Little known now yet one of the most fascinatingly diverse European jazz labels, often synonymous with the ECM aesthetic, Japo (Jazz by post) existed for some 15 years recording from 1971 to 1985.
It all began with the same artist who first started off ECM in 1969, pianist Mal Waldron, and The Call. History was repeating itself in this one respect.
Then came Dollar Brand, or Abdullah Ibrahim as we know the great pianist today, with African Piano.
Other titles swiftly followed: Barre Phillips’ For All It Is; Herbert Joos’ The Philosophy of the Fluegelhorn; a second Dollar Brand, Ancient Africa, then the obscure Bobby Naughton’s Understanding; Edward Vesala’s Nan Madol; Jiri Stivin and Rudolf Dasek’s System Tandem; Tom van der Geld’s Children at Play; and Enrico Rava’s Quotation Marks.
Japo is often seen as an extension of hippie jazz or New Age with a strong improv twist, but some artists are as little known today as Bobby Naughton and Magog were under the radar even then.
The Jazz By Post years: free spirited and unorthodox in nature
They released the self-titled Magog; and Japo also put out Om album Kirikuki; Manfred Schoof’s Scales; Larry Karush’s May 24 1976; Herbert Joos’ Daybreak; a second Om work Rautionaha; and the first Stephan Micus album, the most prolific Japo artist besides Om, called Implosions.
There were a few British artists on the label, and journalist Ken Hyder’s Talisker released Land of Stone on Japo while the more widely known Manfred Schoof recorded Light Lines. Both these records were produced by former cellist Thomas Stöwsand, later a leading European booking agent, who died in 2006, and who produced many records for the label. Other producers included Steve Lake, Manfred Eicher, and individual musicians.
1977, with Japo only six years in existence, saw Rena Rama’s Landscapes; Globe Unity Orchestra’s Improvisations; and the Swiss quartet Om once again with the clumsily titled Om with Dom Um; and released in 1978 Lennart Åberg had made Partial Solar Eclipse for Japo, while bands such as Contact Trio slipped New Marks out, and the late George Gruntz, Percussion Profiles.
The last batch of label releases saw an increased output from Stephan Micus with Till the End of Time the first; Globe Unity Orchestra’s Compositions; Barry Guy’s Beckettian-sounding (in its title at least), Endgame; TOK’s Paradox; Manfred Schoof, once more, with Horizons; and improv pioneers AMM III’s It Had Been an Ordinary Enough Day in Pueblo, Colorado.
Om, a Japo favourite released Cerberus; while English saxophonist Elton Dean’s Boundaries; Peter Warren’s Solidarity; Tom Van Der Geld / Children At Play Out Patients; Contact Trio’s Musik; Alfred Harth’s Es herrscht Uhu im Land; Micus’ Wings Over Water; Globe Unity Orchestra’s Intergalactic Blow; Micus’ Listen to the Rain and East of the Night, brought the trailblazing label’s output to a conclusion. MB
For the first few bars of Cornucopía it’s like the beginning of a Ladysmith Black Mambazo record. Not surprising really as a South African choir is on hand to inject a sense of vibrant motion to the set. Not typical of the record as a whole, though, these songs speak mainly of the sound of Brazil through and through but with the limber German SWR big band conducted by Ralf Schmid, and the persuasive vocals of Brazilian MPB icon Lins (with a fine spot by Paula Morelenbaum on the evocative ‘Atlantida’), there is plenty of stylistic development. All the songs are Lins’: the tantalising ‘Estrela Guia’ my pick of an appealing set made up of mostly unreleased songs. It’s a slow burner that hints at a separate improvisational dimension that in itself speaks volumes for the musical imagination at play. As the samba-strewn Cornucopía unfolds, the record draws on a Quincy Jones-influenced arranging style to great effect, and the SWR respond with impeccable taste.
Released on Monday 25 March
Ivan Lins, above
With a programme that so far has included US jazz-rock fusion heavyweights Yellowjackets, the Henry Threadgill-inspired improv of the acclaimed Trio Red, a sold out slice of New Orleans with Hot 8 Brass Band, pianist Brian Kellock playing the music of Fats Waller, the intriguingly monikered Trio Elf at the Blue Lamp, as well as blues hero Mud Morganfield, gospel from Ruby Turner, and Courtney Pine, the festival moves to a conclusion tonight with Trio Libero featuring the ‘King of Aberdeen’ himself: Polar Bear’s Seb Rochford. The open-minded trio with Rochford joined by Andy Sheppard and Michel Benita make their Scottish debut. More at www.aberdeenjazzfestival.com
Marian McPartland, radio days
There’s a rare screening next week of a film that recalls the career highlights of pianist Marian McPartland, host of US public radio network NPR’s Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, the programme that since 1978 has offered a startlingly different look at how pianists present themselves both in conversation and musically.
