07 March 2021: classic and contemporary sounds

Welcome to a new Cosmic Jazz. This show visits two classic jazz labels – Blue Note and Black Jazz Records – and two independent contemporary UK ones – Edition Records and Far Out Recordings (see the links below for more on each). The musicians featured come from the USA, Brazil, Scotland, Poland and Jamaica (yes, even on a jazz-related show, a tribute to the late Bunny Wailer could not – and should not – be avoided). It’s essential music from both past and present.

1. Lee Morgan – The Rajah from The Rajah 

This fantastic Lee Morgan album has been re-released on vinyl via the highly recommended Blue Note Tone Poet Series, although the recording we used on the show is from the original mono version on vinyl record. The re-release is welcome. The Rajah is an album Derek goes back to frequently – probably the first  record he turns to  among several, when he wants to hear Lee Morgan. Not only is the music good, there is a powerful image of Morgan on the cover which needs the size of vinyl to be appreciated to the full. If you’d like your own copy of this mono version – good luck! Check out Discogs for the only two copies currently available on the site or enjoy the audiophile vinyl quality of the brand new Tone Poet edition. The record has not had an easy history.  It was recorded in 1966 but was not released until 1985, twelve years after Morgan’s death.  On the record, trumpeter Morgan  is accompanied a stellar group of Blue Note regulars – Hank Mobley on tenor, Cedar Walton on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Billy Higgins on drums.  As on The Rajah, the title tune played on the show and the only Morgan composition on the album, there are frequent solo blasts of power from Morgan and Mobley and it goes without saying that the other musicians are great too. This is definitely a record every Blue Note fan – no, every jazz fan – must have.

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

The twenty albums recorded for Black Jazz Records – and now all re-released via Real Gone Music – are represented in this show by keyboard player Gene Russell, who recorded two albums for the label as well as producing every album in the catalogue.  The album Talk to My Lady includes two other musicians who released music on the label – bassist Henry Franklin (a memorable performance on this track) and guitarist Calvin Keys – and includes a version of My Favorite Things which contrasts with the classic Coltrane version that followed on the show. It is much faster in tempo and considerably shorter in length than the Coltrane version but is led by some really imaginative Fender Rhodes playing from Russell himself.

3. John Coltrane – My Favorite Things from My Favorite Things

The Coltrane version had to follow: it is simply the definitive version of the tune – but which one? A recent excellent BBC Radio 4 programme, made Derek realise that although he had a few live Coltrane recordings of the tune (and there are many available), he did not have the original studio version. But he does now and so here it is. Apparently, a music  publisher brought the tune to Coltrane’s attention and, while pianist McCoy Tyner was not sure at first – Coltrane was convinced. It became both his most commercial-sounding and commercially successful release, going on to sell over 500,000 copies, and for the musicians in the band perhaps some relief after the complexity of the earlier Giant Steps from 1960, particularly the celebrated title track. That is not to say this version is not free, complex and experimental: the original Rodgers and Hammerstein melody is heard numerous times throughout, but instead of playing solos over the written chord changes (as would have been more typical), Tyner and Coltrane take extended solos over just two chords and in waltz time. Yes, this is where the modal jazz innovations of Miles Davis on Kind of Blue first met the spiritual jazz extensions of John Coltrane for the first time. Interestingly, this was not the classic Coltrane quartet that would go onto record for the Impulse! label as the bass player for this session was Steve Davis – brother in law to McCoy Tyner! In this original 1961 quartet release, Coltrane plays soprano sax for the first time on record – it had been bought for him by Miles Davis. Other live versions of My Favorite Things (of which there are many) extend Coltrane’s improvisations further – most notably in the incredible version on Coltrane’s Live in Japan album which is a challenging 57 minutes in length, but the original studio recording is the best known. According to biographer Lewis Porter, Coltrane cited  the tune as “my favorite piece of all those I have recorded”.

4. Bobby Hutcherson – Verse from Stick-Up!/Spiritual Jazz Vol 9 Blue Note Part 1

Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson was a Blue Note star for decades. He first recorded for the label with Jackie McLean in 1963 and went on to deliver over twenty records with them. Hutcherson had an original sound and style on vibes, developing complex but sometimes memorable melodies (like his much covered Little B’s Poem) along with new tones and textures. Throughout the mid-60s, he appeared on numerous celebrated records – Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch, Anthony Williams’ Life Time and Andrew Hill’s Judgement – but also featured alongside many classic Blue Note artists like Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon and Grant Green. His album Stick-Up! also includes McCoy Tyner on piano and Billy Higgins on drums and is one of the very best from this prolific mid-60s period. All tracks (bar a version of Ornette Coleman’s Una Muy Bonita) are Hutcherson compositions and the album was the final one to receive a classic Reid Miles cover. The album is still widely available, but you can also find the track on the excellent Spiritual Jazz Blue Note compilation which includes another excellent Hutcherson tune, the modal Coltrane tribute Searchin’ the Trane from his 1976 album Waiting.

5. Grupo Batuque – Tauruma from O Aperto Da Saudade/Africa Brazil

Joe Davis and his Far Out Recordings label rarely fail to deliver the goods when it comes to music from Brazil – and O Aperto Da Saudade is no exception. Each track has been selected from their prolific output for that sense of saudade. It’s a word with no direct English translation but in Portuguese describes a sense of nostalgia for something that may never return. But in longing for that certain something, whether it’s a person, a place or a time gone by, saudade holds the thing you miss close, and keeps it present despite its absence. Portuguese author Manuel de Mello calls it “A pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” In Brazil, there is an even deeper resonance: as a nation steeped in slavery, the vibrance of African culture in Brazil amplified Saudade, and it became something even more painful, but at the same time a little more rhythmic, perhaps even upbeat.

O Aperto da Saudade (translated as “the grip of saudade”), is a 2020 compilation which attempts to translate the word through the music itself. While saudade is traditionally equated with bossa nova and samba, the music here ranges from 1965 to the present day, and spans psychedelic folk, samba jazz, bossa nova and MPB. We chose the laid back Tauruma from Grupo Batuque, a constantly shifting samba collective of veteran Brazilian percussionists, drummers and musicians assembled by Joe Davis. Members have included Ivan Conti, Wilson das Neves, Robertinho Silva, Cidinho Moreira and many more. Grupo Batuque have gone on to release five albums with Far Out, including their third album, the Grammy nominated Africa Brazil which documented samba’s African roots and included the popular Tauruma.

6. Arthur Verocai – Tudo De Bom from Encore

We stayed with Brazil and Far Out for a genuine classic – Arthur Verocai and a tune from his second album Encore, which features 11 original Verocai compositions with guest musicians including Azymuth, Ivan Lins and a nine-piece string section. This record came in 2007, some 35 years after his neglected eponymous debut album  and it’s well worth chasing down. Thankfully, Far Out have recently released it again, but on vinyl too this time – and it’s available from the label right here.

Born in Rio de Janeiro on 17 June 1945, Arthur Verocai began his professional music career in 1969 and over the next few years was responsible for the orchestration of albums by Ivan Lins, Jorge Ben, Gal Costa, Quarteto em Cy, MPB 4 and Marcos Valle. In the 1970s he was hired by Brazil’s biggest TV station, TV Globo, as musical director and wrote the arrangements for many of the station’s biggest shows. In 1972, Verocai recorded his self-titled debut album on Continental Records but the combination of Brazilian influences with folksy soul and lo-fi electronica experimentations didn’t go down well – and both the album and artist subsequently vanished into obscurity. Verocai had to wait until 2004 when Joe Davis and and Dave Brinkman from the label travelled to  Brazil and began recording Encore. They recruited many of the artists who had appeared on that first 1972 record – Robertinho Silva, Paulinho, Bigorna, and this time, all three members of Azymuth. Tudo De Bom (or All the Best) is another memorable tune – with a gorgeous arrangement reminiscent of Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova.

7. Fergus McCreadie – Cairn from Cairn

Now we turn to one of Britain’s best jazz labels, the ever-enterprising Edition Records who are just about to release Chris Potter’s new trio album with James Francies and Eric Harland. Founded in 2008 by pianist Dave Stapleton, 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. We’ve played many of their records from the outset – including the celebrated trio Phronesis who were selected to support the Wayne Shorter Quartet at the Barbican Hall in 2011 – a truly memorable show. Now comes another piano trio led by Scots pianist Fergus McCreadie. Cairn is his second record and is chockful of beautiful melodies and arrangements. We chose the the title track with its debt to the lyricism of one of our favourite innovative trios, EST. Fergus 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. Backed by bassist David Bowden with Stephen Henderson on drums, McCreadie blends jazz and Scottish traditional music and – just as with his first record, the music is inspired by the diversity of the Scottish landscape.

8. Mariusz Smolinski – Who’s Next from Ten Minutes Later 

One of the top albums currently featured at Steve’s Jazz Sounds a specialist in jazz music from continental Europe and more besides, Ten Minutes Later is the debut album from the young Polish trio led by Mariusz Smolinski. There are eight original compositions from Smolinski, who plays both acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes. There are soloing opportunities for bass player Bartosz Kucz and drummer Piotr Budniak, both who come from the Polish jazz fusion scene. Polish-Jazz Blogspot, a key source of information on Polish jazz recordings, describes the music as reminiscent of Chick Corea’s recordings of the 1970s and 1980s and praises the record as yet another example of the many fine young jazz musicians emerging in Poland.

9. Jazzpospolita – Kwaty Cite from Przyplyw 

It’s refreshing to come across a Polish jazz release where the band does not feel it has to have title tunes and an album title in English – but, unfortunately, this means we will need to apologise for pronunciation errors with reference to both tune and album. Apologies. This is the seventh album from Jazzpospolita who are led by bass player Stefan Nowakowski. Released in 2020, it was the first album from the group for some time after personnel changes. Jazzpospolita is a quartet with bass, piano/keyboards,  drums and the driving guitar of Lukasz Borowicki which adds ambient, fusion and even rock elements to the music.

10. Lyle Workman – Noble Savage from Uncommon Meeting 

Lyle Workman is another artist who combines jazz with fusion and rock/pop. A guitarist, keyboard player and composer, Lyle Workman has some serious jazz credentials include composing a tune for the final release from drummer and jazz icon Tony Williams. Workman was invited to the session and found he was among Stanley Clarke and Herbie Hancock as well as drummer Tony Williams. The wholly instrumental album Uncommon Measures is, not surprisingly, stylistically diverse and features a 63-piece orchestra. The music has some fine arrangements and melodies and is occasionally Zappa-esque in its rich complexity – as here on our choice Noble Savage. The record is available through Blue Canoe Records.

11. Bunny Wailer – Liberation from Liberation

We believe we can apply the principle “If you like this, you will like that” on Cosmic Jazz, and that this certainly applies to reggae for many jazz lovers – including both of us. We are not alone: British saxophonist Nat Birchall is an example of a jazzer obsessed with reggae and he has released the music to prove it. Do check out this blogpost on how much reggae is important in his life and music. Throughout its history, and particularly in its early stages, jazz-feeling horns have been a prominent part of reggae. Following the death of Bunny Wailer – the member of the original Wailers trio whose music Derek plays the most – he felt that he had to put the above principle into practice. Bunny Wailer (born Neville Livingson in 1947) was strong of conviction – check out the film Fire in Babylon to see this exemplified in his spoken word as well as his music. The voice was so sweet – so gentle, yet so strong. His percussion work had the same effect and his lyrics often included a powerful Rastafarian commitment and a plea for liberation – as in this title tune from his landmark 1989 album. His albums could command the support of the very finest Jamaican musicians, with this one including no less than Sugar Minott, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare with a horn section that provides an uplifting, stirring  and joyful backdrop. For a further taste of Wailer’s beautiful tenor voice at its best try This Train from his 1976 first solo release Blackheart Man. We reckon that jazz lover needs this music too. More from Cosmic Jazz soon.

21 February 2021: the mourning of a star…

Welcome to a reflective Cosmic Jazz. This week we are mourning the loss of three music legends – Chick Corea,  Janet Lawson and Johnny  Pacheco. Our title is taken from Keith Jarrett’s album of the same name which includes the reflective The Mourning of a Star. We begin with Chick Corea and three tunes that reflect his prolific output over five decades. Corea was born in 1941 and – despite the compositional link with Spain – was of Italian descent. Composer, keyboardist, bandleader and – with 500 Miles High, La Fiesta, Windows, Spain and more – the creator of modern jazz standards, Corea had a long and distinguished career in music.

