CD REVIEW: Collective X – Love and Protest

Collective X – Love and Protest
(Two Rivers. Review by Brianna McClean) 

Love and Protest is the debut album from the impressive amalgamation of musicians which make up Collective X. The project is headed up by vocalist and composer, Alya Al-Sultani and features eight other musicians hailing from Europe and the U.K. These artists are: Cleveland Watkiss and Joshua Idehan on vocals, Neil Charles on bass, Pat Thomas and Clemens Christian Potzsh on keys, Dave Ital on guitar, Robert Menzel on saxophone and Mark Sanders on drums. Alya herself is of Middle Eastern origin, a part of her identity expressed in much of her work, including Love and Protest. This international group came together in response to the events of Brexit and their new album is testament to their dynamic political and artistic voice.

Love and Protest is unashamedly political in nature and yet manages to avoid being didactic or inelegant. The talents of this diverse group of musicians results in an album which not only has a take-home message for listeners but is a pleasure to listen to, in and of itself. Alya Al-Sultani says that Collective X views “jazz more as a method” to create responsive art, rather than a specific set of musical conventions. While this is evident in the wide range of influences heard throughout the record, from blues to rap to pop, there are also clear jazz overtones. This is particularly true in the work of experienced jazz percussionist Mark Sanders. Robert Menzel, on saxophone, also adds lovely depth and texture to many of the tracks.

Despite the album’s sombre subject matter, the tone is not one of pessimism, but hope through activism. Tracks such as Banaz, an exploration of the 2006 so-called “honour killing” of a London woman from an Iraqi Kurdish background, are an unsettling reminder of the state of current identity politics. The beat-boxing loop, muted synth and rap samples on this track are a powerful and contemporary expression of the obvious political frustration which has driven the creation of Collective X.

The first track of the record, Take a Moment, sets the mood well. As the vocalists sing the words, “take a moment to find your power”, over the top of rich saxophone solos and a fun groove, the energy of this record is palpable. At the other end of the album, the final track, Dear Sister, is a gentle and contemplative ode to solidarity. Alya’s beautiful and extremely capable voice is showcased in these last moments of the record.

Each player is given a chance to shine in Love and Protest. Yet, it is really in their moments of collaboration in which the value of this project is most evident. This group of musicians brings with them decades of combined experience across a range of genres, and a shared passion for social activism and music which speaks to that context. All of this results in an album which is thought provoking and a successful artistic endeavour. The title of the record, Love and Protest, seems an accurate description of the aesthetics of this project. This album is equal parts grit and tenderness. Collective X is to be congratulated on creating something so unique and exciting.

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