Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola has deservedly earned a formidable reputation over recent years as one of Europe’s most creative and innovative musicians in jazz. With a series of highly successful and praised albums behind him, this is his fourth release on Edition Records and continues to showcase what a refreshing talent he undoubtedly is.
Featuring Tuomo Prättälä on piano, Antti Lötjönen on bass, and Mika Kallio on drums, “The Dead Don’t Dream” brings together elements of Pohjola’s previous releases, most notably the wonderful “Bullhorn”, with the same thoughtful yet adventurous spirit coursing through the seven compositions. Pohjola’s expressive playing is as sensitive and exquisite as ever, bringing to mind the likes of Arve Henriksen and Jon Hassell, his creative voice a statement of subtle intent that flows effortlessly through the whole album.
The album title itself conjures up many thoughts. It might appear to reference a darker side, and there is indeed a contemplative solemnity to much of the music here, but it is also an album of opportunity and optimism, as the trumpeter explains; “The music is not necessarily about anxiety or hopelessness, even though there’s plenty of both in our modern society. For me, it’s more about breathing in and out, letting go of unnecessary stress, accepting who you are and hopefully becoming a more balanced person. It’s about embracing life in all of its complex emotions, while we still have it. After all, the Dead Don’t Dream.”
The tunes presented on this session all benefit from their own narrative quest. The sparse, dream-like nature of the title track simply broods with its own melancholic virtue. In contrast, the anthemic “Monograph” is gently uplifting, and along with the engaging “Suspended” all feature Miika Paatelainen on pedal steel, adding to the atmosphere of these pieces. One of my favourite tunes “Wilder Brother” features Pauli Lyytinen on saxophone, and is a majestic piece of music, fluent, melodious and rich in texture. The pensive, reflective nature of “Voices Heard” gathers strength and pace as the tune develops, cautiously opening up as it goes. I love the way Pohjola expertly traverses light and dark shades, as on “Argirro”, his twisting breathy lines bringing optimism from despair. Cool and vibrant, “The Conversationalist” harks back to an early era of Miles, with its licks and tricks all pulling together on this beautifully balanced piece of music.
Once again Verneri Pohjola has produced an album with many layers to it. There are many depths within his music and the more one listens, the more chance there is that those hidden depths will reveal themselves. Like dreams, they come in waves. Sometimes coherent, sometimes inexplicable. But always worthy of our attention.
Setting this set to play is like opening a box from the attic and finding a long-forgotten gem. By turns this is lively and life-affirming music, historical document and a memento to treasure of a tipping point in South African and British jazz. I had the utter life-changing pleasure of hearing Dudu Pukwana in the early 70s live and on record, in Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath and later in his band Spear, so this new recording is a very emotional experience.
To set the scene here is a review I wrote of Dudu’s first proper UK release written for Grapevine Magazine in Birmingham – 46 years ago in 1974.
Dudu Pukwana and Spear
In the Townships
If anyone thinks that no jazz these days can make you feel good and want to get up and dance then they had better listen to this record.
The principal musician is Dudu Pukwana, that amazing alto saxophonist, who surprises here by playing some fine percussive piano. With him are Spear, that is Mongezi Feza (trumpet, congas, percussion, vocals), Bizo Mngqikana (tenor, percussion, vocals), Louis Moholo (drums, percussion) and Harry Miller (bass). All but Mngqikana have played in the various Chris McGregor groups, and the music is similar to the output of those groups. It’s based on African rhythms with plenty of percussive effects and with the horns blowing wild either in riffs or free. It really is a Pukwana show with his piano playing driving everything along, while his immensely enjoyable, leaping, alto takes most of the solo space. Since he is the leader I suppose this is to be expected, but it does mean that the other fine musicians are rather restricted. Only Feza of the others solos more than briefly and he is very effective.
All the music is impressive, insistent and infectious. There are vocals but, if like me, you’re wary of jazz singing, don’t worry – it’s all very much part of the music. In fact, if I knew the language I’d sing along!
Now Matsuli Music have unearthed this virtually unknown set recorded in 1968 and 1969 which is in many ways a key bridge between the music of The Blue Notes as they migrated from SA to the UK in the mid-60s and the later fusion of SA grooves with Free Jazz in the Brotherhood. In some ways, it’s a companion piece to Mbaqanga Songs (initially titled Kwela) by Gwigwi Mrwebi recorded in London in 1967 which also featured Dudu.
The music is a kind of re-statement of South African mbaqanga/mgqashiyo style tunes in the main and serves to emphasise the SA roots that the Blue Notes and the Brotherhood brought to the UK and wider jazz scenes. And key musicians on these tracks are also many of those that came to the UK because of apartheid at home.
In addition, the story contained in the recordings include links to the wider music scene with the involvement of Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol of Fairport Convention and the US producer Joe Boyd who produced Pink Floyd’s first single and oversaw Bob Dylan controversially playing electric for the first time. He also produced for Nick Drake and it turns out Chris McGregor played a solo on Drake’s track Poor Boy on the Bryter Layter LP which Dudu was involved in.
