Poetry readings set to jazz improvisation is an old formula – Langston Hughes recorded with Mingus, Amiri Baraka with Sun Ra etc – and Haki’s poetry has the sort of jazzy dissonance and gritty urban discourse that work perfectly in this set up.
You might know Madhubuti as Don Lee, the founder of Third World Press, the largest independent black-owned press in the United States and publisher of texts by the likes of Gil Scott Heron, Gwendolyn Brooks and Amiri Baraka. Lee adopted the Swahili name Haki R. Madhubuti (Haki means “justice” and Madhubuti means “precise, accurate, and dependable.”) after traveling to Africa in the mid-seventies.
Haki had already honed up his jazz poetry chops on a seventies recording called "Rise Vision Comin’” and before then at performance events in 60’s Chicago, when he and Gwendolyn Brooks would show up at South Side bars and rap over resident jazz groups. No idea how those played out, but “Medasi” is superior to “Rise Vision”.
The track here is called "Children", and has one of those slightly frightening kids’ choruses. Think Lol Coxhill’s version of “I Am The Walrus”, or Stevie Wonder's "Black Man" or that scene in “The Birds” when Tippi Hedren lights a fag in the playground....but more excitable.
2. Hermeto Pascoal e Grupo - Lagoa da Canoa Município de Arapiraca
One of Brazil's truly idiosyncratic composer/musicians, Hermeto was once described by Miles Davis, that self-anointed arbiter of anything praiseworthy, as "one of the most important musicians on the planet".
He is a musician without borders. Calling Hermeto a multi-instrumentalist is a bit like calling Noam Chomsky ‘well read’. Hermeto is a piano/keyboard, accordion, guitar, saxophone and flute virtuoso, but is just as likely to be heard making music from spoons, napkins, kettles, his own beard, his wife’s teeth, sewing machines, pints of beer, chickens and pigs.
This is the wrong period for absolutely essential Hermeto - “Slaves Mass” from 1977, and the double album, “Live at Montreaux”, two years later – but it’s his most prolific decade and every album has at least a couple of inspired things. “Lagoa da Canoa” has several, yet even more memorable than the more ‘conventional’ songs are the radio samples that punctuate them. Everyone has heard overzealous Brazilian football commentators, but only Hermeto heard the music in their intonation. He calls this method of impersonating speech patterns in music form, ‘aura sound’, and there’s a great little clip on youtube - https://youtu.be/SrgveUpwCnM - of the process. Mago.
3. Johnny Dyani - Afrika (Steeplechase)
Johnny Dyani (bass, piano)
Thomas Dyani (congas)
Rudy Smith (steel drums)
Charles Davis (alto sax)
Ed Epstein (alto sax, tenor sax)
Thomas Östergren (bass)
Dyani has already featured on these lists – he also recorded the great ‘Song For Biko’ and ‘Witchdoctor’s Son’ right at the end of the previous decade – and “Afrika” is just one of a number of wicked little records he released on the Steeplechase label. This one has him in a septet rather than quartet and includes the incredible “Grandmother’s Son”; a borderline desert island disc.
In my opinion, Johnny Dyani is in the top few double bass players of all time. His technique is peerless, completely original and his thick tone is one of my favourite sounds in all of music. I can’t think of another musician who produced quite as many superb records over such a short period of time with so few people taking any notice.
No offence to Ron Carter (the highest profile upright bass/band leader then and now), but the sort of stuff he was dropping around this time sounds bloated and lacklustre compared to what Dyani was doing. Maybe it’s because he’s South African, but that didn’t stop Hugh Masekela or Abdullah Ibrahim, so…anyhow, fuck knows, maybe he’ll get his someday.
4. Geri Allen - The Printmakers (Minor)
Geri Allen (piano)
Andrew Cyrille (drums)
Anthony Cox (double bass)
This debut record suggested Geri Allen was going to be the next thing, but she backed off a little afterwards. It’s a puzzle too, as “The Printmakers” was the perfect antidote to the overly gentile piano-trio output of the day and Allen is just a sack full of ideas.
She has a genuinely expressive, personal voice. “Andrew” and "M's Heart" are proof that few pianists could really get to the essence of a ballad with as much conviction and daring as she could. She demonstrates variation and urgency in the mid to up-tempo pieces, particularly “When Kabuya Dances”, the title track and “Eric”, her tribute to Eric Dolphy.
Her default playing style is percussive, so she often sounds halfway between Andrew Hill and Monty Alexander. Allen is astute enough to tone it down some here though. She has Andrew Cyrille in the ranks, and you really don’t want to get in Cyrille’s way. Much of “The Printmakers” is the Cyrille show, and his mouth percussion and drum solo on the album’s opener has to be heard to be believed.
5. Nate Morgan - Retribution, Reparation (Nimbus)
Nate Morgan (piano) Danny Cortez (trumpet) Jesse Sharps (reeds) Joel Ector (bass) Fritz Wise (drums)
This makes it back-to-back ‘101’ appearances for Nate, and it’s a split decision between “Retribution, Reperation” and the previous year’s “Journey Into Nigrita”. “Retribution, Reparation” is more of the same; again, both concept and production are far closer to seventies Black Jazz and Strata-East records than anything in the mid-eighties. The stylistic tropes haven’t changed much either: Nate’s right-hand avalanches over rock solid grooves.
“Ret, Rep” is the more eclectic record though. I think each tune stands by itself; each tune is a story in it of itself. “Journey” is less varied, but works slightly better as a complete album. That said, the pacing here will be familiar to listeners of CTI or Kudu seventies releases; get the banger - “U.G.M.A.A.GER” in this case - out of the way early and embark on a nuanced journey from relatively muddy pieces like “Impulse” and “Mass Madness” to post-bop clarity (solid covers of Herbie Hancock’s “One Finger Snap” and Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” here).
More evidence that challenging music need not be about complicated time signatures and colourful instrumentation. Anyone can do that and still sound sterile... If they’re lucky. This is great, swinging improvisation from a master who’s playing had long been at a consistently higher level than his over publicized, less gifted peers.
Violinists might know more about Yoshio Suzuki than they initially realise. His old man was the owner of the famous Suzuki Violin Factory and his uncle is one of the world's chief violin teachers, and originator of the famed Suzuki Method.
In the jazz corner of the world, he is primarily known as a double bassist who occasionally recorded with American musicians like Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins and Art Blakey's Messengers. On this one, he’s mainly on acoustic/electric keyboards and often as a solo performer, overdubbing multiple keys with bass and programmed drums. Suzuki hasn’t made a compelling album since “Morning Picture”. It’s right up there with my best ‘blind finds’.
Although the rhythm section arrangements are identifiably jazz, “Morning Picture” is influenced as much by ambient electronic music - "Meet Me in the Sheep Meadow" could be a Cluster or Harmonia recording - and classical piano. “Valpolicella”, “Kane” and “The Mirage” are all stunning in their subtlety.
Not Shepp’s best playing but one of his strongest albums. It’s nothing like the free-jazz he was recording in the 60’s, which most likely explains why the critics took issue with it. Another reason is probably the title track, which initially comes over like a slowed down version of Miles Davis’ Black Satin, but is really a nod to what was going on at Def Jam in 84. Jazz folks weren’t allowed to like hip-hop, you see. Blame Wynton “It’s just cursing over a beat” Marsalis.
Shepp lands knee-deep into the blues on "The 4th World", there’s a meaty "Round About Midnight" here, and it’s nice to hear another version of Coltrane’s “Straight Street”. It’s one of Trane's least recorded compositions and the band – particularly bassist Saheb Sarbib - handle it well.
Only experience can buy these sorts of performances. They don’t play everything at every opportunity. They know when understatement and reserve can be used to the music’s advantage and every single track here is built up with the finesse of a great story teller.
One complaint: the album is at least 10 minutes too short.
8. Horace Silver - There Is No Need To Struggle (Silveto Records)
Horace Silver (vocal, piano)
Eddie Harris (vocal, tenor sax)
Bobby Shew (trumpet)
Carl Burnett (drums)
Bob Maize (double bass)
9. Billy Hart - Oshumare (Uptown Jazz)
Billy Hart (drums)
Dave Holland (bass)
Steve Coleman (alto sax)
Branford Marsalis (tenor sax)
Bill Frisell (electric guitar)
Kenny Kirkland (keyboards)
Didier Lockwood (violin)
Manolo Badrena (percussion)
10. Hamiet Bluiett - Ebu (Soul Note)
Hamiet Bluiett (baritone sax, alto clarinet)
John Hicks (piano)
Fred Hopkins (bass)
Marvin "Smitty" Smith (drums)
The big sound from way out. Hamiet Bluiett’s tenor-sounding baritone is never ever dull. Bluiett’s “Ebu” has a plenty going for it. A handful of intelligent original compositions, as attentive a rhythm section as you’ll hear, and a riotous reading of ‘Night in Tunisia’ (far stronger than his ‘Live At Carlos 1’ version 2 years later) that deserves to be better known than it is.
“Ebu” is maybe too diverse to maintain any real focus, but I don’t listen to Bluiett for precision or narrative continuity. A fierce and risky sound is his currency and although he uses his customary high notes sparingly on this one, the results are as fiery as ever.
If you‘re looking for pitch perfect phrasing and articulation then you missed a couple of stops. Turn back and get off at either Mulligan Street or Pepper Junction. Let me be clear; I have plenty of time for those guys as players, but nobody can touch Bluiett for range and feel.