Various ‘Nicola Conte presents Cosmic Forest: The Spiritual Sounds of MPS’ 2LP/CD/DIG (MPS) 4/5

Whoever is in charge of the reissue programme at MPS has made some pretty odd decisions recently. Not sure many people are after Oscar Peterson and Singers Unlimited represses at £25.00 a throw. However, one thing they do get right is the compilations. The latest curated by DJ and producer Nicola Conte is pretty much spot on with plenty of hard to find tunes alongside a few that you will probably have heard before from the SABA and MPS vaults.

The Spiritual Jazz connection is a bit over-played at times, particularly on a record that includes the Fender led fusion funk of Michael Naura’s ‘Soledad De Murcia’ and Smoke’s ‘Shelda’. Peter Herbolzheimer’s ‘Timbales Calientes’ is a Latin Big Band Monster and The Third Wave’s cover of ‘Maiden Voyage’, lovely though it is, is much more Manhattan Transfer than The Arkestra.

A minor issue, as this record really shows off what exciting, risk taking, innovative labels SABA and MPS were. The album covers the period from 1965-1975, when many American musicians were struggling to get gigs back home and had to move to Europe to make a living. Many came to Germany and to Villingen-Schwenningen, a village deep in the Black Forest, and recorded for SABA, the label that preceded MPS. Saxophonist Nathan Davis made two beautiful records there in the mid-sixties. ‘Evolution’, from his SABA debut ‘Happy Girl’, is deep, very deep, post-bop. A wonderful Trane like introduction evolves into a meditative blues waltz with perfectly pitched solos from a very young Woody Shaw and Larry Young on Piano. The Dexter Gordon and Slide Hampton ‘A Day in Vienna’, is a real swinger, a hard bopper with a Latin pulse with an all-star band including Kenny Drew, Dizzy Reece and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. Dave Pike’s psychedelic, sitar heavy ‘Raga Jeeva Swara’, is a dance floor favourite and one of the many tracks featured here that shows that SABA/MPS were way ahead of the curve on the outer national, world music tip and this is where the record gets Spiritual.

Dewan Motihar’s ‘Yaad’ is a wonderful, peaceful work of modal simplicity very similar to the Indo-Jazz Fusion records that were recorded around the same time. Another American, Billy Brooks, arrived in Europe in 1964. In 1971 he recorded the mighty percussion heavy, ‘El Babaku’, the title track features here, a mournful, drone like, call and response to the ancient gods of West Africa and Cuba. Swiss pianist, George Gruntz, takes thing a little further North. ‘Djerbi’, from the 1967 record ‘Noon in Tunisia’ features Sahib Shihab and Jean-Luc Ponty, but it’s the lesser known African Bendir and Dabuka drum ensemble and Salah El Mahdi’s Ney Flute that make this special, as much rooted in Sufi tradition as it is to jazz.

Trumpet player Marvin Hannibal Peterson recorded one MPS LP, ‘Hannibal’, with the Sunrise Orchestra in 1975 and ‘Revelation’ a joyful up-tempo instrumental is included here. It’s good but not the best or most spiritual tune on the record. Maybe Nicola ran out of space or is saving the epic ‘Soul Brother’, Hannibal’s tribute to Malcolm X for volume two?

Then finally the two tracks that raise this compilation way into the stratosphere; ‘Burungkaka Tua’ is from Tony Scott’s 1967 masterpiece ‘Djanger Bali’. Clarinettist Scott had travelled to the near and far east throughout the early sixties. His Zen and Yoga meditation records for Verve were early examples of ambient and new age music. By 1964 he had travelled all over Indonesia and arrived in Germany full of praise for the native jazz musicians Jack Lesmana, Bubi Chen, Jopie Chen, Marjono and Benny Mustapha. Three years later the ‘Indonesian All-Stars’ were invited to play at the JazzFest Berlin and recorded this epic record with Scott. ‘Burungkaka Tua’ is perfect. It is beautiful, moving, spiritual and modal and based on a traditional Indonesian Folk Tune. Bubi Chen’s piano and Marjono’s flute create a gentle, other-worldly intensity that will leave you spellbound.