The story is quite complex but in short Joe Boyd heard Dudu with Bob Stuckey’s Organ Trio at Ronnie’s Old Place in the mid-60s. This was early days in the UK for Dudu and before McGregor was able to establish the Brotherhood and record their first LP in 1971. Boyd signed up some of the SA musicians to his Witchseason company and recorded the Chris McGregor Band’s (mainly The Blue Notes) LP Very Urgent.
The first two sides of this Dudu re-release were recorded under Boyd’s aegis in1968 in London but it’s more SA rooted sound made Boyd think that there was little market for it in the UK – despite what would become a solid interest in SA jazz quite soon after. So, it was eventually released in 1969 as Dudu Phukwana and the “Spears” in SA by Trutone/Quality and since been under the radar.
The other two sides in this edition are even more of a mystery as they only surfaced recently as an acetate from the Atlantic studios in NYC via an American collector. The sleeve notes have fuller and fascinating detail and also feature a couple of lovely shots of Dudu by Val Wilmer. The sleeve notes don’t go into detail about the recording of the second set of music which apart from one alternative take and one extended take of Pezulu and a repeat of Half Moon came from later sessions in 1969 according to a small note on the liner.
The exact personnel on all the recordings are an educated guess as notes from the sessions are missing. As well as Thompson and Nicol they feature Bob Stuckey (still active on the London scene), Phil Lee, Chris McGregor, Harry Miller, Dudu, Louis Moholo, Teddy Osei, Mongezi Feza, Jonas Gwangwa, Remi Kabaka, Jimmy Scott, Tunji Oyelana, Joe Mogotsi, and Mamsie Gwangwa.
The music is a veritable feast, the first two sides of the vinyl contain the ten tracks that were issued on the original SA release and there are nine more on the remaining two sides from the discovered acetates – all recorded at various London sessions. There is a slight confusion as the original issued title included the “Spears” but the music has no vocals except for a male voice on Qonqoza (uncredited). The second two sides do have vocals and the sleeve notes refer to these being by the “spears.”
For me this is a recording where trying to keep a critical distance is tough. This music and these musicians – particularly the South African ones are so important to me and my understanding and appreciation of jazz. They profoundly changed British jazz for the better.
Together with the Gwigwi Mrwebi recording, this music is an insight into the roots of SA jazz and the shebeen and black club culture. Chris McGregor may have been the leader of the Blue Notes and the Brotherhood but his musical roots as a white player were substantially the same as the black musicians as against the prevailing racist apartheid system he was able to learn from and play with them. Until, of course, the system made it increasingly difficult and the Blue Notes left SA so they could continue to play together.
Matsuli have kept the integrity of the original SA release and the found acetate so this does create some slight oddness to the programming. Pezulu on Side A is repeated with an extra 30 seconds or so on side C and there is also an alternate take of it. Half Moon is repeated as it appears on the original issue and on the acetate although the acetate version has a slightly different stereo mix. Then to my ears, Pho La the last track on Side B sounds almost like another version of Pezulu – but I may be wrong – it certainly has very similar rhythm.
It’s Pezulu (Way Up) that kicks the set off and you are immediately transported into a classic SA feel with a bass and piano intro with the drums kicking in before the call and response theme from the front line and percussion (from Nigerian musicians). The sleeve notes speculate that Dudu plays tenor sax as well as alto and also contributes piano but McGregor is also credited as being very likely to be playing and the main intro does sound like him.
On Thulula (Fill it Up) we hear Bob Stuckey on organ for the first time laying down a funky backing with Dudu foregrounded before Stuckey plays a short solo. The sound is warmer and closer and it sounds more like an organ trio with drums and bass pedals from Stuckey plus percussion and Dudu.
The piano is back for Kuthwasi Hlobo (Spring) and so are the other horns so it’s again more of that SA feel. Moholo is more prominent on this with the percussion a bit more down in the mix. Half Moon follows with the guitar a bit more prominent and Stuckey back with his trademark groovy organ and again Dudu leads with a sharp and lengthy theme statement with the pace being upped from Thulula.
Side A of the vinyl ends with Yima Mjalo (Stick Around) with the horn section back. Phil Lee (likely) on guitar does a reasonable facsimile of ringing African guitar. The Side B starts with Kwa Thula (Thula’s Place) which is actually the same tune as Half Moon – this was clear on the original tape box as it was marked to be replaced, but in the SA release this was overlooked.
Next is Joe’s Jika (Joe’s Groove) an uptempo number with the horn section and very danceable and a stand out with a hot Dudu solo. We stick with the horn ensemble for Nobomvu (Red Head) with more of a slow drag theme – the notes say Jonas Gwangwa was on the session and you can definitely hear trombone on this one. Qonqoza (Knock) with Lee leading it out on guitar and we are back with the organ ensemble and some background calling. Sounds like the call and response is between alto and tenor – Dudu on alto but it’s not clear if he also does the tenor or if that is Teddy Osei.
The original SA release tracks conclude with Pho La (Cool It) which as mentioned has a similar feel to Pezulu. Then we are into the newly discovered tracks off the Atlantic acetates found in the US. They are presented as found so there are cross-overs with the first set. First up are two versions of Pezulu – one appears to be simply a repeat of the Sde A track but with about 30 seconds more music and the other is an alternate take. Then there is a short almost white noise out-take followed by the repeat of Hal Moon with the different mix.
