We are experiencing a colder than usual winter so far in 2017, so what better way to start the year than heading down to the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho to take in some live music.
Last Wednesday I did just that to see rising star on the scene Camilla George and her quartet. The night was a special one for Camilla, it was the launch of her debut CD entitled Isang on Ubuntu records with a one off performance before the start of a national tour. It was doubly special for Camilla who was celebrating her 26th birthday that very evening as well. An important moment with a slew of prominent people in jazz present in the audience; Camilla played to a packed house where demand outstripped supply for tickets. Prominent figures present included Director of Jazz FM, Chris Philips, who also was celebrating his birthday that day! Jazz Jamaica founder and Tomorrow’s Warriors Gary Crosby, saxophonist Jean Toussaint, Paul Pace of Spice of Life and Ronnie Scotts, Ubuntu record label owner Mike Hummel among others; to see the next generation of British jazz coming through before our eyes.
Camilla was very relaxed on stage and beautifully dressed wearing an African headscarf and with alto saxophone in hand; if she was nervous beforehand she certainly didn’t show it as the quartet played with great verve and understanding, the music a showcase for the whole group with Camilla as the lead which is how it should be; we so often see soloists who get a bit carried away and dominate the sound with their personality and overplaying. Speaking of the quartet, the members were Camilla on alto saxophone and chief composer, Sarah Tandy on piano, Daniel Casimir on double bass and Femi Coleoso on drums; with Zara McFarlane guesting on stage for a couple of tunes. The quartet has been together since 2014 which is certainly reflected in their musicianship and stage presence.
The tracks performed were intriguing in terms of compositional style. Camilla said she was born in Nigeria and her father was in fact from Grenada; an island in the Caribbean which is part of the Windward Islands and the track entitled Song for Reds was dedicated to her father. With that background the music has a seamless flow of Afro Caribbean undertone to it. After all, the calypso sound of the southern Caribbean islands which includes Trinidad and Tobago has a very similar sound and structure to West African music. There was not much difference between the Afrobeat sound of Fela Kuti and Tony Allen in the 1970s and the Soca sound which came out of Trinidad during the same period (soca was a term to describe Soul Calypso). The track Mami Wata Returns/Usoro was underpinned by a pulsating and very danceable Affro Caribbean rhythm.
Other tracks performed such as Dreaming of Eket displayed a different style of jazz. I would refer to it more as chamber jazz, not far removed from the “ECM” sound. This is not untypical of musicians who come out of Europe regardless of origin or influence, jazz from Europe often has a diverse mixture of influences which American jazz tends not to have quite to the same degree. This is understandable and gives European jazz a bit of an edge in my opinion; American jazz will often be influenced externally by latin or hip hop in the main whereas European jazz can draw on folk, classical, Afro Caribbean, West African, Mediterranean and Balkans, a lot of influences to potentially draw on!
On Dreaming of Eket, drummer Femi Coleoso played a brilliant solo which reminded me of Billy Higgins and Joe Chambers, a musical style of interplay as opposed to the more percussive style associated with the likes of Elvin Jones and Art Blakey. Daniel Casimir’s bass playing was a revelation; his soloing and accompaniment was at a different level which is great to see. I heard innovative bass playing and this is not easy to do nowadays; it is relatively easier to play efficiently, excellently and competently, but playing innovatively is a lot more difficult to pull off. The trick is to make it look easy, and Daniel comes into that category, a stellar career awaits I’m sure. Singer Zara McFarlane also joined the quartet on stage for a couple of numbers and to present the birthday cake at the end :-0
All in all a very nice evening of top class jazz music and we know that the future of British jazz is in good hands.