27 February 2022: global jazz, a Brazilian rarity and an online exclusive!

In this show we visit many places across the world and – wherever we go – the music is dynamic, original , invigorating and essential listening. Take a trip with Cosmic Jazz. 

  1. Fergus McCreadie – On Law Hill from Forest Floor

After a few plays on Jazz FM and some jazz programmes north of the border (that’s the England/Scotland one), we’re one of the first online jazz shows to feature the new single from pianist Fergus McCreadie and his trio, bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson. As we noted as long ago as March 2021, McCreadie blends jazz and Scottish traditional music and is inspired by the diversity of the Scottish landscape. On Law Hill is from the forthcoming album Forest Floor, out in April – and it’s a worthy follow-up to his superb Edition Records debut release Cairn which we also featured on more than half a dozen CJ shows last year – for example, our 07 March show. McCreadie says: In all my music I’m searching for an idea or a theme, that the composition and performance is based on. It’s a journey and adapts to each live performance. The recording documents the stage of that journey at a moment of time. With this recording, it’s the same studio, same piano and same musicians but I feel the sound we have as a trio has become more developed and rounded somehow. This album has its own journey, it’s own destination. Find out more on the Edition Records website.

2. Lucien Johnson – Magnificent Moon from Wax///Wane

Derek was inspired to play this track from Lucien Johnson’s excellent Wax///Wane album after hearing about the saxophonist from a friend. It was good to say that we had first featured this New Zealander back in April 2021. Neil was introduced to this record by Scots music promoter Rob Adams (Twitter: @rabjourno) who also led us to McCreadie – and very welcome this was too. Neil has gone back to this record time and again – and and it continues to delight. Johnson is actually from Wellington, New Zealand but spent much of his twenties living and working in and out of Paris, meeting and playing with musicians he knew from recordings including drumming legend and long-time Paris resident Sunny Murray, the late pianist Bobby Few and drummer John Betsch’s band. Johnson’s current group features John Bell on vibes, Michelle Velvin on harp, Tom Callwood on bass, Cory Champion on drums and Riki Piripi on percussion and the music is deep, modal and with more than a touch of Pharoah Sanders too.  Wax///Wane is available here on Bandcamp – and it’s on vinyl too.

3. Lee Morgan – Capra Black from The Last Session

Blue Note 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, fifty years ago in February 1972. One of the most prolific and consistent of Blue Note artists, Morgan modelled himself on Clifford Brown, another trumpeter who met an early death. Both supremely talented on their instrument, Morgan went on to have the longer career, recording prolifically for the label in the 1960-70s and netting 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. This was captured in a record usually referred to as The Last Session and released by Blue Note as a double LP later in 1972. The music is remarkable, and features performances from Grachan Moncur III on trombone, Bobbi Humphrey on vibes, saxophonist Billy Harper, Harold Mabern on piano, Reggie Workman and Jymie Merritt on bass with Freddie Waits on drums. Harper is the composer of Capra Black and was to feature the tune as the title track on his own first release on Strata East. It’s of the label’s most essential records – and here’s Harper’s superb version. If you want to start your Lee Morgan jazz journey then try a favourite with many fans – including myself – 1966’s Search for the New Land. 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.

4. Joyce – Feminina from A Trip to Brazil Vol 2: Bossa & Beyond (Disc 1)

In a show of two halves (as they say), we featured some great female voices in jazz and beyond. First up is Brazilian singer Joyce – a longtime favourite artist on Cosmic Jazz. Soon to be released on Far Out Recordings is a long lost Joyce album, Natureza. But first – as they say – the back story. It was sometime in the 1980s that Derek and Neil (separately) went into London to visit the basement store of Mr Bongo Records, then in Soho’s Berwick Street, London – a haven for record buyers from all over the world. Here devoted crate diggers searched for hard-to-find Latin music – particularly from Brazil – and sourced by owner David Buttle who was bringing in records from Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba and Brazil. At the same time, DJs Gilles Peterson and Jo Shinner (standing in for the late and great Charlie Gillet) were promoting a record by Joyce that he’d been featuring on his radio show and – in a pre-download era – it was clear that there was only one solution. We both had to have this record. The album Feminina was one of those Buttle imports and there were limited numbers available. Priced then at £20, it was a rather extravagant purchase for the time but one we have both never regretted. Later Neil heard about the existence of a re-recording of Feminina that had taken place in 1977 when Joyce spent time in the US working with an orchestra led by Claus Ogerman and featuring – among others –  Joe Farrell on flute and Buster Williams on bass, with husband Tutty Moreno on drums. Inexplicably, the album was shelved (although one song escaped to feature on a lone Brazilian compilation, A Trip to Brazil: Bossa and Beyond), but Far Out will be releasing the complete album later in 2022 with the extended version of Feminina available now as a 12in single.

5. Somi – Hapo Zamani from Zenzile: The Re-imagination of Miriam Makeba

We featured vocalist Somi in our last extended show – and we make no apologies for including her again in this edition of CJ. Her new album Zenzile is an ambitious and fully realised tribute to South African singer Miriam Makeba and it’s really something special. The lead single is a take on Makeba’s classic Pata Pata and that’s been followed by Khuluma, featuring South African  singer songwriter Msaki. We’ve chosen Hapo Zamani, another classic tune from Makeba that appeared on her Pata Pata album in 1966, The original record been recently released on vinyl in glorious mono on Strut Records – you can find it here. Somi’s lifelong love of Makeba’s music and personal strength has resulted in a record that she calls a “re-imagination” of Makeba’s music and she notes that the album “is my attempt to honor the unapologetic voice of an African woman who inevitably made room for my own journey and countless other African artists. In short, I owe her. We all do.” Highly recommended.

6. Dayme Arocena – El Ruso from Nueva Era

Cuban vocalist and composer Dayme Arocena came to the attention of the wider world when British DJ/record label owner Gilles Peterson came across her during his first visit to Cuba. Apparently, she was “singing rumba at a house party in someone’s kitchen”.  As she was too young at the time it took him five trips to get her on record. Nueva Erawas the first recorded outcome. She can be seen in the second show of Huey Morgan’s Latin Music Adventure where she comes across as an engaging performer and an intelligent and thoughtful advocate for her country. The tune El Ruso includes some soaring trumpet in classic Cuban style from Adriel Valdes along with some great timbales action from Julio Cesar. It is always energising to return to Arocena’s  music.

7. Samara Joy – It Only Happens Once from Samara Joy 

We have played one tune from the eponymous 2021 debut album by New York born vocalist Samara Joy and it deserves to be played more. The album is a strong mix of covers with It Only Happens Once being a Frankie Laine composition – someone whose work ranged from pop crooner to gospel, folk, rock and blues. Samara Joy is backed by a trio of Pasquale Grasso on guitar, Ari Roland on double bass and Kenny Washington on drums. Grasso and Washington were tutors at the college in New York  where Samara studied and first came to love and appreciate jazz before winning the 2019 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition at just 22. The album is restrained and pared down to the essentials – all the better to showcase Joy’s impeccable timing and timbral richness. With tunes made famous by Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae this is one to check out.

8. Rosie Gaines – Honeychild from You Gave Me Freedom

Derek is probably taking his oft-used insert of a boundary-stretching tune at the end of the show to the very limits  with this choice – but go with him for a moment. Singer Rosie Gaines can certainly scat (it’s clear in this Bump & Flex remix of her hit I Want You) and she undoubtedly has a sensual and powerful soul voice – as we hear on Honeychild. Best known for her vocal and keyboard work with Prince in the 1990s – and particularly on the Diamonds and Pearls album – she also had a solo dancefloor hit with Closer Than Close. Gaines has released a number of solo albums on her own Dredix label but her fifth album You Gave Me Freedom (2004) appeared in the UK on Dome Records. Here Gaines was the sole vocalist, musician and programmer and at least a joint composer of thirteen of the fourteen tracks, including Honeychild which ends this show. Lyrically, vocally and musically the album is reminiscent of Marlena Shaw and, as a singer, Gaines is certainly her equal. It’s tragic that in recent years she has had serious health issues but – as we often say on Cosmic Jazz – here’s an artist that deserves to be better known. Your thoughts? Any responses welcome via [email protected]

16 February 2022: jazz new and old + an afrobeat classic

This time Cosmic Jazz is back into a mixture of new music from emerging artists on the US scene together with jazz from the greats.  Yes – we have Immanuel Wilkins, James Brandon Lewis, David S. Ware and Horace Tapscott in the CJ house together with more treasures for you to enjoy.

1. Somi – Love Tastes Like Strawberries (feat. Gregory Porter) from Zenzile

We start with vocalist Somi, whose new album Zenzile  (due out next month) is a tribute to singer Miriam Makeba. The release date is 04 March – what would have been Makeba’s 90th birthday. The lead single will be a take on Makeba’s classic Pata Pata but we’ve selected a tune recorded by both Makeba and her long time musical partner, trumpeter Hugh Masekela. Check out his excellent instrumental take on Strawberries here. South African Miriam Makeba was undoubtedly one of the first superstar musicians from the continent, but she endured three decades of political exile from her homeland, largely due to an impassioned speech she made at the UN in 1963 appealing for an end to apartheid. She referenced the Sharpeville Massacre in which two of her family members had been killed. Makeba was then blacklisted in the United States after her marriage to civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael and she did not return to South Africa until apartheid was dismantled in 1990. Somi’s lifelong love of Makeba’s music and personal strength has resulted in a record that she calls a “re-imagination” of Makeba’s music and she notes that the album “is my attempt to honor the unapologetic voice of an African woman who inevitably made room for my own journey and countless other African artists. In short, I owe her. We all do.” Joining her on Love Tastes Like Strawberries is singer Gregory Porter, whom Derek had the pleasure of interviewing on the show at the time of his first album release in  2010. Zenzile, incidentally, is Makeba’s given first name…

2.   Keyon Harrold – The Mugician from The Mugician

We had intended to play the title track from trumpeter Keyon Harrold’s first major label release a few weeks ago but, for reasons lost in the mists of time, it was shelved. We’re happy to return to a great modern jazz tune once more in this show. Harrold is – like many of his generation – at home in all kinds of settings. He’s recorded with Jay-Z, Beyoncé and the aforementioned Gregory Porter, and he notably recorded all the trumpet parts for Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle’s biopic of Miles Davis. We come back to The Mugician (2017) on a regular basis because it epitomises the ambitious, socially conscious, genre-bending jazz we like. Not surprising, given that Harrold cites both trumpeter Charles Tolliver and rapper Common as major influences. The result is that the record includes trip-hop and R&B elements alongside powerful jazz trumpet and a range of reflections on racism and bigotry (not surprising, given those events in Harrold’s hometown of Ferguson, Missouri). Watch Harrold celebrating the music of Miles Davis and playing his famous ‘moon and stars’ trumpet here.

3.  James Brandon Lewis – Resonance from Code of Being

There are not many artists who produce two full-length albums in a year but saxophonist James Brandon Lewis did just that in 2021 – not an easy year to produce anything! Jesup Wagon was followed at the end of the year by Code of Being from his quartet with Aruan Ortiz on piano, Brad Jones bass, Chad Taylor drums. This one is released on the Swiss label Intakt Records, an excellent source of edgy contemporary jazz. The tune Resonance begins and ends with a hymn-like quality and in-between is the improvisation, the interplay between the musicians, the fast and nimble work from pianist Aruan Ortiz and at various points the warm, full and wholesome tones from Brandon Lewis. This is serious music: as Brandon Lewis says in the liner notes My only desire is to constantly reach for the truest version of myself everyday until I exit for the next realm, and hopefully I leave nothing unturned.