That concludes Side C and it’s Side D where we get into the later 1969 recordings starting with Izulu Liyaduduma which introduces the “Spears” with Joe Mogotsi of the Manhattan Brothers on vocals with (unconfirmed) Mamsie Gwangwa. There are probably more female voices but they have not been identified. This and Sibuyile recreate that SA vocal group style from the 50s and 60s very effectively with Richard Thompson doing a kind of copy of Marks Mankwane on guitar – and pretty well considering.
Then we conclude with two McGregor tunes with no vocals and, although still in the style of the horn ensemble tracks from earlier, very distinctively McGregorian. Church Mouse is first which perhaps references his father being a minister and then an untitled track which is a bit of a ringer or pre-cursor of the famous tune Andromeda which appeared on the first Brotherhood LP on Neon. Church Mouse is a tune that appears on the Trio album by McGregor which got overtaken by that first BoB recording. It was issued on Fledg’ling in 2008 and I’ve only just caught up with it – it’s style is much more of a pre-cursor to the freer elements of the first BoB line-up but that’s another story.
It’s all fascinating and involving stuff. And what of the extra H in Phukwana? It seems like a mistake at the SA end when the first 10 tracks were issued there as the master tape boxes have the correct spelling. It made its way into the original artwork and so is now enshrined in this release as Matsuli like to keep as close as possible to the original look and feel of the records. And who is to argue as this is such a historical artefact.
Finally, I’ve given it 5/5 for the music alone, but it is worth an additional star for its compelling historical and cultural value. It’s worthy of being a museum piece except that the music is too alive and vital for that. Just buy it.
The original tape box from the session that produced the SA release.
‘The Piccolo – TENDER plays TUBBY’ marks the brand new EP by the ever-versatile Tenderlonious, delivered through Jazz Detective Records.
As the founder of 22a Records, saxophonist and flautist Ed ‘Tenderlonious’ Cawthorne has established his reputation as a leading flag-waver for progressive and forward-thinking jazz. The strong theme of collaboration has always been prevalent throughout the numerous Tenderlonious releases: through his work as a member of the UK’s Ruby Rushton musical collective, revered for seeking inspiration from hip-hop and electronica to form part of their own masterful compositions; the Tenderlonious collaboration with Poland’s Electro-Acoustic Beat Sessions (EABS) absolutely warrants mention for their joint 22a release ‘Kraksa’ and ‘Svantetic’ which saw an exciting union with the like-minded hip-hop inspired septet; then, certainly not least of all, there’s the Tenderlonious excursion to Lahore, Pakistan, to record with the instrumental quartet, Jaubi, for their project ‘Tender in Lahore’.
So while we credit Cawthorne as being that innovative and forward-thinking artist, ‘Tender Plays Tubby’ provides Cawthorne with the unique opportunity to turn his attention towards the consummate accomplishments of those that came before him, in this case, the music of saxophonist Tubby Hayes. And as emphasised by the project’s title, ‘the piccolo’ acts as our very own time travelling vessel between these two eras of jazz music forming as much a part of the ‘Tender Plays Tubby’ story as Tubby Hayes’ legacy itself.
Having been locked away for almost 40 years following Hayes’ death, the piccolo was one of several cherished items included inside a trunk filled with memoirs, photos and tapes of his recording sessions. And while the contents of that trunk have led to a handful of albums subsequently seeing the light of day through official releases, ‘Tender Plays Tubby’ sees an homage in an entirely new perspective to the man once dubbed “British jazz’s forgotten genius”.
Backing Tenderlonious on this project is a stunning ensemble comprising of Cawthorne’s Ruby Rushton bandmates including trumpeter Nick Walters, drummer Tim Carnegie and on accordion Aidan Shepherd, along with pianist and vibraphonist Hamish Balfour (Belleruche, Nim Sadot) and bassist Pete Martin (Kamaal Williams, Brand New Heavies). Collectively, the musicians reinterpret four songs from the epic catalogue that comprised Hayes legacy kicking the EP off with the vibrant and high energy swing of ‘Down In The Village’ (‘Down In The Village’ by Tubby Hayes Quintet, 1963), an exquisite and scene-stealing interpretation of ‘Trenton Place’ (‘Mexican Green’ by Tubby Hayes Quartet, 1967), ‘Raga’ (‘Tubbs’ Tours’ by The Tubby Hayes Orchestra, 1964) and ‘In The Night’ (‘Down In The Village’ by Tubby Hayes Quintet, 1963) round out the selections.
While the music of Tubby Hayes will find itself embedded within the rich tapestry of UK jazz’s lineage, this project will still serve to reintroduce his music to the attention of an entirely new generation. But this is still a Tenderlonious record so while ‘Tender Plays Tubby’ presents the music of Tubby Hayes, the project is still delivered within that distinctive Tenderlonious aesthetic making this a wonderful extension to his own musical legacy.
“Spiritual Jazz saxophonist, Nat Birchall, ditches loyal band members, steals daughter’s drumkit and unleashes a solo synth spectacular!” Read all about it here, on UKVibe!