As a member of Miles Davis’ band in the late 1960s (along with luminaries Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Dave Holland and Tony Williams) he was there at the birth of what is often called jazz fusion – but is really just jazz stretching out to encompass other musical genres, as it has always done.  Among the most influential jazz pianists along with Hancock, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett, Corea had a unmistakable style that was influenced by his Mediterranean roots and those pianists he most admired – particularly Bill Evans and Bud Powell. The early trio masterpiece Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (1968) was re-released in the Blue Note Tone Poets series (see this Cosmic Jazz post) and is highly recommended as a starting point for CJers new to Corea’s music. This is the superb title track which – in the first minute alone – includes many musical motifs that surfaced again and again in Corea’s writing. There is a joyousness in his piano playing that clearly reflected his sunny personality. Aware of his late cancer diagnosis, a Facebook message was posted by Corea on 12 February:

“I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright. It is my hope that those who have an inkling to play, write, perform or otherwise, do so. If not for yourself then for the rest of us. It’s not only that the world needs more artists, it’s also just a lot of fun.

“And to my amazing musician friends who have been like family to me as long as I’ve known you: It has been a blessing and an honor learning from and playing with all of you. My mission has always been to bring the joy of creating anywhere I could, and to have done so with all the artists that I admire so dearly—this has been the richness of my life.”

1. Miles Davis – In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time from In A Silent Way

So where do we start with our tribute to this keyboard master? It has to be that most influential of Miles Davis records, In A Silent Way. Released in 1969, this music was revolutionary for a number of key reasons. It took Davis on a journey away from the technical mastery of his second quintet and into completely new territory. In January 1969 Corea was already a core member of the new Davis group. with his ring modulated Hohner keyboard at the centre of the new sound. You can clearly hear its use on the Isle of Wight concert video from 1970 (Keith Jarrett is on the other keyboard). In A Silent Way simply transformed thinking about what jazz could be and also introduced Teo Macero’s studio manipulations into the music. The result was an album that will never date. It sounds timeless. As Rolling Stone writer Lester Bangs noted “It is part of a transcendental new music which flushes categories away and, while using musical devices from all styles and cultures, is defined mainly by its deep emotion and unaffected originality.” We featured the Joe Zawinul composition In A Silent Way that bookends the second side of the record, with It’s About That Time sandwiched in between. This is one of Zawinul’s most beautiful pieces and has influenced all genres of contemporary music from ambient through to dance. The ethereal beauty of the music carries all before it. To listen to In A Silent Way for the first time is to experience an epiphany.

2. John McLaughlin – Waltz for Bill Evans from My Goals Beyond

McLaughlin’s guitar contributes much of the atmosphere of In a Silent Way and he included a short Corea tune on his My Goal’s Beyond record from 1971. Both musicians would count Bill Evans as a musical influence and so we featured Waltz for Bill Evans, itself a nod to the classic Evans tune Waltz for Debby, itself now a jazz standard like Corea’s Spain. My Goals’s Beyond is something of a lost album. Although it has been reissued several times, it remains little known against McLaughlin’s more electric output, and was something of a forerunner to his long running Shakti project. Both have strong Indian influences, with McLaughlin being heavily in thrall to Sri Chinmoy, the guru de nos jours for some jazz musicians in the early 1970s.

3. Chick Corea and Return to Forever – Spain from Light As A Feather

Wikipedia counts over 30 different interpretations of Spain and Corea himself recorded the tune a number of times in different formats. We featured the original version on the second Return to Forever group’s album Light As a Feather, recorded in London in 1973. The tune may sound familiar because it opens with a melody from Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and then continues to use Rodrigo’s chord progressions in Corea’s improvisation. This first version of the Return to Forever group  included Stanley Clarke on bass, Airto Moreira on percussion, Flora Purim on vocals and the under-rated Joe Farrell on flute. A 2CD set from 1998 included a second disc of alternative takes and the track Matrix which first appeared on the aforementioned Now He Sings, Now He Sobs album. It’s not an essential version to have – but the original belongs in everyone’s record collection.

4. Chick Corea – 500 Miles High (Live) from Trilogy 2 (Disc 1)

Return to Forever became more electric as the 1970s counted down. The album Romantic Warrior (1976) was the final recording in this format and Corea experimented with different groups and styles – his piano duet records with Herbie Hancock perhaps the most celebrated of this period. If you can avoid a copy with the bizarre Smurfs cover (a Japanese pressing, for example) the album Friends is worth a look. It’s Joe Farrell again on saxes and flute too. This is Samba Song, featuring the propulsive drumming of Steve Gadd. Corea returned to a more fusion sound with his Elektric Band which, in turn, was complemented by the Akoustic Band of the same era –  a trio that included jazz standards in their repertoire.  The trio format remained a constant with its finest invocation in the ECM Trio records playing once again with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes. Our final tribute track is from yet another trio performance, but this time a much more recent release, 2020’s Trilogy 2, with Corea on acoustic piano, Christian McBride on bass and drummer Brian Blades. This 2CD set featured tracks recorded during trio’s world tour and includes American songbook standards, jazz classics and a reach back into Corea’s own catalogue. By the time of this recording the trio had been together for ten years – and it shows. Like the first live Trilogy release from 2013, this record is a summation of Corea’s jazz journey. Beautifully engineered with a superb sound, Chick Corea’s joy at performing in the classic jazz trio brings us right back to that earlier trio record from 1968 with which we began this post.

5. The Janet Lawson Quintet – You Promised from The Janet Lawson Quintet

6. The Janet Lawson Quintet – So High  from  The Janet Lawson Quintet

7. The Janet Lawson Quintet – Sunday Afternoon – The Janet Lawson Quintet

Our next artist to remember is vocalist Janet Lawson, who actually collaborated with Chick Corea and other artists such as Ron Carter, Duke Ellington, Sheila Jordan, Dave Liebman, Cedar Walton, Duke Pearson and Eddie Jefferson – among others.  Born in Baltimore, but NYC based, Lawson really used her voice as another instrument. The British label BBE Records re-released her first self-titled album in 2014 with sleeve notes citing John S. Wilson’s New York Times review which notes that she “places her voice as an element of the instrument ensemble in almost all of her numbers rather than as a singer with instrumental accompaniment.” More than that, “when she takes her solos, Miss Lawson improvises – with or without words – as an instrumentalist would.” He added that Lawson “has the kind of voice that most jazz singers probably wish they had. It is a full, well‐developed, remarkably pliant voice with a lower range whose dark sonorities compare favorably with the deep power of Sarah Vaughan.” High praise indeed. So what happened to Janet Lawson and why is she not more well known?

She travelled the US, and to Latin America and Jamaica, but most of her work was in New York clubs and from 1968-69 was a regular guest on Steve Allen’s New York TV show. Lawson was also involved in improvisational acting, teaching master classes in vocal improvisation and was a founder member of Women In Music, a group of six musicians. Gilles Peterson has recently commented that she was a staple at the legendary Sunday afternoon sessions at Dingwalls in London and  the title of one of the tunes we chose suggests it may well have been a firm favourite there. Janet Lawson’s voice is supported by some fine musicians on our three tunes from that first album, originally released in 1981 – Ratzo Harris on bass, Roger Rosenberg on baritone sax, Jimmy Madison on drums and Bill O’Connell on piano. Lawson died aged 80 in January 2020 with just two records to her name. Both are worth looking out for. You can still download her 1981 debut here on Bandcamp, but her follow up album Dreams Can Be from 1984 will be more difficult to track down. Here’s the title track featuring the same excellent band and some lovely scat singing from Lawson herself.

8. Johnny Pacheco – Azuquita Mami from Fania All Stars Live/Salsa Caliente

Both Chick Corea and Janet Lawson drew upon and played music with Latin influences. The final artist we remember, Johnny Pacheco, who died aged 85 earlier this month, was a seminal Latin artist – you could say Latin through and through – but jazz remained a key element. Pacheco and his fellow musicians were responsible for fusing jazz, rhythm and blues, funk and other styles into traditional African-Cuban music to create salsa – literally, ‘sauce’, and implying a mix of many different Latin styles.

Johnny Pacheco was born in the Dominican Republic but his family moved to New York when Pacheco was 11 and it was here that he became a major figure as a musician, bandleader and co-founder of the essential Latin music label Fania Records, a joint venture with lawyer and Latin music fan Jerry Masucci. From its humble beginnings in Harlem and the Bronx, Fania brought a new sensibility to the music. Many of the lyrics to the new songs were about racism, cultural pride and the incendiary politics of the New York streets.The tune Azuquita Mami has appeared on many Latin compilations (including Super Salsa Hits released by Charly Records in the UK), but this version is from the French compilation Salsa Caliente released on Universal and bought in Paris. It features several other classic Latin artists, including an excellent band from Japan! If you’re new to music from this inspirational label, it’s worth searching out a superb 4CD Fania compilation called Ponte Duro: the Fania All Stars Story, released in 2012. It captures the All Stars live in New York, around the world and in the studio. You can hear Pacheco (and ‘Symphony’ Sid) introduce the band here live from Spanish Harlem in NYC.

9. Johnny Pacheco – Alto Songo from Introducing Johnny Pacheco

In Pacheco’s home in Dominican Republic, the local merengue music is part of the fabric of everyday life. Among the several instruments he learned to play were the flute and the accordion, both essential to merengue. In New York his flute-playing became handy for playing the Cuban charanga music and he was hired by Charlie Palmieri to play in a charanga band before forming his own Pacheco Y Su Charanga in 1960. But it was that first meeting with Masucci three years later that was to change Pacheco’s fortunes. Pacheco became Fania’s creative director and musical producer, as well as performing his own music and recording with the Fania All Stars and many other artists. The tune Alto Songo was released originally on Introducing Johnny Pacheco on Fania (1989), although it’s available elsewhere including another Charly Records release of 1989. Sue Steward’s sleeve notes to this album inform us that Manny Oquendo was on timbales and that the tune has “growing subtlety out of Rene Hernandez’ whimsical few bars of Rachmaninov’s piano concerto.” It’s a classic Fania tune. Oquendo has been featured on earlier Cosmic Jazz shows (check out here and here) via his band Libre.

10. Hector Lavoe – Mi Gente from La Voz/I Like It Like That

Johnny Pacheco’s influence began to spread widely. In the early 1970s he was greeted by a crowd of 5,000 as he arrived at Dakar airport. His music was a great influence on Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab and other West African groups who took back the Latin rhythms that were themselves often derived from traditional African rhythms.  Pacheco went on to release hundreds of records, often in collaboration with other Latin artists like Cuban singer Celia Cruz. His songwriting provided material for other Latin musicians, including one of the greatest Latin vocalists Hector Lavoe, whom Pacheco was to portray in El Cantante, the 2007 biopic of the singer. Mi Gente (translated as ‘my people’) is a Johnny Pacheco composition that was most famously recorded by Lavoe and is considered one of his finest recordings. There are numerous versions, but one of the most popular was recorded with the Fania All Stars in 1974 in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) while Lavoe was there to perform at the celebrated Zaire 74 festival prior to the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ –  Mohammed Ali’s title fight against George Foreman. You can see Lavoe’s performance here – and, yes, that’s Pacheco conducting and stage managing the whole performance. The orchestrations, the brass and the big band feel provide ample evidence of the links to jazz. This version is available on a great Fania compilation which include a set of originals together with more contemporary remixes – here’s Louie Vega’s EOL remix of Mi Gente.

Pacheco was to record with a number of jazz musicians including George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Les McCann and McCoy Tyner. He’s featured on this version of Duke Ellington’s Duke’s Place from Tyner’s tribute to the great bandleader, McCoy Tyner Plays Ellington (1965). For many years he spearheaded the Johnny Pacheco Latin Music and Jazz Festival at Lehman College in the Bronx, an annual event in collaboration with the college (streamed live in recent years) that provides a stage for hundreds of talented young musicians studying music in New York City schools. His legacy lives on.

06 February 2021: new releases, re-releases and more

The music on Cosmic Jazz this week comes from Brazil, Poland, the UK and the US. There are artists new to the programme, more essential Black Jazz Records re-releases and differing styles of fusion.

  1. John Surman – Dance from John Surman/Messin’ Around 3: Tighten Up

It is always good to start the show with something funky and uplifting that could even get your body moving. “One of the funkiest British jazz records” is the description to this tune in the notes to Messin’ Around 3: Tighten Up, a 2001 dancefloor jazz compilation, where this track can be found. It comes originally from  sax player John Surman’s first album of 1969, simply called John Surman, and is interesting because Surman moved on to enter vastly different territory, as top musicians so often do. His more recent output for ECM Records has been either in interesting large scale jazz groups or in multi-tracked solo ventures. This first album had a ‘Who’s Who’ of the young British jazz musicians at the time, including Mike Osborne on alto, Errol Phillip on congas, Dave Holland on double bass, Malcolm Griffiths/ Paul Rutherford on trombone and Harry Beckett/Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn.

