Tag Archives: Sun Ra

From the spiritual to the dancefloor with Cosmic Jazz – 04/12/2023

Cosmic Jazz this time started with the Coltranes – John and Alice together – before sampling some of the musicians who have been in the UK capital in November at the London Jazz Festival. Unusually, we ended on the 80s dancefloor with Alphonse Mouzon…

1.  John Coltrane – Stellar Regions from Stellar Regions

We like to acknowledge what is going on around us in relation to the jazz world and so it was to our sheer delight that BBC Radio 3’s five hour-long episodes of Composer of the Week – almost universally the reserve of classical composers – was devoted to the work of John and Alice Coltrane. Presented by Kate Molleson, a specialist in  new classical music and with contributions from Kevin Le Gendre, the jazz broadcaster and writer, this is something to search for on BBC Sounds – here’s the first programme. So to celebrate what is a long overdue recognition, we begin the show with a short (by Coltrane standards), magical, spiritual blast from his tenor saxophone on Stellar Regions, the title tune from this posthumous 1995 release. Wife Alice Coltrane is on piano, with Jimmy Garrison on bass and Rashied Ali on drums. It was one of John Coltrane’s late recordings made on 15 February 1967, unearthed from ‘lost’ tapes found by Alice and son Ravi Coltrane. None of the compositions  had a title at the time they were recorded with Stellar Regions actually being an alternate version of Venus which had appeared on the earlier Interstellar Space record. In the liner notes, critic David Wild notes These recordings all have a similar aura. Among Coltrane’s final phrases, they are almost the last notes to be captured on tape, performances thus haunted by our foreknowledge that what will follow them is silence. More importantly and perhaps even more compelling, they represent a suggestion of the evolution his music would have taken had his life not been cut so short, a tantalizing glimpse of an unrealized future.

2. High Pulp – Astral Traveling from Mutual Attraction Vol. 1

So this one is a kind of backhand tribute to Pharoah Sanders and Lonnie Liston Smith who both recorded Astral Traveling – and now one of our favourite current bands has tackled it. High Pulp is undoubtedly rooted in the jazz tradition but also touches on indie-rock and electronic music, using all these sounds simultaneously to pursue something truly their own. We’ve featured their latest Days in the Desert album on previous shows but this show’s choices comes from the first of three earlier EPs of covers – Mutual Attraction Vol.1 which appeared on Record Store Day in 2020 and included covers of Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders and Sun Ra. All three albums are worth getting hold of – have a look at the band’s Bandcamp site here and grab them while you can. Several of their records on vinyl are now sold out so you’ll need to move quickly!

3. Niki Iles and NDR Bigband – Wild Oak from Face to Face

This new record came out just last week and in time to reflect Nikki Iles’ appearance at the last night of the London Jazz Festival with the celebrated NDR Bigband. Reviews of the show emphasise the sheer excitement of this concert – a testament to both the quality of Iles’ writing and the musicianship of the Bigband. Soloists included Percy Pursglove, Ingolf Burkhardt and Claus Stötter on trumpets and Fiete Felsch and Frank Dell on saxes, with dynamic, exuberant solos from guitarist Phil Robson added into the mix. The new album Face to Face is very much recommended here on CJ.

4. Makaya McCraven – Dream Another from In These Times

Neil can personally vouch for the validity of the rave reviews for McCraven’s appearance at the LJF – what a performance from the ‘beat scientist’ and his Chicago-based band! Along with the London Contemporary Orchestra conducted by Robert Ames, McCraven was joined on stage by his current core Chicago band – a quintet with Joel Ross on vibes, guitarist Matt Gold, electric bass player Julius Paul (wearing an on-stage outfit that made him look like a jazz version of Bootsy Collins!) and trumpeter Marquis Hill. As Chris May’s All About Jazz review noted, each was outstanding: Hill soulful and sonorous, Gold raw and off kilter, Ross mercurial and emphatic, like Cecil Taylor with sticks, McCraven colossal, a Buddy Rich for our age (in the best way). Each selection from the album was transformed into a charged up, intense performance that saw McCraven delivering some powerhouse drumming. Neither flute nor harp featured as on the record – instead the LCO string ensemble created a beautiful counterpoint to the quintet. When interviewed by All About Jazz, McCraven said This is a record of my compositions that feature odd time signatures and different types of rhythms. At the crux of my concept since I started writing and playing drums is that I like to play complex rhythms. In these times—it’s in the title. To hear more current McCraven and music from In These Times, check out this live set from US radio station KEXP and why not have a look at what he purchased in San Francisco’s celebrated record store Amoeba. We like the drummer-centric picks!

5. Charles Lloyd – I Fall In Love Too Easily from Mirror

Also at the LJF this year, saxophone master Charles Lloyd is one of CJ’s perennial favourites. His distinctive tone on tenor is what drives this reflective take on Julie Styne and Sammy Cahn’s enduring American standard. Many listeners will be familiar with some of the more famous takes – in both vocal and instrumental versions. How about those by Shirley Horn and Miles Davis to begin with? And Wayne Shorter’s Sanctuary on the Miles Davis album Bitches Brew is a kind of abstraction of the tune – see if you can spot the elements… Mirror is one of Lloyd’s many ECM records, all of which are worth investigating in this late flowering of a saxophone legend that began when he was taken on board by French pianist Michel Petrucciani in 1981. He then began a late run of superb albums on Manfred Eicher’s ECM label beginning with Fish Out of Water in 1989 and ending with Hagar’s Song in 2013. Signing with the revitalised Blue Note label two years later, Lloyd has continued to release inspiring music of which Tone Poem, his 2021 record with his group The Marvels, is a CJ choice.

