17 April 2021: boundary crossing jazz

In contrast to the geophysical and political worlds, jazz has no boundaries. We look for, find and play jazz from across the globe – and Cosmic Jazz this time truly reflects the global reach of jazz and jazz-related music with the US, Italy, Cuba and Poland all represented on the show.

Bobby Vince Paunetto – Fenway Funk from London Jazz Classics Vol. 2 

This tune can be found most easily on a Soul Jazz Music compilation of 1994 from the days of the London Jazz Dance scene – and a compilation that included two tunes we’ve played out on Cosmic Jazz live shows – Airto Moreira’s Samba de Flora and Sivuca’s take on Ain’t No Sunshine. The album ends with Fenway Funk,  originally on Paunetto’s 1975 album From Paunetto’s Point. Bobby Vince Paunetto was a vibes player prominent among New York Latin jazz/salsa musicians and Fenway Funk is a positive and rousing piece of Latin jazz. This big band collective of twelve musicians includes three sax players, trumpet and trombone, with probably Andy Gonzales on bass and the wonderful Cuban-born percussionist Manny Oquendo being the most widely known.

2. Joe Barbieri – Promemoria from Tratto Da Una Storia Vera  

We enjoyed a first play of this tune and like the album from which it comes. Promemoria is the single released ahead of the album earlier this month. Joe Barbieri is an Italian Naples-based jazz singer/songwriter and on this track there’s a clear Brazilian feel with Antonio Carlos Jobim cited as an influence on Barbieri – as was vocalist Shirley Horn with her uniquely laconic delivery. The album – including this single – presents stories from Joe’s personal and artistic life and we’ll return to Tratto Da Una Storia in coming weeks.

3. Matti Klein – Sunsqueezed from Soul Trio Live On Tape 

Also with a Brazilian connection comes keyboard player Matti Klein, musical director for the distinguished Brazilian artist Ed Motta – another of our CJ favourites. Klein’s new record is the outcome of three musicians coming together in Jazzanova’s Berlin studio – Klein on Wurlitzer and Rhodes bass with Lars Zander on tenor sax/bass clarinet and Andre Seidel on drums. It’s straight ahead soul jazz – recorded live in the studio without headphones to enhance the live and direct experience – and will be released at the end of this month via Shuffle Shack Records.

4. Raoul De Souza – Sweet Lucy from Plenitude 

After the Brazilian connections, we no feature virtuoso Brazilian trombonist Raoul De Souza. With a career spanning six decades, de Souza was born in Rio de Janeiro but moved to the US and became a go-to sideman for an impressive list of musicians including Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, Sergio Mendes, Milton Nascimento, Herbie |Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Nat Adderley, Jaco Pastorius and Jack DeJohnette. More recently he has been playing with younger musicians and this group, which came together in 2017 for a jazz festival in Hamburg, has musicians ranging in age from twenty-four to De Souza at eighty-six. There is a two trombone front line with bass, drum and piano and the soon to be released album Plenitude features traditional and contemporary Brazilian jazz merged with funk. Sweet Lucy was written by George Duke and is a new take on one of De Souza’s most celebrated tunes, originally found on the first of three albums he recorded in the late 1970s for the Capitol label.

5. Street Jazz Unit – What’s the Best Thing To Do Tomorrow from Seeing the Light/Sister Bosssa

So we head back to Italy with Brazilian flavours. This up-tempo tune was originally on the album Seeing the Light released by the Italian jazz label Schema Records and is still available in a digital download via Bandcamp right here. Put together by Nicola Conte, Street Jazz Unit featured Bruno Marini on baritone saxophone, Max M. Bassado on vocals with Giuseppe Bassi acoustic bass and  Mimmo Campanale on drums. What’s the Best Thing to Do was then included on the Sister Bossa compilation on the US label Irma. The subtitle promotes the selection of cool jazzy cuts – and this is certainly one of them. Street Jazz Unit are a good example of the way in which younger artists from the 1990s stretched out the concept of jazz to include the sounds of soul jazz and hard bop in a hip hop and club culture mix. Not always appreciated at the time, there are many good examples of this sub-genre – most notably the ambitious Jazzamatazz project which featured Guru, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Pharcyde and jazz artists like Donald Byrd,  Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Ayers and Branford Marsalis who appears on the excellent Transit Ride.

