Join Andrew Gray for his second offering of jazz and soul, with a few wild cards thrown in to broaden our minds. But guess what? There’s not a Miles Davis tune in sight! Andrew has been in the Vibe background for many years, assisting with his knowledge and varied record collection. He is currently exploring the West Bank celebrating his birthday, checking out Banksy street art and quite likely talking music to anyone and everyone. If there’s a market selling music, Andrew will find it!
Legendary Istanbul band, BaBa ZuLa has been producing its own brand of folk, psychedelia and dub (and belly dancing!) for over twenty years. Its sound comes from traditional Turkish instruments augmented by electronic instruments and effects and is primarily led by Osman Murat Ertel’s electric saz. “Derin Derin” has a more direct approach than previous releases, harder but also more electronic.
“Haller Yollar” begins with unaccompanied, clean saz, after a while a wah effect is slowly introduced as a hint of things to come. Clicking spoons and prosaic vocals soon join in. As the song progresses electronic sounds and effects increasingly distort and reshape the tune. An eye-opening and exciting introduction to the set. The jangling of bells bring in the brief, instrumental and dubby “Şahin Iksiri”, a simple melody line with swooping theremin and synth percussion. The harder-edged “Kızıl Gözlüm” follows, distorted saz kicks it off followed by bludgeon cymbal attack and forms into a deranged electronic fuzzed out boogie. “Rüzgarın Akışı”, The Flow Of The Wind, is less structured. A percussive, saz jam interspersed with bursts of ululation.
Next, the high point of this record, “Salıncaksın” (“U Are The Swing”) – the pace is slower, more reflective. Echoed fuzzed saz and voice introduce the motif, the slow build gives the track an epic feel despite being only just over four minutes long. It’s just so beautiful. “Kervan Yolda”’s grinding insistent repetitive rhythm with spoken word vocals is propelled by the stop-start chugging percussion. The heavily percussive collage of “Port Pass” follows, its soaring fuzzy sounds and vocals laden with generous delay effects. The electronic rhythm pounds over simple repetitive lines and the voice is reminiscent, to me at least, of Mark E Smith! The peaceful “Kosmogoni” is slow build electronica, its simple saz lines over the smooth wash of synthesiser and light percussive sounds. The introduction to “Kurt Kapma” is a menacing ambience of screams and howls and electronic effects abruptly hitting a fierce rhythm, a coming together of space rock, the bleak electronica of Suicide and a movie chase sequence. “Transendance” closes the set. The first half of the track leans on the good side of the ambience stuff that incorporated elements of so-called “world” and dub in the 1990s. But, suddenly the beat kicks in and bursts into fast direct galloping rhythmic repetition which just as suddenly falls away the meditative quiet of heavy delay affected saz.
While this release is clearly a fusion of different styles it feels completely natural and organic. Baba ZuLa have reined in their previous sporadic reggae experiments and the emphasis is on their psychedelic rock pedigree. The tracks are shorter too and the album clocks in at only just over 33 minutes long. The production is sharp with electronic instruments and effects pushed to the fore. In the present political climate, this is an amazing and inspirational example of grace under pressure. A success; a truly great album.
Baba Zula ‘XX’ 2CD/2LP (Glitterbeat) 3/5
New York based saxophonist /composer Arun Luthra is one of a small group of American jazz musicians of Indian heritage who have continued to explore the possibilities of fusing the modern post-bop sound with elements of Indian classical music. Konnakol is the art of performing percussion syllables vocally in South Indian Carnatic music. The voice serves a similar purpose to that of a percussion instrument and each syllable signifies what stroke or combination of strokes the percussionist must use. For this live recording saxophonist and Konnakol performer Luthra teams up with pianist James Francies, bassist Thomson Kneeland, drummer Jordan Perrison and special guest, percussionist Anantapadmanabhan. And it is indeed the percussionist, playing the mridangam, along with Luthra’s Indian percussive vocalising, that gives this album its unique flavour.
The album begins with Indian voice and percussion working in unison, with drums combining skillfully before “Perc-kal-ude Torna” swings into full jazz mode with the full band combining well. The tune is then largely driven by Luthra’s free-flowing bebop-esque tenor sax, with intelligent backing from piano, bass, drums and percussion. The overall sound of this recording isn’t great… perfectly acceptable but by today’s standards a little lacking, but the upside of that is that it sounds like you’re listening to a 1960’s jazz club recording, so it’s not all bad. “The Divvy-up Dance” has a wonderful feel to it, with Francies’ exploratory piano playing leading the way. Luthra switches to soprano sax with aplomb, and after a short mid-tune bridge, the mridangam and drums take centre stage for what sounds like a mini-duel. Luthra’s soaring soprano rounds this piece off nicely. The fierce energy of the music being performed is relentless, but there is room for the band to breathe on the slightly more reflective “KJP”. As with all of the compositions presented here, the music is written in a predominantly Western contemporary jazz style, with elements of classical Indian music being incorporated in certain sections of the tunes. In the main this works very well, but there are times when it doesn’t quite sound intuitively integrated, a little too preconceived perhaps. But that doesn’t take anything away from the vibe that the composer and performers successfully create. The Coltrane influence is strong on the wonderful “Soon Starts Now”, a thrilling piece of music that has just about everything going for it. Brilliant writing is matched by the performances, especially the stand-out soloing of bassist Thomson Kneeland. “Spin City” has an old-school feel to it, with the bass, drums and percussion underpinning things nicely for the sax and piano to do their thing. This tune has such a tight groove it’s impossible not to be moving your body in waves of appreciation by the end of it. The final track “Collective” is a very impressive piece that perhaps best integrates the Indian vocal and percussive elements into the jazz idiom. The band are in full flow here, with a sense of sheer pleasure emanating from the music being performed.
