On Diana’s Recent Vinyl Rotation: Talkin’ All That Jazz.

When I first came in contact with Jazz years ago, I did not have a very clear picture of that genre in mind: on the one side I thought of boring, easy-listening elevator or bar music, and on the other hand I thought people who actually enjoy listening to the “noise” of Free Jazz voluntarily must be completely out of their mind. Sure, I’ve had heard of the greats like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, but I never thought that Jazz would be something “for me”. It felt dated, boring or unstructured. Oh boy, little did I know then.

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When I first dived into the marvelous layers of Jazz, I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. I’ve started with listening to Cool Jazz, Modal Jazz and Hard Bop, discovered Fusion and little by litte, my discoveries led me all the way to Soul Jazz, Free Jazz, Avant-garde and Spiritual Jazz.

Fast forward to today, and Jazz has become one of my most cherished music genres. I’ve come to enjoy Free, Avant-garde and Experimental Jazz in a way which I would have never imagined – my younger self would certainly have thought I have lost my marbles (and every time I am hearing that phrase I have to think of Tootles from the movie “Hook”).

But that’s the beauty of music. It stimulates your personal growth, challenges you and takes you to places you could never imagine. This episode is dedicated to my latest rather random Jazz playlist, some well-known albums I recently acquired as well as to some more unknown, hidden gems.

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Pharoah Sanders – Love In Us All (1974, Impulse!)
Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone and flute is joined here by Joe Bonner on piano, James Branch on flute, Cecil McBee on bass, Norman Connors on drums and Lawrence Killian, James Mtume and Badal Roy contribute percussion to the two side-long tracks. These two tracks are like two sides of a coin and could not be more different: one is harmonic, deeply spiritual and melodic, and the other slashes out wild and fierce with many layers. “Love Is Everywhere” basically bursts with happiness, joy and pure beauty. With “To John” a Free Jazz gem is delivered, which features intense sax outbursts and driving, ecstatic percussion. I am a big Pharoah Sanders fan and this record has not disappointed me.

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The Heath Brothers featuring Stanley Cowell – Marchin’ On (1976, Strata East)
The three Heath brothers Albert Heath (drums, reeds), Jimmy Heath (saxophone, flute), Percy Heath (bass) are accompanied by Stanley Cowell on piano and Kalimba (an African thumb piano).

The first three tracks have a heavy bluesy hard bop vibe while the song “Maimoun” is a soulful piece. The second side, the “Smilin’ Billy Suite” really stands out in my opinion. Prominent bass violin leads us into the theme, which will soon be very familiar to the ears of any Hip Hop head – “Smilin’ Billy Suite – Part II” was sampled by Q-Tip for Nas’ iconic “One Love” track. The whole four-part suite is beautiful and soulful pure bliss. From part II on, the piece is getting more sinister and intense.

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Marika – Bohemian Drips presents Marika (2015)
Marika is an Impro Free Jazz trio from Istanbul, Turkey and consists of Korhan Futacı (alto & tenor saxophones), Berke Can Özcan (drums) and Barlas Tan Özemek (bass).

This 2015 album is their debut record – the label bohemian drips invited them to work with the unique acoustics of the massive copper tanks in the old “Kindl” brewery in Berlin.

The LP was recorded live and in binaural audio with “Kunstkopf” 3D microphones: When you listen to this records on headphones, you have the feeling of being seated directly in the middle the musicians. The record features two themes: “The Wolf” and “The Sheep”. “The Wolf” is creeping in slow and sinister, while part V is getting more wild and abstract. “The Sheep” is leaning more on the experimental side. This is a beautiful, one of a kind record which lives up to its intriguing artwork.

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Blameful Isles – This Heart Of Our Heart (2017, Urban Waves)
This is the third album of the Swedish one-man project of the multi-instrumentalist Daniel Israelsson. The predecessor “Strange But Not Entirely Unattractive”, a Free Jazz gem, has become highly sought-after (anyone has a spare copy, please?)
“This Heart Of Our Heart” was released in a very small run of 150 copies and follows the Free Jazz trail again, but this time expanding into Spiritual Jazz as well with chanting and instrumentation that reminds my at some points of the Spiritual Jazz of the 60’s and 70’s I have come to love so much. I highly recommend to check this marvelous piece out on Bandcamp.

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Albert Ayler – Bells (1965, ESP)
Bells was recorded at The Town Hall in New York City and is a single sided album. In 1965, over 20 variations of the record were released, including various color variations as well as transparent vinyl – this was a very unique move at that time, especially for a Jazz record. Albert Ayler is playing tenor saxophone, his younger brother Donald Ayler is on trumpet, Charles Tyler on alto saxophone, Lewis Worrell on bass and Sunny Murray on drums.

The 20 minute piece captures the fierce spirit of Aylers work perfectly. I have learned that either you love it or you hate Albert Aylers music, because his unique approach to Free Jazz with the inclusion of traditional, circus and march music into the more dissonant structures feels weird at first – but I really have come to love his avant-garde work.

And that is precisely the point where my younger self would have thought I need a mental health screening.

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Hummus – Offshore (1976)
“Offshore” was released on the small German label Pläne, which concentrated on releasing rather obscure Jazz and Folk albums. This is a perfect example on Jazz Fusion while being incredibly groovy and funky at some points.

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Art Ensemble of Chicago – Reese and The Smooth Ones (1969, BYG Actuel)
As usual for the Actual series, this one was recorded in Paris. The two songs “Reese” and “The Smooth Ones” are split into two pieces each, and entwined with each other – it’s hard to say where one ends and the other begins. Reese and The Smooth Ones features the members playing lots of different instruments such as horns, gongs, logs, bells, sirens, whistles, steel drums, marimba, banjo, sitar and guitar in addition to their mainstays. “Reese” was written by Roscoe Mitchell while “The Smooth Ones” is a composition by Lester Bowie, but they flow into one another perfectly.

This record strikes me as harmonic and captivating with a great variety – quiet sections alternate with more dissonant, experimental parts. It’s another highly enjoyable putlet of the Art Ensemble and not as challenging as you might think – but maybe I just get used to this stuff.

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Pharoah Sanders – Izipho Zam (My Gifts) (1973)
Izipho Zam was recorded at the same time as Karma, but for some reason the release was pushed back four years.
The cast is impressive: Pharoah Sanders on saxophone and percussion, Sonny Fortune on alto saxophone, Cecil McBee on bass, Sirone (Norris Jones) on bass, Billy Hart and Majeed Shabazz on drums, Chief Bey on African drums, Sonny Sherrock on guitar, Nat Bettis and Tony Wylie on percussion, Lonnie Liston Smith on piano, Howard Johnson on Tuba (!) and Leon Thomas providing vocals and percussion. “Prince of Peace” is a poem theme of Leon Thomas which was also used on “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah” (on Jewels Of Thought) four years earlier and is as beautiful as the first one: highly spiritual, energetic, and embracing love and life. “Balance” is a funny title for one the most unbalanced songs ever – it’s aggressive and chaotic, and just a bad-ass song – who would have thought you would ever hear a Tuba on a track of Sanders and Sherrock? “Izipho Zam” is a 28-minute piece and beautifully experimental: Thomas’ contributes his unique yodeling, we have soulful sax pattern and wild outbreaks – Sonny Sherrock delivers a powerful guitar play which has no equal.

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McCoy Tyner – Sahara (1972, Milestone)
Sahara is an outstanding album which marks a phase in McCoy Tyners work where he finds his own pace.
The use of non-western instruments, such as the Japanese Koto and flute as well as the African influenced percussion, provides and intriguing contrast to the then omnipresent electric fusion.

Sahara is highly energetic and Tyner delivers ecstatic solos while all members (Sonny Fortune, Calvin Hill and Alphonze Mouzon) are playing very passionately together. “Valley of Life” features the beautiful instrumentation of the Japanese Koto and the 23-minute long title-track is one of my favorites of his work, taking you on an enigmatic journey into the urban Sahara which is pictured in the front of the album.

Check out the needle drops of the records above in the video below:

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