101 Miracles of Eighties Jazz: Pt 3 (1982)

1. Griot Galaxy – Kins (B&W Records)

Jaribu Shahid (Acoustic & Electric Bass), Tani Tabbal (Drums),

David McMurray (Flute, Tenor, Alto & Soprano Sax) ,

Anthony Holland (Alto & Soprano Sax), Faruq Z. Bey (Tenor & Alt Sax)

In these “Searching For (insert name of forgotten musician)” times, Griot Galaxy's story is surely a candidate for cine-documentary.

A Faruq Bey-led collective, Griot Galaxy played together for over a decade before finally putting down an album. “Kins”, released on a small Detroit label, remains their only studio release (apart from an appearance on Phil Ranelin’s 1976 “Vibes From the Tribe” LP), and inadvertently signalled the beginning of their misfortune.

The initial response to “Kins” test pressings suggested ‘instant classic’ status was round the corner, sadly, due to a run of calamities too depressing to detail here, most of the official pressings were lost to the Detroit city dump yard. This is both why the album is so scarce, and Griot Galaxy’s exposure to a wider audience is so limited.

Fast forward a few years and things took a turn for the near-tragic, when Faruq was forced to leave the band after a motorcycle accident left him in a coma. He would return to playing years later, but that was the end of Griot Galaxy.

It’s a pity too because “Kins” is dynamite and establishes Griot Galaxy as much more than a Arkestra/ Art Ensemble of Chicago derivative.

2. Mike Nock – Ondas (ECM)

Mike Nock (piano, percussion),

Eddie Gómez (bass),

Jon Christensen (drums)

ECM sure as hell don’t do funky. Their sound, much like their album art concept, is best described as ‘stark’. New Zealander Nock’s album serves as a reliable example of this meditative, introspective sound, and a reminder of why everyone from Julian Cope to Radiohead wanted to get into bed with ECM founder/producer Manfred Eicher.

Take the first piece; ‘Shadows of Forgotten Love’. Nock had already recorded it on his ‘In Out and Around’ album four years previously, but still speaks of an almost transcendental experience of doing it on Manfred’s clock.

“Manfred had his own vision for the piece, suggesting I just play the first 16 bars and forget about the bridge section. We finished the first take and I saw Manfred gesticulating wildly in the control room for us to continue - which we did and which you can actually hear on the recording. It was all very spontaneous and a wonderfully unusual collaborative experience for me.”

I’m split on the ECM debate. I’m not naturally drawn towards its autumnal - at times almost joyless – sound, and a lot of the vitality I look for in jazz recordings seems to be quite consciously frozen out. Records like this one are a treasure though, and cannot be found anywhere else. Subtly composed, mysterious, full of textures and silence. "Ondas", Portuguese for waves, is about right.

3. Melvin Sparks – Sparkling (Muse)

Melvin Sparks (Guitar),

Idris Muhammed (Drums),

Neal Creque (Piano),

Buster Williams (Bass)

Recording dates like this one were 10-a-penny in the late 60s/early-70s when guys like Grant Green and O’Donel Levy were burnin’, but it comes as a surprise to hear this sort of untempered soul-jazz thing going on in 1982. Sparks himself was a serious contender in that era, often playing on Prestige records behind one of the label’s marquee Hammond organ guys.

Those were the salad days, but even then, I don’t recall Sparks bringing it like he does on this record. My slight preference for guitar with piano over guitar with organ may be clouding my judgement, but if you’re looking for greater evidence, then just listen to the way he chases the melody on ‘Hasaan’, before stepping aside for Creque to throw down some Tynerisms. His Latin angle on Kurt Weil’s ‘Speak Low’ is no less inventive.

4. Sun Ra - Nuclear War (Music Box)

Sun Ra (Organ, Piano, Synthesizer, Vocals), John Gilmore (Tenor Sax), June Tyson (Vocals), Danny Ray Thompson (Bari Sax) Marshall Allen (Flute), Tyron Hill (Trombone), Walter Miller (Trumpet), Vincent Chancey (French Horn) Atakatune (Perc), Samarai Celestial (Drums), James Jacson (Bassoon,Infinity Drums), Marshall Allen (Alto Saxophone) , Hayes Burnett (Bass)

It’s now common knowledge that Sun Ra believed "Nuclear war, it's a motherfucker, don't you know, if they push that button, your ass gotta go, and whatcha gonna do without your ass?" would be a hit. That he took it to Colombia Records, was laughed at, before eventually licensing it to a British post-punk label where it was released with the exquisite "Sometimes I'm Happy" as a vinyl 12". The single was so poorly marketed that it barely sold and it took two more years before it was eventually released as part an album. In Italy. All enough to depress anybody, even one as resilient as Sun Ra.

Well, it’s at least comforting to know that the music industry and public were as confused then as they are now. I think they let the tortoise get away on this one. ‘Nuclear War’ the single should have been an early protest hip-hop classic. ‘Nuclear War’ the album is one of the hardest Sun Ra albums to find, but one of the easiest to love. If anything, there are almost too many good things going on this record; the music is so fresh and imaginative that it demands multiple listens.

The album has narrative, albeit obtuse Sun Ra narrative. He begins with the dark, call and response title track, he then throws in a succession of jaunty pieces (‘Drop Me off in Harlem’, ‘Sometimes I’m Happy’, ‘Nameless One No 2’) , before finishing with June Tyson’s bittersweet stab at ‘Smile’, used to much the same effect here as in Charlie Chaplin’s satire on progress, “Modern Times”.

One more thing: The production on this album is absolutely perfect.

5. Chet Baker - Peace (Enja)

Chet Baker (Trumpet), David Friedman (Vibes, Marimba), Buster Williams (Bass), Joe Chambers (Drums)

Ideal, clear as crystal, studio sound. Ideal for Chet Baker, anyway.

Although I like his singing, his voice is sometimes so reedy that it becomes difficult to separate from his playing, which I think has resulted in a slight under-appreciation of Chet Baker the trumpeter. On ‘Peace’, as on a lot of his ‘Comeback Years’ (70s and 80s) records, Chet is all trumpet. The more i hear, the more i believe he saved his most challenging music for this his final decade.

As Chet got older, he began complaining that the music was too loud, so here he dispenses with piano altogether, and drummer Joe Chambers is mainly on brushes. This gives plenty of floor space to vibraphone/marimba player Friedman, who’s strong playing demands that Chet up his game (no easy task for a guy who’d by then resorted to shooting six grams of high-grade heroin a day into his scrotum). He meets the challenge, particularly on "Lament for Thelonious", written and recorded directly after Monk's death.

Absolutely highest recommendation.

6. Bobby Hutcherson – Solo/Quartet (Contemporary)

Bobby Hutcherson (vibes, marimba, xylophone, bells, chimes, boo-bam), McCoy Tyner (piano), Herbie Lewis (bass), Billy Higgins (drums), John Koenig (bells)

Check out that cover. Looking like Billy Ocean up in this piece.

As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, a lot of these album covers aren’t easy on the eye, which often means they’re kind on the pocket. There was a time when if you didn’t find this record in the £1 section, you weren’t in the £1 section. More fool the record shop.

'Solo/Quartet' is a reconvening of most of the guys that recorded ‘Stick-Up’ in 1968, and this could well be Hutcherson’s strongest session since that one.

Hutcherson plays half of the album as part of a quartet, and the rest as solo overdubs. The solo percussion stuff is particularly resourceful and inventive -not unlike Max Roach’s ‘M’Boom’ records or even Harry Partch (Hutcherson is a more exciting player than both though) - and the quartet tracks are magic, in particular the two originals "La Alhambra" and "Messina".

7. Bob Moses - When Elephants Dream of Music (Gramavision)

B Moses (Comp/Arran) M Formanek (Bass),P Socolow (E Bass), S Swallow (E Db Bass), H Johnson (Tub, Clar),T Hino (Cornet), J Steig (Flute), B Frisell (E Guit) A Dieng, N Vasconcelos, J Bonadio (Perc), D Gross (A Sax), J Pepper, D Halliday (T Sax), L Mays (Syth), B Rogers (Trmb), C Rogers (Trum), D Friedman (Vibes, Marim) J Lee, M Cowings, S Jordan(Voc)

I found this outside a book shop in Mulhouse, France; the only record in a batch of around 50 that wasn’t toasted on both sides. I only knew Moses from Metheny’s ‘Bright Size Life’ and as a drummer on a few Rahsaan records, but once I read Jeanne Lee and Jeremy Steig on the back sleeve, that was that. Sold.

As it turned out, Moses composes and arranges here and the other two just stop by for the odd track.I’d later discover that Moses’ parents lived in the same building as Rahsaan, Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln and used to offer shelter to struggling jazz musicians. Charles Mingus was a regular visitor and would often play piano and drum duets with the 13 year old Moses. You can tell too. The Rahsaan influence is here, no doubt, but this is the only record after Charles Mingus died that reminds me of Mingus. Not so much the actual sound, but there’s a bit of that Mingus humour in the arrangements. I appreciate it’s sort of boring reading explanations of why or how something is funny though; you’ll know when you get there.

This is some of the freshest, riskiest big band music I know. But it isn't overly abstract and it’s much more fun than, for example, Carla Bley’s records from the same period.

8. Defunkt - Thermonuclear Sweat (Hannibal)

Joseph Bowie (Trombone, Lead Vocals), John Mulkerin (Trumpet),

Kim Clarke (Bass),

Kenny Martin (Drums)

Kelvyn Bell, Richard Martin,Vernon Reid (Guitar),

Dave Hubbard (Sax)

Clarice Taylor (Vocals)

I had to include Defunkt. These guys are great, but critics seem unable to decide what genre they fit into, so they’ve been sort of left behind; though you could argue that any band doing a ‘For The Love Of Money’ with Spandau Ballet's ‘Chant No. 1’ mash-up bring it upon themselves.

Seriously, I’m not sure why all the confusion. They are a jazz band! ‘Big Bird’ or ‘Cocktail Hour’ from this record, are blatantly jazz, and I’d argue that the funkier jams – the ones that land Defunkt in the Soul/Funk or Post-Punk (stupid term) – are even closer to the ethos and stylings of large-ensemble jazz music.

Maybe it’s that JB’s thing they have going on that confuses people, in which case these ‘experts’ might care to study Jazz trends A.J.B (After James Brown).

9. Don Cherry & Ed Blackwell - El Corazon (ECM)

Don Cherry (trumpet, melodica, organ, piano, pocket trumpet)

Ed Blackwell (drums, wood drum, cowbell)

Standout ECM offering from two of the more interesting Ornette-schooled players.

I associate ECM’s chamber sound with harmonically rich, pared down arrangements, yet although Cherry and Blackwell are noticeably more relaxed than on their late 60s release, “Mu”, the music on “El Corazon” is even more eclectic. The engineering is perfectly attuned to the pair’s reggae and “world music” (hey, I didn’t invent the term) forays, yet the feel remains trademark Eisner, making for a unique soundscape.

Blackwell - who was seriously ill around this period - sounds as melodic as I’ve heard him and Cherry plays one of his greatest recorded solos on "Voice of the Silence". Like Jack De Johnette on “Equipoise” (1969), Cherry also shows himself to be a highly adept melodica player on the astonishing tribute to Skatalites saxophonist “Roland Alphonso”. That piece would propel just about any 6/10 record to an 8, so imagine what it does to a date that opens with an adventurous four song blend – including Monk’s “Bemsha Swing”, the hypnotic percussion-fest “Near-In”, and the Kalimba-led jamboree “Makondi”.

10. Pharoah Sanders - Heart is a Melody (Theresa Records)

Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax, vocals), William Henderson (piano), John Heard (bass), Idris Muhammad (drums), Paul Arslanian (bells, whistle), Andy Bey (vocal)

Whenever I discuss favourite musicians, it can take upwards of 20 minutes (if at all) for Pharaoh Sanders to get a mention, but he’s now featured on all three eighties lists, so I’d do well to remember that next time.

This one’s a live recording, from Keystone Korner in San Francisco and it’s pretty wild. There's a thunderous 22-minute rendition of John Coltrane's ‘Ole’ to start with, before things cool down a little on ‘Misty Night’. Next up is the glorious title track, before finishing up with ‘Goin' To Africa’, a West African highlife tune which features Pharaoh – and the audience - on vocals.

That title track uses a choir in a not too dissimilar way to Donald Byrd’s ‘New Perspective’ album. Most wanky, elitist ‘jazz lovers’ hate that album because of the vocals – as if jazz has no roots in Gospel music - and I imagine they feel the same way about this piece. Anyway, those people need to talk a long walk.

George Nelson

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