SWIFTY joins forces with Rob Swain at Gamma Proforma to produce Full Circle – a retrospective book of his “typo-grafix” from the Eighties to now.

swifty book pg

Even if you’ve never heard of Swifty you can bet your life you’ve seen or even owned a piece of his artwork. For over two decades this man has cast an innovative and distinctive visual shadow over contemporary urban culture as we know it. However, we need to go back in time to the dawn of clubland to fully get the picture. Back in the late Eighties, Swifty was fresh from art school in Manchester. He moved to East London and was operating as right hand man to the most radical designer of the day, Neville Brody, and working on The Face and Arena magazines.

Inn the beginning there was the Apple MacSE

Inn the beginning there was the Apple MacSE

I was introduced to Swifty by Neil Spencer, a former editor of the NME and a co-founder of our “designer fanzine” – Straight No Chaser. Swifty was looking to do something of his own and Straight No Chaser was a blank canvas. The arrival of Apple Macintosh had laid the foundation for a DIY revolution and Swift was a “Mac Daddy”. He was totally on it. Swift’s design of Chaser rapidly notched up a ‘XYZ Magazine Designer of The Year’ award. Chaser was at the hub of into the jazz infused wing of the club scene. ‘E’ swept into town and “Rave” nudged the rare Groove scene onto the sidelines. There was a surplus of energy. We were all on a mission.

In ’90 Swifty left Neville Brody’s Studio and we set up shop in Hoxton. The area was derelict and run down, it bore little resemblance to the thriving Shoreditch we know today. The Chaser office became club flyer central. Prior to Swift, club flyers had been knocked out, punk fashion, cut and paste, either with a felt tip or Letraset. It was Swifty on his twinned Mac SE’s who revolutionized the art of the club flyer. It was those designs that brought him together with the flyer queen of the day, Janine Neye. Yes, it’s the same Janine who organizes annual Dingwalls session with Gilles P and Patrick Forge and they’ve been together ever since.


Talking Loud & Saying Somethin’ at Dingwalls was our “office” each and every Sunday. It was all about the music and the session was a radical melting pot of inner city cultural politics. The club became synonymous with the ‘Acid Jazz’ movement through bands like the Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai and the James Taylor Quartet. In reality, the session was fierce meeting point between the hard core post Electric Ballroom Jazz dancers, refugees from the Rare Groove and boogie scene, the musicians at the heart of the Jazz Warriors, the Acid Jazz crew and a controversial hip hop sensibility best characterised by the recordings of Tribe Called Quest. Hip hop’s sampling sensibilities found their way into Swift’s artworks where they collided with the classic sleeve art of Blue Note records.


When Gilles Peterson launched Talkin’ Loud records, Swift was the natural choice for art director and believe me he made the most of it. His output was staggering – a seriously radical body of work. Check out those Talkin’ Loud album covers and 12” singles – Young Disciples, Galliano, Incognito, Marxmen and Omar amongst others. Cast your eyes over the spreads from Straight No Chaser. We weren’t looking to develop “a look”, we simply embraced the creative energy that is implicit in change. Chaser had a format but there would be seismic shifts with every issue. At the heart of that was Swift’s fonts. This is a man who took a font and then blasted it with 12 bore shotgun – the result was a new font called “Gunshot”. Swift’s growing body of work was mightily impressive and pretty soon he was designing for labels as far away as Japan.


Limited edition etching done for the  'Build & Destroy' exhibition @ the Saatchi Gallery

Limited edition etching done for the ‘Build & Destroy’ exhibition @ the Saatchi Gallery. Click to enlarge.

When 17 year old James Lavelle appeared in the Chaser office suggesting we give him a column ’cause “we needed him”  another phase in Swift’s work ensued. Swifty and James were on the same page. They were united by their herbal intake, the joy of “toys”, a love of Japanese graffix and Seventies TV programmes like Man From Uncle (hence U.N.K.L.E – geddit?). Both had a passion for NYC subway art and street artists like Futura and Stash. James was hungry and eclectic and he set about releasing music from Japan’s Major Force and DJ Krush along with a US crate digger, DJ Shadow. Once the Mo’ Wax records was up ‘n’ running they were “kickin’ more funk like a shaolin monk”. When it came down to Mo Wax’s creative vision it was Swift and James who laid the foundation.

