Shez Raja Collective – Soho Live
(33 Records. 33JAzz238. CD Review by Rob Mallows)
London bassist Shez Raja is all about collaboration, variety and – let’s be frank – fun! Backed by his established Collective of sax player Aaron Liddard, antipodean violinist Pascal Roggen, drummer Chris Nickolls, keyboardist Alex Stanford and singer Monika Lidke, this album seeks to capture the party atmosphere of Shez’s live shows and the unique combination of flavours that mark Raja’s output as a flamboyant bass guitarist who is not one to hide at the back of the stage by the drum riser.
In Soho Live, his top-drawer collaborators provide a fascinating counterpoint to Raja’s exemplary bass playing: Shabaka Hutchings plays a really fruity clarinet solo on the opening track Adrenalize, which the whooping of the Pizza Express Soho crowd follows instruction in the tune’s title, and does exactly what it says on the tin. Soweto Kinch brings his rap skills to track 2 Karmic Flow along with a punchy sax melody and match-up with Jay Phelps on the last track, Freedom. Together, they make that song jump out at the listener and bring the concert to the boil. Each of these musicians (including Gilad Atzmon, who brings his unique tenor approach to FNUK and Quiverwish) add their own stylings on top of the Collective’s established confection of fusion/funk/world influences cut through with a harder jazz vibe. No ballads here: it’s eight slabs of heavy-duty, bass-fuelled funkiness.
The secret to Raja’s music is that he sees the bass guitar and its lower register as a challenge, not a limitation. Through extensive use of pedals and effects, and playing much of the time at the top of the fretboard, he can squeeze real creativity from his instrument without losing sight of its fundamental rhythmic role in the band. Chakras on the Wall is particularly a good case in point, his bass moving from a simple motif playing in unison behind Roggen’s violin and Lidke’s vocals to picking up the main melody before dextrously spinning some of the coolest bass-led solos you’ll hear this side of a Stanley Clarke gig. Indeed, the recording really communicates the energy of the live show: the band riff off each other’s ideas, taking it to the next level on every song. If I had any gripes with this record – at times, the use of bass and violin effects plus Stanford’s keyboard electronic smorgasbord of sounds can feel at times like a game of ‘who’s got the weirdest loop or patch’ and cloys rather as a result. It may be the audio equipment I was listening on, but Raja’s low-end sound wasn’t prominent enough.
However, these are minor points. Overall this album portrays an artist who’s definitely trying to keep jazz fresh, energised and pumped up, and always gives back to the live audience.