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Posts from the ‘Jazz’ Category

Bookshelf 2: John Tchicai

John Tchicai arrived in New York from his native Denmark in December 1962. Over the next three and a half years the sound of his saxophone became one of the most distinctive elements in jazz’s turbulent New Wave. He was a member of two foundational combos, the New York Contemporary Five and the New York Art Quartet, and took part in New York’s celebrated October Revolution in Jazz in 1964. He appeared with John Coltrane on Ascension, with Archie Shepp on Four for Trane, with Albert Ayler and Don Cherry on New York Eye and Ear Control, and on the first album by the Jazz Composers Orchestra. Then he went home, with other work to do.

Home turned out not to be just Copenhagen, where he founded the group Cadentia Nova Danica. In the years to come he would live in an artists’ colony in Switzerland; in Northern California, where he taught at Davis University; and, from 2001 until his death in 2012, a small village near Perpignan, on the French side of the Pyrenees. His extensive travels also included visits to India, Afghanistan, Iran, Japan, Sierra Leone and Mexico.

The bands he played in and the recordings he made were many. But of equal importance were the lessons and workshops he gave, sharing with young musicians the philosophy developed during the years in which a man born in 1936 to a Danish mother and a Congolese father absorbed musical ideas from around the world.

It was at a workshop in Rotterdam in 1989 that he met Margriet Naber, a young Dutch musician who became his fourth wife and his collaborator for 20 years. She was with him in California — where they had a band called the Archetypes — and France, and although they split up in 2009 and eventually divorced, they continued to live in the same village and she was with him when he died in a nursing home following a stroke. It is from their conversations, her very clear memories and the material he left behind that she has assembled a book which answers the description of a biography in conventional terms but is also, thanks to the close personal and artistic relationship between the author and her subject, something more.

Tchicai’s stories of growing up as a mixed-race boy in a white world are fascinating. His much older half-brother, Kaj Timmermann, formed a popular band called the Harlem Kiddies in 1940, and in 1953 John saw the Stan Kenton Orchestra in Copenhagen. It was hearing Lee Konitz with Kenton that inspired him to take up the alto saxophone, leaving an influence on the lighter, purer sound that made Tchicai’s own alto stand out amid the maelstrom of 1960s free jazz.

Although his many adventures and countless collaborations are part of the narrative, this is not the place to look for a deep analysis of his music. Instead Naber gives us insights into his thoughts and his teaching methods. Like John Stevens (with whom he played at a famous Cambridge concert with Yoko Ono and John Lennon in 1969), Tchicai favoured an open and practical approach that encouraged musicians of all levels of ability to express themselves though improvisation, illustrated by the score of a piece which gives the book its title: “A Chaos with Some Kind of Order”. From another example, his instructions are very similar to those Stevens used to give: “…try to anticipate and play some of the same tones in the same moment as other players would do them…”

Poetry was important to Tchicai. He wrote it — a few of his poems are included — and he recited it in his beautifully modulated voice. Naber tells us that he only consented to record with John Coxon and Ashley Wales (of Spring Heel Jack) in 2005 if they agreed to let him read Steve Dalachinsky’s “These Pink Roses”, which appeared as a kind of epilogue to the wonderful album called John Tchicai with Strings. Naber uses appendices to give us his advice on improvising and on building a set list, lead sheets of a handful of his tunes, and an outline discography.

Tchicai also looked after himself, through yoga and other practices. Naber describes his routine: “He got up around 6am and sat down for a meditation of around an hour. Then he would make some tea and a piece of rye bread for breakfast before doing more exercises, for instance pranayama (yoga/breathing exercises). That could also take an hour. After that, he’d eat some more and tend to work. Sometimes this would be musical work, working with notes, with an instrument, a piece of paper, his keyboard or sequencer. Sometimes it would be business work, like writing letters. When he was done with that, often it was lunchtime and John liked to have a hot meal for lunch. We took turns cooking meals. In the afternoon he’d go out to get some air and do chores like going to the post office or to the copyshop to make photocopies of charts and send them to musicians he played with. Or he’d go into nature. In the evening he went to hear music, watched a movie on television, or turned back to music to continue working. He didn’t go to bed late, didn’t smoke and didn’t drink much alcohol. This was John’s rhythm. When he was on tour he also tried to maintain it as much as possible, at least by doing a meditation in the morning. He was always busy, and often it was work-related, but it was always in a relaxed way. He played his musical rhythms in a relaxed way and he did the same with his life-rhythm. It was a nice rhythm to live next to…”

