All posts by mferber63

Yazz Ahmed: Polyhymnia

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A very interesting and ambitious album from British-Bahraini trumpet player and composer Yazz Ahmed has been released last month. ‘Polyhymnia’ is Yazz Ahmed’s third album and it presents six compositions which are all dedicated to to noted women in history – Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, Ruby Bridges, Haifa Al-Mansour, The Suffragettes and Barbara Thompson. Yazz explains: ‘In a male dominated world it is important to tell stories from a woman’s view, to be inclusive, otherwise we’re missing out on other people’s views’.

Yazz is usually on tour with her quartet but for the album she gathered 25 of UK’s finest jazz musicians to play her compositions. Recorded in August and November 2016 with additional recordings, overdubbing and editing between 2017 and 2019 this album has already a long genesis. Nonetheless, the album is available now and it comes with a deluxe Vinyl package designed by Sophie Bass, featuring a 12 page booklet of Sophie’s art and stories from Yazz behind the music.

The album starts with ‘Lahan al-Mansour’, a composition dedicated to Haifaa al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s first female film director. This song uses Arabic scales and rhythms as foundation, material that is also used by the soloists where especially Tori Freestone on soprano sax and Yazz Ahmend on trumpet (with special electronic effects) stand out.

The second song is dedicated to Ruby Bridges. the civil right activist. This song starts with New Orleans style inspired drums and piano, the melody is played by Yazz on flugelhorn followed by an excellent horn arrangement of the melody. Tori Freestone and Yazz Ahmend are responsible for the first two solos, Yazz again alienating her typical longer notes with electronic effects, which comes also as a nice contrast to the other soloists, that follow: Alcyona Mick on piano and Sophie Alloway on drums.

‘One Girl Among Many’ is the next composition which is dedicated to Malala Yousafzai. Yazz used the natural rhythm and the musical quality of Malala’s 2013 speech at the UN Youth Assembly for this song. Parts of her speech alternate with a steady moving melody dominated by the piano. This is the most unusual composition on this album and the clear words from the speech plus the steady moving groove create an impressive statement that leaves no doubt that you can’t stop the wish for female education and self-determination.

’2857′ is dedicated to Rosa Parks, another civil rights activist where the number 2857 refers to the bus number on which she made her protest for which she was arrested and convicted but made her an icon of the civil rights movement. The number combination has been used by Yazz for the melody and the metrics of this song. The song has two parts, the first part is quiet representing the dignity of her action, the second part is a wild free improvisation showing the storm of change that came. This storm starts with a mad piano riff and is one of my highlights on the album.

‘Deeds Not Words’, dedicated to the Suffragettes, comes next. Yazz explains: ‘Most of the material stems from the Suffragettes’ protest song ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’. The song starts with a sophisticated  drum and percussion duet by Corrina Silvester and Sophie Alloway, the melody is played with long notes, a major characteristic of Yazz’s music. The solo of this song is a four-way conversation between trumpet (with Kaoss Pad), baritone sax, guitar and vibraphone, Especially Yazz on trumpet (plus effects) creates a great sound layer in this improvisation. The song ends in an extremely positive mood with a beautifully arranged brass marching melody and a nice guitar and piano fade out.

The last song on the album is dedicated to saxophonist Barbara Thompson. I remember her from the United Jazz & Rock Ensemble where she played with our German Jazz heroes Volker Kriegel, Albert Mangelsdorff and Wolfgang Dauner. Yazz explains: ‘Barbara Thompson is an accidental hero. She felt the call to creativity that must be answered, simply refusing to give up’. The song starts with a polyrhythmic structure where each instrument plays it’s own riff which blends nicely together and creates tension at the same time. Another highlight on the album. Yazz plays a fantastic flugelhorn solo and the song and the album end in a ‘triumphant climax in C major, a celebration of human courage and an ode to Polyhymnia.’

This album comes with a lot of ideas, motifs, layers and changes, it is very inspirational music, played by some extraordinary musicians who put a lot of energy into this project. You can hear these efforts and the mastery and together with the electronically altered sound of Yazz’s trumpet and flugelhorn you have a unique and outstanding album in your hands.

