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2021 jazz albums round-up with Chris Searle

Classic jazz immortals set the tone

OF ALL the jazz albums that have burst into sound in 2021, my favourite is They All Be On This Old Road (Ogun Records), recorded in London in 1976, and featuring two late protean masters, saxophonist Elton Dean, the son of Nottingham Salvation Army stalwarts, and pianist Keith Tippett, whose father was a Bristol policeman.

Surprising jazz origins perhaps, but out of such roots were their separate musical genius born, and playing in a quartet with British bassist Chris Lawrence and the Cape Town drums supremo Louis Moholo-Moholo, they created a record of powerful and historic vibrancy.

Dean combines an extraordinary attack on the opener Edeeupub and Dede-Bup-Bup with tender lyricism on ballads like Nancy with the Laughing Face and Coltrane’s Naima.

Tippett’s keyboard flourishes and starburst soloing seem wedded to Dean’s streaming alto horn and saxello, Lawrence plays with a deep, affecting artistry and the brilliantly inventive Moholo-Moholo brings and blends Africa into this live London mix.

The quartet transform a song associated with Billie Holiday, Easy Living, into a freeborn anthem of huge excitation. Spirits of past musical heroes here, uniting in a spellbinding session of sonic marvels.

Daniel Herskedal is a tuba and bass trumpet virtuoso, born in Molde, Norway, in 1982.

His Call for Winter (Edition Records) is a solo masterpiece, an evocation of Scandinavian winter played with fecund artistry and deep feeling, as if jazz is finding itself new origins.

Herskedal’s lucid notes curl around Lynx Tracks and in Glacier Hiking he makes such a uniquely beautiful sound that the Nordic skies resonate with the depth of his breath.

In Ice Crystals he duets with his overdubbed self in a blue blizzard of haunting, freezing timbres. Astonishing music, superbly played.

Slowly (Sunnyside Records) is Noah Haidu’s 75th birthday tribute to stellar fellow-pianist Keith Jarrett, forced into retirement by illness after decades of groundbreaking solo and trio performances.

Haidu plays alongside jazz griots and pioneers; bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart.

It is an album of lyrical, sometimes borrowed beauty, and Jarrett’s pianism, strickened by stroke, lucidly continues in his inheritor’s artistry and instrumental emotion.

Williams composed the serenely levitating Air Dancing and Hart the strident Duchess and the compelling Lorca, a tribute to the great dramatist.

Jarrett’s love for standards is reflected in the trio’s swinging optimism in their evocative versions of What a Difference a Day Made, Georgia and But Beautiful.

But it is when Haidu braces two tunes, knitted by Williams’ and Hart’s rhythmic compulsion — Jarrett’s Rainbow and his own Keith Jarrett, that this album finds its most inspired and deepest moments, as if two pianists were one.

A resonating drums solo by Jim Bashford opens Woody Shaw’s Zoltan, the first track of the Xhosa Cole Quartet’s first album, Know Them, Know Us (Stoney Lane Records).

Here are four young sizzling spirits in full fettle, with Jay Phelps’s incisive trumpet, Cole’s assured and grounded tenor saxophone and James Owston’s dancing bass.

On to Ornette’s Blues Connotation with the full edge of Phelps’s horn and Cole’s warm tone on the familiar Rogers and Hart melodism of Manhattan with guest pianist Reuben James.

Birmingham-born Cole knows and blows all about urban life with city-mate James and fellow Brummie-horn Soweto Kinch whose alto saxophone joins in, with solos on Tadd Dameron’s On a Misty Night and Lee Morgan’s extravaganza, Untitled Boogaloo.

But for me the album’s apex is the quartet’s rendition of Monk’s Played Twice, with its sudden spurts of notes from Cole and some soaring Phelps: a seething sonic preface to 2022.

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