2. Oles Brothers & Piotr Orzechowski – Waterfall from Waterfall: The Music of Joe Zawinul 

The Oles Brothers from Poland have been performing for over twenty years with Marcin on double bass and Bartlomiej on drums. They are joined on this record by young pianist Piotr Orzechowski. This is an original take on the early Weather Report music composed by Austrian pianist Joe Zawinul. The Oles Brother are quite correct in identifying the European element in these early works: they’re quite unlike the later jazz fusion style increasingly adopted by Weather Report as they became a jazz supergroup in the late 1970s. Their earlier material (the source of all these Oles Brothers interpretations) was in large part composed by Zawinul and reflects a much more ethereal, contemplative approach – as heard in Milky Way, the opening track of their first self-titled album released in 1971, and which has inspired a suite of improvisations on this record. That 1971 self titled first album is indeed a certifiable jazz classic, but the Oles Brothers – along with the subtle pianism of Piotr Orzechowski – have succeeded in creating something very special too. “We wanted to strip Zawinul’s output from fusion and electric sounds” said Marcin Oles and this is exactly what they have done in their selections from both the first and second Weather Records. Waterfall, the tune on this week’s show, is a long way removed from Zawinul’s original conception and – as with John Surman above – is further proof that the best musicians do not stay on the same path. Check this one out at  Steve’s Jazz Sounds – home to great jazz from Europe and elsewhere.

3. Janczarski & Siddik 4Tet – Contemplation from Contemplation

What a record this is! Rasul Siddik on trumpet, flutes and vocals (on their atmospheric take on Jim Pepper’s native American inspired Witchi Tai To), Borys Janczarski on tenor sax, Michał Jaros on bass and Kazimierz Jonkisz on drums play the tunes of some of their jazz heroes, including Woody Shaw, Don Cherry and Joe Henderson. Youth (Janczarski and Jaros) and experience (Siddik and the extraordinary Jonkisz) come together to create an album of contemporary jazz classics that mixes freeform and mainstream energy to excellent effect. Contemplation is one of McCoy Tyner’s most distinctive compositions and this excellent version pays tribute but has its own clear identity – compare with Tyner’s original here. It’s worth noting that the criminally neglected tenor player Jim Pepper was of Kaw and Muskogee Creek descent and his music often reflected this background. He was encouraged to tap into his native American culture by Don Cherry and the two were to collaborate on a number of albums, most notably on his 1983 record Comin’ and Goin’ which includes a version of Witchi Tai To.  Perhaps even more affecting is Pepper’s original recording of this tune on his first record (and currently one of the few in print) Pepper’s Pow Wow, which included Larry Coryell and Billy Cobham in the line up.

4. Maria Schneider – The Sun Waited For Me from Data Lords

We are huge fans of Maria Schneider’s big band recordings – and perhaps her 2020 release Data Lords is her finest achievement yet. It topped many critic poles at the end of the year – and justifiably so. Ambitious in scope and powerful in execution, the music looks at the darkness of our data-driven dystopia and contrasts it with a more contemplative and natural path. On disc 1, Ben Monder’s guitar scrabbles over the dark themes, accompanied by David Bowie saxman Donny McCaslin and the ‘trane-like solo sounds of Rich Perry. The album’s second CD is in more familiar Schneider style, closing with the sumptuous solemnity of The Sun Waited for Me. The album can only be found on the crowd-funded ArtistShare label – Schneider is a forthright advocate of musicians’ ownership of their work and the music is only available for physical or digital purchasing – no streaming allowed. We’re happy with that stance here at Cosmic Jazz!

6. Ed Motta – Daqui Pro Meier from Manual Pratico Para Festas, Bailes e Afins

Given that he’s the nephew of singer Tim Maia, it was perhaps inevitable that Ed Motta would make his way in the world of Brazilian music. However, he’s developed his own individual identity much of which derives from his deep understanding of American soul, disco and funk tropes – all of which can be found in his music. If you’ve heard his more recent music  (like the infectious Dondi from his 2013 AOR album) you’ll recognise his style immediately in this relatively early tune from 1997. Motta went on to work with Roy Ayers, 4 Hero, Seu Jorge, Incognito and others. Your starting point should be the aforementioned Steely Dan-influenced album AOR, which is a delight whether in Brazilian or English lyric versions. The superb horn section on Daqui Pro Meier is Serginho Trombone on trombone, Bidinho and Altair Martins on trumpets and Ze Carlos Birgona and Henrique Band on saxes. 

6. Sivuca – Rosa Na Favela from Sivuca 

We’re hot with the Real Gone Music label at the moment. This February re-release  from the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Sivuca has been only awaited. Sivuca’s music spans a gamut of influences from regional Brazilian folk styles through to jazz and bossa nova. This tune about Rosa at the favela is a gently swinging and mesmerising piece that entices you into its grooves. Sivuca supported many important artists, including the Brazilian great Airto Moreira, but also vocalists Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba. His own music is truly unique: there is a kind of restrained joyfulness laced with a certain melancholy – indeed a hint of that indefinable Portuguese saudade. It is all beautifully performed with outstanding musicianship – on the surface gentle sounding, but with real subtlety, precision and complexity underneath. Buy this album on vinyl (limited editions in green and yellow!) before it disappears and you’ll come back to it again and again.

7. Gene Russell – You Are the Sunshine of My Life from Talk To My Lady 

This month also sees two more Black Jazz re-releases from Real Gone Music with one of these the second album for the label by keyboardist Gene Russell, originally released in 1973. Russell was also a producer and much involved in the creative output of the Black Jazz Records throughout its short lifespan. The album Talk to My Lady includes some original compositions but also some covers such this lilting, almost bossa-nova like re-interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s You Are the Sunshine of My Life. Russell is accompanied on the album by bass player Henry Franklin (of whom more later) and guitarist Calvin Keys (whom we featured in previous shows). This record is indeed another example of the musical  boundary stretching that took place at this influential label. It’s to Real Gone Music’s credit that this reissue project covers all of the twenty Black Jazz releases, fully recognising both the very necessary cultural statement (the first black-owned jazz label in 50 years) and its use of state-of-the-art stereo recording techniques (including the issuing of surround-sound Quadraphonic versions of most records).

8. Jarrod Lawson – Embrace What We Are from Be the Change 

Jarrod Lawson’s second album Be The Change is highly recommended. It is almost in the Black Jazz Records tradition of seamlessly merging styles. There is jazz, there is soul, there is R’n’B all in a highly polished yet emotional and sensitive musical statement. There are political accents too – “It breaks my heart to see the rampant humanity/We can do better” Lawson pleads on this tune. As a multi-instrumentalist, he covers most of the music but longtime percussionist Sammy Figueroa features on several tracks, including our choice Embrace What We Are.

9. Henry Franklin – Little Miss Laurie from The Skipper

Our second Black Jazz choice comes from the other Real Gone Music February re-release. Bass player Henry Franklin’s first release as band leader appeared in 1972 with label co-founder Gene Russell in charge of the recording. Prior to this, Franklin had played with Latin percussionist Willie Bobo and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. There is definitely fusion in the album as a whole and this tune, Little Miss Laurie, hints at pop influences in both its title and structure. Most of the album is made up of original compositions with the organic feel so typical of the label’s output. It’s of course beautifully recorded too.  If you have not discovered Black Jazz Records as yet, now is your opportunity – but you will have to be sharp as some of the vinyl versions are already sold out. There will be more from this label as we move through the year.

24 January 2021: Sivuca, new Polish music and Pharoah Sanders

This week we have a brief pre-release preview of Brazilian artist Sivuca, a mix of music from Neil featuring Pharaoh Sanders and artists that may be new to you, three piano-led Polish trios – including the wonderful Kasia Pietrzko – and important messages from Somi and Michael White’s violin-led sounds.

1. Sivuca – Ain’t No Sunshine from Sivuca

Everyone will know this tune – written and performed by Bill Withers and available on his debut album Just As I Am from 1972. In this original version the sentiments of the lyrics and the way Withers delivers it conveys messages of sadness and regret. But when the same tune is sung by Severino Dias de Oliveira (aka Sivuca) it becomes a joyous, hip-swinging, mood-changing event that brings forth the sunshine, rather than denying it. This is my favourite version of the song. For the first time, the album where you can find this version – the eponymous Sivucawill be re-released in vinyl on 26 February 2021 by our friends at Real Gone Music. Moreover, the first 750 copies will be issued in purple vinyl!

2. Sivuca – Adeus Maria Fulo from Sivuca

Adeus Maria Fulo (in translation, Goodbye Mad Maria!) was most notably covered by Os Mutantes – the Tropicalia group who played alongside Brazilian superstars like  Caetano Veloso and Airto Moreira. Sivuca’s original is an altogether more relaxed take on the song with superb saxophone contributions from Morris Goldberg who also features on Ain’t No Sunshine. Goldberg is a veteran of the South African jazz scene although he’s now based in New York. One of his most memorable contributions on record is on Dollar Brand’s iconic Mannenberg. Sivuca was from Brazil but ventured beyond to play with musicians including Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba, often proving to be a star on tours with these artists. He played accordion, guitar and keyboards, as well as having a powerful singing voice. He often used makeshift instruments alongside conventional ones and combined traditional regional Brazilian styles such as forro and choro along with jazz and bossa influences. This album originally appeared on the Vanguard label in 1973 – and it’s great to have it back again. We may have ignored Brazilian music lately and so this gives us an important reason to play more. Expect further tracks from Sivuca in coming shows.

3. Contours – Balafon A feat. Seth Sutton from Balafon Sketches

This self-release from Contours appeared in July 2020 beginning as a series of live jams in Cumbria, UK. Instrument builder, musician, painter and ceramicist Seth Sutton experimented with balafons and a gamelan alongside his homemade string and percussive instrumentation. The tracks’ foundations were built running these elements of tuned percussion through delay and reverb pedals, experimenting with interlocking polyrhythms and the overtones and textures created by the raw recordings. The group then built upon these recordings utilising a range of live instrumentation such as synthesizers, drum machines and other organic percussion – much provided by producer Tom Burford. Cellist Abel Selaocoe and saxophonist/ flautist Callum Connell feature on some tracks with violinists Simmy Singh and Beka Reid also contributing. The music was available on a cassette tape (with handprinted linocut!) but this is now sold out. Check out the digital version here on Bandcamp. Note that 100% of profits from this release are donated to charities Kids of Colour and Colours Youth Network.

4. Menagerie – Hope from Many Worlds

Australian nine-piece group Menagerie released Many Worlds, their third album, on 15 January 2021. The group was founded by producer, songwriter, guitarist and DJ Lance Ferguson and are clearly inspired by post-Coltrane jazzers and labels like Strata-East, Impulse! and Black Jazz. The track Hope could easily be from a 1970s Sonny Fortune album – it’s that good. Think, for example, of Thoughts from the undervalued album Waves of Dreams (1976). On Many Worlds there’s a fusing together of strong melodies and cosmic jazz grooves with horns, guitar solos, acoustic and electric keys, along with some funky percussion rhythms in the mix – and it all works. We’ll play more from Menagerie in coming shows. 

5. Pharaoh Sanders – Love Is Everywhere from Live in Paris (1975)

When Pharoah Sanders played tenor saxophone with John Coltrane in the 1960s, his tone was harsh and wild. Soloing alongside Coltrane on challenging records like Ascension, Om, and Live in Japan, Sanders’ horn would shriek and howl and cry, reaching a pitch of earth-shaking intensity on pieces that pushed jazz to the limits. But after Coltrane’s death in 1967, Sanders began exploring a different path. Playing with Alice Coltrane on Ptah, the El Daoud and and Journey in Satchidananda and on his own albums for the Impulse! label, his sound was still searching, but now more lyrical in more trance-like musical settings. When Sanders and his band played Paris in 1975 his Impulse! period was behind him but this live Radio France studio set (where Cannonball Adderley, Freddie Hubbard, and Grant Green also recorded) sees a consolidation of those earlier records into extended vamps much like the second half of Upper Egypt, Lower Egypt from Tauhid – one of our perennial favourites here on Cosmic Jazz. The quality of the sound on this recording is ok too – if you’re new to this mid period Sanders, why not start here? Take care with the ending though (where did that organ come from?)…

6. Kasia Pietrzko – Dark Blue Intensity Of Life from Ephemeral Pleasures The show now enters a run of Polish jazz trios led by pianists. The first comes from Kasia Pietrzko, who we have already featured on the show and will continue to include. Perhaps we were a little slow to catch up on this 2020 release but we have tried to make up for it since. The word ‘intensity’ appears in the title of this tune – it’s a vital word to describe any of her music. It requires serious and sustained attention , but it is so deep, so emotional and powerful that it more than rewards these efforts. Do follow her on Facebook – she has released videos where she emerges onto a darkened stage, plays one of her tunes solo on piano and then walks off again. The setting and the playing is always perfect.

