All That Jazz / April 2020

Here’s a mixture of grooves that marry musical influences from all over – stirs them in a pot called Jazz. A bit of Brazil, a ladle of library music, a heaped spoonful of house, and a whole lot of Africa. Quite a few of the hybrids and collaborations here being birthed at last year`s We Out Here festival. A party which, simply by existing, encouraged pan-global jams, and well-traveled elders getting down with the younger folks they directly inspired. Gary Bartz, for example, taking centre stage with Jake Burns` London-based collective, Maisha, and subsequently recording a set for Night Dreamer`s Direct-To-Disc series. While the LP isn’t due until May 1st, it`s been previewed by the single, Leta`s Dance. Bartz` soft sax slowly reaching for Pharoah Sanders-esque heights, before in come Twm Dylan`s bass, Jake, and Tim Doyle`s percussion to lead the chase. The soloing horn eventually bowing and making way for Al MacSween`s keys. 

Also present at We Out Here, and also with an LP good-to-go for Night Dreamer is Nigerian trumpeter, Etuk Ubong. This one’s not out until June, but again it`s trailered by a single. On Etuk`s Ritual, the Lagos-raised musician treats the traditional dance rhythms of the Biase people – Ekombi – to a shimmering synth line, massed horns, and fleet flurries of black and white notes – provided by Vels Trio`s Jack Stephenson-Oliver. While on the urgent Purpose Of Creation Etuk`s vocal celebrates love and life, and calls for an end to war and division. The 5-piece brass section riding a James Mason-esque b-line, and a super tight, repetitive groove – in an obvious nod to Fela, and Tony Allen`s afrobeat innovations. Fela, Tony, Etuk, all three of them being protégées of famed highlife band-leader, Victor Olaiya, who sadly passed away earlier this year. Etuk was also a member of Fela`s son, Femi`s group Positive Force, while his Lagos venue, The Truth, is in part a tribute to Kuti`s legendary Shrine. 

To be honest the music of Africa has influenced that of the west so much that its pretty hard to distinguish something like this from the sounds being created by London’s current jazz “scene”. Political outrage caught up in its energy and power. Similarly if you listen to a tune like Jeannette N`Diaye`s Mako Ma Bobe, which Kalita have just reissued, you can hear clearly how records imported from the African continent impacted new wave, post-punk, and in-turn the dance-remixes of 80s pop hits. Its sunshine-filled, frantic guitar scratch, funkily mistreated bass, and Linn drum shots shooting for the stars. Dutch DJ, Mendel, gives the Cameroonian take on disco a subtle edit, and carves a climax out of the dextrous, dervish-like keys. 

Other We Out Here alumni included on new releases number Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia, Joe Armon-Jones, and Sheila Maurice-Grey`s eight-strong unit, KOKOROKO. The latter`s single, Carry Me Home, is warm, feel-good fusion, that again nod`s to Fela in its trio of horns and syncopated shuffle. 

Moses Boyd is the battery that drives Greg Foat`s fresh long-player, Symphonie Pacifique. The album, on Strut, isn’t scheduled until July, so while pre-orders are up, I`ll hold off on a full review for the minute. The images it conjures shift between the beach of that “Pacifique” and an idealized Paris-in-the-spring of the title’s chosen tongue – which is also in keeping with the artwork by Frenchman Henry Valensi. Strings intro-ing, outro-ing, and segueing between the conga congregations and homages to classic soundtrack and library music composers – such as Duncan Lamont. The cinematic funk of cuts such as Nikinakinu.

Armon-Jones and Garcia were among the cast assembled for Brownswood`s 2018 Maida Vale BBC sessions, preserved on Gilles Peterson Presents: MV4. A tag-team of 10 players who contribute fat-fingered bass-lines, fancy fretboard work – processed and treated – horns, trumpets, saxophone solos sent out in oscillating orbits that attempt to connect ancestors and future generations. Keys that explode from basic modal shapes. Colouring songs that deal with heartache, motivation, sincerity, empathy – poetry that drunkenly mumbles in sympathy with those whose lives appear locked in loops of dead-end weeks and weekend binges. Rallying calls for love, and community. The standouts for me though are Ishmael Ensemble`s Chapel and Tunnels. Their flight assisted by modular arpeggios and space-rock guitar. Edges of unforgettable fire fueling the bubbling Kosmische sequences and big bass hum. The sax perhaps owing something to freak-outs found on The Stooges` Funhouse. 

