Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Joseph Jarman: Earth Passage/Density

Here's another one from the vaults for fans of Joseph Jarman. Earth Passage/Density features Jarman and Moye, accompanied by two other multi-instrumentalists on four very distinct tracks, from the world music rooted "Zulu Village," to the relatively swinging straight-ahead jamming on "Happiness Is," the moody "Jawara," and to the concluding number "Sun Spots" (which is very free sounding and quite dominated by Moye - reminiscent of something from an AEC session). Challenging yet fun music that is easily worth a few listens.

Joseph Jarman - Flute, Clarinet (Bass), Flute (Alto), Flute (Bass), Piccolo, Sax (Alto), Sax (Soprano), Sax (Tenor), Clarinet (Alto), Bamboo Flute
Famoudou Don Moye - Percussion, Chimes, Drums, Triangle, Bells, Cowbell
Rafael Garrett - Bass, Clarinet, Flute, Pan Flute, Conch Shell, Bamboo Flute
Craig Harris - Flute, Percussion, Trombone, Vocals, Voices, Didjeridu, Cowbell, Bamboo Flute

1. Zulu Village (13:11)
a. Hommage
b. Summoning The Elders
c. Children's Sun Celebration
2. Happiness Is (10:15)
3. Jawara (12:15)
4. Sun Spots (11:00)

Recorded on February 16 & 17, 1981 at Barigozzi Studios, Milan, Italy, and released on Black Saint in 1981. The album saw one reissue in 1993.

Download Earth Passage/Density

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Randy Weston: Tanjah

Tanjah is a gem from the 1970s, featuring Randy Weston and Melba Liston collaborating together (their last would be in 1998's Khepera, which is still commercially available), utilizing a big band format. Since this was recorded in the 1970s, you should expect some electric instruments - in this case Weston playing a Fender Rhodes piano on some of the selections. Critics will no doubt argue as to whether the electric piano detracts from the music, but personally I find no problem with it (maybe it's simply because I'm a child of the 1970s); where there will be no argument is on the compositions and performances, which are rock solid. The CD added the alternative takes of "Sweet Meat".

These sessions were recorded May 21 - May 22, 1973 and originally issued on Polydor that same year (catalogue # 5055). Verve reissued the album in CD form in 1995. Currently it's out of print.

All discographical information courtesy of Randy Weston's website and AMG.

Randy Weston - Piano, Fender Rhodes
Ernie Royal - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Ray Copeland - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Jon Faddis - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Al Grey - Trombone
Jack Jeffers - Baritone Trombone
Julius Watkins - French-Horn
Norris Turney - Alto Sax, Picolo
Budd Johnson - Tenor Sax, Soprano Sax, Clarinet
Billy Harper - Tenor Sax, Flute
Danny Bank - Baritone Sax, Baritone Clarinet, Flute
Ron Carter - Bass
Rudy Collins - Drums
Azzedin Weston - Percussion
Candido Camero - Percussion, Narrator
Omar Clay - Marimba, Timbales
Taiwo Yusve Divall - Alt Sax, Ashiko Drums
Earl Williams - Percussion
Ahmed-Abdul Malik - Oud, Narrator (on 7)
Delores Ivory Davis - Vocal (on 8)

Melba Liston arranger, director

1. Hi-Fly
2. In Memory Of
3. Sweet Meat
4. Jamaica East
5. Sweet Meat (First Alternative Take)
6. Tanjah
7. The Last Day
8. Sweet Meat (Second Alternative Take)
9. Little Niles

TANJAH original LP. liner notes

Pianist-composer-lecturer Randy Weston was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and began playing piano professionally in the early 1950's, During his career he has won international acclaim as an instrumentalist, and performed in alt major jazz clubs in New York and other U.S. cities as well as all major cities in North and West Africa. He has appeared on major television shows and extensive radio program throughout Africa and the U.S. He's performed in colleges and universities throughout the world, and is generally not duly credited with being the first to conceive and perform a "History of Jazz" concert/lecture programs in schools and libraries in New York City; many other groups are now performing similar programs in New York as well as other cities. He's been the subject of feature articles in the U.S.. France. Africa, and England, and is recognized as a serious, prolific composer.

He has traveled widely in Africa, beginning in 1961 when he made his first trip to Nigeria to perform and lecture under the auspices of the American Society of African Culture. In 1967 Randy and his sextet made a three-month concert tour of fourteen countries in West and North Africa as part of the U.S. State Department's Cultural Presentation program. In 1968 he settled in Morocco and performed throughout Morocco and Tunisia, Togo, the Ivory Coast and Liberia. In 1970 he opened in Tangier at the African Rhythm Cultural Center. In 1972 he was the major force behind the first festival of American, African and Moorish music held in Tangier.

Randy is an articulate spokesman on the pivotal position of African music, dance and other arts in the world cultural scene, on the diversity and importance of Africa's vast musical resources; and on encouraging true cultural exchange and mutual learning between creative artists.

Two of Randy's strongest influences have been his father, who insisted that Randy take piano lessons at an early age, and his son (Niles) Azzedin, who has traveled with him throughout Africa. Azzedin plays the African conga drums, incorporating many of the traditional African rhythms, Randy credits his playing as the major force behind the rhythms of his music.

Randy has recorded more than a dozen albums throughout his 20-year career.
Tanjah Is his first album on the Polydor label.

Melba Liston is a warm, sensitive woman of enormous musical talents. She is an arranger of the first order, and also a fine trombonist. She has distinguished herself solidly in the music field with an impressive array of credits.

Starting as a trombonist in the pit orchestra of the Lincoln Theater In her native Los Angeles in 1943, Miss Liston worked her way through bands such as Gerald Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Quincy Jones during the '950's. In 1958 she toured Europe with Quincy Jones's hand as arranger, trombonist, and actress in the Arlen-Mercer musical Free and Easy. Upon returning to the Stales she became a freelance arranger for Riverside Records, arranging for Milt Jackson, Randy Weston, Gloria Lynne, and Johnny Griffin, to name a few.

She also arranged albums for such famous Motown Records artists as Marvin Gaye, Billy Eckstine, and The Supremes.

In 1967 Melba co-led the dark Terry Big Band. At the same time she was associated with Etoile Productions as an arranger for Duke Ellington, Jon Lucien, Solomon Burke, Tony Bennett, and the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra. In 1968 she lent her talents as a trombone teacher at Pratt Institute Youth-in-Action Orchestra in Brooklyn, as well as to the Harlem Back Street Youth Orchestra, In recent years she has divided her time between her work with youth orchestras in the Los Angeles Watts area, and arranging for Count Basle, Abbey Lincoln, Duke Ellington, and Diana Ross.

Tanjah marks a happy reunion for Miss Liston and Randy Weston, for whom she has arranged four other albums.

Randy Weston is a true original. He's a thoroughly creative artist - one who possesses that rare quality of being a creator of art, as opposed to an interpreter of art.

He is in tune with nature and he creates music out of the depths of the rhythms of life. The primary qualities of his music are fire, spirit, strength, unabashed earthiness, and total individuality. His compositions are not intimidated by time. His percussive style of playing the piano pushes the rhythms out front, and underneath the earthiness, he cooks. He makes his band cook with intense drive. His band on this album was hand-picked, and their infectious joy In playing together is obvious on every cut of this album.

Randy feels that music is a universal language, and that African rhythms have dominated many lands and influenced many languages. ' He contends that African rhythms contain ingredients of melody and beat that are the basis of all popular music of today. His own music bears testimony to this contention,

Side one of the album opens with an updated Latin-flavored arrangement of Hi Fly.
Candido, inspired by the essence of the tune. offers some spontaneous rap In Cuban-Spanish which translates:

"...We're gonna fly high.
It's a pretty flight, and away we go.
Only up, up and higher -
watch and listen.
Randy Weston, he's going high and his is right there, baby"

Up there is right where Jon Faddis, a brilliant 19-year old trumpet virtuoso, takes the tune with his soaring solo.

In Memory Of was inspired by the ritual of the African funeral procession, which is very sad on the way to the burial grounds, but afterward, on the way back, the band starts swinging. This version of the march has a heavy African rock blues beat, with Ron Carter laying down a steady drone bass line that creates the spirit of the event. Both Ray Copeland and Al Grey offer fine solos using the growl technique, a sound seldom heard today but commonly used by oldtime brass players.

Sweet Meat personifies what Randy describes as a saucy, spicy, African chick with a very hip, unbelievably swinging walk. Sometimes she's sophisticated, sometimes she's funny. She could be found in ihe Congo, Harlem, or Mississippi. Melba Liston's flowing arrangement provides an elegant tilting cushion for the reeds out front. The mood of the tune conjures up shades of Basie and dancing cheek to cheek.

Jamaica East is the musical story of a beautiful five-day journey by Randy and his family to Jamaica. He was immediately inspired by the lush beauty of the island, the warmth and hospitality of the people, and their rich cultural heritage. Profoundly inspiring was his acquaintance with relatives who are natives of Kingston, and the discovery of family in Stokes Hall, St. Thomas. Randy's melody captures the rhythms that are Jamaica, and Miss Liston's exciting arrangement captures the spirit of carnival, dance, and song.

Side two opens with the title tune Tanjah, which is Arabic for Tangier, where Randy makes his home. The rhythm la based on the music of the peoples of North Africa, specifically Morocco. Tanjah was inspired by the festival held in Tangier in 1972, which represented a very significant step in bringing about communication through music between artists of different countries, albeit of the same African heritage. Moreover, the festival was the realization of a dream for Randy - the product of months of hard work and energy expended by many people both in Tangier and New York. Three stars of that festival are featured on this tune. Billy Harper, Azzedin, and Ahmed Abdul-Malik. Malik sets the mood as he relates in Arabic the feeling of brotherhood experienced by the artists - Moroccan and American - who appeared In the festival:

". . . Peace be upon you, brothers. Welcome my brothers. Greetings. All praises due to God for everything around us."

The Last Day is a beautiful, moving ballad which expresses Randy's musical impression of the last day on earth - when the heavens open, the power of the Creator appears, and the world gets down on its knees and prays. The warm, magnificently flawless voice of Delores Davis is heard here on record for the first time; Ernie Royal takes the lead with a standout solo.

Little Niles was written twenty years ago by Randy for his son, and stands out as the most famous of his jazz waltzes- It was then, and still is, dedicated to children everywhere.

Although many different rhythms and beats are displayed throughout this album,
the essence for Randy all stems from Africa.

This is why he calls his music "African rhythms".

1973 Mari Jo Johnson
Liner notes to the 1995 CD reissue:

In the late Fifties to early Sixties, it was all in the air:
the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King ...
we had that kind of energy,
and it inspired me to compose what was in the air.

The following are excerpts of an interview of Randy Weston conducted in April 1995 by Mari Jo Johnson.

I listened to Tanjah recently and it still sounds current, timeless. What do you think accounts for this? Do you attribute this to your music being classic or traditional in the true sense?

I just listened to it with Melba Liston and we suddenly realized: It's as if no time went by at all. This is the kind of music that is both traditional and modern. There has not been a big change [for me] musically at all.

[But times are changing;] I've never felt African spirituality as strong as I have recently, in many things I see. I see children playing the African drum in America. I see exhibitions of sculpture; I see more bookshops and more people aware of African writers and African-Caribbean writers. Mother Africa, for me. Is asserting herself and I'm part of that current. Anybody involved with the spirit and culture of the real Africa today, in spite of all the negative things, has got to be inspired: We're coming together globally after having been separated for centuries.

What about playing solo piano as opposed to playing with sidemen?

With solo piano you're no longer a pianist, you're a storyteller. You have to tell stories, you have to paint pictures, you have to create sculpture, you have to recite poetry with the instrument. You take people on different voyages, to different worlds. So the piano, already an orchestra, becomes a moving orchestra; you can go to Brazil and Italy and Harlem.

[This feeling was] strengthened by being in Africa, because traditional musicians there are historians and storytellers. When they're playing a song, they're keeping a certain story alive. The piano becomes a traditional African instrument:
The musicians tell a story so we can never forget. If I'm telling a story about Duke Ellington, a tribute to him. It's not just his song I'm playing: I'm protecting the Spirit of Duke Ellington. I'm letting the people know they can never forget this man.

I want to tell different stories now. I want to tell about certain heroes of mine in Africa, but I have not had the time to compose a melody or a rhythm. For example, Cheikh Anta Diop is one of my heroes, and I want to write some music for him but It hasn't happened yet- I want to do more portraits.

Has there been a certain time in your career when there was an outpouring of several new compositions?

Oh, definitely, the late Fifties to early Sixties was a very explosive period for me, the most active period for writing compositions. I don't compose as I used to, maybe because I'm playing more piano now. It sounds funny, it sounds contrary in a way. bill since I've been playing more solo piano, the ideas don't come for compositions as they used to. In the late Fifties to early Sixties, it was all in the air: the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King ... we had that kind of energy, and it inspired me to compose what was in the air.

Your association with Melba Liston goes back to the Fifties, when you were both with Riverside Records. What has been her role in the Randy Weston big-band sound?

Melba is incredible; she hears what I do and then expands it. She will create a melody that sounds like I created it; she's just a great, great arranger.
Melba has had tremendous big-band experience, she has traveled a lot, and she knows a lot more about musicians than I do. So whenever we do a date, we always sit and talk about the musicians we want for our band. For each recording I have a certain sound that I hear for a particular instrument, and a certain musician has a particular sound that I would like for that song - and Melba's, the same way. She picked Ernie Royal. and she reintroduced me to Budd Johnson and Quentin Jackson, her buddies. Whenever [Melba and 1] had a big band. when they were alive, we'd always start off with them and build from there.

We never said it directly, but we both knew that to do a recording we would want to have the older musicians to give us that foundation, and then we would get the younger musicians on top. The older musicians have the know-how; they know all the secrets, things that we don't know about music. Melba always made sure that we would have that kind of base.

The musicians for this dais were hand-picked and the cream of the crop of those residing in New York City at the time. Talk about them and why you picked each one.

Ray Copeland and I go back together; we were in a band in Brooklyn when we were seventeen years old. He was my original arranger when we had the small group. Ray was a featured trumpeter at Radio City Music Hall at the same time he was making gigs with me, in the Fifties and early Sixties. He was really a wonderful trumpet player and we were very close.

I heard Jon Faddis play - well, I'd never heard a young man play trumpet like that before — I heard him when he was nineteen years old, When Melba and I were putting the band together, we said we needed somebody who [could] hit those high notes. Jon's playing was way up there, in the stratosphere. It was really Hi-Fly

I had not worked with Ernie Royal before. But the solo he took on The Last Day is just an absolute masterpiece. All of these elder musicians had such beautiful tones [on] their instruments.

I remember Julius Watkins when he and Charlie Rouse had their own group. Julius was one of those foundations I mentioned before: When we were putting a big band together, one of the first persons we spoke about was Julius A master French horn player.

Al Grey was on Uhuru Afrika, which we did [for Roulette] in 1960, I'll never forget meeting Al in Paris years ago; it was a big rally for some political party and we did "Hi-Fly" as a ballad. His playing almost made people cry.

Norris Turney took over Johnny Hodges's place with Duke's band, and although he doesn't sound like Hodges, he has that romantic, beautiful, big, pretty sound. It reminded me how, growing up, listening to my heroes, I could identify everybody by his sound. Morris's sound on Sweet Meat is just so thrilling; three different versions that he plays entirely differently. I don't like Fender Rhodes but I try to do something different on each version.

The first time I heard Billy Harper was with Max Roach's group, and I just fell in love with him right away. He has that kind of energy, the kind of power Booker Ervin had, he doesn't play like Booker but he's got that Texas fire, a dynamic, energetic sound, that challenges.

Danny Bank, the baritone player, took care of business on this date. It was my first time working with him.

Budd Johnson, another foundation, a great saxophone player and arranger, a wonderful person, too; I remember Budd when he was with Earl Hines. Earl had a piece, "Second Balcony Jump", and Budd was featured on it. I also met him through Melba, and she and I would always try to get him whenever we put together a big band.

Ahmed Abdul-Malik and I also grew up together. Ahmed exposed me to North African and Arab music. He was the first one to really bring Middle Eastern music and jazz together. When we were young we used to get put out of bands, because we were always trying to find funny notes to play, the notes in between notes. He was on my first tour, when I went to Nigeria in 1961.

Ron Carter and I go back to the Fifties, when he played with my trio; we used to work in the Berkshires. His bass work is just incredible on this particular date; he plays so beautifully — just a great musician!

Candido was the real master, from Cuba, I worked with him for three years or more - I had become exposed to African-Cuban drumming when I heard Chano Pozo, whom Candido succeeded. Really a true master drummer. Having him and Azzedin together was just fantastic.

My son, Azzedin Weston, has a unique style of drumming, having [listened] to popular music in the late Fifties and early Sixties and having traveled to Africa with me. He also studied with Sticks Evans, a wonderful teacher of drums and percussion, and also his own talent nurtured in
Morocco. Azzedin, I can truly say. is an original on the conga drums.

Rudy Collins. a superb musician, was one of the very top big-band drummers: he could handle everything.

Delores Ivory Davis had a beautiful, priceless voice and was a great pleasure to work with.
Ray, Ernie, and Rudy . . . they're no longer with us; they are really missed. They were deep brothers and great musicians.

This music sounds very fresh because of its rhythms. We were paying a lot of attention to the rhythm a long time ago, playing music that was very strong and very rhythmic. People weren't ready for the African direction. Now people have caught up with this music.

This music is like the traditional music of Africa, it's timeless. When you go into the village and you hear the music there, you realize the real music is timeless.

1995 Mari Jo Johnson.
Download Tanjah

Monday, December 29, 2008

Foday Musa Suso - Watto Sitta

Watto Sitta, credited to Foday Musa Suso's band Mandingo (also known as Mandingo Griot Society), was one of the fruits of his collaboration with Bill Laswell (during the 1980s and 1990s) and brief association with Herbie Hancock during the 1980s. Recorded during the period in which Foday Musa Suso appeared on Herbie Hancock's album Sound System, and collaborated with Hancock on Village Life and Jazz Africa, Watto Sitta has a considerably more popish sound. Some of that no doubt is due to the presence of Bill Laswell as co-producer, and the temptation at the time to add drum machine effects (they detract a bit considering that the crew assembled included plenty of expert drummers and percussionists). That said, it makes for an enjoyable listen, and although out of print currently, inexpensive copies can be found. The last track is my personal favorite. You'll recognize many of the musicians on Watto Sitta from their appearance as performers on Jazz Africa, and both those albums can be played back-to-back quite comfortably. If you enjoy one of those recordings, you'll enjoy the other as well.

Foday Musa Suso - Kora, Dousongoni, Kalimba, Talking Drum, Lead Vocal
Joe Thomas - Bass
Abdul Kakeen - Guitar
Adam Rudolph - Congas, Moroccan Bongos, FraFra Bell, Gnaua Clapper, Shekere, Turtle Shell
Hamid Drake - Drums
Reymond Sillah - Dudungo
Isatou Walker - Backing Vocals
Nora Harris - Backing Vocals
Robin Robinson - Backing Vocals
Manu Washington - Djembe (track 6)
Herbie Hancock - DX7 Synthesizer (tracks 1, 5)

1. Harima
2. Muso
3. Natural Dancer
4. Kansala
5. Dewgal
6. Don't Worry

Produced by Bill Laswell and Foday Musa Suso. DMX programming by Bill Laswell and Foday Musa Suso. All songs written and arranged by Foday Musa Suso.

Released initially in 1984 on Celluloid (catalogue # CELL 6103) as an LP and three years later as a CD. Later reissued on CD by Terrascape.

Download Watto Sitta

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Alan Shorter: Orgasm

I managed to score a copy of Orgasm when Verve briefly reissued the album as part of its short-lived "Elite Edition" series. It's kind of an odd album in that in the middle of recording Alan apparently switched producers, and also had to replace some of his players. In spite of the behind-the-scenes turmoil, Orgasm is a consistent sounding recording, and one of the more beautiful statements from the free jazz community. I've heard of comparisons between this album and Ornette Coleman's early work (the two composers share a common bassist, Charles Haden), and I find that I can play this album fairly comfortably side by side with some of Coleman's classics (Change of the Century comes to mind). Much has been made about his apparent lack of training and technique, although honestly I can't really hear any deficit in his flugelhorn playing. He seems to get the job done within the parameters of his compositions, which I would suppose is pretty much what matters. It's a painfully hard to find album, but worth finding and spinning. Shorter would go on to record Tes Esat, which was reissued briefly a few years ago.

Alan apparently had a number of personal problems that made him difficult to work with, and he died in obscurity in the late 1980s. His brother Wayne had this to say about him:
The strongest thing you can say about Alan is that he was an original, as original as you can get. He didn't want any academic guidelines to equip him to reinvent the wheel. He was always in confrontation, or there was confrontation on the horizon...with record executives, rehearsal places, front offices, professors in school. Teachers would mark on his papers, and he would ask "Why?" on top of the teachers' remarks.
I gather that Alan did quite a bit of composing during his brief life, and left behind scattered remains of those compositions as his legacy. Wayne once commented that he would one day look through Alan's work and do some of his compositions (Wayne used his brother's "Mephistopheles" on one of his mid-1960s albums), although as far as I am aware that has yet to bear fruit.

Alan Shorter - Flügelhorn (all tracks except track 4), Trumpet (track 4), Tambourine (track 4)
Gato Barbieri - Tenor Sax
Charlie Haden - Bass (tracks 1, 6)
Reggie Johnson - Bass (tracks 2, 3, 4, 5)
Rashied Ali - Drums (tracks 1, 6)
Muhammad Ali (Drums (tracks 2, 3, 4, 5)

1. Parabola
2. Joseph
3. Straits of Blagellan
4. Rapids
5. Outeroids
6. Orgasm

Recorded at A&R Recording, NYC, September 23, 1968 (tracks 3 & 4); September 25, 1968 (tracks 2 & 5); and November 6, 1968 (tracks 1 & 6). Released on Verve, catalogue # V6-8768.

Download Orgasm

Friday, December 26, 2008

Steve Williamson: Journey to Truth

There is nothing that could have prepared those who knew of Steve Williamson only from his first album, A Waltz for Grace, for what awaited them upon dropping Journey to Truth into the CD player. The cover photo and CD graphics should be a dead giveaway that this cat was up to something different - from the pix of Williamson that harken back to the early 1970s to the hip-hop flavored graphics - this was not going to be a collection of post bop numbers. The very first track sounds inspired by John Coltrane and Rashied Ali's jams on Interstellar Space (a sound that will be replicated on track 4, "Affirmation"). The second track, with its hard funk rhythm section and inspired vocals by Jhelisa Anderson, should seal it. Williamson was out to make a statement.

In fact, it seems like a concept album. The problem is, as I have mentioned elsewhere, that Journey to Truth SOUNDS like three separate albums - each going in its own direction, which is not healthy for a concept album. There aren't any bad tracks on the album, though the raps on the middle section are probably less inspired than music and vocals found on the rest of the tracks. It's just that Journey to Truth doesn't make for a particularly coherent listening experience.

I'm partial to the first section, The Journey, which is what I imagine Plunky Branch and crew of Oneness of Juju would have sounded like if they had traveled ahead in time a couple decades. From the Coltranesque sax and percussion excursions on "Meditation" and "Affirmation," to the title track, the instrumental "Oh Africa Africa Africa," to the smoking cover of "Celestial Blues," Williamson hits all the right notes. The music is tight, the mood is set, and the listener can groove and meditate at the same time.

The second section, The Pffat Factor, will probably be mildly reminiscent of Miles Davis' Doo Bop, or perhaps Guru's Jazzmatazz albums. Personally I tend groove much more on Williamson's sax playing than his rapping, and think that Black Thought has had much better moments with his own crew, The Roots (whose albums I strongly recommend). The last track in the section is an instrumental, and seems like it could have had potential for the rotation at a smooth jazz station.

The final section, That Fuss, is comprised of three solid jazzy R&B numbers somewhat focused on social-political concerns. I'm not sure how tuned in Williamson was to Plunky Branch's 1980s work with The Oneness of Juju, but it seems safe to point out that Williamson was mining similar territory. Those last three tracks seem like they could have been quite radio-friendly. Overall, Williamson is communicating a positive message, attempting to incite his listeners to pursue spiritual and social change - and that is the constant in these otherwise very divergent sections making up the finished product. It's all well-produced, Williamson definitely knows how to write and play, and he's surrounded himself with an able crew of musical performers. If you keep an open mind, you certainly won't be bored.

The problem, to the extent that it is a problem, is that Williamson seems like one of those musically and intellectually curious cats who simply is interested in so much that he ends up going off in multiple directions at once. His music is very hard to pigeonhole that way, but it is an approach that isn't conducive to record sales. Hence, this would be his last recording as a leader, so far. The suits at Verve would drop him from the roster, and Williamson would fade into obscurity. Occasionally I read rumors that he's still recording, is involved with two different combos (one that sticks to relatively straight-ahead jazz and one that pursues the funk and hip-hop direction that characterized this album) and apparently continues to be quite impressive on stage.

Since I've already mentioned the involvement of one member of the legendary alternative rap crew The Roots, Black Thought, I would be remiss in my blogging duties if I did not mention the involvement of two other members: Hubb and B.R.O.theR.? (the artist usually known as ?estlove).

As an aside - I'd be curious to hear the album that came in between 1990's A Waltz for Grace and 1995's Journey to Truth: that is 1992's Rhyme Time (That Fuss Was Us!).

Steve Williamson - tenor sax (tracks 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 12), alto sax (tracks 2, 11, 13), soprano sax (track 6, 7, 8, 11), bells (tracks 1, 4), programming (tracks 2, 7, 8, 10, 11), drum programming (track 6), keyboards (tracks 6, 7, 10, 11), EWI (tracks 6, 7), piano (tracks 11, 12), cowbell (track 8), vocal execution (tracks 6, 7), organ licks (track 13)
Sola Akingbola - percussion (tracks 1, 4, 5), djembe drums (tracks 1, 4)
Jhelisa Anderson - vocals (tracks 2, 5, 12)
Anthony Tidd - piano (tracks 2, 3), organ intro (track 6)
Marc Cyril - bass (tracks 2, 9, 11, 12, 13)
Hubb (Leonard Hubbard) - bass (track 5), piano (track 11)
Michael Mondesir - bass (tracks 6, 7, 8)
B.R.O.theR.? (Ahmir Khalib Thompson) - drums (tracks 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12)
Pete Lewinson - drums (tracks 11, 13)
Henri Jelani Defoe - guitar (tracks 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 13)
Jason Rebello - rhodes (track 5)
Black Thought (Tariq Trotter) - rap (tracks 9, 12)
Dennis Rollins - trombone (tracks 11, 13)
Pamela Anderson - vocals (track 11)
Noel McKoy - vocals (tracks 12, 13)

The Journey
1. Meditation (3:23)
2. Journey to Truth (7:48)
3. Oh Africa Africa Africa (6:08)
4. Affirmation (3:27)
5. Celestial Blues (6:56)
The Pffat Factor
6. Part I: Who Dares (5:56)
7. Part II: They Don't Wanna Hearit! (6:31)
8. Part III: Rough (5:42)
9. Pffat Time (6:02)
10. Antigua (3:53)
That Fuss
11. How Ya Livin? (4:37)
12. Blakk Planets (5:32)
13. Evol Lover (4:57)

All tracks composed and arranged by Steve Williamson, except track 2 (vocal arranged by Jhelisa Anderson), track 5 (written by Andy Bey), track 11 (written by Pamela Anderson and Steve Williamson) and track 13 (written by Noel McKoy).

Dowload Journey to Truth

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Steve Williamson: A Waltz For Grace

Steve Williamson was part of a late 1980s-early 1990s British Invasion of jazzers, that also included Courtney Pine (both of whom played together with the UK's Jazz Warriors). The impression I get is that both musicians were initially considered part of the so-called "young lions" who had endeavored to return jazz to its pre-fusion and pre-free jazz roots, but both as time went on, had other ideas. This particular album, A Waltz for Grace (dedicated to his grandmother), is Steve William's first as a band leader. It's basically a post bop recording with some interesting funk and Latin flourishes throughout. It's also the more coherent of the two albums of his that I have in my possession, and one that I enjoy listening to in its entirety from start to finish whenever I have the time. Whether the album had enough going for it to stand out from the rest of the early 1990s post bop field is debatable, and I get the feeling that its critical reception was fairly mixed. Still, I think it's quite nice and certainly worth a listen. We'll just add it to the list of woulda-coulda-shoulda recordings that now languish in some corporate conglomerate's vaults.

Steve Williamson - All Saxophones plus Additional Percussion (on UK Sessions)
Mark Mondesir - Drums
Lonnie Plaxico - Bass (US Sessions)
Gary Crosby - Bass (UK Sessions)
Dave Gilmore - Guitar (US Sessions)
Julian Joseph - Guitar (UK Sessions)
Abbey Lincoln - Vocals (track 4)
Kevin Haynes - Additional Percussion (on UK Sessions)

1. Down (Slang) (3:18)
2. Awakening (4:35)
3. Visions (4:29)
4. A Waltz For Grace (4:15)
5. Mandy's Mood (5:49)
6. Soon Come (4:14)
7. Straight Ahead (4:45)
8. Mandela (4:29)
9. Groove Thang (1:42)
10. Synthesis (4:59)
11. Hummingbird (5:41)
12. How High The Bird (4:22)
13. Words Within Words (5:01)

Download A Waltz For Grace

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Herbie Hancock & Foday Musa Suso: Jazz Africa

Jazz Africa is the live companion piece to Village Life. Recorded in Los Angeles at some point around 1986, the duo is augmented by a number of sidemen - many of whom were heavy hitters in the music world at the time. Here's an AMG review of the album:
Recorded in Los Angeles' Wiltern Theatre one December afternoon as part of the Jazzvisions project, this was released four years later almost as an afterthought to the series -- and even many of Hancock's electric music fans weren't aware it was out. A pity, for this is one of the great unheralded Herbie Hancock recordings, a rock-'em, sock-'em, live tour de force that fuses Hancock's electric keyboard work, Foday Musa Suso's kora, incantory vocals, and scraping violin, and a thundering African/Caribbean rhythm section. The CD opens and ends quietly with the delicate, folk-like music introduced on Village Life but the record is dominated by two lengthy, madly swinging workouts for Hancock, Suso and the rhythm section, which is anchored by Santana's ageless Cuban-born percussionist Armando Peraza. Though not all of the concert is included here (the laserdisc and VHS versions contain more music), the CD does convey a good deal of the incredible energy level of the live event, where Hancock looked and played like a man possessed. This was a real breakthrough for Hancock, but alas, this perpetual chameleon has yet to pursue this stimulating direction further.
The music draws on the ideas explored on Village Life, but more danceable, funkier than the original. I've done my best to determine the credits from extremely minimal information. Hopefully it's accurate enough. If you liked Village Life, you'll dig this one was well. Copies of this album now sell for around $125, if you can find 'em.

Herbie Hancock - keyboards
Foday Musa Suso - kora, vocals
Aiyb Dieng - percussion
Armando Peraza - percussion
Adam Rudolph - percussion
Joe Thomas - bass
Hamid Drake - drums, percussion
Abdul Hakeem - guitar

1. Kumbasora
2. Debo
3. Cigarette Lighter
4. Jimbasing

Download Jazz Africa

In case you hadn't noticed

This place has become busy as of late. One factor is some occasional time to breathe. Until the 2nd of January, I'm on vacation, which gives me some time to line up some music to post. Even before that, once my courses were sufficiently prepped late in the semester, I was able to devote more to this particular endeavor. We'll see what the interterm and spring semester do to my schedule - I wouldn't expect the current torrid pace to go on indefinitely, but realistically I should be able to up a couple albums a week most weeks. The other factor was - thanks to some very kind donors - I've been able to afford some better software for ripping and transforming my cd collection to high-quality mp3 files (at least better than Windows Media Player). You've already begun reaping some of the benefits, and I'm only warming up. Over the next several months, I should be able to treat you to some out-of-print and often hard-to-find jazz recordings, as well as some industrial music, fourth world, and some other dangers.

In the meantime, if you're new to this joint, take a look around - there are plenty of albums to download (as of now there are over 120 active downloads available). To those who visit, I never say this enough: thanks.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Randy Weston Vishnu Wood Duo: Perspective

Perspective is one of many fine recordings that has slipped through the cracks. Although out of print, it's not impossible to find used at a semi-reasonable price. For whatever reason, no one that I know of has shared this album either via p2p or via the music sharing blogs. It's certainly a pleasant enough listening experience, and a piano-bass duo setting is pretty unusual for Weston making the recording a fairly unique one in Weston's extensive (and thankfully extensively recorded) career. Vishnu Wood is considerably less known of the two, perhaps best known for his performance (playing oud) on Alice Coltrane's album Journey in Satchidananda. Wood appeared on some of Weston's albums during the 1970s, and appeared on at least one Archie Shepp album before disappearing. It's warm music perfect for those cold winter evenings.

Randy Weston - Piano
Vishnu Wood - Bass

1. Blues to be There (Ellington, Strayhorn)
2. Body and Soul (Eyton, Green, Heyman, & Sour)
3. Hi Fly (Weston)
4. Khadesha (Wood)
5. African Cookbook (Weston)

Both musicians play together except for "Hi Fly", which is a Randy Weston piano solo, and "Khadesha", which is a Vishnu Wood bass solo.

Recorded December 14, 1976. Issued on Denon, probably 1977, catalogue # YX-7564-ND. Reissued on CD by Denon, catalogue # 8554.

Download Perspective

Maleem Mahmoud Ghania with Pharoah Sanders: The Trance of Seven Colors

This was my first album of Gnawa trance music, and what led me to pick it up in the first place was the mere fact that Pharoah Sanders was on it, and during the late 1990s I was on a Pharoah Sanders binge (much to my wife's chagrin). Once the first few seconds of the first track unfolded, I was hooked, and there was no looking back.

The mid-1990s marked something of a renaissance for Pharoah Sanders, who rediscovered the fierceness of his early years on Sonny Sharrock's last proper studio album Ask the Ages, and subsequently became a highly sought-after sideman on numerous projects (e.g., Franklin Kiermyer's album Solomon's Daughter in which Sanders is part of the quartet, a couple tracks on Jah Wobble's Heaven and Earth, an appearance on a remake of the Last Poets' classic "This is Madness" for the Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool compilation CD). Sanders would shortly thereafter record the album Message From Home. Whether it was drawing on the legacy of Trane's classic quartet era, or pushing the envelop with some fierce playing in hip-hop, alternative rock, or world music genres, Pharoah Sanders was proving a force to be reckoned with once more.

In some respects, this album recalls some of the more world music moments from such Pharoah Sanders albums as Thembi, and his playing is consistently fiery throughout. Not to worry: Sanders does not steal the show, laying out for a couple tracks and ever mindful that the music is the Gnawans' vision. He does get a moment all to himself though - see "Peace in Essaouira (For Sonny Sharrock)" - and his tone is rich and warm as he pays homage to a deceased friend. Bill Laswell produces, but unlike a lot of Laswell joints, this time around Laswell hangs back and simply documents the action. The album feels like some master Gnawa musicians and a jazzer (and friends & family) getting together to party. Somehow I feel physically better whenever I play this recording - that may be merely psychosomatic, but I'd like to believe that this is truly healing music.

Note, I believe this album does tend to circulate around blogtopia. Hopefully I won't be stepping on too many toes, and hopefully the perspective I offer is unique enough to make it worth your while.

Maleem Mahmoud Ghania - Guimbri, Lead Vocal, Tbel
Pharoah Sanders - Tenor Saxophone
Maleem Boubker Ghania - Second Guimbri (track 6), Tbel
Maleem Mahmoud Ahkaraz - Tbel (track 8)
Maleem Abdellah Ghania - Krkaba, Vocal Chorus, Handclaps
Abdellah Ahkaraz - Krkaba, Vocal Chorus, Handclaps
El Moktar Ghania - Krkaba, Vocal Chorus, Handclaps
Mohamed Abdellaoui - Krkaba, Vocal Chorus, Handclaps
Mohamad Outanine - Krkaba, Vocal Chorus, Handclaps
Abdellatif Abdellaoui - Krkaba, Vocal Chorus, Handclaps
Hassan Machoure - Krkaba, Vocal Chorus, Handclaps
Mohamed Boujmia - Krkaba, Vocal Chorus, Handclaps
Abdellah Lamsuiger - Handclaps

On "Handouchi" only
Hamadcha of Essaouira:
Maleem Abdelkabir Addabachi - Lead Ghaita
Abdelmalak Ben Hamou - Ghaita
Abderrahman Nimini - Tbel
Abdelmoula Hnikkich - Harrz
Mustapha Bouson - Harraz

Female Vocal Chorus
Zaida Ghania - Leader
Mina Ahkaraz, Saida Battach, Fatna Ifis, Fatima Labied, Hafida Ghania, J'mia Ghania, Khadija Ghania, Malika Ghania

1. La Allah Dayim Moulenah (Ghania, Sanders) 11:10
2. Bala Moussaka (Traditional) 3:54
3. Hamdouchi (Traditional) 9:07
4. Peace in Essaouira [For Sonny Sharrock] (Sanders) 7:23
5. Boulandi Samawi (Traditional) 13:56
6. Moussa Berkiyo/Koubaliy Beriah La'foh (Traditional) 4:34
7. Salat Anbi (Traditional) 8:17
8. Casa Casa Atougra (Traditional) 5:05
9. Mahraba (Traditional) 7:48

All tracks are traditional and arranged by Maleem Mahmoud Ghania except:
Track 1: written by Maleem Mahmoud Ghania & Pharoah Sanders
Track 3: Traditional, arranged by Maleem Abdelkabir Addabachi
Track 4: written by Pharoah Sanders

Recorded in the House of the Caid Khoubane in the Medina of Essaouira, District Chbanat, Morocco on June 1, 1994 - June 3, 1994. Released on Axiom, catalogue # 524047.

Download The Trance of Seven Colors

The Splendid Master Gnawa Musicians of Morocco featuring Randy Weston

I first heard Gnawa trance music around a decade ago, and was immediately hooked. I remember telling a younger friend about the genre, but made the mistake of including the term "trance music" in the description. It became clear in a hurry that each of us held a radically different definition of "trance" - Gnawa trance music is performed exclusively on acoustic instruments. Whether or not my younger friend ever checked into the music of the Gnawa I do not know - I lost touch with him probably six or seven years ago.

This particular album was actually the second Gnawa trance CD that I picked up (the first was The Trance of Seven Colors), and part of the appeal was Randy Weston's involvement in the project. Weston mainly takes a back seat, save for some brief piano accompaniment on the final track, "Chalabati" and handling the production chores. In the wrong hands, this could have been an exercise in exotica for the sake of exotica. Not so here. Weston's interest in the music is quite genuine and deep-seated - going back a few decades (his first stint residing in Morocco was from 1968-1973), and a Gnawa influence can be found in much of his recorded jazz output since the 1970s. Since about the late 1990s (if not before), Weston has been performing in concert with master Gnawa musicians - occasionally dropping a live CD every now and then. A great deal of care went into the production and packaging of this particular album - including a fair amount of material in the liner notes regarding the context of the Gnawa tribe, their history, and some information about the selections included on the finished product. Needless to say, since a traditional Gnawa healing ceremony would last for hours, we're merely being treated to a portion of what would be experienced. If I ever get the opportunity to travel to Morocco, the music of the Gnawa is definitely on the list of experiences to savor. The music and the information on the CD are themselves to be savored as both a sensuous and educational experience.

Hag'houge, clapping, vocals
The M'Alems (The Masters):
Ali El Mansoum
Molay Abdelaziz
Mohamed Zourhba
Boubker Gania
Mohamed El Ghorfi
Ahmed Boussou
Abdelouahid Berrady
Mahmoud Gania

Karkaba, backing vocals, clapping
M'Barek Ben Outman
Abdemebi Oubella

Hag'houge, clapping, vocals
Abdellah El Gourd

Randy Weston

1. La Voix Errrante: Sorie/Folinho Rejale/Ahayana Wayi/Bokarli Ana (18:58)
2. Sound Playing: Bermaryo/Fanyro/Merkadi/Yobady/Ya la la/Concoba/Tembara (43:26)
3.Chalabati (8:31)

Recorded September 17, 1992 in the ballroom of the La Mamounia Hotel, Marrakech, Morocco. Released on Verve-Antilles in 1994 (catalogue # 314 521 587-2).

Download The Splendid Master Gnawa Musicians of Morocco

Griot Galaxy: Kins

Griot Galaxy was a Detroit-area crew that flourished during the 1980s. Kins was, as far as I know, their first release. I first of heard of Griot Galaxy in 2004, and over the next year learned a good deal about the band and one of their members, Faruq Z. Bey. These cats at times sound like a portion of one of Sun Ra's arkestras - indeed the song titles alone suggest a Sun Ra influence, as did the band's apparent tendency to perform in Sun Ra-style costumes. At other times throughout the album, they show some definite punk and funk influences, such as on "Zenolog Aintro". Overall, the music is moody, angular music, perfect for the times (then and now). Fans of Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman (especially his Prime Time band), James "Blood" Ulmer (even though there is no guitarist in this band), late-1970s Human Arts Ensemble, and Defunkt should find plenty to like about this crew.

Jaribu Shahid - Acoustic Bass, Electric Bass
Tani Tabbal - Drums
David McMurray - Flute, Tenor Sax, Alto Sax, Soprano Sax
Anthony Holland - Alto Sax, Soprano Sax
Faruq Z. Bey - Tenor Sax, Alto Sax

1. Xy-Moch
2. Zycron
3. Zenolog Aintro
4. Androgeny
5. Kins
6. Xy-Moch Theme

Recorded September 13 & 14, 1981 at Spectrum Sound Studio, Detroit, Michigan. Poem by Mashashahid dated 1-4-82. Released on Black & White Records, catalogue # B & W 001.

Download Kins

Monday, December 22, 2008

Arthur Doyle Quartet: Live @ The Cooler

Live @ The Cooler is a nice follow-up to the Blue Humans album I posted previously. This time around, Arthur Doyle is in charge. The tunes are ones that are among Doyle's standards (to the extent that someone as obscure as Doyle can have songs considered standards) - especially "Flue Song" and "Noah Black Ark". The former features Doyle playing the flute; the latter is a homage to Noah Howard, who gave Doyle his first big break in the free-jazz realm on The Black Arc (the piece builds on that album's tune "Mount Fuji"). On the opening track, Doyle sounds like he's playing multiple reeds at once. For his part, Rudolph Grey's playing is as loud as ever, but the sound is more atmospheric. To these ears, 15 years allowed Doyle and Grey to become wiser, more skillful collaborators. It doesn't hurt that the rhythm section is up to the task of keeping up with those two.

Arthur Doyle (tenor sax, flute)
Rudolph Grey (electric guitar)
Wilbur Morris (bass)
Tom Surgal (drums)

1. Spiritual Healing
2. Flue Song
3. Noah Black Ark

All compositions by Arthur Doyle (BMI)
Photos: Simon Badger
Liner Notes: Sumner Crane
Recorded March 15, 1995

Released on The Lotus Sound in 1996

Download Live @ The Cooler

The Blue Humans: Live - N.Y. 1980

This album was my introduction to Arthur Doyle. The way that cat could hold his own with Rudolph Grey's guitar playing (with the amps turned all the way to 11) turned me into a believer. During the relatively quieter moments, Beaver Harris lays out this tribal groove that practically calls listeners to join the pit. These cats were playing some extra-loud free-form energy music at punk clubs in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which seems appropriate enough. Hell, we'll call it jazz you can mosh to. Free jazz buffs who dig on punk and no wave, and punks who can groove on jazz will want to play this one at stun volume.

Rudolph Grey (Electric Guitar)
Arthur Doyle (Tenor Saxophone, Flute)
Beaver Harris (Percussion)

1. Untitled
2. Untitled
3. Untitled
4. Untitled

Cover Photo: Ronald V. Williams
Cover Design: Rudolph Grey
Recording Engineer/Graphics Production: R. Bianca
Recorded at Hurrah, NYC March 12, 1980

Released on Audible Hiss in 1995.

Download Live - N.Y. 1980