7. Domink Wania Trio – Une Barque Sur L’Ocean from Ravel 

This is another record we are catching up on again. We actually first played tracks from this album back in 2015 but have begun to appreciate its qualities once more and have featured several tracks in recent shows. Pianist Domink Wania is joined by Max Mucha on double bass and Dawid Fortuna on drums. Wania is an outstanding pianist and this debut album was much anticipated. It remains his only solo album but there is a long list of Polish jazz musicians on whose records he has appeared and made a major contribution, including Tomasz Stanko – one of the Polish greats. He’s also played with jazz artists from further afield, including Americans Marcus Miller, Dave Liebman, Lee Konitz, Don Byron and Eddie Henderson. He is also an educator in Krakow and Katowice and released his first solo piano album, Lonely Shadows, in November 2020. Check out this video of the track Subjective Objectivity – there’s a glimpse of ECM founder and producer Manfred Eicher in the background shadows.

8. Piotr Matusik Trio – Native Dancer from Independence 

This is the second album from pianist Piotr Matusik, released in 2020 and with all nine tunes  composed by him. There are many opportunities for Matusik’s solo improvisations but there are also opportunities for the other trio members, Alan Wykpisz on double bass and electronics, who has some particularly fine moments, and Patryk Dobosz on drums. Like so many of the Polish releases this is a record from young musicians who are developing and making their mark. How does Poland manage to produce so many? Certainly it would seem there are some outstanding academies/universities where they can study and emerge as outstanding musicians and one presumes their music education began much earlier. In a world in which musicians are finding it hard to survive there’s an important message for governments here – we can’t neglect this most universal art form and so supporting music education is an essential commitment for any country.

9. Somi – Four African Women from The Lagos Music Salon 

Somi was born in Illinois to parents who came to the US from Rwanda and Uganda. She has just released a live album with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band – Live at Alte Oper recorded at an 18th century opera house, which is currently nominated for a 2020 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.  It includes versions of tunes from her two studio albums – Petite Afrique about the situation for African immigrants in Harlem in the face of gentrification and The Lagos Music Salon which was inspired by an 18-month music sabbatical in Lagos. It is from this album that this week’s selection is taken. Somi is a performer who uses her music to tell stories and she has an impressive range of collaborators and achievements. Her activism led to a performance at the UN General Assembly for the International Day of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

10. Michael White – The Blessing Song from Pneuma 

We end the show with a tune we keep coming back to on Cosmic Jazz – we first featured it on a show in 2008! The Blessing Song was released on Impulse! – nothing unusual there – but this was a band led by Michael White, a violin player and there have not been too many of those in jazz. Besides, the violin is not always associated with music that is jaunty, danceable and totally uplifting as this track is. It is interesting to note that the people at Jazzman Records have selected this for the Spiritual Jazz 12 Impulse! compilation. It seems  pretty good to end the show, with a piece that includes the invitation Lord come into our hearts with your blessing/Lord come into our hearts with your love. We need blessings and love at this time.

10 January 2021: more best of 2020, remembering Candido and the legacy of Stanley Cowell

Welcome to the first CJ post for 2021! There is still more to play from 2020 and further respects to be paid in the show this week. We continue to explore the Black Jazz Records re-releases from RealGoneMusic and a neglected Polish masterpiece is given an airing.

  1. CándidoConga Soul from Conga Soul

Percussionist Cándido Camero died in New York on 7 November 2020 aged 99 – and so it is long overdue that we pay our respects. Derek probably encountered him most often when playing out as a DJ and using Jingo as a rapturous dancefloor filler. Cándido led various bands from the 1950s onwards, recording in the 1970s for both Blue Note and Salsoul record labels, with Jingo becoming a huge Salsoul hit – check out this extended David Rodriguez mix. Back in the early 1960s many jazz musicians were influenced by the music of Nigerian Babatunde Olatunji and his Drums of Passion album which features a version of Jin-Go-Lo-Ba. Neil notes that if you don’t have this album, look out for the deluxe version released in a 2CD package in 2009 – it contains the difficult to find More Drums of Passion follow-up record.

Jingo might have been Cándido’s moment in the club world spotlight but he was no one hit wonder and there is so much more to remember him by. Known by just his given name, Cándido Camero Guerra was born on 22 April 1921 in Havana, Cuba. He began as a bongo player but quickly realised the potential of multiple conga drums in a tuned set and he brought this innovation to New York in 1946, playing first with Machito and his AfroCuban band. It wasn’t long before he caught the attention of Dizzy Gillespie, with whom he was to record three great records. He began to feature on records by the jazz cognoscenti – from Duke Ellington to Grant Green, appearing on dozens of records leading jazz artists. The tune on this week’s CJ show is from a 1962 Roulette album entitled Conga Soul. The sleeve notes to the record stress the need for jazz to expand and that “Candido is one of those jazz artists who keeps jazz on the move”, giving any jazz he was involved in a distinct Afro-Cuban flavour. There’s a terrific lineup on this record – Milt Hinton and George Duvivier on bass, Charlie Persip on drums and – most surprisingly – Argentinian composer Lalo Schifren on piano. Schifren, of course, went on to record for CTI records but is perhaps best known for his superb soundtrack to Bullitt. Here’s the Shiftin’ Gears track from Schifren’s stunning film score – and that could well be an uncredited Cándido on congas…

2. Max Roach – Equipoise from Members, Don’t Git Weary

The last programme included a tribute to the late pianist Stanley Cowell, yet that probably did not provide a true reflection of his work as we didn’t include any of his work in bands led by other musicians. One of the most significant of his many links with other celebrated jazz artists was his association with drummer Max Roach (featured last week on the Blue Note reissue of Money Jungle. The band on Roach’s outstanding Members Don’t Git Weary album include Gary Bartz on saxophone, Jymie Merritt on bass, Andy Bey on vocals (for the title tune only) and Cowell on piano. But for it was the opportunity to meet trumpeter Charles Tolliver that was particularly  significant for Cowell because this friendship led to the foundation of the ground-breaking Strata East Records label, providing an outlet for many fellow black musicians. Roach’s album includes three Cowell compositions including Equipoise. It is a beautiful, serene piece providing comforting reassurance to the members not to ‘git weary’ because better days will come.

3. Jarrod Lawson – How Long from Be The Change

The message, though, from Jarrod Lawson is that there is still so much more to be done.  His new album invokes you to Be The Change and in the tune How Long he asks “How long will you ignore the people’s cries… How long, how long, how long”. It has even been a long time – six years in fact – since his first album was released to general acclaim. He has taken his time and proceeded carefully and it shows. As well as the vocals and compositions he has played much of the music on the album, with some particularly fine piano playing. Percussionist Sammy Figueroa and drummer Reinhardt Melz are the musicians to appear on most tracks but the band is basically multi-instrumentalist Jarrod Lawson with contributions from others. The music is not just jazz, nor just soul or R’n’B but rather blends effortlessly across genres. It is beautifully crafted and put together. It’s as slick as Steely Dan, David Sanborn or Marcus Miller but – as with these artists – this is very much intended as a compliment. We shall play more.

4. Maria Schneider Orchestra – Look Up from Data Lords

There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the two discs that form one of the most stunning releases of 2020. We featured a track from Data Lords in our 20 for 20 feature but the album is so good that a further visit is necessary. As Mike Collins notes in his excellent review for London Jazz News, Data Lords is “an expansive and brilliantly realised project, presenting two starkly contrasting views of the digital and natural world.” The music is stunning. Schneider’s writing is remarkable and the performances she delivers with her orchestra really do sound like she has inherited the mantle of Gil Evans. The two CDs contrast The Digital World and Our Natural World and the music is suitably contrasting, setting a dystopian vision against an inspiring natural perspective.As with previous releases from Maria Schneider, the record can be ordered from the crowd funding platform ArtistShare. The roll call of musicians involved include names familiar to many of our listeners – guitarist Ben Monder, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and the late Frank Kimbrough on piano. This record is highly recommended an our choice – Look Up from the second suite – is quintessential Schneider with (as Mike Collins notes) “lyricism, melody and harmony with irresistible momentum and an arrangement that injects energy seamlessly”.

5. Jeff Parker – Gnarciss from Suite for Max Brown

Guitarist Jeff Parker first came to fame with the post rock group Tortoise – and specifically their 1998 album TNT, a more jazz-inflected outing than most of their output. The title track was a clear indication of their new direction with Parker’s guitar very much to the fore. His new record on Chicago’s International Anthem label, Suite for Max Brown, is a good example of his deployment of the same studio cutup styles loved by both Tortoise and Makaya McCraven – an exploration of the intersection of live improvisation and modern digital recording techniques. But the record has a more organic heart too – listen to how the kalimba cuts into the groove on our featured track Gnarciss. Parker’s recording method is much like McCraven’s. Beginning with a digital bed of beats and samples, he lays down tracks of guitar, keyboards, bass and percussion before inviting musicians to play and improvise over his melodies. There’s no classic studio arrangement though: each musician usually works alone with Parker before he layers and assembles the individual parts into final tracks. The results feel like in-the-moment jams with the improvisational human spirit that characterises a real live recording.

6. Ken McIntyre – Miss Priss from Introducing the Vibrations/Spiritual Jazz Vol. 11 – Steeplechase Records

Saxophonist and flautist Ken McIntyre first came to prominence in the early 1960s paying alongside Eric Dolphy and Cecil Taylor but he dropped out of the performing jazz scene for many years, instead focusing on teaching in public schools and universities. He returned to the studio in 1977 to record the album Hindsight and then released five more records on the Steeplechase label. All are worth looking out for, with the excellent Introducing the Vibrations album the only one to feature Japanese trumpeter Teramasa Hino. The percussive Miss Priss includes a great solo from Hino too.

7. Cleveland Eaton – Keena from Plenty Good Eaton

It is hard to keep away from Black Jazz Records at the moment. The excellent re-release programme from RealGoneMusic began last year and continues into 2021 with this Cleveland Eaton record emerging on 8 January this year. Eaton died in the summer of 2020 and was a bass player on the label In some ways his album sums up what Black Jazz Records was about: it contains jazz (and Keena undoubtedly falls into that category) but the album also has some very funky moments, some soulful moments, and some Blaxploitation-stylings – for example, in Moe, Let’s Have a Party.  You could, in fact, say that the album is a sample of the range of black musical styles in the USA of 1975 when the album was first released.

8. Rudolph Johnson – Fonda from Spring Rain

Rudolph Johnson was a sax player from Columbus, Ohio. The album Spring Rain was his first of two releases for Black Jazz Records. Johnson was rather less inclined to party than his label mate Cleveland Eaton much more likely to spend his time in meditation, at study or at musical instrument practice. As such, he drew comparisons to John Coltrane and, indeed, you can hear the influence. This debut release for Black Jazz Records came out originally in 1971 and will be re-released by RealGoneMusic on 5 February 2021. Other musicians in Johnson’s band were drummer Raymond Pounds (who played with a variety of artists from Pharaoh Sanders to Stevie Wonder to Bob Dylan), pianist John Barnes who could be found playing with several Motown artists and bass player Reggie Jackson also features on the excellent Black Jazz record Coral Keys from Walter Bishop Jr. This album is a serious piece of work and deserves much wider recognition. Check it out.

9. Dominik Wania Trio – Oiseaux Tristes from Ravel

Also on the serious side but sadly overlooked so far by this programme is the album Ravel by Polish pianist Dominik Wania. We came across him late in 2020 as an important contributor to the group New Bone led by trumpeter Tomasz Kudyk. Derek re-discovered his solo album again recently on a mix and, when this played, realised that we needed to give it some serious attention. Released in 2013, this isn’t a new album, but it is still readily available at the always supportive Steve’s Jazz Sounds. The Ravel link is a deep one: Wania notes “During my doctoral studies in Krakow, it quickly crystallised that the subject of my doctorate would be Ravel’s music and its influence on great jazz pianists, such as Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans. I tried to show that jazz harmony is close to Ravel’s harmony.” The outcome of this research was the arrangements on Wania’s debut record as leader. Already widely recognised in Poland as a skilful and creative contributor to the work of others, Ravel more than pays respects to the French composer Maurice Ravel. There are samples, harmonies, melodies that you can recognise from the originals but this is Ravel re-interpreted, above all, to capture the emotions of Ravel’s music through a jazz medium. Oiseaux Tristes comes from Ravel’s suite Miroirs and is a typically delicate solo piano piece, performed here by the amazing Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

More Cosmic Jazz sounds next week.

