Tag Archives: John Coltrane

28 March 2022: Ubuntu Music, harp players, Jarrett, Tjader, Pascoal and more

This show includes artists on the Ubuntu Music label, the subject of the April 2022 Jazzwise magazine covermount CD celebrating 25 years of publication, and a label with a mission. Ubuntu is part of a Zulu phrase that translates as I am because we are. It’s that nebulous but essential concept of common humanity or oneness – something we need more of in these troubled times. Cosmic Jazz always features music from the global jazz family and this show brings together two jazz players who trained as classical harpists, Keith Jarrett with his Standards Trio trio, the undersung saxophonist Booker Ervin and music from Japan and Brazil.

1. Camilla George – The People Could Fly from The People Could  Fly 

We begin with saxophonist Camilla George on the Ubuntu label and a track from her album The People Could Fly released in 2018. George and her band now have a special place for Derek as her outdoor performance at Snape Maltings last summer was the first live music he saw post-pandemic. Besides, any band with the wonderful pianist/keyboard player Sarah Tandy in it, is always special. The title tune from The People Could Fly includes the excellent Shirley Tettey on guitar, Daniel Casimir on bass and Femi Koleoso on drums. The music is inspired by a book of Nigerian tales called The People Could Fly – stories steeped in slavery and told to Camilla as a child by her Nigerian mother. The band have been touring the UK recently, so do look out for them and go listen if you get the chance.

2. James Copus – From the Source from Dusk

James Copus is an award-winning trumpet and flugelhorn player and composer based in London, UK, who graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2016. His debut album Dusk, released in on Ubuntu in 2020, features all original compositions and has a great line-up of Jason Brown (drums), Tom Cawley (piano/synths) and Conor Chaplin (bass). He has played and/or recorded with such artists as Jorja Smith, Ashley Henry, Joss Stone, Cory Wong, James Bay, Boy George and an artist we have featured recently on Cosmic Jazz, drummer Myele Manzanza. Although the limited edition CD of Dusk is now sold out on Bandcamp, you can still buy the digital download here.

3. Noemi Nuti – Sunny Perfect Sunday from Venus Eye

Born in New York City and from Italian descent, Noemi Nuti’s musical personality is certainly a mix of Mediterranean and metropolitan sounds. She’s a graduate of Trinity College and has a Brunel University degree in classical harp too. Her debut 2015 album Nice To Meet You was the first release on Ubuntu Music and in the same year she headlined at the Ipswich Jazz Festival. In 2017, Nuti collaborated with sax legend Jean Toussaint, pianist Liam Noble and a fantastic Brazilian rhythm section at London’s renowned Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho and in 2020 she released her largely self-composed second album Venus Eye from which we’ve taken the track Sunny Perfect Sunday track – also on the Jazzwise covermount CD. For more Noemi Nuti, check out her complete 2020 London Jazz Festival performance right here.

4. Alina Bzhezhinska, Tony Kofi, Joel Prime – Alabama from John Coltrane

Ubuntu recording artist Alina Bzhezhinska is very much in the spotlight at the moment following a successful fund-raising concert for her home country of Ukraine in March 2022.  We capture here in an earlier trio format with saxophonist Tony Kofi and Joel Prime on drums with their reflective take on John Coltrane’s immensely moving Alabama, first recorded following a 1963 racist church bombing in which four teenage girls were killed. The story of the recording and the horrific incident that inspired it can be found here. You also can see Bzhezhinska here in another trio format (this time with on Julie Walkington on bass and Prime again on drums) recorded during lockdown at the Birmingham Symphony Hall in the UK in 2020.

5. Keith Jarrett Trio – Poinciana from Whisper Not

Want to know where to start with Keith Jarrett’s  Standards Trio? You’re likely to do better than with this 2CD live recording from 1999. Recorded live at the Palais des Congrès in Paris, the trio has rarely sounded more focused – perhaps because there are no long codas here. Instead there are pretty much straight ahead takes of some classic bebop tunes, including Bouncing With Bud, Round Midnight and Grooving High alongside virtuosic versions of Prelude to a Kiss, When I Fall In Love and a tune made most famous by Ahmad Jamal, Poinciana. But it’s not just Jarrett, of course – bassist Gary Peacock has rarely sounded better and drummer Jack DeJohnette always finds the right detail in his sophisticated playing. It’s a magical recording and one Neil frequently turns to for a display of piano trio artistry. As with all of the Standards Trio recordings on ECM Records, the sound is superbly realised. Highly recommended.

6. Cal Tjader – Borneo from Several Shades of Jade

One of the most unique albums of Cal Tjader’s career, 1963’s Several Shades of Jade is a collaboration with Argentinian composer and arranger Lalo Schifrin that transposes the vibraphonist’s musical travels from Latin America to the Far East. With that in mind, you could reasonably expect that this means those standard clichés of such projects of the time (tuned gongs and kitsch melodies) but you’d be wrong. This is certainly not Asian music, but Schifrin frames Tjader’s meditative vibraphone solos in typically imaginative arrangements that just sound cool. The title might suggest a reference to Scott leFaro’s wonderful Jade Visions but we do get a take on Horace Silver’s Tokyo Blues. A record worth searching for – but do avoid the lacklustre follow up record, Breeze From the East, which strays much too far into that cod-Asian territory.

7. Booker Ervin – Tyra from The In Between

The In Between is a 1968 session for Blue Note that saw Ervin working with a little-known quartet to really push the boundaries of hard bop. Ervin was associated with two key figures in jazz – bassist Charles Mingus, with whom he worked in the early 1960s, and pianist Randy Weston, who rated him as highly as Jon Coltrane. On The In Between he’s supported by trumpeter Richard Williams, pianist Bobby Few, bass player Cevera Jeffries and drummer Lennie McBrowne.  Every tune on the record is an Ervin original and Tyra is a memorable composition. The music is edgy, volatile hard bop that fully explores Ervin’s muscular tone. If you can find it, it’s another CJ recommendation. Sadly, Booker Ervin died in 1970 at just 39.

8. Kyoto Jazz Massive – Primal Echo from Message from a New Dawn

Yes, they’re back! Almost 20 years after their landmark Spirit of The Sun album, brothers Shuya and Yoshihiro Okino have emerged with a new album. There’s elements of techno, house, broken beats and more here – but at the heart of this record is a jazz sensibility. Guests include Roy Ayers and Vanessa Freeman and Primal Echo is typical of their eclectic sound. The Okino brothers also perform and record as Kyoto Jazz Sextet alongside a handpicked ensemble of talented jazzers – try this unreleased take on Pharoah Sanders’ You’ve Got to Have Freedom or Song For Unity to get a flavour of a more directly jazzy direction on the Unity album, released in 2017.

9. Lettuce – Gravy Train single from album Unify

This hip-hop/jazz/funk sextet have now completed a trilogy of albums that began with 2019’s Grammy-nominated Elevate and continued with 2020’s Resonate. Unify – scheduled for release in June 2022 – continues their characteristic sound.  After spending the pandemic apart, the members of Lettuce – Adam Deitch (drums), Ryan Zoidis (saxophone), Adam ‘Shmeeans’ Smirnoff (guitar), Erick ‘Jesus’ Coomes (bass), Nigel Hall (keyboards/vocals) and Eric ‘Benny’ Bloom (trumpet) are back in force. Bass player Coombes noted in a recent interview that “We’re just getting tighter and tighter – [this is] the best the band has ever been: live and in the studio; the funkiest and the most fun.” Check it out.

10. Hermeto Pascoal Grupo Vice-Versa – Mavumvavumpefoco  from Virando Com o Som

And to end the show, a final look at the legendary Brazilian arranger and more, Hermeto Pascoal, Arranger, composer and multi-instrumentalist, the 85 year old Pascoal remains a vital figure in the music. For his upcoming live performance in the UK at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival in May, he will be premiering new commissions scored for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Expect endlessly-modulating melodies and unusual tones on everything from squeaky toys, old teapots or Pascoal’s favoured accordion. The Viranda Com o Som album was recorded in just two days in 1976 in São Paulo and features Pascoal’s go-to ‘Paulista’ rhythm section of the day: Zé Eduardo Nazario (drums), Zeca Assumpção (bass) and Lelo Nazario (electric piano), as well as saxophonists Mauro Senise, Raul Mascarenhas and Nivaldo Ornelas, guitarist Toninho Horta and vocalist Aleuda Chaves. In the studio, almost everything recorded on the first take ended up staying in the final mix – but the master tape was lost for years. Now found and restored, this is another album to add to your collection. The invaluable Bandcamp have just issued an excellent feature on Pascoal – you can find it right here. For a final look at this extraordinary musician, check out this lengthy essay by Andy Connell, reproduced here thanks to Far Out Recordings who have also just released the first self titled album we featured in our last show.

More Cosmic Jazz music soon.

13 March 2022: featuring Hermeto Pascoal, a Fergus McCreadie exclusive and more

More great new music from Cosmic Jazz on this show: we celebrate the April arrival of Hermeto Pascoal to the UK along with the re-release of two great Pascoal records. His tour with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra reaches our part of the UK on 13 May at St. Andrew’s Hall, Norwich to open the 2022 Norfolk & Norwich Festival. We also have an exclusive from Fergus McCreadie’s soon to be released new album, new records from three great US artists and some Ukranian-based music to end the show. Click that Mixcloud button and sit back…

  1. Sergio Mendes – Pipoca from Brasileiro

It seems that Sergio Mendes has always been there. He was hugely popular in the 1960s around the world with his easy listening approach to Brazilian bossa and samba, before something of a late career renaissance with high profile collaborators like the Black Eyed Peas pitched him into a more contemporary spotlight. But there’s more to Mendes than this – take his Brasileiro album as an example. Mendes has attempted something similar with his ground-breaking Primal Roots album back in 1972, but Brasileiro from 1991 upped the rhythms – with much of the new approach due to the influence of Carlinhos Brown and a bunch of Bahian percussionists. The great Brazilian songwriters are in here too – Ivan Linss, Gilberto Gil and Joao Bosca – but Pipoca is all the work of master arranger Hermeto Pascoal. This album is, along with Primal Roots, among the best of Mendes – and, of course, it’s highly recommended.

2. Hermeto Pascoal – Guizos (Bells) from Hermeto

New to Hermeto Pascoal? The problem, then, is where to begin with this now 85 year old Brazilian multi-instrumental iconoclast. Let’s start with his nickname – o Bruxo (the Sorcerer), an indication of the extraordinary sounds he derives from conventional and unconventional instruments. He’ll use children’s toys, teapots and even – on one celebrated record – the squeal of pigs. Pascoal grew up deep in the countryside of north east Brazil and, because his albinism prevented him from working in the fields with his family, he practised the accordion for hours each day along with using these found objects to make his unique music.  And perhaps the fact that his father was a blacksmith first alerted him to ‘found sound’ possibilities. Guizos (Bells) comes from the first record released under his own name in 1970 and was recorded in the US with his compatriot and fellow musician Airto Moreira (see below), Ron Carter on bass, Thad Jones on trumpet, Joe Farrell on saxes and flutes and a 35 piece orchestra – quite a coup for your first solo venture!

3. Quarteto Novo – Vim de Sant’ana from Quarteto Novo/Blue Brazil Vol 1

The influential Quarteto Novo recorded just one self-titled record (released in 1969) and is noted for launching the careers of both Airto Moreira and Hermeto Pascoal, along with the lesser-known Heraldo Do Monte on guitar and and Theo De Barres on bass. The album was one of the earliest to mix influences from traditional Brazilian folk forms with jazz sensibilities and – thanks to the arranging skills of Pascoal – has a samba feel but mixed with the north eastern baião that Pascoal knew from his childhood. Fora taste of the style, listen to this typical song from the baião master Luis Gonzaga – Baião de Dois. Quarteto Novo’s album has been re-released several times in recent years, most recently in 2014 on the Odeon label out of Brazil. The album ends with a bizarre take on Dori Caymmi’s O Cantador but perhaps the two most famous tunes – both of which have gone on to be recorded by numerous artists – are Ponteio and Misturada. Don’t pass up on this record if you see it – it’s an essential album in anyone’s collection. Which brings us back to o Bruxo: if you want to find out more about the sorcerer then this excellent Bandcamp feature will get you started.

4.  Fergus McCreadie Trio – Forest Floor from Forest Floor

If you’re a regular listener and reader here you’ll know all about Fergus McCreadie. We’ve promoted his music for almost a year now and we’re thrilled that his second release for Edition Records will be out next month. We’re indebted to Rob Adams for the title track from Forest Floor about which McCreadie has said In all my music I’m searching for an idea or a theme, that the composition and performance is based on. With this recording, it’s the same studio, same piano and same musicians but I feel the sound we have as a trio has become more developed and rounded somehow. Here at Cosmic Jazz we can only agree – and the new title track is a good example. The Scottish folk influences developed in his previous record Cairn remain central, but there’s a greater depth and range in the new music. With more sheer energy and a lyricism tempered with reflection, Forest Floor is one we’ll be returning to in weeks to come.

5. Kahil El’Zabar Quartet – A Time for Healing from A Time for Healing

Another familiar name on CJ in 2021, Chicagoan percussionist Kahil El’Zabar is back in 2022 with his new album, A Time for Healing. There’s no David Murray on this recording, but the Spirit Groove band features El’Zabar on kalimba, drum kit, cajon, congas, shakers, vibes and vocals with Corey Wilkes on trumpet, spirit bowls and percussion, Justin Dillard on keys and percussion and Isaiah Collier on tenor and soprano sax, reeds and percussion – and, yes, that instrumentation suggests a heavy degree of Pharonic spirituality… As with previous El’Zabar releases, this double album is on the excellent UK Spiritmuse label and, not surprisingly, our recommendation is to get it on vinyl.

6. Immanuel Wilkins – Fugitive Ritual, Selah from The 7th Hand

The enigmatically titled The 7th Hand is the second release on Blue Note from 24 year-old alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins. His first album, Omega, was produced by Cosmic Jazz favourite Jason Moran but this is self produced – and it feels at once more expansive and forward looking. Indeed, Wilkins notes in a recent Downbeat feature that Omega was a response to confronting painful moments in our history to mine these ruins and see what comes out.  The 7th Hand is altogether more exploratory and is the significance of the baptism scene Wilkins creates on the album cover where Wilkins is half-submerged in a river, surrounded by  women, and with his head cradled in the hands of a priestess figure. Wilkins calls this a ‘baptism remix’ and notes that water flows through the vessel but at the moment of vesselhood you are not only a conduit, you are subsumed  too. It’s a powerful image and reflect the recording process: all tracks recorded in the same order they appear o the record, with the extended 26 minute final track something of that mystical experience of immersion in the music. It’s a powerful end to this excellent album which features Wilkins’ regular quartet – Micah Thomas on piano, Daryl Johns on bass and Kweku Sumbry on drums. There are guest appearances  from the Farafina Kan Percussion Ensemble on one track and from flute player Elena Pinderhughes on two more. The tune selected this week – Fugitive Ritual, Selah – features the quartet and is a beautiful, contemplative, deeply soulful and gospel infused number.

7. Orrin Evans – Libra from The Magic of Now

Wilkins also features on The Magic of Now, a 2021 album from pianist Orrin Evans and his quartet – but there are deeper links too. There’s a similar uplifting spiritual quality to the music, and with three tracks composed by Wilkins it’s not altogether surprising. Vincente Archer, onetime bass player with Robert Glasper, and Bill Stewart on drums complete the quartet. Orrin Evans has been a bandleader for twenty-five years with as many albums to his credit as a solo artist, and he also spent three years with The Bad Plus. Like Wilkins, he’s from Philadelphia and, along with his wife Dawn Warren Evans, has made an important contribution to both veteran and upcoming musicians in that city.

8. Alina Bzhezhinska – After the Rain from Inspiration

There is no need to explain why the Polish/Ukranian harpist Alina Bzhezhinska is included in the show. She was originally a classical musician but has became a leading jazz educator and performer in Scotland, exploring the work of jazz harpists Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby. Now part of the London jazz scene, her 2018 record Inspiration on Ubuntu Records featured both music from Alice Coltrane and this from from John Coltrane, a reflective, trance-like version of his beautiful tune After the Rain.  Bzhezhinska organised and headed a recent concert for Ukraine at the Cockpit Theatre in London and commented My country is burning. As a native Ukrainian and a human being I can not be silent. I wish I could go and fight alongside my family who are all in the resistance, but I have to stay where I am and use my music as my weapon. 

9. Bill Evans – Peace Piece from Everybody Digs Bill Evans

There are similarly poignant and timely reasons for ending the show with Bill Evans and his piano solo improvisation Peace Piece. It has the most wonderful meditative, stillness and calm, invoking both isolation and tranquility. It is simply a piece for peace. Classical influences have been commented on – from Satie to Debussy to Ravel to Messiaen: that may be,  but just immerse yourself into every moment of the tune up to its final flourish and become enraptured in the beauty and the sense of peaceful contemplation it evokes.

More Cosmic Jazz music for body and soul coming soon.

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

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

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

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

2.   Keyon Harrold – The Mugician from The Mugician

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

3.  James Brandon Lewis – Resonance from Code of Being

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

4. Immanuel Wilkins – Emanation from The 7th Hand

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

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

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

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

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

7. Gil Scott-Heron – Spirits from Spirits

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

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

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

9. Lester Bowie – For Fela from African Children

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Rachelle Ferrell – Autumn Leaves from First Instrument

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Doug Carn – Sanctuary from Adam’s Apple

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

12 September 2021: starting out/stripped back/early gems/late vintage

The show this week starts with some tunes where the music is stripped back to essentials, moves on  to contemporary British sounds and then later includes some classic British jazz. There’s a slot for one of Miles Davis’ last recordings from a live concert in Vienne, France and we end with an interesting Cuban/US musical merger.

 1.  Samara Joy – Stardust from Samara Joy    

Eighteen year old US vocalist Samara Joy has her debut album released on the London-based indie label Whirlwind Records. The Bronx-born singer graduated this year from Purchase College in New York State but – more importantly for us – won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal competition for 2019. Previous winners have included Cosmic Jazz favourite Jazzmeia Horn so it made good sense to check out Samara Joy. That win opened the jazz door for Joy and she recorded her self-titled album earlier this year with guitarist Pasquale Grasso, double  bass player Ari Roland and drummer Kenny Washington. They provide intricate but delicate and subtle backing on this album of classics from the American songbook and this trio alongside the emotional power of Samara Joy’s voice provide interesting interpretations – as can be heard on the Hoagy Carmichael/Mitchell Parish standard Stardust, recorded by Nat King Cole and a host of others. It’s a difficult tune to play or sing but among Neil’s favourite versions would be this superb one from John Coltrane and Willie Nelson’s 1978 take that demonstrated he was much more than just a country singer. Joy gives this classic tune a kind of candid simplicity that feels like the jazz equivalent of bedroom folk – a young woman reflecting on her future life. It’s an affecting combination and, whilst the record has few surprises, this is an engaging debut from a singer with huge promise.

2.  Cassandra Wilson – Blue Light Til Dawn from Blue Light Til Dawn

The gentle use of electric instrumentation on Samara Joy prompted the selection of a tune from an album where the vocalist made minimal use of electric sounds – namely Cassandra Wilson’s superb Blue Note debut Blue Light Til Dawn. Released back in 1993 this album has truly stood the test of time, still sounding cool and contemporary. In 2014 Blue Note re-released the record to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Wilson’s European tour based on the album, with three additional live recordings. The album has a strong blues element with two Robert Johnson tunes, classic soul from Ann Peebles tune and two sublime takes on Joni Mitchell’s Black Crow and Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey. The album also has three of Cassandra Wilson’s own compositions, including the title track we featured on the show.

3.   William Parker – Happiness from Painter’s Winter   

Bass player William Parker is a jazz man of the moment. There seems to be a stream of releases from him of which Painters Winter is one of the most recent. William Parker plays trombonium and shakuhachi as well as bass, Daniel Carter is on trumpet, alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet and flute and Hamid Drake on drums – a trio who first played together in the early 1970s and have kept in touch. The music takes the show further along in an acoustic vein, but the music  sound heavy, deep and intensive. William Parker describes the journey in his sleeve notes Daniel Carter, Hamid Drake and William Parker are on the road called ‘Happiness’ looking for rare flowers. Flowers without preset chords yet changing moods tempos and colors according to the story they are telling.

4.  Emma-Jean Thackray – Venus from Yellow   

Meanwhile, Emma-Jean Thackray is a jazz trumpeter of the moment and Yellow is her first full length release. Initial reviews suggested a mix of Sun Ra, Flying Lotus, Funkadelic and Alice Coltrane but on listening this is simply an album that works. Thackray may have said that she approached the record “by trying to simulate a life-changing psychedelic experience” – which explains something of the overall sound of this great new record – but mixing disco and New Orleans brass, soaring string arrangements and a vocal choir has resulted in an album that easily earns our recommendation. For an insight into Thackray’s thinking about Yellow, check out her recent interview with New York’s Jazz Vinyl Lover Ken Micallef.

5.  GoGo Penguin – Signal in the Noise from GoGo Penguin    

We’ve championed GoGo Penguin since their first record Fanfares which appeared in 2012, and the self-titled GoGo Penguin is their fifth full length album. Emerging from Manchester, this trio – pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Rob Turner – are located in that hinterland between EST, Aphex Twin and Phillip Glass – minimalism, trip hop, electronica and, of course, jazz. In 2015 they signed to Blue Note with the powerful A Humdrum Star appearing in 2018. It was at this time Neil saw the trio at the Singapore Jazz Festival (see photo) and was hugely impressed by their performance. Now in their mid-30s, GoGo Penguin make crisp, confident trio music that’s beautifully recorded – especially Nick Blacka’s bass on tracks like Atomised – here in an excellent live version – and also one of the tracks that was remixed on a follow up release, GGP/RMX.

6.  Bernard Maseli Septet – Jerks at the Audience from Good Vibes of Milian 

Jerzy Milian played vibraphone in Krzysztof Komeda’s band in the late 1950s before becoming a composer, arranger, leader and conductor of numerous bands and orchestras in Poland. He was a long-time leader of the Polish Radio and Television Entertainment Orchestra in Katowice writing pop music, jazz and ballet, film, symphonic and opera scores. Remarkably, in the 1980s the night-time UK BBC2 test pattern – which was accompanied by background music – included pieces by Jerzy Milian and this led to the formation of a cult group of fans who would gather together to play their off-screen recordings of the music.  For this tribute to Milian’s compositions, four Polish vibraphonists got together and recorded Good Vibes of Milian live at a Polish music festival in  2017. The band was led by Bernard Maseli on vibes and marimba accompanied by vibists Bartosz Pieszka, Dominik Bukowski and Karol Szymanowski with Bogusław Kaczmar on piano, Michał Kapczuk on double bass and Marcin Jahr on drums. The album is available here on Bandcamp. For more music from Jerzy Milian himself, you could start with the rare album Ashkabad Girl which was re-released in 2003 on Obuh Records. There were only 350 hand numbered copies, so good luck finding one –  but check out this original version of Mloty na widwni (Jerks at the Audience) for a taste of Milian’s music. If you like this (and Neil does!) there’s a mint copy on Discogs for £300…

7.  Miles Davis – Human Nature from Merci Miles! Live at Vienne   

In July 1991, just two months before he died, Miles Davis played an electrifying set at one of his favourite live venues in Vienne, south eastern France and now – 30 years later – this previously unreleased performance has been released as Merci, Miles! Live At Vienne in a 2CD/2LP set. There are two compositions by Prince (Jailbait and Penetration) but far more interesting is this extended take on Michael Jackson’s Human Nature, first recorded by Miles on his You’re Under Arrest album from 1985. Human Nature and Cyndi Lauper’s Time after Time were to become concert staples in these last years and this version of the Steve Porcaro tune features an extended, impassioned alto sax solo from Kenny Garrett. Musically, Davis had cut down his touring band to just five musicians: gone were the multiple keyboardists, guitarists, and percussionists. The result is that the band members play less, but they play tighter. This almost final take on Human Nature is stretched out to 18 minutes but there’s no flab here. Indeed, Davis something of a revelation: his Harmon mute playing is full of flexibility and style, with those famous silences separating the short phrases that bring the band down to a whisper. There are echoes of the flamenco sounds of Sketches of Spain and Siesta, some classic bebop lines and those childlike melodies that first surfaced in Jean Pierre. Garrett gives it everything (as was typical of the live London performances that Neil witnessed at this time) and at the end of Garret’s screaming solo there’s no restatement fo the melody – indeed, Davis is already into the chords of Time After Time. It’s a great performance. [Thanks to writer Allan Mitchie for some inspiration here.]

8.  The Alan Skidmore Quintet – Old San Juan from Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain   

Alan Skidmore may be the UK’s homegrown John Coltrane. Indeed, he’s recorded five albums of largely Coltrane music, including an excellent live album at one of our favourite small venues, the Fleece pub in the Suffolk village of Boxford, called Impressions of John Coltrane (on ITM Records). Along with the others – Tribute to ‘Trane (on Miles Music), After the Rain (also Miles Music), Berlin (on ITM) and Naima (also ITM) – this live recording is well worth seeking out. We’ve featured tracks from this album previously on Cosmic Jazz (see our Coltrane tribute show on 19 July 2017) and here’s Skidmore’s take on Impressions from that superb live album. As a teenager Skidmore witnessed at first hand the 1961 appearance of the John Coltrane Quintet at the legendary Walthamstow Granada Theatre concert – even gaining access to the green room after the show and sitting just feet away from Coltrane himself. This was a really significant performance, recorded just a week after Coltrane’s celebrated appearance at the Village Vanguard. His quintet of the time included Eric Dolphy as well as McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman and Elvin Jones. There’s an excellent personal reminiscence of saxophonist Evan Parker’s teenage visit to the show here on the London Jazz News blog.  An occasional drummer himself, Skidmore has worked with both of Coltrane’s regular 1960s kitmen – Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali – and has performed with a host of British jazz artists including Alexis Korner (1964), John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (1964), Ronnie Scott (1965), Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames (1970), Mike Westbrook (1970-71), Mike Gibbs (1970-71), and Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood Of Breath (1971). In 1969, he formed his own quintet with Kenny Wheeler, Tony Oxley, John Taylor and Harry Miller), with which he won the best soloist and best band awards at the Montreux International Jazz Festival and gained a scholarship to Berklee College Of Music. In 1973, he co-founded S.O.S., probably one of the first all-saxophone bands, with Mike Osborne and John Surman. He has subsequently formed various small groups of his own, including El Skid (co-led with Elton Dean), SOH (with Ali Haurand and Tony Oxley), and Tenor Tonic (with Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers and Tony Levin), and has worked with the George Gruntz Concert Band, the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, the Charlie Watts Orchestra, Stan Tracey, Mose Allison, Van Morrison, Georgie Fame again, and with the West German Radio Band. In the 1970s and beyond, Skidmore increasingly worked in Europe where – as he acknowledged – jazz was properly supported: “They’ve got this thing in Germany and other European countries where you turn up to do a gig and, nine times out of ten, it’s recorded by local or national radio… Jazz musicians in Germany are well treated. Your music is art.” Without doubt, Skidmore is one of the finest saxophonists the UK has produced and Tony Higgins’ superb new compilation Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain recognises this through the selection of an inspirational track from the album Once Upon a Time (1970). The comprehensive booklet that accompanies this essential 2LP/2CD set makes clear the excellence of this performance: As Skidmore told Alyn Shipton “If you listen to it today, it’s a fresh as paint. It sounds like it was recorded last week.” (Jazz Library, BBC R3 – March 2012). The extended John Warren composition Old San Juan comes from that 1970s quintet with Wheeler, Oxley, Taylor and Warren and is a fine example of Skidmore’s superb tenor playing. Again – if you can find it – the album is a total recommendation, but this new 2021 compilation from Tony Higgins (follow him on Twitter @TheJazzDad) is a a real gem: buy on vinyl to get two superbly remastered discs (from Gearbox Records in London) and Higgins’ comprehensive 20,000 word essay – check out the album trailer here. It’s worth noting here that Tony Higgins was also responsible for the excellent annotations that accompanied the two editions of the Impressed collection that Gilles Peterson curated for Universal. They’re still available on either CD or vinyl. Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain is an essential compilation and will be supplemented by an upcoming reissue programme of British jazz albums with all vinyl pressed at Gearbox in London. Don’t miss out on this collection though – it’s a truly superb assemblage of British jazz talent.

9.  Dick Morrissey Quartet – Storm Warning from Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain

Our second choice from this new compilation is a hard bop bossa workout from tenor saxophonist Dick Morrissey’s 1960s quartet. Morrissey emerged in the early 1960s in the wake of Tubby Hayes, Britain’s pre-eminent sax player at the time. Morrissey made his name as a hard bop player, appearing regularly at the Marquee Club from 1960 and, with his quartet, made regular appearances at the celebrated Bull’s Head in Barnes. In the 1970s, Morrissey met up with Glaswegian guitarist Jim Mullen and the pair went on to form a partnership that lasted over 16 years with Morrissey-Mullen becoming Britain’s foremost jazz-fusion band. Morrissey was a session saxophonist for many pop artists too, and his is the saxophone solo you hear on the Vangelis theme from the film Blade Runner. He died in 2000, with Steve Voce writing in The Independent newspaper that Morrissey had the “… ability to get through to an audience. He was one of the great communicators of jazz and… able to communicate with his listeners and quickly to establish a bond with them… Like Charlie Parker before him, he was somehow able to lift audiences that knew little or nothing about his music”.