‘Never Let It End’ is an intense ten-minute improvisation driven by Gunter Lenz’s bass and Ralf Hubner’s drums. It’s the freest, but by no means out-there, tune on the compilation. Leader Albert Mangelsdorff’s trombone and Heinz Sauer’s saxes keep it simmering, but just as it’s about to boil over it stops dead, leaving you wanting much more – just like this record.

A fantastic compilation, but please, MPS be brave and reissue these amazing and little heard records in their entirety.

Nick Schlittner

Excursion: EFG London Jazz Festival – The Headhunters / The Stanley Clarke Band @ Royal Festival Hall

So as the light dimmed within the sold out Royal Festival Hall auditorium, few were aware of what a superlative evening of Jazz music lay in store for them. As our host rightly professed, “Are you ready for this? We’ve got some serious legends in the house, so it’s gonna be serious! First we get to see some of the founding members of one of the best jazz fusion records of all time…So please give a warm EFG London Jazz Festival welcome to The Headhunters!”

Read the full concert review here

Muriel Grossmann ‘Golden Rule’ 2LP (RR Gems) 5/5

The question: What would you say defines “spiritual jazz”? A powerful experience? An evocative journey? Music that transcends all time and place? Music that touches your heart and strengthens your soul? A sound that is at once explorative and free, whilst also giving a satisfying sense of belonging? An incomprehensible cosmic energy that helps you feel grounded within an ever-changing universe? The answer: Yes. All of this and more. Above all it is a connection, with yourself, mankind, and the world around you, a kind of meditative awakening, as if to say “Ahh yes, this is it”. You can feel it. Your senses reawaken and your mind is quietly focussed. You let it all in, and breathe.

Few albums truly capture this spirit in such a consistently startling and beautiful way. This one most definitely does. Muriel Grossmann’s “Golden Rule” embraces the groundbreaking, exploratory jazz of Sun Ra and John Coltrane, gives a very respectful nod to fellow contemporaries Nat Birchall and Shabaka Hutchings, and immerses itself in a swirl of transcendental expression. Timeless and innovative, this is one mighty statement of a recording.

Born in Paris to Austrian parents, saxophonist and composer Muriel Grossmann grew up in Vienna, starting classical studies at the age of 5. When she switched to saxophone, discovering jazz at the age of 21, her musical direction changed. Although learning mostly from listening to records, Grossmann also credits German jazz pianist Joachim Kühn, with whom she later studied, as having a great impact on her musically. Her sources of inspiration are wide, including a range of jazz giants from saxophonists such as Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, to guitarists like Grant Green. It is however, the symbiosis of sounds created on this album, with Serbian guitarist Radomir Milojkovic, Austrian bassist Gina Schwarz, and Serbian drummer and percussionist Uros Stamenkovic, that closely link the music back to the works of Coltrane.

There’s an intriguing sonic palette to Grossmann’s music. As the album begins, opening with the title track, I was immediately drawn to the almost whispered sounds that move and shimmer, acting as a backdrop to the tune itself. Perhaps my musical adventures in life have been less adventurous than I thought, but this is something quite unique in the way that the sounds are sensitively and intelligently layered. It’s a little like ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), only in a good way! (I’m not a fan). And it’s a stroke of musical genius, allowing the musicians to explore and improvise on top of the core of the tune, and the sonic landscape that lives and breathes behind that.

The initial bass-line on “Golden Rule” to my mind quietly echoes the spoken words “A Love Supreme”, as Grossmann’s sax sets off on a new and evolving journey. “Core” continues in a similar vein, with perhaps more of a knowing glance to fellow contemporary Nat Birchall. A feature of the whole recording is the depth of sound, largely created by the drums and percussion, hidden secrets are gradually revealed and the more I listen, with luscious bass driven grooves fuelling the fire as a beautiful sax shaped Phoenix rises from the flames, the more I can hear the traces of history propelling the music forward into new, unknown territories.

“Promise” is a tune I can lose myself in time and time again. It somehow speaks to me. This is the beauty of Grossmann’s compositions, but more over, the sense of connectedness I feel with the musicians themselves. It’s as if I’m sharing their journey whilst discovering my own. The slower, contemplative “Direction” is one of those tunes you just don’t want to end. It’s a meditation, expressive and inclusive, searching and experiencing, reaching and grasping, relaxing and finding.