6. David Sanchez – Canto from Carib

This great tune comes from saxophonist David Sanchez’s Carib album – an exploration of his Puerto Rican heritage and its liks to the African diaspora. Sanchez noted: I wanted to approach this album as a means to pay tribute to all Afro descendent communities who have helped define my music and the culture’s broad ranging beauty and idiosyncrasies. It’s striking, and it hurts me to see the marginalization and poor sociological conditions in so many Pan African communities, which are wrongly viewed as a simple, normal circumstance of life and consequently receive a lack of attention and action to change those conditions, and systems, which continue to create inequity. This recording is part of a new series of my recordings which begins with all original pieces inspired by the musical traditions of Puerto Rico and Haiti, then travels to other Afro descendent musical traditions throughout the Americas. Carib features traditional music from these two islands, because it still amazes me how similar their music flows. I focused on the Congo-Guinee in Haitian music because it is a musical tradition shared by many other Afro descendant cultures. Haiti has an amazing and resonant history, filled with struggles; foreign occupations, revolution, independence, national disasters, embargos, long stretches of isolation, which, at times, both created a cultural vacuum in the country and also circumstances to preserve the core of many traditions coming from Africa. Some of Haiti’s struggles, reminds me of my own island. A long time oppression created by colonists has played a central part in Puerto Rico’s culture too. And after the devastation hurricane María wreaked on my island, I saw more parallels with Haiti aftermath from their tragic earthquake in 2010. Furthermore, for over a century, both islands have had their economy systematically crippled in a diversity of ways. In reality, Puerto Rico has always been a property, a casualty of imperialism, and the island has too long been in a one-sided economic relationship in which the priority has never been the well-being of country’s people. Yet the cultural identity feels very strong and omnipresent despite all the struggles colonialism usually brings, and ultimately it’s a genuine testament to the irrepressible people of Puerto Rico. The band features David Sánchez on tenor saxophone and percussion, Obed Calvaire on drums and vocals, Lage Lund on guitars, Ricky Rodriguez on bass, Luis Perdomo on piano and Fender Rhodes, Jhan Lee Aponte on percussion and Markus Schwartz on additional Haitian Percussion.

7. Jessica Lauren – Teck et Bambou from Almeria

Released in 2018, Almeria remains UK keyboard player Jessica Lauren’s most recent release. It’s a record Neil has returned to recently and it’s time for a reappraisal of this fine contribution to the British jazz scene. Lauren has an unusually minimalist approach – there’s a sense of space and restraint in much of her music – evidenced clearly on White Mountain, the opening track of her 2012 album Four. It’s here too on Teck et Bamboo (which translate as teak and bamboo) with its jungle frogs and bird calls leading into sparse percussion (Richard Ọlátúndé Baker, Phillip Harper and Cosimo Keita Cadore) and elegantly restrained saxophone from Tamar Osborne. The album is still available in all formats on Bandcamp right here. Try the vinyl if you can – it’s a great recording.

8. Janczarski & Siddik 4Tet – Caribbean Fire Dance from Contemplation

Contemplation is an album of tributes to the jazz heroes of Rasul Siddik (trumpet, flutes and vocals) and Borys Janczarski (tenor sax). Tunes by McCoy Tyner, Woody Shaw, Don Cherry, Jim Pepper and Joe Henderson’s Caribbean Fire Dance create an album of contemporary jazz classics that mix freeform and mainstream energy to excellent effect. It would be easy to assume that the Joe Henderson original might have appeared on one of his mix 1960s hard bop outings for Blue Note, but in fact the tenor saxophonist was beginning to cut loose by the time of this 1966 album – one of his very finest. Mode for Joe features a front line of trumpeter Lee Morgan, trombonist Curtis Fuller vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and is – for us – an essential Blue Note release. Just check out A Shade of Jade as an example. Fellow saxophonist Dave Liebman described Henderson’s style as an extension of Sonny Rollins, attributable mostly to his sense of phrasing and note choices and the fact that the principles of the bebop legacy are fundamental to both However, Joe took the tenor sax elsewhere technically, in areas such as his unique set of expressive devices, unending variations of articulations, fast arpeggios, trill sand the like… a looseness of rhythm that defied the bar line, his own personal way of using the high register of the horn and a tone that could go from liquid to coarse in a beat. That’s it – but we could add that Henderson is always very distinctive: his ‘voice’ is often hard and gruff, not at all the rich nasal sound of Hank Mobley, or the acid sharp alto of Jackie McLean. There’s always emotional expression, urgency and excitement and – very often – surprise in Henderson’s music. Whether you explore his 1960s Blue Note outings, his 1970s records on Milestone or his return to Blue Note for the two superb live State of the Tenor records in the 1980s, Henderson will never disappoint. Back to the excellent Janczarski & Siddik 4Tet – Michal Jaros on bass and Kazimierz Jonkisz on drums form the backbone of this excellent  group and it’s a  highly recommended record from us.

