Cosmic Jazz this time round presents a much shorter show but one that pays tribute to two artists we have admired and revered since the start of the show, over fifteen years ago. Mtume and Lloyd McNeil both died earlier this month and we honour them with four wonderful tunes.
1. Mtume – Yebo from Rebirth Cycle
We begin our tribute to drummer and percussionist James Mtume, by playing the sort of tune we often use to end the show. It’s not jazz but R’n’B, and it was a bonafide global chart hit in 1983 from a former jazz musician who ranged across the spectrum of contemporary, spiritual jazz and played on numerous records, including with Miles Davis at his most ‘out there’ electric phase in the 1970s. But Mtume was much more than an accomplished jazz sideman. no less. Born James Forman in 1928, Mtume was the son of saxophonist Jimmy Heath (who died last year at the age of 93) but he was raised by his stepfather – also James Forman, a saxophonist who was nicknamed ‘Hen Gates’ – which in turn became the name of a tune on Mtume’s hugely influential Alkebu-Lan (Land of the Blacks) album. For more on this, check out this Cosmic Jazz post from August this year. The drummer actually made his recorded debut with a remarkable lineup: the album Kawaida (1970) was credited to his uncle Albert Heath, but four of the five tracks were written by Mtume and the band included Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry and Buster Williams. This is a superb record and has been recently re-released – check out Maulana here.
Back to the 1970s, and when Mtume moved to New York be began to get ‘A list’ work, appearing on records by McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Lonnie Liston Smith and more with his writing becoming an ever more important feature – check out the Lonnie Liston Smith version of Mtume’s beautiful tune Sais (Egypt). Mtume was then signed by Miles Davis (who knew a good drummer when he saw one), performing and recording on landmark releases like On the Corner (1972), Get Up With It (1974) and the live in Japan records from 1975, Agharta and Pangaea. Mtume was also recording with his own ensembles – which brings us back to Alkebu-Lan (recorded live at the East Club in downtown Brooklyn in 1972), and the studio-based follow up Rebirth Cycle (recorded in 1974 but released three years later). Alkebu-Lan is claimed as the original name for the continent of Africa and this important record is full of references – both spoken and musical – to African-American origins. The Umoja Ensemble was fairly large with 15 players – and result in this live recording is thick and rather muddy – but the message of a spiritual freedom is clear. The music is an amalgam of different jazz genres – you can hear call and response chants, big band jazz, be-bop and free jazz all meshed together in a kind of organised chaos. This is music to immerse yourself into and emerge with an understanding of the way in which Black consciousness and jazz have intertwined over the years. Rebirth Cycle (1977) is a better album in many ways: there’s an extended take on Sais and a remarkable lineup of musicians, including Mtume’s father Jimmy Heath, vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and saxophonist Azar Lawrence. Yebo features basically the Miles Davis band of the time, along with Tawatha Agee on vocals. This not an easy record to find and it has never been reissued on either CD or vinyl – the only copy on offer on Discogs is priced at £300 – so Neil will be hanging on to his treasured copy!
2. Miles Davis – Mtume from Live in Tokyo 1975
In a 2018 interview with fellow percussionist Adam Rudolph, Mtume noted that when he was recruited to Miles’s band, Davis had said to him “You are my Tony” referring, of course, to drummer Tony Williams. Mtume was influential in extending the range of the hand drummer in a band: instead of providing just additional colour, the percussionist was literally at the centre of the stage – in live performance with Davis, the two musicians would play side by side. There are just a few Miles Davis compositions simply titled after the musicians that inspired them – John McLaughlin, Dual Mr Tillman Anthony – and Mtume. We’ve chosen a short version from the live in Japan concerts that produced the Agharta and Pangea albums but the original 15 minute version is here on Get Up With It. You can hear how the percussionist is at the centre of the music alongside the wah wah trumpet of Davis.
3. Lloyd McNeil – Salvation Army from Treasures
Flautist and more Lloyd McNeil (1935-2021) deserves recognition from Cosmic Jazz. He was not just a jazz artist much admired by us, but also a painter and friend of Picasso who designed his own album covers, a music anthropologist, a poet and a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The album Treasures was released originally in 1980 on McNeil’s own Baobab label in New York. but – like five other of his albums – has been re-released in all formats by the British label Soul Jazz Records. Treasures combines deep spiritual jazz with Brazilian rhythms and melodies, McNeil having spent many years involved with Brazilian musicians. This album includes the Brazilian musicians Nana Vasconcelos, Portinho and Dom Salvador alongside American jazz artist, including Cecil McBee (who also appeared on Yebo above). The tune Salvation Army illustrates the fusion perfectly with the percussion of Vasconcelos to the fore alongside Lloyd McNeil’s jazz flute.
4. The Lloyd McNeill Quartet – Home Rule from Washington Suite
Washington Suite is another Lloyd McNeill album available through Soul Jazz Records – on coloured vinyl too! It is a deeply spiritual album, first released in 1970 on another of McNeil’s labels – Asha Records in Washington DC. Originally commissioned for the Capital Ballet Company, it’s another example of how McNeill was active in multiple spheres. He grew up in the years of the Civil Rights Movement and the ideals of the Movement are imbued in his music. He was one of a number of US jazz musicians who moved to France in the 1960s which is how, while playing music on the Mediterranean coast, he met Picasso. Over the years he played with a number of prominent musicians, including Nina Simone, Eric Dolphy, Mulatu Asatke and Sabu Martinez. McNeill’s global travels took him to Brazil and West Africa informing and influencing both his music and teaching. He was a man with an impressive range of abilities and achievements who used them to promote the ideals of many Black activists at the time of self-sufficiency and empowerment.
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 TheIndependent 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.
Cosmic Jazz this time includes some deep, highly serious and at times heavy music before moving to some more restrained sounds but keeping that spiritual feel and ending, as ever, with some boundary-stretching music.
Eddie Harris – Free Speech from Artist’s Choice the Eddie Harris Anthology/Free Speech
The work of Chicago-born multi-instrumentalist, composer, activist and arranger Eddie Harris has had many admirers – and quite a few detractors too. Harris liked to experiment and try different things but his ventures into jazz-funk, rock – and even comedy – as well as his popularity with the young jazz-dancers back in the day, were too much for many. He was also a best-selling jazz artist with Swiss Movement – the live recording of the performance he gave with Les McCann and apparently without any time to rehearse, at the 1969 Montreux Jazz Festival. Deservedly one of the top-selling jazz records ever, Swiss Movement is two artists at an artistic peak – listen to the wonderful Compared to What in a rare piece of black and white video from the festival. Other Eddie Harris hits include the perennial favourite Listen Here and Freedom Jazz Dance, famously recorded by Miles Davis on the Miles Smiles album. The choice that impressively opens this show is the title tune from Harris’s Free Speech album of 1970: it is important music with an important message and Harris is playing both sax and trumpet. Do not listen to the detractors, listen to the music.
2. William Parker – Raining on the Moon from Raining on the Moon
The Village Voice named him “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time” and DownBeat has called him “one of the most adventurous and prolific bandleaders in jazz”. We are talking here of bass player, composer and bandleader William Parker. He has also published conversations he has had with other musicians and thinkers on spiritualism, race and culture and written and published poetry. Parker has released recently a mighty 10-disc record called Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World and he’s now released two trio albums, one of which should be on the next show. Raining on the Moon was recorded in 2001 and features Leena Conquest with earthy, strident vocals amongst the shrieks of sound emerging from the alto sax of Rob Brown. The music sounds like free jazz yet it’s also very accessible. In its review of the record Pop Matters provided an apt comment: “he proves once and for all that any divisions between mainstream jazz and its more avantgarde brethren need only be drawn in the minds of myopic listeners”. We second that.
3. Rudolph Johnson – The Second Coming from The Second Coming
There are more Black Jazz Records re-releases from Real Gone Music due in October. One of them is the 1973 free jazz album The Second Coming from saxophonist Rudolph Johnson. If you think from what we have played so far that Black Jazz Records was just about jazz/funk and genre stretching jazz, think again. It is a fiery, explosive piece that continued and contributed to the Coltrane legacy . It was his second album for Black Jazz so in that way the title is appropriate but the title also has a spiritual/messianic meaning and this interpretation is definitely appropriate to the music. Recorded by the label’s key producer Gene Russell, The Second Coming is a stronger album than Johnson’s first for the label and is deserving of a much wider audience than it received first time round.
