Brussels six-piece Azmari, were formed in 2015 but “Samā’ī” is their first full-length release and follows on from 2019’s Ekera EP. Azmari are drummer Arthur Ancion, Basile Bourtembourg on keyboards, percussion from Jojo Demeijer, electric bassist Niels D’haegeleer with saxophonists Mattéo Badet and Ambroose de Schepper.
Various travels, both musical and physical, means their soundscape is augmented by instruments such as saz, flute, kaval, berimbau, ney and African and Middle Eastern rhythms. So what does it sound like? Well, it’s a bit of afro-funk, a bit of dub, a bit of ethio-jazz, a bit of classic Turkish folk-rock and other stuff, mixed well into a fusion groove.
“Zegiyitwali” starts the proceedings; echoed sax calls across a sparse soundscape of abstract percussion and bass rumbles. The syncopated, almost tango-like rhythm and baggy keyboards of “Cosmic Masadāni” drop out into a bassy dubby middle-section. This is all vaguely reminiscent of compatriots and label mates, Black Flower. “Kamilari” is uptempo afro-funk propelled by a vigorous and unsubtle rhythm section with a frenetic call and response by the saxes and sinuous keys. “Kugler” is a little more refined and better for it, with the snake-charmer keyboard call and horn response motif and a tight groove with swooshing synthy effects. “Tariq Al Sahara” is a slow-build rhythm with increasingly imposing horns and spaced-out dubby sounds.
“Azalaï” possesses some grandeur with melodic soloing and is a high point on this album. “Fat Ari” features smooth, mellow twin woodwind attack and slinky keys before evolving into thick bottom-ended, chunky dub. “Kadiköy” allows the band to stretch the formula slightly including expansive sax and electric piano solos and later, a pleasing interplay between the saxes and bass. Another top tune for me and also a slight departure from the other tracks is the closer “Doni”. A pensive, backward masked space then encroached by punchy electronica.
“Samā’ī “ is a praiseworthy effort; consistently listenable with flashes of exciting originality particularly on the title track, “Kadiköy” and “Doni”. Maybe a couple of tracks are slightly heavy-handed and I do think the album works best when the band takes its foot off the gas a little and allows some space. On the whole though, it’s an energetic and enjoyable debut with bags of potential.
George Otsuka is a drummer whose collaborations over the years have been numerous and he is recognised in Japan as one of the most important post-bop drummers and there’s always something special on his recordings that never fails to grab your attention. The quintet setting on this classic reissue of ‘Loving You George’ provides a whole new level for the drummer/percussionist, whose late 1960’s trio outings added a different dimension as to be expected. The music of George Otsuka and Fumio Karashima contributed greatly to reinventing the Japanese sound of the 1970s and making an impact for the new wave of artists who added a new dimension to the sound. All six albums George Otsuka recorded with his quintet are rare pieces that showcase the wonderful post-bop sounds that have led to this cult album being warmly received for the first time as a reissue outside of Japan. The live album, recorded in 1975 at The Nemu Jazz Inn on the Japanese Bellwood label arrives via the WeWantSounds reissue label on both vinyl and CD. The album features four quality tracks, with three covers and one track written by the group’s pianist/keyboardist Fumio Karashima.
With the leader on drums, Mitsuaki Furuno on bass, Norio Ohno on percussion, Shozo Sasaki on sax, and Fumio Karashima on piano, ‘Loving You George’ adds something special to the music of Steve Kuhn, John Coltrane and Minnie Ripperton, whilst bringing the original ‘Little Island’ composition by pianist Fumio Karashima centre stage.
‘Loving You’ is a unique interpretation of Minnie Ripperton’s classic and most well-known song, starting with an almost Sun Ra keyboard feel launching into a light meandering funk rendition, with an easy summer feel without ever veering toward stayed territory. The loving nod is quite different and quite thematic in its delivery with an early Bob James feel. It serves as a welcome contrast to the other three driving arrangements and it’s a good platform for Mitsuaki Furuno’s lyrical bass notes and Fumio Karashima’s laid back keys to change the mood and tone and show another side to their excellent musicianship.
It’s difficult to top Steve Kuhn’s original fusion piece ‘Something Everywhere’ from his classic ECM ‘Trance’ album, yet the quintet really bring a new lease of life to the original with some soaring drums and darting weaving soprano saxophone adding to the energy with a sound akin to the great Justo Almario. The quintet all seem to be really enjoying this track and bassist Mitsuaki Furuno creates a bold and vibrant tone to the rhythm section whose frenetic pace never lets up. There’s an Art Blakey style solo and much more when George Otsuka steps up to entertain the audience.
‘Little Island’ begins with a slow-building modal piano solo by Furnio Karashima and there’s a real hook from the start. It’s a 12-minute epic that is beautifully written and the quintet adds a touch of class with each step. The inventive lyrical soprano sound that Shozo Sasaki brings to the composition adds a richness that complements the deeper bass and drum rhythm.