10. Orquesta Akokan – 16 Rayos from 16 Rayos  

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

28 May 2021: new on Edition Records and 50 years of What’s Going On

Welcome to a new Cosmic Jazz. This week we celebrate the range and diversity of the Edition Records label, dive into deep new jazz from Damon Locks and Jason Moran and acknowledge the 50th anniversary of the release of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, a record that should be in everyone’s collection. To listen to the show, just click on the Mixcloud tab (above left).

1.Rudd, Saft, Dunn, Pandi – Cobalt is a Divine from Strength & Power

Music this week comes from the usual diverse sources starting with Jamie Saft, the man with the longest beard in jazz. Saft is uniquely interesting: associated with John Zorn’s Tzadik Records, he could easily be seen as a serial leftfield collaborator – after all he was responsible for an anti-Semitism themed heavy metal outing called Black Shabbis. But his diversity of output is pretty remarkable – from pianist in a self-described bar band to the soloist in a John Adams opera, Saft has also recorded frequently with veteran drummer Jerry Granelli, trumpeters Wadada Leo Smith and Cuong Vu, long time friend and neighbour trombonist Roswell Rudd and released an intriguing record of Bob Dylan covers in 2006. Cobalt is a Divine (we’re not sure what that means either!) is driven by the then 80 year old trombonist and free-jazz pioneer Roswell Rudd who died a year after this recording. Having worked with free jazz pianist Cecil Taylor, Rudd knew how to punctuate Saft’s glissando vamps and hammered chords, even as Dunn and Pandi clatter and crash in the background but he could also produce the kind of blues drawls that sound almost Monk-like at the beginning of Cobalt Is a Divine. For a different side to Saft pianism, listen to him in a great duo performance with veteran drummer Jerry Granelli on First Thought, Best Thought from their excellent Nowness album.

2. Daniel Herskedal – Ice- Free and Arriving at Ellis Island from Harbour

Herskedal is a tuba player from Molde in Norway, home of the famous moldejazz festival. He’s played with fellow countryman Marius Neset (another great Edition Records signing) along with a host of other Norwegian jazz artists. There’s more than jazz in Herskedal’s playing – not for nothing was his Master’s dissertation on the relationship between jazz and the sacred Sami music form of joik. There’s a classical influence there too and all this come together in his previous album for Edition, Call for Winter, for which he won a Norwegian ‘Grammy’, or Spelleman award. The album was inspired by Norway’s stunning winter landscape, and Herskedal sought inspiration before the recording by retreating to a remote area of the Southern Sami highlands, where he built a studio and then – for two weeks – spent his time skiing, composing, and recording. The result were twelve tracks that captured the cinematic ambience of the landscape through the extraordinary range Herskedal conjures up on both tuba and bass trumpet. Subtle electronic effects add yet more atmosphere. Call for Winter is a deep record deserving of an uninterrupted listen – preferably while gazing out at a snowy landscape and sitting by an open fire. The new album Harbour will be out in July 2021 and was recorded with long term collaborators pianist Eyolf Dale and percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken. The track titles indicate the maritime theme at work here and there are references to the role ships and boats have played in people migration, from the immigration station at Ellis Island to the beaches of Lesbos in Greece. We’ve got two tracks for you here on Cosmic Jazz – listen and then head right here to Edition Records to pick up your copy (vinyl, CD or download).

3. Chris Potter – Sunrise & Joshua Trees from  Sunrise Reprise

We are long time fans of Chris Potter’s ever imaginative playing here on Cosmic Jazz and his new trio recording on Edition Records doesn’t disappoint. We featured a couple of tunes in our last show and include the atmospheric opening track here. It sets up the tone of the record – sparse and subtle use of electronics set against reeds, keyboards and drums. The Circuits band lineup first appeared in 2019 on Potter’s first release on Edition Records (he’d previously been signed to ECM) and the new record continues the explorations in that first self-titled album. In many ways, Potter is the heir to Michael Brecker – muscular, soulful playing that utilises the full range of the tenor horn with energy, ambition and the harmonic understanding that Coltrane shared. Like Brecker, Potter is also good at making short, pithy statements but it’s his new-found ability on a range of instruments (pace his previous solo album There Is a Tide) and the subtle use of electronics that mark him out as unique. Potter is on tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinets, flutes and sampler with James Francies on keyboards and Eric Harland on drums.

5. Doug Carn – Power and Glory from Revelation

Doug Carn’s earliest musical influences included his mother,  who was a formidable pianist and organist who had gigged with Dizzy Gillespie and knew tenor player Stanley Turrentine and organist Shirley Scott.  With his wife Jean, Carn moved to southern California in 1970 and took up residence in an apartment building that also housed Earth, Wind and Fire members and both Carns featured on the band’s first two records in 1971 before signing to the new Black Jazz label. Infant Eyes (which we featured in the last CJ) was Carn’s first release on the label, with the excellent Spirit of the New Land following in 1972.  Revelation is more obviously modal than previous albums and includes Olu Dara (rapper Nas’s father) on trumpet and Rene McLean (Jackie McLean’s son) on flute and alto sax. It was the final release by the Carns as a married couple and also included covers of Coltrane’s Naima and Rene McLean’s Jihad. More recently, Carn was recruited to the first of producer/DJ Carl Craig’s excellent Detroit Experiment records and – interestingly – appeared on trombonist Curtis Fuller’s 2005 album Savant. In 2020, Carn teamed up with producer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalists Adrian Young and Ali Shaheed Muhammad for one of their Jazz Is Dead releases (see below) and the result included the atmospheric Desert Rain with its hip hop triplets and Carn back on Hammond B3.

6. Damon Locks –  Black Monument Ensemble – Now (Forever Momentary) Space from NOW

Damon Locks and his Black Monument Ensemble’s new album NOW was created at the end of summer 2020, following the explosion of social unrest and street violence in the US. The music was recorded in a few takes in the garden of a Chicago studio, For Locks, the impetus was more about getting together as musicians to share their feelings: “It was about resisting the darkness. It was about expressing possibility. It was about asking the question, ‘Since the future has unfolded and taken a new and dangerous shape… what happens NOW?’” The Black Monument Ensemble was originally conceived as a medium for Chicago-based multi-media artist/activist Damon Locks’s sample-based sound collage work but it’s expanded into a collective of artists, musicians, singers, and dancers working together and this very spontaneous-sounding recording emphasises the collaborative nature of the music making. The music that results is not without its antecedents – think Phil Cohran’s Artistic Heritage Ensemble, Eddie Gale’s Black Rhythm Happening, Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues, and even Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and you have some points of reference. The angry yet joyous spirit that emerges is highly recommended as a listening experience.

