warne Marsh, Chet Baker, Jimmy Giuffre, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans, Elvin Jones, Henry Grimes, Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Gary Peacock, Bill Frisell and countless others. Imagine playing with both Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman… From Konitz’s late record for Blue Note with Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden, here’s their extended version of the 1938 jazz standard Cherokee which Charlie Parker later used as the basis for his Ko-Ko.

Onto Wallace Roney, a trumpet player who died on 31 March and – uniquely – was the only jazz artist mentored by Miles Davis. With a rich, golden tone and a supple technique, Roney was the chosen trumpeter on Miles Davis’ final recording with Quincy Jones at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1991 where he supported Davis through familiar tunes like Summertime and Gone, Gone, Gone. But Roney was a fine performer in his own groups where he performed with some musicians on a fine series of albums for the Muse and Highnote labels. Some of the later Highnote albums (for example Jazz) featured turntablist DJ Axum alongside brother Antoine on saxes and wife and pianist Geri Allen. Here’s their version of Sly Stone’s Stand. Almost all of these albums are worthy of investigation with Intuition (1998) and Mystikal (2005) good places to start. Roney always attracted great musicians around him too – Kenny Garrett, Mulgrew Miller and Ron Carter appearing on the earlier albums and  Gary Bartz, Lenny White and Patrice Rushen on some later releases.

Whilst Ellis Marsalis may be more famous as the father of Branford and Wynton Marsalis, he recorded twenty albums of his own and featured (sometimes uncredited) on his sons’ recordings. Similarly guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli may not be so well known to more progressive jazz audiences but he featured on a wide range of records – perhaps, surprisingly, including Michael Franks’ Tiger in the Rain. Which brings us to producer Hal Wilner who died of Covid-19 complications on 07 April. Wilner was house music producer for Saturday Night Live but, more importantly, he was best known for a series of tribute albums that redefined the genre, include Amacord Nino Rota that featured a roster of jazz artists including Carla Bley, Michael Mantler, Bill Frisell and the Marsalis brothers. Here’s the Carla Bley Band with their take on Rota’s title music from the film .

Famously, Wilner linked Sun Ra with Walt Disney on the tribute album Stay Awake. I remember buying this record on its release in  1988 and enjoying pretty much everything from Los Lobos rollicking I Wanna Be Like You from The Jungle Book to Bonnie Raitt’s moving Baby Mine from Dumbo. But perhaps most bizarre was Sun Ra’s Pink Elephants on Parade, also from Dumbo, which was to encourage Ra’s full length tribute to Disney’s music on his 1995 live album Second Star to the Right. This post has been a reminder of some great music from superb jazz artists – now all sadly missed. Next week’s show will include more of the great new releases that continue to enrich the world of jazz. Until then, stay safe everyone.

Week Ending 11 April 2020: a Herbie special!

Wow! The ever youthful Herbie Hancock is 80 years old. The pianist and jazz ambassador was born on 12 April 1940 in Chicago. Like many jazz pianists, Hancock received a classical musical education, studying from age seven. Such was his talent that his first public recital at the age of 11 was of the first movement of a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Hancock’s first recordings were with trumpeter Donald Byrd in 1961 but it wasn’t long before Blue Note gave him his first date as leader – Takin’ Off in 1962 – and his first hit with the lead off track Watermelon Man. Regarded as one of the most accomplished debuts in jazz, Takin’ Off is now available as a Blue Note reissue under their Blue Note 80 series. The album caught the attention of the ever-shrewd Miles Davis who quickly incorporated Hancock into his new quintet. Hancock was only 23 at the time – new drummer Tony Williams was just 17.

While in Davis’s band, Hancock found time to record dozens of sessions for the Blue Note label, both under his own name and as a sideman with other musicians including Wayne Shorter, Grant Green, Bobby Hutcherson, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Almost all of Hancock’s albums for Blue Note are outstanding – but particular mention must go to the 1964 outing – Inventions and Dimensions which included two Latin percussionists and featured one of my favourite Hancock compositions, the ostinato-driven Succotash. Of course, the most well known album of this period appeared the following year. Maiden Voyage is the archetypal Blue Note album and deserves to be in everyone’s collection. The title track is outstanding but there’s more to enjoy including the often covered Dolphin Dance. The personnel on this Blue Note is Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, George Coleman on tenor sax, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums. Maiden Voyage has been covered by many artists including Grant Green on his Alive! album. You can hear this reflective version right here.