Cosmic Jazz: 20 for 20 – the best of 2020

It’s not been easy. Cosmic Jazz pays tribute to all those worldwide first response heroes who have saved  the lives of others with little thought of their own; we mourn all those many Covid-19 deaths in the jazz world; we feel the loss of the jazz venues forced to close this year; and we celebrate the amazing jazz on record and online that has sustained us through these dark months. It’s the last of these that we want to single out in our 20 for 20 feature. We’ll write at length about our ten favourite releases from this year and list ten others that we’ve both really enjoyed listening to. As always, we urge you to listen to the music on the show and then support the musicians by buying in your chosen format – preferably through a site that pays a decent rate. We continue to recommend the journey of discovery that is Bandcamp along with the constant inspiration from Steve’s Jazz Sounds along with independent record stores – like our UK local Soundclash Records and Vinyl Hunter and the Singapore havens of The Jazz Loft, the Analog Vault and Hear Records. Check them all out via the links and support and other these essential independent outlets.

Whittling down a long shortlist hasn’t been easy for for either of us, but we have each finally settled on five top choices each – four new releases and one reissue. For Neil, the year has been dominated by the arrival of two vinyl audiophile series from Universal – the new Tone Poets from Joe Harley/Don Was on Blue Note and the more recent parallel series from from Chad Kassem on Verve and associated labels. The vinyl revival does indeed continue apace with all major labels reissuing great jazz recordings on on high quality pressings. Yes, there are opportunist companies out there who churn out very poor digital CD transfers that should be avoided – but the best of the rest (Blue Note, Verve, Sam, Gearbox and others) – are giving us the best opportunity to hear the magic of vinyl. It’s all backed up by a revitalised turntable industry that has seen the launch of a number of new brands and models as well as the return of some established favourites.

Let’s begin Neil’s list with five essential purchases – starting with Nubya Garcia and her first full length album, Pace. We reviewed this record on its release in and it still stands up as one of the best from the wave of new British jazz artists. Alongside the excellent (if quirkily titled) 2019 album from saxophonist Binker Golding – Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers – Pace has real variety, great solos, deep studio production and some thumping, dub-sounding bass throughout from UK player Daniel Casimir. The production on this album is very much a step up from Garcia’s first EPs: recorded with producer Kwes, whose credits include Solange and Bobby Womack, Garcia is pushed into new territory that really demonstrates her diversity.  It all remains firmly rooted in jazz but there’s a range of other influences here too – from the afore-mentioned dub to cumbia and Ethio-jazz. Here’s the title track. It all works and the album is highly recommended. Garcia’s strongest influence is tenor player Joe Henderson but she has her own distinctive sound too. This one won’t disappoint.

Over the course of a career spanning six decades, veteran drummer Jerry Granelli has worked with many jazz artists – most notably with Vince Guaraldi (appearing on the landmark A Charlie Brown Christmas album in 1965) and with blues vocalist Mose Allison. Now Granelli has revisited these two collaborations from the vantage point of a more exploratory ‘now’ perspective. Never one to dwell on the past, Granelli has never revisited earlier music in this way but the opportunity to try a modern urgency with collaborators Jamie Saft and Brad Jones was clearly too good to ignore. Both Saft and Jones have worked across a broad range of musical genres, with their musical orbit including saxophonists John Zorn, Ornette Coleman and Dave Liebman, trumpeters Dave Douglas, Cuong Vu and Wadada Leo Smith, bassist Steve Swallow, drummer Bobby Previte, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams as well as collaborations with rock artists such as Elvis Costello and Iggy Pop. Granelli notes “You’re letting go of the past, you’re letting go of the present, and you’re just in the music. That’s the place you want to play from at all times. Then your whole vast experience is available to you and you can discover something new you’ve never played before. This record is a wonderful celebration of that coming together of now”. So, no room for nostalgia here as the take on Cast Your Fate to the Wind exemplifies. Mose Allison’s Your Mind is On Vacation receives a similarly free treatment with Saft coming across as the missing link between Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor.  Highly recommended. You can buy this RareNoise label album here on Bandcamp – listen and then go for the vinyl – stunning packaging and terrific sound.

Up next is Chicagoan percussionist Kahil El’Zabar who has been rather prolific with releases over the last year. We’ve featured two albums from him in recent months on Cosmic Jazz but it’s the timely and ironically titled America the Beautiful that makes the cut into Neil’s top five. It’s a relatively large ensemble joining El’Zabar this time with Corey Wilkes on trumpet and the late Hamiet Bluiett on baritone saxophone. There are two versions of the title tune, Charles Wright’s Express Yourself and a twist on Afro Blue but we’ve selected the hypnotic Jump and Shout (For Those Now Gone)There’s no doubt about the focus for this music – “Now’s the time for us to collectively invoke a confluence of trust and imagination that will enlighten a future path towards ethical humanity,” El’Zabar writes in the album’s statement of purpose.  The album is on the new UK Spiritmuse label and, not surprisingly, our recommendation is to get it on vinyl. It’s beautifully produced and a joy to look at too with great cover art from Nep Sidhu.

The Grammy Award-winning big band of Maria Schneider has produced several superb records in recent years, all emerging exclusively on the ArtistShare label, and this year’s 2CD Data Lords is another master work. Schneider started out as an assistant to noted arranger Gil Evans – and it shows. Her music has a similar depth of arrangement and an intensity that is all her own. Her long-standing opposition to big data companies and digital streaming has been well documented in articles, interviews, and congressional testimony and, since 2003, she has relied on the original crowdfunding label ArtistShare to finance her 18-piece orchestra recordings. Data Lords is the fifth of these. The first record offers warnings of the power and influence of the digital world through track titles like Don’t Be Evil (a reference to Google’s original motto) while the second record is in sharp contrast and features more of the harmonic depth of previous Schneider releases. Sanzen is named after a Japanese Buddhist temple and Look Up includes the beautiful piano of the late Frank Kimbrough who died suddenly earlier this month. Check out this Jazziz magazine streamed interview feature with Maria Schneider.

Neil’s final choice is a reissue – a record first bought on vinyl many years ago but released in 2020 as part of Blue Note’s superb Tone Poet series. Blue Note label boss Don Was has recruited analogue remastering guru Joe Harley (the Tone Poet) and engineer accomplice Kevin Gray to oversee a new series of titles, all re-engineered, remastered and repressed with extreme care. Find out more here and then check out the current titles here. The result is some awesome music, much of which has either not been previously obtainable or can only be found at extortionate prices on sites like Discogs. There are no easy recommendations here as all of the titles have something special to offer but (if you can find them) start with Chick Corea’s superb Now He Sings, Now He Sobs or Jackie McLean’s It’s Time! – but, truth be told, you won’t go wrong with any of them. So choosing just one of the new Tone Poets wasn’t easy as any of them could have been included in a Best of… list but the super-trio of Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus and Max Roach is really something special. Money Jungle (1962) was their only recording together and it’s stunning. Apparently, there were personal tensions in the studio and perhaps this contributed to the fireworks on disc. Whatever, the music from this session is tremendous throughout. Ellington wrote some tunes especially for this date and revisited other pieces, like the beautiful Fleurette Africaine and Warm Valley. The title track is a thunderous opener and there’s a wild take of Ellington’s much-recorded Caravan. This new version is the copy to have – the original pressing is too muddy by half.

These Tone Poet records may be more expensive than your standard vinyl issue, but with a decent turntable you’ll hear the difference immediately. BTW, if you’re looking for a new deck simply avoid any briefcase or console style packages and the cheaper offerings from Pioneer, Marantz and Denon as these companies have just leased their name to some very poor products that could actually damage your precious platters. Instead, start with the trusted Rega or Pro-ject ranges or, if you fancy a bit of Djing on the side, then the better offerings from Audio Technica and Technics are your starting points.

So what didn’t make this final list from Neil? Well, here’s the best of the rest of this year’s new albums – four new releases and one reissue:
  • Charles Lloyd – 8: Kindred Spirits (Blue Note)
  • Aaron Parks – Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man (Ropeadope)
  • Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Axiom (Stretch Music/Ropeadope)
  • Sun Ra Arkestra – Swirling, Swirling (Strut)
  • Art Taylor – A T’s Delight (Blue Note)

And so on to Derek’s best of the year. It’s four new releases and one reissue here too. Let’s start with young Polish pianist Kasia Pietrzko and her trio’s superb Ephemeral Pleasures album. This new record and her previous release Forthright Stories are both essential listening: the music is expressed with deep emotion, communicated with considerable intensity and is organic, honest and endlessly rewarding. Pietrzko studied at the Academy of Music in Krakow and spent time in New York, learning from Kenny Garrett and Aaron Parks among others. In 2018 she played in Krakow with the great Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and the plan was for a European tour. Sadly, Stanko died later that year and after this it was not until 2020 that she was able to release Ephemeral Pleasures with the track For T. S dedicated to Stanko.

We like to think that female jazz musicians are an essential and integral part of the jazz scene, and tdraw attention to them is to highlight the exception that in sad reality it so often is. But for this Best of 2020 fix it is interesting to note that five of our ten are groups of/led by women. It’s a really encouraging trend and one we shall see more of in 2021. Second up on Derek’s turntable is a female-led quintet, again from that jazz powerhouse that is Poland. We have marvelled before at the amount of excellent new music that emerges from this east European country but it’s really a reflection of a long jazz tradition. The O.N.E. Quintet are a group of young musicians with a debut album called – unsurprisingly – OneThere are seven tunes on this release: three by sax player Monica Muc, two by pianist Paulina Almanska, one traditional tune and one composition by Krzysztof Komeda – one of the founding fathers of jazz in Poland. The quintet includes violinist Dominika Rusinowski, who is prominent on the up-tempo number Drozina. So often, Polish jazz appears to attract a melancholy tag – in much the same way as music on the German label ECM. But this is very much not the case with O.N.E Quintet – the sounds are warm and embracing, but there is still the opportunity for soloists to take off. Checkout, for example, sax player Monica Muc here on As Close As Light.

Pianist Renee Rosnes leads a new band as producer, pianist and composer in the Blue Note septet Artemis. This is something of an all star band with Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Melissa Aldana on tenor sax, Anat Cohen on clarinet, Norika Ueda on bass, Allison Miller on drums. Members of the band come from the US, Canada, France, Chile, Israel and Japan. Two of the tracks on the self- titled album add in vocals from Cecile McLorin Salvant.  If It’s Magic is, of course, a Stevie Wonder composition from Songs in the Key of Life but there’s also a take on Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and Lennon and McCartney’s Fool on the Hill. Check out the interview with band members and Blue Note CEO Don Was right here.

We have followed the course of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire since his arrival on the scene in 2007. on the tender spot of every calloused moment (yes, it’s all in lower case) Akinmusire features his regular quartet of Justin Brown on drums, Sam Harris on piano and Harish Raghavan on bass. This band have been playing and recording for over a decade – and it shows. Akinmusire writes and performs what may well be a cerebral take on jazz but the music never lacks emotional intensity, with the occasional vocals from Jesus Diaz only adding to the experience. This is music with depth and meaning and comes highly recommended. Our selection is roy – a heartfelt tribute to fellow trumpeter Roy Hargrove, a similarly eclectic performer with a wonderful tone, who sadly died in 2018.

Saxophonist John Coltrane will never be far from our thoughts and ears here on Cosmic Jazz: he continues to provides us with music that touches heart, soul and mind – and there are times – like now – when we need just that. His instantly recognisable tenor sound is simply life affirming and this ability to provide musical transcendence is epitomised by a tune like Lonnie’s Lament from the Crescent album. Beginning in 2019, the Impulse! label embarked on a ‘vital vinyl’ reissue programme and included Coltrane’s classic 1964 recording Crescent as one of the titles. This reissue retains the original gatefold cover with liner notes by Nat Hentoff. The music was recorded in April and June 1964, produced by Bob Thiele and engineered by Rudy van Gelder. The personnel on the album is the classic Impulse! quartet: Coltrane is supported by McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. While familiar with some of the key tunes on the album, Derek did not own the record – until now. If you don’t have Crescent, then now is the time to get a reissue copy that truly reflects the deep intensity of the music. Lonnie’s Lament is the longest track on the album and includes a bass solo from Jimmy Garrison as well as some beautiful quartet playing.

So what didn’t make Derek’s final list? Here’s the best of the rest of his 2020 album choice – again, four new releases and one reissue:

  • Hermes Experiment – Here We Are
  • Jarrod Lawson – Be the Change
  • Piotr Damasiewicz & Power of the Horns Ensemble – Polska
  • Chanda Rule + Sweet Emma Band – Hold On
  • Ana Mazotti – Ana Mazotti

Look out for a brand new 2021 show coming soon…

23 December 2020: Stanley Cowell, the Black Jazz label and a touch of the contemporary

This show looks back to pay respect to the music of the late Stanley Cowell, previews more Black Jazz Records re-releases and then goes more contemporary with Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah and Alfa Mist.

