JAZZ WARRIORS / “In Reference To Our Forefathers’ Fathers’ Dreams”
The Jazz Warriors’ Out Of Many, One People (Antilles/Island, 1987) is probably the most obscure jazz record I’ve ever loved. There’s so much classic jazz out there and I know so little about the genre (relatively speaking), that when I do buy a jazz CD, I almost always go with the classics. It feels pointless to experiment when I could easily spend the rest of my life buying jazz recordings from cats so famous they’re identifiable by just one name: Coltrane, Ellington, Miles, Rollins, Bird, Cannonball, Dizzy, Monk, Pharoah, etc., etc., etc. Given all of that, it’s kinda strange that a jazz album which went from the pressing plant virtually straight to the cut-out bins ended up being one of my all-time favorite jazz releases. Add in that the band is British and the music was recording in the mid-‘80s (not exactly a watershed time period for classic jazz), and it’s not just strange, it’s downright weird. Here’s the story of how I found, and came to love, this album. The story begins—like most of my musical stories—with hip-hop. The group in question is Public Enemy and the album is It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (Def Jam, 1988). Song-for-song, Nation Of Millions is as good as (some say better than) any hip-hop album ever released. For the purposes of this story though, I’m going to stick with one selection from the album. And actually, I’m not even going to talk about the song as a whole. I’m going to focus on just one quote. In the second verse of the third song, “Don’t Believe The Hype,” Public Enemy’s Chuck D says, “Writers treat me like Coltrane, insane.” Then he follows that up with: Yes to them, but to me I'm a different kind We're brothers of the same mind, unblind I can’t tell you how many times those words ran through my mind: “Writers treat me like Coltrane, insane” and “We’re brothers of the same mind, unblind.” It wasn’t just what Chuck was saying, conceptually. It was also how he said the lines. I loved the way he set up the lines so that they had identical rhythms. “Coltrane, insane” / “Same mind, unblind.” I also loved that Chuck used a word that wasn’t a word (“unblind”) to describe what he and Coltrane had in common. He meant, of course, that their eyes were open, that they were politically, socially and musically aware. But Chuck, who at the time was a self-proclaimed “follower of Farrakhan,” was also making reference to the Nation Of Islam’s concept of “triple stage darkness,” to the unknowing 85% who are “deaf, dumb and blind.” Ultimately, Chuck’s lines left me wanting to know more about Coltrane’s music. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have ever gotten into Coltrane otherwise, but Chuck’s line was the immediate impetus. By coincidence, I’d already been trying to get into jazz. I was listening to Miles’ Kind Of Blue album (without fully realizing that Trane was one of the lead players on that album) and, if I remember correctly, I was having some trouble. For years, I’d been living on a musical diet consisting almost wholly of hip-hop and reggae dub. Compared to the music I was used to, jazz sounded thin, random and rhythmically anemic. I remember thinking, “Where’s the groove?” All of that changed when I heard John Coltrane’s Coltrane album (Impulse, 1962) and in particular “Out Of This World” – a forty-something year-old tune that still sounds so damn good Village Voice jazz critic Francis Davis referred to it recently as “shattering.” I was fascinated by the suppleness and power of Trane’s rhythm section: Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. And while there’s nothing I can say here about Coltrane’s playing that Kalamu hasn’t already said better, suffice it to say, I was a new convert. For the first time, I understood the appeal of my father’s music—jazz. I started collecting Coltrane CDs, among them a big-band release called Africa/Brass (Impulse, 1961), which quickly became one of my favorite Coltrane CDs. Again, Kalamu has already said everything and more that I could say about this beautiful, complicated sprawl of a record. Through the influence of ‘Trane, I started collecting records by a young tenor phenom from the UK named Courtney Pine. These days, Courtney sports waist-length dreads and plays various fusions of jazz and contemporary music. Back in the eighties though, Courtney was a neo-traditionalist in the best sense of the word. He clearly knew and respected the lengthy tenor saxophone tradition. He assembled and led several excellent bands. And, as a soloist, he was absurdly talented. Many of Courtney’s studio releases of the time hint at his brilliance as a soloist, but none of it compares to seeing him live. I wish I had some live Courtney Pine music to share with y’all – when he was blowing up there on the bandstand, the dude really was unbelievable. Instead, I’ll go with the next best thing I have and post one of my favorite studio recordings of Courtney’s, a tune named “Zaire” from Courtney’s third album, Within The Realms Of Our Dreams (Antilles/Island, 1991). Now that I’d finally gained a basic understanding of this new musical world called jazz, collecting classic albums of the genre became something of an obsession. One day at Tower Records in New Orleans, the jazz buyer—who knew how much I liked both Courtney Pine and Africa/Brass—told me about the Jazz Warriors album. Basically, he explained, it was Courtney Pine in a big band setting just like Africa/Brass was John Coltrane playing in a similar setting. Only, Courtney wasn’t exactly the leader. The Jazz Warriors were a loosely organized collective, a union of young, like-minded British musicians. And their album, Out Of Many, One People wasn’t a studio recording. It was a live, one-off concert. If I’d been on the edge about whether or not I should check it out, the live aspect made my decision for me. Jazz, I’d already learned, is a genre that is often better live than in the studio. I don’t know what I was expecting from the Jazz Warriors album, but what I heard blew me away. It was striking and intense music that had all the fire and passion of Courtney at his best, yet also had some of the elements Courtney’s music lacked. I don’t know if I can put the difference into words exactly, but listening to the feature track “In Reference To Our Forefathers’ Fathers’ Dreams,” I hear an almost epic sense of determination. I hear a crew of young cats who’ve done their homework, who’ve spent their time in the woodshed, and who also have something serious on their minds that they want, maybe even need, to get out to the people. I don’t know much about the technical aspects of composing and arranging for a large jazz band, but it can’t possibly be easy. On the five songs that make up this live recording, there is a consistently high level of both. And the playing – by all involved – maintains the high standard set by the compositions. These cats may not be American and you may have never heard of them, but if you like your jazz straight up, I promise you, you owe it to yourself to at least give them a listen. The only problem is, if you find that you really dig the Jazz Warriors and decide you want to acquire a copy of their one and only CD, bring your checkbook with you. Like I said, the record went in and out of print almost immediately; over the years, it’s become a highly prized and expensive collector’s item. If you don’t mind paying upwards of fifty bucks, click here for a copy of your very own. —Mtume ya Salaam Thanks (I Think) ;->) Well, son, what am I supposed to do with this? I’m going to try shorthand—regardless of how long my response turns out to be, please know that it ought to be at least five or six times as long in order to convey even half of its importance. So here goes: The Jazz Warriors were the most influential British-based jazz aggregation over the last thirty years or so. They not only set an artistic standard, they also set cultural and music activism standards. From that point forward, British jazz could no longer simply be described as imitations of life, as an effort to swing like Americans, play like Americans. These folk weren’t playing, or as British photo/journalist Val Wilmer entitled one of her books: The Jazz Warriors made music “as serious as your life”! Their album Out Of Many, One People (which is the national motto of Jamaica) was recorded on the 13th and 14th of March 1967 in concert at the Shaw Theatre in Kings Cross, London. I suspect there is at least another album’s worth of music from those concerts that is unreleased. As a follow-up there was a vinyl EP issued that contained two songs: 1. A version of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” and 2. “Swing For All” an original composition by Fayyez Virgi and Kevin Robinson. “Chameleon also appeared on a compilation release called The Rebirth Of The Cool – Vol. 1. As far as I have been able to track, that’s the extent of their commercial recordings. Moreover, I have not yet been able to locate any photos of The Jazz Warriors as a group. In the interest of historical preservation, here is the full line up from the Out Of Many, One People recording session. Woodwinds: Courtney Pine, Ray Carless, Andy Harewood, Jeff Gordon, Phillip Bent, Brian Edwards Brass: Claude Deppa, Kevin Robinson, Harry Beckett, Andy Grappy, Fayyez Virgi, Robin Walker. Piano: Adrian Reid Guitar: Alan Weekes Bass: Gary Crosby, Val Maniks Percussion: Mamadi Kamara Vibes/Mirimba: Orphy Robinson Vocals/Narration: Cleveland Watkiss “Saint Maurice...” was composed by Courtney Pine, the soloists are: Alan Weekes – guitar, Orphy Robinson – vibes and Adrian Reid – piano. “In Reference To Our Forefathers…” was composed by Courtney Pine, the narration is by Cleveland Watkiss, the soloists are Orphy Robinson – vibes, Alan Weekes – guitar, Harry Beckett, Claude Deppa, and Kevin Robinson – trumpets, Courtney Pine – soprano sax. “Minor Groove” was composed by Fayyez Virgi, the soloists are Kevin Robinson – trumpet, Cleveland Watkiss – voice, Phillip Bent – flute, Adrian Reid – piano, Ray Carless – tenor sax.
Courtney Pine launched TAJA the Abibi Jazz Arts dedicated to the promotion of black music and culture in 1985 ( Abibi means Africa in the Twi language of Ghana) to encourage black British youth to find their own voice. Musicians frustrated at the lack of opportunities to play jazz were brought together by Courtney to form the big band JAZZ WARRIORS. They debuted at the Brixton venue the Fridge in January 1986 and established what was to become the catalyst for young players of that and the following generations of musicians. The Warriors played outside what was regarded as the Jazz circuit. Attracting a hip young and appreciative audience in the process, The media spotlight soon followed. The Warriors however were more than just a gigging band it was also a school and an attitude that soon attracted younger musicians from ever increasingly diverse backgrounds, Its strength was that it collectively offered to a new generation of musicians a platform to explore music in the UK like never before. —website about THE JAZZ WARRIORS
There is so much more I want to drop but… let’s just say, to be continued.
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