Curtis Nowosad ‘Curtis Nowosad’ CD (Sessionheads United) 4/5

Canadian born drummer Curtis Nowosad releases this his third album, although, this self-titled album is the first with this configuration and on Sessionheads United records. Nowosad’s line-up for this enterprise consists of Luke Sellick on bass, Andrew Renfroe on guitar and the extremely active alto saxophonist Braxton Cook alongside Curtis on drums. This foursome is his main quartet but the recording additionally features Duane Eubanks on trumpet, Jonathan Thomas playing piano, Rhodes and organ, Corey Wallace on trombone, Matthew Whitaker also on organ duties and Marc Cary also playing keys. And for this 8-track venture, four of the compositions include vocalists Michael Mayo and Brianna Thomas.

The album begins with a vibrant version of Gil Scott-Heron’s sombre ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’ (1971). Here, guitar, trumpet and piano are front and centre for this dynamic but expressive instrumental version (although it’s hard to touch Esther Phillip’s 1972 version). ‘The Water Protectors’, which is an ode to the indigenous people of North America, comprises of a mesmerising vocal performance from Michael Mayo and his very effective vocalisations rather than use of lyrics, while Cook’s appropriately lyrical sax solo appears during the second half before the brilliantly disjointed rhythm of the final 40 seconds closes the piece. The Delta blues of the Deep South is explored within Skip James’ masterpiece of country blues with a version of the apocalyptic ‘Hard Time Killing Floor Blues’. The surprise of having a female vocalist in Brianna Thomas perform the song rather than a male was rather effective.

The 3/4 of ‘Waltz 4 Meg’ is a brilliantly written and executed piece, with its swirling piano, impeccable guitar work and gliding saxophone floating above the intricate but yet unobtrusive drums parts in perfect symmetry. ‘Never Forget What They Did To Fred Hampton’ touches upon themes of oppression, struggle and social upheaval, a commonality with the LP and its stylistically focussed compositions. Duane Eubanks (trumpet) and Andrew Renfroe (guitar) steal the show here. And for an insight into the track’s inspiration, this writer recommends, ‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution’ (2015), a skilfully crafted documentary regarding the Black Panther Party which also explores the work of activist Fred Hampton and his subsequent early death at the hands of the Chicago Police Department in 1969 aged just 21. This premise continues with ‘Song 4 Marielle Franco’ a composition written almost as an elegy to the Brazilian human rights activist, likewise murdered for her forthright views on social injustice, corruption and police brutality in 2018.

After making Harlem his home since 2013, Nowosad has obviously been influenced by the social consciousness that is evident within this part of New York. The album is full of worthwhile motifs and ideas both during the five original compositions as well as with the three remakes, with Nina Simone’s ‘See Line Woman’ featuring the vocals of Brianna Thomas is also worthy of a mention. And it’s these contemporary observations of world history as well as its present state which give the album an edge over many other modern jazz recordings.

Damian Wilkes

Alexis Avakian ‘Miasin’ CD (Diggin Music) 4/5

French-Armenian saxophonist Alexis Avakian grew up in Marseilles, but it is clearly his Armenian heritage that comes to the fore when making music. Having learnt to play piano, guitar and saxophone at an early age, a decisive meeting with Archie Shepp firmly planted the jazz improv seed into the musician’s head and heart, and this album truly reflects a wonderful balance between Western jazz and Armenian folk music.

Avakian’s enthralling music has been developing nicely over the years, with two previous albums (2014’s “Digging Chami” and 2016’s “Hi Dream”) featuring the same line-up of musicians leading the group with an evolving, natural continuity, to this new release. With Fabrice Moreau on drums, Mauro Gargano on bass, Ludovic Allainmat on piano, and Artyom Minasyan on doudouk or chevi (traditional flute), the quintet bring yet more colour and texture with this new recording, evoking the essence of Armenia even more so than on their earlier releases.