6. Hiromi – Desert On the Moon from Brain

Japanese born, now US resident Grammy-winning pianist and composer Hiromi has built up a substantial reputation both in Japan and internationally since her 2003 debut album Another Mind. Desert On the Moon comes that debut’s follow up and the energy, dexterity and fluidity of her playing is readily apparent on this beautiful and refreshing number. What the music illustrates – as indeed does all of her work – is a willingness to experiment  and cross the boundaries from jazz to pop to classical. She is quoted as saying I don’t want to put a name on my music. Other people can put a name on what I do. It’s just the union of what I’ve been listening to and what I’ve been learning. There is a creative and not always predictable energy about her work which recently saw her perform at the London Jazz Festival with both a new piano quintet and her regular group Sonicwonder whose new album can be found here on Bandcamp.

7. Harold Lopez-Nussa – Afro En Toulouse from Timba a la Americana

It is not always possible in the time available, but we try to play more than one tune from a new album that we select. Radio selections often play a one-off choice, frequently of one of the outstanding tunes of an album. Many of us have been caught out through being induced to  pay money for an album from the lure of a single audio-friendly track. This is one reason why pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa appears for a second time on the show – but, additionally, we simply love the music. Afro En Toulouse acknowledges that in the last year, along with his drummer brother Ruy, Lopez-Nussa moved from Cuba to Toulouse in South-West France. Prominent on this tune is Barbaro (Machito) Crespo on congas, bata and vocals, maintaining those sonic links with Cuba, but Lopez-Nussa notes that this new Blue Note album Timba a la Americana is very different to his previous records, admitting that for the first time I play electronic sounds without any shame. Of course, here at CJ, we fully acknowledge and celebrate the presence of electronics in jazz.

8. Jonathan Blake – Passage from Passage

Exactly the same reasons as above apply to the selection of further tune from another Blue Note debutant, drummer Jonathan Blake. This time, our choice is the title track from his album PassageIt’s dedicated to the memory of his father, jazz violinist John Blake Jr. who was the composer of this title tune.  Not surprisingly, the number is played with emotion, passion and great virtuosity by top-notch  musicians. These include another outstanding Cuban pianist David Virelles, prominent in Passage from the opening bars, but much of the tone and feeling is set by the alto saxophone playing of Immanuel Wilkins, definitely one of the young jazz players of the moment. Other members of the quintet are  the much-lauded vibraphonist Joel Ross (qv. Makaya McCraven above) and bass player and composer Dezron Douglas. This is definitely an album with a contemporary New York feeling and sound.

9. Brian Auger & the Oblivion Express – Happiness is Just Around the Bend from Closer To It!

Hammond guru Brian Auger is going through something of a renaissance at the moment. Two new box sets (both on vinyl and compact disc) have being going down a treat with listeners and probably the best of these Oblivion Express records is 1973 Closer To It! album. Happiness Is Just Around the Bend is Augur’s own composition and is a really strong vocal debut for Augur himself. The second side of this album features covers of jazz classic Compared to What and a surprisingly good take on Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues. The whole album is highly recommended – you’ll be able to track down a copy on Discogs.

10. Sabu Martinez – Hotel Alyssa-Sousse, Tunisia (Danny Krivit edit) from Mr. Bongo Edits Vol. 1/Afro Temple

Something of a crate digger’s favourite back in the day, an original copy of the Sabu Martinez album Afro Temple album used to change hands for up to $3000. Neil has had a reissue for decades but our choice is an edit from the New York DJ Danny Krivit – a DJ with a very interesting background. As he recounts in an online interview, his father was trumpeter Chet Baker’s manager and his mother was a jazz singer. Martinez is always worth exploring, whether for his earliest recordings with Art Blakey in 1953 or his own albums including his debut for Blue Note in 1957, Palo Congo. Martinez relocated to Sweden in the mid 1970s where he led the Burnt Sugar group. Afro Temple is a great record, with Hotel Alyssa-Sousse, Tunisia the stand-out track – and there are lots of different reissues for you to choose from.

11. Alphonse Mouzon – I’m Glad That You’re Here from 12 inch single

What are we doing playing this tune on Cosmic Jazz you may ask? There are several answers.  It links with our previous show where we had Alphonse Mouzon playing drums for McCoy Tyner, no less. It also takes us back to a tradition on the show whereby we end the programme with a tune that stretches the musical boundaries. There is also the not so inconsequential issue of the personnel on the record: Herbie Hancock on piano and Michael Brecker on sax – and his little early sax break is worth more than a cursory listen. Mouzon played with several distinguished jazz artists, although he ventured into the pop and disco world. Certain sections of the jazz listening public, often comfortably off themselves, have been quick to criticise such moves by jazz artists yet they ignore the difficulties any musician has to earn a living – especially in this current era of paltry download revenues. Jazz artists have more difficulties than most and so we should respect their right to a living. Enjoy the record – we love it. More from Cosmic Jazz soon.

Neil is listening to…

There’s a funky theme to my ten choices this time. We begin with neglected Blue Note trumpeter Eddie Gale on Black Rhythm Happening before searching out UK premier remixers Bugz in the Attic who give 4Hero’s Hold It Down more than a little re-rub. Next is that hypnotic bassline from Abe Laboriel on Herb Alpert’s second disco hit Rise followed by more Brian Auger and his Oblivion Express with another track from that great record Closer To It! That sly funk masterpiece Cucumber Slumber from Weather Report, featuring the great Alphonso Johnson on bass, comes next. Derek reminded me that Marvin Gaye’s classic Let’s Get It On celebrates a 50th anniversary this year as does the O Jay’s magnificent slavery-themed album Ship Ahoy which contains the oft-covered For The Love of Money. Next was Flora’s Song (piano by Chick Corea), one of the stand out tracks from Airto’s superb CTI album Free which seemed to complement the funky Ohlos Coloridos from Brazilian singer Sandra de Sá before ending with more bass from Bobby Hutcherson’s San Francisco album and the evocative Ummh. If the spirit moves ya

Jazz for the spirit, the hours & the elements – 23/07/23

Cosmic Jazz this time truly lives up to its name. The music explores sounds that are spiritual, reflect the changing moods of the day and night, then reaching into the cosmos to draw upon the elements of life.