Remembering all the pleasure John’s music gave me on record since the early ’60s and in live performance from the first encounter in Berlin in 1969 to the last at Cafe Oto in 2009, I was delighted to respond to Naber’s request to read and comment on her manuscript before publication. I was able to give a little help, but she had it all there. It’s her great feeling for what he represented, as well as her diligence and persistence, that courses through this intimate and valuable account of his life and work.

* John Tchicai: A Chaos with Some Kind of Order by Margriet Naber is published by Ear Heart Mind Media and is available from http://www.johntchicai.com. John Tchicai with Strings is on the Treader label. The drawing of Tchicai is by the Dutch artist Marte Röling and is from the cover of Mohawk, a 1965 album by the New York Art Quartet, originally released on Fontana.

Bookshelf 1: Don Cherry

The world needs a really great Don Cherry biography, one that would do full justice to the story of the man whose collaboration with Ornette Coleman brought a completely new set of attitudes to the business of playing jazz at the end of the 1950s and who then, rather than polishing his laurels, set out on a long and eventful mission to explore the music of the world. Until someone approaches the task with the sort the depth and sensitivity that characterised Robin D. G. Kelley’s study of Thelonious Monk or John Szwed’s Miles Davis biog, a new anthology titled Organic Music Societies will do to be going on with.

A 496-page compendium of pieces, poems, photographs and artwork, it was compiled and edited by Lawrence Kumpf — the curator of the Cecil Taylor exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York five years ago — with Naima Karlsson (Cherry’s granddaughter) and the writer Magnus Nygren, and published by Kumpf’s Brooklyn-based Blank Forms imprint. Writings by early champions Keith Knox and Rita Knox, the Swedish artist and musician Christer Bothén, the curator Ruba Katrib, the music historian Ben Young and the academic Fumi Okiji sit alongside contributions from Moki Cherry, Don’s wife, and Neneh Cherry, his stepdaughter.

It’s full of fascinating stuff, much of it coming from several interviews with Cherry conducted by Knox. In one lengthy reminiscence, he talks about Miles Davis borrowing his pocket trumpet to play on a gig in California, and about Monk coming to see the Coleman quartet at the Five Spot in 1959. Discussing the Argentinian tenorist Gato Barbieri, a member of his band in the ’60s, he says: “Gato is a fantastic man. He’s got so much love in him, automatically in his sound, and he’s paid a lot of dues, he’s come a long way from where he’s from, down in Buenos Aires. You can hear that in his sound — it’s one of those sounds that puts the wind in your face.”

One of those sounds that puts the wind in your face. What a great thing to say, and somehow it seems very typical of the way Cherry heard and felt music, as a part of the elements of the natural world — the response of a man who took as much pleasure from playing the doussn’gouni, the African hunter’s harp, as from his trumpet. Thanks to what he discovered during his travels to Turkey, Morocco, Sweden and elsewhere, he collapsed the distance between the supposedly primitive and the supposedly sophisticated more effectively than any musician I can think of.

There are diaries, a piece on Pandit Pran Nath and an interview with Terry Riley, a conversation with Cherry about his term as artist in residence at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and a description by Moki of her background in Sweden and how she and Don met in Stockholm in 1963 and what happened next. I suppose you could say it’s a bit of a random selection, but the parts are tied together by the visual element, which includes a large number of interesting photos and a lot of the paintings, fabrics and tapestries with which Moki gave such a strong flavour to her husband’s work when they were used as stage backdrops, costumes, posters and flyers and on the covers of albums like Mu First and Second Parts, Relativity Suite and Organic Music Society.

If the book has a strong flavour of the children-at-play utopianism of the ’60s, when many of the pieces were first published, so be it. You might feel, after leafing through it, that even now, against all the odds, utopianism deserves its chance.