4. Walter Bishop Jr. – N’dugu’s Prayer from Keeper of My Soul
Also re-released in October on Black Jazz Records is this gem from Walter Bishop Jr. – another tune with a messianic/spiritual quality to match both the title of the tune and the title of the album: a spirituality owed in part to Walter Bishop’s studies with yogi Parmahansa Yogananda. Flautist/sax player Hubert Laws has a big part to play in the album but this tune features the pounding calls of vibraphonist Woody Murray. The bass player is Gerald Brown who three years later found himself auditioning for Marvin Gaye before appearing on Gaye’s 1977 record Live at the London Palladium. You can hear him here on Distant Lover. Like all these re-releases from Black Jazz, Keeper of My Soul is available on vinyl with limited editions of coloured vinyl, exclusive to indie record stores. The remastered sound is good too and is faithful to the well recorded originals – and the new liner notes by Pat Thomas are a useful bonus. Get your copies now before they disappear!
5. Nubya Garcia – Pace from SOURCE
Neil has long recognised the significance of the music of Nubya Garcia. Derek was not so certain, but after hearing her live on BBC Radio 3 (and then two days later on BBC 4 television) at the Proms concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London, he was mightily impressed. Not so long ago the Proms were the reserve of the finest in classical music but now jazz gets an airing. This concert was a good illustration of why this is needed. The music was contemporary, refreshing and original drawing on a range of influences starting with reggae beats and ending with cumbia inflections with much in between. The quartet line-up of Garcia on sax, Joe Armon-Jones on keyboards and piano, Daniel Casimir on bass and Sam Jones on drums was augmented from time to time with trumpet and a trio of vocalists. The combinations worked so well, provided surprise and interest and fitted seamlessly into the Albert Hall setting. The concert is available via BBC Sounds (audio) and iPlayer (video). Look out too for a remix version of her album SOURCE, also due in October. At the Royal Albert Hall, Garcia included the tune Pace which – as she explained – was composed pre-pandemic to remind her to slow down from the frantic and work-heavy pace of life. 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 cumbia through to Ethio-jazz and more. The thing is, this all works and so SOURCE comes highly recommended. A new single has already emerged from the scheduled remix album – a Kaidi Tatham take on La cumbia me esta llamando (feat. La Perla) and it’s excellent. Check it out here.
6. Mtume and the Umoja Ensemble – Baba Hengates from Alkebu-Lan (Land of the Blacks)
Percussionist, songwriter, and producer James Mtume might be best known for his R&B/disco classic Juicy Fruit from 1983 but his career has encompassed pioneering acoustic and electric avant-garde jazz, quiet storm classics and post-disco club hits, as well as compositions for film and television. Mtume was raised by pianist James ‘Hen Gates’ Forman (hence the title of this tune) but he is the biological son of saxophonist, Jimmy Heath – see the CJ show from 29 February 2020. After moving to California, Mtume joined the Black nationalist group US Organization whose founder Maulana Karenga created the Kwanzaa national holiday. The group was founded on what Karenga called the seven principles of African Heritage which he summarised as a communitarian philosophy: Unity (Umoja), Self-Determination (Kujichagulia), Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima), Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa), Purpose (Nia), Creativity (Kuumba), and Faith (Imani). Mtume made his recorded debut with something of a stellar lineup: the album Kawaida (1970) was credited to his uncle Albert Heath, but four of the five tracks were written by Mtume and the band included Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry and Buster Williams. Here’s Maulana from this recently re-released record. A move to New York saw Mtume credited on a slew of records by McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Lonnie Liston Smith and between 1971 and 1975 he performed and recorded with Miles Davis on landmark releases like On the Corner and the live in Japan records Agharta and Pangaea (the image above is with Miles in concert in 1973). Mtume was also recording with his own ensembles – which brings us back to Alkebu-Lan (recorded live at the East Club in downtown Brooklyn in 1972), and the studio-based follow up Rebirth Cycle (recorded in 1974 but released three years later). Alkebu-Lan is claimed as the original name for the continent of Africa and this important record is full of references – both spoken and musical – to African-American origins. The Umoja Ensemble was fairly large with 15 players – and result in this live recording is thick and rather muddy – but the message of a spiritual freedom is clear. The music is an amalgam of different jazz genres – you can hear call and response chants, big band jazz, be-bop and free jazz all meshed together in a kind of organised chaos. This is music to immerse yourself into and emerge with an understanding of the way in which Black consciousness and jazz have intertwined over the years. For another take on Baba Hengates, try this excellent Buddy Terry version from his 1972 Pure Dynamite album for Bob Shad’s Mainstream label.
7. Mark de Clive-Lowe – The Offering from Heritage I
Heritage was was the first installment of a two-album set from pianist, composer and live remixer Mark de Clive-Lowe. With a Japanese and New Zealand background, these two records were the first time de Clive-Lowe had reflected his Japanese cultural roots in music, working in collaboration with his LA band – Josh Johnson, Teodross Avery, Brandon Eugene Owens, Brandon Combs and Carlos Niño from the Build An Ark collective. In addition to his own compositions, he interprets traditional Japanese folk songs, one on each album – with a delicate solo piano rendition of Akatombo on Heritage I. The material for both albums was recorded over three nights of live concerts at LA’s legendary Blue Whale jazz club in Little Tokyo with one follow up studio session where the live group sound is tweaked with MdC-L’s arsenal of samplers, keyboards, drum machines and grand piano to create a personal take on both jazz and what Japan – and being Japanese – means to him. We think Heritage could well be de Clive-Lowe’s best work to date and recommend both records.
8. Matt Carmichael – Where Will the River Flow from Where Will the River Flow
Tenor saxophonist Matt Carmichael may be only just starting out in his career, but Where Will the River Flow is already a very assured debut. Just 21, Carmichael was a BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year in 2020 and on this fine record he draws on Scottish folk traditions in a similar way to another of our favourite young musicians from Scotland, Fergus McCreadie. Indeed, McCreadie appears on WWtRF and it’s clear that he and Carmichael work well together – check out this live take on Spey and their fast flowing unison playing. As with McCreadie’s most recent album, Cairn on Edition Records, Carmichael’s original compositions are strong on melody – particularly noticeable on our choice, the title track which again features McCreadie and a torrent of tumbling runs on piano. Thanks once more to Scots music promoter Rob Adams (Twitter: @rabjourno) for this introduction: Matt Carmichael is the real deal – an exciting talent and already an original voice.
9. James Brandon Lewis – Fallen Flowers from Jesup Wagon
We have been playing tunes from the James Brandon Lewis album Jesup Wagon, an record that celebrates and invokes the spirit of the artist, botanist, ecologist, aesthete, musician, teacher and seer Dr. George Washington Carver (1864-1943). “Many are the tears I have shed,” Carver wrote, “because I would break the roots or flowers of some of my pets while removing them from the ground.” When he could not preserve them, he drew them. The liner notes tell us that the track “Fallen Flowers compels us to submit to the beauty, complexity, vulnerability and unknowability of the natural world.” The tune ends with a poetic meditation on “life and death, on resilience in the face of colonial violence, on the regenerative and destructive qualities of water, on tears shed for fallen flowers.” It’s powerful, moving and evocative – and this is another recommended Cosmic Jazz new release.
10. Alfa Mist feat. Lex Amor – Mind the Gap from Bring Backs
The tradition of the programme is to end with something that crosses boundaries and this week it comes via another 2021 release that we have featured on the show – namely Bring Backs from London-based self-taught musician/composer/producer Alfa Mist. Recorded in London with Jamie Leeming (guitar), Kaya Thomas-Dyke (bass and vocals), Jamie Houghton (drums), and Johnny Woodham (trumpet), the album is stitched together as a suite, one composition rolling into the next. As with Nubya Garcia’s album, there’s a melange of different musical and cultural influences at work here, but this record emphasises the hip hop and rap influences of Alfa Mist’s youth as he discovered jazz through the samples used by his favourite producers. “There’s no access to jazz where I’m from,” he says. “There’s no way I would have come to it without finding those hip-hop records and wanting to understand them,” The tune Mind the Gap uses the the London Tube warning at certain stations to evoke the gaps and the struggles in life “we all rise and decline.” It features Lex Amor, a British rapper with Nigerian roots who has her own release, Government Tropicana which you can pick up here on her Bandcamp site.