4. Immanuel Wilkins – Emanation from The 7th Hand

Immanuel Wilkins is a 24-year-old alto saxophone player born and raised in Philadelphia and The 7th Hand is the  follow-up on Blue Note Records to his much-acclaimed debut Omega, rated the Best Jazz album of 2020 by the  New York Times. He has already acquired that dangerous label ‘ the future of jazz’ but there is plenty here to suggest he will be an important player. The band on the tune Emanation is a quartet with Micah Thomas on piano, Daryl Johns bass, Kweku Sumbry drums, with guests appearing on other tracks. The delicate, fast-moving runs of Wilkins interplay with the impressive piano of Micah Thomas to produce driving, contemporary, urban jazz music. The album is an hour-long suite comprised of seven movements with Emanation as the first.

5. Horace Tapscott – Niger’s Theme from The Giant is Awakened

Alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe made an appearance later in the show, but this 1969 record on the Flying Dutchman label is actually his first outing on record, here with Horace Tapscott, pianist and leader of the Los Angeles-based Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra. Here Tapscott is leading a rather unusual quintet – Blythe, Tapscott, two bassists (David Bryant and Walter Savage Jnr.) and drummer Everett Brown Jnr. The music is deep, spiritual and sounds more composed than it apparently was. Blythe went on to achieve great things, Horace Tapscott rather less so – but this record is undoubtedly one of his best and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find: our friends at Real Gone Music reissued it in 2020 – and with some copies on green vinyl too!

6. David S. Ware – Aquarian Sound from Flight of i

David S Ware firmly belongs in that ‘should be better known’ camp. A participant in the New York loft jazz scene of the 1970s, Ware didn’t record with his stunning quartet until 1989. In between, he’d spent years as a taxi driver making ends meet in the way that many avantgarde jazz musicians were required to do. The quartet was originally pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker and drummer Marc Edwards with Susie Ibarra also occupying the drum chair in later incarnations. There are dozens of recordings with this group that are well worth checking out (if you can find them) but our choice comes from one of the standout records, Flight of i from 1991. Aquarian Sound is the opening track and it’s a stunning showcase for both Ware and Shipp, whose solo on this tune is just great, with shades of McCoy Tyner that echo Ware’s Coltrane-like tones. Ware’s records aren’t easy to track down now but they are all worth investigating – see if you can find the 2005 3CD set Live in The World which includes an extended take on Aquarian Sound.

7. Gil Scott-Heron – Spirits from Spirits

Neil remembers very clearly picking this up on vinyl in 1994, and it has featured on his turntable in the years since. Spirits was Gil Scott Heron’s triumphant return to the studio after a 12 year absence and – although there is some vocal deterioration – this is a politically charged, spiritual record on which the strong lyrics added to John Coltrane’s Equinox to become the title track are a real highlight. Long-time co-writer Brian Jackson returned on piano and Ron Holloway from Scott Heron’s Amnesia Express group was back on saxophone. It’s not just on Spirit that the jazz influences are strong and this is a consistent record that belongs in any collection. The CD reissue has some bonus tracks, but the vinyl is something of a standout pressing and is worth seeking out.

8. Flora Purim – This is Me from If You Will

After a 15 year hiatus, Flora Purim releases her new record on the Strut label in April. We’ve got a preview for you here with the tune This Is Me. The new album is a celebration of her music and collaborations, with new compositions alongside fresh versions of her favourite personal songs – the title track is a reprise from her work with George Duke on the 2000 album Cool – here’s the original version from that record. Twenty years before, Duke had recorded A Brazilian Love Affair, which included Brazilian Sugar – also featuring Flora Purim on vocals. The new album also includes a take on 500 Miles High – a song from the late Chick Corea’s Return To Forever band which included Purim too. If You Will brings together many of Purim’s closest circle of musicians including husband Airto Moreira, guitarist José Neto, her daughter Diana Purim on vocals and percussionist Celso Alberti. As with Scott Heron, the 79 year old voice may not be what it was, but – on the evidence of this tune – this is definitely a record to seek out. A vinyl version can be pre-ordered from Bandcamp here.

9. Lester Bowie – For Fela from African Children

More trumpet, but this time from Art Ensemble of Chicago member, Lester Bowie. Recorded for the Italian Horo label in 1978, African Children is a genuine lost treasure. Recorded in a single day, this double vinyl album features several side-long tracks including For Fela. Bowie is joined by Arthur Blythe on alto, Amina Claudine Myers on keys, Malachi Favors on bass and Phillip Wilson, one of Neil’s favourite drummers. In his Guardian obituary for Bowie, jazz writer John Fordham noted that in between Art Ensemble tours, Bowie would sometimes pack a bag and head for the airport with his trumpet, sure that it wouldn’t let him starve. On this basis, he stayed in Jamaica for a year and the locals would enquire after his health if they didn’t hear him practising. In Nigeria, he worked with Fela Kuti and Fordham writes: “Bowie recalled once that he was at his wits’ end in Lagos in 1977, telling himself “Lester, you finally ____ up, you can’t play your way out of this. Then a guy told me to go see Fela Kuti. I took a cab to Fela’s place and a little African guy comes out and says: ‘You play jazz? You from Chicago? Well, you’ve come to the right place, ’cause we’re the baddest band in Africa.’ Then Fela tells me to play a blues, my speciality. I played a couple of bars and he says: ‘Go get his bags, he’s moving in’. I stayed with him about a year, and it was fantastic.” You can hear Bowie on an essential Fela album, No Agreement – here’s the extended title track. Just relish that moment after the five minute mark when Bowie enters – it’s pure magic! His breathy slurring and fiery, rhythmic stabs are a perfect fit for Fela’s music. You’ll pay over €100 for a mint copy of African Children but this is definitely one to go crate digging for.

10. Fela Kuti – Sorrow, Tears & Blood from Sorrow, Tears & Blood

After Neil’s choice of a tune for Fela, it seemed appropriate to follow it with music from the man himself. Derek has been lucky to see two of Fela’s UK performances, including his only UK show outside London at the Cambridge Junction. He has also had interesting conversations with a friend who knows Fela’s family and who interviewed him in The Shrine – Fela’s club and cultural centre in Lagos – resulting in an article for The Guardian newspaper. The tune Sorrow, Tears & Blood builds in the classic Fela style, but the overall pace is more restrained than many of his tunes, possibly as a result of its subject matter, In 1974 Fela established the Kalakuta Republic around his home in defiance of the Government and the Nigerian establishment. The Republic grew in popularity in the neighbourhood, despite harassment and attacks from the authorities. Throughout Fela was not to be silenced and at the Festival for Black Arts and Culture (FESTAC) held in Lagos in 1977 he performed Zombie – one of his most potent satires against the Nigerian military. Zombie quickly became hugely popular but this then outraged the Nigerian army who sent in 1000 armed soldiers to attack the Republic. Fela’s house was burnt down, its occupants were beaten and his mother was thrown from a first floor window. She later died from her injuries. Sorrow, Tears and Blood was written in the wake of this attack and the lyrics describe the scene: Everybody run, run, run/ Everybody scatter, scatter/ Some people lost some bread/ Some people just die…Them leave sorrow, tears and blood/Them regular trademark. It’s a powerful polemic which still retains its potency. You can easily find the album on CD backed with another excellent Fela record Opposite People (1977), but Bandcamp can provide a vinyl version via Fela’s Kuti’s site right here. As Fela said, Music is the weapon. Music is the weapon of the future.  More Cosmic Jazz music soon.

January 31 2022: Elza Soares, Latin influences and more

 

This latest Cosmic Jazz show has a Latin feel. Brazil features strongly but we’ve added more examples of Latin influences on jazz musicians – that longheld connection between jazz and Latin music remains a strong one.

1.  Sonzeira feat. Elza Soares – Aqualera Do Brasil from Brasil Bam Bam

So we begin with a celebration of the extraordinary life of Brazilian singer, Elza Soares. If there isn’t a biopic of her life there should be. Soares died earlier this month at the age of 91 – and she recorded here final album just two years ago. Born in a Rio favela, she was forced into marriage at 12 by her father and had her first child a year later.  At 21 she was already a widow and forced to raise her five children on her own. Her first record in 1959 was an immediate hit and with her distinctive raspy voice she became a samba star releasing well over fifty albums over her long career. We’ve chosen one record from her later years and one recorded much earlier. In 2014 DJ and producer Gilles Peterson travelled to Brazil to record all-new material with a stellar line-up of Brazilian talent, under the name Sonzeira. The result was Brasil Bam Bam Bam which included mesmerising vocal performances from Seu Jorge, Marcos Valle, Kassin, Lucas Santtana and the then 76 year old Elza Soares. She chose the classic Aqualero do Brasil (often just called Brazil), one of the most recorded songs in history – but, typically, gave it her unique twist.

2.  Elza Soares – Mas Que Nada from Blue Brazil Vol. 2

Our second choice will be familiar too – it’s Jorge Ben’s classic Mas Que Nada, made famous in 1966 by Sergio Mendes and recorded many times since then, including in a characteristically scatty Ella style by Ms Fitzgerald herself. Soares first recorded this song in 1970 and it’s this version we feature here. Originally on the Soares album Sambas e Mais Sambas, you can more easily track it down on the Blue Note compilation Blue Brazil Vol. 2 along with a host of other great Brazilian songs including this great take on Marcos Valle’s Freio Aerodinamico by Os Tres Marais.

3. Eumir Deodato – Flap from Os Catedraticos 73

One of Brazil’s most prolific musicians and arrangers, Deodato moved from Rio de Janeiro to New York in the late 60s, working as composer, arranger, producer and keyboardist on almost 500 records, under both his own name and with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Earth Wind and Fire, Frank Sinatra, Kool and The Gang, George Benson, Tom Jobim and Bjork. He’s perhaps most famous for his inspired take on Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra but he was already famous in Brazil before his stateside move, working with Joao Donato and Marcos Valle, as well as recording with his instrumental samba jazz and bossa nova ensemble Os Catedráticos. This album included the funky hit Arranha Ceu (Skyscrapers) but we’ve chosen the more laid back Flap. If you can find it, try to get hold of his superb 1973 album recorded with Joao Donato – DonatoDeodato (Muse Records) – even a mint first edition won’t cost you too much. It’s both artists at their best, as evinced by this brilliant cut, Whistle Stop.

4. Kathryn Moses – Music In My Heart from Music In My Heart/Kev Beadle Presents Private Collection Vol. 2  

There is a definite Latin feel to the show this time, but from artists influenced by the various shades of Latin music not just Latin musicians themselves.  Kathryn Moses is a Canadian vocalist, flautist and saxophone player who features on the show with a Brazilian-inspired samba track Music in my Heart. It was released originally as the title tune of an album in 1979 and on it she demonstrates her soaring voice, with an authentic Brazilian feel alongside her skills on the flute. The tune can also be found on Kev Beadle Presents Private Collection Vol. 2. Beadle is a British jazz club DJ – one of those skilled at finding and digging out for record release fine tunes such as this, which avoid mainstream collection but sound great in a club, or your home, or on a jazz show!

5. Mingus Big Band – Tijuana Gift Shop from Que Viva Mingus

Derek likes to dig out records from his shelves that have often been unjustly ignored for some time. One such record is Que Viva Mingus from The Mingus Big Band released in 1987. This is a band that continued to the music of bassist/composer Charles Mingus after the bassist’s death in 1979. Here at Cosmic Jazz we’ve not played enough Mingus over the years and so felt it was time to redress the balance a little. This iteration of the Mingus Big Band was founded under the artistic direction of the composer’s widow, Sue Mingus, and Que Viva Mingus draws upon Mingus’s continuing experiments with Latin rhythms which started with the early Moods in Mambo written at the age of 27 (but unrecorded) to full length albums like Tijuana Moods from 1962 and Cumbia and Jazz Fusion from 1978, recorded not long before Mingus died. Tijuana Gift Shop, originally from Tijuana Moods, is here arranged and conducted by Michael Mossman, with solos by Ryan Kisor on trumpet and Vincent Herring on alto sax. It has a true Latin big band feel, although Mossman noted a “middle eastern kind of vibe” in the early section. Chris Potter, Randy Brecker, Milton Cardona, David Sanchez, Steve Turre and John Stubblefield were among the other members of the band.