* Organic Music Societies can be ordered from the publisher at http://www.blankforms.org ($20 paperback, $60 hardback). The photograph of Don Cherry is from the book and was taken by Moki Cherry.

The way of the flowers

A year and a half before his death in 2015 at the age of 75, the pianist Masabumi Kikuchi entered a recording studio for the last time. At the behest of the producer Sun Chung, he spent two days recording the series of solo pieces that make up Hanamichi, the final statement of a remarkable musician.

This certainly qualifies as the kind of late work in which ageing artists refine their work to the point where only the essence is left visible. Kikuchi started out playing conventional jazz, went through a fusion period, and eventually found a truly original voice. From the start of the 1990s he became engaged in a process of stripping away all ornamentation from his playing, something that became apparent in the 1990s in First Meeting, the debut album of Tethered Moon, the trio in which he was joined by the bassist Gary Peacock and the drummer Paul Motian, and in his solo albums, Attached, After Hours, After Hours 2, Melancholy Gil, and M. Two albums released in the last decade — Sunrise, a trio with Motian and the bassist Thomas Morgan, and a solo concert titled Black Orpheus — brought his discoveries to a wider audience.

Without wishing to fall for a cultural stereotype, it can fairly be said that Kikuchi’s playing in his final years recalled the process of Japanese calligraphy described by Bill Evans in his notes for Kind of Blue: the careful preparation of the brush and the ink and the stretching of the parchment, followed by the single spontaneous and indelible gesture. As he slowed his playing right down to the speed of meditation, weighting each note and balancing each phrase, obsessively repeating the lines of melody over and over again with minute variations, Kikuchi found new meanings within Carla Bley’s “Utviklingssang” and Luis Bonfa’s “Manhã de Carnaval”.

Hanamichi takes its title from a phrase meaning “the way of the flowers”, applied to the raised platform through an auditorium on which actors in traditional Japanese theatre enter and leave the stage. It is the most moving of valedictory performances. Kikuchi opens by lightly caressing and examining the romantic contours of the pre-war ballad “Ramona” before producing a mesmerising 11-minute “Summertime” fit to stand among my favourite versions of the great Gershwin song, alongside those by Miles Davis and Gil Evans, Booker T and the MGs, Billy Stewart and Albert Ayler.

Two adjacent versions of “My Favourite Things” form the album’s centrepiece. Different in attack and trajectory, they’re like seeing an artist render the same object in aquatint and etching. And they make you think that that Kikuchi could have made an entire album out of this tune, holding it up and turning it slowly to watch the light catch it from different angles. (This is how he operated in solo performance: his 1994 version of “Manhã da Carnaval” was completely different from the one included on Black Orpheus, the 2012 recording of his last public recital, although recognisably the product of the same sensibility.)

They’re followed by a wholly improvised piece displaying the pianist’s characteristic use of the sustain pedal to build overtones, subtly hinting at the sound of bells and a gamelan as the single-note phrases coil around each other, gathering in force before resolving in tranquillity. The programme ends with “Little Abi”, a ballad Kikuchi wrote for his daughter in the 1970s, and which became a signature piece: another lovely tune within which he never ceased to make fresh discoveries.

All in all, this is the most affecting solo piano album I’ve heard since Keith Jarrett’s much-loved The Melody at Night, With You more than 20 years ago. Kikuchi’s lyricism isn’t as obvious as Jarrett’s, but the emotional commitment is apparent in every perfectly deployed note. A fine way to say goodbye.

* The photograph of Masabumi Kikuchi was taken by Tae Cimarosti and appears in the booklet accompanying Hanamichi, which is on the Red Hook label. Attached (BJL), After Hours (Verve), After Hours 2 (PJL), Melancholy Gil (Verve) and M (Media Rings) are now, sadly, unobtainable, although some of them are on YouTube. First Meeting is on Winter & Winter, as are other Tethered Moon albums. Sunrise and Black Orpheus are on ECM.

The bells, the bells…

A peal of church bells is a familiar sound to most, yet full of strangeness. Listening to the baffling patterns created when a simple descending figure breaks up and reforms into a kind of Escher-like musical geometry, you might find yourself wondering if herein lies the true origin of the systems music of Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

The 30-year-old Sheffield-born pianist and composer Andrew Woodhead takes that sound not just as the inspiration but as the practical basis for Pendulums, a new album-length work subtitled “Music for bell-ringers, improvisers and electronics”. The result is a quite stunning achievement in which jazz yet again proves its unique ability to create a constructive interaction with all sorts of outside forms of music.

The bells of St Paul’s, Birmingham — installed 15 years ago in the 18th century church, not far from where Woodhead studied at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire — are the first things we hear in Pendulums, and the last. Eight bellringers are joined by two trumpets, two alto saxophones, two baritone saxophones and Woodhead’s electronic manipulation of the church bells and of various field recordings, including bicycle bells and the chimes of an ice-cream van. This film of a 10-minute section called “Changes” gives a view of the way in which the composer integrates his three basic building blocks, creating something more than just a sound-bed for the improvising soloists. Sometimes he transfers the characteristics of bell-ringing to the wind instruments, as at the beginning of “Tolls/Waves”, where the horns sound unison notes that evolve into a phasing pattern.

I particularly love the way Woodhead uses the four reed instruments to soften the metallic timbre of the church bells and the trumpets, and how he brings out the bells’ overtones to create a universe of sound. There’s quite a lot of free jazz practice here (a reminder that one of Albert Ayler’s most famous works was called “Bells”), notably in the sparring over a simple ostinato transferred from bells to saxophones on “Partials II”, but there’s also an saxophone-chorale introduction to a piece called “Plain Hunt IV” that recalls the Anglican hymnal (and the enigma of Thelonious Monk’s “Abide with Me”).

“Plain Hunt II” begins by processing the ice-cream van chimes into the sound of a spectral church organ before the horns take over with a passage of overlapping long tones, another example of how imaginatively Woodhead is transferring techniques from one set of musical tools to another. Towards the end of this piece the gentle hissing and sizzling of electronics is underscored by the tolling of a single bell: placed at the very heart of this compelling 68-minute suite, it’s a moment of beautiful simplicity.

* Andrew Woodhead’s Pendulums is released on June 11 on the composer’s own Leker label (www.andrewwoodheadmusic.com). Concert performances of the work are scheduled for 14 October 2021 at St Paul’s, Birmingham and 16 October 2021 at St Clement Danes Church, London WC2. The photograph of Woodhead conducting the recording is by Guri Bosh.

Many accents, one voice

Just about the first thing I discovered when I began a three-year term as artistic director of Berlin’s historic jazz festival in 2015 was that I would be required to explain myself. More specifically, I would be asked to describe my “concept”. This was a little disconcerting since I didn’t really have one, at least not in any worked-out form.

What I came up with, thinking on my feet, was a definition applicable to the kind of festival I wanted to make. “Jazz,” I told my inquisitors, “is any music that couldn’t exist if jazz hadn’t existed.”

I’ve never been quite sure whether I invented that aphorism simply out of expediency, in order to cover myself and to explain some of the music I wanted to present, in which the elements of traditional forms of jazz were sometimes attentuated or modified almost to invisibility. Eventually I decided that I believed it enough to feel comfortable about using it whenever it was necessary to justify something.

In my first year, the best example was provided by Divan of the Continents, a 22-piece band jointly led by Cymin Samawatie, a singer born in Berlin to Iranian parents, and Ketan Bhatti, a drummer born in India. Both graduates of jazz courses at Berlin’s University of the Arts (the UdK), together they had devised an ambitious project to bring together a large ensemble of locally based musicians from various ethnic backgrounds, from the principal viola-player of the Berlin Philharmonic and an English free-jazz trombonist to virtuosos of the sheng, the oud, the ney, the kanun and the koto. The aim was to work at creating music which honoured the essence of each player’s respective genre while (and this is the important bit) aiming for something genuinely new. What it would not be was an example of musical tourism. It wouldn’t be obviously “jazz”, either. But you could even see this as being a modern version of jazz’s origin story, in which elements of African and European musics came together to form a hybrid that took on a life of its own.

Since the music was complex, it seemed right to arrange for them to have three days of rehearsals in the small concert hall at the UdK’s Jazz Institute, open to students and the public. Then, on the festival’s closing night, they gave a performance in the 1,000-seater hall of the Berliner Festspiele, leading off a bill completed by Louis Moholo-Moholo’s Four Blokes and Ambrose Akinmusire’s quartet with the singer Theo Bleckmann. It was, I think, a success: the audience gave every appearance of being intrigued, particularly by the settings of poetry sung by Samawatie and two other female singers.

Now Samawatie and Bhatti have made an album of that music, and other pieces, with an ensemble of similar size and instrumentation, containing about half the original personnel. In the meantime, the project been retitled: the album is called Trickster Orchestra. But the concept is the same, and the time spent in preparation has resulted in something rather extraordinary: a music in which the sheng of Wu Wei and the viola of Martin Stegner have equal weight, in which the double bass of Ralf Schwarz can emerge with a walking 4/4 line and the various items of tuned percussion can set up rhythm patterns reminiscent of Steve Reich. The words of the songs range from Psalm 130 to the Sufi poet Rumi and the contemporary poet Efe Duvan, and are sung in Farsi, Hebrew, Arabic and Turkish. The lyricism is always poised and sometimes swooning, but the serenity can be punctured by a fusillade of drums, subtly coloured by electronics.

It’s not a mosaic, but it is a kaleidoscope. Each musician retains her or his own tuning and vocabulary. The various tones, textures and idiomatic accents are overlapped, juxtaposed and filtered through each other, creating something much more interesting than a flavourless fusion. I think it would have interested the founder of Berlin’s jazz festival, the late Joachim-Ernst Berendt, a man with a strong belief in the potential value of opening jazz up to new relationships with the music of other cultures. Trickster Orchestra is an impressive example of where that kind of thinking has led, giving musicians of high skill and inquiring minds the chance to find new paths.

* Trickster Orchestra by Cymin Samawatie and Ketan Bhatti is out now on the ECM label. The photograph of Bassem Alhouri (kanun), Naoko Kikuchi (koto) and Ralf Schwarz (bass) is from their 2015 concert in Berlin and was taken by Camille Blake.

Wes Montgomery and friends

By the time Wes Montgomery died of a heart attack in 1968, aged 45, he was most famous for a series of albums, supervised by the producer Creed Taylor, in which he used his jazz chops to turn pop hits — “Goin’ Out of My Head”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “California Dreaming”, “A Day in the Life” — into a form of high-quality, lightly funky easy-listening music. In his earlier years, however, he had raised the bar for jazz guitar — and that Wes Montgomery was the one who visited Europe three years before his death. His touring itinerary included a season at Ronnie Scott’s, where he met some of the musicians who would accompany him to Germany for a TV broadcast commissioned by Norddeutsche Rundfunk, the Hamburg-based station that was, and is, part of the ARD national public broadcasting network.

Playing in NDR’s studios in front of an audience, Montgomery led an eight -piece line-up including one fellow American, the tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin. The six European musicians were the Austrian altoist Hans Koller, the French-Algerian pianist Martial Solal, the French bassist Michel Gaudry, and three Brits: Ronnie Scott on tenor, Ronnie Ross on baritone and Ronnie Stephenson on drums.

The music they played on April 30, 1965 in NDR’s Jazz Workshop series has just been released for the first time, and it’s a fine example of multinational mainstream-modern jazz. The four-piece reed section breezes through the solid, tightly-voiced arrangements of Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues”, “Four on Six” and “Twisted Blues”, Ross’s “Last of the Wine” and “Blue Grass”, Griffin’s “The Leopard Walks” and Solal’s fascinating “Opening 2”. There are special features for Wes on a quartet bossa nova version of “Here’s that Rainy Day”, and an electrifying Griffin on “Blue Monk”. It’s a very satisfying hour, and a welcome discovery.

But there’s also a second disc, a Blu-Ray video recording of the rehearsal in the studio two days earlier, in which the musicians are getting comfortable with the charts while the TV director works out his camera shots. And it contains five minutes that are absolutely remarkable.

Between the rehearsals of “Blue Grass” and “Blue Monk”, Solal runs through an intricate trio arrangement of “On Green Dolphin Street” with Gaudry and Stephenson. As they begin, the other musicians slowly gather round, listening intently. Scott peers over Stephenson’s shoulder, following the chart on the drummer’s music stand. Montgomery stays his chair, cradling his fat-bodied Gibson guitar, but is paying serious attention. So is Griffin, who prowls round to stand behind the pianist.

It’s a breathtaking performance. Typically of Solal, it mixes angular modernity with perfectly integrated hints of the history of jazz piano, from stride to bebop. It’s audacious and witty and wonderful, and the bassist and drummer do brilliantly to keep pace. By the time it’s over, you’re thinking that Solal is the inheritor to Art Tatum’s breathtaking virtuosity. And the other musicians are thinking something similar. You can see it in their body language. And you can hear it when, as the last note dies, Griffin walks round beside Solal, leans into him and says: “Ridiculous!” And as he walks away and he and Scott cross paths, you can see them shaking their heads in admiration. It’s a beautiful thing to see musicians reacting spontaneously in an informal setting. More than half a century later, we can share their sense of delight and discovery.

All these men — in their stylish polo shirts and cardigans and narrow slacks and neat haircuts, with their mastery of a complex musical language — are now gone, except one. That one is Martial Solal, who played with Sidney Bechet and Django Reinhardt and wrote the music for Godard’s À bout de souffle, now 93 years old and, as he has continued to prove through the years, an authentic genius of jazz.

* Wes Montgomery’s The NDR Hamburg Studio Recordings, produced by Stefan Gerdes, Axel Dürr and Joachim Becker, is on the Jazzline Classics/NDR Kultur label.

Blues for Bob Porter

The name of Bob Porter started appearing on jazz albums at the end of the 1960s and then, with gathering frequency, through the succeeding decades. It soon became obvious that, whether as a record producer, a compiler of historical anthologies or a writer of liner notes, Porter — who died last week at the age of 80 — was most interested in the kinds of jazz that stayed close to old verities: a powerful swing, the feeling of the blues, a warmth of expression, a direct engagement with the audience’s emotions.

Porter did a lot of his work for Bob Weinstock’s Prestige label, but when the Savoy label was bought by Arista he supervised a reissue programme that included a series of double albums called The Roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll, two of which you can see two of them above. What Porter located was a sweet spot where jazz and R&B fed each other in hits like Paul Willliams’ “The Hucklebuck” and Big Maybelle’s “Candy”. He supervised anthologies of Miles Davis for Prestige and John Coltrane for Atlantic (for whom he also put together the seven volumes of Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 1947-1974), won a Grammy for a 1979 anthology of Charlie Parker’s Savoy sessions, and produced new albums by Jimmy McGriff, Gene Ammons, Red Rodney, Hank Crawford, Charles Earland and many others. For the last 20 years he was a regular on WBGO, the public-service radio station broadcasting from Newark, New Jersey

His particular take on jazz was summed up in his only book: Soul Jazz: Jazz in the Black Community 1945-75, the story of musicians who earned their living mostly in dance halls and clubs of black America and whose recordings were primarily aimed at the listeners they found there. The book starts with the last of the commercially viable popular-oriented black big bands, such as those led by Buddy Johnson and Erskine Hawkins, and advances chronologically via Louis Jordan, Lionel Hampton, Arnett Cobb, Jack McDuff and Lou Donaldson all the way through to Grant Green and Grover Washington Jr. Producers like Teddy Reig and Bob Shad take their place in the narrative, along with record-company bosses as different as Roulette’s Morris Levy, Savoy’s Herman Lubinsky and Verve’s Norman Granz, and radio disc jockeys from Alan Freed (a jazz fan before he helped invent rock and roll) to Frankie Crocker, a hero of disco whose closing theme — at the end of shows full of Kool & the Gang, the Commodores and Earth, Wind & Fire — was King Pleasure’s “Moody’s Mood for Love”.

Porter only wrote his book, he said, because no one else had, and it was a story that needed to be told. If Soul Jazz were a night out, it would be an organ-tenor-guitar-drums quartet playing to an audience of working people in a lounge on the South Side of Chicago: the kind of meat-and-potatoes jazz you could find on the albums Porter supervised. Swing, blues, warmth, engagement, informality, a complete lack of pretension: the recipe for a kind of basic nourishment that might be harder to find today.

* Bob Porter’s Soul Jazz was published in 2016 by Xlibris.

A Mike Taylor discovery

When the English jazz pianist and composer Mike Taylor walked into the sea and died in 1969, aged 30, he left behind two albums — Pendulum, by his quartet, and the self-explanatory Trio, recorded in 1966 and ’67 respectively — as a memorial to a talent silenced by the kind of problems experienced by too many creative souls in that era.

Taylor’s gifts and instincts put him somewhere in the line of pianists running from Thelonious Monk through Herbie Nichols and Elmo Hope to the young Cecil Taylor. His playing had a similar sense of a private language being put on public display. There could be a hint of obsession in the way he jabbed at his phrases, testing their resistance before turning them to catch the light from a different angle, but there was nothing forbidding about his music.

His story, from bright promise to unexplained death, was told in a feature in Jazzwise magazine by Duncan Heining in 2007 and at greater length in a useful biography by the Italian writer Luca Ferrari, published six years ago. Taylor remains much mourned both by first-hand witnesses to his short career and by those who know him only from those two albums, produced by Denis Preston for EMI’s Columbia label and now collectors’ items.

A third Mike Taylor album, then, is quite a significant discovery. Mandala consists of a live session by Taylor’s regular quartet — with Dave Tomlin on soprano saxophone, Tony Reeves on double bass and Jon Hiseman on drums — at the Studio Club, Westcliff-on-Sea in January 1965. It was Hiseman who recorded the gig on a reel-to-reel machine and filed the tape away in his archive. On August 29 that year the same group would support the Ornette Coleman Trio in an historic concert at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon; the following May they would assemble at the Lansdowne Studios in Holland Park to record Pendulum.

Mandala contains one jazz standard and four of Taylor’s compositions, making 38 minutes of high-octane music in which the musicians display an obvious reverence for the John Coltrane Quartet of the early ’60s while conveying the impression that, given time and scope, they will find a way to move beyond the template towards the expression of their own character. It can be heard emerging in the hectic exuberance of “Night in Tunisia” — more linear and less dense than the version of the Gillespie favourite captured on Pendulum — and Taylor’s “Folk Dance #1” (a 6/8 tune with unexpected modulations), and in the interesting rhythm section figurations behind Tomlin on “Half Blue”.

Tomlin is the main soloist, confidently feeling his way towards a Trane-like level of incantation while keeping a few more emotional buttons done up. Reeves is slightly under-recorded, as was often the case on amateur recordings from the period, but he can be heard to work well with Hiseman, who is a rewardingly active presence throughout, providing an incessant but constantly stimulating commentary reminiscent to me of Charli Persip. Together they create a powerful momentum.

If there is a regret, it is that Taylor chose to take only two relatively short solos on this occasion, on “Son of Red Blues”, the agile opener, and “Night in Tunisia”. Both are typically intriguing, if somewhat subdued. There might have been a third solo: the title track, which closes the album (and was left untitled until the album’s compilers borrowed one from a painting by the pianist), fades to silence just as Tomlin closes his long, intense solo and Reeves appears to be bridging into what might have been a piano improvisation. Maybe the tape ran out. But Taylor’s accompaniments are so consistently interesting that this is a minor reservation: the point here is the music of a fine group, captured in full and free flight.

* Mandala is available as a download and a limited edition CD from the Jazz in Britain label: http://www.jazzinbritain.org. A vinyl release is forthcoming. Luca Ferrari’s Out of Nowhere: The Uniquely Elusive Jazz of Mike Taylor is published by Gonzo Multimedia.

The uneasy trio

It’s possible that, like me, you think there are already quite enough jazz piano trio albums in your collection. Think again. Uneasy, the new recording by Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh and Tyshawn Sorey, demands attention.

The realignment of the piano-bass-drums hierarchy from “piano with rhythm accompaniment” to a full three-way conversation of equals has been going on for decades, and Uneasy is about as elevated as the format currently gets. Listen to the opener, “Children of Flint”, to appreciate the level of interaction between three musicians with virtuoso-level skills and giant imaginations. It sounds lyrical, even simple. But just concentrate on the astonishing touch displayed by each of the trio, whether on piano keys, bass strings, drums or cymbals, and the sense of three seamlessly interlocking and interdependent components.

As you work your way through the 10 tracks — eight compositions by Iyer, plus Geri Allen’s “Drummer’s Song” and Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” — you’ll also notice a complete absence of ego-projection. No one is showing off. On the sole standard, it’s easiest to hear how far Iyer can take the line of piano-playing founded by Bud Powell. Oh displays the deep sense of swing, nimble melodic imagination and beautiful sound of a 21st-century Paul Chambers. Sorey creates a momentum at once light but deep, exploiting a combination of technique and intellect that redefines the investigation of rhythm.

Recorded in a studio in Mount Vernon, NY three months before pandemic arrived, the album comes with a cover photograph of the Statue of Liberty seen through mist and against clouds. In his sleeve note, Iyer writes that Uneasy was originally the title of a collaborative piece with the choreographer Karole Armitage in 2011, exploring “the instabilities that we then sensed beneath the surface of things… the emerging anxiety within American life. A decade later, as systems teeter and crumble, the word feels like a brutal understatement.”

That heightened disquiet, however, remains implied. You’re not thinking about the end of the world. You’re remembering how even the darkest of times can’t extinguish such astonishing creativity. One of the records of the year, no doubt.

* Uneasy is on ECM Records. The photographs of (from top) Iyer, Oh and Sorey are from the CD’s booklet and were taken by Craig Marsden.

The sound of two

Daniel Cano is a Spanish trumpeter who was born in Huelva in 1983 and has lived in London since 2014. Doug Sides is an American drummer who was born in Los Angeles in 1942, moved to Europe in 1989 and now lives, improbably enough, in Ramsgate, a fishing and ferry port on the eastern tip of Kent. This week they released a four-track digital EP called Duplexity.

It slots into the modern tradition of trumpet-and-drums duets stretching back to Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell, taking in Bobby Bradford and John Stevens and going all the way to Eyebrow, the contemporary Bristol-based pair of Pete Judge and Paul Wigens. If it reminds me of anything, it’s of the best parts of the duo concert by Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie at the Maison de la Culture de Seine Saint-Denis, released as Max + Dizzy: Paris 1989 by A&M. That’s an album which came a little too late in the careers of two great men, making you wish they’d done it 30 or 40 years earlier, when the fires were burning brightest. Duplexity, by contrast, seems to have been made at exactly the right time.

Cano, whose involvements as a leader and a sideman include membership of the London Improvisers Orchestra, studied at the conservatoire in San Sebastián. His groups — including an Ornette Coleman tribute band — have won festival prizes. Sides studied at the University of South California, New York University and Berklee College in Boston, where he was taught by the great Alan Dawson, a mentor of Tony Williams. Over a long career which featured an early stint as the house drummer at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, he has played with Illinois Jacquet, John Handy, Teddy Edwards, Phineas Newborn, Bobby Hutcherson, Abbey Lincoln and many others.

Recorded last October at Big Jelly Studios in Ramsgate, Duplexity is a fine showcase for the evidently strong relationship between a trumpeter whose warm, bright open tone evokes the hard-bop masters of the ’50s and ’60s and a drummer with a light touch and a supple sense of swing. Restricted means, in terms of instrumentation, but the result is a rich experience with no sense of austerity — or of overplaying to fill the spaces.

Trajectories and densities are chosen to make the most of the available resources. The session feels informal and spontaneous, with the rough edges left in. Two of the pieces were composed by Sides and two by Cano, and none of them, ranging from four and a half to six minutes, outstays its welcome. Most of all, it’s good to hear two musicians from different generations and of such diverse backgrounds revelling in the common language.

* Duplexity is available at www.danielcanomusic.bandcamp.com (click on the track “Perpetual Motion” to see a video). Cano and Sides will perform together in a livestream from Ronnie Scott’s Club on April 15: http://www.ronniescotts.co.uk/scheduledaily/2021/April/15. The photograph is by Martin Goodsmith.