Brazilian music and music influenced by the country are key elements of this edition of Cosmic Jazz, but there is more too: the sounds of Trinidad and Tobago, a Kiwi in London and an essential Blue Note. More than this, there are links aplenty across the music – as indicated by the (see below) references throughout! Listen to the show by clicking on the Mixcloud button (top left or below):
Sivuca – Ain’t No Sunshine from Sivuca
We begin with a track that’s ironically rather sunny, and a perennial favourite – Sivuca’s take on the Bill Withers classic Ain’t No Sunshine. The self-titled Sivuca re-release from Real Gone Music may still be available in your local record store and, if you’re lucky, in purple or forest green vinyl. The gnomish Severino Dias de Oliveira (aka Sivuca) was a Brazilian virtuoso on accordion, guitar, and keyboards but it’s his singing style that’s so engaging. This album was originally released in 1973 on the Vanguard label and reissued for the first time last year. It’s worth searching for – there’s a great version of Edu Lobo’s classic Ponteio too (and see below).
2 and 3. Raul De Souza Generations Band – Nethinha Aura/Passarimfrom Plenitude
Virtuoso trombonist and composer Raul De Souza was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1934 and has had a music career spanning six decades both in Brazil and the US. In his 20s he played with the likes of Sergio Mendes, Milton Nascimento, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim. After moving to Los Angeles in 1973 his collaborators included Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Jack DeJohnette, Jaco Pastorius and Herbie Hancock. He has recently been working with a group of younger musicians who bring modern sounds and fresh energy to his new album Plenitude. It is an intercontinental group that includes young European musicians alongside the now 86 year old De Souza. The band originally came together in 2017 for a Hamburg jazz festival and has developed a blend of funk with traditional and contemporary Brazilian jazz. The album includes compositions by De Souza, George Duke, Chico Buarque, Airto Moreira and a take on Wayne Shorter’s Beauty and the Beast (more see below).
4. Joe Barbieri feat. Alberto Massico – Vedi Napoli E Poi Canta from Tratto Da Una Storia Vera
You can hear Brazilian influences in the work of Naples-based Italian jazz singer-songwriter Joe Barbieri, whose music we like here at Cosmic Jazz. Translated into English, the album title means ‘Based On A True Story’. Barbieri has created his true story in a personal record based around great songs that are both richly diverse and deeply intimate. With thirty years of a life as artist and musician there are plenty of stories to tell. The album was released back in April of this year and was preceded by the upbeat single Promemoria which we have already played and enjoyed on the show. Barbieri says “The truth is a treasure chest that is difficult to unlock,” but he’s certainly opened the box on this new record.
5. Da Lata – Jungle Kitten from Jungle Kitten/Asking Eyes
Da Lata (muti-instrumentalist and producer Chris Franck and DJ Patrick Forge) return with a 12in cover of the underground classic Jungle Kitten by Manfredo Fest, featuring Kaidi Tatham on synths. It’s a rare thing, but this version really does improve on the original – check that out here. Previous albums by De Lata include the excellent debut Songs from the Tin (2000) and Serious (2003). Their take on Ponteio was released by Far Out Recordings back in 1998 appearing on the excellent Brazilian Love Affair 2 compilation and the corresponding Love Affair 3 also included a De Lata take on Os Escravos de Jo (Jo’s Slaves), a Milton Nascimento/Fernando Brant composition. It’s worth remembering that Brazil was the last country in the so-called developed world to outlaw slavery (in 1888), having trafficked more than five million slaves over the centuries. Even today, most African-Brazilians live as second-class citizens, working in service industries that perpetuate their relative poverty while their white counterparts are afforded more opportunities through education and work. It’s a dark legacy and one that is often explored in Brazilian music by artists such as Milton Nascimento and Jorge Ben. The image below shows the enslaved on a fazenda (coffee plantation) in 1885. This excellent Red Bull Music feature is a good introduction to this influence.
6. Milton Nascimento – Ponta de Areio (Epilogo) from Ultimo Trem
Speaking of Milton Nascimento, this beautiful tune is another Brazilian classic and appears in this version on Nascimento’s Ultimo Trem – a concept album and the soundtrack to a 1981 ballet. Ultimo Trem (or Last Train) deals with the closing of a railroad line connecting the mining communities within the Minas Gerais state – where Nascimento grew up – to the coastal urban centres of Rio and São Paulo. Pianists Wagner Tiso and João Donato both appear on Minas, and vocalist Naná Caymmi is just exquisite on Ponta de Areia, named for the last stop on the train line. There are some train-whistle effects and some spoken-word narration, but really the record is a collection of gorgeous vocals and Brazilian folk melodies. Nascimento and saxophonist Wayne Shorter (see below again) collaborated on the excellent Native Dancer which includes another version of Ponta de Areia. Neil first heard (and bought) this record on its release in 1975 and it’s been a favourite on his turntable ever since. Interestingly, the normally very reliable Penguin Guide to Jazz got their review of the record completely wrong, calling it “a bland samba setting which does more to highlight Nascimento’s vague and uncommitted vocal delivery than the leader’s saxophone playing”! Don’t be influenced by this – the album is just as essential as Shorter’s Juju (see below once more).
7. Myele Manzanza – Portobello Superhero from Crisis & Opportunity Vol 1 – London
New Zealand drummer Myele Manzanza is a jazz artist who dissolves the borders between modern jazz and electronic beat production. He’s previously released three solo albums and racked up tours and collaborations with Jordan Rakei, Theo Parrish, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Recloose and Amp Fiddler amongst others. His base is now London and he’s performed at both The Jazz Café and Ronnie Scott’s. Crisis & Opportunity’ Vol.1 – London features young London based talent including Ashley Henry (piano), James Copus (trumpet), George Crowley (tenor saxophone), Benjamin Muralt (bass) with additional contributions from fellow New Zealander Mark de Clive-Lowe (synths).
8. Anthony Joseph – Calling England Home from The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for their Lives
Anthony Joseph is an award winning Trinidad-born poet, novelist, academic and musician. He is the author of four poetry collections and three novels including the 2018 novel Kitch: A Fictional Biography of a Calypso Icon detailing the life and times of Lord Kitchener – calypso performer, passenger on the EmpireWindrush and writer and performer of London Is the Place for Me. Joseph has released seven critically acclaimed records, including his most recent The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running For Their Lives, the title a quote from fellow Trinidadian C L R James’ Black Jacobins, a play about the Haitian revolution. This new 2021 record is a historical interrogation as searing as it is sentimental, in which Joseph details his own struggles along with the tribulations of those who came before him. Ambitious indeed, but the result is a cohesive, forward-looking jazz record that records both crushing oppression and real hope for change. Nowhere is this clearer than on Calling England Home, where Joseph recounts different stories of immigrants who arrived in England at different times. Each person, he says, had a difficult relationship with the idea that England was their home. The haunting instrumentation reflects this with saxophonists Jason Yarde, Colin Webster, and Shabaka Hutchings playing over the powerful rhythm section and Joseph manipulating his voice as he details the experiences of his characters – Black and been here since 1949, I’ve lived here longer than home and How long do you have to live in a place/Before you can call it ‘home’? As well as an obvious link to Barbadian poet Kamau Brathwaite, Joseph calls up the spirit of Gil Scott Heron on tracks like Swing Praxis and The Gift and indeed Rod Youngs, the drummer on these tracks, collaborated with Gil Scott Heron on his excellent Spirits album – the title track an interpretation of Coltrane’s Spiritual, included here in the epic live version from the Village Vanguard.
9. Anthony Joseph – Milligan (The Ocean) from People of the Sun
It made sense to include a track from Joseph’s previous album, 2018’s People of the Sun. Joseph is now London-based, but for this record he returned to Trinidad and recorded the album with local Port of Spain musicians. Rather than jazz, the sounds here are very much of the steelpan, alongside more R&B and soul overtones although UK saxophonist Jason Yarde also appears. Along with longtime cohorts bassist Andrew John and drummer David Bitan, the Ibis String Ensemble add a further richness to some tracks including Milligan (The Ocean) – itself a kind of magic realist poetic narrative about Milligan and a volcanic eruption. Like all of Joseph’s lyrics there’s a poetic sensibility here that bears repeated listening.