In ‘95 Swift moved from Hoxton to the Harrow Road end of Ladbroke Grove. He set up shop and invited a bunch of younger designers to join him. It was became known as ‘Studio Babylon’ alongside Swift it was home to Mitchy Bwoy , Kam Bohgal , Robi Walters and Fred Deakin. Swift’s stay in the Grove resulted in hundreds of album sleeves for labels like Far out and B&W Music. In 1995 he Art directed and curated the ground breaking Fosters Ice ‘Street Art’campaign which won a Media Week award for the best use of a singe medium. The effect was so radical that it inspired a whole generation of Graffiti artists from Bristol to London and beyond and help lay the foundations for the ‘Street art’ movement we know today! Mode2 and Delta both traveled to London in ’96 to check out what all the fuss was about and resulted in Mode joining studio Babylon as a permanent member until its demise in ’99.

Studio Babylon Posse + Fosters Ice VW

Studio Babylon Posse + Fosters Ice VW

Not content with print Swift then expanded his skills to include title sequence design and as he slipped into the new millennium Swifty graphics hit the TV screen via Peep Show, Smack The Pony and Derren Brown as well as music docs like Jazz Britannia and Soul Britania. Today, Swift still does flyers, album sleeves, logos, fonts, TV Titles, clothes for Addict and designs and makes his own skateboards (old skool – he still skates!). But most crucial are his own artworks. Branded but twisted, he loves the opportunity to mesh the technology with rootsy lo-fi production techniques. Visit him in his shed and he’ll be knocking out screen prints or working on etching techniques! He’s a modernist with a nostalgic streak.

Swifty skateboards : check 'em at

Swifty skateboards : check ’em at

My working relationship with Swifty has spanned 25 years – 97 issues of Chaser along with dozens of other projects. We are good friends and kindred spirits. The “Freedom Principle” lay at the heart of what we both did. Producing Straight No Chaser was all about respect and trust and under the guidance of the “Graffix Overseer” the magazine was an ever changing phenomenon. For that I’m eternally grateful.

PB – Straight No….

FULL CIRCLE is a full colour, hard back, 200+ pages, strictly limited to 300 copies. Preorder’s will be signed by the artist. 30 hand made boxed special editions with screen print, t-shirt and original archive items are also available. FULL CIRCLE is a pre-order item, expected to ship in Autumn 2015!/SWIFTY-FULL-CIRCLE-PRE-ORDER/p/49998067/category=3263234

Posted in Deep stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


OKAYPLAYER FILMS PRESENTS QUEST FOR CUBA! A Mini-Documentary featuring ?uestlove as brings his own brand of funk to Cuba. This is the story…. WORDS by JAURETSI.

?uestlove: Selfie bizniz.

?uestlove: Selfie bizniz.

Yup. ?uestlove‘s Cuba trip finally gets the full mini-travel documentary it deserves. ?uesto made good use of his time in Havana, engaging in extensive cultural research both by digging up some classic Cuban-made vinyl and by visiting the legendary EGREM studios, where most – if not all – of those Cuban classics were recorded. Cultural exchange is a two-way street of course–in this case a narrow two-way street full of classic cars and beautiful people and lined by palm trees on one side and the waters of the Caribbean on the other. In that spirit, ?uesto also showed a cross section of party-goers how he gets down, delivering two nights of DJ goodwill at Fabrica de Arte Cubano. But as you’ll witness today, there’s much more to the story, including a brief cameo from Cuban Salsa group Azucar Negra’s dance crew and a chance reunion between ?uestlove and Cuban hip-hop artist Brebaje Man, who opened for The Roots when they played Havana in 2002. That meeting lead to a spontaneous freestyle and beatbox duet that is also one of the doc’s most hilarious moments thanks to one very vocal under-aged music critic (just watch to the end!)

These are the kinds of things, of course–incredible DJ sets, rare vinyl, deep studio history, unplanned street concerts–that we get excited about every day over here at Okayplayer. But we can’t escape the feeling that this particular weekend of incredible DJ sets and music discovery has a greater sense of emotion and, well, history, attached to it…coming as it does mere days after President Obama’s meeting with Raul Castro at the Summit of The Americas in Panama. So rather than further recap what you’ll see in the mini-doc, here’s a bit of the background you need to know in order to understand just how momentous what you’re seeing on the screen is.

