Review: Shez Raja Collective feat. Andy Sheppard
(‘Mystic Radikal’ Album Launch, Pizza Express, Soho, London – July 8th, 2010 , review by Thomas Gray)
While Vijay Iyer was showcasing his cerebral and rhythmically challenging brand of music at the Vortex, Shez Raja—another musician with Asian roots—reached out to a capacity crowd at the Dean Street Pizza Express with an altogether more accessible groove-based approach.
Raja delights in matchmaking genres from different continents, and achieves some fascinating results in the process. Opening with the buoyant title-track of the new album ‘Mystic Radikal’, his collective showed what a Led Zeppelin/Headhunters collaboration might sound like. They followed this up with ‘Chakras on the Wall’, infusing a raga-like melody with the energy and rhythms of a Rio carnival. ‘We Are One’ superimposed a folky fiddle line over an atmospheric trip-hop backing to intriguing effect. During the rest of the evening, the group continued to rack up musical airmiles as it hopped from Cape Town, to Islamabad, The Bronx, and Kingston, Jamaica.
A firm emphasis on the groove united all of the disparate stylistic elements, as Chris Nickolls’ unflappably controlled and crisp drumming locked perfectly in step with Raja’s bass. Somewhat disappointingly, however, the band stuck fairly closely to the succinct arrangements of the album with little in the way of adventurous improvisation in the first set as violinist Pascal Roggen and sax player Aaron Liddard struggled to light the touch paper.
The introduction of special guest Andy Sheppard on tenor and soprano sax in the second set was therefore more than welcome, and significantly raised the bar. Like Raja, Sheppard has an open ear to world-music influences, allowing his contributions to mesh seamlessly with the collective, notably so during his effusively soulful solo on ‘Carnival of Colours’. His influence began to rub off on the rest of the group, as Roggen and Liddard’s solos became less inhibited, while Raja showed off his Victor Wooten and Marcus Miller-influenced chops, playing the catchy melody of ‘Infatuation’ whilst simultaneously laying down a bass line.
By now, the band’s (and the audience’s) enjoyment was palpable, driven by Raja’s irrepressible energy and amiable patter between numbers. This music may have been a little too radio-friendly for some tastes, veering more towards tried-and-tested idioms (disco-funk, dub) towards the end of the set, but it made for great dance music and had it not been for the tightly-packed tables and chairs this audience would have certainly been on its feet.
The Shez Raja Collective headline the Crypt stage at the Ealing Jazz Festival on Saturday 31st July . Photo Credit:Guy Hatton