A Few Favourite Jazz Joints From 2021

It felt like I didn’t cover so much jazz this year, partly because Cal Gibson came onboard, with his super reviews, and started helping me out. So I was listening, but not as involved in the writing. Looking back, though, reveals that Cal did a sterling job – singing the praises of people like Malik Alston, Ian Carr, Irreversible Entanglements, Secret Night Gang, Spiritczualic Enhancement Center, and South Africa`s Mushroom Hour Half Hour – while I actually did do a fair bit of listening. Having drawn up a long “short list” of stuff that either soothed, shook, shimmied, or rocked, I wasn’t sure how to break it down – formats, LPs, 12s, and 7s? How best to digest it? The spiritual soul huggers versus the syncopated shakers and fruggers?  I`m going with old versus new. 

THE NEW

Joe Armon-Jones launched his label, Aquarii Records, teaming up with Morgan Simpson of Black Midi and Luke Wynter of Nubiyan Twist for Pray. Jonny Enser from Nubiyan Twist impressed with his 8-piece, Matters. 

Massive Munich-based jazz-rock ensemble, Embryo, formed over fifty years ago, released new music on MadLib`s Invazion imprint. The album, Auf Auf, was / is heavy on the Middle Eastern / North African influences, and Besh in particular swings like Turkish take on Miles` Sketches Of Spain. 

Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders led The London Symphony Orchestra through the perfect Promises for Luaka Bop. It was a divine, deservedly, high profile release that everyone, at the very least, should have heard – a major, meditative achievement for all involved. A similarly sublime, but significantly lower profile long listen came from Leeds collective Work Money Death. Their divine devotional The Space In Which The Uncontrollable Unknown Resides, Can Be The Place From Which Creation Arises was clearly influenced by the mighty Mr. Sanders, and made all the astonishing when you learnt that each of the nine musicians involved recorded their parts in enforced isolation during lockdown. 

Another jazz giant, Dr. Lonnie Smith, who we sadly lost in September, released Breathe – which found him paired with, perhaps improbably, Iggy Pop. The standout cut was a cover of Timmy Thomas` Why Can’t We live Together, with Iggy delivering a broken, cracked, Chet Baker-esque croon. 

Greg Foat Gone To The Cats

Greg Foat nestled up to the Norwegian rhythm section of Aleksi Heinola and Teemu Åkerblom for Gone To The Cats on Jazzaggression. Parisian DJ, Saint-James, helped jazz-funk outfit, Latitude, with their Attitude, for his imprint, Chuwanaga. Switzerland`s Second Thoughts pressed up a couple of fine 45s from L.A.`s Phi-Psonics. Brisbane-based producer, Sampology, shone on this debut long-player, Regrowth, for Middle Name Records, especially on the single, Memories In Flight. Trees Speak took a trip back to the `70s on Posthuman, one of two releases from the duo this year on Soul Jazz. Their blend of jazz and kosmische electronics recreating the vibe of classic Italian horror and giallo scores. Japan’s Hoshina Anniversary produced futuristic fusion – is it jazz-not-jazz or techno-not-techno? – on Jomon, for ESP Institute. 

Tenderlonious Tek88

Tenderloinous seemed tireless. Releasing the second of Ruby Rushton`s TV detective-themed sets, in the shape of Gideon`s Way, plus the solo LP, Still Flute, both on his 22a. 

He also found time to celebrate the music of Underground Resistance, the films of Ridley Scott, and the sound of the Roland TR-808, on an outstanding “techno” E.P., Tek-88, for Dennis Ayler Music. Having collaborated with Jaubi, on his own Ragas From Lahore, last year, in 2021, he added flute and soprano sax to the Pakistani Quartet`s debut, Nafs At Peace  – a totally improvised offering for Astigmatic, aimed at shedding the ego, and purging the personal demons of the players involved. 

black-acid-soul

Two new albums that shared exquisite, top quality productions (and pressings), of intimacy and warmth, and that to my ears went so wonderfully together were the secular spirituals of Lady Blackbird`s Black Acid Soul, on Foundation Music, and Welsh harpist Amanda Whiting`s amazing After Dark, on Jazzman. 

Sun Ra Lanquidity

THE REISSUES

I`m not sure if the great compilation / retrospective, Tunel Hacia Tí, painstakingly put together by Smiling C, took off, but it deserved to cross over to Music From Memory’s audience, and be as big as their Outro Tempo collections. Similar to the Brazilian works spotlit by John Gomez on those Volumes 1 & 2, Mexican musician, German Bringas, founder of the venue Cafe Jazzorca, mixes jazz, new age theory, and traditional music, in wild, psychedelic, style. Improvising, painting according to the colours his synesthesia produces. 

Jason Gay : The Past And The Present

Jason Gay`s The Present And The Past, on Aloha Got Soul, found the Hawaiian saxophonist reinterpreting Chinese folk songs in a rather more restrained, but still super transcendental fashion. 

Australian label, The Roundtable, pressed Goan guitarist, Amanico d`Silva`s Konkan Dance onto vinyl for the first time. The sessions, recorded in London in 1972, are fabulous fusions, essential extended arrangements of modal movements and Indian instruments. 

Sun Ra`s legendary 1978 album, Lanquidity, was expanded, and reissued by Strut in a super deluxe edition – finally making must-have tracks, Twin Stars Of Thence and Where Pathways Meet, and their alternate versions, officially available. Art Yard also “unarchived” The Sky Is A Sea Of Darkness for a heavyweight 7. 

Another cool 45 came from Clap City Records, who delivered the furious `70s Detroit funk / psyche of Doug Hammond & David Durrah`s  Venus Fly Trap , backed by the more serene, Kai. 

DAVE PIKE SET ART

MPS repressed a few famous cuts onto super desirable 7s. Indispensable stuff like The Dave Pike Set`s Mathur and The Wolfgang Dauner Quintet`s (Take Off Your Clothes And Feel The Setting Sun) Sun Is Rising. They weren’t cheap though. 

While we’re flipping the formats Sam Shepherd aka Floating Points fired-up his 12” series, Melodies Record Club, with a couple of favourites from Four Tet. The inaugural release paired Jackie Mclean & Michael Carvin`s 1975 percussive, crazy, and carnivalesque De I Comahlee Ah with the equally party-starting MRA by South African pianist Chris McGregor`s Brotherhood Of Breath. 

Cal “super reviewed” Cuban bandleader Tata Vasquez`s album Ecstasy – which was  / is worth your interest for the decades ahead of its time, sublime Suite Guaracho Part 2 alone. A frankly mind-blowing piece of proto-latin house – a ringer for Masters At Work`s  River Ocean – that dates from 1979. 

SHAMEK ART

The label responsible for dusting it off Tata and putting him and his orchestra  back out there again, Paul Murphy`s Jazz Room Records, unsurprisingly given the veteran DJ`s impeccable, incredible, pedigree, reissued gem after gem after gem. Personally I purchased copies of everything I could find. Strata-East affiliated saxophonist Shamek Farrah`s 1980 opus, La Dee La La, Khan Jamal`s vibes and marimba marvel, Infinity, from 1984, and Michel Magne`s 1964 Le Monocle Rit Jaune score. We’re talking serious, serious, London Jazz Dance history.

MICHEL MAGNE ART

Impulse! unearthed an early version of Alice Coltrane`s Turiya Sings. The 1982 album, available on cassette, and only to members of Alice’s Shanti Anantam Ashram, originally featured traditional Vedic ceremonies updated with synthesizers and strings. However, with the blessing of Alice’s son, Ravi, the Impulse! LP is stripped of these modern accompaniments, leaving Alice’s voice, chants and prayers, backed solely by sustained organ drones. There was consternation in some camps of fans, who felt that the unadorned Bhajans should never have been released – since this is not how Alice intended them to be heard – but controversy not withstanding it was / is still a tremendous, and touching, celestial set, a supremely soulful, healing harmonic balm, that certainly has the desired calming, inner peace-inducing effect, and then some.

Track-list

Part 1
Sun Ra – The Sky Is A Sea Of Darkness
Phi Psonics – Drum Talk
Bremer McCoy – Aurora
Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders – Promises (1 to 5)
Greg Foat, Aleksi Heinola, Teemu Åkerblom – Gone To The Cats
Jaubi – Straight Path
Amanicio d`Silva – A Street In Bombay
Jason Gay – Jasmine Flower
Work Money Death – Dawn
Lady Blackbird – Ruler Of My Heart
Phi Psonics – Mama (Trio Version)
German Bringas – Escarpadas
Embryo – Besh
Dr Lonnie Smith – Why Can’t We Live Together

Part 2
Lady Blackbird – Black Acid Soul
Jaubi – Zari 
Phi Psonics – Still Dancing
Ruby Rushton – Gideon`s Way
Michel Magne – Le Monocle Rit Jaune
Khan Jamal – The Known Unknown
Latitude – Attitude
Greg Foat, Aleksi Heinola, Teemu Åkerblom – Valley Of The Black Cats
Hoshina Anniversary – Hane No Uta
The Dave Pike Set – Regards From Freddie Horowitz
Shamek Farrah – Waiting For Marvin
Embryo – Yu Mala
Tenderlonious – Song For My Mother
Doug Hammond & David Durrah – Kai
Sampology – Memories In Flight
Jackie McLean – De I Comahlee Ah
Tata Vasquez – Suite Guaracho Part 2
The Wolfgang Dauner Quintet – Sun Is Rising 
Amanda Whiting – In A Sentimental Mood
Amanico d`Silva – A Song For Francesca
Alice Coltrane – Govinda Hari

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