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Phil's Jazz Pleasures December 2020

Unusual Jazz Instruments

Here’s some interesting music to help bring some seasonal cheer. This month I have focussed on unusual instruments accompanying jazz musicians or played directly by them.
The koto is the national musical instrument of Japan. A half-tubed zither that is plucked; you will recognise it immediately you hear it. Yoko Ito Gates plays it to wonderful effect on a Pharoah Sanders’ track entitled Kazuko. Listen when you want to relax and chill.
Dorothy Ashby started playing amazing jazz harp in the late 1950s to great effect. She was followed by Alice Coltrane, of course, and we are now blessed to have the brilliant Alina Bzhezhinska here in the UK. Alina will playing at our next festival and I would urge you to come and listen to her either “streamed” or “live” if that becomes a possibility.  I have chosen tracks by all three of them finishing my monthly playlist with one of Alina’s own compositions, the aptly titled Winters Moods.
The oud is a short-necked, lute-like string instrument, usually with 11 strings, widely used in Middle Eastern music. Two great British jazz musicians Dave Holland (bass) and John Surman (saxophones and clarinets) made a wonderful album – Thimar - with Anour Brahem, the world renowned oud player. I hope you enjoy the track Uns as much as I do.
Afriquoi is a London based band playing African dance music using the Congolese guitar and the Gambian cora (see photo). On the track I have chosen – Starship - they are joined by the excellent London-based sax player Shabaka Hutchings as well as Moussa Dembele from Bukino Faso, who was also based in London until the recent harsh turn in immigration decisions. The same harsh turn that prevented him playing at our last Festival. Moussa plays various instruments on the track. Mad Lenoir is a French musician who also employs many African instruments to great effect.
Lyle Ritz - great name – plays unexpected jazz on the ukulele as the track Tangerine demonstrates. More surprisingly, Rufus Harley plays astonishing jazz on the bag pipes. The track I have selected from his Recreation of the Gods album is called Crack. Dance your heart out this – extremely funky!
One of my favourite musicians is Tom Waits and he is no stranger to using a legion of unusual instruments to get interesting new sounds. On Swordfishtrombones album in addition the regular array of guitars, he employs a rich percussion section of marimba, bell plate, dabuki drum and African talking drum. This album also features bagpipes, various organs and the wonderful glass armonica (see photo). This extraordinary but wonderful sounding instrument uses a series of glass bowls or goblets graduated in size to produce musical tones through friction. It is features significantly on the track I have selected - Rainbirds.
All the very best for Christmas and here’s hoping 2021 is a much more kind year than its predecessor!

This Month’s Playlist

  1. Kazuko by Yoko Ito Gates (with Pharoah Sanders) on Yoko Ito Gates. This track was originally on Pharoah Sanders’ album Journey to the One
  2. Essence of Sapphire by Dorothy Ashby on Late Night Tales : Bonobo
  3. Journey in Satchidananda  by Alice Coltrane on Journey in Satchidananda
  4. Uns by Anour Brahem, Dave Holland & John Surman on Thimar
  5. Starship by Afriquoi with Shabaka Hutchings & Moussa Dembele on Starship/Can I Know You
  6. Mosu Magni by Mad Lenoir on Mama Afrika
  7. Tangerine by Lyle Ritz on How about the Uke?
  8. Crack by Rufus Hartley on Re-creation of the Gods
  9. Rainbirds by Tom Waits on Swordfishtrombones
  10. Winter Moods by Alina Bzhezhinska on Inspiratio

Phil's Spotify Playlist


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