‘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)

‘Out of the Sky’ – Vimala Rowe & John Etheridge

Out of the Sky

A DUO RECORDING which, indeed, does seem to have fallen ‘out of the sky’, this album brings together legendary jazz/jazz-rock guitarist John Etheridge and soulful singer/songwriter Vimala Rowe in an intimate programme of interpretations and original songs.

Etheridge (whose impressive, hard-working career has included major roles with Soft Machine and Stephane Grappelli) recounts their chance encounter, whilst walking the green spaces of London’s Hampstead Heath, where they discussed “music and philosophy”; and then how, a few months later, when Rowe attended one of the guitarist’s gigs, he invited her up on stage to perform with him: “The audience and I were taken straight to another dimension through the soul, range and passion of her singing.”

Merging their own musical roots and experiences, Rowe and Etheridge have worked together to fashion a repertoire of great distinction – and whether through smoky samba, playful blues or prayerful serenity, the immediacy of this recording frequently suggests a privileged eavesdropping on an intensely-felt, in-the-moment session of chamber jazz and world music. John Etheridge’s known mastery of both acoustic and electric guitars (playing five different instruments in this recording) is confirmed throughout the nine varied tracks, matched by Vimala Rowe’s vocal dexterity, annunciative clarity and emotional focus.

The duo’s effective, sultry opener Blue Breeze might hint at the operatic drama of Gershwin’s Summertime, but the intertwining of Rowe’s fervid vocal and Etheridge’s echoic, prog guitar soloing suggest something far more contemporary. Much-covered Tanzanian song Malaika (Angel) possesses a lucid, African charm; smouldering Sometimes We Have to Part (accredited to Rowe/Evol) is attractively reminiscent of Sade; and the soft, often deep-registered vocal on Ellington’s Solitude is deliciously held back, coloured by Etheridge’s luscious acoustic chords.

Atmospheric, sustained Syriac Aramaic Prayer, with its calling vocal over an embellished, repeating guitar motif redolent of Ali Farka Touré, might be imagined heard across an exotic, barren landscape, whilst another of Rowe’s co-written pieces, Drive (one of two with Dudley Phillips’ buoyant, underpinning bass) further illuminates the singer’s soulful, R&B angle… and, all the while, these live-feel performances proceed with such secure beauty from both vocalist and guitarist. The combination of Vimala Rowe’s precise Hindustani mantra and John Etheridge’s spacial guitar in his arrangement of traditional tune Ya Kundendu – Saraswati Sloka, is quietly hypnotic – quite a different sound world to Etheridge’s jazz-fusion output.

In beautifully-swinging contrast, Dark Shadows (Earl Coleman, Shifty Henry) pitches Rowe’s playfully accentuated lines against her accompanist’s bright, jazz guitar; and end-piece Detour Ahead places Herb Ellis’ original in the most exquisite of environments, Rowe’s effortless, crystalline delivery balanced with Etheridge at his eloquent best.

Released on 28 May 2016, on Dyad Records, Out of the Sky is available from Amazon, iTunes, etc.

A little piece of musical heaven.

 

Vimala Rowe vocals
John Etheridge guitars
with
Dudley Phillips double bass (tracks 3, 6)

vimala.tv
johnetheridge.com

Dyad Records – DY 028 (2016)