  1. Lakecia Benjamin – New Mornings from Phoenix

We start, as seems appropriate for the theme of this show, with a tune about new mornings. It is from the New York born and raised alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin and this particular number was the first single from her album Phoenix released in  January 2023 on the British label Whirlwind Recordings. The label is building up an an enviable roster of international jazz talent – including Antonio Sanchez, Gilad Hekselman, Julian Siegel and Samara Joy. Lakecia has played with a variety of  soul and jazz artists including Clark Terry, Reggie Workman, Rashied Ali James ‘Blood’ Ulmer, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and The Roots. This album includes distinguished guests like Patrice Rushen on piano and Wayne Shorter providing spoken word.  Lakecia’s clear, upfront  tone is a feature of New Mornings but listen out also for the constant, subtle rhythms from guest bassist Jahmal Nichols that permeate the tune.

2. Fergus McCreadie  Trio – Morning Moon from Forest Floor

Here on Cosmic Jazz we have been singing the praises of Fergus McCreadie and his trio for a few years now. They record for another leading British jazz label – Edition Records who, like Whirlwind, continue to grow their jazz signings. The McCreadie Trio are from Scotland and met at college when bass player David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson were trying to find a pianist – then Fergus McCreadie arrived. The trio have grown in strength and fame and now attract widespread praise and sell-out crowds at their live performances. On 11 July they played live on the BBC Radio 3 In Tune programme and they’ve also been honoured by the BBC as New Generation artists.  Morning Moon was one of the tunes they played in that R3 live session and Fergus explained it was inspired by the sensation of walking out on a cold winter’s morning and seeing the moon still there in the sky. The result is a magical and beautiful tune, inspired, like so much of his music, by the Scottish countryside. The piano playing of McCreadie on this tune is intricate, delicate and beautiful but listen out too for the imaginative and essential contributions from bass and drums.

3. Fraser Fifield – A Day Like Any Other from Secret Path

This one comes courtesy of Rob Adams and is also a north of the border creation. Scottish multi-instrumentalist Fraser Fifield has worked with Indian percussion master Zakir Hussain (cf John McLaughlin’s Shakti and much more), the ground-breaking cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson and the Dutch jazz-world music virtuosi Nordanians – and has appeared at the London Jazz Festival. He’s schooled in both the piping tradition and the soprano saxophone, but on this new release he’s transferred his skills on to the low D whistle and Secret Path is a showcase for expressive playing on this unique instrument. As Fifield himself notes: My low whistle playing has undergone quite a journey since those early teenage years – who knew so much was possible on such a simple instrument?! Secret Path was recorded in trio with Tom Bancroft on drums and Paul Harrison on Wurlitzer piano and the album is available – of course! – on Bandcamp. Check it out here, read the excellent notes by Rob Adams and then just buy the download!

4. The Circling Sun – Spirits (Part 2) from Spirits

Some of New Zealand’s jazz luminaries have assembled to form this all-star cluster: The Circling Sun. Channeling spiritual/modal jazz and Latin rhythms, they simultaneously echo the greats such as Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane, while maintaining a fresh perspective on ensemble dynamics. There’s a bunch of keyboards, skilfully manned by the likes of Guy Harrison and Cory Champion, along with solid horn choruses throughout. Meanwhile, providing vital foundational support are the percussion (Soundway alumnus Julien Dyne), vibraphone, acoustic bass and full choir arranged by Matt Hunter. This feels like a group that have made music over a decade or more rather than one that’s been recently formed. We love this record here on CJ and recommend buying the very nicely presented vinyl version complete with its Stoughton tip on jacket. You can track it down here on Bandcamp. Highly recommended.

5. Mark de Clive-Lowe, Shigeto & Melanie Charles – The Creator Has a Master Plan from Hotel San Claudio

Composer, pianist, DJ and two decade-long bridge between jazz, dance and hip-hop, Mark de Clive-Lowe (MdCL), is no stranger to Cosmic Jazz. On this new release, he hooks up with influential drummer/producer/DJ, Shigeto and Brooklyn-based, Haitian-rooted, flautist/songwriter and Verve Records artist Melanie Charles on Hotel San Claudio, a collaborative LP of spiritual jazz, live deconstructed beats, and a three-track set of Pharoah Sanders reinterpretations including the iconic The Creator Has a Master Plan. The two-part take on Sanders’ 30 minute long track as well as his iconic Love Is Everywhere are the indeed the centrepieces of Hotel San Claudio. Nothing will take the place of the original of course, but this is a bold retread that retains the blissful aura of the original.

6. Noga Ritter – To The Distance from Ima

This one is a real surprise. Noga Ritter is an Israeli singer and songwriter now based in London whose debut release channels a diverse range of sources from Jewish melodies to Gnawa grooves all held together by an accomplished jazz sensibility. Fellow Israeli bass player and composer Liran Donin (from Led Bib) co-produces and is joined by premier English horn players Tony Kofi (tenor sax) and Byron Wallen (trumpet) to provide real muscle. The result is a really accomplished album with some cracking tunes and solos – including our choice of To the Distance, which features Patrick Kenny on trombone. Elsewhere there’s Senegalese sabar drums and kora from Seckou Keita on the title track along with a spoken word recital by Ritter on Crack the Shell. You can catch Noga Ritter live at the EFG London Jazz Festival in November and other tour dates can be found here. Both Ritter and her excellent band are well worth checking out if you get the opportunity. A Cosmic Jazz recommendation

7. Keith Tippett – Green & Orange Night Park from How Long This Time?…

We’ve been watching the development of the new British jazz reissue label British Progressive Jazz (BPJ) since their inception early in 2022. This record is one of their best. It features the classic Keith Tippett Group frontline of Marc Charig, Nick Evans and Elton Dean with rhythm section appearances by British jazz luminaries Jeff Clyne, Trevor Tomkins, Roy Babbington and Bryan Spring. These six previously unreleased live studio tracks were recorded in 1970, and Green & Orange Night Park would be recorded again for the brilliantly named album Dedicated To You, But You Weren’t Listening. Only 23 years old when this great music was recording, Tippett would remain something of outlier in the British jazz scene of the time.  At the time of writing, there were just 8 copies of the vinyl record left – the CD is already sold out. Head to the Bandcamp site here for more details. This is a riotous but joyful noise – check out the complete record and snap up one of the remaining vinyl copies if you can.