Sun Ra loved a synthesiser; he was a Minimoog pioneer, the synth was an essential vocal vehicle on his celestial voyages. Nat Birchall? Not such a big fan (of synths, that is). Lockdown, however, has allowed Nat to revisit this view. He had to create during this period and, not having access to the wonderful musicians he normally communes with, he looked to do something a bit different, something solo…so he bought a Korg Minilogue analogue synth, nicked his daughter’s drumkit and allowed the spirit of Sun Ra to inspire him.
The, 47 second long, “Intro – Pyramidion” blesses us with gentle cascades of Nat and a brief introduction to the analogue shapes, shimmers and implied rhythms of the Minilogue that provides the cosmic backdrop throughout “Mysticism of Sound”.
“Cosmic Visitant” is hypnotherapy. The Minilogue sprinkles a mesmeric pattern, as bells shake and cleanse while the hand drum coalesces a rhythm section mantra. Nat’s tenor is reflective, patient; a monologue delivered by someone deeply comfortable in their own skin; not expecting (or needing) a response; not relying on emphasis or indulging in dynamics; seeing through steady confident eyes; a hypnotic reconnection to an altered state of consciousness.
“Mysticism of Sound” is a cosmic exploration. It hovers over planets and panoramas: to tranquilly go where no man has gone before. It has an otherworldly shimmer. It hopes to connect with new life and new civilisations but if not it continues to float, to see and feel other galaxies, orbs, entities; serenely exploring for the rest of time.
“Celestial Spheres” orbits on a walking bassline and cymbal ride. A simple, Space is the Supreme Loved Place tenor riff drops away to unveil a sax-charming Nat, benevolently guiding a sensual, sinewy dance.
“Space-time Vortex” benefits from some Sun Ra synth comping and a tentative, spiralling, morse code snare and cymbal. The tenor shifts from an enchanting, repeating and eventually descending, 4-note motif to a wavering, sauntering solo that momentarily frees itself before returning to its eddying core.
“Dance of the Sun God” is a hippish strut, posturing a please-don’t-look-beneath-the-surface cockyness. It evokes a fallible deity, one not as convinced of her own powers as the hagiographic scriptures might believe her to be. Or, maybe, she’s oblivious of her failings. It has a lovely, and lovable, ingenuous feel.
“Omniscient Beings” has an audible beating heart. It anxiously pants. The Minilogue has an 80s new-romantic artsy quality that, with the fine-grained layered sax, creates an unexpectedly Lynchian, eerie, nervous feeling that you’re being indifferently observed.
“Inner Pathway” opens with a two voiced sax part that introduces a self-awakened, self-compassionate, self-accepting, journey to being. It peacefully trots along its internal path with some delightful and lissome phrasing.
The sitar-meets-church organ Korg swathes “Outer Realms” with nocturne energy; gradually enveloping Nat’s beautifully pure, emotive playing with majestic dark skies and pinheads of hopeful starlight. The sax returns to fade with a cry into the infinite.
“Mysticism of Sound” may have had Sun Ra as a starting point but this is all Nat. His voice is more serene and less overtly political than Ra’s and being without his own Arkestra has enabled him to produce a remarkably centred performance. It has an insular feel that builds on a solid sense of self and expands, as always, into the metaphysical, the divine, the cosmic. It oscillates; animated by deep rhythm, both played and unplayed; the kind of natural rhythm of which the great Afrofuturist himself once said “I know exactly the rhythm that must animate my music, and only this rhythm is valid.”
I have recently been listening to the majestic album by Shirley Horn ‘Here’s to Life’ from 2005. This features strings and a wonderful collection of standard tunes, well known to jazz lovers. String arrangements on that album were supplied by Johnny Mandel. To my mind, that album has become a contemporary classic and that’s how I feel about this latest release from Claire Martin. This is her third album release in the last twelve months or so, and each one has its own distinct style and personality. This one is no different in that respect, but it is Claire’s first recording with a big band and orchestra. The musical arrangements here are supplied by the trombonist Callum Au. I first became aware of Au with the release of his big band album ‘Something’s Coming’. He’s worked with Quincy Jones, Jamie Cullum and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra amongst others. Perhaps because he is so busy working with others, this is only the second release under his own name. You might think that to compare Au with Mandel is unreasonable. If so, just sit back and let the music envelope you.
Claire Martin will be a familiar name to most readers. Her debut release ‘The Waiting Game’ was released in 1992 and since then she has proved to be a prolific recording artist, releasing more than 20 albums. She has recorded in varied settings including small and medium-sized groups and three outings with pianist, composer and sometime vocalist Richard Rodney Bennett. Not to mention one with the Montpellier Cello Quartet. This is, however, her first with a big band and orchestra.
Upon first listening, I was immediately put in mind of those classic Sinatra albums Where Are You?, with Gordon Jenkins and his Orchestra; ‘The Night We Called It A Day’ even features on both albums, and Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely with arrangements by Nelson Riddle. It’s not overstating things to say that this album ranks along with the Sinatra and Shirley Horn albums that I’ve referenced.
The album opens with ‘Pure Imagination’, a song from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This is perfection. Perhaps a little brave to open with a ballad, especially at this particularly slow pace, but it works like a dream. The tempo increases for ‘Let’s Get Lost’ with a classic big band accompaniment to a song which I associate with trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker. How different this version is? The song has proved popular with a wide cross-section of vocalists since its introduction in the 1943 film, Happy Go Lucky and what about the trombone feature?
