I know next to nothing about Jazz. What little idea I have coming from listening to Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge on Kiss FM, as the millennium began. Reading Straight No Chaser. Primers and lists of “Records That Changed The World While No One Was Watching” in The Wire. Mo`Wax samples and Sun Ra. Jazz Juice compilations and speculative purchases from Soul Jazz and Reckless. Train-spotting more lists in Snowboy`s encyclopaedic From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz. Later, through interviewing people like Far Out Recordings` Joe Davis. Trying to puzzle back together hazy memories of Cock Happy and Dingwalls. The same way I once used the charts in Boys` Own to try to recall nights lost in Acid House / Balearic abandon.
Nothing confirmed my lack of “vocabulary” more than reviewing a host of new Jazz releases and reissues. Nothing brought this home more than reading the exhaustive sleeve notes that accompany BBE`s J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969-1984. I don`t think I could ever be that knowledgeable and academic about music.
In terms of review I`ve had to resort to the King Of The Beats, Kerouac`s “first thought best thought”, and simply write what I hear. The “All`s well feeling of early in the morning”, “The perfect cry of some wild gang”, “Wail! Wop!”, “A piercing, clear lament, whistling you to the brink of Eternity”. The hip gahn reaching into in with yip roc heresy. Pulling yer daisy. Rather than provide context, history, or points of reference.
Various / J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969-1984 / BBE
This is music that sounds like a beautiful, busy city street. The bustle of a hundred, a thousand, conversations carrying on at once. Jive somehow tessellating, somehow in harmony. Swinging with the urgency, the busy-ness, of the day. Bass-lines chasing down sidewalks. Hot pursuit, with steam rising from the grating beneath your feet. Pianos and cymbals crashing like the tides. Horns strutting like peacocks. Crooning and crowing. Like males locked in the fight for a mate. Rapid notes dancing a ballet en pointe. (John) Coltrane and (Charlie) Parker-inspired Hard Bop runs that take Fusion flight. The pressing so perfect I can see the players. Picture the venue, the performance. A Batucada of carnival snares. Not just Lester (Young) leaping in. But everyone jumping. Taking their turn to impress with impossible dexterity. Battling, but never losing the groove.
Jazz can be simply to “Wow!” at the musicians` ability, but to close your eyes and follow their astral ascensions can result in an out-of-body experience. To concentrate on nothing but sound, eliminate all other thought, worry, like all forms of focus, a mediation of sorts. Attempting to keep up as the soloists express anger, agony, and ecstasy. Describing noir landscapes. Dive bars and their denizens. Voicing their hopes, heartbreaks, and stories.
*The track I`ve chosen for the “mix”, drummer Mitsuaki Katayama`s Unknown Point, comes from a LP originally released on Johnny`s Disk. A label whose HQ and venue were destroyed by the tsunamis arising from the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. The anniversary of which was yesterday. Lest we forget.
Various / Colin Curtis Presents Jazz Dance Fusion / Z Records
Another great compilation is Colin Curtis` Jazz Dance Fusion. Where the legendary DJ sambas through the 1970s catalogue of Muse Records for fellow legendary DJ, Dave Lee`s Z Records. Avoiding any crossover with BBE`s previous Muse collection, Let The Minstrels Play, and pulling in names that even a novice like me is familiar with. Charles Earland. Mark Murphy. Dave Pike.
Curtis has been DJing since the late 1960s. A star of the Northern Soul scene in the `70s. At The Blackpool Mecca, alongside Ian Levine. Where they eventually divided dancers by refusing to stay stuck in the past. Instead championing contemporary Black Music sides. In the `80s, moving to Rafters, then Berlin, in Manchester, with a play list of Jazz and Fusion. Effectively “birthing” a movement. Not stopping there, but continuing to look forward, to embrace Electro, Hip Hop and House.
I`ve gone for Ponteio by percussionist, Dom Um Romao. In an effort to bring me smoothly to Brazil.
Victor Assis Brasil / Esperanto / Far Out Recordings
Far Out reissue their fourth title from the Rio vaults of Roberto Quartin. The second from saxophonist, Victor Assis Brasil. A student of Boston`s Berklee College Of Music, Victor sat in with Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea, and Ron Carter, before heading back to Brazil. Recording two LPs for Quartin in the Summer of 1970. Esperanto, is a suite that spins into freedom before hitting the calm of the closing Ao Amigo Quartin. Where the only clue to its Brazilian origin is the odd touch of Spanish-leaning guitar.