Like many jazz artists of the period, Hancock was keen to incorporate electric and then electronic keyboards and, after the R&B inspired Fat Albert Rotunda album from 1969, Hancock moved into fully electronic mode with a trilogy of recordings between 1971 and 1973 – Mwandishi, Crossings and Sextant. This new sextet comprised Hancock, Buster Williams on bass, drummer Billy Hart and a trio of horn players – Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Julian Priester on trombone and multireedist Bennie Maupin. Electronics pioneer Patrick Gleeson was included on the latter two albums and was instrumental (!) in the sound of such compositions as Rain Dance. Two albums with pretty much the same personnel  were recorded under trumpeter Eddie Henderson’s name and are equally worth exploring. Start with the excellent Mars in Libra from the Realization album (1973).

And then came the big breakthrough – the 1974 album Headhunters with four extraordinary tracks, including a radical reworking of Watermelon Man. That intro and outro sound was derived from a field recording of hindewhu music from the Ba-Benzélé tribe of central Africa. Percussionist Bill Summers had heard the music on an ethnomusicology LP, The Music of the Ba-Benzélé Pygmies (1966), by Simha Arom and Genviève Taurelle. The other three cuts are the standouts too, and the 15 minute long Chameleon was to become one of Hancock’s most well known compositions. The follow-up album Thrust from 1974 was almost a successful and just as good. Hancock moved in an ever-further commercial direction with Man-Child and Secrets, each of which contained more superb tracks. I remember buying Man-Child (on vinyl, of course) the moment it came out in 1975 and was blown away by the double bassline and horns in The Traitor.  Like many of Hancock’s albums, it’s one you can return to again and again.

A period of consolidation followed with some superb live albums that saw Hancock’s facility with reworkings of old Blue Note classics alongside more contemporary tracks. The album Sunlight signalled another change of direction though with Hancock – ever enthusiastic about new technology – using a vocoder for the first time. The album also featured iconic bass player Jaco Pastorius on the final cut Good Question. Whilst the subsequent disco-influenced Vocoder albums received a mixed reception, Hancock continued to record with a new version of his Blue Note style VSOP group before the next breakthrough – the first jazz hip-hop tune, 1983’s Rockit from the album Future Shock. Bass player and producer Bill Laswell was to feature significantly on this and three subsequent releases, ending with Perfect Machine in 1988. It would be Hancock’s last album for six years, as he concentrated on other projects. He re-emerged with Dis is Da Drum in 1994 – a curiously-titled and rather neglected album. There’s a debt to classic 90s hip-hop scratching rhythms – easily heard in the track Mojuba – but also some acoustic piano soloing too. Also from this period is the sometimes neglected New Standard album in which Hancock performs the same trick as his mentor Miles Davis was to do a few years later – reinventing pop and rock tunes as jazz standards. Prince in a jazz arrangement? Why not – listen to the excellent Thieves in Temple with the all star band of Michael Brecker on saxes, John Scofield on guitar, Dave Holland on bass, Jack deJohnette on drums and Don Alias on percussion.

A re-reading of Gershwin’s tunes in 1998 that featured a plethora of guest stars also turned out much better than expected and generated a world tour. Nowhere is the album more surprising than on Duke Ellington’s Cotton Tail, itself a reworking of I Got Rhythm. Wayne Shorter is outstanding. The electronic album that followed Gershwin’s World, Future2Future, turned out to be rather less successful and 2005’s Possibilities took the guest star quotient rather too far.

But help was at hand through Hancock’s longtime friendship with singer Joni Mitchell, herself no stranger to jazz. River: the Joni Letters was a real return to form. Guest vocalists, including Corinne Bailey Rae on the title track, were accompanied by some beautiful piano from Hancock. Mitchell herself made an appearance but Norah Jones and Tina Turner (on Edith and the Kingpin) were almost equally effective. The distinctive tenor solo on this track is (of course) by Wayne Shorter and Prince plays (uncredited) guitar. River justifiably won the 2008 Album of the Year Grammy Award.

