Spiritual jazz is non-denominational. Churches have been established in its name, and some of its most essential figures would even build their own Vedantic Ashram, but sacred texts have never been necessary to feel the profundity of its sound. The sheer physical presence of the playing of John Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders is more than enough to experience transcendence. But the spiritual component of jazz often connects to something more tangible—the musical traditions of India or Africa, or the civil rights struggles in America in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s music that connects the mystical to the tangible—not soul music per se, but music that speaks to the soul.
Cochemea Gastelum is an artist for whom soul music has numerous meanings. The San Diego-born saxophonist’s lengthy résumé showcases just how vast his influences are and how versatile a musician he is, having been a member of both Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and Antibalas as well as having performed with musical legends such as Daryl Hall and Aaron Neville. Suffice it to say he has chops, and grooves at that, though on new latest full-length All My Relations, he taps into something beyond that. It’s an album informed by his ancestors’ Native American heritage, a deep and profound relationship with the natural world and what lies beyond.
All My Relations isn’t exactly a spiritual jazz record cut from the same musical cloth as A Love Supreme or Karma—though it’s not too far removed from something like Thembi. Its tracks are shorter and less explosive, less an exploration of exorcism-like emotional intensity than meditative pieces that more often than not bring a hefty dose of funk to the table. The space between the grooves and hypnotic percussion in “Maso Ye’eme” suggests an almost Ethio-jazz-like psychedelia—and an otherworldliness as a result of a slow-panning effect that’s best heard through headphones—but in its final moment, the track erupts into an explosive percussive exercise that leads seamlessly into the chant-heavy title track. They’re each intriguing individually, but when connected make for a complementary suite of sounds that reveal a wider expanse to Gastelum’s spiritual journey.
More often than not, Gastelum clears out space to simply get down, and he does so impressively. There’s a bite-sized sampling of funk on “Mitote,” as well as a brief, clacking groove in “Mescalero.” But it’s in the lengthier tracks, such as the twinkling astral travel of “Seyewailo,” where Gastelum delivers his most breathtaking sounds. Though All My Relations is relatively short, it offers the freedom to revisit the details on repeat listens and fully understanding how Cochemea fits into a longer tradition of spiritual jazz.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.