Also on Brownswood is the first E.P. from former “future bubbler” Forest Law. Three tracks of cowbell and burping bass, that borrow the NYC punk funk of the likes of 99 Records` ESG. Falsetto vocals, highlife riffs and broken bottom-end-heavy Brazilian beats. Like Sinkane and Liquid Liquid smashed together by Wino-D. Esa Williams on berimbau. Wonky six-string solos a la Arto Lindsay.  

There’s more new jazz care of 22a. Tenderlonious` After The Storm showcasing his skills not only on sax and flute but synths. All set to dance 4 / 4s of varying tempo. The title track might start with a sampled shower, but it`s a song of spring, summer – love and optimism. The ambient downpour giving in to a racing house b-line and tap, tap, tapping techno snares. Synthetic serenity swirling around, and his breath, a breeze upon which feathers float. On G Flex drums stutter and strut like a stripped-back batucada, while its machined melodies stay rooted in Detroit. D Low is more New York after-hours. The Burrell Brothers on Nu Groove. Aphrodisiac`s Just Before The Dawn. The closing Broken Hearts Club begins with a faux scratched break. 80s hip hop / electro meets fusion virtuoso. Not Herbie Hancock`s Rockit, but Bernard Wright`s Funky Beat, maybe. Tender`s cosmic keys crafting an almost voice-boxed boogie. 

In contrast, on Tender Plays Tubby `Lonious picks up a piccolo, pulls in 22a people from Ruby Rushton, and the label`s Archestra, to pay tribute to UK jazz legend Tubby Hayes. Former 23 Skidoo-er, Pete “Sketch” Martin on bass. Saxophonist, vibraphonist, multi-instrumentalist, Edward Brian “Tubby” Hayes, started playing professionally aged just 13. He led the Jazz Couriers, alongside Ronnie Scott, and in the early `60s even had his own TV show. Passing away, way prematurely, at only 38, in `73, he left behind a trunk full of unreleased material. A trunk which also contained that piccolo. At the request of Jazz Detective Records, Tenderlonious took a loan of the pocket instrument to cover a quartet of Tubby originals: Down In The Village – which shifts between piano-driven swing and brass-led rumba; the gentle, spiritual Trenton Place; Raga – where a medieval court melody moves kinda modal; and In The Night, which gets back to swinging, with Tubby`s piccolo switched for Tender`s soprano sax. 

tender plays tubby

Finally, on the reissue front Be With Records have dusted-off the brit / jazz / funk of 52nd Street`s 1982 debut – Look Into My Eyes / Express. The Manchester band were initially signed to the city’s iconic Factory Records, and a good point of musical reference would be their London-based contemporaries, the pre-Arthur Baker, John Rocca-led Freeez. The original 12 containing two breakneck dancers of clipped guitar and slapped bass – with synths and programming supplied by New Order`s Bernard Sumner. The New Order frontman, together with A Certain Ratio sticksman, Donald Johnson, also produced two of 52nd Street`s three Factory releases – under the moniker BeMusic. Sumner`s band-mate, Stephen Morris, produced the third. The Factory connection was strong with 52nd Street. They had Donald`s brother Derek on bass, and their second single Cool As Ice / Twice As Nice featured Factory A&R and Hacienda house hero, Mike Pickering, on sax. When the group fragmented – due to divided loyalties, as some signed to a major – Derek and vocalist Beverly McDonald joined Pickering in Quando Quango, while drummer Tony Thompson hooked up with The Inspiral Carpets` Clint Boon.

Track-list

Greg Foat – Lament For Lamont – Strut

Ishmael Ensemble – The Chapel – Brownswood Recordings

52nd Street – Look Into My Eyes – Be With Records

Jeannette N`Diaye – Makom Ma Bobe – Kalita

Etuk Ubong – Purpose Of Creation – Night Dreamer

Tenderlonious – G Flex – 22a

Tenderlonious – Raga – Jazz Detective

Greg Foat – Symphonie Pacifique – Strut

Gary Bartz & Maisha – Leta`s Dance – Night Dreamer

KOKOROKO – Carry Me Home – Brownswood Recordings

Forest Law – New Thoughts New Eyes – Brownswood Recordings

Reference Links

Pharoah Sanders

James Mason

Fela Kuti

Tony Allen

Duncan Lamont

The Stooges

ESG

Sinkane

Liquid Liquid

Wino-D

Arto Lindsay

Feathers Floating

Aphrodisiac

Bernard Wright

Jazz Couriers

Tubby Hayes

Freeez

New Order

A Certain Ratio

Quando Quango

Clint Boon Experience

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