spiritualjazz

Doug Carn ‘Infant Eyes’

Modal, spiritual, and soul-jazz blend beautifully on a record that packs a lot of power. I’m fussy about jazz vocal records, and I don’t reach for them often, but this one is FANTASTIC. Jean Carn’s vocals convey a sense of purpose. Of clarity. Of hope. Things that seem to be in short supply in so many places at the moment. The lyrics (which all have a spiritual/inspirational vibe) were written by her husband, leader, and keyboardist Doug Carn. He then worked them into new arrangements of compelling compositions by Wayne Shorter (“Infant Eyes”), John Coltrane (“Acknowledgement”), Horace Silver (“Peace”), and Bobby Hutcherson (“Little B’s Poem”). All are knockout performances. You’ll also hear impressive instrumentals, including a killer take on McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance,” and the Doug Carn original “Moon Child.” The band is top-notch: in addition to Jean’s vocals and sizzling organ/piano playing by Doug, you’ve got George Harper (tenor sax, flute), Bob Frazier (trumpet, flugelhorn), Henry “The Skipper” Franklin (bass), Al Hall, Jr. (trombone), and Michael Carvin (drums). ‘Infant Eyes’ was originally released on Gene Russell’s legendary Black Jazz Records in 1971. The label released a total of 20 albums in its short four-year existence, all of which share two properties: excellence and rarity. This one seems to have been reissued (and bootlegged) more than some of the others, though, so it’s findable, and you can also stream/download it on most digital platforms. If you’re looking to take a deep breath and lower your shoulders a couple of inches, while at the same time be inspired by a soaring, uplifting, deep, well-played jazz album, Doug Carn’s ‘Infant Eyes’ may be the record for you. It’s a lovely, sunny, Saturday morning here in the NYC area, and this record is making for fine listening. Make it a great day

Horace Tapscott ‘The Giant is Awakened’

The title is apt—the musical, political, and social repercussions that contextualize Horace Tapscott’s debut album continue to resonate today. The LA collective, which gave birth to the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (P.A.P.A.) which evolved into the Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension (UGMAA)—both a precursor to Kamasi Washington’s current collective. The spiritual and modal frameworks that channeled a motley collection of feelings—anger, hope, frustration, love, sadness, faith, and acceptance—into a narrative were powerful. Often profound. This LP covers a lot of ground, as freer waypoints appear along the spiritual pathways, making for a fascinating set of journeys. The nearly sidelong title track is quite a trip. The quintet has an interesting lineup with Tapscott on piano, Arthur Blythe KILLING IT on alto sax, Walter Savage Jr. *AND* David Bryant on bass, and drummer Everett Brown Jr. Originally released on Flying Dutchman in 1969, this is a 2020 reissue on Real Gone Music, limited to 1,000 copies. Loving this record

John Coltrane ‘A Love Supreme’

55 years ago today, @johncoltrane tossed a metaphorical stone into the ocean. The ripples continue to spread, some lapping at distant shores as little more than flecks of foam, others hitting closer to home with the power of a tsunami. For an album that’s been endlessly analyzed and thoroughly discussed, it remains a delightful enigma. It’s perpetually engaging, satisfying, uplifting and thought provoking. Coltrane’s combination of urgency and serenity as he seeks to tap into whatever higher power one believes is in the universe and/or within us all is profound. Others far more eloquent and educated can better speak to the history and mystery of ‘A Love Supreme’. That said, I certainly wish that whatever benevolent inspiration visited the studio that day, I hope it visits everyone often

Henry Franklin ‘The Skipper’

High energy modal/spiritual grooves driven by the formidable bass playing of Henry Franklin and electric piano of Bill Henderson. I dig the frequent nods to early electric Miles and Return to Forever, though I wouldn’t classify this as a fusion record. I’m reminded in places of Eddie Henderson’s sides for Capricorn and Joe Farrell’s CTI records as there’s a similar vibe. The brass frontline—Oscar Brashear on trumpet/flugelhorn & Charles Owens on tenor/soprano sax—wails, swings, duels and soars as Franklin and Henderson scurry busily in, under and around them. There’s some heavy duty yet intricate three-headed beats from drummer Mike Carvin who’s flanked by percussionists Fred Lido and Tip Jones, while guitarist Kenny Climax rears his head only occasionally, but when he does he makes he presence known. “Beauty and the Electric Tub” lays down a groove so deep you wonder how they’re ever gonna find their way out. They do, but they take the scenic route. Tough to find on vinyl, available if you look on CD, but seemingly absent from the usual streaming services other than YouTube. Obscure but worth searching for, as are most of the albums on the Black Jazz label. Franklin recorded a follow-up, the equally scarce ‘The Skipper at Home’, a favorite, particularly after a couple of tracks were sampled by A Tribe Called Quest. Franklin has an extensive discography with more than a dozen sessions as a leader, and sideman credits on over 100 records ranging from Stevie Wonder to Ornette Coleman. He’s still out there playing and recording…more power to you Mr. Franklin

Muriel Grossmann ‘Reverence’

One of my most eagerly awaited releases of 2019 and it has exceeded every expectation! Muriel Grossman’s ‘Golden Rule’ was one of my favorite (and best) jazz releases of 2018. On her new record ‘Reverence’, she’s painting with even more colors and a wider variety of brushes. The key word: POLYRHYTHMS. If ‘Golden Rule’ set out to explore the cosmos, ‘Reverence’ is about exploring the multiple heartbeats of the earth, while retaining a strong propensity for soaring skywards. The rhythmic DNA of each track sets the tone, and from there the melodies, interplay and improvisations are built, deconstructed and rebuilt, sometimes with subtlety and sometimes with a passion that’ll make your own heart beat a little bit faster. Muriel alternates between tenor, alto and soprano sax, leading her expanded group across the eight original compositions. The “newbie” of the group is Hammond B3 ace Llorenc Barcelo, augmenting her core working group which includes longtime collaborator Radomir Milojkovic-guitar, Gina Schwarz (no relation)-bass, and Uros Stamenkovic-drums. The digital album is released on 12/12 and there’s a limited edition vinyl available RIGHT NOW at RRGEMSRECORDS.COM but like her previous record there are only 1,000 available and they are going FAST. If you like the notion of a record that combines the spiritual vibes of mid-60s @johncoltrane, combined with rhythms that draw from African roots along with some interesting “drone” layers a la Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey to Satchidananda’ album, this album is gonna blow you away. It’s released a bit late this year to make a lot of ‘Best of 2019’ jazz lists which is a shame because it belongs there @murielgrossmann

Nat Birchall ‘Live in Larissa’

Ever been to one of those shows that’s *SO* great, after the final encore and you’ve come back down to earth, some part of your brain thinks “I really hope they recorded that!” Then by design or by luck if that occurred, often when listening to the recording later on, it’s just not the same. It’s like looking a photo of a Picasso—something gets lost in the attempt to reproduce the experience. Cue disappointment. So I’m always impressed when a live record successfully manages to fully capture both quality audio *AND* the spirit of the event. Nat Birchall’s ‘Live in Larissa’ is one of those records. It’s a top shelf recording of a red hot performance in front of a totally amped crowd who are hanging on every moment. Especially the more exploratory ones—this quintet isn’t afraid to take risks, and when they take flight they manage to achieve escape velocity quickly, regularly and with a great deal of creativity. Even with most tunes reaching well past the ten minute mark, there are no meandering moments, dead ends, or grandstanding solos. Not that there aren’t impressive solos…the piano solo in “Return to Ithaca” will bring you to your knees! I’d been hoping for a repress of ‘Live in Larissa’ as the original LP is rare. Well it’s back @bandcamp in a limited edition of 500 so act fast. The modal/spiritual grooves here are so thick you’d need a chainsaw to cut through them. I’m stoked to have this in my collection, and you will be too. Available on digital services for those without turntables. Nat Birchall-tenor/soprano sax, Adam Fairhall-piano, Corey Mwamba-vibes/bells, Nick Blacka-bass, Paul Hession-drums. Recorded live May 2013 at Duende Jazz Bar, Larissa, Greece. PS—On Side C of this double LP, they take Alice Coltrane’s “Journey to Satchidananda” on a 13 minute ride to a pretty fantastic place @natbirchallmusic @bandcamp

Horace Tapscott ‘The Call’

Knockout. This record is relentlessly kicking my ass. It’s a futuristic big band romp in modal/spiritual territories with a swing *SO* mighty, you’d best be sitting down when listening, lest you be knocked flat by its gargantuan wallop. “The Call” takes flight immediately, launching skywards with gusto. It’s an intergalactic big band epic that—at times—reminds me of Hoyt Curtin’s theme music from The Jetsons. On acid. Powered by urgent drums and backed by brass amassed in a sonic wall of power, pianist Linda Hill’s solos elegantly, gracefully, playfully and awesomely. This segues into a serpentine, intertwining alto clarinet/bass led section with tricky interplay, but the pocket never collapses—the groove here is unshakeable. Moving on to “Quagmire Manor at Five A.M.”, a lovely, soothing, albeit brief vocal/piano groove lulls you into a false sense of complacency as your moment of zen quickly gives way to a frantic, double time rhythm section workout while Hill’s piano tears it up, leading into a passionate tenor solo that’s teeters on the edge of “out” but never falls off, another massed horn section, brief bass solo, then back to the vocal head. Phew! Fortunately you get a moment to catch your breath and refill the coffee because it’s time to flip the record! Side B opens with “Nakatini Suite”. If you think you’re familiar with it from Lee Morgan’s “Leeway” album, or perhaps from Coltrane’s “The Believer”, take your familiarity, crumple it up and give it to the cat to play with. Tapscott’s Pan African People’s Arkestra take the first few bars to construct it as a demented waltz for people with two left feet, and then take the next nine minutes to explore its melodic potential. Gorgeous. The album closes with “Peyote Song No. III”, a large scale modal exploration a la mid 60s Impulse-era Coltrane. Deep, introspective, searching and beautiful playing abounds. So yeah…I’m completely smitten by this record. Originals from 1978 on Nimbus West are difficult to find but the recent @outernationalsounds reissue is widely available, inexpensive and sounds good

Rudolph Johnson ‘The Second Coming’

Modal/Spiritual grooves galore from this killer quartet. Issued in 1973 on the Black Jazz label, session leader/tenorist Rudolph Johnson (who plays no flute here despite cover photo) pens four originals and pianist Kirk Lightsey contributes one. Bassist Kent Brinkley is a marvel: tone, chops and overall control of his instrument are masterful. Drummer Doug Sides has a deft yet assertive touch. Pianist Kirk Lightsey is a terrific melodic sparring partner for Johnson, anchoring block chords to emphasize and weaving lead lines to tantalize in equal measure. I love the sound on this LP—really upfront with barely a hint of reverb to be found and each instrument balanced perfectly. Mr. Johnson made a couple of records for the Black Jazz label as a leader and played on several as a sideman, though he’s better known for his three decade tenure as a member of Ray Charles orchestra, and his work with Jimmy McGriff. Great stuff here