8. Ezra Collective – Love In Outer Space from Where I’m Meant To Be

Any jazz programme inspired by the elements has to make reference to Sun Ra and so we offer a double dose of Ra-ness to end the show. Significantly though, neither of these tracks feature Sun Ra himself. The first is from the wonderful Ezra Collective – another new London jazz scene act that we’ve been championing in recent years – and comes from their first full length album Where I’m Meant to Be. Ezra include some outstanding soloists all led by drummer Femi Koleoso, and this album is a must if you want to check out one of the most mature bands in this vibrant scene. The album includes a funky take on that evergreen classic Smile (written by Charlie Chaplin – yes, indeed!), Kojey Radical and others on vocal duties and it all ends with a great reading of Sun Ra’s Love in Outer Space. The record really does all hold together and on orange vinyl makes for a treat on the decks. We can’t recommend this one highly enough.

9. Sun Ra Arkestra – Watch The Sunshine from A Song For The Sun 

No Sun Ra here either – this record comes from 1999, some six years after the death of Sun Ra and is not to be confused with Sun Song, a 1967 title from Ra’s huge oeuvre. It’s not an easy one to find now so check out Discogs if you’d like a copy.  Perhaps unexpectedly, the Arkestra have continued since Ra’s death under the leadership of 99 year old alto sax player Marshall Allen and, indeed, they’re currently on a North American tour. It was Allen who composed and arranged Watch The Sunshine – a relaxed, if slightly chaotic number that chugs along with a minimalist, percussive, acoustic feel. There’s powerful sax from Marshall Allen, soothing vibes from Damon Choice and warming contributions in turn from trumpeter David Gordon, trombonist Tyrone Hill and guitarist Bruce Edwards. Vocalist Arnold ‘Art’ Jenkins invokes you to be yourself, free your mind and all you have to do is Watch the Sunshine. Global warming notwithstanding, it’s something we’re happy to do.

More from Cosmic Jazz soon – but in the meantime check out Neil’s Youtube selection below:

Neil is listening to… the usual eclectic mix. This week my ten track choice is informed by the new Blossom Dearie reissue, a clutch of the latest Blue Note Tone Poets, a collection of River Nile titled music I’ve assembled and an amazing live take on Africa from the newly issued John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy Evenings at the Village Gate album. Also in the mix for this selection is some rap music from Mexico, a replay of the Crusaders’ best album and some Brazilian favourites that didn’t make the cut in our last show – including more Marcos Valle, currently on a live tour around the world. Enjoy – and let us know what you think of the choices!

Cosmic Jazz at The Analog Vault: 23 February 2023

Neil from Cosmic Jazz is now back in the UK but he had time before he left the Little Red Dot to record a final set for The Analog Vault – surely one of the best and most eclectic record stores on the island. The seven years in Singapore has been an awesome experience and Neil is very sad to leave all his local friends – including Leon, Hannah and The Analog Vault collective. It’s also time to pay tribute to the other vinyl emporia who have provided so much crate digging pleasure over the years: notably Cliff and Celia at Retrocrates/The Jazz Loft whose jazz reissue choice is absolutely the best, André at Choice Cuts who are the business when it comes to hip hop new and old school, Hear Records who have such a great selection upstairs – and too many others to mention. Singapore is a real haven for crate diggers – long may it continue. So here’s those last ten choices – enjoy.

  1. Ezra Collective – No Confusion (feat. Kojey Radical) from Where I’m Meant to Be (2022)

First up is one of Neil’s favourite releases of the last year – the excellent full length album from Ezra Collective – part of the huge UK jazz scene that’s really flourishing at the moment. Ezra include some outstanding soloists and on this album they’ve got some special guests too. Let’s name check one of the best key players on the scene – Joe Armon-Jones – and give a shout out to the great Kojey Radical on vocals on this track. Elsewhere you’ll hear Sampa the Great and Emilie Sandé on vocals and a blissful mix of dubwise sounds, Afrobeat, R n B and more. The album includes a funky take on that evergreen classic Smile (written by Charlie Chaplin – yes, indeed!) and a great reading of Sun Ra’s Love in Outer Space to close the record. The record really does all hold together and on orange vinyl makes for a treat on the decks. I can’t recommend this album highly enough. I have it on all formats – but vinyl is the one to get.

2. Vibration Black Finger – Blackism from Blackism (2017)

It’s another UK band up next but – oh – so different. Vibration Black Finger aren’t well known, and this second album from them pretty much disappeared when released some five years ago – but it’s well worth a listen. Andy Smart is on treated trumpet as he awakens the ghost of Miles Davis from the revolutionary On the Corner album. The album’s eclectic mood is held together by Lascelle Lascelles’ drumming – part Can and part James Brown – but there’s lots of other stuff in the mix too. Lascelles (real name, Lascelle Gordon) was a founder of the Acid Jazz Pioneers The Brand New Heavies – but this is a whole new order of heaviness. If you like this you’d probably enjoy Sextant – a fabulous and under-rated album by the British band A Certain Ratio (or ACR). It’s just been reissued – and for a taste of the music here’s the excellent Knife Slits Water. You can’t have my original album (a mint copy will set you back over $170 on Discogs!) but you can get Blackism from those excellent guys at Bandcamp. Neil snapped it up at Joo Chiat’s Choice Cuts.

3. Herbie Hancock – Sleeping Giant from Crossings (1972)

Neil’s played Herbie Hancock in an earlier set but there’s no excuses for playing him again. The reissued album on the Speakers Corner label in a lovely gatefold jacket is something of a revelation – the sound on vinyl is way better than on my original copy (and that doesn’t always happen). The remastering is all analogue and it shows. Herbie Hancock had grown up under Miles Davis’s wing but his music here is as abstract as the late quintet but with what we would now call electronica thrown in. Dr Patrick Gleeson was the synthesizer wizard helping Hancock to achieve those other-worldly sounds but on Sleeping Giant it’s the battery of percussion that is the most memorable. This is a 20 minute + track and we played just the first seven minutes – but what a sound!