At the heart of this music is the beautiful integration of the instruments used, especially the saxophone and the doudouk. Armenian singer Miqayel Voskanian adds a distinctive voice to selected tracks, his yearning, evocative vocals just adding to the overall atmosphere. But it is the combination of tenor sax and traditional flute that are at the core of the music. Sometimes in unison, sometimes almost duelling, yet always on the same, wonderful wavelength, the path of Avakian’s compositions is firmly set with the traditional folk melodies artfully integrated with a jazz improv ethos.

That’s not to say the music is in any way contrived or too pre-planned. Listening to “Improvisation pour Julien” is a classic example of how these tunes often develop in surprising ways, whether that be through a melancholic yearning, or a spirited, rousing effervescence. The bass, drums and piano alongside the two lead instruments make for a beguiling mix. There’s a telepathic-like understanding that flows between all of the musicians, with tunes like the emotive “Yaounde” swirling in a haze of Coltrane-like spirituality, “Hugo’s Jokes” twisting and turning between its East and West influences, and “Circus” with its wild and experimental juices flowing freely. All of the tunes have something fresh and invigorating to offer.

With “Miasin” Alexis Avakian has found a unique balance of sound that, together with his band, brings to life an impressive musical adventure that unites contemporary jazz and Armenian culture, creating a little world of his own in which the musicians are free to express themselves and craft some mighty fine music in the process. Highly recommended listening.

Mike Gates

Betsayda Machado y la Parranda El Clavo ‘Loé Loá – Rural Recordings Under The Mango Tree’ LP (Olindo) 5/5

Originally released in digital and CD formats in 2017, Betsayda Machado & La Parranda El Clavo’s ‘Loé Loá – Rural Recordings Under The Mango Tree’ was released on vinyl July 19th. This album is one of the most exciting things to hit my headphones in recent memory, combining my two favourite things – drums and nature. For this special album, Betsayda Machado gathered about 30 of her best friends to sing, play the drums and have a parranda (a party) under the mango trees of her home town of El Clavo in Barlovento, on the Caribbean coast of Venezuela.

The beauty of this album lies in its simplicity and its authenticity. The group literally recorded Loé Loá under a mango tree, in the open air, as if they were in the midst of celebration. You can hear the sounds of the outside, birds and wind, and sure, some of the nuances of the instruments may be lost but it is hardly missed. The location ends up adding even greater depth, transporting us to the party. I can feel the wind blowing in my hair, kissing my earlobes, and carrying the strands of my hair away with the notes of the song. I can hear the feet stomping and the hands clapping as if the revellers were right there next to me, or more like if I were one of them.

But this isn’t just a party for the party’s sake and the choice of location was no accident. Machado is taking us back to her roots for a reason, the history of which is integral to understanding Machado’s perspective. Barlovento has deep African roots, tracing all the way back to Senegal. In fact, the town of El Clavo was founded by escaped slaves. And though we are witnesses to a lively parranda, that history tells us it’s not just a joyful celebration, but that embedded in that joy are pain and burden and even a little grief. If you’ve listened to the news lately you probably know Venezuela is in the middle of great upheaval and the people are hurting and scared, lacking steady access to the very basic of necessities; food and medicine. Combining the current situation with the history of her hometown, Machado makes sure that as you are listening to her you are also listening to her people.

There is not one throwaway song on the album but there are a few standouts. ‘Oh Santa Rosa’, a song dedicated to the saint of escaped slaves, is full of deep energetic drumming and beautiful call and response, voices filled with reverence and joy. ‘Barlovento’ stopped me dead in my tracks; I can easily say I’ve never felt music so viscerally. The handclaps travelled through the open spaces in my body and wrapped themselves around my calves urging my legs to move. ‘Borracho de Aguardiente’ is a beautiful example of Machado’s style, “Tambor”, a percussive technique that is said to make the spirit shake so much the dancer starts to float.