This is most definitely music that should be seen as well as being heard. And to that end, Arun Luthra’s Konnakol Jazz Project have four UK gigs lined up over the next few days. Well worth checking them out if you’re in the area:
Monday 19th August, 11pm at Ronnie Scott’s, 47 Frith Street, Soho, London.
Tuesday 20th August, 9pm at Kansas Smitty’s, 63-65 Broadway Market, London.
Wednesday 21st August, 9pm at Oliver’s Jazz Bar, 9 Nevada Street, Greenwich.
Friday 23rd August, 7pm at The Verdict, 159 Edward Street, Brighton.
This year heralds a landmark for ECM Records; 50 years of recorded music. Almost unprecedented in the modern era, survival alone would have been no mean feat, but to have continuously been producing pioneering music for half a century is truly remarkable. Founded in 1969 by Manfred Eicher, his vision and dedication have led the label to this incredible milestone. From very humble beginnings ECM has now become an instantly recognisable brand, with its consistent ethos, sound, and cover art, the quality of the product perfectly complements the quality of the music itself. To celebrate this anniversary, ECM have selected 50 albums to reflect upon the journey so far. This “Touchstone” series of 50 reissues, highlights a wide selection of albums made along the way, including many recordings which now count as milestones in the history of jazz and improvisation. Presented in cardboard sleeves, with the stunning sound and excellent artwork we have over the years become accustomed to, these albums are available for the same price as the previous edition.
The first group of 25 discs was released in January, with the second set of 25 released in May. As one might expect, the selected albums cover a wide range of recordings and artists, some perhaps obvious, but others less so, including some very pleasant surprises. For myself, having grown up discovering jazz through labels like ECM, the journey has been quite a personal one at times. As with many of us, listening to music is an integral part of our human DNA, and rediscovering some of the wonderful music presented with “Touchstones” brings back many memories. And then there are the new adventures to be found, unexpected little gems that spark a new fire within… there’s always a thrill to hearing fresh, creative music, and ECM continues to provide the beauty and the excitement to this day.
Not only does “Touchstones” feature some iconic albums, with legendary artists such as Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek, Paul Motian and Jack DeJohnette, et al, but equal prominence is given to some of the lesser immediately recognisable artists, including Mick Goodrick, Leo Smith, Steve Tibbetts, John Abercrombie and Enrico Rava, to name but a few. There are some classic albums featured; including Keith Jarrett’s “Standards Vol. 1”, Pat Metheny’s “80/81”, Kenny Wheeler’s “Double Double You”, Jan Garbarek/Bobo Stenson’s “Witchi Tai To” and Jack DeJohnette’s “New Directions”. Some of my all-time favourite albums are also featured, the likes of Terje Rypdal’s “Blue”, Bobo Stenson’s “War Orphans”, Peter Erskine’s “Juni”, Gary Burton/Chick Corea’s “Crystal Silence” and Steve Kahn’s “Trance”. And I’ve also discovered some new gems; Bill Connors’ “Of Mist and Melting”, Steve Swallow’s “Home”, Miroslav Vitous’ “Journey’s End”, Arild Andersen’s “The Triangle” and Steve Tibbetts’ “Northern Song”. There’s something for everyone, as the saying goes. And long may the ECM journey continue.
In keeping with the spirit of the “Touchstones” releases, it has been a pleasure to put together an ECM playlist, featuring some of my own personal favourites from the last 50 years. Some, but not all of the tunes I’ve chosen, are featured on the “Touchstones” reissues. I hope they bring back fond memories or ignite a new flame or two for you, just as they have done, and continue to do so for me.
Stephen Micus – The Western Gate (from ‘White Night’ 2019)
Arild Andersen – A Song I Used To Play (from ‘If you Look Far Enough’ 1992)
Jack DeJohnette / Ravi Coltrane / Matt Garrison – Alabama (from ‘In Movement’ 2016)
Charles Lloyd – The Blessing (from ‘The Call’ 1993)
Keith Jarrett – Dedicated To You (from Standards in Norway 1989)
Tomasz Stańko – Morning Heavy Song (from ‘Bosonossa And Other Ballads’ 1993)
Pat Metheny – Unquity Road (from ‘Bright Size Life’ 1976)
Anouar Brahem / Dave Holland / Jack DeJohnette / Django Bates – La Nuit (from ‘Blue Maqams’ 2017)
Paul Motian - Cathedral Song (from ‘Lost In A Dream’ 2010)
Charlie Haden / Jan Garbarek / Egberto Gismonti – Folk Songs (from ‘Folk Songs’ 1981)
Kenny Wheeler – Foxy Trot (from ‘Double, Double You’ 1983)
Jan Garbarek Quartet – Beast of Kommodo (from ‘Africa Pepperbird’ 1970)
Terje Rypdal – Transition (from ‘Chaser’ 1985)
Bobo Stenson – Send In The Clowns (from ‘Goodbye’ 2005)
Espin Eriksen Trio with Andy Sheppard – 1974 (from ‘Perfectly Unhappy’ 2018)
Steve Kuhn Trio with Joe Lovano – Song of Praise (from ‘Mostly Coltrane’ 2009)
Jan Garbarek / Keith Jarrett / Palle Danielsson / Jon Christensen – ‘Long As You Know You’re Living Yours (from ‘Belonging’ 1974)
Jan Garbarek-Bobo Stenson Quartet – Witchi Tai To (from ‘Witchi-Tai-To’ 1973)
Zakir Hussain – Sabah (from ‘Making Music’ 1987)
Pat Metheny – Every Day (I Thank You) (from ‘80/81’ 1980)