9. Miyasaka + 5 – Animals Garden from Animals Garden/J Jazz Vol. 2

This fifth release in the BBE Music J Jazz Masterclass Series is another cult rarity from Japan originally issued in 1979 on the private Japanese label ALM.  The group was a one-off project led by drummer Takashi ‘Bear’ Miyasaka and included saxophonist Koichi Matsukaze, whose Earth Mother album has also been reissued by BBE Music. With just four long tracks including the modal title tune, there’s space for the musicians to stretch out on solos that reflect the many influences of this most creative period of jazz in Japan. The vinyl and CD reissues are now sold out, but the album can still be downloaded from BBE’s Bandcamp site.

10. Lucien Johnson – Blue Rain from Wax///Wane

Neil was introduced to this record by Scots music promoter Rob Adams (Twitter: @rabjourno) who also led us to the wonderful Fergus McCreadie. Saxophonist Lucien Johnson is actually from Wellington, New Zealand but spent much of his twenties living and working in and out of Paris, meeting and playing with musicians he knew from recordings including drumming legend and long-time Paris resident Sunny Murray, the late pianist Bobby Few and drummer John Betsch’s band.  Another drummer, Makoto Sato introduced Johnson to free jazz bass legend Alan Silva (of Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra and Albert Ayler fame), and they formed a trio, going on to record the album Stinging Nettles. The current group features John Bell on vibes, Michelle Velvin on harp, Tom Callwood on bass, Cory Champion on drums and Riki Piripi on percussion and the music is deep, modal and with more than a touch of Pharoah Sanders too. With bone conduction headphones safely in place, Neil has been listening to this album on repeat while cycling in the 95% humidity that’s typical in Singapore at this time of year. It’s an excellent record and we’ll feature more in upcoming shows. Wax///Wane is available here on Bandcamp – and it’s on vinyl too.

8. Mariusz Smolinski – Song for My Girls from Ten Minutes Later 

Recent Cosmic Jazz shows have featured a number of trios, so the trend continues with a couple of tunes, beginning with Marius Smolinski – a jazz composer and piano/Fender Rhodes/Moog player from Poland. 10 Minutes Later is his debut album of melody-based mainstream jazz/fusion and was released in 2010. 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.

12. Harold Lopez-Nussa – Ma Petite dans la Boulangerie from Un Dia Cualquiera

In a show of returning connections, the second jazz trio featured comes from Cuban-born, New York-based jazz musicians, playing a number with a French title. The group is the traditional format of piano, bass and drums/percussion with Harold Lopez-Nussa on piano, Gaston Joya on bass and Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa (brother of Harold) on drums and percussion. There are Cuban influences but don’t expect an album of son music – this is most definitely a jazz album, with influences drawn from the conservatories and barrios of Lopez-Nussa’s homeland. Un Día Cualquiera translates as Just Another Day and some track titles reflect this. There are two versions of tunes by Ernesto Lecuona – sometimes known as ‘the Gershwin of Cuba’ – and the title track tribute to the pianist Bebo Valdés (Chucho’s father), Una Tarde Cualquiera en Paris.

13. Abbey Lincoln – Caged Bird from Abbey Lincoln in Paris: Painted Lady 

Abbey Lincoln was an American vocalist, significant not only for her passionate and powerful singing but also her commitment to the civil rights movement. This album was recorded in Paris in 1980 with Archie Shepp – another committed activist – on saxophones, Hilton Ruiz on piano (another Latin/jazz musician on the show), Jack Gregg on bass, Freddie Waits on drums and Roy Burrowes on trumpet. The band was assembled by French  jazz promoter Gerard Torres who took advantage of Abbey Lincoln being in France at the same time as the Marion Brown quartet (Ruiz, Gregg and Waits) and Shepp’s Attica Blues Band. The result is is a record with some very fine performances, including our choice and the magnificent Throw It Away. Lincoln was married to drummer Max Roach and her unique voice is very much centre stage on the essential We Insist! recording from 1960 which includes the powerful Driva’ Man.