Betsayda Machado & La Parranda El Clavo is the invitation to the party we’ve all been waiting for. It accepts you as you are and only asks you to do the same. The gentle nudge to take all the parts of yourself, those you love and those you’d rather not acknowledge, form them into a ball, and instead of throwing them away or boxing them up, to shape them into shoes, put them on your feet and allow them to carry you away. Machado reminds us of the fullness of our experience. That to live, to survive, is to be defiant and in that, there is much joy.

Molly Gallegos

The Lewis Express ‘Clap Your Hands’ LP/CD (ATA) 4/5

Merely a year after the debut record from The Lewis Express, the Leeds collective return with their sophomore effort, ‘Clap Your Hands’, released through ATA Records.

Comprising something of an ATA Records supergroup, The Lewis Express is made up of frequent musicians and collaborators all with a firm hand within ATA’s catalogue of stunning music including contributors to projects by The Sorcerers, The Magnificent Tape Band, Abstract Orchestra and Tony Burkill along with many other leading names within contemporary soul music. The quartet consists of pianist George Cooper (Lack of Afro, Junior Oliver and Frootful), drummer Sam Hobbs (Matthew Bourne, Amon Tobin), bassist Neil Innes (Eddie Roberts, Lack of Afro) and percussion by Pete Williams (Salerosa).

Paying homage to the great jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, The Lewis Express aim to capture that style of 1950s/60s soul and jazz through a live recording, just as Lewis’s classics were also created. While last year’s record served as a strong introduction to the group with a more versatile sound, as the title suggests ‘Clap Your Hands’ is a decidedly more up-tempo affair than their self-titled predecessor. And while tracks like ‘Theme From “The Watcher”‘ and ‘Last Man in The Chain Gang’ were moodier in their approach, but still excellent, the follow-up looks to place attention firmly on the dance floors as encapsulated in the opening title track. ‘Stomp Your Feet’, ‘Tico Tico’ and ‘Out From The Rock’ masterfully carry the party along but the Latin-tinged ‘Dança De Duas Mãos’ is the absolute scene stealer here.

It would be fair to say that Leeds-based ATA Records is a label that celebrates soul and jazz music of a bygone era – projects by The Lewis Express, saxophonist Tony Burkill’s ‘Work Money Death’ and The Magnificent Tape Band’s ‘The Subtle Art of Distraction’ all openly tip their hats to the influences they proudly wear on their sleeves. Conversely, ‘Dilla’ and ‘Madvillain, Volumes 1 and 2’, from the breakout success of the Abstract Orchestra, are incredibly progressive hip-hop inspired projects that still allow ATA to facilitate the label’s penchant for analogue recording equipment and techniques.

When discussing the making of ATA’s The Mandatory Eight, ‘Soul Fanfare #3’, ATA Records bassist and producer Neil Innes described the label’s aesthetic when it comes to making music that really characterizes the love and passion for music that the label has and nicely frames their intentions for each project: “Today’s technology, with the ability to endlessly edit, tweak, cut and paste has removed those honest human moments from the table. Is there the same intense commitment to a recording if you know that you can just fix it after? And where do you draw the line of what you fix? Modern production has become like Photoshop for the music industry. I prefer Polaroids.”

Imran Mirza

Read Also:
The Lewis Express ‘The Lewis Express’ LP/CD (ATA) 3/5

Daryl Runswick / Tony Hymas ‘Runswick Hymas Big Bands 1974-78’ CD (ASC) 5/5

I have had the pleasure of meeting both Daryl Runswick and Tony Hymas. Both are giants of British jazz, although sadly both are also now less well-known than they deserve to be.