I had the chance to see Yazz Ahmed this month with her quartet in Lausanne at the JazzOnze+ festival and she is also a great performing artist. She gave me a short interview and it was great to talk to her, to feel her inspiration and determination towards the message from this album, that a society should listen to the stories and the voices of all of it’s members.

Yazz Ahmed is currently on a ‘Polyhymnia’-tour in the UK with a 12-piece band to perform the songs from the album.  If you cannot make it this year she will have some more concerts at the beginning of next year and I guess the chances are high that this band and this album will be presented next year on some festivals in continental Europe.

More touring details are found on her website:
https://www.yazzahmed.com/

And finally a playlist of this album on Spotify:

Champian Fulton & Cory Weeds: Dream A Little…

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Pianist and vocalist Champian Fulton is back with a new album called “Dream a Little…”. The album is a duet with alto sax player Cory Weeds from Vancouver, BC, Canada. It was recorded live at Norah’s, which is a house in North Vancouver where Norah hosts intimate music events with an audience of about 40 people.

Champian has more details about Cory: “Cory and I made a record together in 2014, and we have wanted to make another one because we really enjoy playing together. Usually when we do a Canadian tour, we play one or two duo shows and it’s always one of our favorite gigs, because the duo setting is so loose and freeing”. Cory Weeds may be best known as the founder and owner of Cory Weeds’ Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver, which he successfully ran for more than 14 years. Weeds built the Cellar to become one of North America’s best Jazz clubs. He is also an excellent saxophonist with an endless number of great musicians he was able to play with.

Champian is very proud of this album, because it highlights her piano playing and singing more than any other album she has made.

The selection of tunes comes from fan requests and features some of the most popular tunes from the Great American Songbook.

The album starts with the title song “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” which sets the stage for the whole album, easy and relaxed playing, perfectly swinging with a well-adjusted balance between saxophone voice and piano.

“Fly Me To The Moon” comes next and even if this song is played and heard so many times the open interpretation of Champian and the excellent sax solo by Cory gave me great pleasure.

“Lullaby Of Art” from Champian’s “Speechless” album is the next song. This instrumental song gives Cory and Champian the opportunity for a longer and more expressive solo and both musicians make use of it. One of my highlights on the album.

The beautiful ballad “Darn That Dream” comes next. An open beginning with Champian singing and playing the piano , the second verse with saxophone fillings and then a very expressive sax solo  followed by an inventive piano solo which results in more than seven minutes of multi-colored entertainment.

“Pennies From Heaven” is then more steady with a walking piano bass line setting the foundation for Cory’s and Champian’s honky-tonk piano solo.

“Once I Had A Secret Love” increases the pace one more time and Cory Weeds gets another great moment to show his versatility and mastery with an excellent solo. Champian Fulton also plays a nice solo but she stays much cooler then Cory does.

The next song is “I Thought About You” and this is somehow the most important song on the album. More than nine minutes of rolling and growling of Champian on the piano and Cory Weeds in a bluesy mood give this song it’s character.

The album continues with a swinging “Tangerine” in nice contrast after the earthy and heavy song before.

“I’d Give A Dollar For A Dime” comes next and the duo returns to their open and soft ballad music with Cory using the space this setup gives him.

The album closes with “Save Your Love For Me” and this song shows one more time the fun both musicians have and how much they enjoy the freedom in a duo.

This is just a nice album, recorded in an intimate live session with no extra effects, so it is music pure where two great artists show how much fun musicians and audience can have playing and listening to these popular songs. If you want to bring this spirit in your living or dining room then order this album and you have Champian Fulton and Cory Weeds playing exclusively for you. Enjoy, you will not regret it.

Champian Fulton is permanently on tour, she will be in Germany and Scandinavia in November and she is quite often performing in New York City.  I saw here some years ago in Estavayer in Switzerland which was great fun and she promised to be back in Bern hopefully next year.

More details and tour dates of Champian Fulton are found on her website:
http://www.champian.net/

And finally a playlist of this album on Spotify: