THE SMOULDERING, exotic and aromatic layers of trumpeter, flugelhornist and composer Yazz Ahmed’s La Saboteuse have gradually been infusing my psyche for the past few weeks – and it’s precisely this slowly unfolding, intoxicating weave which makes it both alluring and satisfyingly difficult to pigeonhole.
Ahmed’s credentials to date speak for themselves, having worked alongside such illustrious names as Courtney Pine, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Sir John Dankworth, as well as appearing on albums by artists including Samuel Hällkvist, Noel Langley and Radiohead; and following on from 2011 solo debut Finding My Way Home, the British-Bahraini musician describes this latest, sumptuous release as part of a long, spiritual journey: “the relationship between the optimism of my conscious self and the seductive voice of my self-destructive inclinations, my inner saboteur”. It quite ingeniously fuses a personal desire to delve more deeply into her childhood experiences – the culture of the Middle East and the sounds of its maqam and folk music traditions – with the already exciting cross-pollinations of the current jazz scene. The resulting assimilation by Ahmed and her sparkling players is a hypnotic, almost continuous work of extraordinary nuance and breadth.
Exquisite illustrations, calligraphy and the trumpeter’s own engaging sleeve notes about the music and each of her personnel instantly reveal a labour of love (also confirming the advantage of artistic completeness which the physical product will always have over digital download or streaming), preparing the ground for immersion in this fragrant, almost hour-long labyrinth. Jamil Jamal‘s alternating seven-then-eight percussive metre is set up by a Rhodes and electric bass pulse, embellished by searching improvisations from the leader’s flugel and bass clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings; and, as throughout the album, details such as echoic guitar and hazy electronics add significantly to the suffusion. Indeed, Ahmed’s mastery of textural effect is much in evidence, as in The Space Between the Fish & the Moon, a mystical expanse of bowed vibraphone, digital oscillations and crackles traversed by blissful flugel.
The fluctuating riches of this recording are magnificent – dark, spacial, contrapuntal and unison phrases in title track La Saboteuse become interspersed with muted Arabian annunciations, whilst Al Emadi‘s brassy effusiveness is carried on a wave of bendir and darbuka, with so many fascinating embellishments contributing to its cinematic mood. The vibes-introduced buoyancy of The Lost Pearl has a subtle redolence of the Modern Jazz Quartet, albeit with syncopated, effects-swirling electric bass rhythms; and all the while, Ahmed’s assured imaginings ripple above. In Bloom, Martin France’s rapid pop-groove injects light into the pervading mystery, its otherwise straight-ahead demeanour glinting with vibes and (at one point, politely screeching) flugel; and Beleille‘s complex network of tonal intrigue (including bizarre electronic manipulations of bass clarinet) makes this one of this album’s most absorbing listens. Delicate miniatures, segued between these expansive pieces, provide a sense of continuity which may well be elaborated upon when performed live – and celebratory Organ External, with a riffy hint of Michael Nyman, intelligently seems to throw everything into the mix with great results, the low timbres of flugel and bass clarinet especially effective.
Yazz Ahmed’s atmospheres are lush, inventive, enticing and an impressive, progressive distillation of her many influences. In short – spellbinding.
Released on Naim Records on 12 May 2017, La Saboteuse is available as CD, LP or digital download from Bandcamp.
Yazz Ahmed flugelhorn, trumpet, quarter-tone flugelhorn, Kaoss Pad
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Shabaka Hutchings bass clarinet
Samuel Hällkvist electric guitars
Naadia Sheriff Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer
Dudley Phillips bass guitar
Dave Manington bass guitar (sponge bass on Bloom)
Martin France drums
Corrina Silvester bucket, bendir, darbuka, krakab, riqq, pins, gongs, waterphone, sagat, frame drum, ankle bells, drum kit
Produced by Noel Langley and Yazz Ahmed
Naim Records – NAIMCD340 (2017)