6. Charles Mingus – Meditation on Inner Peace from At UCLA 1965

In September 1965 Charles Mingus performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. He had done so the year before too, but his 1965 set was inexplicably cut short at and so the new material he had planned for the event was instead played at this UCLA concert just a week later. The show was recorded and Mingus pressed a few hundred copies into a self-released two-LP set but the master tape was lost until Sue Mingus released the complete concert in 2006. And it is complete: the raw, unvarnished music with dialogue, harangues and some very rough spots all preserved, is a reminder of the tempestuous nature of Mingus’s life and music. At one point on the first disc, Mingus actually sends some musicians off the stage and continues as a quartet. But on the best moments on the record the band is superb – as here on Once Upon a Time, There was a Holding Corporation Called Old America and our choice, the evocative Meditation on Inner Peace.

7. Kenny Barron – Other Places from Other Places

Another artist found on Derek’s shelves was pianist Kenny Barron, and his 1993 Verve album Other Places from which the title track is taken. A gently swaying tune with a Latin feel to which  Kenny Barron provides subtle, rolling keyboard responses to Bobby Hutcherson’s vibraphone and Charles Moore’s sax before taking the lead himself. Also on the album are Rufus Reid on bass, Victor Lewis on drums and Mino Cinello on percussion. Kenny Barron is recognised as a mainstream jazz master whose work also included – like Lloyd McNeill – a professorship at Rutgers University where he mentored David Sanchez, Terence Blanchard and Regina Bell.  While still at high school he worked with drummer Philly Joe Jones and then went on to play with Dizzy Gillespie, where he developed an interest in Latin and Caribbean rhythms. Barron is still recording and performing: his most recent album was a second duet with British bassist Dave Holland – a follow up to the excellent duo performances on The Art of Conversation from 2014. Here’s the superb Rain from that album.

8. Joe Henderson – No Me Esqueca from In Pursuit Of Blackness

By the early 1970s Joe Henderson, like many of his jazz peers, had become more politicised. The album titles of the time reveal all – Power To the People (1969) ), If You’re Not Part of the Problem… (1970) and this album, In Pursuit of Blackness (1971). Henderson moved into a freer kind of post-bop playing – never ‘out there’ like Archie Shepp, another politicised player of the time , but with freer arrangements and a more percussive heavy, electric sound. It was a tough sound to get right – and many jazz artists of the day didn’t quite manage it – but the Latinesque opening No Me Esqueca  is great with George Cables on Fender Rhodes and Curtis Fuller on trombone in particularly fine form. The tune is a more uptempo version of Recorda Me from Henderson’s first album for Blue Note and it’s one of the best tracks on the record.

9. Lonnie Plaxico – Stop Look and Listen from Short Takes    

The show ended with another of Derek’s vinyl re-discoveries – the album Short Takes from bassist Lonnie Plaxico. There may be reasons why this particular album has been left on the shelves for a while but – on reflection – it’s an album that gets better as you go through the tracks. Derek chose a tune which fits our Cosmic Jazz criteria of regularly ending the show with a genre-stretching choice. Stop Look and Listen is a Thom Bell/Linda Creed ballad made famous as an R&B classic by The Stylistics.  “Melodic charm” is the very apt description of the tune from the album sleeve notes and Derek loves it! Background vocals are provided by Carla Cook and Lennie Plaxico leads with bass solos and improvisations. David Binney and Greg Osby are among the long list of musicians included on the record.

16 January 2022: tributes to Mtume, Lloyd McNeil and more

Cosmic Jazz this time round presents a much shorter show but one that pays tribute to two artists we have admired and revered since the start of the show, over fifteen years ago. Mtume and Lloyd McNeil both died earlier this month and we honour them with four wonderful tunes.

James Mtume, Grammy award-winning singer and producer, photographed on February 5, 2020.

1.   Mtume – Yebo from Rebirth Cycle

We begin our tribute to drummer and percussionist James Mtume, by playing the sort of tune we often use to end the show. It’s not jazz but R’n’B, and it was a bonafide global chart hit in 1983 from a former jazz musician who ranged across the spectrum of contemporary, spiritual jazz and played on numerous records, including with Miles Davis at his most ‘out there’ electric phase in the 1970s. But Mtume was much more than an accomplished jazz sideman. no less. Born James Forman in 1928, Mtume was the son of saxophonist Jimmy Heath (who died last year at the age of 93) but he was raised by his stepfather – also James Forman, a saxophonist who was nicknamed ‘Hen Gates’ – which in turn became the name of a tune on Mtume’s hugely influential Alkebu-Lan (Land of the Blacks) album. For more on this, check out this Cosmic Jazz post from August this year. The drummer actually made his recorded debut with a remarkable lineup: the album Kawaida (1970) was credited to his uncle Albert Heath, but four of the five tracks were written by Mtume and the band included Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry and Buster Williams. This is a superb record and has been recently re-released – check out Maulana here.

Back to the 1970s, and when Mtume moved to New York be began to get ‘A list’ work, appearing on records by McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Lonnie Liston Smith and more with his writing becoming an ever more important feature – check out the Lonnie Liston Smith version of Mtume’s beautiful tune Sais (Egypt). Mtume was then signed by Miles Davis (who knew a good drummer when he saw one), performing and recording on landmark releases like On the Corner (1972), Get Up With It (1974) and the live in Japan records from 1975, Agharta and Pangaea. Mtume was also recording with his own ensembles – which brings us back to Alkebu-Lan (recorded live at the East Club in downtown Brooklyn in 1972), and the studio-based follow up Rebirth Cycle (recorded in 1974 but released three years later).  Alkebu-Lan is claimed as the original name for the continent of Africa and this important record is full of references – both spoken and musical – to African-American origins. The Umoja Ensemble was fairly large with 15 players – and result in this live recording is thick and rather muddy – but the message of a spiritual freedom is clear. The music is an amalgam of different jazz genres – you can hear call and response chants, big band jazz, be-bop and free jazz all meshed together in a kind of organised chaos. This is music to immerse yourself into and emerge with an understanding of the way in which Black consciousness and jazz have intertwined over the years. Rebirth Cycle (1977) is a better album in many ways: there’s an extended take on Sais and a remarkable lineup of musicians, including Mtume’s father Jimmy Heath, vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and saxophonist Azar Lawrence. Yebo features basically the Miles Davis band of the time, along with Tawatha Agee on vocals. This not an easy record to find and it has never been reissued on either CD or vinyl – the only copy on offer on Discogs is priced at £300 – so Neil will be hanging on to his treasured copy!

2.   Miles Davis – Mtume from Live in Tokyo 1975 

In a 2018 interview with fellow percussionist Adam Rudolph, Mtume noted that when he was recruited to Miles’s band, Davis had said to him “You are my Tony” referring, of course, to drummer Tony Williams. Mtume was influential in extending the range of the hand drummer in a band: instead of providing just additional colour, the percussionist was literally at the centre of the stage – in live performance with Davis, the two musicians would play side by side. There are just a few Miles Davis compositions simply titled after the musicians that inspired them – John McLaughlin, Dual Mr Tillman Anthony – and Mtume. We’ve chosen a short version from the live in Japan concerts that produced the Agharta and Pangea albums but the original 15 minute version is here on Get Up With It. You can hear how the percussionist is at the centre of the music alongside the wah wah trumpet of Davis.

3.   Lloyd McNeil – Salvation Army from Treasures    

Flautist and more Lloyd McNeil (1935-2021) deserves recognition from Cosmic Jazz. He was not just a jazz artist much admired by us, but also a painter and friend of Picasso who designed his own album covers, a music anthropologist, a poet and a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The album Treasures was released originally in 1980 on McNeil’s own Baobab label in New York. but – like five other of his albums – has been re-released in all formats by the British label Soul Jazz Records. Treasures combines deep spiritual jazz with Brazilian rhythms and melodies, McNeil having spent many years involved with Brazilian musicians. This album includes the Brazilian musicians Nana Vasconcelos, Portinho and Dom Salvador alongside American jazz artist, including Cecil McBee (who also appeared on Yebo above). The tune Salvation Army illustrates the fusion perfectly with the percussion of Vasconcelos to the fore alongside Lloyd McNeil’s jazz flute.

4.   The Lloyd McNeill Quartet – Home Rule from Washington Suite 

Washington Suite is another Lloyd McNeill album available through Soul Jazz Records – on coloured vinyl too! It is a deeply spiritual album, first released in 1970 on another of McNeil’s labels – Asha Records in Washington DC. Originally commissioned for the Capital Ballet Company, it’s another example of how McNeill was active in multiple spheres. He grew up in the years of the Civil Rights Movement and the ideals of the Movement are imbued in his music. He was one of a number of US jazz musicians who moved to France in the 1960s which is how, while playing music on the Mediterranean coast, he met Picasso. Over the years he played with a number of prominent musicians, including Nina Simone, Eric Dolphy, Mulatu Asatke and Sabu Martinez. McNeill’s global travels took him to Brazil and West Africa informing and influencing both his music and teaching. He was a man with an impressive range of abilities and achievements who used them to promote the ideals of many Black activists at the time of self-sufficiency and empowerment.

02 January 2022: 2021’s CJ favourites (part two)

We share more music that we have enjoyed during 2021. As in the previous show, we’ve got a mixture of new and re-releases covering a range of jazz and jazz-related styles – and, despite the our necessary reliance on mp3 files to broadcast, we are also celebrating the continued resurgence of vinyl…

1.  Daniel Herskedal – The Mariner’s Cross from Harbour

If you like atmospheric music with awe-inspiring melodies Daniel Herskedal’s sixth album for Edition Records is the music for you. A Norwegian tuba and bass trumpet player, he’s joined on this album by Eyolf Dale on piano and celesta and Helge Andreas Norbakken on drums and marimba. The Norwegian landscape has long been an influence on Herskedal’s music  and the landscape where this record was recorded is pretty unique: recorded in December 2020 at the remote Ocean Sound, the studios sit on Giske, an island on the rugged Norwegian coastline. The music on this album evokes something of that sense of ‘hygge’ – a word in both Danish and Norwegian that is all about the feelings of warmth and protection when sheltered from stormy weather and a wild sea. The landscape has always played a vital role in Herskedal’s music – and comes across as vast and deep but with that sense of minimalism in evocation the space and wild openness.

2.  STR4TA – Aspects from Aspects

2021 reminded us that Britfunk is still alive and kicking – thanks to some new compilations and STR4TA with their album Aspects. A fusion of jazz, funk, urban dance rhythms with some pop hooks, Britfunk was a UK-homegrown scene from the late 1970s onwards that proved it had lasting durability when Gilles Peterson and Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick from Britfunk pioneers Incognito got together and created STR4TA. The album appeared in March 2021 and the recreation of that pioneering British sound is faultless. There’s some concessions to the spacey synth melodies of groups like Atmosfear and Hi-Tension, but this album stands on its own as the essence of the era with a more contemporary twist. With the exception of some inane lyrics on a few tracks, this is a jazz dance must. For the session itself, Peterson and Maunick wanted to approach the music-making from the starting point that led to those early classic Brit-funk records like Freeez’s Southern Freeez or Atmosfear’s Dancing in Outer Space, capturing the raw energy and sound of the moment. Recalling his role in the process, Peterson says he was the one making sure things didn’t get too polished. “I was there at the back, telling them, no, leave it like that, cut it there, or just use that first take.” Also featured on the record are Francis Hylton on bass and Matt Cooper on both keyboards and drums. Great sound on vinyl too – check it out here on Bandcamp.