14. Horace Parlan – Home is Africa from African Rhythms: Afro-Centric Homages to a Spiritual Homeland

The title of this tune as well as the sub-title of the superb two-CD 2008 Blue Note compilation from which it comes, chimes well with the spirit of Abbey Lincoln’s work. It was released originally on the album Happy Frame of Mind which finally appeared under Parlan’s name in 1986, years after its recording in 1963. Pianist Horace Parlan arrived in New York in the late 1950s, joined the Charles Mingus group and appears on the seminal Ah Um from 1959. He was signed to Blue Note as a hip, soulful pianist and the group on this record has indeed a sharp, soulful line-up and includes Grant Green, Booker Ervin, Billy Higgins and Johnny Coles. Parlan is worthy of more investigation: he had a strong series of Blue Note recordings in the 1960s but then – like several other US jazz musicians of the time – left America for Copenhagen in 1973, and gained international recognition for some stunning albums on the SteepleChase label,  including a pair of superb duet sessions with the aforementioned Archie Shepp. Check out the compelling Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child from their 1977 album Goin’ Home, a collection of compelling gospel spiritual songs delivered with intense passion – making it another CJ highly recommended album.

15. Lee Morgan – Exotique from Tom Cat 

Both Neil and Derek have been listening to trumpeter Lee Morgan lately. Not only was he a fine trumpeter who died tragically too young but, as Neil has commented, Morgan was also a composer of considerable merit. Exotique is one of those compositions and it provides a wonderfully uplifting and soulful end to the show. The album Tom Cat is a Blue Note classic that – once again – was released many yeas after its initial recording in August 1964. On board for this set are McCoy Tyner on piano, Jackie McLean on alto, Curtis Fuller on trombone and Art Blakey on drums – wow! We recently included a tune from the Blue Note Tone Poet vinyl re-release of Morgan’s The Rajah: check it out if you do not know it – this record is more essential Blue Note listening. If you’d like a pristine audiophile version of Tom Cat to add to your collection then you’ll need to search out a Music Matters 2 x 45 reissue (currently from US$150 on Discogs!) or do some crate digging for one of the 1983 CD or vinyl reissues. Good luck!

Enjoy the show – more Cosmic Jazz treasures coming soon…

04 April 2021: a Mike Westbrook birthday tribute, new J Jazz and old favourites

The latest Cosmic Jazz celebrates the early work of Mike Westbrook, finds more jazz from Japan and another Black Jazz Records re-release along with new music from Scotland, Italy and the latin quarters of New York. Yes, it’s as eclectic as always – enjoy!

Some musicians are deeply embedded in your memory as a result of their early influence on your taste and choices. The British pianist, composer and bandleader Mike Westbrook and his groups were among the very first jazz performances that Derek saw live and so inspired the lifelong love of jazz that led to the creation of Cosmic Jazz over fifteen years ago. He last saw Westbrook a few years back performing a reprise of his work to celebrate William Blake in a medieval church in Norwich – another life-affirming performance.

1. The Mike Westbrook Concert Band – Love Song No. 1 from Love Songs

2. The Mike Westbrook  Concert Band – Rosie from Marching Songs Vol. 2

3. Mike Westbrook – V/VI/VII from Metropolis 

On 21 March, 2021 Mike Westbrook celebrated his 85th birthday and so it seemed fitting to include his music this week – focusing on some of his earlier masterpieces. Westbrook studied art in Plymouth before moving to London and becoming part of Ronnie Scott’s celebrated house band in the 1960s. The art school route to jazz has been followed by other artists and it clearly nurtures a diversity of musical expression typical of Westbrook’s output – working with circus acts (see the back cover of the Love Songs album), the poet Adrian Mitchell, performing a jazz cabaret, celebrating the music of Duke Ellington, releasing a single with proceeds going to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and projects inspired by the lives of poets and painters. Throughout, Westbrook has evolved, experimenting and creating some of the most original music to emerge in jazz over the last 50 years.

Cosmic Jazz celebrates this diversity with three pieces – the first a thing of sheer beauty from Love Songs, a 1970 release with Norma Winstone on vocals, Dave Holdsworth on trumpet and flugelhorn, Malcolm Griffiths and Paul Rutherford on trombones, Mike Osborne on alto, Chris Spedding on guitar among the musicians. We followed this with a track from the second disc of Marching Song, originally issued in 1969 but re-released on CD in 2009. Marching Song was very much an anti-war album reflecting on the horrors of the twenty year long Vietnam War. In two volumes it traces the euphoria of going off to war, the awareness of what is missing – the tune Rosie on the show – and the full tragedy of conflict. Dave Holdsworth, Mike Osborne and Paul Rutherford are on this record too, as is Canadian Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn and UK sax players John Surman and Alan Skidmore.

