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Posts tagged ‘Gilles Peterson’

Bookshelf 5: Gilles Peterson

Everybody has a story about how they got through the first wave of the coronavirus. Gilles Peterson, the famed London DJ, record label boss and general man-about-music, certainly has one, and he tells it in an extremely handsome volume with the title Lockdown FM: Broadcasting in a Pandemic. It’s arranged as a kind of diary or almanac, running through the first six months of 2020, containing a cornucopia of material: playlists of his programmes for Worldwide FM and the BBC, poems, manifestos, tributes to those who died during the year (including McCoy Tyner, Hamilton Bohannon, Betty Wright, Henry Grimes and Tony Allen), birthday greetings to Stevie Wonder, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Hermeto Pascoal and others, and of course a vast amount of beautifully assembled visual material, including the sleeves of dozens of highly collectable vinyl, from Mary Lou Williams’s Piano Contempo and a 1955 Juliette Gréco EP to Roy Brooks’s Black Survival and Cachao y su Descarga ’77.

There are also a number of original photographs taken in London during the six months when normal human interaction was curtailed, laid out across double-page spreads with minimal captioning but together painting a picture of the city and its moods during a year in which the silence of lockdown was broken by an eruption of political protests and counter-protests. Many of the photographs are credited to Dobie, which is the name used by Anthony Campbell, a hip-hop artist and producer who began using a camera to record the skateboarders under the South Bank in the early 1980s. I like his images very much, particularly the one you can see above, which captures a historic moment in British life.

Reflecting on the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, Peterson recalls an earlier element in the same pattern of tragedy: the fatal shooting of the saxophonist Don Myrick, a founder member of Earth Wind & Fire, by a policeman in Santa Monica in 1993. What can a DJ do in response? “I will play music from Nina Simone to Gil Scott Heron and Childish Gambino,” he writes. “I will play these songs to push back against systemic and institutionalised racism that’s been given a refreshed energy by the current power structures which continue to manipulate and divide the people.”

The ingredients of this 600-page book are given a chance to speak so eloquently by the people who, with Gilles, put it together: its editor, Paul Bradshaw (founder of the much missed magazine Straight, No Chaser), and its designer, Hugh Miller. They’ve made a thing that’s not just lovely to own but will act as a poignant memento of a time from which we’re still struggling to emerge with bodies and souls intact.

* Lockdown FM is published by Worldwide FM, price £40:

Sun Ra touches down in NW8

Sun Ra Alex HEveryone has their own Sun Ra. Mine is the one who made the Heliocentric Worlds albums for the ESP label in the mid-’60s, and whom I saw a few times in the early ’70s — at the Berlin Philharmonie, the Festival Hall and the Village Gate. Jez Nelson, the host of the monthly Jazz in the Round series at the Cockpit Theatre, had barely heard of him before interviewing him for Jazz FM in 1990, but quickly embraced the whole Sun Ra trip and gave us some lovely stories at the tribute evening he organised on Monday, as did Gilles Peterson, who came along with a bag full of rare Ra vinyl to play in the bar during the interval.

The first of the evening’s two performances was by Alexander Hawkins, who has studied Ra’s piano work and gave us a solo sequence at an upright instrument stripped of its casing. He begins with gentle strums of the strings and proceeded through a many-hued tapestry of Ra forms and sounds, with Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” at its heart, occasionally cutting to brief snatches of boogie-woogie figuration with great dramatic and emotional impact, and finishing by quietly singing the refrain of “We Travel the Spaceways”. Hawkins is now among the front rank of today’s improvising pianists and this was a stirring demonstration of his sensitivity to the tradition and its exponents.

Sun Ra PathwaysAfter Peterson’s DJ set came Where Pathways Meet, a nine-piece band comprising Axel Kaner-Lidstrom (trumpet), Joe Elliot (alto), James Mollison (tenor), Amané Suganami (keyboards and electronics), Maria Osuchowska (electric harp), Mark Mollison (guitar), Mutale Shashi (bass guitar), Jake Long (drums) and Kianja Harvey Elliot (voice). Named after a Sun Ra tune, and dedicated to making music animated by a reverence for his spirit, they went about their work with energy and enthusiasm. Any rawness in the execution seemed unimportant by comparison with the good feeling they imparted.

This was a perfect example of what Jazz in the Round, which takes place on the last Monday of each month, has to offer: a selection of interesting musicians at different stages of their careers performing in close proximity to a respectful audience consisting of old listeners and new listeners and some in between, all sharing a 360-degree experience. The next one, on May 29, features the harpist Alina Bzhezhinska playing the music of Alice Coltrane, a new band called Project M led by the bassist Dan Casimir, and a solo set from Cath Roberts on baritone saxophone. Presented in a small, unpretentious setting by a warm and knowledgable host, it’s my favourite gig these days, by a long way.

* Gearbox Records, the vinyl-only label based in King’s Cross, celebrated last weekend’s Record Store Day by releasing an EP with Sun Ra playing solo piano in the Jazz FM studio in 1990 on one side, plus Jez Nelson’s interview on the other. It’s a limited edition, but you might still find one if you hurry.