3.  Sault – Fearless from UNTITLED (Rise)

We first featured Sault in May 2021 – and this London collective still remains something of a mystery. The music seemed to arrive out of the blue: no interviews, no photos, no videos, no live appearances, no Wikipedia entry – and a perfunctory and entirely non-interactive social media presence. UNTITLED (Rise) was actually released in September 2020 but went on to be nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2021 – and, indeed, we reckon that this album is something of a masterpiece. The opening track Strong features beats spiked with explosions of dubby echo, an intricate mesh of Nile Rodgers-ish guitar and a terrific breakdown inspired by Brazilian batucada percussion while Fearless is supremely funky with flurries of disco strings and a dark, inspiring production that works against lyrics like “It hurts on the inside”. Vocalist Cleo Sol released her second album Mother in 2021 – and it’s well worth a listen too. Of course, UNTITLED (Rise) is available in all formats – check out your choice here on Bandcamp.

4.  Dexter Gordon – Tangerine from Live at Chateauvallon 1978

Neil has been listening to a lot of Dexter Gordon recently and the Record Store Day 2021 vinyl reissue of this 1978 concert sounds just great. Released on the Elemental label (who have done an equally good job with Barney Wilen’s live record – see below) the music first appeared as a double CD the previous year but the first two tunes on that set, Tangerine and More Than You Know, take up side 1 and 2 respectively on the later gatefold vinyl reissue. On Tangerine, Gordon characteristically introduces the Mercer/Schertzinger standard by reciting the opening lyrics and then stretches out with his superbly sympathetic quartet for over 20 minutes, quoting – in typical Gordon fashion – from Pop Goes the Weasel and If I Were a Bell, all with that unmistakeable burnished tone on tenor. Pianist George Cables, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Eddie Gladden are the same guys with whom he recorded the celebrated Live at Carnegie Hall a few weeks earlier and provide more than solid support. Either the single vinyl release or the 2CD full set are highly recommended.

5.  Kahil El’Zabar’s Spirit Groove – In My House from Kahil El’Zabar’s Spirit Groove feat. David Murray

Another long tune (originally over 20 minutes but we featured the shorter radio edit) and again one that celebrates effortless jazz viruosity. It’s not strictly a 2021 release as this record came in at the very end of 2020 but – thanks to Covid – Neil didn’t get a chance to listen to his vinyl copy until October 2021! This record appeared on the new UK Spiritmuse label – beautifully presented records in gatefold sleeves that are well worth getting hold of.  Chicagoan percussionist Kahil El’Zabar has been recording for over forty years and on this album is joined by his contemporary, tenor saxophonist David Murray who is ably supported by Justin Dillard on on synth, organ and piano and young Emma Dayhuff on bass. El’Zabar himself takes up kalimba, drum kit, congas, shakers, vibes and even has a go at singing on this predominantly spiritual jazz release. As always, your best source for this record is the either the Spiritmuse or Bandcamp websites: you can find Spirit Groove here on Bandcamp – and still available in all formats.

Recording of the CD ‘La Note Bleue’. From left to right : Philippe Paringaux (scenarist of the animation film ‘Barney et la note Bleue’) and French jazz musician Barney Wilen (tenor and soprano saxophones). Monday, December 1st 1986, between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.

6.  Barney Wilen – Besame Mucho from Live at Le Petit Opportun 1989

Back in 2017, Neil finally caught up with saxophonist Barley Wilen exploring his innovative 1970 album Moshi through Youtube clips. More of that later but a little Wilen background first… His mother was French, his father a successful American dentist-turned-inventor based on the French Riviera. As a teenager, Wilen started a youth jazz club in Nice before moving to Paris in the mid50s where he worked with a number of American musicians, including Miles Davis. It’s Wilen you hear on the soundtrack to Lift to the Scaffold, the celebrated Louis Malle film, reportedly recorded while the musicians watched a live screening of the film. In 1970, Wilen assembled a team of filmmakers, technicians, and musicians to travel to Africa and record the music of native pygmy tribes before returning to Paris where he created the Moshi album, a record unlike any other in the jazz canon. Knowing just the track Zombiezar, Neil was keen to find more and was lucky enough to find a copy of the excellent 2017 reissue of this dark, eccentric music  in Singapore, complete with a DVD of Caroline de Bendern’s film À L’intention De Mlle Issoufou À Bilma, which documented Wilen’s African journey. For Record Store Day in 2021, Elemental Music went all out with a magnificent box set reissue of Wilen’s 1987 La Note Bleue, overseen by Wilen’s son Patrick. In addition to the beautifully remastered record, there’s an English-language facsimilie of the Loustal-Paringaux comic book (Barney et la note bleue) that pays tribute to Wilen in a fictionalised version of his life and an LP-sized booklet that includes great photos from the recording sessions, as well as extensive notes and contemporary ads and press cuttings. As if that weren’t enough, there’s a CD of a great previously unreleased Wilen quartet recording, made at Parisian jazz club Le Petit Opportun that features reinterpretations of La Note Bleue tunes. Wilen is joined here by Jacky Terasson on piano, Gilles Naturel on bass and Peter Gritz on drums. If you can still find it, this is one of the best jazz box sets you’ll find – well worth looking out for.

7.  Walter Bishop Jr’s 4th Cycle – Sweet Rosa from Keeper of My Soul

We continue to celebrate the re-release of Black Jazz Records music via  Real Gone Music who are steadily issuing all twenty records from the label in all formats – including, for this one, orange with black swirl vinyl edition! Keeper Of My Soul was keyboardist Walter Bishop’s second release on the label and he’s supported here by flautist/sax player Hubert Laws, bass player Gerald Brown and vibraphonist Woody Murray. Contrary to the album title, the name of the band was not The 4th Cycle; instead, as the liner notes put it, the name reflected ‘Bishop’s composition and improvisational techniques based on the Cycle of 4ths and his various personal musical cycles as performer, student and teacher.‘ The album also has a sense of spirituality informed by Bisop’s yogic studies with Parmahansa Yogananda; little wonder, then, that Keeper of My Soul was a more ambitious, electric, and ‘out’ record than its Blue Note-influenced predecessor with Bishop exploring Keith Jarrett-like free-form passages (Those Who Chant), Latin stylings (a great take on Kenny Dorham’s classic Blue Bossa which first appeared on Joe Henderson’s First Page album) and a surprisingly funky take on Summertime. We featured the strong composition Sweet Rosa – typical of the strengths of this record over its predecessor.

8.  Kenny Garrett – Sounds from the Ancestors from Sounds from the Ancestors

We have played many tunes from alto saxophonist  Kenny Garrett on Cosmic Jazz and the 2021 release of Sounds From The Ancestors just has to be celebrated. Garrett has played with many of the greats of jazz –  Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard and many more – but his new album follows something of a different path. There’s direct respect to these important influences and the music they played but also to the jazz heritage of soul, gospel and Afro-Cuban music. This title tune, which begins with Garrett playing piano, includes an important contribution from guest Pedrito Martinez on percussion. Besides his core band the album welcomes several guests who bring with them experience of different musical styles. These include Jean Baylor and Dwight Trible on vocals, Lenny White on snare drum, Maurice Brown on trumpet and Johnny Mercier on piano, organ and Fender Rhodes. The record appeared on many Best of… jazz lists in 2021 – including ours.

9.  James Brandon Lewis – Archimedean from Code of Being

Here on Cosmic Jazz we have featured tracks from Jesup Wagon, an earlier 2021 release from James Brandon Lewis but, at the end of the year, another record emerged – Code of Being on the Swiss Intakt label. It is a quartet, with Lewis on tenor, Aruan Ortiz on piano, Brad Jones on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. This is an intense and enveloping experience as evidenced by our choice on this show.  The Archimedean Spiral was the logo chosen by the visual artists Norman Lewis, Romare Bearden and others for their Spiral collective, formed on 05 July 1963. The name was symbolic of the group’s varied artists and their many different styles, yet containing the common core purpose of establishing a black identity in a predominantly white art world. Many of the artists had moved from the South to New York and felt compelled to engage in the civil rights movement as artists. Sleeve notes to the album record that when Lewis was asked to place himself within the history of American music his response was that he sees himself as part of the tradition from John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins and that he hopes to contribute to that tradition. Indeed he does, – and Archimedean is undoubtedly the most modal and Coltrane-influenced track here, and so our final tune on the show is an appropriate follow-up and end point.

10. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme, Pt. II – Resolution (Live) from A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle

As with Miles Davis, the John Coltrane records keep on coming. How many more will turn up? The latest is from a live show recorded at the Penthouse Club, Seattle on 02 October 1965 and was found among the private tapes of a friend of Coltrane, the musician and educator Joe Brazil and was released on the Impulse! label in 2021. This is a truly significant recording because it’s only the second live performance of A Love Supreme that has been committed to tape (so far). We may think of A Love Supreme as tight, deeply spiritual, revelatory music but this performance is not that. Recorded at a time of change for Coltrane, with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones still with him – although not for long – additional musicians were brought in to change and extend the sound. Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax and percussion, Carlos Ward on alto sax and Donald Rafael Garrett on bass, adding to that of Jimmy Garrison from the original quartet. The result is dramatically extended performances that allow you to experience the music in a different way – it feels live, with Elvin Jones particularly high up in the mix. Jones said in 2002 that A Love Supreme is always a spiritual experience, wherever you hear it and although the recording quality has limitations (as you might expect from a portable reel-to-reel recorder) A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle is an essential record in any jazz collection. More Cosmic Jazz sounds soon…

20 December 2021: the vinyl revival and jazz reissues

In 2021 Don Was, the new President of Blue Note Records, announced the creation of the Tone Poet series of vinyl reissues. Yes, all these records were to be issued only on vinyl and in editions remastered by the tone poet himself, Joe Harley. To understand what this means we need to go back a little…

Joe Harley is a key figure in the growth of jazz vinyl reissues. He co-founded the Music Matters reissues, focusing on both classic and more obscure titles from the Blue Note canon. The result was over a hundred reissues, almost all of which are now rare collectors items attracting premium prices on buying and selling websites like Discogs. Music Matters committed very early on to make buying one of their records something of an event – so they focused on gatefold packaging with often previously unseen studio photos inside. The jackets were all substantial glossy recreations and the high quality vinyl was always heavyweight 180 gram discs. The cost was high compared with your typical record store secondhand buy – but the quality was unimpeachable. As Harley acknowledged, “It was evident from the minute you pick up the record that it was special.” Notably, every single one of the 33rpm issues on the Music Matters website is out of stock. When Don Was saw and heard these records he approached Harley and asked him to apply the same high standards to a new series that would be issued by Blue Note Records itself. Harley agreed, and the result was the first series of Tone Poet titles in 2020. Many of these are now relatively hard to come by but the programme has continued and new titles emerge every month. This excellent insheepsclothinghifi interview gives us an insight into what Harley wanted to achieve and includes a link to the Youtube interview between Was and Harley that gives further details of both the background to the project and Harley’s approach to remastering.

We have provided links before to both the Blue Note Tone Poet series and now their cheaper – but equally carefully produced – Classic reissue series, but here they are again for newbies. And the Tone Poet name? Well, we can thank saxophonist icon Charles Lloyd for that one – he named Harley ‘the Tone Poet’ and went on to title his most recent Jazzwise-poll topping release Tone Poet in Harley’s honour. The result is – unexpectedly – a superb sounding record with Lloyd at the top of his mature game. Of course, it’s a Cosmic Jazz recommendation too – and for those who have left the vinyl world – it is available as a CD and download (although the latter is only for US markets).

We could have expected that the other record majors would follow suit – and this is exactly what has happened. Enter the huge Universal catalogue with access to the Verve, Impulse!, Phillips and Decca labels and more. Of course, there has always been a clutch of audiophile reissue labels with MoFi (Mobile Fidelity) being perhaps the most well known. But to this growing roster we can now add Impex, Craft, Sam, Pure Pleasure and many more – and the result is that jazz record fans have never had it so good. Neil has been crate digging for years but that now includes checking out all the new vinyl titles and reissues that have emerged over the last few years. What is fuelling this seemingly unstoppable trend?

Long before Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube, vinyl records were the physical music format – in the 1970s, vinyl sales peaked at 530 million units a year and accounted for 66% of all music format revenues, but by the 1990s this had dropped to less than 10 million units and a mere 0.1% of the market share. What happened? The arrival of CDs in 1982 signalled the virtual end of the vinyl record – cheap to produce and marketed with the tag “perfect sound, forever”, there wasn’t much hope for the seemingly outdated black wax format. And the introduction of mp3 files via iTunes was the final nail in the coffin. But – as we all know – vinyl has made an impressive comeback. For each of the past 15 years, sales of new vinyl have gradually increased. In the first half of 2021 alone, 17 million albums were sold — an 86% jump from 2020. The remaining 40 or so pressing plants around the world simply can’t keep up with a demand that is being fuelled by new generations of record buyers. But why? After all, vinyl is much more expensive to produce, is far less portable and requires relatively expensive equipment to sound good. The answer is with the buyers. 70 percent of these new collectors are the millennial generation, or those under 35. They have the purchasing power and – more importantly – the desire for some kind of tangibility after years of listening to poor quality invisible mp3s via their iPhones. A wholly passive experience is turned into an active one – from crate digging in your local record store (and coffee shop), to opening the record sleeve, dropping the stylus and reading the album cover notes. More than this, a culture has been created around vinyl – without the ubiquity of being the only recorded music format, it becomes an elected choice with tangible benefits: records can be collected, traded and displayed. And – as the trading sites like Discogs demonstrate – vinyl is becoming increasingly valuable. Whether new limited editions on coloured vinyl or original pressings from vinyl’s golden age, records are an investment. In the world of jazz, a (possible) first pressing of Hank Mobley’s Blue Note 1568 (released in 1957) was sold on eBay in 2015 for £7300 – double the previous highest price paid for any other jazz record, ever.

And so, back to Blue Note’s Tone Poets/Classics and Universal’s Acoustic Sounds jazz reissues. Let’s check out five of Neil’s favourites from these back catalogues and give some guidance on what to buy – if you can find them. First up is a recent release and so still readily available – Charles Mingus and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (Impulse! – 1963). This repressing isn’t cheap (SGD50 /£35) but is a revelation soundwise. Housed in a beautiful glossy gatefold sleeve, with the original liner notes by Mingus and his psychologist, this record belongs in every jazz collection. A six-part suite with dramatic shifts in mood and tempo, the music features a three-way brass dialogue of trumpets, trombone and tuba, swooping reeds and awe-inspiring rhythm section. Balancing delicate Spanish modes and Ellingtonian themes, the overall effect is simply breathtaking. Next up is Dexter Gordon’s One Flight Up (Blue Note – 1964). This is worth it just for the side-long Donald Byrd composition, Tanya, but Gordon’s huge tenor sound, the utter brilliance of the then-teenaged bass player Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson and rock-steady drummer Art Taylor have never sounded better. This one should come in a little less in price than the Acoustic Sounds/Impulse! records). It’s another gatefold of course and beautifully produced. Blue Note also had access to other labels too and Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Solid State – 1968) was one of the first of these reissues Neil bought. Is it Corea’s best ever record? Maybe. It’s certainly an album you’ll come back to over and again, just as Neil has. A classic piano trio with Miroslav Vitous on bass and Roy Haynes on drums, Corea moves between his own kind of hard bop and music that is much freer and ‘out there’. The sound is spectacularly good and slightly better than Neil’s excellent Japanese import version bought a few years ago. It’s back to Blue Note with McCoy Tyner’s last record for the label. Expansions was released in 1968 with Tyner fronting a remarkable band including trumpeter Woody Shaw, Shorter on tenor and Gary Bartz on alto. The opening track is appropriately titled Vision and is indeed a vision of where Tyner was heading at this time. Stunning music that pushes and pulls against the boundaries of mainstream modern jazz. Neil’s final choice takes us back to tenor legend Charles Lloyd whose new 2021 album (appropriately called Tone Poet) is an all-analogue production mastered by Joe Harley’s right-hand man Kevin Gray and includes Bill Frisell on guitar and Eric Harland on drums. It sounds fabulous and includes spirited takes on Ornette Coleman’s Rambling and Gabor Szabo’s Lady Gabor. So, there’s never been a better time to listen to vinyl. With more and more retailers opening – here in Singapore, I can walk to two great stores in ten minutes – and with new turntables regularly appearing on the market there’s an unlimited opportunity to get into music on vinyl. As Charlie Parker said, Now’s The Time.

12 December 2021: this year’s CJ favourites (part one)

Regular listeners to Cosmic Jazz will have noticed that we’ve moved on this year. It’s much easier to listen to the show via the Mixcloud link and we’ve now got a Twitter feed for you as well. The music choices remains as eclectic as always though – just check out some of our favourites from this year – both new releases and re-issues – and look out for an upcoming feature from Neil on how the vinyl renaissance has led to a bumper crop of audiophile jazz reissues.

1.  Sivuca – Ain’t No Sunshine from Sivuca

This re-release from Real Gone Music is the perfect way to start any show – and we make no apologies for the fact we have played the tune several times previously. Brazilian accordionist/guitarist/composer and vocalist Sivuca performs the near impossible – covering a tune and making it sound better than the original. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with the Bill Withers-penned original, but Sivuca simply sizzles with joy and exuberance and adds the je ne sais quoi. His accordion comes in from time to time with warm, full  and embracing tones, there is driving piano, the odd word from Sivuca sounding like a cool elder statesman and the beat all through is infectious. Then there is that choir – full of heavenly innocence and clarity that appears from time to time – pure perfection.

2.  Gene Russell – Talk to My Lady from Talk to My Lady

And on to another re-release from Real Gone Music – this time as part of their mission to re-release of all twenty records on the Black Jazz Records label. Keyboard player Gene Russell was a key man at Black Jazz: producer for all the releases, appearances on several of the recordings and with two albums of his own for the label – including this second release from 1972.  It’s a very different offering from the previous year’s New Direction, with Russell leading an electric band with bass player Henry Franklin to the fore and Calvin Keys on guitar. Both players recorded for Black Jazz Records in their own right and we have featured their music on previous shows. The tune has a jazz/funk feel to make the body sway, but with some restraint – this isn’t easy dancefloor stuff. Notably, Russell followed the example of Coltrane by including a surprisingly powerful take of My Favorite Things on Talk To My Lady. Well worth searching out.

3. Harry Beckett – Third Road from Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain (1965-1972)/Flare Up

Another essential re-release in 2021 was the compilation Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain (1965-1972) compiled by @TheJazzDad Tony Higgins who, along with Mike Peden, has also been responsible for the excellent J Jazz series of re-issues (more of which later). 14 tracks from top British artists, many of whom have not always received the credit they deserved, but whose important music and its influence on contemporary British artists is now being recognised. At the launch of the compilation in August 2021, the UK’s Guardian newspaper highlighted these often under-sung musicians in a useful introduction. Trumpeter Harry Beckett was born in Barbados in 1935 but came to Britain in 1954 and was quickly in demand on numerous sessions, playing for many other musicians including an extended period with British composer Graham Collier. He was in demand enough to be featured on albums by – among others – Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, Nucleus, Stan Tracey and Keith Tippett. Our choice is from his first solo album Flare Up, for which Beckett was able to assemble an impressive array of musicians – John Surman, Alan Skidmore, Mike Osborne, John Taylor and John Webb. Third Road was arranged by the afore-mentioned Graham Collier, for whose band Beckett was a member for over fifteen years.

4. Kurt Elling – Dharma Bums from SuperBlue

We’ve written quite extensively about Chicagoan singer Kurt Elling’s new release on British label Edition Records, his second for the label. Forged from the limitations of Covid, Elling and guitarist Charlie Hunter worked thousands of miles apart to create one of this year’s standout records. Alongside them were drummer Corey Fonville and DJ Harrison, both from funk group Butcher Brown, and the result was a dynamic recording different from anything Elling had previously released – perhaps more akin to the playful funk-driven music of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson (like A Real Mother For Ya) than Mark Murphy. Just listen to (and watch) this live take of Cody Chestnutt’s The Seed for evidence. This time we chose the wonderful Dharma Bums – an explicit reference to the 1958 novel by Jack Kerouac that records Kerouac’s search for enlightenment with Japhy Ryder (a thinly disguised version of poet Gary Snyder) – but there’s a whole set of Beat references across Elling’s superb lyrics, quoted here: Come on!  I’ve got a wandering feeling that it’s time for moving on/ The arms upon the clock that’s on the wall are telling me that I’ve been standing still for much too long/ A picture’s always blank before it’s drawn. The night is darkest just before the dawn/ So you bring your tender brains & I can provide the brawn/ Come On!  I’ve got a vintage Ford Falcon that is hungry for the road/ The chromium is polished in the knowledge that we’re headed for an altogether distant postal code/ Might I suggest that on the way find the mystic motherlode/ Maybe we can find our just desserts and grab ‘em à la mode!/ ‘Cause when the night falls & stars shed their sparkler dims & don’t you know that God is Pooh-Bear holding out his honeyed paws to both of us from way out there?/ And when the spirit calls and both of us are filled up to the over-brim in that mescal & sage flavored air/ Then you’ll know that you are Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise is me!

5. Gretchen Parlato – Roy Allan (feat. Airto Moreira) from Flor

One of Neil’s favourites this year was from Gretchen Parlato, another jazz artist who chose to do something very different in 2021. Also on Edition Records (what a year they’re having!), Flor is an unexpected delight after Parlato had appeared to drop out of the music scene in 2013 after her early successes. In fact, she had had a child with her husband, drummer Mark Guiliana, and for several years she devoted herself completely to motherhood. So this album arrived after two years of live touring and an enforced quarantine and completely charmed us with its Brazilian spirit and personal vision. The album opens with the gorgeous É Preciso Perdoar, a song by one of Parlato’s touchstones here, João Gilberto. Difficult to get close to any other takes of this song (including the magnificent version by Gilberto and Stan Getz) but Parlato does it. From this point on, the album never looks back. We could have chosen any of the tracks, including the Minuet from Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 or a take on David Bowie’s No Plan. Our choice is one of the late Roy Hargrove’s best tunes, Roy Allan – here transformed into a brilliant samba featuring Airto Moreira. Everything on this outstanding record works – and so is a very worthy Cosmic Jazz recommendation.

6. Da Lata – Jungle Kitten from Jungle Kitten/Asking Eyes

Da Lata are muti-instrumentalist and producer Chris Franck and DJ Patrick Forge and they returned in 2021 with a 12in cover of the underground classic Jungle Kitten by Manfredo Fest, featuring Kaidi Tatham on synths. Like Sivuca and Gretchen Parlato, Neil thinks this take achieves that rare distinction of improving on the original. You can check out Fest’s version here – what do you reckon? Previous albums by Da Lata include the excellent debut Songs from the Tin (2000) and Serious (2003). Their take on Ponteio was released by Far Out Recordings back in 1998 appearing on the excellent Brazilian Love Affair 2 compilation and the corresponding Love Affair 3 also included a De Lata take on Os Escravos de Jo (Jo’s Slaves), a Milton Nascimento/Fernando Brant composition.

7. Doug Carn – Jihad from Revelation

Black Jazz stalwart Doug Carn’s earliest musical influences included his mother,  who was a formidable pianist and organist who had gigged with Dizzy Gillespie and knew tenor player Stanley Turrentine and organist Shirley Scott.  With his wife Jean, Carn moved to southern California in 1970 and took up residence in an apartment building that also housed Earth, Wind and Fire members and both Carns featured on the band’s first two records in 1971 before signing to the new Black Jazz label. Infant Eyes (which we have featured previously on CJ) was Carn’s first release on the label, with the excellent Spirit of the New Land following in 1972. Revelation is more obviously modal than previous albums and includes Olu Dara (rapper Nas’s father) on trumpet and Rene McLean (Jackie McLean’s son) on flute and alto sax. It was the final release by the Carns as a married couple and also included covers of Coltrane’s Naima and our choice – Rene McLean’s Jihad. In 2020, Carn teamed up with producer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalists Adrian Young and Ali Shaheed Muhammad for one of their Jazz Is Dead releases and the result included the atmospheric Desert Rain with its hip hop triplets and Carn back on Hammond B3.