“Traneing In” is the longest piece on the album. It opens with vibes, percussion and experimental sounds, reminding me of Keith Jarrett’s “Spirits”. Milojkovic’s guitar takes centre-place, leading the other instruments on an adventure into their own consciousness. And then it all comes together in a sparkling burst of light as the band-leader’s soprano sings out with an effervescent bridge of light. This is exciting and richly rewarding music.

“Trane” is almost trance-like, using multi-layered saxes to create a wonderful palette of sound. The textural opening gives way to an infectious groove, with bass, drums and guitar all combining perfectly to allow the tenor sax to soar with unbridled abandon. The closing track “Light” is like a homage to what has come before, warmly celebrating its musical ancestors in an uplifting and respectful way, stepping through doors opened by predecessors and walking boldly into the light.

For those of you who enjoy your spiritual jazz, this album is an absolute must-have. Muriel Grossmann’s Quartet evoke the true beauty, sincerity and joy of Coltrane, whilst successfully musically singing out in their own voice, creating new ideas with a refreshing verve and skill. “Golden Rule” is quite simply an incredible album, inventive, full of character, and to my ears, a musical joy to behold.

Mike Gates

Various ‘If Music Presents: You Need This – World Jazz Grooves’ 3LP/CD (BBE Music) 4/5

Now in his 15th year of running Soho’s IF Music record shop, Jean-Claude is well-respected as a rare find head. Many a DJ and producer will give him a shout if they need that special find. Victor Kiswell is also a renowned digger and DJ, appearing on the Cairo edition of Boiler Room. So if, as a team, they ever thought about laying down a compilation it well may house a few obscure, global gems, right?

‘If Music Presents: You Need This – World Jazz Grooves’ also comes on the back of Jean-Claude’s two wonderful volumes of ‘A Journey into Deep Jazz’ and his excellent introduction to Black Saint and Soul Note Records on BBE. So, expectations are fairly high…

And the opener means serious business. ‘Illustration’ by violinist Billy Bang’s Survival Ensemble. Powerful stuff. It’s a late 70s Watts Prophets/Last Poets jazz spoken word. A deeply flabby bass line riff prods, cymbal/snare shuffle some support and the saxes offer harmonious backdrop to the urgent, passionate U.S. political critique that flows. “Rip off, rip off, rip off the people!”

Next up is the French (Martinique-born) pianist Michel Sardaby (he of the much-loved 1974 album, ‘Gail’) with ‘Martinica’ from his 1972 album ‘In New York’. It’s a fizzing, physical, latin modal work out with extra rhythm section fire offered by Billy Cobham(!), the hardest-of-all-hands Ray Barretto(!) and the solo-owning Richard Davison(!) on bass. Sort of like a latin Strata East job. Deep.

Le Steel Band De La Trinidad ‘Calypso Jazz Improvisation’ is a dirty, funky, soul-jazz calypso. Steel drum solos all over it. Fun ‘n’ Filthy.

Kafé was from two islands up from Sardaby, Guadalupe, and was also bons amis with Hard Hands – it’s such a small global jazz world out there ain’t it? His ‘Fonetik a velo’ from 1990s ‘Santiman-Ka (Jili)’ has a slow, atmospheric vocal and soprano sax intro leading into 10 mins of thumping jazz funk that’s gwo ka’d and chant-washed to a higher plane.

The Dutch composer and clarinet guy, Theo Loevendie, and his Theo Loevendie Consort (great name for a band) don’t mess about. ‘Timbuktu’ storms in with bamboo flute (played by Candy’s dad, Hans Dulfer), stacks and stacks of percussion and aggressively ganged horns that rhythmically pound your gut into submission before argumentative, caterwauling solos exhaust themselves leaving the sax to wrap it up, all sudden like. It’s so damned fierce – just relentless.

Thanks to the Oud Power for helping us to catch our breath – Ahmed Abdul-Malik’s oud leads a percussive workout before an exotic Herbie Mann picks up the flute and dances his alluring dance over the now-thickening harira of percussion. As he shimmies out of the picture trombonist Curtis Fuller spins more deep, interesting yarns before a crowd appears from nowhere to deliver respectful applause and Ahmed wraps things up with more departing oud. Gorgeous.

Percussionist Armand ‘Jauk’ Lemal’s ‘Souffle’ (from 1970s ‘Le Rythme – Activité Choreo-Musicale’) offers us a relatively(!) minimal rest. Hypnotic afrobeats, with occasional uplifting, choreographed, multi-instrument harmonic rejoices bring us nearly 9 mins of melting, lilting, therapeutic relief.

Pianist Masabumi ‘Poo’ Kikuchi brings some tetchy ‘Pumu #1’ to the comp. It’s a very nervy piece. Incessant, unrelenting train-track percussion and a demanding, bit discordant, piano shouts interruptions over petulant bass. It’s a caffeine-loaded, open-plan-office-deadline of a track.

A nice turn of pace comes from a much-less much obsessive and not remotely self-interested spiritual joy that is Joe Malinga and Southern African Force’s “ITwenty Five”. An elevated piano-riff from heaven rolls over optimistic golden voices and sweet, sweet reeds. A divine payday.

So that’s your lot! 6 full and curated sides of really heavy kit – it’s so well weighted from start to finish and, as expected, not a dud in sight.


Ian Ward

The increasingly international nature of jazz is a particular passion of this writer and so this compilation which deliberately sets out to explore this phenomenon in greater depth is to be applauded from the outset for its open-minded approach. It is indeed wide-reaching and covers the French Caribbean and both the Maghreb and Machrek, before a brief incursion into Japan and ending up with South African jazz exiles. Some of the recordings would benefit from being heard with the original album in their entirety and maybe album re-issues will eventually surface, but If Music are to be congratulated for making the contents within more widely accessible and in most cases, this is the very first time many listeners will have heard the individual pieces, if not necessarily the lead musicians. A real grower is the driving percussion of Moroccan born drummer, Armand Lamal, and the flute driven instrumental, ‘Souffle'(‘Blow’), which was actually recorded in the mid-1970s in north-east Paris, where the largest concentration of North Africans in the Paris Region reside. The sound of the Middle Eastern oud is omnipresent on, ‘Ismaa’ (‘Listen’) which was another lesser known project of Monk’s bass player Ahmad Abdul-Malik, here part of a larger ensemble called the Jazz Committee for Latin American Affairs. Intriguingly, this was recorded in the United States in 1968 under the aegis of the production talents of Willis Conover, more commonly referred to as, ‘The voice of America’,. which promoted American culture throughout the globe. French West Indian pianist Michel Sardaby is well-respected for his electric piano work during the 1970s and the melodic, ‘Martinica’, is a fine example of his openly percussive approach, ably assisted by the likes of Ray Barretto and Billy Cobham.

Off to even more exotic places with a Japanese only release on Victor from 1978 by the pianist, Masabumi Kikuchi, who ECM records rightly paid homage to a year or so back by recording a double CD of him live before his passing in 2015. Here, he is surrounded by Indian tabla player, Badal Roy and bassist, Gary Peacock, who also composed the number. It is at once a dense and intense musical experience, and the combination of Indian sub-continent percussion allied with a distinictive Japanese thought pattern on piano results in a truly haunting track that catches the interest of the sub-conscious and returns to one’s mind repeatedly. If there is one Japanese jazz musician deserving of an anthology in his own right, it is surely Kikuchi. Deceptively simple in conception, the blues-inflected riff of, Twenty-five’ from an extremely rare 1989 album on Swiss label Plainisphere, develops into something far more interesting from Joe Malinga (unclear from the notes which instrument Malinga plays, but he is in fact an alto saxophonist as well as arranger and co-composer of the piece) and the Southern African Force. The trumpeter present owes an allegiance to the late great Hugh Masekela, but halfway through the piece, suddenly a whole horn section emerges with a soprano saxophone, and the repetitive motif takes on an altogether more vibrant tone. Like many of the pieces included which are lengthy, they gain with repeated listens and are subtle in nature.

The timing on the CD could be a little more generous and this writer for one would like to hear more of Armand Lemal, The Jazz Committee for Latin American Affairs, and the wonderful Japan meets the Indian sub-continent and beyond from Masabumi Kikuchi. One important note for listeners of the CD edition. The inner sleeve notes refer to a piece by the Steel-Band de la Trinidad, ‘Calypso-Jazz Improvisation’. This is available on the vinyl format only.