10. Jazzmeia Horn – Free Your Mind from Love & Liberation
Jazzmeia Horn has been busy during lockdown with an online presence and it seemed time to return to her music. Besides, a tune called Free Your Mind from an record entitled Love & Liberation seemed to be an appropriate way to follow Anthony Joseph. This album, her second, was released in 2020 and contains some original compositions, including Free Your Mind, as opposed to her first album A Social Call released in 2017 which included interpretations of classic tunes. Derek has enjoyed both albums. Horn was born in Dallas, Texas but in 2009 moved to New York, establishing a reputation there as a dynamic singer before her breakthrough as the winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition. Both albums received Grammy nominations, and undoubtedly Horn is a singer to watch.
11. Alfa Mist – Run Outs from Bring Backs
The new Alfa Mist album Bring Backs is a self-written and produced album from the UK producer and self taught pianist who has reached out from his hip-hop background to explore jazz. He has followed his own path over five years to emerge as a distinct talent from among the burgeoning London jazz scene. The album Bring Backs is his most detailed exploration of his London upbringing in musical form. Perhaps the raps, which form an important part of this story, may not appeal to some jazz listeners but there are instrumental tunes too. Bring Backs was recorded with a core band of long-time collaborators. including Jamie Leeming (guitar), Kaya Thomas-Dyke (bass and vocals), with Jamie Houghton on drums and Johnny Woodham on trumpet.
12. Artemis – Goddess of the Hunt from Artemis
Artemis is a jazz supergroup with a debut Blue Note album released last year and featured on several previous Cosmic Jazz shows. Their musical director is pianist Renee Rosnes and the group includes also clarinetist Anat Cohen, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Noriko Ueda, drummer Alison Miller and vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant. They named themselves after the Greek goddess Artemis, the daughter of Zeus and Leto, the twin sister of Apollo, the patron saint and protector of young girls and the goddess of hunting, wild nature and chastity. Their album has been a widely acclaimed, as was their performance at the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival – and it’s a recommended buy on vinyl, CD or download.
13. Wayne Shorter – Juju from Juju
Recent shows have ended with tunes that Derek has classified as ‘jazzy not jazz’ but there was no need to end the show like that this week, as much of the programme confidently veered in that direction. Artemis and Wayne Shorter put that process in reverse by ending Cosmic Jazz with tunes that are solidly jazz. The choice of Wayne Shorter was inspired by what had gone before on the show – particularly the Raul De Souza album, which includes both a short De Souza dedication To Wayne and a Wayne Shorter composition Beauty and the Beast. It was appropriate, therefore, to end the show with the man himself. Shorter’s second album for Blue Note, Juju was the first to showcase both his compositional talents and his developing personal style. Although his backing band here are Coltrane’s then rhythm section (Elvin Jones on drums, Reggie Workman on bass and McCoy Tyner on piano) this is very much Shorter’s album and a clear indication of the direction he would take, both in his work with Miles Davis and string of superlative records for Blue Note. From the African-influenced title track (with its short, hypnotic, repetitive phrases) to the mesmerising interplay between Tyner and Shorter on Mahjong, the album (which is all Shorter originals) is full of ideas that draws on the many influences that make Shorter probably the foremost composer in modern jazz. Incidentally, Shorter’s Beauty and the Beastappeared on the aforementioned Native Dancer record making a fitting end to the many links in this edition of Cosmic Jazz. More great music soon…
Welcome to a reflective Cosmic Jazz. This week we are mourning the loss of three music legends – Chick Corea, Janet Lawson and Johnny Pacheco. Our title is taken from Keith Jarrett’s album of the same name which includes the reflective The Mourning of a Star. We begin with Chick Corea and three tunes that reflect his prolific output over five decades. Corea was born in 1941 and – despite the compositional link with Spain – was of Italian descent. Composer, keyboardist, bandleader and – with 500 Miles High, La Fiesta,Windows, Spain and more – the creator of modern jazz standards, Corea had a long and distinguished career in music.
As a member of Miles Davis’ band in the late 1960s (along with luminaries Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Dave Holland and Tony Williams) he was there at the birth of what is often called jazz fusion – but is really just jazz stretching out to encompass other musical genres, as it has always done. Among the most influential jazz pianists along with Hancock, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett, Corea had a unmistakable style that was influenced by his Mediterranean roots and those pianists he most admired – particularly Bill Evans and Bud Powell. The early trio masterpiece Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (1968) was re-released in the Blue Note Tone Poets series (see this Cosmic Jazz post) and is highly recommended as a starting point for CJers new to Corea’s music. This is the superb title track which – in the first minute alone – includes many musical motifs that surfaced again and again in Corea’s writing. There is a joyousness in his piano playing that clearly reflected his sunny personality. Aware of his late cancer diagnosis, a Facebook message was posted by Corea on 12 February:
“I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright. It is my hope that those who have an inkling to play, write, perform or otherwise, do so. If not for yourself then for the rest of us. It’s not only that the world needs more artists, it’s also just a lot of fun.
“And to my amazing musician friends who have been like family to me as long as I’ve known you: It has been a blessing and an honor learning from and playing with all of you. My mission has always been to bring the joy of creating anywhere I could, and to have done so with all the artists that I admire so dearly—this has been the richness of my life.”
1. Miles Davis – In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time from In A Silent Way
So where do we start with our tribute to this keyboard master? It has to be that most influential of Miles Davis records, In A Silent Way. Released in 1969, this music was revolutionary for a number of key reasons. It took Davis on a journey away from the technical mastery of his second quintet and into completely new territory. In January 1969 Corea was already a core member of the new Davis group. with his ring modulated Hohner keyboard at the centre of the new sound. You can clearly hear its use on the Isle of Wight concert video from 1970 (Keith Jarrett is on the other keyboard). In A Silent Way simply transformed thinking about what jazz could be and also introduced Teo Macero’s studio manipulations into the music. The result was an album that will never date. It sounds timeless. As Rolling Stone writer Lester Bangs noted “It is part of a transcendental new music which flushes categories away and, while using musical devices from all styles and cultures, is defined mainly by its deep emotion and unaffected originality.” We featured the Joe Zawinul composition In A Silent Way that bookends the second side of the record, with It’s About That Time sandwiched in between. This is one of Zawinul’s most beautiful pieces and has influenced all genres of contemporary music from ambient through to dance. The ethereal beauty of the music carries all before it. To listen to In A Silent Way for the first time is to experience an epiphany.
2. John McLaughlin – Waltz for Bill Evans from My Goals Beyond
McLaughlin’s guitar contributes much of the atmosphere of In a Silent Way and he included a short Corea tune on his My Goal’s Beyond record from 1971. Both musicians would count Bill Evans as a musical influence and so we featured Waltz for Bill Evans, itself a nod to the classic Evans tune Waltz for Debby, itself now a jazz standard like Corea’s Spain. My Goals’s Beyond is something of a lost album. Although it has been reissued several times, it remains little known against McLaughlin’s more electric output, and was something of a forerunner to his long running Shakti project. Both have strong Indian influences, with McLaughlin being heavily in thrall to Sri Chinmoy, the guru de nos jours for some jazz musicians in the early 1970s.
3. Chick Corea and Return to Forever – Spain from Light As A Feather
Wikipedia counts over 30 different interpretations of Spain and Corea himself recorded the tune a number of times in different formats. We featured the original version on the second Return to Forever group’s album Light As a Feather, recorded in London in 1973. The tune may sound familiar because it opens with a melody from Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and then continues to use Rodrigo’s chord progressions in Corea’s improvisation. This first version of the Return to Forever group included Stanley Clarke on bass, Airto Moreira on percussion, Flora Purim on vocals and the under-rated Joe Farrell on flute. A 2CD set from 1998 included a second disc of alternative takes and the track Matrix which first appeared on the aforementioned Now He Sings, Now He Sobs album. It’s not an essential version to have – but the original belongs in everyone’s record collection.