8. Yasuhiro Trio + 1 – One – Song of Island from J Jazz Volume 3: Deep Modern Jazz from Japan

One of the many hidden narratives of post-WWII Japan is its long-running jazz scene. This taste for the most American of art forms intensified after the war, when a crackdown on what was considered the music of the enemy ended, the interests of stationed U.S. troops helped reignite the scene, and, later, touring legends found a willing market. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, Japan was a hub of jazz invention, even if much of the music recorded was released on severely limited runs or private presses, meaning it barely travelled within the country, let alone beyond it. Fifty years later, collectors and jazz kissa aficionados (see here) compilers, Higgins and Peden have given us J Jazz Volume 3: Deep Modern Jazz from Japan. This latest instalment opens with Yasuhiro Kohno Trio + One’s Song of Island and a storm of solo piano keys. When the rest of the band enters and the full arrangement kicks in, Kohno’s delightful playing sits perfectly next to guest Masahiro Kanno’s smooth vibraphone as the pair take turns in front. The cymbals don’t so much crash as hum in the background. Like many of the selections in this set, Song of Island was recorded live—polite applause greets the end of the solos—and the mastering work in London preserves a warm, organic sound. There’s evidence here that Japanese jazz drew not just from American sources – there’s West African rhythms (Hiroshi Murakami & Dancing Sphinx), samba jazz (Hideo Shiraki) and – perhaps most bizarrely – flamenco (Eiji Nakayama). It’s a great set and another BBE Records essential.

9. Matt Carmichael – Cononbridge from Where Will the River Flow

Tenor saxophonist Matt Carmichael may be only just starting out in his career, but Where Will the River Flow is already a very assured debut. Just 21, Carmichael was a BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year in 2020 and on this fine record he draws on Scottish folk traditions in a similar way to another of our favourite young musicians from Scotland, Fergus McCreadie (see below). Indeed, McCreadie appears on WWtRF and it’s clear that he and Carmichael work well together – check out this live take on Spey and their fast flowing unison playing. As with McCreadie’s most recent album, Cairn on Edition Records, Carmichael’s original compositions are strong on melody – particularly noticeable on our choice, the title track which again features McCreadie and a torrent of tumbling runs on piano. Thanks once more to Scots music promoter Rob Adams (Twitter: @rabjourno) for this introduction: Matt Carmichael is the real deal – an exciting talent and already an original voice. Jazz trivia from Rob Adams: Cononbridge is named after Carmichael’s home town.

10. Fergus McCreadie – Cairn from Cairn

This is another important release on Edition Records. A wonderfully atmospheric record  that moves through the relaxing to the gently strident. Pianist Fergus McCreadie leads a trio with David Bowden on double bass and Stephen Henderson on drums and Cairn is his second record. It’s chockful of beautiful melodies and arrangements and we think it’s beautiful and inspiring music that lifts both soul and spirit.  All three members of the trio met at the Royal Conservatoire in Scotland and have been playing together for more than five years. McCreadie has won numerous prizes and was the under-17 Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the year and a Jazzwise magazine One to Watch in 2018. He’s influenced by Scottish traditional music and there is a feel for that and the diversity of the Scottish landscape in the music.

11. William Parker – Painter’s Winter from Painter’s Winter

Bass player William has been very busy this year on the record release front. Painter’s Winter is just one from the list which included a multi-album 10CD re-release.  This tune is haunting, eerie and spiritual, sparse and acoustic in sound with Daniel Carter featured on flute, Hamid Drake on drums and Parker on this track playing trombonium. “Painters love the winter, they hunker down and begin masterpieces’” say the sleeve notes to the album and this tune makes it sound like the painters will produce a deeply intense wintry piece of work – and the music is a spare, frosty meditation that repays repeated listening.

12. Lady Blackbird – Blackbird from Black Acid Soul

This is another sparse, stripped-down record, no percussion but bass and piano. and the voice of LA-based singer Lady Blackbird, aka Marley Munroe. What a voice it is too that she possesses and it is illustrated to the full on this Nina Simone tune, with all the power, emotion and despair that the tune evokes. The album has seven covers and four original compositions, with Sam Cooke, Tim Hardin and Irma Thomas being among the covers. Marley Munroe has been around for some time, although she’s still young. She has tried R’n’B  and even alt.rock with the sort of outcomes that can be common in the music industry. Black Acid Soul sounds like she has found where she truly belongs in a soulful/bluesy jazz mode. It looks like there should be more exciting sounds to come.

Derek is listening to…

Neil is listening to…

29 November 2021: Edition Records, remixes and great contemporary jazz

On Cosmic Jazz this time is new music from the UK’s Edition Records, a couple of boundary-stretching remixes, a rare track from the late Marion Brown, contemporary artists such as Vijay Iyer,  James Brandon Lewis and a Cuban-Canadian link to end the show. As always, it’s an eclectic mix here at CJ.

  1. Kurt Elling – Superblue from Superblue

Vocalist Kurt Elling takes risks – mixing spoken word, arrangements of avant-garde jazz classics, original compositions and obscure poetry. Declared “the standout male vocalist of our time” by The New York Times, Elling has garnered unprecedented accolades – fourteen years as a DownBeat Critics Poll, awardwinner and a dozen GRAMMY nominations – and his warm, rich baritone is as recognisable as Mark Murphy’s, with whom he shares the same willingness to explore and break musical barriers.  There’s always an elegant lyricism whether interpreting the Sufi poetry of Rumi or – as on this new record – interpreting a Tom Waits tune. Secrets Are The Best Stories (2020) was his first for Edition Records and featured renowned pianist and composer Danilo Pérez from Wayne Shorter’s superb quartet. With a freewheeling attitude to verse and interpretation it was a challenging but always rewarding listen. Superblue is different – recorded with members of the jazzfunk/hiphop outfit Butcher Brown alongside guitarist Charlie Hunter, this is a groove-laden record that takes on compositions from the afore-mentioned Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard, includes a raw and stripped-down treatment of Cody Chestnutt’s The Seed, and goes all out with a dazzling take on the Tom Waits tune. The thing is, Elling has still to meet Butcher Brown as – thanks to Covid-19 – their collaboration was recorded remotely with the musicians 1000 miles apart. You wouldn’t know it. Elling revisits the Beat generation again, name-checking Kerouac’s Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in the hipsterish Dharma Bums, a wonderful road trip saga that hooks up with Wait’s grotesque narrative The Circus. Our choice is Elling’s taken on Freddie Hubbard’s fusion gem Super Blue, (a Benard Ighner composition) transformed here with serpentine lyrics into a psychedelic narrative.  As an aside, Ighner was the composer of the standard Everything Must Change, made famous by Quincy Jones and with vocals by Ighner himself.

2. Mark Lockheart – Dreamers from Dreamers

British saxophonist Mark Lockheart is also on Edition and has a new album that will be released in early 2022. We’ve got a premiere here for you – the title track is now a single that emerged earlier this month. We’ve heard the complete album and it certainly charts a new path for Lockheart, here in collaboration with Elliot Galvin (Dinosaur, Elliot Galvin Trio) on keys and synths, bass player Tom Herbert (Polar Bear, The Invisible) and Dave Smith (Robert Plant) on drums. Galvin’s use of synths and Herbert’s pedal effects are obvious additions to the sonic portfolio – and it really works here. As Lockheart explained “The grooves, the sonics and the musical character of each piece are all hugely important. The process of writing music for these musicians led me into a new sound world that’s very different from anything I’d done before”.  He has identified influences as diverse as John Zorn, Burt Bacharach, Duke Ellington and Kraftwerk – and that makes for an eclectic starting point which is clear in Dreamers. We’ll be returning to this superb new album in future shows.

3. Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh and Tyshawn Sorey – Combat Breathing from Uneasy

This new album is credited to all three musicians – Vijay Iyer on piano, Linda May Han Oh on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Iyer’s previous trio – with Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums – was one of the most significant trios of the 2010s and a group that Neil championed on this show along with Iyer’s solo piano work. I remember playing his remarkable take on Human Nature when that first emerged on the ACT label in 2012 – a genuine rearrangement with rhythmic complexity, a stunning pianistic climax and a real emotional impact. Iyer’s new trio does have a link to the previous one: dark colours, elliptical arrangements and exciting choices of covers, one of which is Cole Porter’s Night and Day – not surprisingly, given a radical overhaul. Our choice is Combat Breathing which Iyer composed after the death of Eric Garner in 2014, amid waves of protest aligned with a then recently coined movement, Black Lives Matter. Here Tyshawn Sorey gives us J Dilla -style chopped up backbeats that work with Iyer’s  intense  – indeed, ‘uneasy’ – playing, which owes more than a little to McCoy Tyner here. It’s worth watching the live video of this recording from ECM Records but do go and buy this album if you’re looking for cutting-edge piano trio music.

4. Marion Brown – Pepi’s Tempo from Awofofora

Marion Brown, who died in 2010, is another of those jazz artists who should be better known. You’ll find him credited on the sleeve notes for John Coltrane’s Ascension, on Archie Shepp’s Fire Music and on Harold Budd’s The Pavilion of Dreams – and those who know will recognise that as something of a left-field or ‘out there’ collection. In fact, Brown recorded nearly 50 albums as leader over a long career in jazz that began with a first recording on the influential ESP label in 1966. Pepi’s Tempo comes from a 1976 release, Awofofora – and if you see it on vinyl snap it up. The only copy for sale on Discogs comes from Japan and is priced at US$500! Drummer Ed Blackwell and bassist Fred Hopkins are on this one and the music comes across as first cousin to the kind of harmolodic fusion that Ornette Coleman was developing a few years later on records like Of Human Feelings – here’s Love Words from that album.

5. Sean Khan (Kaidi Tatham remix) – Starchild from Supreme Love, A Journey Through Coltrane

Londoner Kaidi Tatham is a busy man. You heard his excellent remix of Nubya Garcia’s on our last show and here he is again with another project – saxophonist Sean Khan’s tribute to the music of John Coltrane, just issued on BBE Records. Intriguingly, there are three parts to this new record: The Future Present mostly comprises material written by or closely associated with Coltrane, reimagined by a plugged in, medium-sized, with-strings-and-harp ensemble that includes takes on Acknowledgement and Afro Blue; The Past has versions of Coltrane standards including Equinox and Impressions; and finally there’s The Future Past with two remixes of Khan originals by broken-beat pioneer Kaidi Tatham. “I made a conscious effort to represent all of Coltrane’s main artistic periods,” says Khan of the album. “From hard bop, to sheets of sound, to spiritual jazz and finally his last, most experimental and cosmic period. I have never heard a record that attempts to reflect all of the great man’s epochs in this way and use the recording artist’s autobiography, my own, as a conduit to these ends. So here I am, for better, for worse.” It’s a noble project and is a very definite Cosmic Jazz recommendation.