Runswick, classically trained composer, arranger, producer and educationalist, took his first steps into the jazz world in the mid-1960s playing double bass with the likes of tenor saxophonist Dick Morrissey. His C.V. also includes work with the London Sinfonietta, The King Singers, Simon Rattle and Ornette Coleman. As a session musician he has recorded and worked with Alan Parsons and Elton John to name just two. However, he is probably best known as bass player with John Dankworth with whom he toured for some 12 years from 1973. His relationship with Dankworth is something that he has in common with pianist Hymas as they worked together in Dankworth’s groups. Prior to this, Hymas worked as company pianist for the Ballet Rambert and thereafter on the busy London session scene of the 1970s. Later he worked with guitarist Jeff Beck and had a Top 10 hit with the group Ph.D.

It seems that for Runswick, in a career spanning so much activity, the jazz years take up a relatively short period of time during the 1970s. Runswick has released an earlier compilation album covering his small group work, mostly quartets and quintets, plus another specifically devoted to the music he produced with his quartet featuring saxophonist Ray Warleigh.

This latest release focuses on the work of the Hymas-Runswick Big Band from 1974 and adds a later session from 1978, apparently the idea of jazz record producer Denis Preston in a Latin Fusion style somewhat reminiscent of Carlos Santana.

The earlier session brings together the cream of the British modern jazz scene of the time. The slightly unusual line up consists of three trumpets, three saxophones, two trombones, French horn, tuba, vibes, and a conventional rhythm section. The repertoire is made up of four compositions, three by Runswick and one by Hymas. The opening piece ‘When the Bough Breaks’ is from Hymas and features Henry Lowther (trumpet) and Stan Sulzman (tenor sax) and seems to me to be typical of contemporary Big Band jazz of the period.

Runswick’s ‘Lainey’s Tune’ follows and is a very relaxed introspective piece with fine solo contributions from alto saxophonist Ray Warleigh and Don Rendell on tenor sax.

‘The Generals of Islamabad’ moves into jazz-rock territory and is great fun with contributions from Hymas on Rhodes electric piano, Frank Ricotti on vibraphone and the inimitable Kenny Wheeler. I’m reminded of some of Mike Gibbs’ early music here. ‘In Three’ completes the section in a similar vein with an impassioned solo from Stan Sulzman on soprano saxophone along with Chris Pyne on trombone and Dave Horler on the less often heard valve trombone. Some of the writing here brings to mind the work of Colin Towns with his celebrated Mask Orchestra. Towards the end, there are even echoes of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra.

The remaining six pieces comprise the music for the Denis Preston session under the title of Senor Funk. Keyboard duties here fall to Alan Branscombe aided by Runswick and Mike McKenzie and Hymas is absent. The opening piece ‘Love Song’ written by saxophonist Tony Coe features characteristically ethereal wordless vocals from Norma Winstone, evoking memories of her own debut recording, Edge of Time. Runswick arranged this and all of the remaining pieces and valuable solo contributions are supplied by Lowther, guitarist Phil Lee and Coe.

‘Irene’ is a joyous composition from pianist John Taylor with typically oblique clarinet from Coe and more from Lowther. This is great fun.

The remainder of the compositions, except one, are Runswick’s and his ‘Canto’ opens with the composer’s bass guitar and is certainly a funky piece. Phil Lee is featured on guitar and there are wordless vocals from Winstone and Mike McKenzie, the latter also contributes a piano solo.

‘Strains for Laine’s Brains’ sees Lowther and Winstone take up the melody line in unison very effectively before they both get the chance to shine individually.

Ornette Coleman’s ‘Dee Dee’ is next and sounds like great fun with Daryl singing along to his bass in the manner of a latter-day “Slam” Stewart. Tony Coe follows with a slippery alto solo and McKenzie gets another piano feature.

The album concludes with ‘One for Denis’ and allows McKenzie another feature and, as on many of the other pieces, Winstone’s wordless vocals on the theme statement adds considerably to the overall effect. We are also treated to more soprano saxophone from Tony Coe.