4. Chick Corea – 500 Miles High (Live) from Trilogy 2 (Disc 1)
Return to Forever became more electric as the 1970s counted down. The album Romantic Warrior (1976) was the final recording in this format and Corea experimented with different groups and styles – his piano duet records with Herbie Hancock perhaps the most celebrated of this period. If you can avoid a copy with the bizarre Smurfs cover (a Japanese pressing, for example) the album Friends is worth a look. It’s Joe Farrell again on saxes and flute too. This is Samba Song, featuring the propulsive drumming of Steve Gadd. Corea returned to a more fusion sound with his Elektric Band which, in turn, was complemented by the Akoustic Band of the same era – a trio that included jazz standards in their repertoire. The trio format remained a constant with its finest invocation in the ECM Trio records playing once again with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes. Our final tribute track is from yet another trio performance, but this time a much more recent release, 2020’s Trilogy 2, with Corea on acoustic piano, Christian McBride on bass and drummer Brian Blades. This 2CD set featured tracks recorded during trio’s world tour and includes American songbook standards, jazz classics and a reach back into Corea’s own catalogue. By the time of this recording the trio had been together for ten years – and it shows. Like the first live Trilogy release from 2013, this record is a summation of Corea’s jazz journey. Beautifully engineered with a superb sound, Chick Corea’s joy at performing in the classic jazz trio brings us right back to that earlier trio record from 1968 with which we began this post.
5. The Janet Lawson Quintet – You Promised from The Janet Lawson Quintet
6. The Janet Lawson Quintet – So High from The Janet Lawson Quintet
7. The Janet Lawson Quintet – Sunday Afternoon – The Janet Lawson Quintet
Our next artist to remember is vocalist Janet Lawson, who actually collaborated with Chick Corea and other artists such as Ron Carter, Duke Ellington, Sheila Jordan, Dave Liebman, Cedar Walton, Duke Pearson and Eddie Jefferson – among others. Born in Baltimore, but NYC based, Lawson really used her voice as another instrument. The British label BBE Records re-released her first self-titled album in 2014 with sleeve notes citing John S. Wilson’s New York Times review which notes that she “places her voice as an element of the instrument ensemble in almost all of her numbers rather than as a singer with instrumental accompaniment.” More than that, “when she takes her solos, Miss Lawson improvises – with or without words – as an instrumentalist would.” He added that Lawson “has the kind of voice that most jazz singers probably wish they had. It is a full, well‐developed, remarkably pliant voice with a lower range whose dark sonorities compare favorably with the deep power of Sarah Vaughan.” High praise indeed. So what happened to Janet Lawson and why is she not more well known?
She travelled the US, and to Latin America and Jamaica, but most of her work was in New York clubs and from 1968-69 was a regular guest on Steve Allen’s New York TV show. Lawson was also involved in improvisational acting, teaching master classes in vocal improvisation and was a founder member of Women In Music, a group of six musicians. Gilles Peterson has recently commented that she was a staple at the legendary Sunday afternoon sessions at Dingwalls in London and the title of one of the tunes we chose suggests it may well have been a firm favourite there. Janet Lawson’s voice is supported by some fine musicians on our three tunes from that first album, originally released in 1981 – Ratzo Harris on bass, Roger Rosenberg on baritone sax, Jimmy Madison on drums and Bill O’Connell on piano. Lawson died aged 80 in January 2020 with just two records to her name. Both are worth looking out for. You can still download her 1981 debut here on Bandcamp, but her follow up album Dreams Can Be from 1984 will be more difficult to track down. Here’s the title track featuring the same excellent band and some lovely scat singing from Lawson herself.
8. Johnny Pacheco – AzuquitaMami from Fania All Stars Live/Salsa Caliente
Both Chick Corea and Janet Lawson drew upon and played music with Latin influences. The final artist we remember, Johnny Pacheco, who died aged 85 earlier this month, was a seminal Latin artist – you could say Latin through and through – but jazz remained a key element. Pacheco and his fellow musicians were responsible for fusing jazz, rhythm and blues, funk and other styles into traditional African-Cuban music to create salsa – literally, ‘sauce’, and implying a mix of many different Latin styles.
Johnny Pacheco was born in the Dominican Republic but his family moved to New York when Pacheco was 11 and it was here that he became a major figure as a musician, bandleader and co-founder of the essential Latin music label Fania Records, a joint venture with lawyer and Latin music fan Jerry Masucci. From its humble beginnings in Harlem and the Bronx, Fania brought a new sensibility to the music. Many of the lyrics to the new songs were about racism, cultural pride and the incendiary politics of the New York streets.The tune Azuquita Mami has appeared on many Latin compilations (including Super Salsa Hits released by Charly Records in the UK), but this version is from the French compilation Salsa Caliente released on Universal and bought in Paris. It features several other classic Latin artists, including an excellent band from Japan! If you’re new to music from this inspirational label, it’s worth searching out a superb 4CD Fania compilation called Ponte Duro: the Fania All Stars Story, released in 2012. It captures the All Stars live in New York, around the world and in the studio. You can hear Pacheco (and ‘Symphony’ Sid) introduce the band here live from Spanish Harlem in NYC.
9. Johnny Pacheco – Alto Songo from Introducing Johnny Pacheco
In Pacheco’s home in Dominican Republic, the local merengue music is part of the fabric of everyday life. Among the several instruments he learned to play were the flute and the accordion, both essential to merengue. In New York his flute-playing became handy for playing the Cuban charanga music and he was hired by Charlie Palmieri to play in a charanga band before forming his own Pacheco Y Su Charanga in 1960. But it was that first meeting with Masucci three years later that was to change Pacheco’s fortunes. Pacheco became Fania’s creative director and musical producer, as well as performing his own music and recording with the Fania All Stars and many other artists. The tune Alto Songo was released originally on Introducing Johnny Pacheco on Fania (1989), although it’s available elsewhere including another Charly Records release of 1989. Sue Steward’s sleeve notes to this album inform us that Manny Oquendo was on timbales and that the tune has “growing subtlety out of Rene Hernandez’ whimsical few bars of Rachmaninov’s piano concerto.” It’s a classic Fania tune. Oquendo has been featured on earlier Cosmic Jazz shows (check out here and here) via his band Libre.
10. Hector Lavoe – Mi Gente from La Voz/I Like It Like That
Johnny Pacheco’s influence began to spread widely. In the early 1970s he was greeted by a crowd of 5,000 as he arrived at Dakar airport. His music was a great influence on Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab and other West African groups who took back the Latin rhythms that were themselves often derived from traditional African rhythms. Pacheco went on to release hundreds of records, often in collaboration with other Latin artists like Cuban singer Celia Cruz. His songwriting provided material for other Latin musicians, including one of the greatest Latin vocalists Hector Lavoe, whom Pacheco was to portray in El Cantante, the 2007 biopic of the singer. Mi Gente (translated as ‘my people’) is a Johnny Pacheco composition that was most famously recorded by Lavoe and is considered one of his finest recordings. There are numerous versions, but one of the most popular was recorded with the Fania All Stars in 1974 in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) while Lavoe was there to perform at the celebrated Zaire 74 festival prior to the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ – Mohammed Ali’s title fight against George Foreman. You can see Lavoe’s performance here – and, yes, that’s Pacheco conducting and stage managing the whole performance. The orchestrations, the brass and the big band feel provide ample evidence of the links to jazz. This version is available on a great Fania compilation which include a set of originals together with more contemporary remixes – here’s Louie Vega’s EOL remix of Mi Gente.
Pacheco was to record with a number of jazz musicians including George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Les McCann and McCoy Tyner. He’s featured on this version of Duke Ellington’s Duke’s Place from Tyner’s tribute to the great bandleader, McCoy Tyner Plays Ellington (1965). For many years he spearheaded the Johnny Pacheco Latin Music and Jazz Festival at Lehman College in the Bronx, an annual event in collaboration with the college (streamed live in recent years) that provides a stage for hundreds of talented young musicians studying music in New York City schools. His legacy lives on.
