Seeking greater variety and a different set of ears, I’ve asked my friend, Bob Cornwell, crime reviewer and fellow jazz fan, to send along the fruits of his iPod shuffle, these particular tracks emerging as he was cutting the foot-long grass in his back garden.
• The Long Waiting : Kenny Wheeler Big Band
• Sad Mood : Sam Cooke (1960)
• Hager Fikier : Mulatu Astatke with Step Ahead
• Like a Fool : Shelby Lynne
• The Monarch and the Milkweed : Maria Schneider Orchestra
• He Was Too Good to Me : Helen Merrill
• Don’t Lose Faith in Me : Chrissie Hynde
• Wasn’t Expecting That : Jamie Lawson (2015)
• No Easy Way Down : Dusty Springfield
• Out of Nowhere : Pee Wee Russell (Nat Pierce on piano)
• She’s Funny That Way : Lester Young with Joe Albany
• Danza Ritual del Fuego : Paco de Lucia with Grupo Dolores (including his brother, known professionally as Ramón De Algeciras)
First, the three contrasting big (or biggish) band tracks. Kenny Wheeler’s The Long Waiting was his penultimate recording, two years before his death in 2014, The title track features a gloriously brassy but light-footed all-star ensemble fleshed out (Norma Winstone-style) by Italian vocalist Diana Torto, with solos by Ray Warleigh on alto, and Kenny, marvellously expressive, if a little wobbly here and there (he was 82 at the time).
The Mulatu Astatke title is of a traditional Ethiopian theme with solos by Astatke on vibes, James Arben on flute and a range of Ethiopian percussion. Elsewhere on the record is John Edwards on bass, Byron Wallen on trumpet Alexander Hawkins on piano and Tom Skinner on drums. Just prior to its purchase I had heard Rowland Sutherland’s challenging ‘re-envisioning’ of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme at the Union Chapel in December 2014, probably the most exhilarating jazz gig I had heard since, well, the first visit here of Maria Schneider’s New York band in 2006. So much recent jazz, perhaps too European or classically influenced, seemed to me to be lacking in vigour. As well as the Astatke record, glorious gigs by the Sun Ra band (under the direction of Marshall Allen) and by the revitalised Louis Moholo-Moholo unit followed. The latter also features Hawkins, Edwards and the never less than vigorous Jason Yarde. (Don’t miss them at Ronnies, along with Shabaka Hutchings on 13/14 June).
There is too much classical influence, it has been suggested, in The Thompson Fields, the new (Emmy Award winning) Maria Schneider album. Maybe, but for me, this is the most moving big band album I have ever heard (just listen in sequence to Walking by Flashlight, The Thompson Fields and Home). Here, in a meditation on ‘mystifyingly complex relationships in nature’, the Monarch (Butterfly) is represented by Marshall Gilkes (trombone) and (no offence Greg!) the Milkweed by Greg Gilbert (fluegelhorn). When jazz combines thrillingly with classical influences like this, maybe that’s just what we should do. Meditate on the mystifyingly complex relationship between the two…
Finally the spectre at the wedding: Gil Evans. Gil is surely somewhere in the mix for Kenny Wheeler; Gil is cited as an influence by Mulatu Astatke, and where would Maria Schneider be without Gil? Back in 1956 Gil Evans completed the first album for which he wrote all the arrangements. It was for the unique voice of Helen Merrill (once credited by Miles Davis for his close-to-the-mike muted trumpet technique). Thirty odd years later, the pair assembled a completely new personnel and re-recorded an almost-identical programme with similar arrangements. The comparisons with the earlier versions are never less than fascinating (and pleasurable). But for me, the later versions, as in this beautiful Rogers & Hart song, Merrill’s even more exquisite interpretations have the edge.
Jamie Lawson? A selection by my 11-year old grand-daughter. [13 million views on YouTube] Go on, admit it, it’s rather good. Dusty and Lester, no list is complete without them…