7. Gary Bartz, Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad –  Spiritual Ideation

Jazz Is Dead (JID), is a duo comprised of soundtrack composer and producer Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, formerly from the iconic hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest. The two have come together to create records where they work with influential jazz musicians, giving them a contemporary sound. Previous collaborations have featured Roy Ayers, Marcos Valle, Azymuth and Doug Carn. Some of these have been innovative and worthy of attention – but for Neil, others have fallen rather flat (most notably the one with Marcos Valle which felt warmed-over rather than really hot. Spiritual Ideation doesn’t try to change too much of Bartz’s sound and consequently works rather well, with the 80 year old Bartz still sounding fresh and inventive. He’s got a long history in jazz, of course, joining the Miles Davis band in 1970 for the celebrated Cellar Door recordings and going on form his Ntu Troop, releasing the superb I’ve Known Rivers and Other Bodies, a Cosmic Jazz favourite, which includes the title track recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973.

8. Archie Shepp, Jason Moran – Wise One from Let My People Go

Saxophone elder Archie Shepp and pianist Jason Moran first met backstage at Belgium’s annual Jazz Middelheim Festival in 2015 and these live performances came from Paris’s annual Jazz à la Villette festival in 2017 and the 2018 edition of the Enjoy Jazz Festival in Mannheim, Germany. Despite the age differences, there are some close similarities: both were born in the deep South, raised up in the sound of the blues and black gospel with Shepp in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Moran in Houston, Texas. Both developed an ever-expanding appreciation of pioneers like Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Thelonious Monk, but with an ear for contemporary styles too: Shepp with 1960s free jazz, and Moran with hip hop of the late ‘80s through to today. With this newly released download, we hear Shepp’s singing voice too – and on Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child it’s weighty with the song’s history and deep meaning. The same is true of Let My People Go which includes some stunning piano work from Moran. On Coltrane’s Wise One there’s a breathy, stately tone from the 84 year old Shepp while Moran provides deep rippling chords underneath. It’s intensely moving (and beautifully recorded too). For the latest from Jason Moran, check out the Neil is listening to… choices below and for Coltrane’s original, listen right here.

9.  Sault – Fearless from UNTITLED (Rise)

What is there that can be said about Sault? Very little, actually, because there’s something of a mystery around this London group. What we do know is that over the last two years, Sault’s music has arrived out of the blue: no interviews, no photos, no videos, no live appearances, no Wikipedia entry, a perfunctory and entirely non-interactive social media presence. Vocalist Michael Kiwanuka got a guest artist credit on their last album UNTITLED (Black Is) released in June 2020 and we know that proceeds from the album “will be going to charitable funds”.  UNTITLED (Rise) is not only their fourth album in 18 months, it’s their second double album in just over 12 weeks. Its predecessor was largely written and recorded in response to the murder of George Floyd, less than a month before it was released and was a remarkably diverse record. UNTITLED (Rise) is even better. The opening track Strong features beats spiked with explosions of dubby echo, an intricate mesh of Nile Rodgers-ish guitar and a terrific breakdown inspired by Brazilian batucada percussion while Fearless is supremely funky with flurries of disco strings and a dark, inspiring production that works against lyrics like “It hurts on the inside”. You can only admire this music and – yes – it’s not jazz, but it deserves inclusion in a show that has balanced anger, compassion, joy and love in equal measure.

10. Cochemea – Turkara from Vol 2 Baca Sewa

Flute and alto saxophone  player Cochemea Gastelum leads a seven-piece band that includes a  rhythm section and percussionists that are among New York’s finest. The album title Baca Sewa is Cochemea’s original family name prior to Spanish colonisation and is a semi-autobiographical dive into his family history and culture. Cochemea has played with a range of notable artists, including Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Archie Shepp and Antibalas and has supported in the studio The Roots, David Byrne and Quincy Jones among others. His musical heroes include Eddie Harris, Gary Bartz and Yusef Lateef – quite a list of Cosmic Jazz favourites – but he has developed his own distinctive style rooted in family and culture. You can track this new album down here on Daptone Records – it’s released on 16 July.

11. Sean Khan feat Sabrina Malheiros – Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser (All That You Could Be) from Palmares Fantasy

It is always fantastic to see musicians collaborating across generations and nations. So a former  flute and saxophone student at Goldsmith’s College, London in  the 1990s, included veteran Glasgow-born guitarist Jim Mullen on his album Palmares Fantasy – the name deriving from an escaped slaves settlement in north eastern Brazil. But the links on this record stretch much further –  the album emerged from Sean Khan’s visit to Brazil in 2016 for the British label Far Out Recordings and it was here that the music took shape. Palmares Fantasy features Brazilian muti-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, Azymuth drummer Ivan Mamao Conti,  bassist Paulo Russo and guest vocals from Brazilian chanteuse Sabrina Malheiros – daughter of Azymuth’s bass player Alex Malheiros – along with Cinematic Orchestra frontwoman Heidi Vogel. The album was released in 2018 and is recommended. Footnote: we first played these two versions of Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser back to back on the show three years ago – time to hear them again…

12. Lo Borges – Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser from A Via Lactea/ Blue Brazil Vol .1

The Sean Khan version of Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser includes lovely vocals and some interesting instrumentation, and playing it gave Derek the excuse to follow up with another play for a much earlier 1979 recording of the tune. He first discovered this take on the Blue Note compilation Blue Brazil, the first of three excellent compilations issued by the label. Lo Borges is from a family of musicians in Minas Gerais, Brazil, and is a singer, songwriter and guitarist. At the age of 19 he collaborated with Milton Nascimento on one of Neil’s all time favourite records, the album Clube da Esquina, which includes Nascimento’s haunting version of the tune. You can find out more about this milestone record here on Cosmic Jazz.

13. Marvin Gaye – Right On from What’s Going On

Marvin Gaye’s classic 1971 record What’s Going On turns 50 this month – and it remains as timely now as when first released. Gaye wove together the doo-wop harmonies and church hymns from his childhood, his outrage at the war in Vietnam, growing ecological concerns with the link between urban poverty and police violence – but still made a truly beautiful record. It’s disturbing that the subject matter remains just as relevant today (“trigger happy policing”,  “money is tighter than it’s ever been”, “what about this overcrowded land/how much more abuse from man can she stand?’) but it’s also what makes What’s Going On totally apposite for today.  So why write about this landmark recording in a jazz blog? Well, the music is suffused with jazz: whether it’s the delicate alto and tenor sax lines of Eli Fontaine or Bill Moore,  the extraordinary bass guitar improvisations of James Jamerson or the sweeping arrangements by David Van De Pitte from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, this is a unique suite of songs that blend together into a concept we need to hear again today.

Neil is listening to…

02 May 2021: from NY to SG – jazz friends old and new

In the internet age it’s relatively easy to be eclectic in your listening choices. Whilst many sites encourage a “If you like this, try this” approach – which can sometimes throw up surprises – more random browsing can reveal some startlingly serendipitous music. Add into that mix the musical brains of two long time jazz listeners and the results are below. And – as if these 14 tracks weren’t enough – there’s the return of Neil is listening to… at the end of this post with ten more YouTube clips.

1. George Benson – You Can Do It (Baby) from Nuyorican Soul

A few weeks back on Cosmic Jazz Derek was listening again to the essential 1997 album Nuyorican Soul and played I Am the Black Gold of the Sun featuring Jocelyn Brown on vocals. It had been a toss up as to whether to play that or another tune. When Neil was reminded of the album he mentioned straightaway that same number featuring George Benson on guitar and vocals and so we start this show with You Can Do It (Baby), created from an improvisation in the studio. Benson’s trademark rippling chords were taped and the next day producers ‘Little’ Louie Vega and Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez returned to the studio and created all new music underneath what they had recorded from Benson. Vega explained “Suddenly I heard jazzy flavoured chords and a Latin bass line and we also heard an African kind of rhythm.” The result is a masterpiece that starts with classical flourishes and moves into a solid extended groove.