After the edgy diversity of our last show, this new Cosmic Jazz focuses more on what might loosely be called spiritual jazz – a term we have commented on in previous blogs (see here for example). But we begin with an artist that crossed many arbitrary jazz boundaries and was often judged to be less of a true jazz musician for doing so. Perhaps it was Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley’s misfortune to have a bright, happy sound on his alto saxophone – none of the acidic tone of Ornette Coleman or Jackie McLean. Add to this his talent for writing catchy, memorable melodies like Mercy, Mercy Mercy and he was never going to be seen as a heavyweight like John Coltrane. But listen to what Adderley brought to what is one of the most famous tracks in all of jazz – So Whatfrom Miles Davis’ seminal Kind of Blue. You can immediately tell Coltrane and Adderley apart on this tune – Coltrane’s solo has those characteristic flurries of fast notes while Adderley adopts a more measured bluesy tone. But one is not better than the other. Sadly, Cannonball Adderley was dead at 48 following a stroke, but the range and diversity of his musical legacy is profound: there are some artists you can always rely on in terms of their music having something to say and always being worth a listen. Adderley was a key player of hard bop, he recorded an album of Brazilian sounds and he convincingly explored the axes of jazz and funk – but there was always soul in his music.
Cannonball Adderley – Psalm 54 from Soul of the Bible
A few years back a local DJ guesting on Cosmic Jazz introduced me to the double vinyl album Soul of the Bible. After spreading the word, I was fortunate to receive the record shortly afterwards as a present and it remains right up there among my favourites. There is soul, there is gospel, there is spiritual jazz. The music is deep and meaningful and is, indeed, a religious and spiritual experience. Adderley is joined by his brother Nat on cornet and the band features George Duke, Walter Booker and Airto Moreira along with a bunch of vocalists, including Fleming Williams from the group the Hues Corporation (remember Rock the Boat?). DJ Rick Holmes provides narration, following up his role on Adderley’s earlier Soul Zodiac record with some truly religious-sounding readings in the style of a chapel preacher. Later on, Holmes would provide the intonation on the Roy Ayers-produced Remember to Remember with its inspiring litany of influential creatives and their epithets: Pass the information/Extend the knowledge/Martin Luther King said – I have a dream/Stevie Wonder said – Innervisions, interpretation, watch with your ears…/Cannonball Adderley said – Sometimes, we are not prepared for adversity, mercy, mercy, mercy. Never before has Cosmic Jazz started with a Psalm, but this week it begins with no less than a take on Psalm 54 – Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.2. Kasia Pietrzko Trio – Ephemeral Pleasures from Ephemeral Pleasures
3. Kasia Pietrzko Trio – Intimacy from Forthright Stories
As promised on the show last week, there are two tunes from the young 26 year old Polish pianist Kasia Pietrzko and her trio – a track from her first album Forthright Stories, released in 2007, and the title tune from her new 2020 release Ephemeral Pleasures. Moreover, this week she is playing on both tunes – as opposed to that extraordinary bass solo from Andrej Swies from Ephemeral Pleasures on our previous show. Pietrzko studied at the Academy of Music in Krakow and spent time in New York, learning from Kenny Garrett and Aaron Parks among others. In 2018 she played in Krakow with the great Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and the plan was for a European tour. Sadly, Stanko died later that year and after this it was not until 2020 that she was able to release Ephemeral Pleasures.
Her music is essential listening; it is expressed with deep emotion, it is communicated with considerable intensity and it is organic, honest and deep. These two albums provide promise of a future career with many exciting and creative works to come. I like to think that female jazz musicians are an essential and integral part of the jazz scene, and to draw attention to them is to highlight the exception that in sad reality it so often is. On this occasion, however, I will make the observation that for me two of the best East European albums to reach the UK via Steve’s Jazz Sounds this year included The O.N.E. Quintet, a group of young female musicians, along with this Trio led by a young woman. Add to this the music we have featured from Artemis, the award winning female group, led by pianist Renee Rosnes. Are things slowly changing?
4. Lee Morgan – Absolutions from Live at the Lighthouse
Next up is trumpeter Lee Morgan from an album that’s not easy to find. Like many Blue Note artists, Morgan negotiated his way through the transition from hard bop to the two strands of jazz that were emerging in the late 1960s – a conscious, black awareness sound and the links to funk and rock styles. The seeds of the first of these had already been sown in the lengthy superb title track from Search for the New Land (1964) but a more eclectic, electric approach began with the album Taru (recorded in 1968) and ended with the two final albums – Live at the Lighthouse and The Last Session. Taru includes George Benson on guitar – listen to him here on Durem. Live at the Lighthouse has been available as an extended 3CD set but this is difficult to come by – examples on Discogs can be found here. Our choice of tune, Absolutions, is only available on this version. Morgan is joined by Bennie Maupin on tenor sax, bass clarinet and flute, Harold Mabern on piano, Jymie Merritt on bass and Mickey Roker on drums. Morgan’s music is much more modal at this point and all tracks on the 3CD version are extended outings. The final tune is a revision of Morgan’s hit The Sidewinder but all others are original to this recording. There’s a real dynamism to the group’s playing here with Bennie Maupin putting in some of his finest playing on record.
The Last Session is just that: it’s the final recording before Morgan’s murder at the age of just 33. 1972 was a really creative time for Morgan as he began to follow the more electrified sounds of his peers. Bobbi Humphrey is on flute and the great Billy Harper is on tenor sax. The two disc album includes tunes that have become almost standards in the modern jazz repertoire – Croquet Ballet and Capra Black. All soloists are on fine form and the record is a tantalising glimpse of the directions that Morgan was taking at this time. On the 17 minute Inner Passions Out, written by drummer Freddie Waits, there’s even an Arabic feel with a Yusef Lateef shenai-sounding instrument accompanied by mbira (thumb piano) – all underpinned with a little studio trickery. On first hearing, you’d never guess that this was Lee Morgan. All this and a great cover with a very cool looking Morgan staring into the camera. This is an album to search for – and then revel in the new sounds from a very forward-looking Lee Morgan. The double vinyl album is getting pricey now – the CD set is not difficult to find.
5. Matthew Halsall – Harmony with Nature from Salute to the Sun
And so we come right up to date with the latest release from another trumpeter, Matthew Halsall. We have featured his music right from the beginning – and so welcome his new 2020 release, Salute to the Sun. In fact, the album pays homage to earlier sounds – Halsall is increasingly influenced by the music (and beliefs) of Alice Coltrane – and this could certainly be said to be music for meditation. Some reviews have been rather disparaging – Daniel Spicer in Jazzwise magazine called it “almost offensively inoffensive”, but in fact Halsall is looking for a rather different soundworld. He has never been a virtuoso soloist, but rather a player focused on a purity of tone developed through a series of themes that often do indeed blend into one another. This is apparent here too – so best to sit down, light a joss stick or two and chill out. But remember: buy the rather beautiful clear vinyl version and you’ll have to get up to change sides – and that’s three times across this 2LP set.
6. Nubya Garcia – Source (Makaya McCraven remix)
Remixes can go two ways – a disastrously clunky beat-heavy produced-by-numbers extension that misses all the subtlety of the original – or an exploration of defining features that induces nods of appreciation. Chicago-based drummer, producer and beat-maker Makaya McCraven’s version of saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s Source is one of the latter. This remix appeared in November this year and is well worth seeking out. Unusually, it’s just less than half the length of the original track, and adds in bass-heavy production to elevate what is an already uplifting tune. A genuinely creative interchange between two musicians who have a fine appreciation of each other’s talents. You can find it right here on – of course – Bandcamp.
7. Booker Ervin – A Day to Mourn from The Freedom Book
I am trying to go through my record shelves to dig out interesting records that I haven’t played for some time (or even forgotten about) with the intention to bring them to the show. A recent examples was this 1963 Prestige hard bop album by American saxophonist Booker Ervin – The Freedom Book. The tune we selected, A Day to Mourn, seemed to fit well with the spiritual, religious and intense emotions in much of the music on this week’s show. Booker Ervin had already come to be noticed through his work with Charlie Mingus on some of his classic albums, but from 1963 to 1966 he released solo albums on the Prestige label. The musicians were assembled specifically for this record, rather than being part of a working group. Booker had played together with pianist Jaki Byard during his work with Mingus and here he was also joined by the much-recorded Richard Davis on bass and Alan Dawson on drums. The album was recorded by no less than Rudy Van Gelder at his studios on 3 December, 1963.