Matthew Halsall / When The World Was One / Gondwana Records
One more recent reissue is Matthew Halsall`s When The World Was One. Recorded in 2012, and released in 2014, it`s just been repressed. The Manchester-based trumpeter leading joyful explorations of dhyana for drums, and piano, harp, koto, and upright bass. Celebratory journeys within. Consciousness raising. Aural asana. Spirituals in the vein of Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders. A Love Supreme. Featuring the spiralling sax of Nat Birchall. The record appears to be a favourite of another Manchunian institution, Aficionado`s Moonboots.
Nat Birchall / Cosmic Language / Jazzman
Nat Birchall has his own Cosmic Language released by Jazzman. Sessions characterised by the use of Indian harmonium. Seashells, shakers and Birchall`s horn, bolstered by the pump organ`s Raga. At times soloing, dancing like a sailor`s squeeze box. At others in sustained drone. Recalling The Dream Syndicate of Marian Zazeela, La Monte Young, Angus MacLise, Tony Conrad and John Cale. The prayer of La Monte Young`s mentor, Pandit Pran Nath. Birchall dedicating the work in part to “The Man From Varanasi”, the Indian master of the double-reeded Shehnai, Ustad Bismillah Khan. Birchall referring to his own music as a “spiritual cleanser”. Making it, as a search for “a kind of truth”.
Señora / Señora / Growing Bin Records
Growing Bin reissue Señora from 1981. German Jazz-Funk from the quartet of Alex Fischbacher, Thomas Giesler, Christian Henze, and Diethard Stein. Henze`s soaring synths, and the basses slapped by Giesler`s thunder thumbs, had me reaching for my Freeez records again. Shakatak. Morrissey Mullen. A touch of the Kasso`s in the keys. Racing neck and neck with Azimuth`s Jazz Carnival. You can almost hear the wine bar chatter and the chink of cocktail glasses. Fischbacher`s guitar work is amazing throughout. Show-stealing and bringing comparisons, by turns, with George Benson, Pat Metheny, Masayoshi Tanaka, and Kazumi Watanabe. Full-on soloing. Strumming a Cappuccino Kid cool Bossa Nova. Singing a sunrise Blues, amidst fretless flows, and shimmering cymbals.
James Perri / The 70s Theme / Imogen
Croatia`s Imogen tap into James “Jimi Polo” Perri`s musical archive. The Moods E.P. from the Chicago House veteran dates from the early `90s, with two of the three tracks being easily / lazily classified as “Street Soul”. But The 70s Theme shrugs off its retro title, and recording date, and has more in common sonically with the future Fusion of artists such as Italy`s AD Bourke.
Sun Ra / Of Abstract Dreams / Strut & Art Yard
Strut and Art Yard continue to collaborate in preserving the legacy of Sun Ra. Joining the compilations (Singles Vol. 1 & 2, Gilles Peterson`s To Those Of Earth… And Other Worlds; Marshall Allen`s In The Orbit Of Ra), concert recordings (Planets Of Life Or Death: Amiens ’73; In Some Far Place: Roma ’77), and reissues (Discipline 27-II), is a newly discovered radio session, Of Abstract Dreams. Recorded in Philly, sometime between 1974-75, it features nine member-strong Arkestra. Including John Gilmore and Marshall Allen. The pieces loose and highly percussive, with Ra`s left hand substituting for the bass.
There`s no “ordinary” for any of Sun Ra`s music, but Akh Tal Ebah and James Jacson`s vocal calls and shouts lift Island In The Sun even further out of it. Illustrate the quest for playfulness, the return to “innocence”, at the heart of all of El Ra`s practice and discipline.
Various / We Out Here / Brownswood
I reckon it`s important to finish with something completely new, given this genre`s roots in innovation.
We Out Here was recorded over three days and serves to shine a spot on London`s current community of young Jazz musicians. Those being passed the baton. Lighting out for the next lap. Echoing the past. The spiritual rumblings. Afrocentric keys and Highlife guitar. Brazilian rhymes. Electric Maloya. Blaxploitation Funk set to Mission Impossible b-lines. Shredding Santana-esque solos. While introducing the NOW. Breaking the beat into post-Dubstep and Footwork rhythms. Bottom-end electronics buzzing and growling, as clarinets, flutes, saxophones, and tubas, honk like pissed off geese. Set their sights on higher plains. With Jazz as a means of articulating their environment. Of articulating their dissent. Of calling, loud, for revolution. “Evolving, re-inventing itself, staying relevant.” Jazz as a means of escape.
Maisha – Inside The Acorn – Brownswood
Victor Assis Brasil – Ao Amigo Quartin – Far Out
Matthew Halsall – Falling Water – Gondwana
Nat Birchall – A Prayer For – Jazzman
James Perri – The 70s Theme – Imogen
Señora – My Way Your Way – Growing Bin
Mitsuaki Katayama – Unknown Point – BBE
Dom Um Romao – Ponteio – Z Records
Sun Ra – Island In The Sun – Art Yard / Strut