He’s the shamanic funk star who produced everyone from the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan. Now, he is steering jazz’s most iconic label into the future – by embracing its ‘secret scene’
‘Journeyman” is a term often used to describe Don Was. At 66, the Detroit-born bassist and producer charted in the 1980s with his funk-fusion duo Was (Not Was), DJ’d at the legendary New York disco club Paradise Garage, and produced for Bonnie Raitt’s Grammy-winning Nick of Time in 1989, Bob Dylan’s Under the Red Sky the following year and multiple albums for the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, Elton John and many more. He even won a Grammy for best musical album for children with 2009’s Family Time – a collaboration with Ziggy Marley.
Now president of the label Blue Note – historically home to Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, as well as contemporary artists such as Robert Glasper – Was finds himself at the helm of the American jazz legacy, seeing the label through its 80th anniversary this year.
Only work with people you trust. If you don't respect an artist enough to lose an argument to them, you shouldn't be producing them
I loved the record covers. I would ride a bus across town, going 45 minutes just to look at Unity once
I'm optimistic. If you make generous music, everything else will follow
Every seasoned jazz listener knows Thelonious Monk’s Epistrophy, a jazz classic that’s been around for ever. Here, Bill Frisell (guitar) and Thomas Morgan (double bass) begin with what sounds like isolated random notes. The notes become melodic fragments that gradually grow together, revealing tantalising, Monkish hints until, finally, Epistrophy itself emerges. As an improvised duet, that’s not just clever, it’s brilliant. Frisell loves a melody. Somehow, he always manages to cast it in a new and unexpected light, without missing its essential charm, and in Morgan he has the perfect companion.
The other eight tunes on this album include two by Monk, a few standards, a couple of very old American songs and the theme from a Bond movie. It’s a curious mixture, but by no means a job lot. They all have something new to reveal. Take, for instance, Red River Valley (aka The Cowboy’s Love Song), which the pair turn this way and that until it’s hard to believe they could find so much fascinating variety in such a simple tune. And it all comes across in the bell-like clarity of Frisell’s guitar and the firm, woody texture of Morgan’s bass.
A solo album by an improvisational drummer would in most circumstances elicit a wary groan, but Australia’s Laurence Pike is no ordinary percussionist. He’s played with a miscellany of jazzers (notably pianist Mike Nock), and embraced genres from psych to electronica to spiritual jazz. Nonetheless, his 2018 debut, Distant Early Warning, was a surprise, blending Pike’s rhythmic skills with sounds culled from a drumpad sampler to create an uber-ambient suite, part acoustic, part electronic.
Holy Spring doubles down on that approach with impressive results. It’s inspired by Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (Russian title Sacred Spring), and aims “to connect with something universal”. It certainly does. Pieces such as Dance of the Earth rumble and thud, overlaid by splashes of cymbals, with more rhythmic trickery than Reich or Glass could serve up. Drum Chant, with indigenous Australian clapsticks in the mix, evokes the pulse of that continent’s vast, red interior. Elsewhere, it’s deep space that is conjured up. On Daughter of Mars, aliens appear to be calling to the blue planet, while the title track could serve as the soundtrack for a close encounter. Full of morphing grooves and moods of imminent revelation, it’s a quicksilver delight.
The debut EP from Jack Cooper’s new group creates a sonic fantasy world like no other
Living in the city, it can feel as if the only thing in the air is pollution. For Modern Nature, though, a new group comprising Jack Cooper of alt-rock band Ultimate Painting, Will Young of lo-fi group Beak>, and Aaron Neveu of Woods, there’s a quiet, devotional beauty that sits behind the filth and noise.
Taking their cue from the tender falsetto of English folkman Nick Drake, the free-form rhythms of Alice Coltrane and the rattling guitars of Radiohead, Modern Nature’s debut EP, Nature, is a sprawling journey through an imagined natural landscape.
(Greenleaf) Inspired by a cappella Sacred Harp singing, the trumpeter also pays tribute to Carla Bley and Mary Lou Williams in this intensely personal trio set
Trumpeter Dave Douglas emerged in the 1980s with soul-jazz piano star Horace Silver, a glitzy but generic intro that hardly suggested the prize-strewn career he would forge as an improviser, composer and all-round enabling dynamo. He has since traversed John Zorn’s free-jazz-meets-klezmer Masada group, explored his own jazz, classical, world-musical and contemporary dance and non-western projects, and paid heartfelt and thoughtful tributes to his influences: Björk, Thom Yorke, Wayne Shorter, jazz composer Mary Lou Williams and more. Devotion – to musical, personal, political and cultural inspirations – is always the name of his game. Most Dave Douglas albums could own that title, one way or another.
From Bruce Springsteen’s return to Dorian Electra’s magnificent electropop – read about 10 of our favourite songs of the month and subscribe to our 50-track playlist of the best new music to start summer
Various venues Legends including Joshua Redman and Sérgio Mendes are on strong form, but the festival relaxes to allow the dynamism of London’s young jazz scene to shine
For the musicians of London’s recent jazz resurgence, the pristine Regency architecture and middle-class suburbia of Cheltenham is a long way from home. Now in its 23rd year and having historically broken acts including Jamie Cullum and Soweto Kinch into the jazz world, the festival has nevertheless often been in stark contrast to the London scene and spaces such as Total Refreshment Centre and Church of Sound, where open communality is key.
For its 2019 edition, though, Cheltenham took on a more relaxed form, expanding from multi-venue pop-ups to taking over the town entirely, putting on everything from big-top festival headliners to pavement buskers and after-hours sessions, where the new generation made their presence felt. Pianist and producer Alfa Mist, a criminally underrated staple of the London scene, exemplified this. Playing his deft hip-hop inflected compositions from latest album Structuralism, he featured trumpeter Johnny Woodham on a series of coruscating solos and the beautiful vocals of bassist Kaya Thomas-Dyke on the languid Breathe.
US jazz saxophonist says international musicians will find Britain less appealing
Britain leaving the EU could make the country less appealing to international performers, one of the world’s leading jazz musicians has said.
Kamasi Washington, whose album The Epic and his work with Kendrick Lamar made him a poster boy of the jazz revival, said Brexit was not an inviting idea to musicians and could make coming to England harder for smaller bands.
This celebration of a chocolate factory turned club and studio and its importance to London’s jazz scene is invigorating
For journalist and critic Emma Warren, cultures can only thrive through physical interaction. As much as the internet has facilitated the rise of new digital mediums – everything from performing AI bots such as Lil Miquela to the spread of electronic subcultures through streaming platform Boiler Room – Warren believes “dancing in the dark is a human need… it sustains us”.
So goes the thesis of her first book, Make Some Space, a cultural history-cum-manifesto for creating musical communities in the 21st century, told through the story of one east London building and its development of a new jazz scene.
Warren makes a strong argument for the preservation of our cultural spaces