1. Stanley Cowell – I’m Tryin’ To Find a Way from New World (also available on Kev Beadle Presents Private Collection Vol. 2)

2. Stanley Cowell  – Let Me Love You (Let Me Be Me) from Talkin’ ‘bout Love (also available on BGP presents Jazz Funk)

3. Stanley Cowell – Travellin’ Man from Travellin’ Man (also available on MC/Mastercuts Jazz Cafe)

The jazz pianist, record label founder and educator Stanley Cowell died on 17 December 2020. The show begins with three selections that display the versatility of a musician who was classically trained but was essentially a jazz pianist, yet turns up on a British BGP label compilation of jazz funk. He was born in Toledo, Ohio, went to college at the University of Michigan, where he met Roland Kirk and then moved to New York. He played in the groups of many top jazz artists – for example, Sonny Rollins, Marion Brown and Max Roach. It was while playing for the latter that he met trumpeter Charles Tolliver. They both appeared on the essential Max Roach album Members Don’t Git Weary with its Stanley Cowell standard Equipoise. Together they produced an album but found themselves frustrated by the limited recompense that major labels offered to jazz artists at the time. Their answer was to start their own record label Strata East. It was an important contribution to the Black Arts Movement, with Pan-African influences, releasing many records and becoming one of the most successful black-led labels of the time. Cowell continued his work as a sideman with – for example – the Heath Brothers, Bobby Hutcherson, Arthur Blythe and Art Pepper. From the 1980s Cowell concentrated more on his work as an educator at universities in New York. He retired in 2013 but continued to make some public appearances, releasing the album Juneteenth in 2015. Cowell’s New World album with its iconic Statue of Liberty cover is a great place to start with with his music. His fourth and final record for the Galaxy label, New World (1981) has the considerable advantage of a rhythm section with Cecil McBee on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. All the tunes are excellent and the album begins with an inspiring version of Duke Ellington’s ballad Come Sunday. The second choice comes from Cowell’s 1978 Talkin’ ’bout Love album which takes an altogether funkier route  – as epitomised in the cut The Stroker which has more than touch of the blaxploitation movie soundtrack about it. The final choice is a bona fide Cowell classic: the title track from his 1992 Travellin’ Man album on the Black Lion Records label which also features a trio version of Blues for the Viet Cong.

4. Rudolph Johnson – Diswa from Spring Rain

From Strata East to another important independent black-led record label – Black Jazz Records. Real Gone Music are re-releasing the entire catalogue – an exciting development for us here at Cosmic Jazz. We have played tunes from the first batch of re-releases and in this show we have two more. Rudolph Johnson was a sax player from Columbus, Ohio. His playing drew comparisons with John Coltrane and he shared Coltrane’s devotion to constant practice and meditation. The album Spring Rain was his first of two releases for Black Jazz Records and his first as a band leader after work as a sideman. The album has sounds ranging from  bebop to soul jazz and a touch of funk. The other musicians in the band were drummer Raymond Pounds (who played with a variety of artists from Pharaoh Sanders to Stevie Wonder to Bob Dylan), pianist John Barnes who could be found playing with several Motown artists and bass player Reggie Jackson also features on the excellent Black Jazz record Coral Keys from Walter Bishop Jr.

5. Calvin Keys – Shawn-Neeq from Shawn-Neeq

The Rudolph Johnson record will be released, along with Shawn-Neeq from Calvin Keys, on 5 February 2021 for Black History Month in the USA. Calvin Keys is a guitarist and Shawn-Neeq was his first Black Jazz release. We’ve featured music from his other Black Jazz album on an earlier Cosmic Jazz show – see here. Keys spent the 1960s supporting organ players such as Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Jack McDuff. For this his first record as a leader he wanted to play with a piano player and chose Larry Nosh whose credits included work for L.A. Express, Eddie Harris, Bill Withers and Etta James. Also featured are bass player Lawrence Evans, drummer Bob Brave and flautist/songwriter Owen Marshall. Following this release, Keys became an important figure on the Bay Area Jazz scene and the new sleeve notes include an interview with him. Guitarist Pat Metheny was to acknowledge Calvin Keys as an influence.

6. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Guinnevere from Axiom 

This is Scott aTunde Adjuah’s third live album and was recorded at the Blue Note Club in New York in 2020 and so must have been one of the last pre-lock down live releases. In the session he took a number of songs from previous albums and reworked them but this choice is actually a version of David Crosby’s Guinnevere. It really bears little relation to the original melody, however, and is more inspired by the Miles Davis version which first appeared in an edited version on a unreleased tracks compilation Circle in the Round (1979) but is really part of the Bitches Brew sessions and can be found on more complete versions of that celebrated album. Listen to it here. Derek remembers David Crosby being the subject of a feature in the UK New Musical Express paper in its punk years heyday, sharing the good news that he had cancelled a UK trip! Indeed, Derek, his stock has risen since then and he is currently acclaimed for a recent trilogy of records with a band of much younger musicians, including Michael League and Bill Laurence from Snarky Puppy. Scott aTunde Adjuah’s version is not only based on the Davis interpretation but outdoes it in many ways, and includes a trumpet solo that went on to win the improvised jazz solo of the year in this year’s Grammy Awards. The Davis original has a tendency to ramble and would undoubtedly have benefitted from the studio wizardry of producer Teo Macero that is so much a part of the original four album sides of Bitches Brew.

7. Alfa Mist – Galaxy from Blue Note Re:imagined 

Alfa Mist is from the UK and like Scott takes influences from other contemporary urban music. He is a London-born pianist, producer, multi-instrumentalist and rapper. He came up through grime and hip hop but, inspired by jazz samples he heard, he taught himself piano at the age of 17. His music reflects a range of influences: it is interesting, contemporary and an example of the eclectic sounds that are making their mark on the younger artists of the contemporary British scene and so it’s not surprising that he was selected from this influential group to contribute Eddie Henderson’s Galaxy to the new Blue Note Re:imagined compilation. For those of a nervous disposition towards such reworkings it is reassuring to note that this new album bears little resemblance to the 2004 Blue Note Revisited project, in which a group of celebrated DJs and turntablists face-lifted some classic Blue Note tracks, this one sticks to bona fide new UK jazz artists. Sixteen classic tracks are reworked to create a bridge between Blue Note’s past and future, with contributions from Shabaka Hutchings, Ezra Collective, Nubya Garcia, Mr Jukes, Steam Down, Skinny Pelembe, Emma-Jean Thackray, Poppy Ajudha, Jordan Rakei and Jorja Smith. Not everything works but there are some excellent and original takes on Blue Note tunes old and new. An early favourite of mine was Jorja Smith’s version of St Germain’s Rose Rouge – you can compare the original with the new version here.

12 December 2020: jazz – intense, deep and religious

After the edgy diversity of our last show, this new Cosmic Jazz focuses more on what might loosely be called spiritual jazz – a term we have commented on in previous blogs (see here for example). But we begin with an artist that crossed many arbitrary jazz boundaries and was often judged to be less of a true jazz musician for doing so. Perhaps it was Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley’s misfortune to have a bright, happy sound on his alto saxophone – none of the acidic tone of Ornette Coleman or Jackie McLean. Add to this his talent for writing catchy, memorable melodies like Mercy, Mercy Mercy and he was never going to be seen as a heavyweight like John Coltrane. But listen to what Adderley brought to what is one of the most famous tracks in all of jazz – So What from Miles Davis’ seminal Kind of Blue. You can immediately tell Coltrane and Adderley apart on this tune – Coltrane’s solo has those characteristic flurries of fast notes while Adderley adopts a more measured bluesy tone. But one is not better than the other. Sadly, Cannonball Adderley was dead at 48 following a stroke, but the range and diversity of his musical legacy is profound: there are some artists you can always rely on in terms of their music having something to say and always being worth a listen. Adderley was a key player of hard bop, he recorded an album of Brazilian sounds and he convincingly explored the axes of jazz and funk – but there was always soul in his music.

  1. Cannonball Adderley – Psalm 54 from Soul of the Bible

A few years back a local DJ guesting on Cosmic Jazz introduced me to the double vinyl album Soul of the Bible. After spreading the word, I was fortunate to receive the record shortly afterwards as a present and it remains right up there among my favourites. There is soul, there is gospel, there is spiritual jazz. The music is deep and meaningful and is, indeed, a religious and spiritual experience. Adderley is joined by his brother Nat on cornet and the band features George Duke, Walter Booker and Airto Moreira along with a bunch of vocalists, including Fleming Williams from the group the Hues Corporation (remember Rock the Boat?). DJ Rick Holmes provides narration, following up his role on Adderley’s earlier Soul Zodiac record with some truly religious-sounding readings in the style of a chapel preacher. Later on, Holmes would provide the intonation on the Roy Ayers-produced Remember to Remember with its inspiring litany of influential creatives and their epithets: Pass the information/Extend the knowledge/Martin Luther King said – I have a dream/Stevie Wonder said – Innervisions, interpretation, watch with your ears…/Cannonball Adderley said – Sometimes, we are not prepared for adversity, mercy, mercy, mercy. Never before has Cosmic Jazz started with a Psalm, but this week it begins with no less than a take on Psalm 54 – Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.2. Kasia Pietrzko Trio – Ephemeral Pleasures from Ephemeral Pleasures 

3. Kasia Pietrzko Trio – Intimacy from Forthright Stories 

As promised on the show last week, there are two tunes from the young 26 year old Polish pianist Kasia Pietrzko and her trio – a track from her first album Forthright Stories, released in 2007, and the title tune from her new 2020 release Ephemeral Pleasures. Moreover, this week she is playing on both tunes – as opposed to that extraordinary bass solo from Andrej Swies from Ephemeral Pleasures on our previous show. Pietrzko studied at the Academy of Music in Krakow and spent time in New York, learning from Kenny Garrett and Aaron Parks among others. In 2018 she played in Krakow with the great Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and the plan was for a European tour. Sadly, Stanko died later that year and after this it was not until 2020 that she was able to release Ephemeral Pleasures.

Her music is essential listening; it is expressed with deep emotion, it is communicated with considerable intensity and it is organic, honest and deep. These two albums provide promise of a future career with many exciting and creative works to come. I like to think that female jazz musicians are an essential and integral part of the jazz scene, and to draw attention to them is to highlight the exception that in sad reality it so often is. On this occasion, however, I will make the observation that for me two of the best East European albums to reach the UK via Steve’s Jazz Sounds this year included The O.N.E. Quintet, a group of young female musicians, along with this Trio led by a young woman. Add to this the music we have featured from Artemis, the award winning female group, led by pianist Renee Rosnes. Are things slowly changing?

4. Lee Morgan – Absolutions from Live at the Lighthouse

Next up is trumpeter Lee Morgan from an album that’s not easy to find. Like many Blue Note artists, Morgan negotiated his way through the transition from hard bop to the two strands of jazz that were emerging in the late 1960s – a conscious, black awareness sound and the links to funk and rock styles. The seeds of the first of these had already been sown in the lengthy superb title track from Search for the New Land (1964) but a more eclectic, electric approach began with the album Taru (recorded in 1968) and ended with the two final albums – Live at the Lighthouse and The Last Session. Taru includes George Benson on guitar – listen to him here on Durem. Live at the Lighthouse has been available as an extended 3CD set but this is difficult to come by – examples on Discogs can be found here.  Our choice of tune, Absolutions, is only available on this version. Morgan is joined by Bennie Maupin on tenor sax, bass clarinet and flute, Harold Mabern on piano, Jymie Merritt on bass and Mickey Roker on drums. Morgan’s music is much more modal at this point and all tracks on the 3CD version are extended outings. The final tune is a revision of Morgan’s hit The Sidewinder but all others are original to this recording. There’s a real dynamism to the group’s playing here with Bennie Maupin putting in some of his finest playing on record.

The Last Session is just that: it’s the final recording before Morgan’s murder at the age of just 33. 1972 was a really creative time for Morgan as he began to follow the more electrified sounds of his peers. Bobbi Humphrey is on flute and the great Billy Harper is on tenor sax. The two disc album includes tunes that have become almost standards in the modern jazz repertoire – Croquet Ballet and Capra Black. All soloists are on fine form and the record is a tantalising glimpse of the directions that Morgan was taking at this time. On the 17 minute Inner Passions Out, written by drummer Freddie Waits, there’s even an Arabic feel with a Yusef Lateef shenai-sounding instrument accompanied by mbira (thumb piano) – all underpinned with a little studio trickery. On first hearing, you’d never guess that this was Lee Morgan.  All this and a great cover with a very cool looking Morgan staring into the camera. This is an album to search for – and then revel in the new sounds from a very forward-looking Lee Morgan. The double vinyl album is getting pricey now – the CD set is not difficult to find.