6. SunPalace – Rude Movements (Kenny Dope Dancefloor Powder remix) – from Rude Movements: the Remixes

Now this is a quality remix: it has that extended, hypnotic percussion typical of Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzales at his best. Behind the original is an interesting story too: back in 1981, two musicians got together to make a record. Mike Collins played guitar and had just bought a Roland CR78 – the first programmable drum machine. Keith O’Connell played Fender Rhodes piano and Prophet 5 synthesizer. Excited about the quirky and unusual instrumental track they’d composed, neither musician could have predicted what was to follow… Rude Movements is now viewed by many as one of the most influential early electronic dance records: the original version was played by DJ David Mancuso, who used it to devastating effect at his infamous Loft Parties – and, in turn, introduced it to Larry Levan, Frankie Knuckles, David Morales and Kenny Dope, then all young DJs who would go on to develop what we understand by dance music today. BBE Records released this influential track along with an original demo and three other versions in a double vinyl package that includes other SunPalace compositions. The original has an impossible-to-ignore hook and is well worth listening to alongside this remix – check it out here.  BBE then delivered a 7” vinyl release of SunPalace edits in 2020 before giving us this year the full versions of Moodymann and Kenny Dope’s remixes, alongside brand new interpretations by François K, Frankie Feliciano and OPOLOPO, plus a special edit by Phil Asher. Neil reckons that the best of these is that Afro-Latin Kenny Dope version – and that’s what we included in the show.

7. Kenny Garrett – For Art’s Sake from Sound from the Ancestors

The experience of hearing Kenny Garrett and his quartet in the close setting of Pizza Express in London was an unforgettable one for Derek. To be able to see this alto saxophonist – who had already an impressive collection of his own recorded music, not to mention his work with Miles Davis – in a close-up environment was almost unreal. Accompanied by his hugely impressive rhythm section, the show was a truly memorable experience. And Garrett is back on disc again in 2021 with his first release since 2016’s Do Your Dance. The new one is on Mack Avenue Records and is called Sounds from the Ancestors. Our featured tune For Art’s Sake (a dedication to Art Blakey) is a good example of Garrett’s approach on this record – remembering the musical ancestry of jazz and including the spirit of African ancestors from church services, recited prayers, songs from the work fields, Yoruban chants and African drums. All this with tributes to Roy Hargrove and those two drum pioneers Art Blakey and Tony Allen. Indeed some tracks feature additional drummers – as on Soldiers of the Fields/Soldats de champs. Here veteran drummer Lenny White and percussionist Rudy Bird join drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. (brother to bassist and singer Thundercat aka Stephen Bruner). Perhaps for the first time, we also get to hear Garrett on electric piano as well as his more familiar alto sax. “The Spirit is in the Sound. You know it when you hear it” say the notes to the record and you can certainly hear it in this music.

8. James Brandon Lewis – Jesup Wagon from Jesup Wagon

We return to tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis who has a new album out that you can expect to hear soon on Cosmic Jazz. But earlier this year, Lewis released what is one of our favourite records of 2021, but this time with his Red Lily Quintet. This album – called Jesup Wagon – aimed to capture the essence of the life, work and vision of Dr. George Washington Carver (1864-1943) who, although most famous for developing multiple uses for peanuts, was something of a Renaissance polymath; an artist, botanist, ecologist, aesthete, musician and teacher. The ‘Jesup Wagon’ was a vehicle he used to take round to Southern farmers to demonstrate new techniques, products and implements and this title tune does indeed have a Southern feel. Lewis opens unaccompanied with a wailing sound announcing the start of the day before moving into a New Orleans rhythm as the wagon sets off for the day. William Parker (one of our current Cosmic Jazz heroes) plays bass on the record and is prominent on this tune.

9. Jane Bunnett – Inolvidable from Spirits of Havana/Chamolongo 

Our tradition of ending the show with music that crosses borders continues – even though we appear to have crossed a number of borders already during this show.  Canadian soprano saxophonist and flautist Jane Bunnett has appeared previously on the show and is another musician who deserves a wider audience. She founded and currently leads an all-female group Maqueque, and has visited Cuba for over 30 years recording with Cuban musicians. The 1998 Spirits of Havana/Chamolongo double CD brings together two records, the former released in 1992, and is where you should start if you don’t known Bunnett’s music. This 2CD set is interesting on a number of counts, including the vocals by chanteuse Merceditas Valdés, one of Cuba’s greatest interpreters of song. What you hear in her vocals as she accompanies Bunnett is an immersion in the music’s spiritual aspect as they trade phrases and lines together. Also present is Valdés’ husband, percussionist Guillermo Barreto, who passed away just before the release of the first record. Celebrated pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba is part of Bunnett’s Cuban group along with her husband and fellow traveller, Larry Cramer on trumpet and flugelhorn.

15 November 2021: Autumn Leaves, Coltrane and Black Jazz Records

Cosmic Jazz this time has a seasonal flavour with three very distinct takes on the jazz chestnut Autumn Leaves. But don’t think we’ve gone all middle-of-the-road with a bunch of schmaltzy tunes – far from it. Take a listen and you’ll see what we mean. We follow this with a journey into the deeply spiritual thanks to the latest live Coltrane music to be uncovered, and we end the show with a couple of the latest Black Jazz Records re-releases.

  1. Rachelle Ferrell – Autumn Leaves from First Instrument

Up first is Rachelle Ferrell whose vocal gymnastics and six octave range is amply demonstrated on this choice from her debut album, First Instrument, released in 1990 on Blue Note. Despite the presence of Terence Blanchard on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor, Michel Petrucciani on piano and Stanley Clarke on bass, it’s not a wholly convincing record – but Autumn Leaves is impressive.  Ferrell worked at broadening her reach and went on to have a convincing R&B hit (With Open Arms) but some reviews of more recent live shows have been less than positive. She appears to be an artist who has perhaps not fully realised her talents over the years.

2. Keith Jarrett – Autumn Leaves (Live) from At the Blue Note: The Complete Recordings (Live)

The last time that Keith Jarrett performed in public was at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2017. Then, in a surprise announcement in February 2020, he revealed that – following two strokes in 2018 – it was unlikely that he would ever perform again in public. Neil is one of millions of Jarrett fans who have followed his career from Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis sideman to one of the most respected artists in jazz. He’s probably best known for what came to be called his Standards Trio, playing alongside Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums and our choice for this show comes from a lavish 6CD ECM box set that showcases the Trio’s three nights in 1994 at the Blue Note Club in New York. Thankfully, ECM also recently re-released the single disc first set from the second night on their Touchstones series. It’s this disc that includes Jarrett’s extraordinary 26 minute take on Autumn Leaves. If this sounds indulgent, it’s not. Not a single note is wasted here. Jarrett is on fire, and his characteristic moans and groans only serve to stoke the flames in this performance that build the classic tune into a bravura performance. In three distinct movements, this treatment of Autumn Leaves both celebrates and deconstructs the song, ending with an extended vamp of the kind that Jarrett can do so well. Here, though, it feels like a natural extension to the tune and so there’s a real sense of a return to the core melody. It’s a superb performance that’s supported by the ever-inventive Peacock and DeJohnette. Once heard, this is a tune you’ll come back to again and again.

3. Harold Land feat. Philly Joe Jones – Autumn Leaves (Live) from Westward Bound! (Live)

Now this version of Autumn Leaves may seem much more conventional – but it’s not less interesting. Here at Cosmic Jazz, we like championing under-appreciated saxophonist Harold Land. Rather like Hank Mobley and Billy Harper, Land is a first-tier saxophonist whose work over the years has not always been fully appreciated – perhaps until now. Just as with Mobley and the superb Tone Poet reissues, more listeners have heard Land as a result of the vinyl revival that has seen more re-releases from his extensive back catalogue. Land joined the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet in 1954 and went on to lead his own groups with Bobby Hutcherson and Blue Mitchell. In the 1970s he adopted a tone and style more influenced by Coltrane, as shown on his two recordings for the Mainstream label. His wonderful record with the young Japanese pianist Makoto Terashita is another tour de force – here he is on the superb Dragon Dance. The collection of 1962-65 live dates on Westward Bound! were all recorded at The Penthouse in Seattle, Washington with some stellar musicians including Hampton Hawes, Carmell Jones, Buddy Montgomery and (as here) Philly Joe Jones on drums. Mastered by the ubiquitous Kevin Gray with an extensive booklet including an essay by jazz historian Michael Cuscuna and interviews with saxophonists Joe Lovano and Sonny Rollins, this superbly recorded disc was a 2021 Record Store Day special but  is now available in all three formats and is a CJ recommendation.

4. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme Pt. II – Resolution (Live) from A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle

We’re in Seattle again for this record – also recorded live at The Penthouse Club – but this time in October 1965, just three months after the Land performance at the same venue. A lot has been said already about this historic release – for example, on Ken Micallef’s Jazz Vinyl Audiophile site – but it’s worth adding some essential background here. This is not the first live version of the A Love Supreme suite to be released: that honour goes to the live in Antibes set, released in 1998 and described at the time as the only live performance of A Love Supreme on record. But now we have another version – and it’s a whole lot more compelling. At Antibes, Coltrane’s classic quartet stick to the piece’s essential form, but here the augmented band clearly feel free to explore more new territory. Remarkably, although Coltrane was at an acknowledged peak of popularity with his jazz audience, on this evening he was playing at a small venue with a 275 people cap – and so perhaps that was one of the reasons why he wanted to consciously take his music to a different place. With Coltrane on tenor sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums – the Impulse! quartet – we also have Pharoah Sanders on tenor, multi-instrumentalist Donald Garrett on second bass, and Carlos Ward sitting in on alto sax. Both Sanders and Coltrane are also credited with percussion. The result? This is an electrifying performance: as Micallef says “Put on your safety belt and get ready to ride the waves of this incredible performance.” Micallef also makes some useful points about the relationship between the quality of the recorded sound and the quality of the performance itself. and how the rhythm section is informed by the three horn lineup. Resolution epitomises the density and emotional impact of this music. It’s a rollercoaster ride but an immersive experience that you just have to listen to.

5. Calvin Keys – Proceed with Caution from Proceed With Caution

And we end with one of our frequent visits to Black Jazz Records and two more re-releases from Real Gone Music who are working their way through all twenty releases on this iconic label. This time, we’ve got the second album from guitarist Calvin Keys along with the fourth and final release on the label from Doug Carn. Up first is Keys from 1974 on another album that contains the range regular listeners will have come to expect from a Black Jazz album – there’s post-bop, soul jazz and a little funk on this date. Keys is well supported by Charles Owens on saxophones and flute, Oscar Brashear on trumpet, Al Hall Jr. on trombone, Kirk Lightsey on Fender Rhodes, Henry Franklin on bass and Leon ‘Ndugu’ Chancler on drums. Proceed with Caution – which, like the other tracks an original composition – starts with a dreamy, Wes Montgomery-style mode and ends with fast driving bop licks with great flue and Fender solos in between.  Other tracks are similarly inventive, with Aunt Lovey something of a standout here, as Keys turns on his best funky Grant Green tone.

6. Doug Carn – Sanctuary from Adam’s Apple

The selection from keyboard player Doug Carn was also released in 1974 and is noted for including young saxophonist Ronnie Laws, who had worked with Earth, Wind and Fire before that band’s big commercial breakthrough. Of the others, guitarists Nathan Page and Calvin Keys had both performed with organist Jimmy Smith. Carn frequently added lyrics to established jazz classics and on this album he gives this treatment to Wayne Shorter’s tune Sanctuary with then wife Jean Carn(e) on vocals. The tune had surfaced first on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew from 1970 and appears as a reflective coda on the fourth side of the original album. Here’s that original version. It’s a pity that this was Carn’s final record for Black Jazz, as there is real evidence here of his move in a different direction – Adam’s Apple is more funky, more electronic and more risky than the three earlier sets. Even the cover is different too – gone is the Black Jazz house style, replaced here with a white background and a silkscreen style repeated image. In 2015 Carn revisited some of his Black Jazz catalogue, recording versions of songs from these four records on My Spirit, a live recording from the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, California.

24 October 2021: new from Kenny Garrett and Black Jazz

It’s been a while, but there’s British jazz (both past and present and with a strong showing from Scotland), the latest from the wonderful Kenny Garrett, a return to Poland and Belgium, some Latin touches and two more new Black Jazz Records re-releases.

