‘La Saboteuse’ – Yazz Ahmed

YazzAhmed

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

yazzahmed.com

Naim Records – NAIMCD340 (2017)

‘Alimentation’ – Solstice

alimentation

WHAT A FEAST that Solstice spreads before us! A debut release, yet anything but an unknown line-up, this British sextet’s shared culinary enthusiasm is translated into an exploration of their combined compositional and instrumental possibilities – hence various ‘foody’ references. The musical outcome? Well, certainly luscious, zesty, cordial… and wonderfully satisfying.

A glance at the personnel is temptation enough – Tori Freestone (saxes, flute), Brigitte Beraha (voice), John Turville (piano), Jez Franks (guitars), Dave Manington (double bass) and George Hart (drums) – with each bringing original compositions to the table to prompt affable, fluvial conversations. The closeness of the collaboration was evident when the band presented this material at the 2016 Manchester Jazz Festival, and is discernible in this fine studio recording.

Brigitte Beraha is establishing herself as one the UK’s most dextrous jazz vocalists, including notable appearances on albums by Babelfish and Geoff Eales; and any comparison with Norma Winstone would seem quite appropriate. Across these nine tracks, her lyrical or wordless contribution is integral to the overall blend, and there’s a special affinity with Tori Freestone’s ever-tumbling wellspring of saxophonic invention. Space and balance are key. Even in the brisker numbers, there’s never a sense of oversaturation, thanks to consummate performances from Turville, Franks, Manington and Hart.

Ultimate Big Cheese‘s apparent, airy glee is enhanced by Tori Freestone’s delightfully feel-good flute; melodic Mourning Porridge, with a unison voice-and-guitar pairing redolent of Pat Metheny, finds Freestone’s characteristic tenor waltzing around feathery percussion and Dave Manington’s authoritative bass resonances; and Jez Franks’ acoustic timbres in his own composition, Tilt, provide a folksily-threaded backdrop to Beraha’s scat. Björk’s original The Anchor Song is a pearl of almost naive charm – but this band’s interpretation, in an arrangement by Dave Manington, is achingly beautiful, the affecting simplicity of voice and piano preceding a magical, bubbling otherworldliness, with a particularly vivid pictorialisation of diving to the bottom of the ocean.

Avocado Deficit (Freestone’s title inspired by her surprise that a friend hadn’t eaten the fruit for twenty years!) ascends, Escher-like, as the tenorist’s seamless phrasing emphasises its endless, hypnotic path. Beraha’s poetic delivery is central to Her Words, Like Butterflies, adorned by John Turville’s piano elegance; there’s an adroit sax-and-voice connection in Tori Freestone’s buoyant Universal Four (from her trio album In the Chop House); and George Hart’s turbulent, darkly-hued Solstice encourages dramatically screeching voice and sax. Arranged afresh for this ensemble, Beraha’s bright Unspoken closes the set with affirming repeated chorus (“It’s the cycle of life”).

Released on 9 December 2016, and available as CD or digital download from Two Rivers Records at BandcampAlimentation is a joy from beginning to end. To quote B Guðmundsdóttir – right now, “this is where I’m staying, this is my home.”

 

Tori Freestone tenor sax, soprano saxophone, flute
Brigitte Beraha voice
John Turville piano
Jez Franks guitars
Dave Manington double bass
George Hart drums

solstice-music.co.uk

Two Rivers Records – TRR-020 (2016)

‘The Crux’ – Tommy Andrews Quintet

TheCrux

DEBUT JAZZ RELEASES never cease to engender a particular brand of eager anticipation – new names, fresh experiences and a portal on this thriving and constantly evolving genre. Firmly adding to that same excitement is the name of emerging reedsman Tommy Andrews and this fine new quintet album, The Crux.

Aside from his already considerable musical accomplishments, Andrews is a keen rock climber and reflects something of that activity’s challenge and patient attainment in an invigorating, eclectic approach to writing and performance, his extended through-composed works also providing the freedoms of open, developing improvisation. Joining him on the ascent are energetic pianist Rick Simpson, acclaimed bassist Dave Manington (Loop Collective, e17) and popular mainstay drummer Dave Hamblett, as well as guitarist Nick Costley-White who contributes impressive prog rock urgency and delicacy to this collection of seven originals by the saxophonist.

From the ominous preludial lyricism of Sirens into the upbeat sureness of The Crux, this quintet quickly outlines its intent of considered and collaborative creativity. Indeed, Andrews is a strong altoist who clearly ignites confidence in his equally ambitious ensemble, the effect frequently cinematic in its boldness. The brief, dreamy shimmerings of Crystal Car, with finely-spun guitar chords, afford Andrews the space to hit the heights of his range to the water-droplet piano of Rick Simpson, leading to the eight-minute Mr. Skinny Legs – and the jocose title here perhaps belies both the beauty and drive of this compelling, intensifying piece (references to elevation never far off). Team spirit shines through the precise arrangement, as do the shared melodies and solo work of Costley-White and Andrews against a pleasingly undulating bassline from Manington.

L.H.B. displays a real sense of originality, Simpson’s mysteriously inquiring chromaticism against clarinet and guitar suggesting dark crevasses, though still hanging on to positivity, and Costley-White’s rising, echoic guitar wash fascinatingly reminiscent of early Genesis (Steve Hackett, ‘Watcher of the Skies’, etc.). Hamblett and Simpson emphasise the four-square rock drive before pacing-up the tempo into dazzling sunlight, Andrews glorious in his soaring extemporisations and concluding on an abrupt high – summit reached, and beautifully portrayed. Subtitled Sirens Pt II, Toscana floats and glimmers to a steady Philip Glass-like pulse of arpeggioed piano, guitar and clarinet, eventually thinning and dissolving into the cirrus atmosphere – quite magical. And to close, quite possibly the pinnacle of the assembled tracks – Steep. Hamblett and Manington provide its complex, propulsive energy, sparking the best from Andrews, Costley-White and Simpson. The vibe is infectious… spirited piano and unison guitar and sax lines making way for the leader’s aqueous soloing which cries out for extended, dramatic development in a live setting.

Released on 30 June 2014 by Jellymould Jazz, The Crux is a skilled and mature offering from the Tommy Andrews Quintet – subtly rock-infused contemporary jazz, with the promise of still greater heights to be scaled. Further information, promo video and audio clips available here.

 

Tommy Andrews alto sax and clarinet
Nick Costley-White guitars
Rick Simpson piano
Dave Manington double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

tommyandrews.co.uk

Jellymould Jazz – JJ015 (2014)