We ended our tribute to Mike Westbrook with his 1971 masterpiece Metropolis, which tracks a day and night in the life of London. We have previously played the final tune (Part  IX) with its soaring, precise and moving trumpet solo from Harry Beckett evoking the still of the night, cars hissing past on the highway and isolated figures out on the lonely streets but this time our choice of Parts V/VI/VII detailed the wild cacophony of earlier in the day.  Metropolis is an atmospheric, powerful, full-on work and has our unequivocal recommendation as an essential record in anyone’s jazz collection. All demand to be heard in their entirety as complete suites, the way Mike Westbrook intended. Much of Mike and Kate Westbrook’s later albums are available here on Bandcamp – for his earlier work check out Westbrook’s own website and the relevant entries on Discogs. Then settle down and listen – deeply4. Sun Ra – Twin Stars of Thence (Alternate Mix) from Lanquidity (Definitive Edition)

People are sleeping, and I’m here to wake them up from their slumber.” Lanquidity is one of Sun Ra’s most popular albums and an excellent place to start on his impossibly extensive discography. Recorded and issued in 1978 on Tom Buchler’s short-lived Philly Jazz label, it represented a stylistic pivot for Ra, who had rarely paid much attention to mainstream music trends. Lanquidity is a deliberate product of its time, reflecting late-period disco, bottom-heavy funk, and dance-floor soul grooves but it remains full of surprises, idiosyncrasies, and characteristically leftfield moves. Strut Records are about to issue a complete version of the record in a new 4LP set, with all the alternate takes that were pressed for sale at a 1978 Georgia concert restored. The differences between the two versions are clear – compare the new take we played on the show with the currently available track here. Sun Ra is joined by key members of the Arkestra including John Gilmore on tenor, Marshall Allen on alto, oboe and flute, Eddie Gale and Michael Ray on trumpets, the Disco Kid (!) on guitar and Luqman Ali on percussion. Play Where Pathways Meet to the unconverted and see what happens…

5. Yasuhiro Kono Trio – Song of Island from J Jazz Vol 3: Deep  Modern Jazz from Japan

The J Jazz collections from from Tony Higgins and Mike Peden have opened many ears to the range of superb jazz that came out of Japan in the 1960-80s. The third and latest volume adds yet more artists waiting to be discovered. There’s a wide range of styles on offer across the 2CD/3LP set, with samba, funk fusion, modal, spiritual, post-bop, and bossa all getting a look in. Many tracks featured are reissued for the first time, including rare private press cuts from the Yasuhiro Kohno Trio (our selection), Masaru Imada Trio, and Hideyasu Terakawa Quartet. There’s heavy post modal bop by J Jazz legends Kohsuke Mine and Koichi Matsukaze, samba heat from Tatsuya Nakamura, Hideo Shiraki and Seiichi Nakamura and funky dance floor energy by Hiroshi Murakami, Ryojiro Furusawa Quartet and Shigeharu Mukai. As with the first two volumes, selected albums will be remastered and reissued on BBE Records as part of the Jazz Masterclass series. All three volumes of this excellent series are essential – for more on Japanese jazz and the jazu kissa tradition, check out our previous features here and here.

Here in Singapore, Neil is lucky enough to crate dig for some of the best new and used jazz records from Japan and treasures continue to be unearthed. The Mabumi Yamaguchi Quartet (with the leader on some excellent tenor and soprano saxophone) was represented on Jazz Vol. 2 and Neil tracked down the 1978 Leeward album in local vinyl store The Analog VaultDistant Thunder is a jazz-funk samba with fine choruses from each band member before Yamaguchi takes up the haunting theme of this excellent piece. The record has now been reissued on Le Tres Jazz Club – a French reissue label specialising in rare and sought after jazz titles – with the original cover and notes in Japanese.

6. Koichi Matsukaze Trio feat. Toshiyuki Daitoku  – Zekatsuma Selbst from Earth Mother

This track appeared on J Jazz Vol. 1 with the complete 1978 album later reissued on BBE as part of the Jazz Masterclass series. The second release from leader and multi-reedist Koichi Matsukaze (alto, tenor saxophone and flute), following on from an earlier live recording, Live at the Room 427 (1976), and is progressive jazz that oscillates between straight acoustic and harder hitting fusion. Again, excellent Fender Rhodes and acoustic piano from Daitoku and some fine horn playing from Matsukaze. Much of this era of Japanese jazz is informed by the US groups that toured the country, first in the immediate postwar years and then in the 1960s when big name artists visited Japan and American labels like Blue Note began pressing records under licence. Jazz centred on Tokyo and Osaka (especially its Dotonburi district) and today a monthly magazine like Swing Journal will sell four times as many copies in Japan as Downbeat does in the US. The vinyl resurgence has also impacted on the country, with Tower Records in Tokyo reopening its vinyl floor in March 2019 in response to the rising demand for analogue sourced music and jazu kissa bars and cafes opening in major cities.