Questlove & Edgaro Productor’n’Jefe dig for records on International Record Store Day in Havana Cuba. Photo: Daniel Petruzzi

?uestlove & Edgaro Productor’n’Jefe dig for records on
International Record Store Day in Havana Cuba. Photo: Daniel Petruzzi

EGREM is the studio where The Buena Vista Social Club recorded their albums, not to mention numerous other legendary Cuban bands including Beny More, Los Zafiros, Barbarito Deiz, Omara Portuondo,Los Van Van and Chucho Valdez (famous stateside artists such as Nat King Cole also recorded there). Due to the Cold War US Embargo, American artists have been forbidden to records albums with Cuban artists since 1959. Most forms of collaboration on the island violate America’s Trading with the Enemy Act, thereby resulting in large fines for Americans. To make the math simpler and more stark: These laws have effectively prohibited collaboration between Cuban and US artists for 55 years–laws that Obama and Castro have at least begun the groundwork to roll back, promising to open a whole new era in U.S.-Cuba relations.

After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, all Cuban culture, including the record industry, was nationalized. This means Fidel Castro shut down Panart studios in 1961 (originally founded by Cuban owner Ramon Sabat in 1944). Between 1962-64, it was renamed The Imprenta Nacional de Cuba and acted as the only legal label in Cuba. In 1964, it was re-named EGREM, absorbing the assets of Panart.

By the 1990s, young Cubans were creating illegal antennas improvised out of material at hand such as wire hangers and coke cans, mostly on the roofs of homes in Alamar, which happens to be the birthplace of hip-hop in Cuba. In spite of the embargo, the island was not totally isolated and American hip-hop, soul and rock continued to seep into the country through these guerilla antennas, spawning a mixed tape market in the process.

Against this backdrop, ?uestlove’s trip to Havana as an unofficial ambassador of stateside hip-hop looms large indeed, a welcome chance for music heads to exchange ideas as well as a pound–and hopefully a sign of great things yet to come. Much respect due to Productor n Jefe for the use of his music throughout, as well as his invaluable knowledge. Watch and enjoy below:

Posted in Deep stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reflections on ‘Wisdom Of Taiji Masters: Insights into Cheng Man Ching’s Art’

The Book!

The Book!

Going back a few years to the Straight No Chaser HQ in London Fields I had a bagua circle marked out in the basement, would regularly receive shipments of vcds/dvds from Jarek Symanski’s China Online and elsewhere, along with the odd sword or spear. It was around that time that suddenly there was wealth of visual information coming out of post Cultural Revolution China to reinforce the somewhat sketchy information we had on some of the internal arts. For example, it was mind blowing to have access to the whole Chen village taijiquan curriculum or have comprehensive breakdowns of the baguazhang palms from the Cheng, Gao, Jiang, Sun and Yin systems.

Inevitably, I’ve always encouraged others to take up the internal arts but the only people at Chaser to venture into the world of taijiquan were our graphic designers – one of whom was living in Essex at the time and commuting into London. It therefore made sense for him to find a teacher near home.

Cheng Man 'Ch'ing: Single Whip

Cheng Man ‘Ch’ing: Single Whip

After a portion of research we came across a former Chief instructor of the Penang Taiji Association with more than 35 years experience. Scanning the curriculum it looked very thorough. Master Ch’ng Lay Seng taught Cheng Man Ch’ing /Yang taijiquan, push hands, Da Lu, San Sou, qigong and weapons. I’d spent several years practicing Cheng and Yang taiji and to me this looked very authentic. Fortunately, I was right, the teaching was of a high standard and my man – let’s call him ‘Monkey Boxer’ – became very proficient at push hands.

Nigel Sutton:

Nigel Sutton:

As I approached Nigel Sutton’s book Wisdom Of Taiji Masters- Insights Into Cheng Man Ching’s art I was reminded of the stories of training in Penang that my friend’s teacher had told him. It’s a long time since I’d done Cheng’s taiji short form – the form that brought taiji to the Western world – and maybe this book would reveal why I had eventually abandoned it for Chen family taijiquan.

Nigel Sutton lives in Malaysian and has been immersed in the world of taiji there training with all the local masters. As he points out there were dozens of martial arts schools in each city and competition was fierce – if you lost a challenge you lost your school! And so, there are people in this book who have proved beyond all doubt that their taijiquan was capable of standing up against the harder styles like Praying Mantis, Fujian White Crane or Eagle Claw.