Hancock appeared on the 2014 Flying Lotus album You’re Dead and his new album is eagerly awaited with likely contributions from Wayne Shorter, Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington and – yes – Snoop Dogg. We will no doubt feature it here on Cosmic Jazz but, until then, here’s to Herbie Hancock – eighty years young!

Week ending 07 March 2020: the spiritual heritage

Cosmic Jazz this week kicks off with what many would call ‘spiritual jazz’. About as misleading a term as – for example – ‘yacht rock’, it’s now used to describe any lost or private press jazz recording from the 1970-80s influenced by a vague Afrocentrism that includes cover art featuring at least one dashiki and some ‘tribal’ art. Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but here at CJ we might suggest that the ‘buyer beware’…

No worries though regarding our opening music choices this week, as we began the show with the genuine article – two tracks from the master Pharoah Sanders and one from current British favourites, Maisha. As always, the show is available via the Mixcloud/Listen Again tab – expect warm, spiritual, challenging and politically conscious music.

As Derek noted, in cold weather he often turns to warm-sounding music. Journey to the One was released on Californian label Theresa, Sanders’ home for most of the 1980s, and even the abstract cover art evokes a warm glow. Derek remembers getting it out to play on a cold UK winter’s day as a visitor from Los Angeles was about to arrive and it remains his favourite Pharaoh Sanders album. It’s easy to see why: some of the Impuse! label indulgences are held in check and there are memorable tunes. too. It’s not an album we have featured extensively on Cosmic Jazz although Greetings to Idris has made some previous appearances.  Of course, You’ve Got To Have Freedom is the totemic anthem that features in many a DJ’s jazz dance set, but there’s much more on this double album to enjoy. Sanders is on fine form throughout and there is excellent support from the great John Hicks on piano and – on Doktor Pitt – flugelhorn from Eddie Henderson. With no shortage of great melodies, there’s also there’s some reflective koto on Kazuko and a lovely version of Coltrane’s After the Rain.  Spiritually uplifting music indeed and warmly recommended.

Maisha are led by drummer Jake Long and are one of the finest of the current crop of British jazz artists. The band includes Amané Suganami, Twm Dylan, Tim Doyle, Yahael Camara-Onono, Shirley Tetteh and Nubya Garcia – the latter two with distinctive solos on our choice from the album, the opening tune OsirisRecorded across just three days in 2018, There Is a Place is a really fine album. There’s an organic element to the music that has emerged from the group’s two years of rehearsing and playing together. Short it may be, but this is a record to return to – as we often do both at home and here on the show. You’d be wise to buy (vinyl or CD) or download the whole album – best done here on Bandcamp. As Derek noted on the show, Maisha joined forces with saxophonist Gary Bartz at Gilles Peterson’s inaugural We Out Here Festival last year, and a studio album of that collaboration will be released in May. It’s one to look out for. To get a taste of the group live look out for the album tour – they’ll be in Norwich on 26 May – incidentally, just after the Norfolk & Norwich Festival for 2020 which features an excellent lineup this year including a number of artists we’ve featured on Cosmic Jazz. Look out for Kandace Springs, the Rob Luft Band, Oscar Jerome and Sarathy Korwar.

One record deservedly getting a lot of airplay on Cosmic Jazz is the excellent Polska from Piotr Damasiewicz & Power of the Horns Ensemble. Damasiewicz has dedicated the album to four heroes of Polish Jazz – Krzysztof Komeda, Tomasz Stanko and Piotr Wojtasik are likely to be familar to regular CJ listeners – but perhaps saxophonist Tomasz Szukalski rather less so.  In a tragic life, Szukalski did not record as much as he could – but here he is in Stanko’s quartet with an inspired version of First Song, from Stanko’s ECM recording Balladyna.