7. Fergus McCreadie – Tide from Cairn

No apologies for more from this excellent sophomore album from Scots pianist Fergus McCreadie. The quietly reflective Tide is typical of the compelling music made by this trio: there’s a strong Scots voice and style but with a EST-like energy and invention. Now signed to Edition Records, McCreadie’s album is definitely one to explore. It’s not all about the pianist of course: McCreadie is part of a trio where there is no obvious grandstanding and David Bowden on bass and Stephen Henderson on drums are central to the musical architecture of each piece on the album. Check out the Bandcamp site here and buy this music – you’ll be listening on repeat for months.

8. Chester Thompson – Power House from Powerhouse  

This is the next in the line of Black Jazz Records re-releases from Real Gone Music, available from 30 April 2021. Powerhouse is also one of the rarest and most collectable from the label. Keyboard player Chester Thompson from San Francisco’s Bay Area had long stints with local groups like Tower of Power and Santana  but 1971’s Powerhouse was his debut as band leader. Along with a host of collaborators including well-known soul and jazz names like fellow Black Jazz recording artist Rudolph Johnson on sax,  drummer Raymond Pounds (Pharoah Sanders, Stevie Wonder, Pointer Sisters) and trombonist Al Hall (Johnny Hammond, Freddie Hubbard, Eddie Harris). The title track (actually labeled Power House) pretty much sums up the record: Hammond B3 grooves with horn flourishes that echo the sounds of classic Richard Holmes, Jack McDuff and Lonnie Smith arrangements with the usual high standards of recording we expect from Black Jazz.

9. Joe Barbieri – Promemoria single from Tratto Da Una Storia Vera

Joe Barbieri is an Italian jazz singer/songwriter with something of a debt to vocalists like Chet Baker, Shirley Horn and – on this tune – a strong Brazilian/Jobim influence too. Did Derek also detect a light reggae lilt? Promemoria is the first single from his forthcoming album Tratto Da Una Storia Vera (Based On a True Story) and will be released on 16 April. The album is an autobiographical piece looking back over thirty years as an artist through personal reflections with Promemoria apparently describing the “eternal battle  between regret and remorse…..But then there is always that unshakeable hope that lingers.” It’s an upbeat, positive and encouraging tune that holds great promise for the rest of the album.

10. Elements of Life – Berimbau from Elements of Life Eclipse (Disc 1)

11. Nuyorican Soul feat. Jocelyn Brown – I Am the Black Gold of the Sun from Nuyorican Soul

Here on Cosmic Jazz we both like to return and replay music that we love. And – to go back to that influence of the album as a complete musical experience to be listened to throughout – there’s a special pleasure in finding music that just works in this way. The albums from Elements of Life and Nuyorican Soul (both out of the New York Latin communities and with producer and DJ Louis Vega at the heart of things), both fall into this category. Derek chose Berimbau from Elements of Life to follow Joe Barbieri and this led to the superb Nuyorican Soul album – one more recently ‘rediscovered’. This debut concept album was released in 1997 and featured guest appearances from George Benson, Roy Ayers, Tito Puente, the Salsoul Orchestra and – on this celebrated cover of the Rotary Connection classic I Am the Black Gold of the Sun – US vocalist Joscelyn Brown. The brainchild of the Masters at Work team (Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez and ‘Little’ Louie Vega), Nuyorican Soul was a celebration of their jazzier, old-school latin influences – and it totally works. With a collection of well-chosen covers and sympathetically written new material all interpreted by some old school guests the album is a Nuyorican (New York/Puerto Rican) masterpiece that seamlessly brings together club and street into a mix that still sounds good twenty years down the line. The album includes takes on Bob James’ Nautilus  (bracketed here as MAWtilus), the Salsoul Orchestra’s Runaway and the superb original It’s Alright, I Feel It! – easily the equal to some of those classics. The album closer, George Benson’s You Can Do It (Baby) is unforgettable – listen to the full 15 minute version right here. More from Cosmic Jazz soon…

20 March 2021: from tough contemporary to deep contemplation to jazz dance

Here at Cosmic Jazz we travel the length of the jazz spaceways whenever we can – and if we blend this into one programme so much the better. This week the show begins with a selection of tough, free, contemporary music, then goes through a phase of more contemplative reflection and ends among the jazz dance crowd. Give it a listen and enjoy the contrasts.

