Camilla George Quartet – Isang
(Ubuntu Music UBU0004. CD review by Adrian Pallant)
One of saxophonist, composer and teacher Camilla George’s abiding recollections of music college (Trinity Laban, to be precise) is how she learnt to swing – and her straight-ahead, straight-to-the-heart debut quartet album Isang certainly offers a rich, lilting fusion of African and Western grooves, reflecting her coastal Nigerian roots.
Having studied with saxophone luminaries such as a Jean Toussaint, Tony Kofi and Julian Siegel – and achieving the Archer scholarship for outstanding performance – Camilla George has worked with Tomorrow’s Warriors and the Nu Civilisation Orchestra since 2004, as well as several years already with Jazz Jamaica. But, as she explains, “It wasn’t until I joined Courtney Pine’s Venus Warriors, and we played our debut gig at The Hideaway, that I felt ready to lead my own band. That project inspired me and gave me the confidence I needed to branch out on my own.” With colleagues Sarah Tandy (piano), Daniel Casimir (bass) and Femi Koleoso (drums), plus a guest appearance from vocalist Zara McFarlane, George complements her own, elegant writing with two arrangements – and fronted by warm, lyrical alto, it’s an album of delight.
The title (pronounced ‘E-sang’) is an Efik/Ibibio word for ‘journey’, which the MOBO-nominated saxophonist applies to her own artistic pathways and influences, taking in highlife, afrobeat, calypso and hip-hop. Throughout these eight tracks, George’s frequently memorable melodies dissolve organically into assured, flowing improvisation; and the opening number, celebrating West African spirit Mami Wata, swings with an affable exuberance. Based on ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’, with a fun, carnival nod to Alan Price, Lunacity’s calypso shuffle is pleasantly easy-going; and though it never pushes hard, there is something especially attractive about the leader’s considered delivery. Indeed, in mellower numbers such as Song for the Reds, dedicated to her father (“aka The original jazzer!”), she uncannily echoes the lush tones of Paul Desmond (here, melding effectively with Sarah Tandy’s delicately-poised, New Orleansian stride piano); and in Isang, Daniel Casimir’s infectious bass dance couples with unsnared, tricksy beats to reinforce the Nigerian connection – a spirited and open trio performance, based on a simple melodic hook, to roll away the clouds.
Kenny Garrett’s gentle bossa, Ms Baja, relaxes to Zara McFarlane’s wordless vocals which effortlessly meld with George’s lines, whilst Dreams of Eket’s pervading, floating softness reveals even more of the saxophonist’s personality through beautifully-shaped phrases and colourful tonal expression (leaving one pondering how luxuriant an occasional transition to tenor might sound). Jazz standard The Night Has a Thousand Eyes finds a buoyant, promenading groove a gear below John Coltrane’s interpretations, whilst end piece Mami Wata Returns/Usoro offers an enticing, alternative glimpse of this band as electric bass and Rhodes combine with Femi Koleoso’s super-crackling percussion – the perfect platform from which George might soar even higher in a live setting.
From a player already established on the scene, this solo debut really catches the attention… and promises much for the future.
22 February The Lescar, Sheffield
23 February Matt & Phred’s, Manchester
25 February Zefferelli’s, Ambleside
26 February 7ARTS, Leeds
27 February Kenilworth Jazz Club
28 February North Wales Jazz, The British Legion, Wrexham
1 March Dempsey’s, Cardiff
Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, musician and jazz writer who also reviews at his own site ap-reviews.com