The music on Polska is big, passionate and majestic and the ensemble is well named: there are five horns, a piano, two double basses and drums. Komeda’s presence resonates throughout the four original tunes, but so, too, do echoes from beyond Poland. The opening track Billy  – which we featured this week – is named for tenor saxophonist Billy Harper who played on a number of records by  contemporary Polish artists – including Piotr Wojtasik.

2019 release We Are On the Edge is very much a 50 year celebration of the Art Ensemble of Chicago – and yet it doesn’t really sound like a typical AEoC record. Formed as an avant-garde jazz group out of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago, the AEoC have released dozens of excellent free jazz recordings over the years. We Are On the Edge is a 2CD set of studio recordings and live performances, with an extended lineup beyond the two surviving members of the group, Roscoe Mitchell and Famoumdou Don Moye. Rapper and vocalist Camae ‘Moor Mother’ Ayewa is bought on for a couple of tracks (including the reflective Mama Koko) and elsewhere there are contributions from flautist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid and new bassist Jaribu Shahid. But the complete ensemble includes a small string section, four percussionists (including Moye), electronics, and several musicians who also contribute vocals. Mama Koko has plenty of cultural and historical references with percussive West African sounds and mentions for Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey and the importance of the Congo heritage. We Are On the Edge is not an album that will appeal immediately to AEoC fans but it’s worth a listen.

There is much excitement at the moment concerning the young/youngish jazz musicians that have emerged out of the UK. It is important, however, not to forget some of the earlier pioneers of the British jazz scene – and one of the greatest was sax player Tubby Hayes. Sadly, a combination of ill health and drugs led to an early death, but Hayes had a prolific recording history and performed regularly. I was one of those lucky enough to see him in some of my earliest jazz experiences. In December 2019 a record was released of a lost Fontana session, originally  recorded at the Philips studios in London on 24 June 1969 with Spike Wells on drums, Mike Pyne on piano and Ron Matthewson on bass. Where Am I Going?, the third take of which is on this week’s show, features a long Tubby Hayes solo. A fitting testament and highly recommended. The recording comes in two versions – go for the 2CD set if you want all the takes of these tunes. If you’re not familiar with Tubby Hayes’ music, then try the fabulous Down In the Village recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s in London and, yes, that’s Hayes on vibes rather than sax!

  1. Pharoah Sanders – Greetings to Idris from Journey to the One
  2. Pharoah Sanders – Doktor Pitt from Journey to the One
  3. Maisha – Osiris from There is a Place
  4. Piotr Damasiewicz & Power of the Horns Ensemble – Billy from Polksa
  5. Art Ensemble of Chicago – Mama Koko from We Are On the Edge
  6. Tubby Hayes – Where Am I Going? (Take 3) – from Grit, Beans and Greens (the Lost Fontana Sessions)

Derek is listening to… music inspired by his jukebox, the BBC4 documentary on Eric Burdon and a selection from Neil

Neil is listening to… music inspired by Somethin’ Else 30th Anniversary show on JazzFM

Week ending 29 February 2020: Remembering Jimmy Heath

Saxophonist Jimmy Heath performs during the Apollo Walk of Fame Induction Ceremony for Charlie Parker at The Apollo Theater on March 30, 2016.

In this week’s show we remembered saxophonist Jimmy Heath whose music we have long enjoyed and who deserves rather wider recognition. He was born in Philadelphia on October 25, 1926. It was a musical family – his father played alto sax, his mother sang in a church choir, his sister was a pianist, and his brothers were bass player Percy Heath and drummer Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath.  

One of Heath’s earliest big bands in Philadelphia included John Coltrane, Benny Golson and Ray Bryant – all stars later in their own right. While in prison serving a sentence for heroin possession, Heath composed most of the music for the celebrated Playboys recording from Chet Baker and Art Pepper. Clean from 1959, he began to successfully rebuild his career working with Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham and Gil Evans. 

In 1975, with brother Percy Heath’s Modern Jazz Quartet seemingly defunct, the three brothers got together to form – wait for it – the Heath Brothers which also included pianist Stanley Cowell. Marchin’ On, their first album together for the short lived Strata East label, is one of my favourites and includes the superb Smilin’ Billy Suite. The group went on to record several albums with this lineup – check out the soul/disco influenced Dreamin’ from 1980’s Expressions of Life.  Later albums featured Jimmy Heath’s son, percussionist Mtume who had already worked with Miles Davis and would later record the disco classic Juicy Fruit.

We selected the album The Gap Sealer, playing Angel Man, dedicated to Yusef Lateef and featuring Jimmy Heath playing alongside Kenny Barron on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Mtume on percussion. Our other cut Far Away Land was from 1973’s Love and Understanding and included Curtis Fuller on trombone, Stanley Cowell on piano, Billy Higgins on drums and Bob Cranshaw again on bass.  Jimmy Heath taught on American university jazz programmes for over twenty years and he received Grammy nominations for two albums – and for the liner notes to the 1995 John Coltrane box set The Heavyweight Champion. During his career, Jimmy Heath performed on more than 100 albums – a record that surely deserves to be celebrated.

There was more music from Poland on the show this week, including another tune from one of my favourite albums of the moment –  Piotr Damasiewisz & Power of the Horns Ensemble. There was also a return to another Polish album with an unlikely dedication. Soundcheck, led by sax player Maciek Kocinski, have a suite dedicated to Martin Luther of Protestant Reformation fame – apparently a record that has emerged from Kocinski’s PhD thesis. The music is certainly reflective in places but it wouldn’t be at home in Luther’s Wittenberg – this is definitely contemporary jazz.

We included another track from Indonesian wunderkind Joey Alexander’s excellent download-only outtakes collection In a Sentimental Mood. This album is well worth getting hold of: although much of the music has surfaced on special editions of Alexander’s first two albums, this collection holds together in its own right. You can find it here on the ever-reliable Bandcamp.

There is always a place for new jazz from the UK and this time it was from one of Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood signings, the collective Kokoroko.  Their Afrobeat-influenced EP was released in early 2019 and the band have built up a solid live following over the year. Ti-De is an unusually reflective track from an excellent introduction to the band and features the excellent guitar work of Oscar Jerome and horns from Sheila Maurice Grey and Cassie Kinoshi. The EP is – of course – available here from Bandcamp.

  1. Jimmy Heath- Alkebu-lan (Land of the Blacks) from The Gap Sealer
  2. Jimmy Heath – Angel Man from The Gap Sealer
  3. Jimmy Heath – Far Away Lands from Love and Understanding
  4. Soundcheck – Sola Gratia from Martin Luther: Suite for Jazz Quartet
  5. Joey Alexander – Footprints from In a Sentimental Mood
  6. Kokoroko – Ti-De from Kokoroko
  7. Piotr Damasiewicz & Power of the Horns Ensemble – Kleofas from Polska

Neil is listening to…

Week ending 22 February 2020: our final ECMfest

This week’s Cosmic Jazz is – as always – available on the Mixcloud tab (left). Open it for an hour of great music – mostly from Neil’s ECM label collection which has recently celebrated 50 years of jazz and more. Neil began collecting ECM music after going into a Zurich record store in 1973 and hearing the recently released Keith Jarrett 3LP Bremen/Lausanne Concerts – in the days when you shut yourself in a listening booth and heard 30 minutes of music for free before making your decision to purchase (or not). He walked away with that Keith Jarrett box set and started on a musical journey that still continues.

We began the show with the ethereal sounds of the Norwegian Tord Gustavsen Trio who appeared at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2003 just after the release of their debut album for ECM, Changing Places. Live, the textural quality of this music was sharpened further – the silences between the notes almost as important as the music itself. Gustavsen and his trio (including extraordinary drummer Jarle Vespestad) conjure floating melodies with a real verse/chorus structure that linger in your consciousness long after the music ends. Listen out, too, for the bass playing of Harald Johnsen on our choice from this album – the track title Where Breathing Starts could not be more apposite.

Another memorable live performance experienced by both Neil and Derek in the suitably resonant acoustic of Norwich Cathedral came from our second ECM artist, trumpeter Arve Henriksen. Ever since Miles Davis began using the Harmon mute and then wahwah pedals, trumpeters have realised the totally different sounds that can be created with this instrument. There’s a current trend for a much more breathy sound on trumpet – and perhaps this all began with the fourth world/ambient sounds of Jon Hassell almost 45 years ago. On his debut recording Vernal Equinox in 1973, Hassell experimented with echo and envelope filters, sometimes muti-tracking his trumpet to create a sound that was almost vocal. Listen to the 22 minute title track here for one of the inspirations of this style.  You can hear this in Henriksen’s approach but also in the music of Nils Petter Molvaer whose music we have featured previously on Cosmic Jazz. Migration is, however, an exceptional and evocative track from the stunning release Cartography.

Up next was English saxophonist John Surman from his curiously titled 1981 ECM outing The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon, a duo album with drummer Jack DeJohnette. On Nestor’s Saga, Surman is featured on bass clarinet and soprano saxophone. Surman would add more electronics in later albums for ECM, including the excellent The Road to St Ives which continued Surman’s fascination with his Devonian/Cornish heritage.

There are many albums on the ECM label that could be considered essential – but Dave Holland’s Conference of the Birds is undoubtedly one of these. A free jazz masterpiece, it really belongs in any self-respecting collection. Remarkably, this was Holland’s first album as a leader – and what a group he assembled! Holland had worked with saxophonist Anthony Braxton and drummer Barry Altschul in the group Circle (along with pianist Chick Corea) and his partnership with Altschul made for one of the most dynamic rhythm sections of the decade. Saxophonist Sam Rivers was over twenty years older than his colleagues, and he had briefly been a member of Miles Davis’ quintet in the early 1960s, before being ejected in favour of Wayne Shorter. The title track of Conference of the Birds is a surprisingly gentle, almost pastoral piece that opens with a lyrical bass solo from Holland, demonstrating how just how versatile a player he is. Holland explained the inspiration for the title in the album liner notes: While living in London I had an apartment with a small garden. During the summer around 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, just as the day began, birds would gather here one by one and sing together, each declaring its freedom in song. It is my wish to share this same spirit with other musicians and communicate it to the people. Whether Holland knew it or not (and he probably did), Conference of the Birds is also the title of the most famous collection of poems by the Persian Sufi poet Attar…

Our final ECMfest drew to a close with another title track, this time from the late Canadian flugelhorn player Kenny Wheeler. The album is an all-star affair with Holland again on bass, veteran Lee Konitz on alto sax and Bill Frisell on guitar. Unusually, there is no drummer on the record but that hasn’t prevented this timeless recording from achieving something of a cult status. It’s a remarkably restrained, lyrical recording that grows on any listener prepared to stay with it. For more Wheeler, check out the extended waltz Heyoke from the 1975 recording Gnu High. The album features Dave Holland once more but also includes Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette.

We ended the show with two very different sounds – but both artists we have seen live over the years. Joey Alexander is the extraordinary talented young pianist from Jakarta, Indonesia who just gets better and better. Now aged 16 and with a new album out soon, we featured another track from his download only collection of outtakes released at the end of 2019. This was his take on John Coltrane’s Equinox – and a very fine version it is too. The album is available from all download sources – listen here on Bandcamp.

Just as Fela Kuti was influenced by the jazz he heard while studying in the UK, there’s no doubt that jazz musicians have in turn been influenced by him. Listen to Brandford Marsalis’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and check out his stunning sampled use of Fela’s Beasts of No Nation. We chose to end the show this week with an album and title track new to Neil’s Fela collection: Fear Not For Man appears on a 2018 vinyl reissue on Knitting Factory Records and was located in one of the many excellent vinyl stores in Singapore. The island state (where Neil is based) is something of a haven for record lovers – including those looking for jazz releases old and new.

  1. Tord Gustavsen Trio – Where Breathing Starts from Changing Places
  2. Arve Henriksen – Migration from Cartography
  3. John Surman – Nestor’s Saga from The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon
  4. Dave Holland Quartet – Conference of the Birds from Conference of the Birds
  5. Kenny Wheeler – Angel Song from Angel Song
  6. Joey Alexander – Equinox from In a Sentimental Mood
  7. Fela Kuti – Fear Not For Man from Fear Not For Man

Neil is listening to…