1.Emma-Jean Thackray – Yang from Um Yang

Trumpeter Emma-Jean Thackray is one of the more idiosyncratic players on the current UK jazz scene. It’s difficult to predict where she’ll go next – and that’s what we like. Her most recent 12in/download is Um Yang, her long-dreamed of project dedicated to the Taoist philosophy of duality and harmony. Recorded live and cut direct to disc at Artone Studios, Haarlem in The Netherlands it’s available on vinyl through Night Dreamer Records. The disc comes with some glossy presentation and, for what is a record with only two tracks, does not come cheap. Personally, Derek could do without a sheet of photos – excellent as they are – and settle for a reduced price. The music, however, is great and features Soweto Kinch on saxophones, Lyle Barton on Fender Rhodes, Ben Kelly on sousaphone, Dwayne Kilvington on percussion, Crispin Robinson  on congas and drummer Dougal Taylor.

2. Kasia Pietrzko – Quasimode from Ephemeral Pleasure

We make no apologies for returning to the young Polish pianist Kasia Pietrzko. She is something special. Do check her out on Facebook where there are regular posts of her either playing solo piano or with other musicians. Ephemeral Pleasures was full of her own compositions and she also  arranged and produced the album. This trio CD comes with effusive praise in the liner notes from pianist Aaron Parks who describes her as patient , inquisitive, bold and filled with the sense of unforced discovery that marks true creative vision. Make no mistake, this is important, serious, intense and original music. Not easy listening, but well worth the intense concentration it demands and deserves.

3. O.N.E. Quintet – Wrotek  from One

More jazz from young Polish musicians: five young women with their first album which was also released in 2020. Like Kasia Pietrzko, it is excellent music that we have found through Steve’s Jazz Sounds. One is composed by the band members who  came together in 2015 yet went to different universities, live in different cities and contribute to different projects outside the quintet. The line-up comprises saxophone, piano, violin, double bass and drums. They create modern music jazz inspired by both folk and hip-hop. Pianist Pola Atmanska describes their music as difficult to pigeonhole, but it’s surely distinctive. I think that there is a lot of lyricism in it , but there’s also fire and strong, free sounds. Much of this can is exemplified in the tune Wrotek, which features in this week’s show.

4. Sarah Tandy – Under the Skin from Infection in the Sentence

As with all the above artists, piano and keyboard player Sarah Tandy is someone whose music we are always delighted to return to. We have played several tunes from her Jazz re:freshed debut album Infection in the Sentence, but may not have played this one before. At the time of its release she described herself as immersing myself in the myriad musical languages surrounding me. In the album I’m seeking to find a continuum between the jazz music which I grew up listening to, and the multi-faceted, genre-melting sounds of present day London. She had the musicians to support this in drummer Femi Koleoso,  saxophonist Binker Golding, bass player Mutale Chashi, and  trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, many of whom Sarah had played with for some time in London. Tandy was a one-time BBC young classical music finalist but realised while studying English Literature at Cambridge she needed jazz to express herself. Her playing is technically strong but it also has freedom and spontaneity, listen to the free-flowing pace at which her fingers zoom across the keyboards on Under the Skin. We’re told there will be new music out soon – we can’t wait.

5. Fergus McCreadie – Across Flatlands from Cairn

McCreadie’s sophomore album for Edition Records is a stunning trio release and consolidates his essential place in the current UK jazz scene (yes, it’s not all London and Manchester!).  McCreadie grew up in the Highland village of Cononbridge and – as on his first album – he’s exploring the relationship between the Scottish landscape and his music.  ​Cairn is surely going to consolidate his presence as a composer, pianist and trio leader with its combination of contemporary and jazz influences in​ mesmerising playing. Completing the trio are bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson. This is a record you must hear in whatever format you prefer – the download and CD are available direct from Edition Records here. Sadly, the stunning-looking vinyl first pressing is now sold out, but you might be able to track down copies in your independent record store.

6. Maria Schneider Orchestra – Data Lords from Data Lords

She did it! Our top release from 2020 secured a couple of Grammy Awards earlier this month – one for best large jazz ensemble and one for the tune Sputnik, voted best instrumental composition. Maria Schneider is one of the most creative artists working in jazz right now and we have been singing her praises for several years here on CJ. 2CD set Data Lords tells a tale of two opposite worlds, the digital versus the natural, and the result is two distinctive sounding discs – one cacophonous, the other euphonic. This is music to immerse yourself in – check out the beautifully presented package too via Schneider’s ArtistShare site.