8. Emma-Jean Thackray – Yang from Um Yang
This is the tune on the second side of a vinyl record from British multi-instrumentalist Emma-Jean Thackray. It is on the new Night Dreamer label and the records are made at their Artone Studio in Haarlem, The Netherlands. Night Dreamer specialises in direct-to-disc recordings, a process whereby the music is cut onto acetate from single live performances. The label takes its name from the Wayne Shorter album of the same name – here’s the superb title track. “Its a paradox, in a way, like you’d have in a dream – something that’s both light and heavy” noted Wayne Shorter speaking to Nat Hentoff who compiled the liner notes for his 1964 Blue Note release. The Night Dreamer label aims to produce music that incorporates the essence of what Wayne Shorter conveyed, and it’s interesting to note that one of the other records on the label is a collaboration between Cosmic Jazz favourites Maisha and Gary Bartz. You can find it here. As we’ve commented before, it’s worth noting that the Thackray record on vinyl is less good value in terms of price per minutes of music than some of the other releases on the label. But that shouldn’t deter you from exploring the wide range of music on this excellent new British label. Their latest release is from Sarathy Korwar, another British musician we have championed here on the show. You can listen to and then order his new 2LP release right here. More great new jazz coming soon here on CJ…
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.
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’sLament 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 Lamentfrom 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 CosmicJazz 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.
This photo heads an excellent feature on the interesting Burning Ambulance website. It dates from a few back – in fact, 2014 when the Complete Live at the Fillmore box set was released – but it’s a good introduction to this most fertile of periods in the vast Davis chronology. You can read the whole thing right here – and if you’re new to the music of Miles in the 1970s then this is one place to start. The sheer volume of music from that first year of the decade is now staggering. Thanks to box sets, official reissues, lost concert recordings and a bunch of bootlegs you could listen to music from this most fertile period for hours. And you should. We should now recognise that 1970 was a creative peak for Miles – but where to start with this music?
Let’s begin with the albums released in the two years before – 1968 and 1969. July 1968 gave us Miles in the Sky, a stepping stone into a new era for for the trumpeter. There’s a new interest in electric instruments and the two recording dates take us from the twisted modality of Paraphernalia to Stuff, recorded five months later. The former track includes a guest slot from guitarist George Benson who sets the tone of the track with a defining riff right at the start. It sound like bebop but it’s been turned inside out. Drummer Tony Williams (then just 23) is all over this track and the elliptical Wayne Shorter (writer of this piece) even references his own Footprints at one point. The remaining three tracks are more typical of this quintet’s zenith of collective improvisation – perhaps some of the most ‘together’ music ever recorded. This is rightly regarded as an epitome of small group jazz: often termed the Second Great Quintet, the interplay between this group over six studio albums and one live box set (The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel) is extraordinary. The music is always about the group and never just Miles. There’s a telepathic fluidity about this music – and never more so than on the Plugged Nickel sets – that is unique in jazz. Perhaps paradoxically, you should start with the last of these records – the aforementioned Filles de Kilimanjaro. The new Mrs Davis, Betty Mabry, appears on the cover and Miles apparently titled the record after his recent investment in the Kilimanjaro African Coffee company. All track titles are in French and the music forms a kind of organic suite in the key of F. It’s an album to listen to as one continuous piece: some of the music is more chilled with Ron Carter on electric bass and Herbie Hancock’s Fender Rhodes being responsible for some of this, but it’s also that Miles’s trumpet is also more restrained throughout. Less well known is that Miles’ old collaborator Gil Evans had a hand in two of the tracks – Petit Machins is his composition and the introduction to Madamoiselle Mabryowes something to Jimi Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary which had been recorded the previous year. Perhaps it was all an indication of what was to come on the truly ground breaking It’s a Silent Way album from the following year.
This is as essential as Kind of Blue: it’s a record that anyone interested in contemporary music of whatever genre needs to hear – again and again. But the reason isn’t Miles Davis – it’s Teo Macero, Miles’ longtime producer who here creates an indefinable magic from a pile of studio recordings from one day – 18 February 1969. Macero created a kind of electric sonata from hours of tape, splicing together music from one three hour long session. The result was entirely unique at the time – two long tracks, each with three ‘movements’ containing repeated musical elements synthesised into something magnificent. Rolling Stone writer Lester Bangs described In A Silent Way as “the kind of album that gives you faith in the future of music. It is not rock and roll, but it’s nothing stereotyped as jazz either. All at once, it owes almost as much to the techniques developed by rock improvisors in the last four years as to Davis’ jazz background. It is part of a transcendental new music which flushes categories away and, while using musical devices from all styles and cultures, is defined mainly by its deep emotion and unaffected originality”. Listen to the groove on It’s About That Time around nine minutes into the track – a sound that will stay with you long after the music has ended. This version is from the Complete In A Silent Way Sessions, one of the Legacy box sets that are now so collectable.
So what could possibly follow that? The answer this time is Bitches Brew, the 1970 double album – and the very first Miles record I bought. Davis assembled an even bigger group of musicians than on It’s A Silent Way and Teo Macero spliced and edited with yet more aplomb than before. Recorded across three days in September 1969, the music takes giant steps towards a rock idiom without ever becoming rock. The core band of Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Chick Corea and Jack DeJohnette was augmented by Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, John McLaughlin, Larry Young, Lenny White, Juma Santos and Bennie Maupin. Miles had written simple chord charts but he told the musicians to play anything that came to mind as long as they used his chosen chord. The musicians were confused – but this very loose structure certainly inspired Davis: his trumpet playing is aggressive and explosive across much of the double album and the closing solo on Miles Runs the Voodoo Down is simply breathtaking.
In his superb book Miles Beyond, the Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991, Paul Tingen paved the way for a critical re-assessment of the prolific 1970-75 era prior to Miles’ five year retirement from music. Tingen notes that “Bitches Brew also pioneered the application of the studio as a musical instrument, featuring stacks of edits and studio effects that were an integral part of the music.” Tape loops, delays, reverb and echo were all used along with intensive tape editing, Pharaoh’s Dance, for example, contains 19 edits – its famous stop-start opening is entirely constructed in the studio, using repeat loops of certain sections. As Tingen notes, the editing is amazingly precise – “a one-second-long fragment that first appears at 8:39 is repeated five times between 8:54 and 8:59… Bitches Brew not only became a controversial classic of musical innovation, it also became renowned for its pioneering use of studio technology.” It’s a gateway to the increasingly challenging music that Miles Davis was to make over the next five years – there’s always more to explore…
There are no themes for this week’s show but if you click the Mix Cloud tab you can listen to some great jazz from around the world – the USA, Finland, Italy, Poland, the UK, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and Egypt.
It is a while – probably too long – since we heard from Miles Davis on the show but we put this right with the opening tune. Bitches Brew is familiar enough to many jazz listeners but nearly 50 years after the original recording was made, it still has the power to surprise. This version of Bitches Brew was recorded at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 with an audience of over 600,00 people. Davis was the only jazz act amid a host of rock and pop acts, including Jimi Hendrix, the Moody Blues, Chicago, the Doors and Joni Mitchell. It must have been quite a surprise! Davis’s music was now moving faster than most of his audience could deal with, and the music from this 2011 release documents that change. Andy Gill of The Independent newspaper commented in his review of the time that the music “capture[s] Davis on the cusp of creating another jazz revolution” and described its music as “jazz reconstituting after meltdown, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis: free-wheeling, edgy, unpredictable and coruscating, and about as hot as this legend of cool ever got.” Saxophonist Gary Bartz had just joined the band – and he will be performing at Gilles Peterson’s We Out Here Festival in August here in the UK.
Still in the US, there was another track from the new album by pianist/keyboard player James Francies. The quality of his playing is in no doubt and is reinforced by Chris Potter – one of the most respected sax players of the moment – selecting him to play on his recent album and to tour with him in the US. On last week’s Cosmic Jazz I enjoyed the DJ Khalab tune Dense featuring the ubiquitous Shabaka Hutchings and Italian saxophonist Tommaso Cappellato and so it seemed a good reason to play it again this week. Moving from Italy/the UK to Northern Europe, the show visited Finland and trombonist Kasperi Sarikoski and his group Nuance. Besides leading his band he is a freelance musician and composer who has played with a number of artists, including Dave Liebman and Peter Erskine. In 2017 Sarikoski moved to New York City for postgraduate study at the Julliard School of Music.
Now, it’s a while since the show made one of its regular visits to Europe. We began with trombonist Kasperi Sarikoski from Finland and a track from his new album Essence and followed this with a first play for Michal Kobojek, a sax player from Warsaw. The tune Seven Steps (and, no it’s not the Miles Davis Seven Steps to Heaven tune) showed this is an artist we have missed out on – great solos from Kobojek and his guitarist too. We will explore more. He is also a session musician and has played with other Polish artists familiar to Cosmic Jazz such as Urszula Dudziak and Michal Urbaniak. And for more information about Polish jazz and a whole bunch of incredible musicians that you’ve probably not heard of before check out this excellent Polish Jazz blogsite.
There was an indulgence with another play for the much-loved tune Tiffany’s Dodo from the Belgian drummer Jelle Van Giel and his band. The track comes from van Giel’s very accomplished debut album Songs for Everyone, released in 2015 and it’s highly recommended. For this and so much more, your ever-reliable source of new jazz from Poland and beyond is Steve’s Jazz Sounds. This excellent website will introduce to a wide range of new jazz that doesn’t often make the UK jazz press. Arve Henriksen is a Norwegian trumpet player who established links with the port city of Hull in Yorkshire UK. Alongside Elvind Aarset and Jan Bang they produced a commissioned work for the Hull City of Culture year in 2017. The music accompanied a sound walk crossing the River Humber in Hull. Apparently, 15,000 tickets were sold – exposing more people to Henriksen’s uniquely atmospheric sound on trumpet.
Don Cherry spent much time in Scandinavia in the 1970s where he perfected his vision of world music, living in the country with his wife Moki Karlsson (who created the album cover you can see left). His Organic Music Society album was recorded and released in Sweden in 1972 and includes an interesting take, with some different and mysterious sounds, of the Pharoah Sanders 1969 tune The Creator Has A Master Plan. A fine example of how it is possible to add something to a tune composed by another musician. Organic Music Society was reissued in 2012 on CD for the first time and whilst it’s a diffuse collection of live and studio recordings that won’t appeal to many other than Cherry completists, it’s impossible not to like this take on a Pharoah Sanders classic.
We ended the show with another curiosity – this time from another jazz outsider Sun Ra, this time recording in Egypt with one of Cairo’s most famous musicians, Salah Ragab. Sun Ra had actually first performed with his Arkestra at the foot of the pyramids in a celebrated concert in 1971, but the two tracks that form this EP were recorded in a Cairo studio while Sun Ra was on a second tour of Egypt two years later. And if you’re thinking that the opening melody sounds very familiar, the tune does appear to owe a lot to trumpeter Lee Morgan’s classic The Sidewinder. Compare for yourself here. If you like this Sun Ra track, then the second much longer tune Dawn will also be worth exploring. Like much great music, you can find it here on Bandcamp.
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew from Bitches Brew Live
James Francies – ANB from Flight
DJ Khalab feat. Shabaka Hutchings and Tommaso Cappellato – Dense from Black Noise 2084
Kasperi Sarikoski – The Payment from Essence
Jelle Van Giel Group – Tiffany’s Dodo from Songs for Everyone
Michal Kobojek – Seven Steps from The Outside
Arve Henriksen – Pink Cherry Trees from The Heights of the Reeds
Don Cherry – The Creator has a Master Plan from Organic Music Society
Sun Ra & his Arkestra – Egypt Strut from Egypt Strut/Dawn EP
This week marks the return of Neil back from Singapore and live on the show with more of his carefully considered and impressive selections. Hit that MixCloud tab to hear some exciting new jazz and jazz-related music. Expect to be surprised!
The first tune this week though was Derek’s choice – more from Polish drummer/composer Jacek Kochan and his new release Ajee. He has resided in Poland, the US, Canada before returning to Poland. While in North America he played with an impressive range of musicians, including Greg Osby, Dave Liebman, Joey Calderazzo and Eddie Henderson. His new album has that unpredictable, even wild edge at times. It’s an album that demands to be noticed. As always with much of the excellent new music from Poland, we are indebted to Steve’s Jazz Sounds as our source.
From that point it was all Neil with some of the music he has been listening to in the last few weeks. Overall a chilled, forward looking vibe with Matthew Halsall up first. If there is a current jazz musician that you can instantly associate with the word cosmic, it’s Manchester-based trumpeter Matthew Halsall. He’s had a long association with our CosmicJazz show and we’ve promoted his music for many years now. The reissue of his 12in single Journey in Satchidananda/Blue Nile is a homage to cosmic icon Alice Coltrane and very good it is too.
British keyboard player Joe Armon-Jones released his first album Starting Today earlier this year. We have played the tune Mollison Dub from it and there is now an extended 12in further dubbed out vocal version with Asheber. Armon-Jones records for Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label, an important source for the new British jazz. Also on the label are Glasgow’s Auntie Flo whose Cape Town Jam appears on this week’s show. Brian d’Souza is a central figure in the new strand of club music fusing electronic and world influences alongside the likes of Daphni, Four Tet, Romare, Sinkane and more. The new album Radio Highlife was released earlier this year. This may not be jazz but this club-based music is undoubtedly informed by jazz and other music from around the world.
EABS are in some ways a Polish equivalent of the new British wave. They are a septet of young musicians whose reach goes beyond that of traditional jazz audiences. They experiment, they cross musical genres and their sounds come not only from traditional instruments but also turntables. They are innovative, contemporary and interesting. The music this week comes from their excellent cassette tape/download release Puzzle Mixtape which features the widest range of collaborators EABS have yet deployed including a whole bunch of US artists – Jesse Boykins II, MED, Jeru The Damaja and Ben LaMar Gay. We selected Paulina and Natalia Przybysz (former Sistars).
Makaya McCraven is definitely still one of the musicians of the moment. He produces tunes that by jazz standards are short but have no need to be longer. He collaborates with musicians both in the US and the UK and this week’s choice comes from his excellent 2018 release Universal Beings. Like all of his music, the basis is live recordings that are then remixed via Ableton, with McCraven doing what he calls fixing the music – editing, looping, pitching, layering, and ultimately producing the tracks. Universal Beings is an album recorded at four separate sessions in New York, Chicago, London and Los Angeles, and featuring an A-list of new jazz players from those hotbed cities – Brandee Younger, Tomeka Reid, Dezron Douglas, Joel Ross, Shabaka Hutchings, Junius Paul, Nubya Garcia, Daniel Casimir, Ashley Henry, Josh Johnson, Jeff Parker, Anna Butters, Carlos Niño and Miguel-Atwood Ferguson. It’s an impressive line up and the music is equally rewarding. We highly recommend this and McCraven’s other releases. For more information and a chance to listen to the music, checkout McCraven’s Bandcamp pages here.
The show this week featured several singles and EPs, as opposed to album tracks. The last three tunes were more examples of this. We began with Chip Wickham, a UK flautist and saxophonist who has toured with Matthew Halsall and others, and then Miles Davis from the lost Rubberband sessions EP released for this year’s Record Store Day in April. Finally, from East London, self-taught pianist and some time grime and hip-hop artist Alfa Mist working with Yussef Dayes and featuring some superb guitar work from Mansur Brown. There will be more from Brown’s own first solo album in upcoming shows.
Jacek Kochan – Chinese Boomerang from Ajee
Matthew Halsall – Blue Nile from Journey in Satchidananda/Blue Nile 12in single
Joe Armon-Jones – Mollison Dub vocal version (feat. Asheber) from 12in single
Auntie Flo – Cape Town Jam from Radio Highlife
EABS – Kawalek O Zyciu from EABS Puzzle Mixtape
Makaya McCraven – Wise Man, Wiser Woman from Universal Beings
Chip Wickham – Snake Eyes (Ishmael Ensemble remix) from Shamal Wind Remixed EP
Miles Davis – Rubberband of Life from the Rubberband EP
Yussef Dayes and Alfa Mist feat. Mansur Brown – Love Is the Message from single
Neil is listening to…
Charles Lloyd and the Marvels feat Lucinda Williams – Angels