5. Matthew Halsall – Harmony with Nature from Salute to the Sun

And so we come right up to date with the latest release from another trumpeter, Matthew Halsall. We have featured his music right from the beginning – and so welcome his new 2020 release, Salute to the Sun. In fact, the album pays homage to earlier sounds – Halsall is increasingly influenced by the music (and beliefs) of Alice Coltrane – and this could certainly be said to be music for meditation. Some reviews have been rather disparaging – Daniel Spicer in Jazzwise magazine called it “almost offensively inoffensive”, but in fact Halsall is looking for a rather different soundworld. He has never been a virtuoso soloist, but rather a player focused on a purity of tone developed through a series of themes that often do indeed blend into one another. This is apparent here too – so best to sit down, light a joss stick or two and chill out. But remember: buy the rather beautiful clear vinyl version and you’ll have to get up to change sides – and that’s three times across this 2LP set.

6. Nubya Garcia – Source (Makaya McCraven remix)

Remixes can go two ways – a disastrously clunky beat-heavy produced-by-numbers extension that misses all the subtlety of the original – or an exploration of defining features that induces nods of appreciation. Chicago-based drummer, producer and beat-maker Makaya McCraven’s version of saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s Source is one of the latter. This remix appeared in November this year and is well worth seeking out. Unusually, it’s just less than half the length of the original track, and adds in bass-heavy production to elevate what is an already uplifting tune. A genuinely creative interchange between two musicians who have a fine appreciation of each other’s talents. You can find it right here on – of course – Bandcamp.

7. Booker Ervin – A Day to Mourn from The Freedom Book 

I am trying to go through my record shelves to dig out interesting records that I haven’t played for some time (or even forgotten about) with the intention to bring them to the show. A recent examples was this 1963 Prestige hard bop album by American saxophonist Booker Ervin – The Freedom Book. The tune we selected, A Day to Mourn, seemed to fit well with the spiritual, religious and intense emotions in much of the music on this week’s show. Booker Ervin had already come to be noticed through his work with Charlie Mingus on some of his classic albums, but from 1963 to 1966 he released solo albums on the Prestige label. The musicians were assembled specifically for this record, rather than being part of a working group. Booker had played together with pianist Jaki Byard during his work with Mingus and here he was also joined by the much-recorded Richard Davis on bass and Alan Dawson on drums. The album was recorded by no less than Rudy Van Gelder at his studios on 3 December, 1963.

8. Emma-Jean Thackray – Yang from Um Yang 

This is the tune on the second side of a vinyl record from British multi-instrumentalist Emma-Jean Thackray. It is on the new Night Dreamer label and the records are made at their Artone Studio in Haarlem, The Netherlands. Night Dreamer specialises in direct-to-disc recordings, a process whereby the music is cut onto acetate from single live performances. The label takes its name from the Wayne Shorter album of the same name – here’s the superb title track. “Its a paradox, in a way, like you’d have in a dream – something that’s both light and heavy” noted Wayne Shorter speaking to Nat Hentoff who compiled the liner notes for his 1964 Blue Note release. The Night Dreamer label aims to produce music that incorporates the essence of what Wayne Shorter conveyed, and it’s interesting to note that one of the other records on the label is a collaboration between Cosmic Jazz favourites Maisha and Gary Bartz. You can find it here. As we’ve commented before, it’s worth noting that the Thackray record on vinyl is less good value in terms of price per minutes of music than some of the other releases on the label. But that shouldn’t deter you from exploring the wide range of music on this excellent new British label. Their latest release is from Sarathy Korwar, another British musician we have championed here on the show. You can listen to and then order his new 2LP release right here. More great new jazz coming soon here on CJ

01 December 2020: Black Jazz and beyond to the outer edges…

This week is an example of how we mix things up on Cosmic Jazz – there’s music from some of the jazz greats but also some surprises for you as we travel down a latin road in the second part of the show before making diversions into more electronic territory.


  1. John Coltrane – Lonnie’s Lament from Crescent

But we begin with a jazz master. Saxophonist John Coltrane will never be far from our thoughts and ears: he always provides us with music that touches heart, soul and mind – and there are times when we need just that. His instantly recognisable tenor sound is simply life affirming and this ability to provide musical transcendence is epitomised by a tune like Lonnie’s Lament from the Crescent album.  The Impulse! label embarked on a ‘vital vinyl’ reissue programme in 2019 and included Coltrane’s 1964 recording Crescent as one of the titles. This reissue retains the original gatefold cover with liner notes by Nat Hentoff. The music was recorded in April and June 1964, produced by Bob Thiele and engineered by Rudy van Gelder. The personnel on the album is the classic Impulse! quartet – Coltrane is supported by McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. While familiar with some of the key tunes on the album, Derek did not own the record – until now. If you don’t have Crescent, then now is the time to get a copy that truly reflects the deep intensity of the music. Lonnie’s Lament is the longest track on the album and includes a bass solo from Jimmy Garrison as well as some beautiful quartet playing. We can’t help but recommend that you also listen to this version of Lonnie’s Lament from the Pharoah Sanders Crescent With Love tribute which also includes versions of Wise One, Naima, Crescent and After the Rain – all Coltrane compositions. We’ve mentioned this album before on CJ but it is an essential one, with some of the most poignant playing of Sanders’ career and wonderful support from William Henderson, Charles Fambrough and Sherman Ferguson.

2. Kazia Pietrzko Trio – Episode II from Ephemeral Pleasures 

More Polish music from our friends at the excellent Steve’s Jazz Sounds (and don’t forget to check out the new website!). Pianist Kazia Pietrzko is an immense talent and the serious nature and depth of her music makes her an appropriate follow-up to Coltrane. She studied in Krakow and New York, including classical studies of Prokofiev. She has original compositions that are intense and full of emotion: fellow pianist Aaron Parks (whose own new music was included in the show a few weeks ago) has written the sleeve notes and comments on the music as “patient, inquisitive, bold”. The trio includes Peter Budniak on drums and Andrzej Swies on bass. In fact the tune Episode II is one of several episodes on the album and contains the second amazing bass solo of the show – this time by trio member Andrej Swies. We’ll feature more music from this new release in our next show and may well return to her excellent debut album Forthright Stories.

3. Open Trio – To the Moon and Back from Heal the World

Also at Steve’s Jazz Sounds you’ll find an album whose title Heal the World sounds like an anthem for our times, even though it was recorded in 2017. It’s from the Swedish Open Trio, led by pianist Joakim Simonsson with Daniel Olsson on drums and Par-Ola Landin on bass. We have come across the words ‘Polish melancholy’ to describe much Polish jazz but – not to be outdone – the Open Trio have been described as ‘Nordic melancholy’ – I’d rather describe them as lyrical and melodic… The jazz piano trio has  been a staple format since the 1950s and – for more Scandi-jazz trio music – the wonderful EST (or, more accurately, e.s.t) should not be ignored. Esbjörn Svensson led the trio until his untimely death in a scuba diving accident in 2008 and the excellent Live in Gothenburg was released last year. Here’s the official video of the superb From Gagarin’s Point of View from the album of the same name.

4. Cleveland Eaton – Moe, Let’s Have A Party and Kaiser from Plenty Good Eaton 

Last week we featured music from the Black Jazz Records label with the exciting news that the label Real Gone Music have obtained the rights to re-release the entire catalogue from this label run by and for black musicians. On 08 January 2021 they will re-release the 1975 album Plenty Good Eaton from bass player Cleveland Eaton, who sadly died in the summer of this year. It was recorded shortly after he had left the Ramsey Lewis band and illustrates how he crossed over from jazz to soul/funk to R’n’B to blaxploitation sounds and on to a unique jazz fusion. The two tunes on this show illustrate this variety. Playing with Eaton on this album are (from the Chess label) keyboardist Odell Brown and percussionist Morris Jennings, with Steve Galloway and Arie Brown from the Black Jazz group The Awakening. The album will be re-released on all three formats – we think it’s essential music to start the new year.

5. Jack DeJohnette – Salsa for Luisito from Sound Travels

We love latin music here at CJ and we recognise the many connections between all its many variants and the world of jazz. To mark this, we’re starting something new as a regular feature in the show. The Latin Quarter will provide a dose of latin music as an integral part of the show. We start with Jack deJohnette, usually known as a drummer but also a pianist on this album. He featured in last week’s show as part of Keith Jarrett’s trio but this week the music comes from his own Sound Travels album, recorded in 2011 and which we played on the show at that time. Scanning his music collection, Derek came across the record again and wanted to play a track. It is a superb album with a stellar line-up including Esperanza Spalding on vocals and acoustic bass, Lionel Loueke on electric guitar and Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet. Salsa for Luisito is dedicated to the captivating percussion player on the album – Luisito Quintero. The Caracas-born player has played on over fifty records to date including those of Fania stars Willie Colon, Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente. His jazz links are many and various – George Benson, Herbie Hancock, and Ravi Coltrane to name a few. More recently, he has been an integral part of Louie Vega’s Elements of Life group (see more below).

6. Louie Vega presents Luisito Quintero – Quintero’s Jam (feat. Hilton Ruiz) from Percussion Maddness Vol I

As if to illustrate this link and the careful planning that goes into each Cosmic Jazz show (!) the next tune is from Quintero himself. Now an essential part of the New York latin scene, this album is produced by another stalwart of NuYorican sounds, producer and DJ Louie Vega. We loved this album on its release in 2006 (and the remix album which we included in our CJ live shows) and there has since been a further follow-up: eight years later, Part 2 of Percussion Maddness was released along with two 7in singles.  The package is available here on Bandcamp. For Quintero’s Jam, the piano maestro Hilton Ruiz is featured.  One of Neil’s favourite piano players, Puerto Rican-born Ruiz stood astride the latin and jazz worlds with no compromise. His 1970s albums on SteepleChase and the 1980s ones on Novus are uniformly excellent, with the trio of El Camino (1988), Strut (1989) and Doin’ It Right (1989) being the place to start. Here’s Soca Serenade from Strut. Sadly, Ruiz was found dead in 2006 in mysterious circumstances in New Orleans.

7. The Hermes Experiment – The Linden Tree from Here We Are

We make no excuses for playing this tune again. For one thing its individuality fits the boundary crossing of this particular programme but we also simply love it. “Meticulously nuanced, witty and chic” says a quote from The Times on the album cover – and we won’t disagree with that. The record is comprised mainly of contemporary classical compositions from, for example, Errolyn Wallen and Anna Meredith but The Linden Tree is jazzy with classical and folk mixed in there too. It is a composition by the jazz bass player, composer and arranger Misha Mullov-Abbado, son of the classical conductor Claudio Abbado. As Gramophone noted in their review of this record, “The Hermes Experiment’s main strength lies in its ability to adapt to the particular needs, demands and peculiarities of each piece contained on this deeply engaging collection.”

8. Jackie McLean and The Cosmic Brotherhood – Camel Drive from New York Calling/Spiritual Jazz Vol 11: Steeplechase Records

McLean was one of Blue Note’s finest alto sax players but this record is from later in his career when he was working with his son René McLean and a new generation of jazz talent. The Cosmic Brotherhood’s take on 1970s advanced hard bop is full of good tunes, several by pianist Billy Gault. René McLean is on tenor, alto, and soprano sax and is a fine performer in his own right. The elder McLean doesn’t dominate the session and The Cosmic Brotherhood come across as a tight group of equals. Great percussion from drummer Michael Carvin whose duet album with McLean – Antiquity – provided the cult jazz favourite De I Comahlee Ah. In his later years, Jackie McLean may not have equalled his superb run of Blue Note classics but he was never afraid to experiment and he stands out as a Blue Note artist who changed his alto tone into something more contemporary in his later albums for the label. The turning point was his essential Let Freedom Ring album from 1962 but McLean continued to explore new sounds throughout his career. In his later years he established the African American Music Department at Hartford University in Connecticut and was celebrated as a jazz educator as much as performer. Anyone new to McLean could start with the new Blue Note bargain audiophile Tone Poet release of the 1964 It’s Time album – here’s the superb title track. You can find all the excellent Tone Poet albums here – and all are worth investigating as among the best vinyl pressings available at the moment.

9. DJ Krush and Toshinori Kondo – Mu-getsu from Ki-oku

Trumpeter Toshinori Kondo died last month. He should be better known to jazz fans. Restlessly experimental to the end, Kondo recently released a series of electronic-centred online releases (many available here on Bandcamp) but much of his earlier work is not easy to get hold of. In 1978 he moved to New York, and began performing with Bill Laswell, John Zorn and others in the New York loft scene. Back in Japan in the 1980s he worked with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Kazumi Watanabe and Herbie Hancock. Kondo’s expansive solo discography is more fusionesque – Nerve Tripper, from 2003, incorporates drum programming and strobing synthesizers. Here’s the track Open the Gate, which comes across like a fusion of Miles Davis and Jon Hassell – and that’s no bad thing. Kondo never stopped exploring and this continues in those new releases and on recent tours. His duet with turntablist DJ Krush is a likeable (if rather lightweight) release from 1996 and the golden age of trip hop. Kondo’s tone has always been Miles-like but much of this record could easily be outtakes from the posthumous Doo-Bop album of 1992 – the tone is very similar to Mystery right here.

