My listening habits shift by the week. Usually, literally. I’ll spend an entire week listening only to Jamaican Dancehall, the next to bands with either Dave Grohl,¬† Josh Homme, or both of them, in . I let whimsy and external influence dictate it. This week it’s “space jazz” or “spiritual jazz”; a music, usually from the late 60s, characterised by abstract, filmic arrangements, unusual combinations of instruments and a cosmic, spiritual or political (or all three!) ethos. These bands drew on psychedelia, cathartic walls of noise, gentle waves of “ambience”, soul & early funk. A few bands got into synthesisers, but you’re just as likely to find a sitar or a koto (or both) next to a Fender Rhodes and the more traditional brass instruments found in jazz ensembles.

Big names associated with the sound include Pharoah Saunders and Sun Ra, John & Alice Coltrane and Rahsaan Roland Kirk but there are numerous others. John Coltrane in particular is credited for bringing the sound to a wide and varied audience with his 1965 album “A Love Supreme”, but Sun Ra had been creating alternative and provocative takes on “cerebral” jazz since the late 50s. More recently The Cinematic Orchestra and Manchester’s Matt Halsall have been holding the torch aloft, but I think you can hear traces of this vibe in artists as different as Spiritualised, Antibalas, Can and Boxcutter.

My interest recently was peaked by Soul Jazz Records releasing a compilation (and book) of this music called Freedom Rhythm & Sound, highlighting the political elements of the music. The late 60s saw the Black Power movement expand its influence leading to greater freedoms, empowerment, rioting and eventually a shift in the culture and legislation of the United  States which is still relevant now. Space/spiritual/protest jazz was a striking part of the soundtrack to this period and the artists promote and reflect this in their music.

I see some parallels with those times and ours now. With the sense that capitalist methodology seems to be squeezing the general public into tighter and tighter pigeon-holes; the US and UK governments continuing to wage wars the majority of their people don’t believe in and so on, it feels like we could do with some louder protests and a wider world view. Much of the population feels its government ignores their views & there seem to be greater, often unspoken, racial tensions in the UK these days, even tho’ on paper we’re a hugely open and tolerant nation. I don’t have any answers and I know I’m being simplistic or naive here, I’m just looking back to get some clues and to sort out the tapes for the journey….