Just in time for Christmas: great new (and old) jazz.

In the spring of last year, the very welcome appearance of two albums featuring previously unreleased performances of music by Mike Westbrook and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra prompted me to blog about them; I also ended up recommending them as possible Christmas gifts in a blog posted in December. The Westbrook album, released by My Only Desire Records, featured a 1974 performance of his Citadel/Room 315 suite with soloist John Surman and the excellent Swedish Radio Jazz Group; and this week my first visit to Foyles since the start of the pandemic revealed that My Only Desire have now put out another hitherto unreleased recording, again by the Swedish orchestra, this time conducted by and playing the music of another great composer who would help to change the face of British jazz in the 1960s, the late Graham Collier. The discovery of this wholly unexpected gem made me decide to put together a few words on four recent releases which might prove helpful if you’re wondering about what seasonal gifts to buy.

The Collier album is especially welcome in that it features a five-part suite – British Conversations – which (unlike Citadel/Room 315) has never before been heard on disc. It was written for two soloists who worked with Collier a great deal – trumpeter Harry Beckett and guitarist Ed Speight, both of whom play with characteristic flair and invention. But it is the quality of Collier’s writing for the ensemble as a whole that is especially brilliant; the shifting tempi, the rich, multi-hued orchestral colouring and the sheer freedom allowed for improvising combine to produce music that is constantly imaginative and impressive, be it contemplative, swinging or funky. British Conversations is a reminder that Collier, whose music has been too often neglected since his death ten years ago, was a pioneering figure in the modernisation of British jazz, and a composer of rare ambition and enormous talent. You can listen to one movement here.

Graham Collier

Another recent surprise from the archives was Impulse!’s release of A Love Supreme Live in Seattle, recorded live at the Penthouse on 2 October 1965, nearly a year after John Coltrane (pictured top), McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones made their classic studio recording. The version on the new album differs in its enlarged personnel – added to the original quartet are tenorist Pharaoh Sanders, altoist Carlos Ward and bassist Donald Garrett – in its 75-minute duration (the four movements are separated by four ‘interludes’), and in its musical adventurousness; Coltrane had already recorded Ascension, a radical rethinking of style, form and purpose which would take him into avant-garde territory, and that new approach shows in the Seattle performance of A Love Supreme. The music is freer, more intense and forceful, wilder and more energetic; as Richard Williams wrote in his review at The Blue Moment, it sees the composer and leader moving towards the experimentalism that would become known as ‘Late Coltrane’. That was, and even now perhaps remains, a divisive term, but I’d argue that for anyone who cherishes the original studio recording, this newly available account is surely a must. Here is a sample.

Finally, a couple of more recent performances, both released on ECM. (For those with very adventurous tastes I’d also have recommend the stylistically austere, experimental sound world created on the evocatively titled Subaqueous Silence by the Ayumi Tanaka Trio, but some might baulk at the 35-minute running time for a full-price disc.) First, Jorge Rossy – previously heard on percussion with Arve Henriksen and Jakob Bro on the latter’s recent impressive Uma Elmo – moves to vibraphone and marimba for Puerta, a lovely trio album with bassist Robert Landfermann and drummer Jeff Ballard. One of my favourite musicians (besides Collier, Coltrane and Westbrook) when I was first getting into jazz was Gary Burton, and this album, sometimes fulsomely melodic, sometimes almost classical in its restrained subtlety, is an intriguingly updated and altogether rewarding addition to his legacy. Listen here.

Craig Taborn

Then, perhaps predictably for those of you who’ve been reading my posts over the last few years, there is Shadow Plays by the extraordinary Craig Taborn . A technically brilliant keyboards player who has played in numerous different formats – you can learn more about him here or search above for more recent coverage – he is one of the most impressive musicians around when it comes to composing on the spot. That is what he does on this latest solo piano concert recording, made in March 2020 at a performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus. There are seven tracks, mostly extended – the shortest are just shy of six minutes, the longest running around 18 or 19 minutes – so that they generally course through a variety of tempi and moods, from quietly lyrical to danceably funky, gently meditative to powerfully exhilarating, melodically simple to experimentally abstract. But they always sound typically Taborn in terms of their sheer invention, their questing audacity and their musical sophistication. Here, by way of example, is A Code with Spells. I can’t see how this won’t end up one of my favourite albums of the year.

The photo of Graham Collier is by Karlijne Pietersma. The photo of Craig Taborn is by Luciano Rossetti.

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