2. Freddie Hubbard – First Light from First Light

That first choice led Derek to another old favourite that also includes a star turn from George Benson. This is on trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s album First Light produced by Creed Taylor for his CTI label in 1971. The title tune has a beautiful and sensitive solo from Benson playing with musicians that included – besides Hubbard – CTI stalwarts Herbie Hancock on Fender Rhodes, Ron Carter on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, Airto Moreira on percussion and Herbert Laws on flute. Recorded at the Van Gelder Studios with Rudy Van Gelder as the engineer, First Light is eleven minutes of blissful and serene intensity. The rest of the album may not reach the same standards but this number is a must have. The CD reissue includes an extended live version tagged onto the end of the album but – as always – the most immersive experience comes from vinyl and the Pure Pleasure label reissue from 2017 is the one to go for.

3. Eric Dolphy – Love Me from Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions

Made months before he cut his Blue Note masterpiece Out To Lunch, these newly excavated recordings from Resonance Records demonstrate just how differently Dolphy heard his music. On alto saxophone, flute or bass clarinet, Dolphy brought his brittle, multiphonic tones to pretty much everything he played, whether jazz standards, show tunes or original compositions. Critic John Tynan called his music “anti-jazz” and his abrasive style often meant that he struggled to get work. In 1964, Dolphy moved to Europe hoping to tap into the less restrictive free jazz environment but he died from undiagnosed diabetes in Berlin later that same year. Out To Lunch is, of course, a landmark recording and an essential jazz record but there are plenty of delights in this well produced 3LP/2CD set, almost all cuts taken from the same two-day session in the summer of 1963. There are two new solo alto saxophone takes of Love Me, the longing romantic ballad most famously recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1951. On each version, Dolphy rarely repeats himself, using pauses to let the echo of his sultry tone ring out into the studio. We played the first shorter take – on the second version, Dolphy stretches out a little more, but both are superb in-the-moment improvisations that capture his remarkable individual voice.

4. Rob Mazurek – Exploding Star Orchestra – Parable of Inclusion from Dimensional Stardust

Mazurek emerged from the 1990s Chicago scene and is a stalwart of one of our current favourite labels, International Anthem. He’s been involved with the Chicago Underground Duo, Isotope 217, Alien Flower Sutra and the São Paulo Underground. He’s also recorded with another International Anthem artist we have featured on Cosmic Jazz, guitarist Jeff Parker. Commissioned by the Chicago Cultural Center and the Jazz Institute of Chicago in 2005 to assemble a group representing the diversity of the city’s contemporary avant-garde, Mazurek amassed a 14-piece ensemble and began composing music for what became his Exploding Star Orchestra (ESO). For ESO’s latest outing, Mazurek channeled his arrangements through 11 musicians – Nicole Mitchell, Jeff Parker, Jaimie Branch, Joel Ross, Mikel Patrick Avery, Tomeka Reid, Chad Taylor, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Macie Stewart, Angelica Sanchez, and John Herndon – and commissioned his long-time lyrical collaborator Damon Locks to draft original texts for each of the titles and record vocal tracks. Dimensional Stardust is the outcome. There’s a focus on tight ensemble orchestration over passages of open improvisation with few obvious soloist moments. The whole thing is supported by the electro-acoustic poly-rhythmic percussion section pushing the music forwards alongside the collected ensemble. This is a record well worth exploring – find out more here on Bandcamp.

5. Kurt Elling feat Danilo Perez – Song of the Rio Grande (for Oscar & Valerie Martinez)  from Secrets Are the Best Stories

The first of our visits to three great vocalists on the show, Grammy-award winning Kurt Elling carries on the vocal experimentation of his fellow baritone Mark Murphy (more of whom later). Secrets Are The Best Stories is his new album on UK label Edition Records, featuring renowned pianist Danilo Pérez – also a member of Wayne Shorter’s celebrated quartet. Elling has pushed the envelope even further on this record, exploring the passion and the messages, political, personal, that inspire him. As usual, Elling’s sources are many and various: here he adapts the works of contemporary poets Franz Wright and Robert Bly, the 19th century abolitionist poet Frances E.W. Harper and Nobel-winning author Toni Morrison. In the powerful Song of the Rio Grande, Elling brings us back to the tragic poignancy of the image captured by journalist Julia de Luc for the New York Times and signalled at the head of this powerful article here.

6. Mark Murphy – Nothing Will Be As It Was Tomorrow from Brazil Song/Songbook

As far as Neil is concerned, Mark Murphy is the jazz vocalist: and he was lucky enough to see him live in his later years in the intimate setting of a UK jazz club. Murphy lived for nearly ten years in London and became a regular performer at Ronnie Scott’s club but it’s his 14 year run of superb recordings for the Muse label that followed his return to the US in 1972 that are the peak of his achievements on record. Any of these individual albums are worth looking out for: the recordings are excellent, the bands are often first rate (featuring such artists as Ron Carter, Richie Cole, Randy Brecker and David Sanborn) and Murphy inspires with his eclectic choice of songs, arrangements and original lyrics. It’s not easy to choose a single track to represent this consistent body of work, but Milton Nascimento’s Nothing Will Be As It Was Tomorrow from the superb Brazil Song record is as good a place as any to start. Nada será como antes first appeared on Nascimento’s magnificent Clube da Esquina album and was re-recorded for his first US release Milton, where he was accompanied by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock – listen here. 32 Jazz Records collated many of these Muse tracks for a series of compilations, including Songbook which also featured the awesome We’ll Be Together with Murphy creating a sense of anger and longing few singers could even fathom.

7. Marcus Resende & Index – My Heart from Marcus Resende & Index

Little is known about Marcos Resende & Index and so the 2021 release of their self-titled debut album from 1976 by the ever-reliable Far Out Recordings is very welcome. Resende was already musically accomplished on accordion and piano before he travelled to Lisbon in th e1960s to study medicine, but he continued to perform, even opening for saxophonist Dexter Gordon at the Cascais Jazz Festival in 1971. Returning to Brazil in 1974, he began to explore the range of electronic keyboards then being used by jazz artists like Herbie Hancock. Armed with his new Prophet 5, Yamaha CP-708 and Mini Moog , he formed a new quartet with Rubao Sabino (bass), Claudio Caribe (drums) and the late, great Oberdan Magalhaes of Banda Black Rio fame. The record was created with legendary sound engineer Toninho Barbosa – known as the ‘Brazilian Rudy Van Gelder’ (yes, him again!) whose impressive resume includes the era-defining classics Light as a Feather by Azymuth, Previsao Do Tempo by Marcos Valle and Quem E Quem by Joao Donato. Remarkably, the music was never released, but the tapes were presented to Far Out’s Joe Davis in 2018 and the album finally emerged in January this year.

