Various: Spiritual Jazz 13 – NOW! (Parts One & Two)

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I’ve long enjoyed – and learnt much from – Jazzman’s various Spiritual Jazz releases. A particular favourite is volume 3, which profiles what the sleeve calls “Modal, Esoteric And European Jazz From The European Underground 1963-1971” with, a.o., Joki Freund, Palle Mikkelborg, Dusko Goykovich, Jan Allan and Albert Mangelsdorff.

Nordic jazz is represented here in the diversely crafted pieces Suite Meets by Jimi Tenor (ts, p, b) and his riffing, percussion-fired Kabukabu sextet; flautist and multi-instrumentalist Oiro Pena’s solo and multi-tracked Nimetön, and the Teemu Akerblom Quartet’s Avo’s Tune – all from Finland. Jonas Kullhammar’s Paris finds the Swedish multi-instrumentalist (and producer) leading a quintet with, a.o. Goran Kajfes (t) and Mattias Stahl (vib) on the sort of mellow and potent modal outing which typifies much of the music of this release.

Produced and compiled by Gerald Short, the two-part Spiritual Jazz 13 embraces a considerable territorial range. Part One deals with the Netherlands and the UK, Spain, Finland, Belgium, the USA and South Africa, while Part Two covers Canada, Germany, Italy, Australia, Finland, the UK, Sweden and the USA. As previously, production values impress – apart from the minuscule type used for personnel details: my apologies for any errors here. Further contextual detail, including good black and white photographs, complements Kevin Le Gendre’s thoughtful overview essay. Printed in both volumes with appropriately different photographs, Le Gendre’s essay argues for the contemporary and worldwide relevance of an updated free-jazz tradition, the roots of which he sets chiefly in the modally oriented avant-garde work of the 1960s.

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The informed and incisive perception Le Gendre brings to bear made me wish that he had at least raised the issue of why it is that modal frameworks for improvisation are so regularly linked to the notion of an often loosely defined spirituality – that “Universal Consciousness” which meant so much to Alice and John Coltrane. Presumably (some? all?) modality suits, or may engender, an ultimately shamanic longing to be simultaneously deeply rooted and free to expand, to fly.

Whatever: the modal mood of the compelling medium-up title track from Italian alto and soprano saxophonist Carla Marciano’s Trane’s Groove of 2001 joins legendary drummer Steve Reid’s For Coltrane from his Spirit Walk of 2005 in giving the most immediate indication of the overall ethos of these two sets: hear also the laid-back yet burgeoning power of the hypnotic Vessels, one of my favourite pieces here, from a strong American quartet led by Jamie Saft (p) and featuring excellent tenor saxophone from Bill McHenry.

The continuing influence of Coltrane’s contemporaries Pharoah Sanders and Albert Ayler (especially the former) is scarcely less evident: sample the dignified grandeur which unites Echoes Of Ancient Sahara by Darryl Yokley’s Sound Reformation and Memory Ritual by Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids. There is also evidence of the long-fructifying inspiration of Sun Ra. An especially welcome aspect of these albums is the exposure they give to the contemporary creativity of the Chicago scene once epitomised by the heliocentric master: sample distinctive, striking tracks here from Ackamoor, David Boykin, Makaya McCraven, Angel Bat Dawid and Damon Locks.

Locks’ lightly funky, protesting and captivating Sounds Like Now, rendered in good part by the vocal sextet within his Black Monument Ensemble, is one of a considerable number of pieces which feature diverse vocal sonorities, embracing jazz vocal, spoken word and chant: witness Ebony Rose’s sensuous, probing albeit liquidly turned work on the brooding shuffle-vamp that is Empty Streets by Vibration Black Finger (which features British drummer and percussionist Lascalle “Lascelles” Gordon); the spoken ballad that is Abeeku’s Slow Sweet Burn, Isla Craig’s vocalese on Palms To Heaven by The Cosmic Range, the loose call and response figures of the Pyramids’ aforementioned Memory Ritual, the more measured invocations of The Observer by Shabaka Hutchins & The Ancestors, which features some excellent young South African musicians, and What Do I Tell My Children Who Are Black (Dr. Margaret Burroughs). The last is an eerily effective, classically inflected multi-tracked lament/protest of some three minutes, by sometime hip-hop artist Angel Bat Dawid (v, elp) where the spirit (if not the sound) of Maya Angelou is in the air.

As Le Gendre points out, many of the musicians represented on these sets happily – and successfully – season their improvisations with the textures and sounds available through modern audio software. And, indeed, if the music here is largely modal in nature, its tones and textures are as pleasingly diverse as its moods.

Compare the growling opening heterophony and subsequent ostinato pulse of the densely layered Palms To Heaven by the Canadian octet The Cosmic Range with the airy quality which infuses some pieces taken from the British scene, such as Wildflower’s bass-groove underpinned Flute Song (featuring Idris Rahman) and flautist Chip Wickham’s Yusef Lateef-touched rubato reflections on the haunting Shamal Wind. There’s many a rewarding creative mile between the lightly dub-inflected atmosphere which envelops the gently questing flute of Nathan Daems – further echoes of Lateef – on the Ethiopian-oriented Winter by the Antwerp-based Black Flower, and the liquidly sprung and swinging Nova by the Australian Menagerie ensemble, led by Lance Ferguson and featuring fine Tyneresque piano from Mark Fitzgibbon.

The intimate and organic figures of the Vancouver-raised, New York-domiciled pianist Cat Toren’s Soul, featuring her Humankind quintet with Yoshie Fruchter (oud) and Xavier Del Castillo (ts); the bustling Coltrane-fired tenor of Matthew Halsall associate Nat Birchall on The Black Ark; the joyous, relaxed yet driving pizzicato bass of Junius Paul in drummer Makaya McCraven’s deliciously funky and all-too-brief Gnawa: all bear testimony to the breadth and depth of research which informs this most estimable endeavour, as enjoyable throughout as it is both inspiring and educational. An essential issue.

Discography
CD 1/Part One: (1) Lizard Waltz; (2) An Angel Fell; (3) The Black Ark; (4) Shamal Wind; (5) Suite Meets; (6) Winter; (7) Echoes Of Ancient Sahara; (8) Sounds Like Now; (9) Nineton; (10) Soul; (11) Wisdom Of Elders; (12) Gnawa (79.23)
Benjamin Herman (ss); Reinier Boas (elg); Peter Peskens (b); Olav van der Berg (d). (2) Idris Ackamoor (v, ts, kyb); Sandra Poindexter (v, vn); David Molina ( v, elg, effects); Skyler Stover (b, v); Johann Polzer (d); Brodie Speller (cga, pc). (3) Nat Birchall (ts); Adam Fairhall (p); Jon Thorne (b); Nick Blacka (b); Paul Hession (d); Andy Hay (d, pc). (4) Chip Wickham (f, bar); Ton Risco (vib); Phil Wilkinson (p); David Salvador (b); Antonio Alvarez Pax (d); David “El Indio” (pc). (5) Jimi Tenor (sax, p, b); Jay Kortehisto (tb); Daniel Allen Oberto (t, pc); Akinola Fason (pc); Ekow Alabi Savage (pc). (6) Nathan Doems (f); Jon Birdsong (c); Wouter Haest (kyb); Filip Vanderbril (b); Simon Segers (d). (7) Darryl Yokley (ts); Zaccai Curtis (p); Luques Curtis (b); Wayne Smith Jr, (d). (8) Damon Locks (elec, pc, v); Locks, Eric McCarter, Lauren Robinson, Monique Golding, Tramaine Parker (v); Abgel Bat Dawid (cl); Dana Hall (d, pc); Arif Smith (pc). (9) Oiro Pena (f, ts, p, b, pc). (10) Cat Toren (p, elp); Xavier Del Castillo (ts); Yoshie Fruchter (oud); Jake Leckie (b); Matt Honor (d). (11) Shabaka Hurchings (ts); Mthunzi Mvubu (as); Mandla Mlangeni (t); Siybonga Mthembu (v); Nduduzo Makhathini (elp); Ariel Zamonsky (b); Tuni Mogorosi (d); Gontse Makhene (pc). (12) Makaya McCraven (d); Junius Paul (b); Justin Justefan Thomas (vib). Various locations, 2012-2019.
CD2/Part Two: (1) Palms To Heaven; (2) Empty Streets; (3) Slow Sweet Burn; (4) Flute Song; (5) Memory Ritual; (6) For Coltrane; (7) Trane’s Groove; (8) What Do I Tell My Children Who Are Black (Dr. Margaret Burroughs); (9) Nova; (10) Avo’s Tune; (11) Vessels; (12) Paris ( 76.11)
Isla Craig (v); Andy Haas (s); Mike Smith (syn, cvt); Jonathan Adjemian (syn, elp); Matthew Dunn (org, vib); Maximilian Turnball (elg); Kieran Adams (d); Brandon Valdivia (cga, pc). (2) Lascelle Gordon (d, pc, elec); Ebony Rose (v); Julie Kjaer (f); Rod Skeaping (vn); Jon Clayton (syn); Sean Pereira (elg); Pete Ma (b); Patrick Dawes (pc). (3) David Boykin (ts); Abeeku (v); Jim Baker (p); Alex Wing (elg); Josh Abrams (b); Marcus Evans (d). (4) Idris Rahman (f) Leon Brichard (b); Tom Skinner (d). (5) Idris Ackamoor (as, pc); The Pyramids (v); Brodie Speller ( elec, cga, pc); Kenneth Nash (d, pc, v). (6) Steve Reid (d); Nathaniel Catchpole ( ts); Neil Kleiner (ts, pc); Chuck Henderson (ss); Tony Bevan (bass s); Boris Netsvetaev (kyb), Kieran Hebden (elec); John Edwards (b). (7) Carla Marciano (as, ss); Alessandro La Corte (p); Aldo Vigorito ( (b); Donato Cimoglia (d). (8) Angel Bat Dawid (v, cl, p, elp). (9) Lance Ferguson (elg, v); Fallon Williams, Jade MaCrae (v); Phil Noy (ts, as, ss); Ross Irwin (t); Mark Fitzgibbon (p, elp); Michael Meagher (b); Rory McDougall (d); Javier Fredes (pc); John Castle (tam). (10) Teaemu Akerblom (b); Ville Vannemaa (ts); Max Zenger (f); Mikko Sarlin (d). (11) Jamie Saft (p); Bill McHenry (ts); Bradley Christopher Jones (b); Nasheet Waits (d). (12) Jonas Kullhammar (ts); Goran Kajfes (t); Mattias Stahl (vib); Torbjorn Zetterberg (b); Johan Holmegard (d). Various locations, 2002-2019.
Jazzman JMANCD 126 /127

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