4. Nujabes – Luv (sic) Pt. 3 from Modal Soul (2005)

Jun Seba (瀬葉), who tragically died in a car accident in 2010, was a Japanese record producer, engineer, DJ and remixer who went by the name Nujabes (his name reversed) and released just two albums in his life time. Mostly instrumental – his music sampled hip hop, soul and jazz cresting a kind of triphop vibe but with breakbeat and downtempo elements too. Every single track on Modal Soul is brilliant. This is music you just want to listen to over again – and its earworm value is very high. There’s a similar tragic story behind the work of the Serbian producer Mitar Subotić who went by the name of Suba and who worked with many Brazilian artists. He tragically died in a fire in his studio but not before completing his wonderful São Paulo Confessions album – try Um Dia Comum (A Normal Day). There are clear links in the production style here.

5. Robson Jorge and Lincoln Olivetti– Eva from Robson Jorge and Lincoln Olivetti (1972)

This is the sunniest music you will hear all year – guaranteed! Neil first came across this great track on a wonderful new compilation from Mr Bongo Records and then tracked down the original album at Retrocrates here in Joo Chiat Road. Compiled by DJ Luke Una this is a great collection – and it wisely kicks off with this cut from Jorge and Olivetti’s self-titled album from 1972. Neil ended up playing it over and again and when he found the re-released album at Retrocrates it was an automatic purchase. Every track is infectious with hooks, synths and great trombone solos. Both Jorge and Olivetti were highly regarded music producers who worked with the best Brazilian musicians – Marcos Valle, Sandra Sa, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and many more. The music is full of those 1980s tropes – synths, drum machines, handclaps and more and some might say its too AOR. Actually, this is music of the highest order – impossible to recommend highly enough. Brazilliance for sure! The album is available here on Bandcamp.

6. STR4TA – Kinshasa FC from Aspects (2021)

STR4TA is the result of a joint collaboration between DJ and uber-influencer Gilles Peterson and Bluey Maunick, leader of the band Incognito (who’ve played twice at the Singapore Jazz Festival) and several other Britfunk groups including Light of the World and Freez. The music is straight out of the early 1980s – acid jazz at its best. Cheesy listening or easy listening? Either way, this is just a delight. And – if you like this – then check out their most recent 2023 release which includes Lazy Days, featuring Emma-Jean Thackray on trumpet and vocals. Like the previous choice, this is sunny summer music but this time with a British twist – the lyrics include the phrases “cotton sheets” and “pots of tea”!

7. Barney Wilen – Zombiezar from Moshi (1972)

In 1970 French saxophonist Barney Wilen got together a team of filmmakers, technicians and musicians to travel to Africa so they could record the music of native tribes. The result emerged two years later – a dark mix of sound effects, background chatter, African rhythms and avantgarde jazz. Zombiezar is absolutely the funkiest track on the album which you can get on Bandcamp  in a fantastic 2LP set along with a CD of the film made about this amazing expedition. Cut with French and African players including guitarist Pierre Chaze, pianist Michel Graillier and percussionist Didier Leon, this is music with few precedents or followers, covering a range from extraterrestrial dissonance to earthbound, streetlegal funk. Wilen pays little heed to conventional structure, assembling tracks like Afrika Freak Out and Zombizar from the bricolage of street sounds, local music and his studio band. At the time of writing, The Analog Vault had a copy of the original release too – check it out if you’re there!

8. Sun Ra Arkestra – Love on a Faraway Planet from Hours After (1989)

Neil had been wanting to play Sun Ra at The Analog Vault for ages and he was pleased to track down this two record set of music recorded back to back in 1986 in Milan, Italy with a version of the Arkestra including Marshall Allen and John Gilmore on tenor saxes. At age 98 Allen still leads the Arkestra on worldwide tours, making him the oldest living jazz musician still playing and touring. So what can we say about Sun Ra? Well, first up, he claimed that he is literally not of this earth but was born on the planet Saturn and was sent to earth to promote world peace. His music ranges from wild keyboard solos to works for big bands of over 30 musicians. Also in the mix are electronic sounds, chants and spoken word pieces. Neil was lucky enough to see Sun Ra perform in London around the time this record was created – and what an experience! The full band on stage, female vocalists and a huge array of percussionists with Ra controlling everything with sweeps of his free hand while the other one stabs at his keyboards. The music was wild and unruly – free jazz at its best. Here in the UK, Neil has dozens of Sun Ra albums – and he recorded 100s of them, often privately. For an introduction to Ra you can’t get better than Lanquidity from 1978 and the track Where Pathways Meet. Then start exploring…

9. Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – Exodus from King Scratch (2022)

We’re now into a completely different genre of music but one that’s familiar – reggae. Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry was without doubt the most influential producer on the island of Jamaica and this is his early take on Bob Marley’s Exodus. It’s typical of his work – lots of studio effects, found sound elements and tape manipulation that create a looser (and better) sound that on the more processed Marley version. Perry was one of the first Jamaican producers to create alternative dub versions of songs and even whole albums. For an introduction to music on vinyl from his complete career, this new King Scratch compilation is a great place to start. Then check out classic albums like Super Ape (1976) and the wonderful Arkology 3CD box set from 1997 that’s still available on Discogs.

10. Etienne de Crécy – Le Patron est Devenu Fou from Super Discount (1996)

We ended the show with something that’s clearly not jazz – but that’s what we like to do! In French the tune’s title means ‘The boss (shop owner) has gone mad’ – referring to the Super Discount of the title. The tracks on this compilation are credited to different French musicians but there’re all produced by Etienne de Crécy who themed the record Super Discount using one of his own DJ names. The music is essentially a French twist on American house music and became known as ‘The French Touch’ and was really popular in the late 1980-90s. Daft Punk, Air, Cassius and others all came out of this scene. De Crécy released Super Discount in 1998 and it’s a great kind of summary of this influential style: samples, repeated hooks and filter and phaser effects all set in a consistent ‘four on the floor’ beat perfect for the clubs of the times. It still sounds great today!