On the interpretation of John Coltrane’s classic ‘Miles’ Mode’ saxophonist, Shozo Sasaki switches to tenor from soprano and really stretches out with some flighted playing. The group are really swinging on the track with some dynamic drumming by leader George Otsuka adding the perfect platform for the infectious sweeping runs from pianist Fumio Karashima to play off. The light percussive top notes add welcome cosmetic touches to the driving bass, piano, drums and tenor and it’s the group’s respect for the great John Coltrane that emanates throughout the 9-minute interpretation.
‘Loving You George’ is a superb album and another important documentation of a time in Japan when the jazz transition was rapidly taking shape, with brave new innovators such as George Otsuka sculpting a sound, progressive and familiar, whilst breaking the mould. The music throughout is exceptional and deserves attention.
With a fantastic tenth year anniversary in 2020 now under their belt which consisted of some stunning album releases from Kenny Warren Trio and Michael Olatuja, Whirlwind Recordings now turn their attention to kick-starting the next ten years of undoubtedly glorious jazz projects thus introducing ‘AfroFuturism’ by Logan Richardson.
Marking the fifth solo album from the saxophonist, producer and composer, Richardson, the Kansas City, Missouri, native is continually cited as a leading voice within contemporary jazz. With past album releases through Blue Note Records (‘Shift’, 2015) and Ropeadope Records (‘blues PEOPLE’, 2018), Richardson continually finds himself a key contributor to a variety of US and overseas musical collectives.
It’s actually incredibly exciting to recount the extent of Richardson’s far-reaching and indelible touch across the wide variety of projects that he’s graced over the years: a member of the NEXT Collective for the 2013 Concord Jazz release, ‘Cover Art’ along with fellow members Ben Williams, Walter Smith III and Jamire Williams; a frequent collaborator to the revered talents of Italian musician and producer, Nicola Conte, having appeared on several of his albums as well as having secured a spot within Conte’s Spiritual Galaxy supergroup for the 2018 project ‘Let Your Light Shine On’ for MPS Records; a frequent collaborator for Gerald Clayton, Christian Scott… Logan Richardson’s talents are consistently sought out and cited as a stand out amidst a thriving global jazz community.
With ‘AfroFuturism’, the keen improviser takes the opportunity to dig further into his musical repertoire seeking to perhaps reinvent the music people may have come to expect from a Logan Richardson release.
At the same time, there’s something very explorative about what Richardson is striving for throughout this album – like looking into a crystal ball, he seems to be ascertaining how far jazz can travel into its own future while continuing on its journey of fusion and its incorporation of varying styles and genres. ‘Trap’, for example, sees Richardson exploring a soundscape more commonly associated with contemporary and southern hip-hop. These sparse, spaced-out compositions permeate into other of the album’s tracks like the Laura Taglialatela assisted ‘Farewell, Goodbye’ and, again, with the futuristic ‘Photocopy’ and ‘According To You’. ‘Black Wallstreet’ however plays like a delectable piece of epic cinema with haunting strings by Ezgi Karakus that make the song something more akin to a piece of classical music gold.
‘The Birth of Us’ and ‘Round Up’ – featuring the updated assembling of his Blues People band boasting a line-up of guitarist Igor Osypov, keyboardist Peter Schlamb, bassist Dominique Sanders and drummer Ryan J. Lee – certainly warrant mention for their thrilling scope and energy.
If ‘AfroFuturism’ represents Logan Richardson’s vision for jazz’s future then it’s a future that will continue to see jazz music thrive while in the incredibly capable and competent hands of luminaries like Richardson brave enough to usher in its brave new era.
Fransisco Mora Catlett’s rare 1986 Afro-Latin private press LP ‘Mora!’ enjoys a welcome release from Far Out Recordings. Alongside this highly sought-after album is the previously unreleased sequel recording which was never released on vinyl, then shelved, and only ever released much later on CD via a small record label. Both albums have long been considered holy grails of Afro-Latin Jazz and showcase the originality and avant-garde approach to Latin music that seems to elude the traps of time. The time spent with Sun Ra’s band may have been an important factor in guiding Fransisco towards his desired path of creativity and originality. Prior to a fruitful 7-year engagement with the Arkestra the Mexican-American percussionist studied composition at the Berklee College of Music, and this stands out over the course of the two albums. Thoughts of artists such as Jerry Gonzalez, Hilton Ruiz and other progressive Latin artists spring to mind on listening to both albums although the unique sound across both recordings are multi-layered and pan American in scope, crossing wide areas of Afro-Latin ancestry which connects to Fransisco’s heritage. The voice of the music is emotive, progressive and deeply connected with a celebratory feel that ebbs and flows throughout the journey. Batucada, Afro-Cuban, Sambas and Latin-jazz, Haitian and Native American motifs are all woven into the story that begins with a tropical soundscape on the first part of ‘Mora !’; the Prelude.
A fortunate chance meeting with Sun Ra in Mexico City after the three years studying composition at Berklee Music College changed the percussionist’s trajectory and Sun Ra’s offer to join the Arkestra was accepted by the percussionist composer. Touring with Sun Ra for approximately 7 years would prove to be an important and creative period for Fransisco, playing alongside many formidable progressive artists including John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Marshall Allen and other members of the Arkestra. Marcus Belgrave and Max Roach further supported the percussionist’s avant-garde afro-future approach in future years with some important connections on the Detroit jazz scene adding weight and context to the percussionist’s creative freedom and musical direction.
Contemporary soul/techno collaborations with Carl Craig and Craig Taborn on the Detroit Experiment project in 2002 and Innerzone Orchestra’s ‘Programmed’ album in 1999 created greater awareness for the music of Fransisco Mora Catlett and this was further exemplified five years later in 2004 when the Dutch-based Kindred Spirits record label released the excellent 12” ‘Amazona’, leading to a welcome bridge between the generations of collectors and DJs. Backtrack to 1999 again and the percussionist’s ‘World Trade Music’ CD-only release, was voted jazz album of the year and featured music recorded over a 10 year period including the composition ‘Cultural Warrior’ which was originally recorded for the ‘Mora!’ album. ‘World Trade Music’ was an important release as it really gave many listeners an introduction to the genius of the percussionist composer who had been under the radar for so long.
On the first album, joining Francisco Mora on Drums and Percussion are Emile Borde: Steel Drums and Percussion, Vincent Bowens: Soprano/Tenor Saxophones and Flute, Ken Cox: Piano, Jerome Le Duff: Berimbau and Percussion, Teresa Mora: Vocal and Percussion, Alberto Nacif: Quinto, Congas and Percussion and Rodney Whitaker: Contrabass. The shelved part 2 album featured the added brass section with Marcus Belgrave – Sherman Mitchell: Trombone, Trumpet, John Douglass – Trumpet and Flugel Horn and Alex Harding – Baritone Sax and Bass Clarinet.
On the first part of the two album journey, a tropical scene is set with the sounds of nature adding context to the story. The 12 minute ‘Afra Jum’ is a wonderful jazz slanted Afro-Latin track that explores the melodies of African and Native American history with real sensitivity and rich arrangement. The track appears again on ‘Mora II’ and it’s a really interesting comparison with the addition of the brass section on the latter version.
The driving ‘Rumba Morena’ is an uplifting piece with pianist Kenny Cox sharing centre stage with Franssico’s percussion and Emile Borde on steel drums. ‘Five A.M’ is a straight-ahead jazz number with saxophonist Vincent Bowens and pianist Kenny Cox playing off each other, whilst ‘Samba de Amor’ is a heavy samba with the percussion, steel drums, soprano saxophone, percussive keys and harmonizing vocals all adding to this energetic and memorable piece. The track featured on Kevin Beadle’s excellent compilation ‘Private Collection volume 3’ amidst some other great rare selections. Highly recommended!
‘Cultural Warrior’ offers a change of pace with the emphasis on a slower emotive feel. Kenny Cox’s melodic side takes centre stage at the beginning of the track. Vincent Bowens adds his own spark on tenor and the track has a slight Coltrane feel about it. The album is neatly rounded off with a buoyant percussive epilogue that brings the context back into focus.
The sequel album opens with a shorter punchier version of ‘Afra Jum’ featuring the legendary Marcus Belgrave joined by Sherman Mitchell and Alex Harding in the brass section. Throughout the sequel album, the brass section adds a complementary alternative sound to the first part and this is exemplified on the weightier versions of ‘Afra Jum’ and the samba track ‘Conga Do Amor’. One of the highlights is the uptempo samba jazz number ‘Amazona’ featuring vocalist Teresa Mora. The piece has featured on various high profile compilations on labels including Kindred Spirits and P-Vine and the track was a real hit on its release in 2004, featuring not just the original version but a Carl Craig edit.
These two excellent albums are important pieces that were so rare and are full of incredible music. An essential purchase!
I was always going to review this album. It was ordained by the powers and no matter the weight of homeschooling, work commitments or the rolling fatigue of Twitter, I had to make time for this. I am, you see, wholly obliged to review any music that has been, as this has, labelled ‘THRASH-JAZZ’.
As an old, socially-tribed, metalhead who grew into jazz via prog, fusion and soul music I am particularly sensitive to the ‘authenticity’ of any metal dabbling. I can smell ‘imposter’ on a players leather jacket from a Monsters of Rock stage away, and the very notion of my thrash being piano-led creates disconcerting visualisations of Keane doing a Middle-England-mosh through Master of Puppets.
But here we are with Cameron Graves’ piano-led thrash-jazz, ‘Seven’. I just had to review it. So, arms-folded across my covid-lockdown torso I say “go on then lads, play hard and let me sniff your jackets.”
Immediately, “Sacred Spheres” charmingly challenges my mardy-arsed rules of engagement. Drummer Mike Mitchell throws down some broken hardcore for the band to angular (more obtuse than acute) riff on. Then Colin Cook’s descending guitar part and Graves’ chugging piano takes us through time sig shifts and some rapid-fire, single note stuff before we arrive at a gloriously swelling fusion landscape with atmospheric, effected guitar and fizzy, sprinkling percussive exploration that finally builds into a return to riff #1.
‘Paradise Trinity’ has a breezy, Vince Guaraldi buoyancy led by its essential dancing, probing bassline. Expanding at the halfway point into a wonderful bright springtime energy, it compellingly moves from gliding to darting to floating with guest Kamasi Washington delivering delicious potency. It’s blue skies, clear sinuses and bright eyes. Gorgeous.
The album’s first true bit of metal epic-n-stun is delivered by ‘Sons of Creation’. The hard riffing is fun though; playful, not dark. The souls playing this aren’t that troubled and the scales are less western cold-climate more Latin/eastern maritime warmth. Cook delivers a delightfully fluid solo of runs, bends and arpeggios.
‘Seven’ starts with a Van Halen ‘Right Now’ power-peddle piano bit before some Cook Schon-esque volume slurs; bags of tasty, teasing, wait-for-it, brinkmanship snare; and more Kamasi sympathetic stylings. ‘Seven’ is so my kind of track: short, sweet and eye-closingly uplifting.
Ever heard Jimmy Webb do metal? That’s the intro to ‘The Life Carriers’. Then it’s frantic power riffing of car chase level excitement. Relenting only for four of the most involving, overflowing, expansive chords you’ll ever hear, which they repeat a few times for rightful glory-basking before we get back into the riff & the frantic dance. Rollicking stuff.
‘Super Universes’ is thrilling. Fierce and tight as a duck’s with a tiny taste of doom. Mitchell is all over this thing, personally delighting me with his slipping-down-the-steps-a-bit at 1:45. It’s even got a Kansas-vibed, proggy break. Faultless.
‘Red’ does that favourite thrash dynamic of heavy then light then heavy. Ferocious, messy and aggressive then a dramatically embracing, classically-styled walkabout and then…gwwoooooaaarrr!!!!
The deeply moving, emotionally articulate ‘Fairytales’ is well placed in the running order. Graves’ solo piano piece affords a moment for reflection and admiration. His playing is deft and sensitive. A therapeutic breather amongst the dynamics.
Then we’re back in. Mad syncopation and heroic time sigs fire up the eye-widening 2 minutes that is ‘Master Spirits’. Cook fluently slurs and blurs again and Mitchell does much fire and I can’t help but grin. All. The. Way. Through. It.
‘Mansion Worlds’ is a metallic period drama. It’s flamboyant, an eastern European palace with staff serving caviar to high society in their wigs and frills and that. A remarkable end to the instrumental tracks on this album.
The final two tracks are totally unexpected.
‘Eternal Paradise’ starts with some, totally expected, hardcore riffing but then pops into a Grave lead vocal that conjures Dream Theatre versus a Styxian, Christian musical theatre production. Now that might not mean anything to you or even if it does mean something that something might be a bad something, but trust me…it’s magical. BloodVeryGood indeed.
Finally, we have the genius-arranged, Beatles cover, ‘Getting Better’. It’s not right for this album but, then again, it is so, so right for this album. It’s a heartwarming, West Coast soul bombardment of smiling, heartfelt optimism. Contagious. The chorus bobs along with sunny Graham Nash harmonies and there’s a guitar solo that Donald Fagen would’ve paid good money for. Also, Max Gerl’s spanky bass breaks and there are party bubbles filling the air. God, this song makes me so happy.
OK. What to say? This is a musical melting pot whirlwind. Each track hits that 3 minutes-ish sweet spot; clear message, get in, get out, do the most damage. It isn’t remotely serious or cerebral but it is clever, earnest, optimistic and spiritual. It’s very heavy and educated in the ways of metal; yes, their jackets do smell authentic. And Mike Mitchell deserves the 2021 Pearl-Ludwig Golden Cowbell.
It is a truly remarkable album that I had challenged to impress, which it did in spades. It’s unique, exciting and endearing and I believe every single second of it. All of it works so well that it excites me to think what Graves might achieve next as he takes these disparate influences further and further.
Also, I personally want to thank him for enabling me to reference Keane, Jimmy Webb and Monsters of Rock in a single UK Vibe review.
It’s not often these days that a band comes along where their music could truthfully be referred to as being ‘unique’. Snowpoet are just that. Irish vocalist and lyricist Lauren Kinsella and producer/musician Chris Hyson have followed up their spellbinding 2018 release “Thought You Knew” with yet another slice of musical magnificence. “Wait For Me” is a bold, mesmerising statement offering a mantra-like evocation of the deeper questions of how we love, how we acceptor our faults and how we let go in a time of profound confusion.
Since their first EP six years ago, Snowpoet have been shaping their captivating sound across a series of releases, each one seeing the group explore and expand within genre-fluid musical territories. One might suggest hints of Bjork or Zero7 within the musical magic they weave, yet in the same sentence, it would be just as easy to mention jazz legends John Coltrane and Miles Davis, or modern classical composers such as Arvo Part and Max Richter. Ultimately their music is their own, beautifully crafted, performed and produced.
Imagine walking into an art gallery where each picture tells its own story, where each and every viewer can see different things, perhaps dependent upon how they feel at that precise moment in time, their circumstances, their point of view and how present they really are there and then. In this respect, “Wait For Me” is a work of art. A masterpiece. A series of audible colours and textures that create a uniquely rewarding sonic experience. Beauty, as the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder. To me, Snowpoet’s music is beauty personified.
With contributions from musicians Matthew Robinson, Josh Arcoleo, Dave Hamblett, Lloyd Haines, Alex Haines and Alice Zawadzki, the music that flows so gracefully through the album’s twelve original pieces is intelligently and masterfully written and recorded. I don’t think I’ve been so taken aback by the ‘sound’ on an album since discovering Nitin Sawhney a couple of decades ago. The skill with which the music is crafted cannot be understated. And neither can the intelligence and beauty of the songwriting. These things go perfectly hand-in-hand with Kinsella and Hyson, with an organic, poetic, intuitive feel to their music matched perfectly with a rich, evocative and adventurous spirit.
Whether marvelling, utterly and compellingly fascinated by the intricate sensitivities of “Roots” and the beguiling “Wool Cotton Lace and Snow”, being mesmerised and captivated by the simple, stunning elegance of “Here’s The Thing”, becoming engrossed in the meditative, other-worldly “Tiers”, or emotively blown away by the lyrical wonderment of “Sky Thinking”, a deeply rewarding experience is available to those who care to listen. Just sit, in a place of your own choosing, let everything go, and listen. In Kinsella’s own words; “Feet towards the sky, where I like to seat bones, firmly sat, sky thinking”.
It hasn’t been long ago at all since I had the fortune of sitting down with a past treasure from the hallowed walls of Strata-East that had been given new life courtesy of the vinyl connoisseurs from Pure Pleasure. From the all-star quartet comprising of Stanley Cowell, Billy Harper, Reggie Workman and Billy Hart, their ‘Such Great Friends’ project – originally recorded back in 1983 – was given its due courtesy of being lovingly gift-wrapped for an all-new generation.
But now the label has the distinct pleasure – (no) pun intended – of repackaging another gem from the Strata-East catalogue with the release of ‘Two Is One’ by Charles Rouse.
Originally released in 1974, saxophonist Charles Rouse (more familiarly known as “Charlie” Rouse outside of this release) really defied expectations with ‘Two Is One’ adopting a bolder and funk-inspired aesthetic within many of the album’s compositions.
By 1974, Rouse was now something of a jazz music veteran – helming his first project as leader by the tail end of the 1950s (‘The Chase Is On’, Bethlehem Records). While further projects would follow over the years positioning Rouse as leader, including releases through Blue Note Records and Jazzland, he would continually find his talents put to use through some exceptional projects including Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band, Duke Ellington’s Orchestra and Count Basie’s Octet. Perhaps Charlie Rouse’s music may be most noted for serving as part of Thelonious Monk’s quartet from 1959 for over ten years and subsequently founding the Monk tribute collective, Sphere.
But while Rouse’s talents were clearly massively in demand as a collaborator on projects including the aforementioned dream line-up, his achievements as a bandleader – as exemplified by ‘Two Is One’ – absolutely warrant boundless praise. Across the album’s five tracks, the soulful nature of ‘Bitchin’ and ‘Hopscotch’ nicely set the stage for Rouse’s vision but it’s the closing two numbers, ‘Two Is One’ and ‘In His Presence Searching’, that really steal the show. The latter in particular, potentially seeking inspiration from the spiritual jazz icons of that era like Pharoah Sanders, sees the album close with the sublime near ten-minute long masterpiece that honestly deserves your attention.
With Charles Rouse on saxophone duties, the remaining ensemble is comprised of George Davis and Paul Metzke on guitars, Calo Scott on cello, Stanley Clarke and Martin Rivera on bass, David Lee on drums, Airto Moreira on percussion and Azzedin Weston on congas.
Strata-East’s successes as an independent, black-owned hub of innovative and distinct talent celebrating a dynamic scope of jazz – including post-bop, afro and spiritual jazz – will forever serve as the label’s legacy. It is record labels like Strata-East that make projects like ‘Two Is One’ possible.
This a big and sprawling release in many ways. It features two live performances by Charles Mingus in Bremen just over a decade apart. And these performances are definitely in the tradition of live extended tracks – particularly the 1964 set. So there is a lot of material to digest and think about.
Approaching this set is quite daunting. In the sleeve notes Bret Sjerven takes the approach of focusing on the differences in reception Mingus got from the audiences on the two dates. This does give us some descriptive background detail but does give to a large extent the impression that the better reception for the second gig somehow reflects the consolidation of Mingus’s reputation over those 10 years. That’s a bit of a stretch as the audience the first time around was about 200 souls in a studio setting, who at best guess would be mainly white and comparatively unused to his music – at least live – as this was his first German concert. The second gig was attended by 400 or so in a concert setting.
Radio Bremen Jazz Department head Siegfried Schmidt-Joos one would think knew the music better for it was he who set up the gig and invited Mingus. But curiously he got to review his own gig as a freelance for Bremen’s Weser Kurier newspaper and seemingly had issues with Mingus’s approach and attitude to the audience. But surely that was the point, not to realise Mingus was no shrinking violet and what’s more, was in the vanguard of artists in the Civil Rights Movement, seems perverse even for that time. So reading one of his quoted comments from the review is shocking: “If Charles Mingus wants to give more concerts on this side of the ocean, he will have to get used to Europe. Not Europe to Mingus.” And he wasn’t the only reviewer expressing such views Werner Burkhardt in Die Welt: “(Mingus) wants to proclaim a message of freedom and renewal. We understand him very well, but doubt whether his behaviour will really benefit his cause.”
So, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight and more discussion of issues of equality, rights and racism, we can see that these responses are exactly what Mingus would have wanted to expose and to firmly express that he was stating his vision and views through is music and to show that in matters of race and identity it was not black people who needed to change but the ingrained and colonially driven attitudes of white people.
So it’s rather odd that Bret Sjerven writing now does not mention these issues and goes on to describe the reception of the second concert as down to changes of critical perception in purely musical terms: “The only thing that seems to have changed was the attitude of the mind critical, as ten years of achievement had cemented Mingus’s legacy in Europe.” This is particularly perverse as only a partial list of Mingus’s recording up to 1964 shows: Pithecanthropus Erectus 1956, The Clown 1957, Mingus Ah Um 1959, Blues & Roots 1960, Mingus Dynasty 1960, Pre-Bird (aka Mingus Revisited) 1961, Oh Yeah 1962, Tijuana Moods 1962 [recorded 1957], The Complete Town Hall Concert 1962, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady 1963, Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus 1964. ‘nuff said. But apart from, in my view, this odd approach the rest of the sleeve notes do give us an insight into the music from a mostly musical criticism approach.
So what about the music? This is the first time I have had an opportunity to hear in full a Charles Mingus concert. I have, of course, heard the key studio recordings which are fantastic. The constraints of time and space mean that studio recordings are usually focused and tight. But these sets remind me of seeing other live gigs back in the day where the band is freer to stretch out. In smaller venues these days this doesn’t happen as much – bands tend to keep to shorter versions pretty well as they record them.
To be frank live shows for me could back then be too stretched out to the point of indulgence. And often sound quality was not always great. Fortunately sound is not a problem on these sets as they were recorded for broadcast. It perhaps a more open sound than you would typically get in the studio but the quality is very good.
To put the set into context they play Fables of Faubus in both ’64 and ’75 33 minutes the first time and 15 the second. The studio recording on Mingus Ah Um is 8 minutes… The 64 set is almost entirely made up of longer workouts. Hope So Eric is 26 minutes, Parkerania 22 and Meditations on Integration 25. Jaki Byard’s Piano Solo and Sophisticated Lady weigh in at an almost insignificant 5 and 4 minutes respectively. Only Sue’s Changes in the ’75 set reaches 33 minutes.
Quite apart from anything else, this presents some issues particularly for the first set as the longer tracks are effectively half a full CD and are virtually symphonic or at the very least variations on a theme.
Bremen April 16th 1964
Line-up: Johnny Coles trumpet, Eric Dolphy alto sax, flute & bass clarinet, Clifford Jordan tenor sax, Jaki Byard piano, Charles Mingus bass, Dannie Richmond drums.
In structure this set has two extended tracks Hope So Eric and Fables of Faubus at the start and finishing with two more Parkerania and Meditations on Integration with the two shorter tracks sandwiched in between – a Piano Solo by Byard and a version of Sophisticated Lady by the full band.
And I think this says something about Mingus and his musical approach. Yes, there are strong politics in there and yes, the music swings (and how!) and it also swings through bop and post-bop towards the Avant-Garde but at root, he fully respects the tradition and the history of the music up to that point. Judging by the sleeve notes the concert played out without a break so these two tracks provided a kind of intermission or a coda for the first part and an overture for the second.
I may have intimated earlier that there was indulgence here but let’s knock that one on the head. Once you get your head around what’s going on here and the structure of the performance, which I’m pretty sure Mingus was totally in command of, it all comes into focus.
And my first focus apart from the obvious one of Mingus directing and underpinning everything is Jaki Byard. Wow, I should have known this but what a player, encapsulating a whole range of jazz styles and history and really one of the standouts in this set and one of the major reasons why this band so much bigger and broader than just a sextet.
The ’64 set starts with Hope So Eric (also called So Long Eric) and a typical Mingus bass solo lead in with just some spare Byard chords before the band comes in with the theme, it’s apparently a tribute to Eric Dolphy as he had decided to stay in Europe. Johnny Coles then plays a bluesy solo before Mingus picks up the pace with Coles almost referencing When the Saints Go Marching In. Then the band starts in with that signature Mingus orchestration under the trumpeter. The pace shifts back down with Coles extending until at five or so minutes in Byard takes over with just Mingus and some Richmond accents. The pianist gets busier and bluesier and Richmond increases his hits. After some trills its Dolphy’s turn. Dolphy heats it up before again we shift up the gears again. Around halfway Mingus takes a solo at the end of which he trades breaks with Richmond who is the only player apart from Mingus to appear in both the ’64 and ’75 sets. Mingus goes into a walking bass style to introduce Dolphy who takes things to a more Avant-Garde feel with honks and squeaks and a higher register ride into the last few minutes and a final restatement of the theme, and an almost false ending with a slow at first then accelerating train to finish. The applause is extended as Mingus references the soloists with no hint of rancour.
Then we are into that extended version of Fables of Faubus one of Mingus’s most political statements. Dolphy’s bass clarinet is prominent at the start in that so well known theme that characterises Governor Orval Faubus as both fascist and idiotic figure of fun. For it was he who in 1957 sent the National Guard to prevent the integration of the Little Rock High School. To its shame Columbia refused to have a version with lyrics on Mingus Ah Um – it was only later on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus on Candid that they had a recorded airing.
For the record and because of recent events in the US worth it’s quoting the lyrics here (although they have varied over the versions recorded):
Oh, Lord, don’t let ’em shoot us!
Oh, Lord, don’t let ’em stab us!
Oh, Lord, no more swastikas!
Oh, Lord, no more Ku Klux Klan!
Name me someone who’s ridiculous, Dannie.
Why is he so sick and ridiculous?
He won’t permit integrated schools.
Then he’s a fool! Boo! Nazi fascist supremists!
Boo! Ku Klux Klan (with your Jim Crow plan).
Name me a handful that’s ridiculous, Dannie Richmond.
Faubus, Rockefeller, Eisenhower.
Why are they so sick and ridiculous?
Two, four, six, eight:
They brainwash and teach you hate.
The instrumental version here is spectacular with the full range of the instrumentation, quiet to loud, fast to slow, straight ahead to pretty free improv and driving funk and blues. Byard provides an inventive piano solo with the band sitting out before they re-assemble accompanied by some rocking piano chords and melody.
We are then into the “interlude” of the two shorter tracks first Byard’s solo feature roaming across jazz piano history in it’s long for a solo but short in this context at nearly five minutes.
Sophisticated Lady is equally concise with it being a bass solo by Mingus with some spare piano accompaniment which leads straight into Parkeraina where the band kicks in with the charge led by Dolphy including quotes from Ornithology and 52nd Street Theme if I’m not mistaken. Dolphy is quite extraordinary in his inventiveness across this track a fitting homage to Bird.
Meditations on Integration is back to altogether harder-edged material with its opening ethereal them with Dolphy on flute being a calm before the storm which rolls in with first Byard on piano and then a signature speeding up and slowing down with Dolphy switching to bass clarinet. We also get some Milesian trumpet from Johnny Coles including a Bye Bye Blackbird quote.
And what a goodbye – take a break that is just the end of the Bremen ’64 set…
Bremen July 9th 1975
Line-up: Jack Walrath trumpet, George Adams tenor sax & vocals, Don Pullen piano, Charles Mingus bass, Dannie Richmond drums.
The return visit has only Dannie Richmond on drums as well as Mingus from the earlier set. This time as previously mentioned only the first track Sue’s Changes approaches the length and breadth of the four key tracks from ’64.
Written for his wife, Changes starts sweetly with Walrath leading on trumpet before another signature speeded up unison theme. Adams gets to shine and there’s one of those exploratory quieter passages with Pullen and Mingus. Its Pullen who leads an increase in tempo, volume and a move into freer style with Adams later doing a honking and squealing free passage of his own with the band coming back in before we are back into a sweeter feel contrasting with boppish elements. It finishes freer with the horns to the front. For Harry Carney – dedicated to Ellington’s barite=one sax player – is a Caravanesque tune started by Mingus’s beautifully strong bass and Walrath’s trumpet. Adams then gets as close as you can to baritone with a wide-ranging and punchy tenor solo with Richmond beating out a Latin feel. Pullen is also punchy in his lengthy solo keeping the swing going with some low down bass notes. Later he takes over the underlying bass theme while Mingus solos in a high register.
Free Cell Block F, ‘Tis Nazi USA seems prescient even now given what’s been going down in the last four years over there. The whole band get a workout with Pullen again prominent. Black Bats and Poles is a raucous tune that I haven’t heard before written by Jack Walrath with Adams wild and Pullen driving.
The 1975 version of Fables of Faubus does have some of the lyrics quoted earlier in the review and is all the better for it. The addition of the lyrics together with it being more urgent and concise makes it rather more hard-hitting.
We are shifted into ballad territory for Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love – a tribute to the Duke who had recently passed. It’s a loving and gently swinging affair. Adams again takes us into a Carneyesque register on the tenor and Pullen trips lightly in his solo.
Cherokee for these two concerts is almost gone before it starts at less than two minutes and is a humorous take with Adams and Walrath briefly squeaking the theme. It sounds like that was the end as the applause is long and rhythmic. But the band is back for Remember Rockefeller at Attica is another of Mingus’ references to racist and violent events this time Governor Rockefeller’s decision to send in the State Police to Attica Penitentiary. It’s a pretty straight-ahead up-tempo number with a nice contribution from Pullen and at last an extended solo from Richmond.
Devil Blues ends the set and starts with another of Mingus’s string-bending solos which shifts into a walking blues feel with Pullen comping. Then Adams shouts the lyrics followed by a rangy solo by Walrath, a final Pullen section and a wail from Adams. Adams then improvises more lyrics – a funky way to wind up the proceedings.