The book is divided into 4 sections: The Younger Generation (Wu Chiang Hsing, Koh Ah Tee), The Senior Generation (Lau Kim Hong, Lee Bei LaiZhou Mu Tu, Ho Ah San), The Disciple (Tan Ting Ngee), The Theoretician (Dr Wong Fung Tong). Each master covers the full spectrum of their experience, their and we also get a genuine and unique insight into a community of martial artists who live their art and are dedicated to the teachings of Master Cheng Man Ch’ing.

Master Koh Ah Tee: Push Hands

Master Koh Ah Tee: Push Hands

Each master is given a brief profile by Nigel Sutton and he then allows them to speak with out interruption – there are no interjections in the text by the author, his questions or comments are simply edited out to allow each interview to flow. That said each chapter has a structure which deals with: Principles and secrets, Personal Training, Pushing Hands, Application and Competition, Physical Mental and Spiritual Development, Teaching, Weapons Training, Chen Man Ch’ing, and The Future. Wang Chiang Hsing, Koh Ah Tee and Lau Kim Hong get to deal with all subjects while others focus on less.

Master Tang Ching Ngee

Master Tang Ching Ngee

From the first interview I was completely gripped. This is a book that needs to be read by those practitioners who believe push hands to be a waste of time and not real preparation for fighting. In fact, it’s made me reconsider some of my own practice and I think I’ll be heading down to Regents Park on Saturday to join in with push hands posse who are there every week of the year.

There’s plenty of food for reflection in this book, not least of all the revelation that nei gong is crucial in developing applied power. We never learned any nei gong or qi gong when I practiced Yang taiji but it appears that within the Malaysian community, despite Master Cheng being quite secretive about who his teachers were, they have nei gong practices which are like “iron shirt” but not like “iron shirt”! It is, according to Koh Shifu, “spring like”. I’m definitely in the dark about the Zuo Lei Feng method that Dr Wong Fung Tong talks about and I would now like to read Shifu Wu Guo Zhong’s book on qi gong and taijiquan.

There is a lot information in this book on the many different kinds of power (jing) – jie jing (intercepting power), ting jing (listening power), peng jing (ward off/expanding power) etc. – and it’s all rooted in the practice of these extra-ordinary guys who look like like they’ve just stepped out of the office to do some practice with their mates.

If you train in Cheng Man Ch’ing’s taijiquan or Yang stlye you should be thrilled by this book as you’ll find plenty of information here that will definitely inform your own practice. Wisdom Of Taiji Masters- Insights Into Cheng Man Ch’ing’s Art does go some way to explaining why I abandoned the path of Yang taijiquan but I’d also say to anyone who trains in martial arts – internal or external – this easy to read book offers some deep insights into a unique martial arts community and their practice.

Grandmaster Cheng Man Ch'ing

Grandmaster Cheng Man Ch’ing

Wisdom Of Taiji Masters- Insights Into Cheng Man Ch’ing’s Art is published by

PS: Mark Wiley’s Tambuli Media imprint have also just published ‘Chinese Gentle Art Complete: Bible Of Ngo Co Kun’ – a manual on Five Ancestors Kung Fu. For a deeper insight into this book than I can offer check out the excellent Kung Fu Tea

Posted in Deep stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

YOU NEED THIS! ‘Detroit67: The Year That Changed Soul’ by Stuart Cosgrove

The Book!

The Book!

Big respect to Stuart Cosgrove on the publication of this 610 page tome. Detroit67: The Year That Changed Soul is clearly a labour of love and with urban strife in the US escalating daily this book is an essential read.

“Detroit67 is the story of the Motor City in the most dramatic and creative year in its history. It is the story of Motown, the breakup of The Supremes and the implosion of the most successful African-American record label ever, set against a backdrop of urban riots, escalating war in Vietnam and police corruption. The book weaves through the year as counterculture arrives in Detroit and the city’s other famous group the proto-punk band MC5 go to war with mainstream America. The year ends in intense legal warfare as the threads that bind Detroit together unravel and leave a chaos that scars the city for decades to come.”

If you can’t wait for my own thoughts on this bold venture check out the excellent review by Stuart’s former running partner at the NME – Paulo Hewitt – on Caught By The River. Click on the link!