For more updates on what’s happening at TAV don’t forget to check out both their Instagram account and excellent blog. We’ll be sharing regular links on Cosmic Jazz with our friends in Singapore – watch this space for more!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Fergus McCreadie – Tide from Cairn

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

8. Chester Thompson – Power House from Powerhouse  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jazz photos No.2 – Sun Ra

Sun Ra and the Arkestra at South Street Seaport, New York – probably 1972

You can just see him. He’s to the right of this of this photo in the centre of the group of circling musicians. Yes, this is Sun Ra and the Arkestra circa 1972 at the South Street Seaport, New York. The photo heads an excellent recent feature from Marcus J Moore in the New York Times on Fifteen Essential Black Liberation tracks – including an excellent live version of Sun Ra’s Space is the Place. There are other delights to be found in this list too: Mtume’s Baba Hengates from the the Strata East album Alkebu-Lan: Land of the Blacks (1972) and Malika from the Ensemble Al-Salaam’s 1974 album, The Sojourner. Follow the links and discover some great music that may be new to you. If Mtume means Juicy Fruit, then have a listen to the whole of his Strata East album – now reissued on vinyl – and hear something very different. Mtume continued with his Umoja Ensemble on the Rebirth Cycle album from 1977 – but you will be lucky to find an original pressing in good condition for less than £150. For a taste of this excellent record, which gives an indication of the direction Mtume would be travelling in, try Yebo. I’ve recently been enjoying the music of Buddy Terry and there is a fine, extended version of Baba Hengates to be heard on his Pure Dynamite album for Mainstream Records (1972). Read the NYT Marcus J Moore feature and check out much more black liberation music.

Week ending 20 April 2019: from Miles to Ra

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.

  1. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew from Bitches Brew Live
  2. James Francies – ANB from Flight
  3. DJ Khalab feat. Shabaka Hutchings and Tommaso Cappellato – Dense from Black Noise 2084
  4. Kasperi Sarikoski – The Payment from Essence
  5. Jelle Van Giel Group – Tiffany’s Dodo from Songs for Everyone
  6. Michal Kobojek – Seven Steps from The Outside
  7. Arve Henriksen – Pink Cherry Trees from The Heights of the Reeds
  8. Don Cherry – The Creator has a Master Plan from Organic Music Society
  9. Sun Ra & his Arkestra – Egypt Strut from Egypt Strut/Dawn EP

Neil is listening to:

18 May 2017: Cosmic Jazz plays cosmic jazz

This week’s show, available now via the Mix Cloud tab (left), is made up of four long, Old School tunes. An identifying feature of two of them at least (and maybe elements of a third) is that they are not only on a Cosmic Jazz show they are cosmic in sound, ambience and effect!

Saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders is a name many would associate with cosmic jazz. His tone is one of the most distinctive voices in jazz – full of raw, rasping overtones one moment and warm, rich and deep at others. The fire of his eleven Impulse! label albums recorded from 1967-1974 gave way to an often more lyrical exploration of jazz standards but still with that commanding tone that remains uniquely strong. For more on that golden age at Impulse! Check out this Red Bull Music Academy feature for more information – and then search out some of the albums.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now 76, Sanders is still performing, although his most recent record releases tend to be as guest slots on other albums. Some of these are well worth seeking out: we have featured two on CJ over recent years – The Voyage with Japanese band Sleep Walker and his live recording with alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett on the Sketches of MD: Live at the Iridium album. Listen to the deep Intro to Africa track here.

Both sides of Sander’s unique tenor saxophone voice can be heard on the track Love is Everywhere played in full on the show this week. It comes from one of the last of the albums Sanders recorded for Impulse! and features the under-rated piano of Joe Bonner. This is truly music that encompasses freedom and gentleness and speaks deeply of peace and understanding. Sanders, of course, played with John Coltrane in his last years – and in his more recent recordings Sanders channels ‘trane so convincingly that if you close your eyes… You can hear this clearly on this excellent 2011 live concert from London’s Jazz Cafe (here presented in full) – for example, on  the Sanders composition Nozipho that begins the show.

The Pharoah Sanders world of cosmic spirituality could apply equally to the music of  Alice Coltrane. This week’s show featured the tune Blue Nile – which includes Sanders on tenor saxophone and alto flute. Recorded in 1970, this harp/piano/tenor saxophone combination has become a template for many more recent cosmic jazz heroes, including the UK’s Matthew Halsall and Nat Birchall. Just listen to Halsall’s Tribute to Alice Coltrane here to see what we mean. Coltrane’s soaring, modal sounds can be found on Ptah, the El Daoud or the excellent Impulse! compilation Astral Meditation which is an excellent place to start your Alice Coltrane journey. Joining Coltrane and Sanders here are Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Ron Carter (bass) and Ben Riley (drums).

Last week I played the tune Black Renaissance by the band of the same name led by Harry Whitaker. The CD has two tunes only and normally I am so enraptured and mesmerised by the first that I play it over and over again. Last week, however, I left the CD playing and gave the second track some attention. Magic Ritual does not match Black Renaissance – I doubt if there is much that can – but it is good, deserves to be heard and has that same feeling of spontaneity, joy and the search for  African-centric expression.

To end the show I played as much as time would allow of what is currently my favourite Fela Kuti tune, Just Like That. You can find it on a number of Fela releases including the excellent compilation, The Two Sides of Fela,  French Barclay release and distributed here by none other than Gilles Peterson’s Talkin’ Loud label. It’s not that easy to find now but you can also get Just Like That on the Underground System album.