The music is very well recorded and presented but is clearly of its time. I’m reminded of the larger Nucleus incarnations and some of the work of Nick Ingman. Having said this the album was a joy to listen to from start to finish and as a record of what was happening on the British modern jazz scene of the 1970s it is invaluable.

Whether as a composer, arranger, bass player, pianist, record producer, broadcaster or educator, Daryl Runswick is the real deal. Find out more about the great man here:
If you get the chance to see either of these great performers in person don’t miss the chance. They simply don’t make them like this anymore.

Alan Musson

Read also:
Daryl Runswick – The Jazz Years 2CD (ASC) 5/5
Bird Curtis Quintet ‘Needs B’ LP (Jazzaggression) 4/5

Benjamin Boone / Philip Levine ‘The Poetry Of Jazz Volume Two’ CD (Origin) 5/5

In the last years of his life Pulitzer prize-winning former US Poet Laureate and jazz aficionado Philip Levine undertook a series of collaborations with saxophonist and band leader Benjamin Boone. Last year saw the posthumous release on Origin Records of the first volume with an all-star lineup, 2019 offers this second instalment.

Levine, the son of Jewish immigrant parents began his working life in the Detroit car industry in the 1930s as a manual worker. Around this time he also experienced antisemitism in the form of radio broadcasts by then mainstream radio priest Father Coughlin before Coughlin was forced off air at the end of the 1930s as a Nazi sympathiser. It was these early experiences which continued to inform his poetry long after he had broken free of the monotony of manual labour and established himself as a poet and academic. He explains that as a youngster he made the ‘foolish vow to speak for the voiceless working class of Detroit’. Levine describes his ideal poem in which ‘no words are noticed. You look through them into a vision of… the people, the place’. It was these words of explanation which I felt offered a key to the poetry of Levine and the historical context in which he was operating as well as his profound scepticism regarding traditional American ideals.

Saxophonist and collaborator Boone crossed paths with Levine while they both worked at California State University. Boone describes his long-held fascination with the inherent musicality of the spoken word and how he drew inspiration from Levine’s wry and emotionally restrained style of delivery.

Appropriately enough The Poetry of Jazz Volume Two’s first track is called ‘Let Me Begin Again’. On hearing Levine’s voice it’s easy to understand what attracted Boone, as a listener one is drawn in with a rare and intimate immediacy. The poetry and music describe a watery rebirth or a second chance at life, ‘let me go back to land after a lifetime of going nowhere’, the poet imagines his arrival at Detroit Hospital ‘like a speck of dust traveling on the wings of a gull through oily waters’ presumably those of the once notoriously polluted Detroit River. Boone’s sax and an array of electronics add a mood of liquidity and atmosphere to this desire for a second chance at life while being wise to what was wrong with the first life.

Some instrumental tracks recorded after the death of Levine pay homage to his best known poems, most notably ‘The Simple Truth’. A piano part by David Aus echoes the phrase of the tune’s title. Soprano sax by Boone and a vocal part by Karen Marguth lend the piece an ethereal quality as the soprano soars and merges seamlessly with the vocal. On my first listen to the record I wasn’t sure how much these instrumentals add to the album other than to remind us of what a great instrument Levine’s own voice is.

Towards the end of the recording in ‘When the Shift Was Over’ the narrator contemplates his life and place in the wider universe recalling the sense of quiet following a shift where ‘metal is slamming metal’ as he ‘tastes nickel under the tongue’. He looks up at the night sky to see ominous black clouds. Remembering his younger self in Poland, he marvels at the energy his people had to make it to the US only to be ground numb by a seemingly endless factory shift. Questioning his belief in God he somehow finds the will to sing in a hoarse voice ‘older than his years’ as a cleansing ‘clear rain falls’.

The album is a vivid snapshot of an important piece of American history wonderfully captured on record with the foresight of Boone and Levine. We’d better make the most of it as there won’t be any more where this came from.

James Read

Read also:
Benjamin Boone / Philip Levine ‘The Poetry Of Jazz’ CD (Origin) 5/5

Kit Sebastian ‘Mantra Moderne’ LP/CD/Cassette (Mr Bongo) 3/5

“Mantra Moderne” is the debut album of London-based Anglo-Turkish duo, Kit Sebastian. A collaboration of Kit Martin, who plays the instruments and vocalist Merve Erdem. It is being described as fusing ‘Anatolian Psychedelia, Brazilian Tropicalia, 60’s European pop and American jazz’. Interesting!

The opening track is “Senden Başka”. Twangy guitar introduces the vocals restrained to a Gainsbourgian mumble doubled with guitar with unintrusive bass and organ support. The superb “Mantra Moderne” opens with a burst of distorted, reverberated saxophones introducing the motif, before launching into a swaggering descending melody line followed by smooth organ and chinking guitar. On “Tyranny 20”, spidery reverberated guitar crawls over the driving beat on an ambience of authentic sounding 60s guitar fuzz tones and organ. “Pangea”’s laid back samba-like percussion is the platform for the repetitive and slightly tedious melody line. However, there’s an effective instrumental passage and solo towards the end. “Kuytu” is lead by the chiming keyboard backed by fuzzy guitar which gives way to a swingy rhythm with a sparse vocal line. It’s the high point of the record and has a more confident structure than some of the other tracks here. “Yanimda Kal” successfully mixes the samba rhythm with Asian instrumentation without leaning too much into exotica. “Yürüdüm, Büyüdüm, Çürüdüm” is light and airy, apart from a proggy burst midway through, with guitar coiling around the repetitive breathy lyric. “With A Sense Of Grace” has a chiming keyboard motif and plays on the duet vocal lines reminiscent of Bardot and Gainsbourg collaborations. “Durma” closes the set with an urgent bass line which introduces jabbing horns, stroboscopic wah-wah guitar, serpentine melody lines and Erdem’s spoken word vocals.

It is clear that there has been a lot of care in creating the complex and opulent sonic textures of this music. That care has been worthwhile as it sounds beautiful and lush. You can also appreciate the ambition to merge differing styles and it is good listening. Often the sound references the 1960s without quite becoming pastiche. The album could be a soundtrack from a lost French new wave movie. Expect to hear snippets from this album on T.V. shows and trailers over the next few months or so! Some of the care towards the sound has come at a slight cost as a few of the tracks here feel a bit like fillers. Maybe it is because they are lacking that visual element which is probably intended for them. Overall though, it is an enjoyable album. An accomplished and exciting debut and promises much more to follow.

Kevin Ward

Marcos Valle ‘Sempre’ LP/CD (Far Out Recordings) 4/5

With a catalogue of over 30 albums, Marcos Valle has had a very productive and versatile career. Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1943, Marcos has ridden the sometimes stormy seas of contemporary Brazilian music like no other. From Bossa to boogie, MPB to jazz, the singer, songwriter and musician has continually immersed himself within various creative musical forms, but all with a discerning Brazilian flavour.

Recorded in Brazil and featuring an assortment of highly respectable musicians including Azymuth bass player Alex Malheiros, Armando Marçal (aka Marçalzinho) on percussion and one time Tim Maia guitarist, Paulinho Guitarra, playing on 5 tracks. Production is handled by Daniel Maunick who also produced Ivan Conti’s ‘Poison Fruit’ album from earlier in 2019, and it’s co-produced by Marcos himself who also plays the majority of the keys.

Although recognised as the ‘Rio beach boy’, Marcos moved from a turbulent Brazil in the mid-1970s to LA and obviously soaked up that West Coast sound and those warm soulful grooves of the time in the US. This experience resulted in ‘Vontade De Rever Você’ (1981) and his self-titled album from 1983 when he returned home to record, now identified as some of his most revered and sought after work. Both are now seen as Brazilian soul classics, with half of ‘Vontade De Rever Você’ co-written by Marvin Gaye collaborator and celebrated vocalist in his own right, Leon Ware. The album spawned the classic ‘A Paraíba Não É Chicago’ (which Ware also covered on ‘Rockin’ You Eternally’, titled ‘Baby Don’t Stop Me’ also in 1981) – which is where ‘Sempre’ comes in.

This album is very much inspired by Valle’s more US-influenced ‘80s soulful work rather than his early bossa nova period, and thus, the record possesses a certain boogie quality. For example, ‘Distância’ is a drum machine and synth bass-heavy piece that could have been produced by Dâm-Funk. Other compositions such as ‘Vou Amanhã Saber’ stray into soulful disco territory with its catchy horn centred chorus, while the funky breakbeat soul of ‘Odisséia’ is pure beach music bliss – but here in a good way. ‘É Você’ utilises a piano melody as its main focus as the vocals (which are all entirely sung in Portuguese) maintain a certain pop quality, while ‘Alma’ features lush Fender Rhodes chords and rich guitar parts over a track that could have appeared on one of Marcos’ 1980s recordings. Additionally, an instrumental version is also featured, but this and another 3 tracks have been omitted from vinyl pressing.

I think the decision by Far Out to only release the album on single vinyl, and thus, requiring the removal of these four tracks from vinyl copies due to running length issues to be a poor one. Releasing the album on a double vinyl would have allowed all 11 compositions to be included. For such as vinyl entrenched record label to revert to tactics that were commonplace in the 1990s and early 2000s does seem quite bizarre, especially as customers would be more than willing to pay a bit more to have the entire album on a double in the current climate.

Nevertheless, ‘Sempre’ (translated as ‘ever’) deserves its place among Marcos Valle’s deep and expansive discography and will be seen as a worthy inclusion to many music collectors of Brazilian based music.

Damian Wilkes

Louis Hayes / Junior Cook Quintet ‘At Onkel Pö’s Carnegie Hall / Hamburg 1976’ 2LP/2CD (Jazzline) 4/5

This is a reissue from a March 1976 gig at Onkel Pö’s Carnegie Hall in Hamburg – from a series of live recordings. I guess you would call this hard bop but where that came from is openly flagged by the intro of the first number, ‘All the Things You Are’ being a quote from the head of Charlie Parker’s 1947 version of ‘Bird of Paradise’ which is based on the changes of ‘All The Things’ and it pops up again in the coda.

Jointly billed as leaders are saxophonist Junior Cook and drummer Louis Hayes and the band is completed by Woody Shaw on trumpet, Stafford James on bass and Ronnie Matthews on piano. To these ears, live gigs are great live but don’t always stand up to repeated listening on record. But this is an exception, although the players stretch out (‘All the Things’ is nearly 23 minutes alone) the playing is tight and strong – it’s clear the band were well used to playing together.

Next up is a ballad, ‘When Sunny Gets Blue’ which features Junior Cook making a strong statement from the outset using the full range of the tenor and takes the lead for half the running length of the tune. This song was the subject of a plagiarism case in the 80s (nothing to do with these players) which set a precedent for fair use of quoted music in another context.

‘Moontrane’ is a Woody Shaw tune which first surfaced on Larry Young’s classic ‘Unity’ recording for Blue Note – memorable not only for the tunes playing but for one of the very best of the iconic cover designs by Reid Miles. As you might expect Shaw features heavily on this fast-paced version.

It’s back to a ballad with Thelonious Monk’s ‘Pannonica’ being treated with due reverence by Cook in his initial statement which again stretches out impressively until Matthews gets a chance to show.

‘Ichi-Ban’ became the title track when the band recorded more abbreviated versions of some of these tunes in a studio session in May 1976, back in New York for the Dutch Timeless label run by Wim Wigt, who also organised European jazz tours including the one for the Hayes/Cook quintet. It’s another quick based tune kicked off this time by Shaw underpinned by choppy chords from Matthews. Shaw later took over the co-leader role when Cook stepped back. This tune is by Matthews and the way the lead is rotated points to a certain shared democracy in the band’s voices.

‘Moment to Moment’ is a slower builder led first by Cook which then switches into a funkier feel which becomes the background for Cook to stretch further out. Matthews is also prominent with another lyrical and suitably funky solo.

‘Four For Nothing’ brings the gig to a close – apparently the band could have carried on but Harriet Maué, the bartender, called time. Matthews again excels and James contributes a swinging bass solo. Co-leader Hayes provides strong drumming throughout but seems keen to promote the overall music and sound – but here he does give us a cracking solo in the middle of this final track.

Only seven tracks but a running time of nigh on two hours, no wonder it’s a double album! The crowd loved it from the bits of response you can hear. For a live recording, it was taped for the German station NDR, of that time the quality is pretty good. Overall a very good insight into a hard-working band.

Brian Homer

Dadisi Komolafe ‘Hassan’s Walk’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 5/5

Originally released in 1983 on the famed Nimbus West Records, here reissued in all its 180g vinyl glory we have the gem that is Dadisi Komolafe’s ‘Hassan’s Walk’.

While the Los Angeles jazz scene continues to captivate audiences even today through music by Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin and Alpha Pup/World Galaxy Records, it was Nimbus West Records that carried that torch through a series of stunning releases in the 1980s. Born Arthur Wells, Komolafe was a flautist and saxophonist who found himself under the tutelage of the revered pianist and composer, Horace Tapscott. Tapscott founded the Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra in 1961 and the inception of Nimbus West Records was very much a result of Tapscott and his ideology and doctrine that he freely passed over to musicians that he mentored and nurtured. Dadisi Komlafe was one such prodigal talent who, through his connection to Tapscott, found himself recording with members of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra as well as appearing on releases by pianist Nate Morgan’s ‘Journey into Nigritia’, vibraphonist Rickey Kelly’s ‘Limited Stops Only’ and Tapscott’s ‘The Call’.

Despite this being a reissue of an album released over 35 years ago, you’d be forgiven for assuming ‘Hassan’s Walk’ would actually be the product of a much older time period like the 1970s or even the 1960s – comparing it to the stunning works of the original flag wavers and icons of what is now known as “spiritual jazz” like Pharoah Sanders’s or Alice Coltrane’s seminal Impulse! Records years or the epic catalogue of music from Sun Ra amassed over those decades.

Featuring thrilling reinterpretations of Thelonius Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’ as well as Wayne Shorter’s ‘Speak No Evil’, the latter of which displaying such infectious energy that it would surely rank as the album’s highlight. But the album also features Komolafe’s own compositions including the fifteen-minute opener and title track, ‘Hassan’s Walk’.

Fellow Nimbus recording artists complete the band line-up, including bassist Roberto Miranda (Vinny Golia, Linda Hill), drummer Sonship Theus (Michał Urbaniak, Charles Lloyd), pianist Eric Tillman (Potter & Tillman) and vibraphonist Rickey Kelly (Greg Adams, Adele Sebastian). Production is tackled by Tom Albach, who founded Nimbus West in Santa Barbara in 1979 and also produced an incredible amount of Nimbus’ stunning catalogue.

Even at Nimbus’ most productive years, the lesser-known label’s releases lay as treasures for the true die-hards but there’s the hope that their recent run of reissues and Bandcamp re-releases will open those treasures up to new audiences and generations alike. The Los Angeles jazz scene has always been held in high regard, not just for being home to the aforementioned jazz icons, but being home to a progressive and free-thinking approach to jazz music. ‘Hassan’s Walk’ – and Nimbus West – absolutely warrant their places within the lineage of Los Angeles’ jazz landscape and this one and only record by Dadisi Komolafe is a joyous place to start.

Imran Mirza