With Mary Lou Williams and Thelonious Monk in
A Great Day of Harlem, in 1958.
An American radio institution In Good Time, The Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland traces McPartland’s time in the States since leaving England where her jazz story began in the late-1940s and concentrates on the 94-year-old’s tunes and improvisational style down the years, recalling the Hickory House years the 52nd street jazz spot where steaks were on the menu, and sitting-in the order of the day.
Marian McPartland, top and pictured
The screening is on Sunday 24 March at the Stables in Wavendon
For tickets and more details go to www.stables.org
Following quickly on from the death of trad era trumpeter Kenny Ball on 7 March clarinettist Terry Lightfoot has died, aged 77, it’s been announced. Lightfoot had been suffering from prostate cancer, and passed away yesterday, according to ITV news. Born on 21 May 1935 in Potters Bar, the clarinettist and bandleader would go on to lead the Wood Green Stompers while still in his teens, having left Enfield Grammar School and following a brief stint as a reporter on The Barnet Press. He formed his own band, the long-running Terry Lightfoot’s Jazzmen, after RAF service in the mid-1950s, a band Kenny Ball was a member of for a spell. Lightfoot would continue to lead his own bands during his long career in music, although he took breaks for long periods in the 1960s and 70s to run a pub.
Of his records some of his peak early-1960s period has been featured on Lightfoot at Lansdowne, a compilation by trad specialists Lake, with sides originally produced by Denis Preston, better known for his work with Joe Harriott, including ‘Tiger Rag’, ‘Bali Hai’ and ‘Old Man River’. Lightfoot continued performing until last year, with fairly recent shows of his including The Special Magic of Louis Armstrong, Hit Me With A Hot Note, and From Bourbon Street to Broadway along with the Jazzmen who in recent years were joined by his daughter Melinda who survives him, as does Lightfoot’s daughter Michele, and wife Iris.
Terry Lightfoot, above
Always a First Time
Pumpkin Records 2 CDs *** / ****
Recorded over a decade ago Change of Heart was saxophonist Martin Speake’s last big statement but it took a long while to appear, eventually emerging on ECM. Recorded with the late Paul Motian, Mick Hutton, and Bobo Stenson, that album was praised at the time for its Lee Konitz-type clarity and “unhurried” playing. Always a First Time, this new double album released on Speake’s own label, an imprint that two years ago released a quartet album called Live at Riverhouse, retains that palpable sense of patience, beginning at an almost stately pace. The Konitz connection is retained, not just in Speake’s sound but in the presence of former Konitz drummer Jeff Williams returning from the quartet. Speake also dedicates ‘Ramshackle’ to Konitz.
Williams appears in an up-front role throughout the 20 songs just like the other two musicians, with guitarist’s guitarist Mike Outram also performing a crucial function, colouring the sound especially on the Puccini aria ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ (dedicated to Speake’s father, appropriately). Oddly you don’t miss the bass, but Outram’s skill has a lot to do with this as well as Williams’ ability to make the drums sing.
From the heart: Jeff Williams, above left,
Martin Speake and Mike Outram
The trio covers a great deal of ground only partially explained by the extra canvas the two CDs provide. With songs dedicated to friends, mentors and inspirations Always a First Time is predominantly ballad-driven, but it’s not particularly brooding. More philosophical, and on tracks such as ‘Twister’, on the second CD, there is also a sense of abandon that a quick first listen might not straight away fix on to but is definitely there.
In the notes the author of Love and Will, the existential psychologist Rollo May is quoted to the effect that the creative artist, poet and saint, must fight the gods of conformism, apathy, material success and exploitative power: formidable foes one and all yet May despairs that “These are the ‘idols’ of our society that are worshipped by multitudes of people.” Further quotes within the artwork contribute a sense of aphorism to Speake’s outlook as does his typically thoughtful, but skilfully non-conformist playing.
Recorded in the same room, unseparated, without headphones, the way records used to be made Speake says “we all played from the heart”. And you can tell this when a song like ‘Meditation’, which crops up on both discs with two different dedicatees one of whom includes Fidel Castro, dissolves (on the second disc) into a ‘listening silence’, when you just know the players like what they’re hearing and do not need to push the tune on any more than is strictly necessary in case the mood is spoiled. The second of the CDs has the edge, as it’s a bit more open, but the more orthodox ballad-and- cool school bop approach on the first disc, with songs that include Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ and many fine Speake originals, have an integrity that is a hallmark of Always a First Time. As is its sense of the bigger picture.
Released on 25 March
Kenny Garrett: intimate appearances
It’s not easy to catch, live, the undisputed giants of the music up close and personal in a jazz club. When it happens it’s impossible to forget.
Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Sonny Rollins, Charles Lloyd, Wynton Marsalis, even, in your neighbourhood jazz club any time soon? Forget about it: it’s just not going to happen. But a kid can dream.
Well truth can be stranger and even more mind blowing than fiction sometimes, and last year one of the giants of the music alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett best known for his intuitive work with Miles Davis and for his own records made a welcome return to the UK playing a few jazz clubs rather than a concert hall.
And he returns to one of the clubs, the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London tonight for two shows after last night’s opener. Garrett is reunited with pianist Vernell Brown Jr., bassist Corcoran Holt, and drummer McClenty Hunter Jr. who played London last year slaying the crowd on one of the nights with the infectious ‘Happy People’ but adding percussionist Rudy Bird this week for even more heat.
On form in the studio, it’s just a year since the release of one of Garrett’s most memorably melodic albums to date, Seeds From The Underground, yet live there’s an additional rapid-fire spontaneity from the alto man, allied by Hunter’s Tony Williams-type attack that communicates immediately.
With his trademark skull cap, still youthful demeanour and playing style head-bobbing up and down, alto saxophone in the air, or down low to the ground, Garrett can deliver elegant runs of beautifully fluid improvising episodes with at times a Mali-meets-McCoy Tyner style bubbling up from pianist Brown on original material of the quality of ‘Boogety Boogety’. Not to be missed. MB
Kenny Garrett, above
Double bassist Andy Champion and his band ACV have signed to the cutting edge jazz independent record label Babel and will launch their debut Busk early next month.
From the north east of England a relative newcomer to the national scene Andy Champion performs with Voice of The North, and with his wife singer Zoe Gilby, and for the new album Champion has worked closely with producer Chris Sharkey, of Leeds skronksters trioVD.
The Champion five sees the bassist joined by saxophonist Graeme Wilson, pianist/keyboardist Paul Edis, guitarist Mark Williams, and drummer Adrian Tilbrook in ACV whose sound is grounded in prog and free improv.
ACV above launch the album with dates at the Vortex, London on Thursday 4 April, and the Gateshead Jazz Festival two days later. In Gateshead, in addition to launching Busk, Champion will also perform Ian Carr’s ‘Northumbrian Sketches’ in a band to include Henry Lowther, Tim Whitehead and strings.
It’s a Charles Lloyd kind of day today as the great man celebrates his 75th birthday. Love in bassist Ron McClure, who’s a pillar of Quest, must have some extraordinary memories from those far-off quartet days with Charles, Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette.
And Quest, too, is about memories, their own as a longstanding group with 10 albums now released, but also of the 1960s. A repertory band featuring a sprinkling of new compositions with a pair here by sax icon Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach, Quest, (with McClure, pianist Beirach, drummer Billy Hart, and Liebman) look and you can make out in the typography within the circle of the ‘Q’ on the cover text that proclaims the band “plays the music of Miles 60s”. It’s a message amplified by Michael Cuscuna in a preface to the notes inside who boldly states Quest is “devoted to interdependent group music rather than the soloist with rhythm aesthetic.”
On a mission: Ron McClure (above, left),
Dave Liebman, Billy Hart and Richie Beirach
Beautifully presented with attractive artwork, clear notes and photographs Circular Dreaming begins with Wayne Shorter’s ‘Pinocchio’, and other tunes include five other Wayne compositions, including a throaty Liebman-led ‘Footprints’ and album standout ‘Vonetta’. Shame about the spelling of ‘Nefertiti’ though, you can never have too many ts… except here. The album title track is a tune of Beirach’s, a homage to Miles. Beirach says: “I wanted the circular feeling of no beginning and no end with the harmony definitely moulded to the melody”. Maths jazz today strips away that connection, a fault Circular Dreaming avoids entirely. Fine playing throughout with gutsy blowing and a desire to make the music exist as part of a continuum without putting the music behind a glass case in a museum. Circular Dreaming also shines the spotlight on a significant amount, yet still represents just a small sample, of Wayne Shorter’s best work as a composer, timely as his latest great extended piece ‘Pegasus’ has just been released on Without a Net.
The cover of Circular Dreaming, top, and Quest above