8. Hamiet Bluiett – Footprints from Bearer of the Holy Flame

Neil’s final choice for this show is a performance of Wayne Shorter’s classic Footprints in a somewhat self-indulgent 1994 live version by baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett. It may extend itself rather too much but it’s great to hear Bluiett honking away alongside the underrated pianist John Hicks, AACM member bassist Fred Hopkins, prolific drummer Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith and percussionist Chief Bey who appeared on albums by Art Blakey and Babatunde Olatunji.  After playing with Charles Mingus and Sam Rivers, Bluiett was most well known as a member of the World Saxophone Quartet with Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and David Murray. Here they are on the title track from their 1994 album I Heard That.  The rather unwieldy baritone saxophone may be less well known as a solo instrument in jazz but its deep, dark tone is addictive and famed soloists include Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Ronnie Cuber and Serge Chaloff, the first and greatest bebop baritone player. Here he is with the classic Stairway to the Stars from his 1956 Capitol album Blue Serge. Chaloff had a tragically short life, dying at 33 in a Massachusetts hospital, with his baritone sax and a pet kinkajou alongside him.

9. Jerzy Malek – Culmination from Black Sheep

Jerzy Malek is a Polish trumpet/flugelhorn player who we were introduced to via Steve’s Jazz Sounds, that excellent source of new jazz from continental Europe. Black Sheep, released in 2019, is Malek’s eighth album and features the young Aga Derlak on piano – another distinguished player on the Polish scene. The Polish Jazz Blogspot describes the album as closer to the American jazz mainstream than the contemporary Polish one but this only shows how Polish musicians can be “completely free of any inferiority complexes in comparison to what is happening across the pond.” Quite right too. We continue to be so impressed by the endless variety of new jazz music coming from Poland.

10. Quindependence – Song for E from Circumstances

This was the debut album released in 2017 by a young Polish jazz ensemble of five members with sax/flute, trumpet, piano, drums, bass. It appears that there have not been any follow-up releases. There are seven tunes, four of which are original compositions. Two come from bass player Milosz Skwirut and pianist Michal Salmon and two are arrangements of French composer Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes, a loose suite of three piano compositions. Typical of Satie, gnossienne – which seems to derive from gnosis (or knowledge) – was a word that did not exist before Satie used it. The music of Quindependence is interesting, not always predictable and with a high standard of musicianship and complexity. There’s a genuinely soulful, gospelly ensemble feel to this music – tight arrangements, soaring trumpet from Dominik Borek and lyrical soprano sax from Krzysztof Mateiski – that’s nowhere more apparent than on the opening and closing tracks, including Song for E.

11. Chester Thompson – Weird Harold from Powerhouse 

This is from another of the Black Jazz Records re-releases from Real Gone Music, who are working their way through all twenty Black Jazz albums released initially between 1971-75. All will be available on vinyl and all are remastered at Gotta Groove Records in Cleveland, Ohio. For a look at ten of the best of these records, explore this Vinyl Factory feature on the label or – better still – check out your local record store for copies. One of Neil’s favourites in Singapore, The Analog Vault (see image above), still has a good selection available – follow them on Instagram and check out their recent display. The Analog Vault website is an excellent source for jazz and beyond – store managers Leon and Nick chat about some of their current favourites on this video – starting with Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders and Phil Ranelin! This 1971 debut recording from Chester Thompson is in the fine Hammond B3-swinging tradition of Jimmy Smith circa Back at the Chicken Shack, although on Weird Harold and the title cut there’s a more forward-thinking jazz-funk sound that leans towards Thompsons’s time with LA’s Tower of Power. He gained plenty of experience in how to generate such emotions as a long-standing player with Tower of Power and Santana. Saxophonist Rudolph Johnson, another Black Jazz Records artist, appears on Powerhouse along with drummer Raymond Pounds – who also played with Pharaoh Sanders, Stevie Wonder and the Pointer Sisters – and trombonist Al Hall whose playing credits included Johnny Hammond, Freddie Hubbard and Eddie Harris (all Cosmic Jazz favourites).

12. Terry Callier – Can’t Catch the Trane (original demo) from Life Lessons: the Best of Terry Callier

Derek has been listening to the music of singer Terry Callier for the first time in a while, following some reminiscent posts on Facebook reminding him that it was time to re-visit. Callier’s music crossed the boundaries of jazz, folk, blues, soul and funk and he was strongly influenced by the work of John Coltrane, as evidenced by our choice this week. In the 1970s Callier recorded three critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful albums, each produced by Charles Stepney, famed for working with Earth, Wind and Fire, Rotary Connection and Ramsey Lewis. Occasional Rain (1972), What Color Is Love (1973) and I Just Can’t Help Myself (1973) have all been reissued and are worthy of investigation.  Can’t Catch the Trane can be found on the last of these and it’s a powerful tune that is typical of the album. The Coltranish sax solo is by Don Myrick who went on to become a first call session musician for many soul/R and B artists. His closing tenor solo on Earth Wind and Fire’s Runnin‘ (one of Neil’s favourite EWF tunes) was nominated for a Grammy Award. Callier grew up in a Chicago project housing and was childhood friends with Curtis Mayfield, Major Lance and Jerry Butler, but his resonant baritone and love of jazz took him in a different direction, with I Just Can’t Help Myself even featuring a lush version of Duke Ellington’s Satin Doll. Callier left the music scene in the early 1980s and took courses in computer programming before graduating with a sociology degree from the University of Chicago. He re-emerged from obscurity in the late 1980s, when British DJs discovered his old recordings and began to play his songs in clubs and on the radio. Both Neil and Derek remember hearing his music on UK radio stations at this time and in the 1990s he returned to recording, releasing the album Timepeace in 1998 on Gilles Peterson’s then Talkin’ Loud label. This album is definitely worth looking out for – check out the wonderful Keep Your Heart Right as an example of his late style.  His final album on the UK Mr Bongo label was a collaboration with Robert del Naja from Bristol triphoppers Massive Attack and included Live With Me, recorded in an even better string-drenched version by the band with vocals by Callier and released on their Collected album.

13. The John Coltrane Quartet – Song of the Underground Railroad from The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions 

The Terry Callier tune provided one play on the notion of a train so here is another from John Coltrane himself. The Underground Railroad was the metaphorical description for the safe routes by which the enslaved of the Southern states of the US could escape to the North and at the time of the recording in 1961 Coltrane had been researching spirituals and nineteenth-century folksongs. This was Coltrane’s first record on the Impulse! label with whom he would stay for the rest of his recording career and it was also his first visit to Englewood Cliffs, Rudy Van Gelder’s celebrated New Jersey studio. The quartet was made up of McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Elvin Jones on drums and, yes, two other people already mentioned in these notes made a contribution – Rudy Van Gelder as recording engineer, with orchestration from Eric Dolphy on some tracks.

14. N’Dambi – Ode 2 Nina from Tunin’ Up & Consignin’

We like to end the show with artists and tunes that stretch musical boundaries and vocalist/composer N’Dambi fits the bill. If you have not come across her check out the 2002 2CD set Tunin Up & Consignin from which Ode 2 Nina comes. Musically, N’Dambi stretches across soul/R’n’B and on this album definitely jazz. Ode 2 Nina is, of course, a dedication to Nina Simone and is delivered with soulful power and emotion, all with an amazing vocal range. The album is a mix of live and studio recordings and  contains many other surprises and highlights. It is not just jazz but – as you know – that’s how we like it on Cosmic Jazz.

Neil is listening to…

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.

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…

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

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


  1. John Coltrane – Lonnie’s Lament from Crescent

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

2. Kazia Pietrzko Trio – Episode II from Ephemeral Pleasures 

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

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

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

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

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

5. Jack DeJohnette – Salsa for Luisito from Sound Travels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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