INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Rachel Jackson (Yusufla. Canteen Bristol 29 March, Elgar Room Royal Albert Hall 26 April)

Yusufla with Rachel Jackson (second from right)
Publicity photo
YUSUFLA is one of those bands starting to pop up all over the place. In their two years of existence they have performed at Open Senses Festival, at Woodburner at Styx, Boomtown, NozStock, Virgo Festival, Battersea Arts Centre supporting Mammal Hands, Passing Clouds, Kings Place, The Spice of Life, Hootenanny’s, The Finsbury, Tropical Pressure Festival, The Bird’s Nest…and even done a “live site-specific show with the sensory artistic agency Vetyver and visual artist Kino Pablo as part of the London-wide We Are Now Festival at Rich Mix”. There is a recording imminent. High time, then, to find out more about them. Interview with bandleader RACHEL JACKSON by Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: Why have you called the band Yusufla?

Rachel Jackson: We named the band after Yusef Lateef who we were inspired by when we started the band, though our sound definitely isn’t a complete replica (and we spell it slightly differently!) His track ‘Plum Blossom’ represents what we like about his work and try to instil in our compositions. It’s a subtle take on jazz rather than gymnastic, with gentle repeated figures that sort of creep into your ears and fill out a groove. Other inspirations include Kadri Gopalnath, the Indian sax maverick who’s playing really stretches the bounds of what the instrument sounds like and can melodically achieve.

LJN: What is the instrumentation?

RJ: Three saxes of differing range – soprano, alto and tenor plus electric bass and drums.

Celyn Thomas (L) and Rachel Jackson at Juju’s Bar
Photo credit: Gemma Bell/ Here and Now

Who is in it?

RJ: Myself, Rachel Jackson on alto. Imogen Walker on soprano, Celyn Thomas on tenor, David Ruiz on electric bass, James Storer on drums and our Live Sound Technician James Runciman.

LJN:  Exam time. Fill in the blank and explain your reasoning: “If you like  Band X you will like Yusufla” 

RJ: “If you like Mammal Hands or Get The Blessing you will like Yusufla” We’ve supported both these bands and our sounds complement each other well, whilst remaining distinct. Like them, we write instrumental music that swells and falls with looping, repetitive motifs and the odd improvised solo.

LJN:  How long have you all known each other for / where did you meet ?

RJ: The three horn players met studying music at Manchester University but only formed this particular ensemble just over two years ago. I had met David playing in another band on the London circuit and we met James through the power of the internet! He hails from Australia and arrived here with just some sticks and no kit, we swiftly sorted that out and snapped him up after our first jam together.

LJN:  And are there interests and affinities that “glue” the band together / Why do you think you get on with each other?

RJ: We all love composing collaboratively and taking risks. Our rehearsals are a very open and relaxed space with everyone bringing new ideas to work on, which can be quite rare in a band set-up. Socially we click, which helps with sharing ideas, seeing the funny side and being honest to the point of frankness on what we like and don’t like.

LJN:  And how long has the band been going?

RJ: It’s just over two years since our first jam, and we’ve been gigging since about six months after that. We are just about to record our first EP in May as we feel the set has now really reached maturity and we’ve got four or five tunes that really represent well what we are trying to represent. As with everything in music, things take time to cook!

LJN:  Has the method of getting new tunes into your repertoire changed?

RJ: Yes, initially I started the band by scoring music and writing heads at home. Now we very much compose as a group, and can start with a bass line, a groove or a sax sound that we want to illuminate. It’s much more organic, and undoubtedly better or more original this way.

LJN:  And you are planning on releasing a recording?

RJ: Yes, we are recording this early Summer. We want to spend a good amount of time getting that just right and will host an official launch in Autumn or Winter at one of our favourite London venues.

LJN:  And the Elgar room is part of their Women in Jazz series? What were the criteria to be included?

RJ: The Elgar Room approached us to be part of this programme which celebrates female-led jazz bands, it’s part of their larger Women And The Hall programme which coincides with the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave women the vote for the first time. It’s a real honour to be asked to join the roll call of female jazzers in this season. My band is mixed gender, but jazz though changing, is still undoubtedly a male dominated space and initiatives like this are deeply important to us all.

LJN:  And you also have a thing going on with cinema in Deptford?

RJ: We have a residency at Deptford Cinema called PlayedBack. This venue is really a gem on the London scene and we consider it our spiritual home as a band. We rehearse there regularly and host a night with a mini-set of our music and live improvised music to short films. The last event we explored the films of Jan Svankmajer, the seminal Czech animator of surreal vignettes. Deptford Cinema is co-operatively run and led by volunteers – as a band we are passionate about supporting independent venues like this to keep London live! Come down and raise a jar with us there.


29 March – The Canteen, Bristol
26 April – The Elgar Rooms, London
19 May – The Great Escape, Brighton

LINKS:  Bandcamp (music)

Categories: miscellaneous

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