Tim Stenhouse

Sisters Love ‘With Love’ LP/CD (MoWest) 4/5

Well, what a surprise this was, coming out of nowhere and what a gem it is too. This album should have surfaced some 45 years ago. They were Motown’s first ladies of funk, arriving at Motown following a stint at A&M Records where they released a number of 45s. Motown had relocated to the West Coast and as the last dying embers of the 60s sound went out, in came a funkier, more urban sound, and for a while, it looked like these ladies were going to be Motown’s next big thing. Their sound wasn’t what Berry Gordy had been feeding us, I remember hearing “Mr Fix-It Man Man” for the first time and rushing to The Diskery to grab a copy; I was 18 and had already got the collecting bug with the B side, “You’ve Got To Make The Choice”, becoming a constant play, and of course both sides are on this album. one year later they hit us with the storming Sawyer/Ware composition “I’m Learning To Trust My Man” which really did get some attention in the UK – an urgent funky dancer that has very few peers and today still sounding just as good.

In an attempt to get some tunes off the ground, they were paired with some of the finest writers Motown had to offer in Hal Davis, Gloria Jones, Pamela Sawyer, the underestimated Paul Riser and the brilliant Willie Hutch. What’s clear is that Berry Gordy didn’t really know what to do with them and due to total mismanagement the expected breakthrough didn’t materialise. For some 30 years or so it’s been rumoured that an entire album had been cut and so, here it is finally, with some serious first time high’s and it’s good to catch up with old favourites too. The previously unreleased “Do What You Gotta Do” is scintillating and worth the price of the album alone, it’s one of the melodic ballads that Barbara Mason used to treat us too in her Buddah days, with a spoken monologue so right for that time. The Contours “Just A Little Misunderstanding” gets a makeover and it’s a cracker – there’s another great version too by the ballads on their Venture album. Another fine tune is the Curtis Mayfield inspired “Give Me Your Love” which has that Curtom influence and first came out in 1973 on 45 and 12″ in 2014. Still working wonders in the clubs today, a sound that is so out there at the minute. Their unreleased version of Bobby Womack’s ”Communication” is a stunner too, and a big favourite of mine is their only Motown released 45 “You’ve Got My Mind”, which seeped into my head as far back as the late 70s, and one I have only just found out was scheduled to get a MoWest release but that never happened and in September 1973 the Motown 45 arrived. I remember finding a box of 25 copies at The Diskery, obviously, they have since found good homes over the years, going to like-minded souls. I have a number of versions of “Sweet Inspiration” and their version is so classy which is not surprising really as it has Hal Davis at the helm.

As an album in its own right, it stands tall and proud, but it’s more than that, this is history and another piece of the jigsaw that is soulful black music. Thank you to all those involved in making this a reality. Got my copy from Leicester’s finest Fish at Simply Soul.

Brian Goucher

Charles Bradley ‘Black Velvet’ LP/CD/DIG (Dunham) 5/5

The tragedy that was Charles Bradley briefly came and then he was gone, hopefully to a better place. His life was a serious struggle on a number of fronts, but left us with some of the finest black music that has ever surfaced across the pond. This album has been put together by friends, family and the folks at Daptone, there are a number of unreleased tracks, a couple of 45s and a couple that surfaced on EPs. An album that stands its own ground and a very welcome addition to his catalogue even if you have the 45s and the EPs it’s still an essential purchase. Of course ‘Black Velvet’ is his Monica used when he was performing his James Brown review prior to breaking through in his own right.