Detroit 67 – Caught by the River.

Posted in Deep stuff, Urban runnings... | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daymé Arocena: The Spirit of Young Cuba @ St Pancras Old Church

Daymé Arocena launched her forthcoming debut album on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood imprint in the intimate setting of St Pancras Old Church in front an audience charged with anticipation.

dayme arocena at st pacras old church

Last night I ventured into hinterlands of Kings Cross in search of St Pancras Old Church and in the company three illustrious broadcasters and scribes – Jane Cornwell, Rita Ray and Max Reinhardt – took in a warm, potential packed set from 23 year old Cuban singer /songwriter Daymé Arocena.

The vibe in the Old Church was perfect as Daymé delivered her opening composition which was dedicated to her orishas – Yemaya and Ochun. Following a short programmed thumb piano intro her producer, Simbad, settled onto his rumba box and joined fellow musicians Oli Savil on percusssion, Neil Charles on electric bass and Robert Mitchell on keys. The song was called ‘Madres’ and as Neil Charles laid down one solid B-Line Mitchell’s keys reminded me of post ‘In A Silent Way’ Zawinul. Meanwhile, a barefoot Daymé with bells on her ankles and clad in from head to toe in white filled the church with her warm agile vocals.

It was the perfect intro and paved the way for Daymé to wish us all “good evening!” and explain the origins of the next song which was about her love for some “crazy guy”. Oli on clay pot ushered us in and the song gathered a momentum that revealed echoes of vintage Dianne Reeves. The hybrid, shifting rhythm was consistently punctuated by percussion and opened up an impressive rapport between Daymé and stellar pianist Mitchell.

It’s Daymé’s songwriting that gives her an interesting edge and quirky song that following was based on “a 3 day visit that felt like 3 weeks” to a dust filled house in Toronto that had the asthmatic singer trying to simultaneously breathe and smile. Daymé beat out the rhythm on her chest, Neil delivered a Jaco style bass solo and the song was called ‘Dust’!

‘Come To Me’ was a song that had led me to expect a more nu-soul vibe to her set while ‘Drama’ was scat, bass and piano driven piece with some kickin’ bongos. By this time the energy was flowing and Daymé’s smile was huge!

‘Be There’ – a lullaby – followed and it was dedicated to her younger brother who, when he was two, thought Daymé was his mother. Mitchell switched to an organ-like sound while Daymé sang nursing the mic as she would a child. And then we encountered another “crazy guy” and “the most sad song in my life”. It kicked off at finger snappin’ tempo and included an improvised solo from Daymé where she imagined what the song would sound like with a rockin’, funky-wah-wah-ed guitar and finished it all off screamin’ “I hate you!”.

The LP!

The LP!

‘Don’t Unplug My Body’ had the crowd clappin’ and vibin’ in call and response fashion and it closed the set in fine style. A spirited guaguanco rooted encore with a fine solo from Oli Savil left everybody on a high and illustrated that the Brownswood-Havana Cultura connection ( is bearing fruit at a time when Cuba might just see the decades of US embargoes and isolation relegated to the dustbin of history. Daymé has definitely arrived at the right time. She has a huge presence and as a singer is raw, spiritual, soulful and musically ambitious. Her journey is just beginning. Watch this space.

ALSO: The pre-live set selectah on the night was Throwing Shade. If you want to check the electronic alt-pop productions of this DJ, NTS broadcaster, ethnomusicologist and barrister (not barista) then go to

Following Daymé Arocena’s EP – The Havana Cultura Sessions’ comes the LP – ‘Nueva Era’. It’s out via Brownswood on June 9th.

Posted in Is That Jazz?, Words, Sound & Power | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

RICHARD WILLIAMS on ‘To Pimp A Butterfly: The Shape Of Jazz To Come?

I DON’T OFTEN RE-BLOG PIECES – and hope Richard doesn’t mind me lifting his piece from – but I was vibed-up by these open and thoughtful reflections on two of the most important albums of 2015. Richard is a little older than I (I think!) but not a lot and our musical terms of reference are very similar. I’ve listened to both ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ and Kamasi Washington’s ‘The Epic’ a lot over the past month and along with D’Angelo’s ‘Black Messiah’ they are all well worth investing your hard earned dosh in. OK… it’s over to The Man….


Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ feels and sounds like one of the most important albums in years. I only wish I were able to explain properly why that might be so, but it would take somebody with a much deeper and more secure knowledge of the musical idiom and, more important, the social context from which it springs.

In his excellent Guardian review, Alexis Petridis invoked the names of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Sly Stone. I hear something different. What it reminds me of — and this is about as high a compliment as I can pay — is a group of albums that came out in the late ’60s and early ’70s, reflecting black America’s various states of mind in that turbulent era: the proud isolationism of Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music, the deep lament of Art Ensemble of Chicago’s People in Sorrow, and the rage within the Last Poets’ debut album (the one containing “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution”). It doesn’t sound remotely like any of them, of course, but it springs from the same collective consciousness, albeit from a very individual and, as it seems to me, original viewpoint. It, too, speaks of a turbulent time.

If you want to take your involvement further than appreciating the surface of the album, by getting to grips with the complicated issues that Kendrick Lamar is exploring, it’s worth listening to it once all the way through while reading the lyrics, which can be found here (, along with a certain amount of textual analysis. Introspection is not uncommon among rappers, and there’s a refrain which crops up on several of the tracks: “I remember you was conflicted / Misusing your influence / Sometimes I did the same / Abusing my power, full of resentment / Resentment that turned into a deep depression / Found myself screaming in a hotel room.” But what’s going on here is not solipsism or self-pity. Lamar seems able to find a connection between his own soul-searching and a broader social context.

The totality of this very big and complex picture is what counts, but among the individual highlights for me are the sudden explosion of hard bop in “For Free? (Interlude)”, the appearance of Ronald Isley to sing a single resonant verse at the end of “How Much a Dollar Cost”, and the extraordinary passage in the closing “Mortal Man” where Lamar edits in sections of an interview given by Tupac Shakur, interposing his own voice in the place of the original interviewer (we don’t know whether he has rephrased the questions, or is merely repeating them). Tupac talks about the imminence of conflict: “I think that niggas is tired of grabbin’ shit out of stores and next time it’s a riot there’s gonna be, like, bloodshed for real. I don’t think America know that.” He died in 1996, almost 20 years before Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and, now, Walter Scott.

Easier for me to talk about is the contribution made by people such as the trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, the pianists Robert Glasper and Brandon Coleman, the saxophonists Terrace Martin and Kamasi Washington, and the bassist Stephen Bruner (known as Thundercat) and his brother, the drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. The inclusion of these musicians in a project such as this, and in Flying Lotus’s You’re Dead from last year, might be among the best things to have happened to jazz in recent decades.

Ever since the eruption of bebop, which moved jazz away from the dancefloor, there has been a problematic relationship between jazz and the popular music of the day. Sometimes, as with the Charles Lloyd Quartet of the late ’60s, Miles Davis’s post-1968 music, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and, in a lighter tone, the work of Ramsey Lewis, Ronnie Laws and Roy Ayers, jazz has edged closer to the relationship it enjoyed in the ’20s and ’30s, when it maintained a balance between mind and body. It may be — although I say this very tentatively — that we are seeing the beginnings of re-engagement at a more organic level.

From the jazz perspective, there are extremely interesting interviews about the making of To Pimp a Butterfly with the participants here (with Natalie Weiner of Billboard) and here (with Jay Deshpande of Slate). Martin, Steven Ellison (Flying Lotus), Washington, Coleman and the Bruner brothers are around 30 years old and, like Lamar, grew up in Los Angeles. Several of them received an informal education at the late Billy Higgins’ regular World Stage gig in Leimert Park. Akinmusire, who is a similar age, was born in Oakland. Glasper is in his mid-thirties and was born in Texas and studied in New York. They are equally familiar and comfortable with the music of John Coltrane, Public Enemy, Sun Ra, Tupac Shakur, Thelonious Monk and Snoop Dogg. They know these idioms from the inside. And they’re finding ways to make that familiarity work.

Kamasi Washington  by Mike Park

Kamasi Washington by Mike Park

I’ve also been listening to an advance copy of Washington’s extraordinary debut album, a three-CD set called The Epic. It’s a big work in title, tone and textures, almost three hours long, divided into 17 tracks, and lining up a 32-piece string orchestra, a 20-voice choir and the occasional vocal contribution by Patrice Quinn alongside a 10-piece jazz combo. An extract from one of Malcolm X’s most celebrated speeches also makes an appearance.

In its layering of the combo and the choir, The Epic has some of the sweep of Max Roach’s It’s Time and Donald Byrd’s I’m Tryin’ to Get Home, both of which were arranged, in 1962 and 1964 respectively, by the African-American composer Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. In jazz terms, it stays mostly “inside”: the moves are the familiar ones of modal jazz from the era of A Love Supreme, before Coltrane cut loose in 1965 with Ascension, which took him into the final phase of his career. Any disappointment at a failure to engage with those later developments is mitigated by the sheer energy with which the music is attacked, and the degree of inventiveness on display within the now-traditional forms.

Washington’s music comes at you in waves, surging and receding with the power that Carlos Santana and Mike Shrieve were looking for when they tried to harness Coltrane’s sound and spirituality to the drive of their own Latino rock on Caravanserai, Welcome and Borboletta in the early ’70s. Multiple drummers, multiple electronic keyboards and modal structures are among the common elements. This is music in search of transcendence and/or catharsis.

Forty years later, however, there’s a great deal more self-assurance about this project, and the solos — particularly those of Washington, who has a sound as big as his ideas, and the trumpeter Igmar Thomas — never lack conviction or substance. Here’s a sample, a comparatively straight-ahead 14-minute piece called “Re Run Home”. You might find that the trumpet-trombone-tenor sound puts you in mind of the front line on Coltrane’s classic Blue Train, but there’s nothing to object to in that: why not use it as an available colour, offset by a very differently orientated rhythm section? Stay with it through to the conclusion, where the textures grow sparser but the groove intensifies.

It’s too early to be definitive about all this, to claim that this new development represents the future, or to dismiss it because the kind of jazz they’re exploring/exploiting isn’t, of itself, new and challenging. What matters is that some interesting young minds are facing up to the problem of where jazz goes next, and they’re turning it into an adventure.

The Epic will be released at the beginning of May via Ninja Tune on the Brainfeeder label.

Here’s the track that’s streaming on Soundcloud:

* The Kendrick Lamar photograph is from the insert accompanying ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’. The credited photographers are Denis Rouvre and Roberto Reyes.

FINALLY… If you don’t already subscribe to Richard Willams’ “blog about music” – – you need to!

Posted in Urban runnings..., Words, Sound & Power | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

WORK IN PROGRESS: Carleen Anderson’s ‘Cage Street Memorial’

The Albany Rehearsals

The Albany Rehearsals

At the end of March I journeyed to Deptford’s Albany Theatre to experience a preview of Carleen Anderson’s forthcoming one woman show, entitled ‘Cage Street Memorial’. Though Carleen had described the piece to me as a musical I was not sure what to expect of this taster that they’d been busy work-shopping for the previous three weeks.

Produced by digital/inter-disciplinery artist Derek Richards this radical production also involves the Welsh National Opera Director Tim Hopkins and an eclectic trio led by Orphy Robinson on keys and vibraphone and featuring UMS’s Renell Shaw on bass and Samy Bishai on violin/viola.

The preview, aimed at supporters and funders, delivered some of the early “Chapters” of her life with her grand parents and traced some of the events that eventually led to her leaving the States in “a flight from toxicity”. I was totally blown away. The monologue which has been distilled from the deeply personal and cathartic writings that she has penned over the last decade possessed a profoundly poetic quality, which Orphy later informed me has its roots in the King James bible. Having only a couple of days earlier taken in a old TV interview with Maya Angelou I was stuck with the similarities between these two remarkable women and experienced a deep sense of cultural continuum.

The stage set was innovative and it will clearly evolve to embrace a digital dimension during the final stages of development but, on the day, it all on hinged Carleen’s use of the space and her powerful delivery which shifted fluidly from speech into song and back. There’s clearly work to be done but the head corner stone has been laid. ‘Cage Street Memorial’ won’t arrive into a theatre near you or I until 2016 but when it does you need to be on it!

My chord charts, which often makes more sense to me than they do to anyone else! Sami Bashir, our violinist, kindly quipped, 'just got to trust her mapping'

CARLEEN ANDERSON: “My chord charts, which often makes more sense to me than they do to anyone else! Sami Bashir, our violinist, kindly quipped, ‘Just got to trust her mapping’.”

Posted in Art, Deep stuff, Words | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment