|Dakhla Brass at L’Astral in Montreal. Photo FIJM|
Jamie Cullum has described DAKHLA BRASS as a “jazz punk brass Balkan Bach band”. As the group head for Kings Place to present mostly new repertoire, Jon Turney profiles them and asks about the new music:
Bristol’s Dakhla Brass had quite a year in 2016. First of all, they got brassier, with trombonist Liam Treasure a regular addition to the previous quartet of alto and baritone sax, trumpet and drums. And their first album to feature that line-up throughout, Gorilla, Gorilla, Gorilla, enthused Jamie Cullum. That led not just to invaluable radio play but to invitations from BBC Introducing to fly out to the Montreal Jazz Festival (video below), and to join Cullum in the Albert Hall for his Proms extravaganza in August.
Emboldened by this rise in profile, they’re going to experiment more in 2017, collaborating with more new players, and adding to their already extensive original repertoire.
Their show at Kings Place will feature a host of new tunes, most having a first live outing. They confirm the trend manifest on that CD, their third. The rhythmic energy and punchy horn sound familiar to Dakhla fans – a beguiling mix integrating influences as varied as Balkan dances and English brass band music – is being enriched, and opened out. “The sound has definitely changed” says drummer Matt Brown. “We’re getting away a bit from the Balkan thing – there’s a larger sound. It’s more chordal, less interwoven, and has more texture”. More of the horns play more of the time, making it more tiring music to play now, jokes incisive altoist Sophie Stockham.
The results, judging from a first airing for some of the material in their home town just before Christmas, widen the range of moods. They have always been a sure bet for upbeat, intricate, enjoyable music. Now there’s time for reflection as well: the horns whisper as well as roar. It’s partly a matter of exploiting the endless range of chord voicings the four very different horns can offer – this is highly written and arranged music for the most part. But the sound quality of the individual players plays a big part, too. Charlotte Ostafew, who is the principal composer of most of the pieces, furnishes as much rhythmic fuel as Brown’s drums with her grooving baritone sax figures. Brown also singles out the contribution of Pete Judge (*) – of Get the Blessing and Three Cane Whale fame – as crucial to the overall effect. “He has a really thick trumpet sound. It gives the four horns such a dense texture.” The alto, and now trombone, complete the sound – Treasure bringing something they knew they were looking for, and found fitted in with the band right away. Musicians notice: “Bass players have stopped asking if they can join the band”, laughs Brown.
Will the sound stay as it is now, then? Not at all. There are plans for some new musical encounters – and not just with horn players. “The people know who they are but we’ll meet in a rehearsal room before we do anything public.”, says Brown. “We’re going to send them some new songs and see what works”. Stockham: “And if it does work, then Char will be off, writing again!”
Another recording will follow, but with three already in the bag the band are in no hurry this time. “We’re going to take our time, and maybe work with a producer”, Brown reckons. The new material will develop – they want to leave more space for improvisation within the carefully scored horn arrangements. And we’ll see what the new players may bring. Like all good bands, next week’s gig will present work in progress. Toward what? Brown’s vision reaches beyond the reliable pleasures of the groove, and the intertwining horns: “I hope people will be transported, in a cinematic way, and feel a story has been told. I’m always going for melody and story.”
(*) Pete Judge was replaced by Nick Malcolm in Montreal