It’s hard to do justice to such an extensive set of material. It’s not always an easy listen but then it’s Mingus so why would it be? And you need multiple listens to appreciate what’s here. I would have loved to have been at either of these gigs – it must have been intense and ultimately rewarding.
Dewey Redman’s 1974 track ‘Qow’ provides the inspiration for this trio’s choice of name; the album features a reinterpretation of the tune as well as an original composition ‘Qowfirmation’ by the trio’s sax player Riley Stone-Lonergan. The majority of the album’s tunes are reworkings of jazz standards spanning far and wide across the genre’s history. The band share a passion for the trio work of Sonny Rollins but approach jazz from three distinct perspectives applying their own set of filters to give these familiar tunes a refreshingly contemporary twist.
The youngest member of the band is Riley Stone-Lonergan, an Irish player based in London with an interest in 60s free jazz. His other project: Family Band riff on the music of Dewey Redman, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and John Coltrane. He also finds time for another quartet with French pianist Fabrice Tavel with whom he has toured Europe.
At the other end of the age range is veteran drummer Spike Wells who cites early influences as Tony Williams and Philly Joe Jones, he went on to have a close association with Bobby Wellins and Tubby Hayes as well as playing live at Ronny Scott’s with the likes of Roland Kirk, Art Farmer, Stan Getz and James Moody.
Sandwiched between these two generations is bandleader and bassist Eddy Myer whose impressive facial hair will be familiar to fans of Turin Brakes’ live performances. Myer claims his long-standing interest in jazz was originally sparked by the chance discovery of a misfiled Thelonious Monk LP in the dub section of Notting Hill Record and Tape Exchange. His other jazz vehicle is the Brighton based Eddy Myer 5tet.
The album gets underway with a take on the Fred Loesser standard ‘Slow Boat to China’ only this boat isn’t slow, it’s pretty sharp and streamlined at least at the outset; it mellows somewhat in a sound reminiscent of Lester Young before gradually becoming freer and more exploratory again. There’s some delicious interplay between Myer’s bass and Stone-Lonergan’s sax while Wells finds an intricate pathway to hold them together.
There’s an urgency to the band’s rendition of Redman’s ‘Qow’ where Stone-Lonergan really comes into his own with an expressive aggression and passion, there are even a few growls of excitement from him. The band move away from the theme into more Avant-Garde territory sounding free and very much in the moment. Wells’ total involvement and incredible lightness of touch are also highly evident here.
Joe Henderson’s ‘Serenity’ offers a change of tone from Stone-Lonergan, it’s more influenced by the later sound of Henderson than the mid-60s era from which the tune originates; as it progresses there’s more tonal shift and Lonergan’s own voice emerges. There’s some tasty bass work from Myer but perhaps he’s just a little too quiet in the mix. I turned up the volume on my system to hear the details on this track.
Other highlights of the album are a version of Parker’s ‘Cheryl’, Stone-Lonergan riffs on the familiar theme before taking his improvisation somewhere else with the full register of his instrument, the power of Wells’ playing is also particularly evident here. On Billie Holiday’s ‘God Bless the Child’ there’s a change of pace and some understated passion especially in the interplay between Wells’ subtle vocabulary and the sax.
The playing is pretty sharp and agile on most of the nine tracks; one place I felt a dip in energy was on the overlong ‘Pound for Prez’. Overall though the album is an impressive afternoon’s work and offers a satisfying combination of tradition and innovation. Let’s hope they get the opportunity to get this music in front of a live audience in the not too distant future.
Work Money Death is a large ensemble founded by two Leeds-based musicians, saxophonist Tony Burkill and bass player, Neil Innes. It’s actually a second outing for the group, who also performed on Burkill’s debut solo album from 2017, “Work Money Death”. “Work Money Death” (the album), although a good listen, was rather stylistically scatter-gun but this new release picks up where the last and stand-out track “Beginning And End” left off with a pair of lush spiritual jazz one-track sides.
Side one is “Dusk”, which begins with a vibe that’s reminiscent of Alice Coltrane’s “Journey In Satchidananda” with tanpura drones and a pensive repetitive bass motif. The intensity increases as Burkill’s sax improv moves from smooth to fiery, complemented by Adam Fairhall’s piano and builds to a free crescendo anchored by bass. The cohesiveness of the performance is all the more impressive when you learn that each musician recorded their part separately as the album was produced during the first lockdown of last year.
Side two. The exhilaration of “Dusk” passes to the mellowness and warmth of “Dawn”. Waves of shimmering ride cymbal becomes celebratory percussion and clapping from The Headingley Hand Choir tied to a repeating sliding bass pattern which continues to the end of the track. The gentle improvised sax pauses for a jubilant piano solo. Voices sing “Love is all I bring to you” like a mantra as the sound texture deepens with bass clarinet and flute.
The album features excellent performances and the tracks are beautifully arranged. In the current grim climate, I greet “The Space In Which The Uncontrollable Unknown Resides, Can Be The Place From Which Creation Arises” with open arms. A brief moment of positivity; listening to this album is a profound and joyous experience.