The strings introduce a leisurely interpretation of ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’ which surely could not be bettered. A similar tempo is adopted on ‘The Folk Who Live On The Hill’, introduced by piano, before Martin enters, followed by the strings. The big band return for a swinging interpretation of ‘Hello Young Lovers’, a show tune from the 1951 musical The King and I. The arrangement showcases some wonderful work by the saxophone section.
The album produces musical gems across all eleven tracks. Most will be familiar to lovers of quality songs, but it was good to see the inclusion of two lesser-known songs; ‘I Never Went Away’ a song written by Claire’s former musical partner, the late Richard Rodney Bennett. This song has been performed previously by Cleo Laine and Patricia Barber, as well as the composer himself, so Claire has large shoes to fill here. She acquits herself perfectly. The other song which was new to me was ‘Don’t Like Goodbyes’. This is clearly a lack of knowledge on my part, as over the years it has been recorded by Pearl Bailey, Barbara Streisand and Frank Sinatra. Some of the lyrics here are by Truman Capote with additional lyrics and music by Harold Arlen. This would make a fabulous finale to the album with strings and big band in total accord. But Claire has one last musical delight in store, taking us on a journey to Cuba with an absolutely unsurpassed interpretation of ‘You and The Night and The Music’. The big band brass section is to the fore on this tour-de-force.
I have concentrated on the vocal interpretation of these songs, but the album cover makes it clear that Callum Au is an equal partner in this enterprise. His musical arrangements provide the finest settings for the vocals and the big band and orchestra are of the highest order. Throw into the mix some fabulous solo contributions from Freddie Gavita and Ryan Quigley on trumpets, Andy Martin on trombone, Nadim Teimoori on tenor saxophone and with the whole under the expert directorship of Mark Nightingale and we have all of the hallmarks for success. This album is a strong contender for my personal album of the year.
Brooklyn based bandleader and trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah has recently released his first album in 15 years. Abdullah’s band is Diaspora, an acronym for Dispersions of the Spirit of Ra. Abdullah was a long time member of his mentor Sun Ra’s Arkestra. On this recording, Diaspora joins forces with percussionist Francisco Mora Catlett’s Afro Horn Ensemble. The line up for the record is Ahmed Abdullah (trumpet, flugal-horn and vocals) Monique Ngozi Nri (vocals) Alex Harding (baritone sax) Don Chapman (tenor sax) Bob Stewart (tuba) Donald Smith (piano) Radu Ben Judah (bass) Francisco Mora Catlett, Ronnie Burrage and Roman Diaz (percussion).
The titular Sistas’ Place is a Brooklyn community coffee shop and music venue founded in 1995 by Viola Plummer. Abdullah is the musical director of the venue.
Abdullah began to work with Sun Ra in 1975, he explained to The Wire magazine recently that as a young man he hoped to establish himself as a band leader and was concerned about what he might himself get from the relationship with Sun Ra, in these early days he combined work with the Arkestra with establishing himself as a band leader and producing a number of his own records. Abdullah described a vivid dream from this period in which he was told Sun Ra was his mentor and he should be back in the Arkestra on a full-time basis. This he did and continued to play and tour with the Arkestra following the death of Sun Ra first under the leadership of John Gilmore then Marshall Allen.
Abdullah gives an insight into his attitude towards life when he talks about the Sun Ra composition ‘Fate In A Pleasant Mood’ ‘you’re just a puppet and a pawn in the hands of fate, but if you have faith then you can find fate in a pleasant mood and change your destiny.’ He describes changing his destiny by rejoining Sun Ra which eventually led to meeting his future wife, the writer and poet Monique Ngozi Nri while on tour in London.
The centrepiece of this album is probably the 17-minute reworking of Abdullah’s song ‘Eternal Spiraling Spirit’ which appears originally on Life’s Force, his first release as leader in 1979. The spiritual vibe is evident from the outset as muted trumpet and bass intermingle before the trumpet soars and percussive waves combine with his wife Monique Ngozi Nri’s impassioned delivery of Louis Reyes River’s poem ‘A Place I’ve Never Been’ which is dedicated to the memory of Malcolm X. ‘Did you see the bullet cry?’ asks the narrator, a witness to the murder of Malcolm X before asking, ‘was you there? Did you go to hear a poem in his every word?’ The lines are emphasized by repetition giving a vivid almost cinematic visualisation of the scene rerun in what feels like slow motion from multiple viewpoints, including that of the bullet itself. Abdullah explained the original tune was dedicated to the idea of reincarnation and he and Rivera united this theme with the poem while working together at Sistas’ Place.
There’s also a great version of Sun Ra’s ‘Love In Outer Space’ the original lyrics are sung in harmony by Ngozi Nri and Abdullah and expanded with more poetry of Rivera, ‘the womb of space unfolds in the uterus of silence’. There’s a retro feel to the music but at the same time a contemporary thread runs through with the new lines adding a mood of celestial sexual exploration.
The whole album has a narrative arc, a journey through memory via the Earthly horror of an assassin’s bullet through the spiritual optimism of reincarnation to the freedom of celestial love and the finality of ‘Terra Firma’ a brief poem by Monique Ngozi Nri towards the close of the album which concisely draws our attention to the contradictions and injustice of life on Terra Firma with lines like ‘Rooted like ancestors beside a sea of protest’ and ‘free and unfree, clear and unclear’.
There’s plenty on this album that will be familiar to fans of Sun Ra, Abdullah is certainly succeeding in his mission to keep the music of his mentor alive but his own voice is powerful in the mix and I’m guessing his younger self might be pretty satisfied with the outcome.
Saxophonist and clarinettist, Jesper Thilo, has been an established presence on the Danish jazz scene for many years. So much so that he can now be regarded as an elder statesman. He is one of the top European musicians working in what has come to be regarded as a straight-ahead style of jazz with the accent heavily placed on swing. Something he has been doing since the late 1960s.
The early masters of the tenor saxophone such as Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins were amongst his early influences. Indeed, he had the opportunity to work with both. Later, he established a more personal sound something akin to that of Zoot Sims. His first recordings under his own name date from 1973. In the 1980s he was to be found working with established musicians from the USA including pianist Kenny Drew, trumpeter Clark Terry and Harry “Sweets” Edison. He also featured on Miles Davis’ 1985 recording ‘Aura’. 2012 saw the release of an album with fellow tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton ‘Scott Hamilton meets Jesper Thilo’. Consequently, he became a first-call musician for visiting American artists.
It was only one month prior to his 78th birthday that Thilo recorded this album in 2019. The accompanying conventional trio of piano, bass and drums are made up of musicians from the Danish jazz scene and they certainly swing. The pianist has a flavour of Oscar Peterson, which is certainly no bad thing. The repertoire consists of familiar jazz standards together with a traditional folk song. Thilo has been quoted as saying that “jazz is for grown-ups who want to tear a few hours out of their perhaps boring lives to have a little fun and hear something that they can concentrate on”. That just about sums up the music that you hear on this album. It’s feel-good music. It’s a mark of the group’s professionalism that the album was recorded live (but without an audience) in the studio without edits and other fixes over a period of three days.
It’s difficult to pick favourite tracks but “I Want to Be Happy” appropriately, is an exemplar of the album as a whole. “Just Friends” is also outstanding, given a treatment somewhat different from the classic Charlie Parker version. Ballads also feature and “I Can’t Get Started” is a mellow beauty. It was an inspired touch to include “Splanky” in a fine blues treatment; a theme which will always be associated with the Count Basie Band. “Rosetta” is a nod to the saxophonists of an earlier era which suits Thilo perfectly. The single traditional theme translates as “It Happened One Saturday Night” and fits perfectly with the remainder of the material on the album and show off the tenor player’s engagingly wide vibrato.
Jesper Thilo may not be a household name but if you like your jazz in a mainstream swing style, he is certainly someone to investigate.
Before we spin through the album, let us first take a snapshot of the year 1970 in South Africa, the year Zorro Five release ‘Jump Uptight’ for the Brigadiers Recording label: Philips records highlighted that 1000 doctors in South Africa had already had cassette players in their cars, with a tremendous increase in the sale of eight-track cartridges, EMI stating that cassettes sales were also an encouraging sign of demand for local bands to record on cassette. Polydor were working with South African artist Steve Lonsdale and imported ‘budget priced’ records had started to enter the country from abroad through Teal Holdings, with expectations of tripling sales that year, with the Gallo label, Africa’s largest domestic record company, riding the wave soon after. There was much change and the industry was a healthy one to be in. At a time when ABC were trying to dip in to the market, CBS’s Ivan Rebroff was taking off as the biggest selling foreign artist in South Africa and Request Records had begun negotiating the distribution of “ethnic” recordings. 1970 was to see the first ever rock roadshow tour and it was also the year a proposed merger between Gallo and Teal (two of SA’s biggest record companies) was first called off and then agreed upon. Club-goers were strutting their stuff at Yellow Submarine discotheque and audiences were already familiar with bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chicago and Santana. Hugh Masekela formed The Union of South Africa this year, and awarded a scholarship grant to Johannesburg’s Gwigwi Mrwebi through CHISA – Mrwebi being the first to form a non-white band in SA and first to tour SA. EMI (SA) had acquired the rights to release records by Freda Payne and Chairmen of the Board and “Bad River” was to be the first SA record to be released in the States before South Africa. The South African government allowed Percy Sledge to perform before an all-white audience after the all-black opening night concert had caused so much frustration by white music lovers with The New York Times reporting “some whites even tried to masquerade as coloured in order to slip into his opening night show in Capetown”. A decision criticised by The American Committee on Africa for breaking “the cultural boycott of racist South Africa”, but the fact that Percy Sledge was at the time outgrossing every American artist in SA with orders of 28,000 units, you can see why Sledge and his label might have been persuaded.