10. Maria Joao/OGRE Electric – Respiros from Open Your Mouth 

By now in the show we had strayed from any straight and narrow jazz path, and so it made sense to continue forging ahead. Here we are talking about an artist who has worked with the likes of Joe Zawinul, Egberto Gismonti, Bobby McFerrin and Manu Katche among others but Portuguese vocalist Maria Joao appears to have gone more experimental as she has got older. Now 64, her latest release Open Your Mouth is an excursion into electronic music via her group OGRE Electric . As she says “to explore, never settle, and be on the lookout for new things will always be our motto, so sometimes it may not be so easy to label us. But who needs labels anyway?” Well, maybe they are helpful sometimes – but we’re no fan of carelessly generalised labels ourselves. On Cosmic Jazz, the music speaks for itself. 

11. Lettuce – House of Lett (jackLNDN remix) – Resonate from Resonate Remixed EP 

And so we end this show with the genre-breaking US band Lettuce. They’ve been busy over the last couple of years releasing two albums – Elevate (2019) and Resonate (2020) – but then following this up with an excellent EP of remixes from Resonate. This is typical of their experimental and unpredictable approach to music and so fits the feel of this programme perfectly. On this show we have now reached out beyond any arbitrary jazz boundaries and this tune is an excellent example. As aware as we are of those casually generated labels referred to above, the promotional material for Lettuce suggests that their music is (quote) “[a] Funk-jazz-soul-hiphop-psychedelic-jam”. Sounds reasonable to us. More soon.

20 November 2020: Black Jazz Records and more

This week Cosmic Jazz has a special feature on the Black Jazz Records label,  but there is also an opportunity for more music, including our celebration of the patron saint of music and musicians – St Cecilia – whose feast day is 22 November.

  1. Keith Jarrett – Prayer from Death and the Flower

We began the show with the music of Keith Jarrett who announced recently that, as the result of two strokes in 2018, he has lost the motor skills in his left hand and is unlikely to record more music. Last week we celebrated his music through the famed Standards Trio with Gary Peacock on bass and Jack de Johnette on drums with a track from the awesome box set of recordings from the Blue Note Club in New York. This weeks we dip into the recordings of Jarrett’s American Quartet with a track from the 1974 album Death and the Flower on the Impulse! label. This record is one of Neil’s favourite from this period, and one he bought from the much loved Sunshine Records in Little Clarendon Street, Oxford – also regularly visited by Coldcut and Ninja Tune founder Jon More at around the same time. Bought in the original Impulse! gatefold for £3.99 (see the advertisement below), Death and the Flower includes the side-long title track with its extended percussion and wood flute intro. The band are Jarrett on piano, Dewey Redman on saxophones and more, Charlie Haden on bass and Paul Motian on drums with the addition of Guilherme Franco on percussion. These records are well worth seeking out – the American Quartet is often overshadowed by the music of Jarrett’s European Quartet on ECM Records, but it is not to be underestimated. Look for this record and the equally good Treasure Island and Fort Yahwuh. Our choice from Death and the Flower – Prayer – is a moving, becalming and contemplative piece, played here on vinyl, a format we are now pleased to include in the show.

2. Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack deJohnette – Moon and Sand from Standards Vol II

More of Jarrett’s music came in the form of our second choice, one of the many records produced by the Standards Trio and all on the ECM label. Standards I and II were recorded at the same session in New York in 1983 along with a third record – Changes –  which featured free improvisations. Our choice – Moon and Sand – is not often covered by jazz musicians, but this 1979 version by Kenny Burrell is a delight as are the versions of Blue Bossa and Stolen Moments on the same release. The Standards Trio went on to record and tour for more than 25 years, recording numerous live and studio albums, almost all of classics from the American songbook. Two live recordings – Inside Out and Always Let Me Go – are the exception as both contain wholly improvised tracks. The telepathic communication between Jarrett, Peacock and deJohnette brought new insights into many familiar tunes and whilst Jarrett has his detractors (his annoying whining can be very irritating), none of 25+ recordings are without often considerable merit. Neil’s personal favourites include Up For It (2003) and After the Fall (2018), both containing outstanding versions of the standard Autumn Leaves. The trio disbanded in 2014 after more than 30 years of playing together – an outstanding achievement. All recordings are on ECM and all are still available, many in all three formats.

3. Mary Lou Williams – Ode to St. Cecilie from Free Spirits/Spiritual Jazz Vol. 11

Volume 11 is one of the latest in Jazzman’s ongoing spiritual jazz collections with a focus on music from the Danish SteepleChase label, the Copenhagen-based imprint that has recorded and released music from some of the greatest jazz musicians from the US and Europe, including many who were living in Europe at the time. These expat musicians were responsible for some classic free jazz recordings from the recently-closed Cafe Montmartre including Albert Ayler’s Ghosts and Abdullah Ibrahim’s Scenes from an African Village. Our choice was under-rated pianist Mary Lou Williams who on this track is accompanied by Buster Williams on bass and Mickey Roker on drums. Williams’ conversion to Catholicism in 1954 dramatically influenced many of her subsequent recordings, including this Ode to St. Cecile from the Free Spirits album of 1975. If you’re looking for something different try the extraordinary Black Christ of the Andes album. Here’s the backstory…

In 1962, the Catholic Church canonised a new saint: a Peruvian brother of the Dominican Order named Martin de Porres, the son of a freed slave and Spanish gentleman who refused to recognise him because he was born with his mother’s dark features. Today, St. Martin de Porres is the patron saint of those who seek racial harmony. His story and canonisation was inspiring to Williams and she began composing new material in that year, with the first performance of Black Christ of the Andes taking place in New York in November 1962. “Mary Lou Williams is perpetually contemporary,” Duke Ellington once said. “She is like soul on soul.” The sound of this unique record – which draws on blues, gospel and jazz – can certainly be described as soulful – it truly is music that comes from enslaved black people and their descendants. Listen to an instrumental taste of the album with Miss D. D. right here.

Up next was Chicagoan percussionist Kahil El’Zabar who has been rather prolific with releases over the last year. We’ve featured two albums from him in recent months on Cosmic Jazz and now up comes a third, the (ironically) titled America the Beautiful. It’s a relatively large ensemble joining the percussionist this time with Corey Wilkes on trumpet and the late Hamiet Bluiett on baritone saxophone. There are two versions of the title tune, Charles Wright’s Express Yourself and a twist on Afro Blue called Sketches of an Afro Blue but we featured Jump and Shout (For Those Now Gone). There’s no doubt about the focus for this music – “Now’s the time for us to collectively invoke a confluence of trust and imagination that will enlighten a future path towards ethical humanity,” El’Zabar writes in the album’s statement of purpose.  The album is on the new UK Spiritmuse label and, as so often these days, you really should give yourself a treat and get it on vinyl – beautifully produced and a joy to look at too with great cover art from Nep Sidhu.

A piece of essential information for any serous jazz lovers (and certainly anyone who loves the music we play on Cosmic Jazz) is that from August 2020 the Real Gone Music record label from  announced a programme to reissue the catalogue  from the Black Jazz Record label on remastered vinyl with some select CD releases too. The label was started in 1969 in Oakland, California by pianist Gene Russell – one of whose tunes starts the sequence on this week’s show – along with percussionist Dick Schory. Black Jazz had an explicit intention – to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers – and released twenty albums between 1971 and 1975. Some of the more notable artists to record for Black Jazz Records were Cleveland Eaton, former bassist for Count Basie and Ramsey Lewis and organist/pianist Doug Carn, whose four albums were the most successful for the label.  Singer Kellee Patterson gained notoriety as the first black Miss Indiana in 1971, before recording her debut album, Maiden Voyage in 1973. With co-owner Dick Schory’s knowledge of state-of-the-art stereo recording techniques, Black Jazz strove for the kind of audiophile status that most 1970s indie labels could barely even dream of and, from 1972 to the label’s end in 1975, each album was issued with a surround-sound Quadraphonic version.

If you’re not aware of the music on Black Jazz, this is your opportunity to discover the many treasures on the label. Original pressings can be expensive and so this Real Gone initiative is a welcome development in this new vinyl era. We featured five tunes from the label, beginning with Gene Russell’s My Favorite Things.

5. Gene Russell – My Favorite Things from Talk to My Lady

Talk to My Lady is classic mid-period Black Jazz, with some original compositions and three covers – Stevie Wonder’s You Are the Sunshine of My Life, Gamble and Huff’s Me and Mrs Jones and the Rogers and Hammerstein classic My Favorite Things. The band included Ngudu (Leon Chancler) on drums who would go on to record with George Benson, Weather Report and Michael Jackson. Russell transforms My Favorite Things with his innovative Fender Rhodes and Henry Franklin is great on acoustic bass – CJ jazz fact: it’s Franklin who played on Hugh Masekela’s hit Grazing in the Grass! Russell’s death at just 48 in 1981 left the Black Jazz catalogue in limbo, but hip hop sampling and championing by DJs like Gilles Peterson and Theo Parrish ensured continued awareness of the label. Indeed, through the Japanese Snow Dog label, both Peterson and Parrish reissued their own Black Jazz compilations in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

6. Doug Carn – Chant from Adam’s Apple 

The selection from keyboard player Doug Carn was released in 1975 and was his fourth and final record for the label. Sharing Carn’s approach was a group which included 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 the Wayne Shorter tune Sanctuary. There is also a version of Earth, Wind and Fire’s Mighty Mighty (We are people of the sun). Carn – who had in fact played with EWF for a short time, has done keyboard duties with the likes of Nat Adderley, Shirley Horn and Lou Donaldson, as well as his then wife Jean Carne [sic] with whom  the music took in elements of soul. In 2015 he released the album My Spirit, a live recording of tunes from his Black Jazz albums.

7. Calvin Keys – Aunt Lovey from Proceed with Caution 

Guitarist Calvin Keys is another Black Jazz artist who is still around. He was born in Nebraska in 1942  but moved to San Francisco and became part of the jazz community there. He was also an educator and has taught at the Oakland Public Conservatory, as well as giving private lessons and mentoring young musicians. Again, there is an impressive list of musicians that he has worked with – Joe Henderson, Ray Charles, Ahmad Jamal, Bobby Hutcherson and Pharaoh Sanders. On this album he’s joined by pianist Kirk Lightsey on electric piano, Charles Owens on saxes and trombonist Oscar Brashear. Aunt Lovey moves from straightforward funky Grant Green-style licks into a freeish Sonny Fortune-style soprano sax solo and some very overdriven keyboard work from Lightsey before fading out and leaving you wanting more.

8. Walter Bishop Jr.’s 4th Cycle – N’dugu’s Prayer from Keeper of my Soul 

Pianist Walter Bishop Jr. is probably best known for his Muse label records from the 1970s, particularly the excellent Soul Village – a record we have featured a number of times on Cosmic Jazz and which includes a longer take on Soul Turnaround, which had appeared on Coral Keys, his first recording for Black Jazz. In his teens growing up in New York Bishop knew Sonny Rollins and Art Taylor – good friends to have around! On this session from 1973 Ronnie Laws appears on both sax and flute (and, yes, Ronnie Laws is the younger brother of CTI flautist Hubert Laws).  Gene Russell produced and the album also includes a take on Kenny Dorham’s Blue Bossa.

9. The Awakening – The Ultimate Frontier from Mirage

The Awakening were a six piece Chicago-based ensemble that included AACM alumni Reggie Willis on bass and Ari Brown on flute and tenor sax. Perhaps uniquely for groups broadly described as playing spiritual jazz, The Awakening were able to deliver Art Ensemble frenzy (as on the superb Jupiter) alongside the mellow funk of Brand New Feeling. Led by pianist Ken Chaney, who was writing music for Chicago soul-jazz stars Young-Holt Unlimited in the 1960s (you can hear him on their million-selling 1968 hit Soulful Strut), The Awakening also included trumpet player Frank Gordon from Young-Holt Unlimited and guests on some tunes providing further instruments and vocals. This one has Anita Jeffries and Ben Wright on vocals. The album was released in 1973 with Gene Russell again as producer. This is an album not to miss: the music can be deeply intense and spiritual and contemplative and challenging – and like so much of the music on the Black Jazz Records label was imbued with Black consciousness and pride and so is very much in tune with the times and issues facing those communities. And that, of course, much makes it entirely relevant for these troubling times too…

Look out for more from the Black Jazz label in upcoming weeks on Cosmic Jazz.

Cosmic Jazz on Ipswich Online Radio