There are some wonderful first timers for me, take ‘Can’t Fight the Feeling’, recorded during the “No time for dreaming” sessions – how this sumptuous dancer didn’t make the final cut is beyond me, all the Bradley/Dunham traits are there, thumping bass, spitting horns, dominate percussion and of course those trademark vocals; destined to be a big tune over the coming years. The deepest of the deep, ‘I Feel a Change’, is a haunting deep soul opus and once again how this didn’t make “Victim of love”, well, you can only shake your head in sheer wonder. Deep soul has been my major ‘chase’ for 50 plus years, I was collecting that sound before it had that tagline, but Bradley has given us a master – class in the genre. The wonderful southern sounding ‘Fly Little Girl’, with its rolling tempo, so so easy to dance too, this never made the final selection for the “Changes” album, it’s growing in stature daily here. Ok so you’ll know ‘Luv Jones’ which surfaced as Daptone 45 1080, ‘Stay Away’ Daptone 45 1065, his cover of Neil Diamond’s ‘Heart of Gold’ is unrecognisable, he’s turned a pretty weak pop song into a tour de force, which came our way as Daptone 45 1059. There’s another deep opus on here, the electric version of ‘Victim of Love’, which surfaced as Daptone EP 1204, featuring the wonderful Sha La Das. The other EP track on here is the slow mournful ‘I Hope You Find the Good Life’ Daptone 1204, which saunters along as if it’s got nowhere to go, but it really is another essential Bradley cut. ‘Black Velvet’ is an instrumental performed by the Menahan Street Band, who have supplied us with some fine sides in their own right, background vocals are provided by a whose who of modern-day vocalists; The Gospel Queens: Edna Johnson, Bobbie Jean Gant Cynthia Langston, Kristine Johnson Ashby, The Sha La Das, ill, Will and Paul Schalda. There are too many musicians to mention but if like me you have everything from the Truth and Soul, Timmion, Daptone and Dunham stables then you will be familiar with them all. A simply wonderful album that is getting serious turntable time here, available in several formats, I chose the black vinyl copy. Take your pick but be sure you put this on your shelves.

Brian Goucher

Daniel Bennett Group ‘We Are the Orchestra’ CD (Manhattan Daylight Media) 3/5

New York saxophonist Daniel Bennett has been hailed as one of the most original musical voices of his generation. Here’s a few quotes about him and his work: “buoyant enough to conjure notions of East African guitar riffs and Steve Reich’s pastoral repetition.” (Village Voice), “a mix of jazz, folk, and minimalism.” (Boston Globe), “Witty, Likable and Ludicrous!” (New York Times) and “Good-natured, playful irreverence” (Orlando Weekly). We’re in for a bit of a ride then. Add to those quotes the oft-heard “unpredictable”, “disregards convention” and “quirky” and it comes as absolutely no surprise that the new album is…Giuseppe Verdi arranged for Bennett (sax, flute, piccolo, clarinet, oboe, piano) and his mate Mark Cocheo on guitars and banjo. Actually, in truth, only 2 tracks are Verdi themes – “Ernani” and “Il Trovatore” but I think you get the picture. This album is not going to be genre-tied.

“Loose Fitting Spare Tire” (titles are joyous throughout) is a jaunty, hypnotic 4 mins 50 of layered, plucky algorithmic patterns with a couple of nice n loose, fluid solos – Cocheo on electric guitar and Bennett on alto sax. It’s kinda avant-pop, kinda jazz, kinda folk, kinda minimal, kinda very smiley. The melody immediately made me think of the ‘Sorry’ TV theme toon…a bit like Matt Berry meets the Punch Brothers.

“I’m not Nancy” is stylistically similar. Again the rhythmic patterns but this time more on the folk side and a metronomic, slightly stuttery banjo and some hopeful, happy flute tell the story. “Gold Star Mufflers” is a wee bit darker with the piano leading the hypnosis this time. We then have the first of the Verdi renderings “Theme From Ernani”. Very pretty it is too – swaying, folky (somewhere between Australasia and the Americas), with multiple melodic lines layering electric guitar, alto (touch of the Courtney’s here) and flute.

“Refinancing for Elephants” will take some beating for ‘Song Title of the Year’. It’s a very gentle gaelic-ish ballad with decent minimalist cred. Piccolo power and a percussive acoustic guitar. Again, there’s layer upon layer. We then face towards the East (Middle) for “Inside Our Pizza Oven”, the geographical nod cooked up by dancing oboe melodies.

“Theme from Il Trovatore” is the second of the Verdi compositions. It’s a folk waltz with simple, floating clarinet lead melodies and harmonies over rhythmic acoustic guitar. Lastly, we have “Carl Finds His Way” which has echoes of the jaunty patterns in the first two tracks. Cocheo has first bite of the solo cherry, his guitar a touch overdriven. Bennet then takes over on alto before they start chatting very nicely, thank you, back & forth, like two good old musical mates.

“We Are The Orchestra” is playful, irreverent and does, indeed, mix folk, jazz and minimalism as expected. The versatile duo of Bennett and Cocheo sound so happy bouncing off each other, it’s infectious – you can’t imagine a single disagreement, moment of frustration or competitiveness. They have achieved a unique difference in creating large ensemble layers that are clearly built by either (i) just two people or (ii) several very, very like-minded individuals (perhaps family members?!). I think the music benefits from them only being a duo, and from them only being Bennett and Cocheo – they are, joyously and impressively, The Orchestra.

Ian Ward

Tohru Aizawa Quartet ‘Tachibana Vol. 1’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 4/5

The influence of spiritual jazz and especially the contribution of John Coltrane is very much in evidence on this album, which originally surfaced in 1975 in Japan, and is the second in the series of re-issues by BBE dedicated to jazz in Japan. It was released on Tachibana and serves as an introduction to what that label could offer and, moreover, affords European and North American jazz devotees the opportunity to hear young Japanese aficionados of modern jazz and their musical influences. Of note is that the group members all practiced other professions in their daily lives and these ranged from law to medicine and teaching. Leader and pianist Tohru Aizawa composed three of the five numbers on the album and from the sleeve note information, it seems that businessman, Koichi Negishi, was instrumental in bringing musicians and label manager together and was also in charge of a Jazz Kissa (or rough equivalent of a jazz café, something of a Japanese speciality), promoting concerts through a network of similar minded Kissaten. As a result, Japanese jazz listeners got to hear the likes of Stanley Cowell and Charles Tolliver, but also Thad Jones and the Mel Lewis Orchestra, and even veteran jazz singers such as Anita O’Day.

Again, as with the previous re-issue, one track finds its way onto the J-Jazz compilation and that is, ‘Dead Letter’, which starts as a medium paced trio number before tenor enters and the impressive polyrhythms from one of the brothers in the band, Tetsuya Morimura, who has clearly been influenced by Elvin Jones and Art Blakey, both of whom regularly toured Japan and were and still are much-loved by Japanese jazz connoisseurs. A favourite of this writer is the driving rhythm of ‘Sacrament’, which bears a resemblance to Coltrane’s ‘Crescent’ album and the saxophone work of the other brother, Kyoichiro Morimura, on soprano here has the same intensity of feeling to that of the early-mid 1960s Coltrane quartet. The extended solos of McCoy Tyner are evoked on the lengthy ‘Philosopher’s Stone’, which features Kyoichiro Morimura this time on tenor. Of the two Brazilian/Latin jazz covers, ‘La Fiesta’ works better and is taken at a more rapid tempo than the original, while the soprano saxophone work compares favourably with that of Joe Farrell on the Chick Corea-penned ECM original for Return to Forever. A little too fast for this listener’s ears is the take on ‘Samba de Orfeu’, which quite simply lacks variation, with the non-stop percussion and repeated piano vamp throughout.

You will have to judge for yourselves whether you regard the music contained within as either an efficient if unoriginal mimicry of the Coltrane sound, or rather something more original inspired by the intensity of those Coltrane quartet recordings and the later influences of aforementioned Strata East recording artists. The recording quality is, in general, fine, even if the drums sound a tad distant in places. With the extensive and indeed praiseworthy ten page booklet is included a translated personal note from Ikujiro Tachibana, label head, with Tony Higgins supplying additional and informative notes on the music musicians and jazz scene, with colour photos of the band as they were, and the leader today.

Tim Stenhouse

Koichi Matsukaze Trio + Toshiyuki Daitoku ‘Earth Mother’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 4/5

Forming part of a trio of Japanese jazz related re-issues by BBE (all reviewed in these columns) and one of their most intriguing and in-depth explorations by the label to date, this one focuses on a 1978 original release on the private ALM label that specialised in improvisational music and contemporary classical during the late 1970s and early 1980s. As such, the album showcases a very different side to Japanese jazz from the more mainstream jazz-fusion output that regularly featured in UK import record stores during the same period. It was in fact the second album for leader and multi-reedist Koichi Matsukaze (alto and tenor saxophone, plus flute), following on from the earlier live recording, ‘Live at the Room 427’ (1976), and is progressive jazz that oscillates between more straight acoustic and harder hitting fusion. The latter is emphasized on the opening piece, with a pretty melody, ‘Images in alone’, which features some fine interplay between Toshiyuki Daitoku on keyboards (here on Fender Rhodes and elsewhere on acoustic piano) and the leader on flute. The lengthy title track, which is featured also on the J-Jazz compilation album for BBE, is just over eleven minutes in length and the repetitive riff on bass leads on to an uptempo rhythm on drums with piano vamp and alto saxophone with just the faintest hint of Steps Ahead. It is important to stress that from the early 1960s onwards, American jazz groups would regularly perform in Japan and this, in turn, informed the local musicians of how the art form was evolving, and the Japanese, similar to the French, did consider jazz to be an art form that should be both respected and revered. That is very much reflected in the care taken with the re-issue of often hard to find jazz from the United States and elsewhere (including the UK. Check some of the vinyl re-issues of 1960s British jazz including Ronnie Ross).

While all but one of the five numbers are originals penned by the leader, it is the group’s take on Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’, that was most anticipated by this writer in order to determine what new impetus they could bring. Interestingly, the group creates an intimate feel by leaving the piano out of proceedings, and in the intro there is deft brush work from Ryojiro Furusawa, creative basslines and the alto saxophone of the leader on display. A worthwhile re-issue, then, and one that provides a glimpse at least of what was happening below the surface of the Japanese jazz scene when jazz-fusion was dominating the external image of jazz in the land of the Rising Sun. Full marks for the extended notes translated from the original Japanese inner sleeve notes which provide much more detail on the band and were written by the leader and these are supplemented by excellent colour photos of the leader in action, presumably more recently. At some point, major labels such as Sony as well as others should seriously consider opening the vaults and issuing outside of Japan some of the jazz treasures they have in their back catalogue recorded there.

Tim Stenhouse

Matt Ulery ‘Sifting Stars’ LP/CD (Woolgathering) 3/5

This is Matt Ulery’s eighth album since his debut in 2008. He’s a bassist, composer, band-leader and is very big and very busy in the Chicago jazz scene. He has gained accolades with recent works such as “By a Little Light”, “Wake anEcho” and “In the Ivory” on the Greenleaf Music label and his most recent “Festival” on his own label, Woolgathering Records.

He says of Sifting Stars “I tend to write emotionally. That is to say, when I reach in to the abstract space of musical possibilities, the tiny bit I can capture, I tend to let these transient melodies/rhythms and subsequent harmonies, increasingly familiar somehow, guide me through the most natural dynamic and flow of energy from event to event. These fragile moments, subtle and monumental, occupy long form song structures in Sifting Stars.”

The album is effectively divided into two parts – the first four tracks are epically lush, romantic symphonic art pieces utilising large ensemble symphonic orchestra and the pretty, haunting voices of Grazyna Auguscik and Katie Ernst, while the finale is a multi-movement work performed by Axiom Brass quintet, called ‘Ida’ – inspired by the Art Institute in Chicago-housed Ivan Albright painting, ‘Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida’.

‘The Remnant of Everything’ initiates proceedings.It has a fanciful, Tim Burtonesque romanticism with many layered instrumental voices which speak in a modern jazz-classical fusion language with an East European folk accent. Following on, ‘Pictures in Grey’ is true to this sentiment. It’s all gorgeous, big and Turnage-wafting – oddly and impressively managing to be both emotionally expressive but also refined and coy at once.

Katie Ernst takes over the vocal for ‘I’m So Shallow’. Her styling, the greater use of brass and the dropping of the strings create a slightly darker mood. Rich with a more overtly modern classical feel. This mood continues with the standout instrumental ‘The Prairie is a Rolling Ocean’ from which a beautiful, hopeful, elegantly improvised piano solo, by long time musical chum, Rob Clearfield, weaves in and out of the orchestration to lighten the dark skies above. Powerful stuff, exquisitely executed and the start of a fragile bridge to part two.

‘Ida’ is a six part piece played by a quintet consisting of two trumpets, a french horn, a trombone and a tuba. Ulery does not get his cuffs dirty on it but his score is fed by imagining what Ida, the woman in the painting, might be thinking and feeling. The process has created a deeply introspective atmosphere with shifting, detailed, complex and often surprising harmonies. I got lost in its depth.

Sifting Stars is challenging, I guess. It’s expressive, lush, sometimes romantic other times grotesque or whimsical. All the time, however, it weeps with emotional intent. Ida, especially, has a perplexing feeling that the melodies are just out of touch, as if they’re always unnervingly floating effortlessly out of my tightening grasp. It’s a magical, fantastical thing and I’m not sure I’ve experienced it before. I want to spend more time with it.

Ian Ward