7. Gabor Szabo – Mizrab from The Sorcerer

Szabo is perhaps best known to non-jazz audiences as the composer of Gypsy Queen (originally Gypsy 66) and later covered by Santana on their breakthrough Abraxas album, but also memorably interpreted by guitarist Larry Coryell on his Barefoot Boy album from 1971. Szabo was a Hungarian American guitarist whose early output for Impulse! Records is well worth investigating. He’d become a member of Chico Hamilton’s quintet in the 1960s (where he played alongside saxophonist Charles Lloyd) but his own releases are worth investigating. If you can track down a copy of one of his last albums, the live Belsta River recorded in Stockholm (1978), you’ll find the lengthy 24 Carat, another fine example of Szabo’s Hungarian folk roots impacting on his guitar playing. However, the Szabo album I return to most often is High Contrast, his 1970 duet release with Bobby Womack – an inspired instrumental pairing that includes the original version of Breezin’, one of George Benson’s biggest hits. This may be one of the first records that could be categorised as ‘smooth jazz’ but it is an inspirational album nonetheless.

8. Harold Land – Mtume from A New Shade of Blue

Harold Land is a really interesting tenor player. Ostensibly, a hard bop player in the 1960s, his tone darkened over the years and became more influenced by John Coltrane and modal experiments. His first records (including an excellent quintet recording The Fox from 1959) just great – check out the title track here, but it’s the later Mainstream albums that are so interesting. Neil is very taken with the enigmatically titled Choma (Burn) from 1971 which has four long tracks featuring Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. A New Shade of Blue comes from earlier in the same year and includes Hutcherson again, along with Buster Williams on bass and James (Mtume) Foreman on percussion. Reissued on vinyl in 2017, it’s well worth tracking down.

9. Nicola Conte – Rituals from Rituals

In contrast to some of the deep, intensive music earlier on the show, the last section includes artists who have been associated with the jazz-dance scenes – but this is definitely not to say they should be treated any less seriously. Nicola Conte is an Italian guitarist, DJ, producer and band leader with a prolific output and an open mind in terms of musical styles.  He has drawn upon sources from jazz to bossa nova to Italian film music to Indian classical and has a new 2021 release with Gianluca Petrella called People Need People. We, though, went back to 2008 and featured the title tune from Rituals. Very much an international project, Conte recruited musicians from Finland, Germany and the US as well as Italy. The breadth of his influences is telling and include Gabor Szabo, whom we featured earlier in the show. Rituals builds from a chilled introduction to to a strong melody that includes a fine solo from German trumpeter Till Brönner.

10. Bahama Social Club – King’s Wig from Bossa Nova Just Smells Funky

Through the Bahama Social Club we turn to dance-floor jazz with a comedic twist. They are a German-based group with guest appearances – as on this album – of like-minded musicians from other countries. Oliver Belz, previously of the JuJu Orchestra, is the lead behind the band. They are a blend of jazz, bossa nova, funk, blues, West African and Latin influences. The tune King’s Wig is, as the title suggests, great fun – but it’s also a clever blend of the traditional with more contemporary jazz dancefloor sounds. Swinging, baby! The voice introducing the tune is none other than DJ Symphony Sid (Sid Torin) who did much to popularise bebop and salsa with white audiences and is taken from his final Live from the Cheetah Club show. The cheese factor is definitely high but the music is sensational. King’s Wig is taken from Bossa Nova Just Smells Funky (surely a sideways reference to Frank Zappa’s famous dictum that “Jazz isn’t dead. It just smells funny”) was released in 2010 and became the group’s biggest success, widely acclaimed and played in Germany but also worldwide.

11. Working Week – Venceremos (We Will Win) (Jazzy Dance Special 12″ Version) from Working Nights

We end, as we began, with British musicians from a group, like those of Nicola Conte and the Bahama Social Club that included several guests to supplement their basic core. At the centre of the group was guitarist Simon Booth alongside vocalist Juliet Roberts and Larry Stabbins on saxophones and flute, but guests on Working Nights included Louis Moholo on drums, Mike Carr on organ, Guy Barker on trumpet and vocalists Tracy Thorn and Robert Wyatt. Reissued in 2012 as a 2CD set, Working Nights documents the work they produced – dance friendly but with a powerful message underneath.  Simon Booth had conceived the band as being tough, politically motivated and jazz dance based and the tune Venceremos proved this. The 12″ version is definitely  a dance floor filler, with some fine jazz playing alongside the references to  Chilean political dictatorship responsible for the death of acclaimed folk singer Victor Jara,  murdered by the CIA-backed military junta of the time. All the musicians involved gave their services for free and royalties went to the Chilean Solidarity Campaign. Perhaps remarkably, the track even reached the pop music charts – quite an achievement. The original album began with an excellent take on Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues – here’s the original video from 1985. More great music soon on Cosmic Jazz.

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.

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