Our Zorro Five story starts with Zimbabwe-born pop/cabaret/theatre singer Judy Page, who, having worked with Johnny Boshoff in 1969 had moved to Johannesburg and recorded a second album the same year for CBS. It’s is on this album, ‘Time And Love’, that we first see evidence of Zorro Five members working together. The following year introduces South Africa to the band’s collection of rocksteady, rhythm & blues and blue beat with, as mentioned, Johnny Boshoff (bass) – off the back of a 1969 CBS album ‘Hit Vibrations’, Archie van der Ploeg (guitar) – off the back of a 1969 South African Easy Listening album, Tony Moore (drums) off the back of a Philips’ Classical release, ‘Music From The 100 Years War’, Zane Cronje (composer, arranger, keyboards and organ) – who went on to score many soundtracks, South African engineer from Johannesburg, Peter Thwaites, who had worked on The Drakensberg Boys Choir ‘Get Me To The Fun On Time’, also 1970, perhaps more recognised for his notable release in 1998 on KPM Music (alongside Robin Hogarth and Teaspoon Ndelu) for ‘The Colours Of South Africa’. And finally, band member, and star name here, Johnny Fourie [Jan Carel Fourie], a guitarist from Postmasburg, Northern Cape, who had been part of four other albums prior to 1970, most notably a piece aptly called “Ragamuffin” in 1960 on SA label Renown. Fourie went on to work with UK’s MELT2000 in 2014 – at a time when guitar maestro, John McLaughlin, commented: “Johnny Fourie is one of the greatest guitar players of our époque”. The album was released on the day of Johnny Fourie’s memorial. Johnny Fourie goes back even further, performing beside Tubby Hayes at Ronnie Scott’s in 1964, amongst others, as resident guitarist at the club for many years. He would go on to work with Charles Earland, Hubert Laws, Billy Cobham and Lee Morgan in 1972. He also recorded with Richard “Groove” Holmes during the ‘80s on ‘African Encounter’ under the eye of South African music producer Rashid Vally (As Shams).
Although South Africa’s mainstream charts in 1970, compiled by Springbok Radio/EMI, were riddled with pop and rock songs by the likes of The Tremeloes, Tom Jones, Chris Andrews, Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin, there was also a somewhat significant rocksteady release in Harry J. All Stars’ ‘Liquidator’ floating around the top 10, Bobby Bloom’s “Montego Bay” hit the top 10 and so did Desmond Dekker with “You Can Get It If You Really Want”. It is clear then, on sales, that the public were embracing this “Jamaican” sound, one we can speculate an influence on local bands and those forming Zorro Five. Remember, 1970 was the year Delroy Wilson and Ken Boothe were with Coxone Records, Derrick Morgan and Slim Smith were with Pama Records while The Heptones were over at Studio One. Let’s hope South Africa managed to hear some of these on home soil at the time.
Present before us, is an album of some twelve tracks, with all but one under that 3min cap set by radio stations, with nods to soul, funk, ska, rhythm & blues and rocksteady. From this album, two songs were pressed to 45, ‘Reggae Shhh!’ and ‘Reggae Meadowlands’ licensed by Decca UK, Decca Italy and Deram for the growing popularity of the jukebox. ‘Reggae Shhh!’ has instant SKA appeal with post-psychedelic organ riff and non-singing skits – not too dissimilar to the founding ska releases and a piece one appreciates had underground status and an obvious choice for a single. ‘Reggae Meadowlands’ has the belly of rocksteady but with just a little more than simple guitar chords, we often heard on other tracks, which in turn gives much pleasure. Of the remaining ten numbers, the tongue in cheek ‘Red Turnip’ is a close cousin to ‘Green Onions’ and what must be a deep play at MOD events with it’s rolling organ and late ‘60s appeal. ‘Plastic Iron’ follows a similar path with long organ chords, with ‘Jump Up Turn Around’ having that all-important Blue Beat/Mod/ska sound in abundance – yes they are all instrumentals. Taking the notch up considerably, I found ‘Good Books’, with it’s funky Curtis Mayfield influences to be one of my favourites. It has a richer ’soulful’ sound to it, and for that does shine. ‘The Exit Song’ is a fun jam you would be hard-pushed to dismiss, while ‘Rebel Rouser’ fits snugly on the album with more musicianship going on by the Five. And then there’s ‘First There Is A Mountain’, the clear stand-out track for me, which reminds me of where Jackie Mittoo was at with his Studio One album, ‘Now’, of the same year. One hell of a monster, and yes, worth the purchase of the album for alone.
There is little we know of the collective, but there must have been incredibly popularity in South Africa as Zorro Five would go on to win “Best Beat Group” at the 1971 South African Recording Industry Award (SARIE) for this fine album ‘Jump Uptight’, that hopefully with Matsuli uncovering, will sit atop new turntables and entertain many a music lover the world over. A brave but rewarding release.
“Golden Year” is the excellent debut album from young American guitarist/composer Tony Davis. Born and raised by his musical parents, trombonist Steve Davis and pianist/composer Mary Di-Paola, he has been surrounded by the sounds of a myriad of genres his entire life. Having played piano, several brass instruments and bass, it wasn’t till the age of 14 that he first picked up a guitar. After coming upon the music of such iconic blues men as Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix, Davis knew that he had begun the journey to finding his own musical identity.
Fast-forward a decade or so and here we have Davis showcasing his talents on this 11 track album, made up mostly of original compositions. “2019 was my golden year” says the guitarist. “June 25th 2019, 25 at 25. The album embodies the meaning of a golden year for me. An album of original music that was created with my mentors, friends and family who have helped me get this far.” This sentiment runs through the entire recording. There’s a lovely warmth to the music being made, with obvious respect and a healthy amount of soulful passion.
One of the things I love about this album is that nothing sounds forced. For a debut recording, it’s refreshing to hear music performed with such skill and humility. Despite his relatively young age, Davis writes and plays with a maturity that belies his years. It’s like he’s got nothing to prove, and the whole session benefits from a natural, collective spirit from everyone involved.
Joining Davis on guitar are David Bryant on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. There are also guest appearances from Steve Davis on trombone, Steve Wilson on alto sax and flute, JK Kim on drums and Alina Engibaryan on vocals.
Much of this album sounds like a proper good old-school jazz album like something you might have heard in years gone by. Yet it has a 21st Century edge to it that blends nicely with the historical references it evokes. As soon as the title track and album opener “Golden Year” springs into life, I’m thinking of a couple of the jazz greats, Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. Davis’ sound and style vary as the session progresses, but there’s always that wonderful underlying sense of tradition that rings true. The title track itself is superb, and along with “Braeburn”, “Night Ride” and “Hypnagogia” we are hearing a guitarist drawing on the great traditions of jazz guitar, whilst bringing his own compelling style the listener’s ear. “May This Be Love” is a gorgeous take on a lesser-known Jimi Hendrix tune. Performed here, it sounds more like a gentle Metheny/Mays piece and works especially well with guitar and piano playing off each other. There are two vocal tracks on the album, the exquisite “Orange Feathers” and the enticing “Lake Sebago”. Both tunes have a lovely laid-back Sunday afternoon feel to them. Other highlights include the melodious, flute-led piece “Sinha” and the gorgeous solo guitar of the closing track “Tua Imagem”.
“Golden Year” is a memorable debut from Tony Davis. With writing and performing as well as this, I think it’s fair to say that this won’t by any means be the guitarist’s only golden year, just one of many that lie ahead for this talented and very promising musician.
Welcome aboard the music train! There’ll be a few unscheduled stops but the Krebinetter is piping hot and the Tuborg is taste-bud-numbingly coooool… Unscheduled stops, indeed – the first time I heard this album was on Spotify and I assumed it had accidentally been set to random, or my guileless (?!) daughter was uncharacteristically (?!) messing about with the app, such was the variety of sound coming out of the speakers.
Carsten Meinert was a Danish tenor-playing, composer and bandleader. Prior to this 1969 album, his quartet had, in ‘68, released the beautifully rendered, Trane-adoring “To You” – an album that got a much-appreciated reissue on Frederiksberg Records in 2015. “C.M. Music Train” expands his quartet to a 16 musician collective and this 50th Anniversary Edition contains three extra takes of “San Sebastian”, “Before Sunrise” and “C.M. Musictrain”. Ole Matthiessen, the album’s pianist and arranger, has worked to re-enliven the sound and provide sleeve notes.
“San Sebastian” showbizzily bursts in, all MF Horn/Buddy Rich big band high kicks and flapping flares before it horn-rasgueado descends into a fiery, flamenco free jazz assailment that relents after five and a half minutes to reveal a spiritualised, percussion-saturated tranquillity, allowing airy revisits of earlier motifs. A breathtaking start that highlights Meinert’s vigour.
“Before Sunrise” is blessed with the Pharaoh’s divinity. It’s an awakening; the moments of lucid joy before the day; or, a self-discovery through a significant other that would’ve lifted Linklater’s same-named exploration from everyday human love to something much more extramundane. Meinert effortlessly floats above percussive clouds, with occasional explosive, ascendant surges and submissive gestures. Its recurring theme is used as a gentle parting mantra rendering my usually unquiet mind quiet.
So…what to expect after near-perfect spiritual jazz? Howsabout some playful psych-pop? “C.M Music Train” is a ten and a half minute, Rowan and Martin Love-In. Initially quite pop-proper with uptempo, slightly boisterous horn joy and a spidery Pierre Dørge guitar riff, it explodes into acid dropping, fast camera-zooming Thor Backhausen organ fire, slapping horns and fierce drum breaks before guitar/sax freakouts propel it further out there. It then consciously splashes some cold water on its face, drinks a coffee and acquiesces to the pop sensibilities it began with. Incredible stuff.
“This Time” is a handsome, colourful modal jazz propelled by expansive drum and piano. Meinert’s Selmer varitone driven sax confidently bullies, while Lee Schipper’s vibes placate and titillate. “I’m going to Valby by the Railroad Track” is a brief, incongruous folk-blues jolly eliciting laughter from its players.
I’m so glad I got on board the Music Train. Meinert and the lads are fluently conversant in the varied styles played here and deliver them with infectious enthusiasm and vigour. They emit a Parliament’s Osmium-like, close-to-chaos energy that I also feel from other albums of the era. Meinert’s playing is vital throughout and, although he wasn’t ultimately convinced by the harsh tone of his Varitone, I think it brings a dynamic that augments his playing, making the highlights of his uniquely personal style higher and lighter – like Hendrix + overdrive and wah-wah. This album is an absolute joy – it’s peppy fresh and compelling and doesn’t make me feel like hiding in the toilets to avoid paying the ticket collector.