  1. Steve Williamson – Down (Slang) from A Waltz for Grace

This 1990 record was the recording debut of this great under-rated British tenor and soprano saxophonist. Even at the young age of 25, Williamson had an original tenor sound with something of an M Base feel, but he’s not limited to this more abstract style. His soprano sax is as characteristic as his tenor playing, although this album is something of a mixed bag. Williamson likes to work with vocalists – the late Abbey Lincoln can be heard on the title track on this record and his next (Rhyme Time, 1992) featured Cassandra Wilson. Williamson likes to experiment and one of his most successful records is the intriguing #One for the Babel label which features Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas and some very spiky compositions. Derek notes that Steve Willamson once played with friends of his, the British reggae band Misty in Roots. As Steve said in an interview with UK Vibe It was amazing! ‘Misty In Roots’ used to play places like Russia and East Germany, while the wall was still up. All these places like Warsaw in Poland. It was fascinating, amazing and a real education. And – as a reminder of the record that DJ John Peel often listed as his favourite record – here’s Sodome and Gomorra from Live at The Counter Eurovision 79.

2. Colin Steele Quintet – The London Heist from The Journey Home

We’re returning once more to this second album from Scottish trumpeter Colin Steele simply because it’s very good.  Rather like pianist Fergus McCreadie he’s turned to his homeland for inspiration and in doing so creates a strong identity incorporating elements of Gaelic folk music that course through the strong melodies throughout the record. Aidan O’Donnell’s bass can sound like a drone and Julian Arguelles’ soprano sax takes on the tones of the Uillean pipes. Beyond that, there’s Lee Morgan style hard bop and hints of both Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter, with Steele giving us something of the delicacy of Chet Baker too. Veteran Scottish drummer John Rae provides solid back up too. The lasting impression of this recommended record is the quality of Steele’s compositions:  in addition to our featured track, The Journey Home is memorable and the closing Variations on a Dream just one tune that will ‘earworm’ its way into your head.

3. Fergus McCreadie – North from Cairn

We’ve said a lot in the last few months about the brilliant Fergus McCreadie – but it bears repeating. This young Scots pianist is signed to one of Britain’s best jazz labels, the ever-enterprising Edition Records. Edition has grown in recent years to include a raft of celebrated jazz artists – The Bad Plus, Kit Downes, Tim Garland, Ivo Neame, Chris Potter, John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler and The Snow Poets. Cairn is McCreadie’s second record and is chockful of beautiful melodies and arrangements. North is just one of those. The trio’s sound owes something of a debt to EST but McCreadie is definitely his own man. Backed by bassist David Bowden with Stephen Henderson on drums, there’s that blend of jazz and Scottish traditional music again and – just as on his first record – the music is inspired by the diversity of his native landscape. Cairn will surely consolidate McCreadie’s presence as a composer, pianist and trio leader with its combination of contemporary influences and​ mesmerising playing. This is a record to savour in whatever format you prefer – the download and CD are available direct from Edition Records here, but sadly the stunning-looking vinyl first pressing is now sold out, although you might be able to track down reissue copies in your independent record store.

4. Confusion Project – On the Other Hand from The Future Starts Now

It’s been a while since we visited continental Europe – and Poland in particular. So it  was time to return. As ever, we acknowledge  the contribution of Steve’s Jazz Sounds – an essential source for this music. Confusion Project are a trio founded in Gdansk in 2013 with drummer Adam Golicki, Michal Ciesielski on piano and Piotr Gierszewski on bass guitar. This is from the second of their three albums, with a fourth due for release soon. On the Other Hand is a tune that is still, calm, strong on melody and – like much of their music – includes complex rhythms.  Over the years, the band have supported various reforestation projects and have overseen the planting of more than a thousand trees across the world.

5. Aga Derlak Trio – The Word from Healing

This is a trio led by Polish pianist Agnieszka Derlak . She is an alumnus of Berklee College,  where she was under the guidance of Danilo Perez and the Katowice Music Academy. Healing is from their second album released in 2017, with all the compositions by Derlak. This band is a classic jazz trio with piano, double bass and drums. The music is introvert, contemplative, dare we say even portraying Polish melancholy. It is spare, minimalist, intelligent and incredibly beautiful. There are no grand statements, no great solos yet its seeming gentleness conjures up haunting images and some considerable complexity.

6. Jelle Van Giel Group – Cape Good Hope from Songs for Everyone

This seven-piece group led by drummer Jelle Van Giel takes us to Antwerp, Belgium. Songs for Everyone was their debut album and is very definitely in the modal jazz vein. Cape Good Hope is a beautiful, accessible, melodic tune – like so much of their music – with subtle echoes of South African jazz. The official bio describes Jelle’s strength as arranging a visual story around lyrical themes that touch you – undoubtedly fair and apt comment. Many of the tunes will leave you humming them with pleasant delight when they’re over, but if that suggests they might be lightweight, then think again. This is classic jazz in the modal tradition but with a definite contemporary feel.

7. Kenny Garrett – It’s Time to Come Home (Original) from Sounds from the Ancestors

He’s back! Altoist Kenny Garret has long been a Cosmic Jazz favourite and Sounds From the Ancestors is his twentieth album as leader.  There’s the expected expressiveness and assurance of tone, with some of those screams and wails that intensify the emotion. There are two tributes – the funky Hargrove is for trumpeter Roy Hargrove who died earlier this year and For Art’s Sake –  an homage to drummer Art Blakey, in whose band Garrett learned his chops.  The saxophonist has long been interested in musical styles from other parts of the world, and this record is no exception as it includes two tunes that blend African and Afro-Cuban and African. We featured the restrained opener, It’s Time to Come Home with its loping Latin groove, accentuated by Rudy Bird’s hand percussion. The title track starts with Garrett’s playing piano, before bursting into an Afrobeat groove and unruly Yoruba vocals by LA vocal veteran Dwight Trible.

8. Nucleus – Phaideaux Corner  from Alley Cat

Back to the trumpet and the late and very great Ian Carr and his influential band Nucleus. Remembered as the partner to Don Rendell in a superb British jazz group of the 1960s, Carr went on to form Nucleus, one of the first jazzrock groups. Over a 20 year career, Nucleus released 12 albums, using an ever-changing personnel. More music has emerged since then, including some memorable live albums. In fact, it’s worth checking out the Nucleus Wikipedia entry just to see how many British jazz musicians passed through their doors – some 45 players are listed, including Harry Beckett, Kenny Wheeler, Tony Coe and Neil Ardley. Carr was not only a fine trumpeter and flugelhorn player but a notable biographer too – his work on both Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett is required reading. The Davis biography is full of insights on the life and music of the legend, including Miles’s dark reclusive period – 1975-1980. With access to the inner circle of Davis’s friends and associates, Carr includes interviews with Max Roach, George Russell, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, Joe Zawinul and Paul Buckmaster. Carr also generously quotes from other critics, including Washington Post writer Gene Russell who introduced a review of a 1974 concert  by describing Davis as leading his exploring party through a dense electronic rain forest. Sensing a clearing, Davis extends his fingers in a signal and his group halts motionless as a soprano sax, electric guitar or even the leader’s trumpet slips ahead alone, reporting what he sees… It’s quoted here because this writing inspired Neil to invest more time in his jazz writing.

9. Nubya Garcia – La cumbia ne esta llama (Kaidi Tatham remix) from Source # We Move

Jazz saxophonist, composer and Mercury Prize nominee Nubya Garcia has announced a full-length reimagining of her debut album Source, released just a couple of days before this edition of Cosmic Jazz.  There’s a host of remixed track including this excellent one from fellow Londoner Kaidi Tatham. Also in on the project is Georgia Anne Muldrow, KeiyaA, Moses Boyd, and more. Garcia completely distinct tone remains securely in place though and the remixes are – for the most part – subtle and intriguing. If you like Garcia’s tone on saxophone, then this one is for you. Tatham’s reworking is one of the best ,and the way his ‘drop’ at three minutes in is followed by a Herbie Hancock-inflected solo is very effective. Excellent artwork too…

10. Pucho & his Latin Soul Brothers – Maiden Voyage from The Best of Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers

Neil has recently been weeding out his extensive collection of CDs – but not before many of them had been stored on a capacious new hard drive. One of these was the Pucho anthology which includes this take on Herbie Hancock’s meditative Maiden Voyage. Not surprisingly, this uptempo take has the timbales of Henry ‘Pucho’ Brown well to the fore. Jazz icon Chick Corea was a former member of this band that got a new lease of life in the Acid Jazz years of the 1980s, when Neil saw him perform in the UK. The Best of… compilation includes 17 tracks from Pucho’s 1966-1970 heyday, intelligently weighted toward his most dance groove-oriented original material and covers, and eliminating the routine pop covers that filled out some of his LPs and so Canteloupe Island joins Maiden Voyage along with other Pucho hits, including Soul Yamie and Strange Thing Mambo.

11. Doug Carn – Mighty Mighty from Adam’s Apple

We are pleased to announce that our friends at Real Gone Music are still releasing more  from the Black Jazz Records label and – as ever – each one has a limited vinyl edition, this time with 750 copies only. Doug Carn is a multi-instrumentalist, known principally for his piano and keyboard playing and Adam’s Apple (to be released in December) was the last of the four records for Black Jazz – this time without vocalist Jean Carn. The record features future star Ronnie Laws on reeds and Calvin Keys (see below) on electric guitar. Mighty, Mighty (yes, the Earth, Wind and Fire tune) has an uptempo, gospel feel, complete with almost distant-sounding choir providing the feel-good factor.  There’s a good cover of Wayne Shorter’s Sanctuary and the title tune owes something of an allegiance to Shorter’s composition of the same name but is, in fact, a Doug Carn tune with some great keys from Carn himself. Like all these Black Jazz re-releases there are extensive liner notes from Pat Thomas. It is worth quoting from the notes on this album: Adam’s Apple is more energetic, funky, and futuristic than Carn’s earlier Black Jazz work. In short, sublime.” 

12. Calvin Keys – Night Cry from Proceed with Caution

To follow Doug Carn with a tune from Proceed With Caution by Calvin Keys, is to illustrate the variety of Black Jazz Records. It’s by no means all funky, uptempo jazz. Proceed With Caution was originally released in 1974 and again is now released on vinyl (for the first time ever) with just 750 copies. On the record is legendary drummer Leon ‘Ndugu’ Chancler, along with fellow Black Jazz mainstays Henry Franklin on bass, Kirk Lightsey on keyboards, and Charles Owens on sax and flute. For Calvin Keys, the record was a leap forward from what he had delivered before as he told Pat Thomas for the sleeve notes: I started going to the Los Angeles School of Music studying orchestrations and I was putting it to use! The album includes some long, reflective and deep tunes including our choice of Night Cry.

13. Orquesta Akokan – Llegue con mi Rumba V2 from 16 Rayos

Orquesta Akokan are a Grammy nominated Cuban/New York based ensemble – and this album is the result of a dialogue between artists living in the United States and Cuba. 16 Rayos was recorded at the legendary Egrem Studios in Havana and is available from Daptone Records. The band is the brainchild of its three leaders – lead vocalist and composer José ‘Pepito’ Gómez, Chulo Record’s Jacob Plasse and arranger Michael Eckroth, with each bringing their experience working with Latin powerhouses to the table. Following the success of their debut album, Orquesta Akokán returned to Cuba, drawing inspiration from folklore and religious tradition to stretch the boundaries of mambo conventions. This second album expands their sound with the addition of strings and there’s a traditional Cuban feel merging the folkloric congo rhythm from Santiago de Cuba with the power of the mambo horns and some strong, forceful vocals. Drawing on the deep spiritual traditions rooted in West Africa but expressed  through Cuban music , this is real uplift for the soul and release for the body.  Akokan, by the way, is the Yoruba word used by Cubans to mean ‘from the heart’ – or simply ‘soul’.

 

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