  1. Black Renaissance – Magic Ritual from Black Renaissance: Mind, Body and Soul
  2. Pharaoh Sanders – Love is Everywhere from Love In Us All
  3. Alice Coltrane – Blue Nile from Astral Meditations
  4. Fela Kuti and Africa 80 – Just Like That from The Two Sides of Fela – Jazz and Dance (from Jazz CD 1)

So – having whetted your appetities – would you like to listen to twelve hours of spiritual jazz? For much more of this music, listen to this magisterial, extended review of the genre from London’s NTS Radio. Thanks to Kalamu ya Salaam and his excellent Neo Griot blog for this one.

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Derek is listening to:

Neil is listening to…

10 May 2017: featuring Black Renaissance

Every year as summer draws near I have to play Harry Whitaker’s sensational Black Renaissance: Mind, Body and Spirit – and in full. It is simply a wonderful piece of free, spontaneous and Afrocentric jazz, soul and rapping – before rap was known. In effect and reality, the whole piece was a jam session recorded in one take and – rather fittingly – on Martin Luther King day in 1976.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are just two tracks – Black Renaissance (side 1) and Magic Ritual (side 2). Whitaker comments on the record sleeve that “we discussed ideas the night before – just the basics like the bass lines and the drums, but that was it. It was recorded in what I call moment-to-moment.” For many years the tapes were thought to be lost forever, but they they were eventually tracked down in 2002 by the Luv’n’Haight label in California and released on Ubiquity.

Harry Whitaker was a pianist, producer, arranger and composer who played and recorded with Roy Ayers and Roberta Flack and had influential jazz friends and contacts. The record includes Woody Shaw (check out his trumpet solo), Azar Lawrence, Buster Williams, Billy Hart and Mtume. The music is essentially a  map of the African American musical canvas of 1976, with echoes of Sun Ra’s call and response, Coltrane’s tonal meditations and touches of the electronic wizardry of Herbie Hancock’s early 1970s music.  You simply need to hear this essential music – press the Mixcloud tab now! You can still track down the album on both vinyl and CD. Original Japanese pressings from 1976 come up at around £300 so go for the Lu’n’Haight reissue – around £10 for CD and a little more on vinyl. If you don’t have this jazz essential just treat yourself.

It was another tune from the Dinosaur record Together as One that started off the show. Extinct has been an ever-present on my current playlist for some time now. The clarity of the playing from each player comes out really strongly on this tune. It is jazz for our times from a significant, young British group.

I was reminded recently that a year ago this week I saw the Sun Ra Arkestra under the musical direction of Marshall Allen, now aged 92 and still as strong as ever. The orchestra continues to carry the spirit of Sun Ra and Cosmic Hop manages to combine the spiritual with the danceable. The Jelle Van Giel group from Belgium have featured regularly on the show. We like them and they merit repeated listening. There was another tune from The Devotion, US drummer John Lumpkin’s release from last year. This was one of those tunes that ends in a free and improvised blow-out (like Black Renaissance) – quite different from how it starts. The whole album, available on download, is, in fact, quite unpredictable. One tune, in particular, is very different, maybe I should try it next week…

Two other artists I saw almost a year ago were UK musicians pianist Kit Downes and cello player Lucy Railton. At that time, they were playing with Norwegian Thomas Stronin as he toured in Europe. This week we ended the show with a track from the duo’s recent release Tricko .

  1. Dinosaur – Extinct from Together as One
  2. Black Renaissance – Black Renaissance from Black Renaissance: Body, Mind and Spirit
  3. Sun Ra Arkestra – Cosmic Hop from Songs for the Sun
  4. Jelle Van Giel Group – The Truth from Songs for Everyone
  5. John Lumpkin – The Red Sea from The Devotion
  6. Kit Downes – Jinn from Tricko

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Neil is listening to…

25 January 2016: Neil’s pre-Singapore selection

This week’s CJ was a last chance for Neil to cram in some of his current listening before he heads off to Singapore. We started with more tracks from recent albums – the 2015 sophomore release from bass player Ben Williams and that excellent collection of Sun Ra singles on the Strut label which emerged at the end of last year.

We followed this with a real delight. Creating a convincing remix of the iconic A Love Supreme has to be one of the tougher remix assignments, but skinnerbox has achieved the near impossible with his take on Coltrane’s finest work. Of course, this isn’t the real thing, but it undoubtedly captures the spirit and grace of the original. Well worth hearing in its 14 minute entirety too – listen on Soundcloud here. Take in that cool twist on McCoy Tyner’s piano at 8:25 onwards.

It made sense to follow skinnerbox with another remix project – this time from Kiwi musician and producer Mark de Clive-Lowe who has put together a very convincing melange of Blue Note tracks into an impressive two part remix. You can download Part 1 of the project here for free, or buy a limited edition vinyl version from Bandcamp, Juno and other outlets. Want more new de Clive-Lowe? Then check out a track from his latest release in Neil’s listening choices below.

You might have through the next track on the show was part of de Clive-Lowe’s project (especially as we didn’t credit it on air!), but this was in fact vibesman Dave Pike, giving a refreshingly contemporary twist to the classic Besame Mucho. What really lifts the track is the drum break – shades of Joe Morello’s break on Take Five I think, but – whatever – Walter Perkins achieves something great here.

It was time to check out two singers I never tire of hearing, Mark Murphy and Gregory Porter. I’ve written elsewhere on this website about Murphy: his lyrical invention, rich tone and perennially cool demeanour will ensure he will remain one of the key jazz vocalists. I chose the excellent take on Milton Nascimento’s Nada Sera Como Antes that is one of the many killer tracks from the Muse years, although it doesn’t feature on the recently released compilation from Soul Brother Records. Instead, you can find it on the excellent Songbook collection or the indispensable 1984 album Brazil Song.

And – in many ways – Gregory Porter has inherited something of the Murphy mantle. There’s the tone, the space he gives his band and – something special – his own songs. Murphy was a genius at vocalese – the art of adding lyrics to existing jazz tunes or solos – but Porter is a great songwriter too. Don’t Be a Fool is an excellent example from his 2016 release Take Me to the Alley. Porter is an enigma: whilst much of his music might function as pop music it resolutely isn’t in the arrangements,  extended solos and (sometimes) challenging lyrics that don’t seem to put off his huge popular demographic. That’s right – no sell out!

