Floating Points, Gilles Peterson, Theo Parrish and more break down their favourite records from the Black Jazz Records archives.
Black Jazz Records is a storied label. Founded in 1969, the label was started as a home for young African American jazz musicians and shot to fame thanks to the success of pianist and organist Doug Carn whose four albums for the label are revered as some of the best jazz music to emerge from the US during the 1970s. Though the label originally closed just six years after it was founded, its legacy lived on, with a new generation discovering its back catalogue in the 90s thanks to a run of prominent samples from the likes of Ice Cube and A Tribe Called Quest. Since then the label has been revived by Japan’s Snow Dog Records with the likes of Theo Parrish and Gilles Peterson delving into its back catalogue for a widely celebrated remix series.
In honour of the label’s 50th anniversary and ahead of their showcase at J.A.W’s Family Reunion next month, we asked some of the label’s most prominent fans to pick their favourite release from the archive and share what it means to them. Read on for reflections on the label’s essential releases from Floating Points, Gilles Peterson, Theo Parrish and more.
Floating PointsDoug & Jean Carn – Revelation
“Revelation was the first Black Jazz record I got. [I bought it from] IF Music in Soho when I was 18. There a few tunes on there that I knew already as standards, Naima (Coltrane) and Contemplation (Tyner), but its Doug’s own tunes on the LP [where] it really pops off for me, Time is Running Out; that’s the one! I love the Hammond recording too, so percussive- and Jean’s voice being tracked by a synth at the start. It sounded super novel to my ears at the time, just listening now and it takes me back to the time it blew my mind for the first time.”
Rich MedinaHenry Franklin – The Skipper
“How the hell do you pick a favourite Black Jazz album? It feels almost impossible, but if I had to, I would probably have to choose Henry Franklin’s The Skipper LP. Henry Franklin epitomized the avant-garde disposition of The Black Jazz record label at the highest level, in my opinion. First of all, the guy was a double bassist! Does it get any more offbeat than that? Perhaps it does, but the double bass ranks pretty high on the scale of bugged out instruments in my book, and Mr Franklin played the hell out of his. A truly unique player on a truly unique instrument can at times seem strange or sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Mr Franklin was without a doubt one of the most innovative bassists ever born.
“The Skipper was recorded in 1972 and released relatively unceremoniously until Black cultural students across the racial spectrum, jazz critics, and people like my mom, who was a fan of his playing alongside artists like Hugh Masakela, Willie Bobo, Gene Harris, Roy Ayers & Stevie Wonder, realized that the formidable session and stage player had recorded a solo album at all. As a body of work, The Skipper is a thoughtful journey across the full spectrum of free jazz and the funky jazz dance sound that rocked UK dance clubs and the listening rooms of sophisticated jazz collectors worldwide throughout the 1970s. The featured artists and session musicians alone could easily take up five essays like this on their own, and they took up even more space on this LP weaving a texture of cohesion around Mr Franklin’s bass playing that has yet to be duplicated. There is nowhere near enough space here to go into depth about the album the way I would like to, but The Skipper is undoubtedly my favourite Black Jazz Records album.”
Theo ParrishDoug & Jean Carn – Higher Ground from Adam's Apple
“Unbeknownst to me, the first song I was ever allowed to hear in in utero through headphones on my mom’s belly was Infant Eyes. The year had to be ’72 since that’s when I was born. Of course, I don’t remember it from there. But that very same record, I pilfered from my mom’s record collection when I began to start djing. I remember that album as elegant, and mysteriously passed my grasp of understanding music. It had more in it than I was attuned to being 13-14 years old and going through the ravages of puberty. It didn’t have the beat I was looking for.
“Years later, on a mix CD from a friend, I heard Higher Ground, which is on the Adam’s Apple LP. It had to be about 2001. From then on, I researched as much as I could of Doug and Jean Carn’s music as well as the Black Jazz catalogue. It would be years before I understood the song well enough to play it out. It’s amazing how in the beginning it’s quite a high tempo, and then it drops and falls into the opening lyrics of Higher Ground. If you play it at the right time, it goes off like a hand grenade. Being able to deliver the message that they created into a setting that might be in juxtaposition is a great gift to have from them.”
Gilles PetersonDoug & Jean Carn – Higher Ground from Adam's Apple
“Higher Ground by Doug Carn is the track from the mighty Black Jazz catalogue that I have played the most in my DJ sets. Anytime of the night… its magic power ticks all the senses and [it has] a killer breakdown; [those] messed up keyboards and that organ solo! These 5 minutes can lift a nation.”
Nicole MishaDoug & Jean Carn – The Spirit of the New Land
“Arise and Shine. Beautiful People Arise!
“Spirit of the New Land is undeniable and timeless. I have a deep love for Adam’s Apple. Higher Ground, Sweet Season; strikingly powerful music. But there’s something really special about the way Spirit of The New Land unfurls, and Jean truly offers so much depth to this album. All while Alphonse Mouzon holds it down all the way around, and folks like Charles Tolliver and George Harper are blasting off.
“I came upon Adam’s Apple and Spirit of the New Land the same way, without jackets ha. Found them in random places and almost passed them by without having their visuals for reference. But they insisted and I’m grateful. The original compositions like My Spirit and Arise and Shine are phenomenal and unlike any other songs I know. And the same goes for Doug Carn’s takes on the classics Blue in Green and Search For The New Land. The play between subtlety and fire is entrancing; and this goes for both rhythms and lyrics. It’s the entire environment. It seamlessly takes us to different altitudes. Which I feel speaks to the greater dynamic in Doug Carn’s work. Allowing space to meditate and groove, while echoing an urgency that is in tune with the musical journey they’re all on as well as the state of our world. It’s the medicine we need. And it’s being created for black people. “We must have some us land. I hope for the day that you understand.” I continue to learn from this vision with each listen.”
Pablo ValentinoDoug & Jean Carn – Infant Eyes
“I’ve always been a big jazz fan since my teenage days, probably around 14/15 years old, that’s when I discovered Miles, Coltrane, Parker & Monk… “I´ve always been a big jazz fan since my teenage days, probably around 14/15 years old, that’s when i discovered Miles, Coltrane, Parker & Monk… Spiritual jazz & free jazz came naturally after it. It will sound a bit ‘obvious’, but if I have to choose one album from the Black Jazz Records catalogue, I would definitely pick Doug Carn’s Infant Eyes. The reason is simple. It’s pure, simple yet beautiful; there’s a not a single bad track on it. Jean Carn’s vocals are astonishing, and she seems like floating on top of the recording. It’s also probably the Black Jazz album I’ve listened the most together with my girlfriend. And on a personal side, it did help us a lot during quite a difficult time we had to face. So if you haven’t heard it yet, do yourself a favour and go play that record right now, whether you are at the office, in your car, public transport or simply at home; now’s the time!”
John GómezGene Russell – Get Down from Talk to My Lady
“My introduction to Black Jazz was as a teenager when I heard Gene Russell’s Get Down for the first time. It was music packed so full of life that it sounded like momentum itself, its raw and funky notes crashing to earth like an accelerated drawl. Indeed, Russell’s piano hung off the beat, both furiously ahead and lagging behind at the same time. For me, listening to this song was a way of joining in with the turbulent clamour of a city far away. I would soon discover in Madrid’s second-hand record stores that much of the Black Jazz catalogue had also been printed in Spain. I tracked the records down, absorbed in the cries of hope, of sorrow, of defiance, and of pain that swept through them. Black Jazz became my go-to encyclopedia of black music, each of its songs a call to action that resonates today with the same volatility.”
Rabih BeainiDoug & Jean Carn – Revelation
“The first LP I purchased used in a second-hand shop in Mestre, Venice, was Revelation by Doug Carn, and was the one that also introduced me to the discography of Black Jazz Records. It was sometime around 2008, I was still living in Venice and I do remember that I heard the record almost six times in a row, on a rainy day in my small ground floor apartment, with the door open to my small garden. I loved the A-Side, Power and Glory sounded out of a soundtrack of some Shaft-like blaxploitation film, and the version of Naima totally got me. But it was the B side that was my thing, the kind of spiritual jazz that captured all my soul.
“Contemplation‘s lyrics and harmonic structure are intimate and complex at the same time, yet so universal and embracing, making this track one of my all-time vocal spiritual jazz tunes, standing right next to works like Eddy Gale’s Ghetto Music or even a more recent Love Supreme by Dwight Trible. An essential record if you need an introduction to Black Jazz, an essential label if you’re even scratching the surface of Black Jazz as a world.”
AntalDoug & Jean Carn – Infant Eyes
“If I had to choose one favourite album from the Black Jazz catalogue, I would pick Infant Eyes by Doug Carn, but in all honesty, I don’t think that statement does the label any justice. To me, the catalogue has a different meaning in the sense that when I heard the term spiritual jazz for the first time, probably via one of those UK comps that entered our store, I got interested in ‘that sound’ and started to look out for any album on Black Jazz, Strata East and Tribe recordings.
“Doug Carn’s Infant Eyes was one of the first ones I was able to find, and so I listened to that album many more times than any other Black Jazz album. I think with spiritual jazz albums it’s about individual tunes on certain albums that stand out for me. On Infant Eyes it’s definitely Little B’s Poem. In 2012, I went to Japan to DJ and for distribution meetings for our company. It was at P-Vine Records that I got this Black Jazz 20-album CD boxset they just released at that time. In one go I had the whole collection complete, and to this day I am still listening (I haven’t even heard it all). I am trying to make my personal best of and will have to make that selection sometime soon.”
Black Jazz will celebrate its 50th anniversary with Doug & Jean Carn, Theo Parrish and more as part of Family Reunion, 8–13 October.