‘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)

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‘Ornithophobia’ – Troyka

Ornithopobia

WITH two studio albums under their collective belt, in addition to 2014’s acclaimed live Troyk-estra big band recording, heteroclite jazz trio Troyka have always sought to use their combined creative genius to create something extraordinary.

As if to illustrate the point, following a resounding Kings Place Festival taster gig a few years ago, a chap in the row behind enthusiastically turned to his wife as the final applause subsided, asking, “What did you think of THAT?!”… only to prompt the deflating reply, as she rose to her feet to exit, “Uh, not MUCH”! Exactly the kind of divided and controversial response (electric guitarist Chris Montague gleefully explained to me later) that they thrive on. For Troyka are not just any old jazz combo, but rather a triumvirate of like-minded wizards who soak up all manner of genres and refashion them into their own unique, experimental sound worlds. For the uninitiated, this can initially be a pretty bumpy ride – but once attuned to the band’s ‘way of things’ (live, absolutely compelling), it’s easy to become engrossed in the heightened technical and creative intelligence on display here.

Recording for the first time on the Naim label, Montague and colleagues – Joshua Blackmore (drums), Kit Downes (keyboards and tuned percussion) – have upped their game still further with a musical outpouring inspired by the guitar man’s Hitchcockian fear of birds – Ornithophobia. And in a move which widens the scope of ‘the three’, they welcome renowned bassist Petter Eldh to add his considerable weight of experience to production/mixing and, for two numbers, composition.

Launching in typically intense character, Arcades crackles to the abrasive guitar/keys perambulations of Montague and Downes, with synthy prog backwash, before relaxing into a pleasingly retro, Keith Emerson-like rock beat. Key to Troyka’s success is the blurring of the scored, manipulated and improvised – and the groove of this opening number almost feels too short (perhaps a live extension is already in the bag!). Life was Transient undulates to an impossible Hammond rhythm, picked at by Montague until irregular synth melodies that Herbie Hancock would be proud of puncture the fluid, pulsating bass-driven momentum. Crunchy title track Ornithophobia thuds to Blackmore’s metallicised percussion, Montague’s rapidity on the fingerboard just extraordinary – and, at every twist and turn, something new arrives to excite the senses.

Magpies (black’n’white hysteria from writer Montague!) hits the trance button with a blistering saturation of sound, Kit Downes’ distorted keyboards reminiscent of National Health’s Dave Stewart – and the overall drive is hugely cinematic (movie editors take note). The concept of the album is realised in Thopter (faux newsreader suggesting the BBC’s Fiona Bruce may have been more convincing), rendering in sound the album art’s storyboard horror of the band transmogrifying into avian counterparts; with urgent, clamouring guitar, keys and drums, it results in another irresistible adventure. And sustained, contrasting miniature, Bamburgh (replete with seagull effects) implies the rugged, dune-swept coastal terrain of Northumberland in serene, Eno-suggested ambience.

Kit Downes’ The General fascinates with a riff which broods, then accelerates, into a wondrously bluesy lead guitar show from Montague (shades of Knopfler?) – and imagine the ’70s prog rock illuminati queuing up to employ Josh Blackmore! Troyka Smash mesmerises briefly with Eldh’s resampled titbits from Troyka’s catalogue until another impressionistic North Eastern landscape, Seahouses (with helicopter rescue overtones), crashes its waves to shore.

Released on 26 January 2015, and launching on 12 February at Rich Mix, London, Ornithophobia is available in CD, vinyl and digital formats. Dates of Troyka’s extensive national and international 2015 tour can be tracked here – New York, are you ready?!……

 

Chris Montague guitars
Joshua Blackmore drums, electronic drums
Kit Downes keyboards, organ, tuned percussion, piano

troyka.co.uk

Illustration/storyboard by Naiel Ibbarola

Naim Jazz Records – naimcd210 (2015)

‘Everything We Hold’ – Kairos 4tet

Kairos

SURELY the greatest crime for any creative musician is to stand still – to churn out more of the same, ad infinitum (which, it has to be said, some recording artists are content in doing). But not so, in the case of venturous sax player Adam Waldmann’s ‘Kairos 4tet’. Since their highly promising 2009 debut, ‘Kairos Moment’ and sparkling 2011 follow-up, ‘Statement of Intent’, they have continued to push jazz frontiers to successfully forge a distinctive, progressive path for themselves.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Nail Label – naimcd191 (2013)