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NPRSaturday, October 24, 2015
Matthew Halsall & the Gondwana Orchestra are one of musician Jamie Cullum's favorite contemporary jazz acts.
Courtesy of the artist
Jamie Cullum, musician and BBC Radio 2 host, is constantly searching for the freshest sounds in jazz music. A frequent guest on Weekend Edition, he recently visited the program to share new music from Matthew Halsall & the Gondwana Orchestra, Daymé Arocena and Sons of Kemet. The sounds range from Coltrane-influenced spiritual jazz to acoustic club music informed by the traditional sounds of Ethiopia and West Africa. Hear his chat with NPR's Scott Simon, and all of his latest jazz picks, at the audio link.
Musician Jamie Cullum visits Weekend Edition to share a roundup of favorite new releases from contemporary jazz acts.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Our friend Jamie Cullum is not only a famous jazz artist, he's the host of a jazz show on BBC Radio 2, where he's always on the search for great new music. Jamie Cullum joins us now from London. Thanks for being back with us Jamie.
JAMIE CULLUM: Hello. How are you doing?
SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. And what have you got for us?
CULLUM: Well, Scott, there's something about musicians that create their own universe - the people, musicians around them, and there's definitely a person who's done that. His name is Matthew Halsalls. He started a label called the Gondwana label, and this wonderful band surrounds him as well. And they connect with this type of jazz called spiritual jazz. And there's a song I want to play is one called "As I Walk."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS I WALK")
MATTHEW HALSALL AND THE GONDWANA ORCHESTRA: (Singing) As I walk along the mountains and trees, I can see a land of sanctuary.
SIMON: Oh, that is its own world, isn't it?
CULLUM: It really is. They really love the music that John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane were doing. They're very much inspired by that. It's known as spiritual jazz. I guess it was music that was trying to commune with a higher purpose, whatever you believe that to be. But also, it connected a lot with the music from the East as well, particularly kind of traditional kind of Japanese sounds and Chinese instruments and things like that. But the harp is very prevalent in this music. And I feel as though it's a type of jazz that is almost - is not focused on so much these days. But they're kind of bringing it back in these troubled crazy times. There's something about the meditative quality of this music that I think brings you back to earth, but also connects you with whatever you believe is above us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MATTHEW HALSALL AND THE GONDWANA ORCHESTRA SONG, "AS I WALK")
SIMON: Let me ask you about - I hope I pronounce this correctly - Sons of Kemet.
CULLUM: That's absolutely right. You got it.
SIMON: A song called claim "Play Mass."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONS OF KEMET SONG, "PLAY MASS")
CULLUM: This is a band that is able to create with these acoustic instruments the feeling of the maddest nightclub you've ever been to. I mean, literally, they blow the roof off anywhere they go. And they do that by referencing everything from current club music to traditional sounds of West Africa and Ethiopian music and also straight-up jazz as well.
CULLUM: There's something very playful about what they do. I think particularly in jazz, you know, there's always an air of seriousness about it. But there's a great playfulness that is potentially there as well. And they tap into the tribal side of all of us. There's a very ritualistic feeling about some of. It's very danceable at times, but it's also very free. And there's so many things at play, and it just creates this riot of sound with these brilliant acoustic instruments. And the tuba isn't heard enough, I think, as well.
SIMON: Yes, not that way, certainly.
CULLUM: No, definitely not.
SIMON: It's college football season here in the U.S., you know, so we hear a lot of tubas, but not like that one. Let's put it that way.
CULLUM: (Laughter) I see. Yes, of course, I completely forgot about that. But it's the best bass instrument there is, I think, especially played by - it's Theon Cross is the name of the tuba player in this band. And he really - he can play it like any great sound system can.
SIMON: I'm told we have time for one more song, and this is a young artist from Cuba who's impressed you.
CULLUM: Yeah, she's someone who's really impressed me. She's got a very, very rich voice that really connects the sound of Cuba with the sound of American jazz, but also via London, which I'll explain that after you've heard a little bit of it. She's called Dayme Arocena, and the song is called "Don't Unplug My Body."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T UNPLUG MY BODY")
DAYME AROCENA: (Singing) Stay with me. I don't want to leave. You are my everything. Give us some more time. (Scatting) Give me, baby, some more time. Don't unplug my body. Baby, don't block my body.
SIMON: What a wonderful voice she has. What can you tell us about Dayme Arocena?
CULLUM: She's from Cuba and she's grown up with the sound of Cuba surrounding her. But also, I think she's taken a great interest in that more traditional kind of U.S. jazz sound as well. But she came over to the U.K. A DJ called Gilles Peterson brought her over to record with her a wonderful piano trio led by a piano player called Robert Mitchell, so this amazing mixture of cultures happening. You've got that kind of clubby, jazzy sound that the U.K. do so well. You've got the sound of American jazz, that improvisation of American jazz. But you've also got that whole history of the great Cuban singers and Cuban musicians in there as well. And well, you talk about, you know, the changes about to happen in Cuba and how to make all the cultures mix up, and I think that it exists right there in the sound of this young lady Dayme Arocena.
AROCENA: (Singing) Stay with me. I don't want to leave. You are all I need. Give it some more time.
SIMON: Jamie, thanks so much for introducing us to her and to all the music. I hope to speak with you soon.
CULLUM: It's an absolute pleasure. I will definitely speak to you soon.
SIMON: Jamie Cullum, you can hear his jazz show on BBC Radio 2.
AROCENA: (Scatting)... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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