We ended the show with some fun from Marcos Valle. He composed the soundtrack to a film portrait of 1970s Brazilian F1 driver Emerson Fittipaldi and if you’re unfamiliar with the huge sideburns of Brazil’s finest pre-Senna driver you can see the opening credits of Roberto Farias’s film here. We played the title music from the film but the complete soundtrack is also available on YouTube.

Before this came two jazz originals – neglected alto player Arthur Blythe and iconic pianist McCoy Tyner. The huge rolling wave that is Tyner’s Horizon and the rollicking Blythe original Down San Diego Way are both tunes that stay in the memory long after they’ve ended. Both are ones you will want to hear again – so check out the Listen Again feature on this week’s show and enjoy the music.

  1. Ben Williams – Black Villain from Coming Of Age
  2. Sun Ra – Mayan Temple from Sun Ra Singles
  3. Skinnerbox – A Love Supreme from Bandcamp download
  4. Mark de Clive-Lowe – extract from Blue Note Remixed from Bandcamp download
  5. The Dave Pike Quartet – Besame Mucho from Pike’s Peak
  6. Mark Murphy – Nothing Will Be As It Was Tomorrow from Songbook
  7. Gregory Porter – Don’t Be A Fool from Take Me to the Alley
  8. McCoy Tyner – Horizon from Horizon
  9. Arthur Blythe – Down San Diego Way from Lenox Avenue Brengakdown
  10. Marcos Valle with Azymuth – Fittipaldi Show  from O Fabuloso Fittipaldi original film score

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Neil is listening to:

15 June 2016: crossing genres

fania all starsAvailable on the MixCloud tab from CJ this week are some favourite records from the last year or so, plus a couple of older tunes. Make sure you check out all the links embedded below for max effect!

First up was a track from an old recording released in 2011 by the always-reliable Strut Records as a 40th anniversary CD and DVD of The Fania All Stars playing live at The Cheetah, New York. I played this in memory of a friend who back in the 1970s lent me two remarkable download (2)vinyl records – now rare collectors items – of the All Stars, live on Virgin Records. This was my introduction  to Latin music, and it’s been a passion that has remained strong ever since. Of course, the link between Latin music and jazz has always been there – and they come together in the umbrella term Latin jazz. Coined during the 1950s by the American media, it’s a simplistic description of a very complex cultural melting pot. There are, after all, 22 countries in Latin American with each one having an extraordinary diversity of rhythms, styles and genres that represent the individual cultural mixes of that country and its region. We selected Ray Barretto’s Cochinando, the lead off track from this excellent record of one of the most influential Latin concerts ever.

Cover_KoutéJazz-350x350Just one of those many Latin permutations was shown in the next selection from the excellent Koute Jazz compilation on French label Heavenly Sweetness. This time it was a group from Guadeloupe using Brazilian rhythms to invoke memories of the island’s original inhabitants. Catch the lovely Fender Rhodes on this one! Ed Motta is Brazilian – but don’t go to his new album Perpetual Gateways if you are looking for stereotypical Brazilian sounds. While Motta’s previous album AOR (a self conscious tribute to ‘adult oriented rock’) was a slick Steely Dan-esque affair, the new one works at delivering both soul and jazz – in fact, it’s presented as two suites of five songs each – one called Soul Gate and the other Jazz Gate. Produced by Kamau Kenyatta (Gregory ed motta perpetual gatewaysPorter) and featuring an impressive supporting cast that includes such west coast session luminaries as Patrice Rushen, Greg Phillinganes, and Hubert Laws, Perpetual Gateways is a delight. We played I Remember Julie which features Rushen and an extended acoustic piano solo – a long way away from the smooth jazzfunk of Forget Me Nots!

Ameen Saleem appeared again this week but in jazz rather than soul/R’n’B mode – both of which sit happily on his genre-hopping new release The Groove Lab. It’s great to see the current crop of US jazz artists adopting this more freewheeling approach – and making it work. We’ll be checking out saxophonist Marcus Strickland’s latest album along with the Miles Davis/Robert Glasper R’n’B collaboration, Everything’s Beautiful in future shows.

st germainOne of my very favourite records of  the last twelve months has been another record that crossed genres. St Germain is the third album from the eponymous French artist (Parisian producer Ludovic Navarre) and is a superb example of how jazz, Malian blues and contemporary beats can be merged into a seamless whole. If you do not have this record, then we regard it as an essential must-have: it may not have the spell-binding blend of jazz and house that so characterised Tourist, but it is an excellent addition to the genre crossing canon. It’s worth comparing the lead off track on St Germain (Real Blues which features Lightning Hopkins) with its spiritual predecessor from Tourist (Sure Thing with John Lee Hooker). Navarre is a late headline addition to next month’s Love Supreme jazz festival – check him out if you can.

marshall allen and the arkestraEuropean jazz, so integral to CJ, was represented this week via the Czech Republic from Ondre Sveracek and the Petr Benes Quartet – check the subtle horn playing on this one. Of course, Thomas Stronen from Norway had to appear again and to end the show we travelled the spaceways once more with the Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of 92 year old Marshall Allen.

  1. Fania All Stars – Cocinando from Our Latin Thing
  2. Guadeloupe Reflexions – Samba Arawak from Koute Jazz
  3. Ed Motta – I Remember Julie from Perpetual Gateways
  4. Ameen Saleem – Korinthis from The Groove Lab
  5. St. Germain – Family Tree from St. Germain
  6. Ondre Sveracek – Meditation from Calm
  7. Petr Benes Quartet – My Little Ruth from Pbq+1
  8. Thomas Stronen – As We Wait For Time from Time Is A Blind Guide
  9. Sun Ra Arkestra – Galactic Voyage from Song For The Sun

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Derek is listening to:

Neil is listening to: