[UNRELEASED RECORDINGS]… This collection of Ellingtonia features mostly previously unreleased material from two sources: the Sun Ra Music Archive, maintained by Michael D. Anderson, and the Experimental Sound Studio (ESS)

Despite the fact that Sun Ra has over 1,000 titles copyrighted in his name, a good part of his concert and recorded repertoire consisted of works by other composers. He arranged—in his idiosyncratic way— tunes by Monk, Gershwin, Henderson (Fletcher and Horace), Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and countless others. But no one breezed into Sun Ra setlists more often than the “Duke”—Edward Kennedy Ellington.

Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, Herman Poole “Sonny” Blount (born 1914) came of age in the 1930s, when big band “Swing” jazz was in vogue. When he later formed his Arkestra, Sonny drew on this legacy, though he re-shaped the big band format into something his own—a singular (afro-)futuristic reinvention that somehow echoed the music of his youth. Ra as an artist looked forward and backward. He relished innovation, but revered tradition. Paradoxically, the older he got—by the 1970s and ’80s—the more Swing Era chestnuts he revived in his work. Despite the fact that many of his admired composers matured to create more advanced works after the 1930s—Ellington a perfect case in point—Ra’s taste remained rooted in the ’30s. Of the 12 titles in this collection, all but two dates from that decade—”East St. Louis Toodle-oo” is even earlier (1926), and “Duke’s Place” dates from 1942.

John Szwed, writing in the biography, SPACE IS THE PLACE: THE LIVES AND TIMES OF SUN RA offers an interesting Ellingtonian vignette. In his twenties, Sonny was listening to, studying, transcribing, and performing contemporary big band jazz with a passion. Yet, writes Szwed, “Swing music was by now easy for him, formulaic and predictable. But he had another book of arrangements which [his] band rehearsed but never performed and whose purpose he never explained. … The compositions and arrangements in this book were inspired by dreams or made up of ideas derived from reading ‘Popular Mechanics,’ pieces … built on complex and oddly shifting rhythm patterns.”

Szwed continues: “When Duke Ellington was in town, Sonny took his book of arrangements backstage to show him. They talked for over an hour, Ellington gracious and regal in his black silk dressing gown. At one point the Duke pulled out his own arrangements. Sonny saw that Ellington also used dissonance in his writing, only it never seemed dissonant. Sonny was thrilled to see his own ideas confirmed.”

This collection of Ellingtonia features mostly previously unreleased material from two sources: the Sun Ra Music Archive, maintained by Michael D. Anderson, and the Experimental Sound Studio (ESS), Chicago. As with any Sun Ra compilation, audio fidelity varies from the sublime to the near-ridiculous. However, as any Ra fan will attest, the fidelity is usually secondary to the excitement of the performance. The collection opens with an early (1951), intimate Ra duet with Wilbur Ware, recorded at Ra’s Chicago apartment. From there things get raucous and reckless with concert recordings and two home-taped jams featuring Ra and a small ensemble of Arkestrans messing around with “Caravan” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing”; the year and location of the latter session are unknown. There’s more where that came from.—I.C. ~BandCamp

Released: May 27, 2022

All keyboards by Sun Ra. Arkestra personnel varies, but the following soloists have been identified:

3. Nöel Scott
5. Michael Ray, John Gilmore
6. Craig Harris, John Gilmore, Michael Ray
7. Marshall Allen
8. Ahmed Abdullah, Marshall Allen, Bruce Edwards
10. Marshall Allen
11. Tyrone Hill, John Gilmore
12. Walter Miller, John Gilmore

Cover art and design by Tony Kellers/Twelve3

Tape transfers: Haruhi Kobayashi and Matt Mehlan of ESS, and Michael D. Anderson/Sun Ra Music Archive
Master rights: Sun Ra LLC

The compilation, audio restoration, annotation: Irwin Chusid

[New Arrival] Back to Back bounces with expressive rhythms featuring an extraordinary combination of instruments underpinned by the voices of Zaitz, Kavuma, & Cleasby

Artie Zaitz is swiftly establishing himself as one of the jazz scene’s most exciting guitarists. When he’s not touring with Moses Boyd or performing and recording with The Banger Factory or leading his own groovy outfit, he can be found pulling out all the stops on his 1961 Hammond C-3 named Big Bertha and executing complex lines on bass pedals, just like organ giants before him; Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff and Larry Goldings.

Mark Kavuma is renowned for his fabulously expressive trumpet playing. Mark leads The Banger Factory, one of the finest and most thrilling live acts on the scene and is no stranger to high-profile gigs with some of the best in jazz music including Nu Civilisation Orchestra, Jazz Jamaica All Stars, Salif Keita, and Wynton Marsalis.

Back To Back may represent the first studio recording of an extraordinary combination of instruments underpinned by William Cleasby’s dexterity and mastery of groove.

The unique collaboration has been bubbling for many years, fully bursting into life during the pandemic when due to restrictions Kavuma and Zaitz found themselves practicing literally back to back. This extremely rare configuration (1961Hammond C-3 Organ against 1971 Wurlitzer 200A Electric Piano, or a Steinway Grand Piano with support from William Cleasby’s drums) delivers sonic delights and a ‘bomb’ within the traditions of century-old jazz music.

Stand-out moments on the album are; the monumental ‘Lockdown Blues‘ penned by Zaitz, a spellbinding, absorbing, and ultimately a sincere commentary on the current global state of affairs, Kavuma’s own reflection of the personal struggle to cope with separation in ‘Mia’s Waltz, and the spectacular interpretation of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight‘ the kind of reading that makes you wonder whether you ever knew this tune at all.  ~Bandcamp

Original Release Date: March 4, 2022

At your leisure, check out “BACK TO BACK” by Artie Zaitz &Mark Kavuma w/William Cleasby

[COMPARED TO WHAT?]… a salute to the legendary voice of Billie Holiday comprised by Mal Waldron & Archie Shepp’

https://www.amazon.com/Left-Alone-Revisited-Tribute-Holiday/dp/B0006TPDOI/ref=pd_sbs_1/132-1825047-7468203?pd_rd_w=ETVrj&pf_rd_p=4b6b5072-e9bd-4f30-a3af-a1f5d52978ec&pf_rd_r=46EY6D3303H6RHXQHQTN&pd_rd_r=0d28aa43-e8c3-4ee3-9ec7-d5a994ca5559&pd_rd_wg=sXkrW&pd_rd_i=B0006TPDOI&psc=1Mal Waldron’s first tribute to Billie Holiday, titled Left Alone, was recorded in 1959, mere months before the singer’s death. He returned to salute the legendary vocalist on several occasions since then, with this recording likely being his final tribute, recorded less than a year before his own death. Waldron, who worked with Holiday during her last years, is intimately familiar with her takes of the six standards heard on this disc, along with her own ‘Lady Sings the Blues.’

Archie Shepp’s often gritty tenor sax is reminiscent of the texture of Holiday’s voice, yet he perfectly complements Waldron’s lush piano. They also pack a punch with their stark performance of ‘Left Alone’ (Shepp’s occasional reed squeaks seem deliberate as if to imitate breaks in her voice). Waldron also recites Holiday’s lyrics set to his composition at the conclusion of the LP. Shepp switches to soprano sax for an emotional take of ‘Everything Happens to Me’ and ‘I Only Have Eyes for You,’ with the latter song sounding as if the unheard singer is being ignored by her love interest. Shepp’s ‘Blues for 52nd Street’ is both sassy and swinging. This instrumental salute to Billie Holiday is one of the best albums ever to honor her memory. ~Editorial Reviews | Amazon

Tenor Saxophonist Javon Jackson Joins Forces with Renowned African American Poet, Activist and Educator in Historic Collaboration with Nikki Giovanni

Why would one of poetry’s most revered voices want to curate a jazz saxophonist’s album of gospel hymns and spirituals? “These songs are so important,” says Nikki Giovanni, one of Oprah Winfrey’s 25 “Living Legends” and a Maya Angelou Lifetime Achievement Award winner for 2017. “They comforted people through times of slavery, and during recent years we needed them to comfort us again. But a lot of the students today do not know about the history of these songs, and they should. So I’m out here putting water on the flowers because they need a drink.”Giovanni’s historic collaboration with saxophonist-composer and former Jazz Messenger Javon Jackson has yielded The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni, available February 18, 2022, on his Solid Jackson label. “The spirituals have been around so long,” says the renowned poet, activist, and educator, who came to prominence in the 1960s and ’70s as a foundational member of the Black Arts movement following the publication of such early works as 1968’s book of poetry Black Feeling, Black Talk/Black Judgment and 1970’s Re:Creation. “Some spirituals have been updated and stayed around and some have been lost over time,” Giovanni notes “So for me, it’s just helping to keep something going. And I do it because there’s a need.Jackson brings his bold-toned, Trane-inspired tenor lines to bear on a series of hymns, spirituals, and gospel numbers hand-picked by Giovanni, who was also the first person to receive the Rosa L. Parks Women of Courage Award. And the 78-year-old poet makes a rare vocal appearance on the tender ballad “Night Song,” singing a song identified with her close friend, the late civil rights activist and High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone. “Nina was a friend of mine, and I knew that one of her favorite songs was ‘Night Song’,” she explains. “And even though I’m not a singer, I told Javon I wanted to sing it because I just wanted Nina to be remembered.” Jackson, who flew to Nikki’s home in Roanoke, Virginia, to record her vocal track on the existing instrumental tracks, says, “I sat beside her when she sang it and by the time she finished that chorus, I was deeply moved. I just love the fragile nature of the way she treated it. It was very emotional.”Joined by an outstanding crew comprised of pianist Jeremy Manasia, bassist David Williams and drummer McClenty Hunter — the same lineup that appeared on Jackson’s 2018 album For You and his 2020 follow-up, Deja Vu — Jackson interprets gospel staples like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,”Wade in the Water,” “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” with authoritative tenor tones, deep walking bass lines and an organic sense of group swing. “It’s the first time I worked in a collaborative manner,” Jackson says. “The project is personal for me. I come from a lineage of devout Christians, and that has afforded me the chance to connect with that ancestral stream.”

Giovanni & Jackson, © Shaban_R._Athuman

The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni came about through a serendipitous meeting between the two principals when Jackson, a faculty member of The Hartt School at the University of Hartford and director of its Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz, invited Giovanni to speak to his students there. As he recalls, “Ever since I’ve been at the University of Hartford, I felt that the school would be well-served to bring great scholars of color and scholars who were freedom fighters and activists, if you will. So I brought in Dr. Cornel West, Sonia Sanchez, Angela Davis, and Michael Eric Dyson. Then in February of 2020, I brought Nikki Giovanni.”The renowned poet’s appearance at the University coincided with her receiving an honorary doctorate there. And as Jackson recalls, “After Nikki spoke to the students, she noticed that the Hank Jones and Charlie Haden CD of hymns and spirituals (1994’s Steal Away) were playing in the auditorium. She said she loved it and wanted to hear more, and just then I was hit with the idea. Two days later, after she returned to her home in Roanoke, I contacted her and said, ‘Would you be willing to pick 10 hymns? And that’ll be my next recording.’ She got back to me in a few days and gave me the 10 selections.”The collection opens with the driving shuffle “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel,” a spiritual recorded by Paul Robeson in 1937. Jackson delivers the melody in a straightforward fashion with golden tenor tones before Manasia “goes to church” on his piano solo. The minor-key “Wade in the Water” is lifted by a mid-tempo swing feel, paced by Williams’ deep walking basslines and Hunter’s steady, syncopated ride-cymbal pulse. After Jackson delivers a robust tenor solo and Manasia follows suit with an earthy piano solo, Christina Greer enters, dropping some wisdom from Giovanni’s poem “A Very Simple Wish.” As Jackson explains, “For this, I reached out to Markeysha Davis, an assistant professor of Africana studies and literature at the University of Hartford. She is really a fan and knows Nikki’s work far better than I do. Nikki’s got 50 years’ worth of poetry, so I didn’t know where to begin. But I sent Markeysha John Coltrane’s ‘Spiritual’ to give her an idea of what we were trying to do, and she came back with that poem.”The quartet’s rendition of the dirge-like “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” carries the somber feeling of Coltrane’s “Equinox,” while their interpretation of “Mary Had a Baby, Yes Lord” recalls Trane’s powerful civil-rights era requiem, “Alabama.” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” one of Giovanni’s favorites from her own Baptist church upbringing, is rendered at a loping beat, conveying a distinctive Southern gospel feel. “A lot of times when I’ve heard this song in church, it’s a little faster, a little more upbeat,” Jackson says. “I wanted to make it slower, where I could really expose the melody a lot more and lay on some of those phrases—so I could be as emotive as possible with the melody, as if I was playing in church with people in the audience.”“I’ve Been ’Buked,” a spiritual sung by Mahalia Jackson in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King also delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, opens with some dramatic unaccompanied arco bass work by Williams before the full band enters with Jackson conveying the melody simply and deliberately. “In a perfect world, I would love to have had David bowing with Paul Robeson singing that melody,” says the leader. “The bow is so beautiful because, to me, it’s close to the human voice in a way.”

Jackson and company render the normally somber “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” as a buoyant calypso. In fact, you can hear the saxophonist directly quoting from Sonny Rollins’ most famous calypso, “St. Thomas,” midway through the song. Bassist Williams, being from Trinidad, is uniquely qualified to provide the requisite bounce on this ebullient calypso rendition of this well-known African American spiritual. “Doing that song this way is a reminder that the departure or the transition doesn’t have to be one of sadness,” says Jackson. “We don’t want it to be where the person or persons listening to the CD become downtrodden. We want it to be celebratory. It’s like what Art Blakey always used to tell us: ‘You cry when they come in, and you rejoice when they go out.’ I never forgot that.”

The most intimate piece of the collection is the gentle hymn “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian,” performed as a rubato duet between Jackson’s tenor sax and Manasia’s piano. The quartet closes on a rousing note with a swinging “I Opened My Mouth to the Lord,” which again features Williams’ deeply resonant bass carrying the melody and Jackson in strong ‘speechifying’ mode on tenor sax. Manasia also turns in an exhilarating piano solo here, and even drummer Hunter gets a solo taste near the end of this triumphant closer.  Captured live at Telefunken Studios in South Windsor, Connecticut, the 10 tunes on The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni were all done without the use of headphones, another first for Jackson. “I’ve never done a recording before in a studio where I didn’t use headphones, so it felt like performing a gig,” he says. “We never counted off a piece and there were no endings, where I might dictate or give a direction towards an ending. I really wanted to do it just like if you’re in church, where there’s a preacher talking and all of a sudden the choir begins. So each time, whether the bass would start the tune or the piano or myself, there were no count-offs because I wanted to make it as natural as possible.”

“This music is something that people will probably be a little surprised to see coming from me,” Jackson says. But given the state of the world, it could be just in time. Both poets and saxophonists stand on the shoulders of their ancestors on The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni.

https://www.javonjackson.com

https://nikki-giovanni.com

[COMPARED TO WHAT?]: Circle offers a sweeping anthology of Miles Davis recordings from 1955 to 1970 that show the restless genius of jazz

Circle offers a sweeping anthology of Miles Davis recordings from 1955 to 1970 that show the restless genius of jazz undergoing swift changes as thoroughgoing as the era where they took place. “Two Bass Hit” was recorded at his first Columbia session. “Love for Sale” features the “Kind of Blue” lineup of John Coltrane on tenor, Cannonball Adderley on alto, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. The title track shows Miles stretching into new conceptual worlds with Wayne Shorter on tenor, Herbie Hancock on celeste, Ron Carter on bass, Tony Williams on drums, and Joe Beck on guitar. The set closes with Miles’s fusion band playing an atmospheric version of David Crosby’sGuinnevere.” ~John Swenson | Amazon

Original Release Date: ‎1979

At your leisure, spin “CIRCLE IN THE ROUND” by Miles Davis.

[NOTEWORTHY]: If haven’t yet, meet the incomparable Young Jazz Giants, Cameron Graves, Stephen Brunner, Kamasi Washington & Ronald Bruner

This group of extremely talented young black musicians from South Central Los Angeles has devoted their lives to playing traditional jazz music. Pianist Cameron Graves has been playing for 16 years, and has performed at the Playboy Jazz Festival; with the Amistad Choir; with jazz legends such as Erie Andrews; with film composer Danny Elfman, along with many other great musicians. Bassist Stephen Brunner has been playing for nine years, has performed in the Playboy Jazz Festival twice; with Wayne Shorter, Diane Reeves, Terry Lyne Carrington, Patrice Rushen, and others. Saxophonist Kamasi Washington has been playing for nine years and has performed at the Playboy Jazz Festival; with the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; with Gerald Wilson, Wayne Shorter, Diane Reeves, N’dugu Chancler, and many others. He was the winner of the John Coltrane competition at the age of seventeen when the competition was meant for eighteen- through-forty-year-olds. Drummer Ronald Bruner has been playing for sixteen years. He has performed with Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Diane Reeves, and many others. ~Editorial Review | Amazon

Original Release Date: ‎ February 1, 2007

Listen, embrace, and enjoy the “YOUNG JAZZ GIANTS” self-titled album.

 

[JAZZ-NOT-JAZZ]: Founding member of the original funk band Parliament-Funkadelic, pianist Bernie Worrell plays Standards

JAZZNOTJAZZ in theory is an innovative approach by visionary artists whose passion for aesthetics, listening, and the concept of playing and composing by non-jazz musicians who deeply love and respect this music.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and founding member of the original Parliament-Funkadelic, Bernie Worrell returns with this slab of funk-drenched jazz standards. This traditional compilation effectively positions the Great American Songbook as the control in that grand democratic social experiment known as jazz.

Featuring a variety of definitive songs like “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Take Five,” and “Moon River,” Standards truthfully tells the story of the song with the ultimate mixture of sonic flavor. ~Editorial Review | Amazon

Original Release Date: May 27, 2011

At your leisure, check out “STANDARDS” by Bernie Worrell

 

BIOGRAPHY: Jazz vocalist Jazzmeia Horn

Blessed with a fitting name for her chosen path – it was Horn’s jazz-loving, a piano-playing grandmother who chose “Jazzmeia” – the singer was born in Dallas in 1991, grew up in a tightly knit, church-going family filled with musical talent, and began singing as a toddler. She attended Booker T. Washington High School for Performing and Visual Arts, known for launching such musical greats as Roy Hargrove, Norah Jones, and Erykah Badu, then later attended The New School in New York City. Her education included steering herself to the mentors who would guide her passion for jazz, like Bobby McFerrin, Abbey Lincoln, and Betty Carter. Winner of the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition and the 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition, Jazzmeia was signed to Concord Records and released her debut album A Social Call to great critical acclaim.

In the two years since Jazzmeia Horn bowed with her first album, the GRAMMY Award®-nominated A Social Call, she’s been busy on the road, honing her vocal skills to a finely tuned level, writing songs of personal relevance and social message, and perfecting a fearless approach to improvisation and performance in general. The convergence of this drive and development has resulted in what has brought Jazzmeia her second GRAMMY Award® nomination, Love and Liberation—filled with songs of daring musicality, emotional power, and messages of immediate relevancy.

Horn chose the title she did for her second album because “Love and Liberation is a concept and mantra that I use consistently in my everyday life. For me, the two go hand in hand and they both describe where I am in my life and career right now. An act of love is an act of liberation, and choosing to liberate—oneself or another—is an act of love.” ~Biography

If you haven’t, discover the dynamic voice and fearless artistry of vocalist Jazzmeia Horn. 

COMPARED TO WHAT? …TRIO 65 by Bill Evans Trio

In the mid-1960s Bill Evans was involved in numerous recording projects, from film soundtrack work and playing with a symphony orchestra to duets with guitarist Jim Hall and solo and multitracked piano. As a result, he spent very little time in the studio with one of his finest working units, the trio with bassist Chuck Israels and drummer Larry Bunker.

Each of Evans’s trios found a different balance of elements, usually hinging on the pianist’s musical relationship with his bass player. Israels is less given to virtuoso flights and aggressive countermelody than Scott LaFaro or Eddie Gomez, instead of picking his notes for maximal harmonic and melodic effect, while maintaining a secure time feel. His style provides a different focus for the pianist, less reactive and more continuous, and it emphasizes Evans’s capacity for rhythmically aggressive, boppish playing.

John Carisi’s “Israel,” a tune dating from Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool, has Evans fastening on the rhythmic undercurrent generated by Israels and Bunker, and it continues with his linear approach to the solo on his own “Elsa.” With familiar musicians and tunes, Evans produces one of his most relaxed and sustained recordings of the period. ~Stuart Broomer | Amazon

If you haven’t, check out “TRIO 65” by the Bill Evans Trio

REFLECTION: Hanging out with “Black Codes” featuring the legendary Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis, BLACK CODES (ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: Jan, 11, 1985)

Being an ardent advocate of modern jazz and emerging new sounds and artists, pondering this segment titled “REFLECTION” is something I never intended on doing from the place arrived from let alone writing frequently about some of my favorite older jazz recordings.

Today, I revisited “BLACK CODES” it is undoubtedly a mind changer and one of my favorite albums by renowned trumpeter/composer and educator Wynton Marsalis. FROM THE UNDERGROUND sustains its purpose by being an unmeasurable palette as I hear it stands out among the best of his previous recordings because it embodies progressive ingredients, melodies, rhythms, and intricacies that make jazz what is today as America’s unbridled classical music conceived by black musicians (no pun to other cultures).  The album opens with the iconic “BLACK CODES” the title immediately frames the coherent conversation, structure, and language needed to attract an intended and broader audience.

FOR WEE FOLKS” follows as the absolute hippest tune on the record. The ensemble’s (best of the best here) cohesive interplay swings with depth and the dexterous swagger of old school players seizes and retains your attention from beginning to the end. With five more tracks in the balance, I was eager to hear “DELEAYO’S DILEMMA” it lands as an infallible tribute to his brother Deleayo is a thoughtful approach that’s vibrant, and embraceable tune qualifies as essential modern jazz at its finest.

Another attractive piece in the mix is “PHRYZZINIAN MAN,” this jewel compliments the session. It inhabits, yes, inhabits the sway, harmony and technical artistry jazz fans have come accustomed to hearing Marsalis score and play. The mellowed bluesy tenor of “AURAL OASIS” articulates his brilliance, on this lush arrangement as the title implies will envelop you into the moment as you wade through the cool, intimate, and melodic jazz to relish with each listen.

CHAMBERS OF TAIN” as expected explodes with fast and furious rifts, expressions, and fascinating interplay provided embellishes perfect timing and deeply rooted in the tradition of bebop. Tough the blues is not necessarily my forte, in all due respect to where this music derived from any jazz artists of Wynton’s magnitude will enthusiastically play the blues in any situation. That said, this tune ironically titled “BLUES” reaffirms this sentiment with the authority and attitude of an elder statesman.

While some may disagree, “BLACK CODES (FROM THE UNDERGROUND)” for me is undeniably one of his signature masterpieces. I say this because Marsalis is true to the music, he’s a warrior and loves the art of playing he urgently invokes the spirit of curiosity, and familiarity he provides a pleasurable listening experience that should satisfy the appetite for jazz enthusiasts everywhere.   

Personnel:    

  • Wynton Marsalis – trumpet.
  • Branford Marsalis – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone.
  • Kenny Kirkland – piano.
  • Charnett Moffett – double bass.
  • Jeff “Tain” Watts – drums.
  • Ron Carter – bass on Aural Oasis.

At your leisure, check out “BLACK CODES (FROM THE UNDERGROUND)” by Wynton Marsalis.