|Trumpeter Johnny Woodham with Alfa Mist
and bassist/vocalist Kaya Thomas-Dyke
(Ghost Notes, Peckham, 26 April 2018. Review and iPhone snaps by Leah Williams.)
Ghost Notes, a new music venue and bar that only opened late last year in Peckham, is a local affair. Aiming to draw on “the incredible network of artists, musicians and promoters who call South London home”, it has so far proven itself a fantastic new place to showcase the ever-growing London jazz scene. Its opening night was a veritable “who’s who” line up of cool London jazz musicians, featuring the likes of Sampha and Shabaka Hutchings.
Set inside Peckham Levels, the super trendy, multi-functional space occupying the old Rye Lane carpark, it is a venue indicative of the changing times in South London.
No better place, then, for local boy Alfa Mist to culminate his recent mini tour around the UK and Germany. Born, bred, and still living in Newham, Alfa comments upon opening that there’s something especially meaningful about playing in South London. His album Antiphon, which was released to serious acclaim on the scene last year, is itself pretty evocative of this area, in all its beauty and melancholy.
Wearing his trademark cap and casual in simple sweater and jeans, he couldn’t look more down-to-earth, and his minimal chat with the audience only confirms this presumption. As with a lot of today’s London artists embracing jazz and working together to create fresh sounds, it is all about the music. Obviously a pretty thoughtful guy, he explains some of the inspiration behind certain tracks, with themes including mental health, the complexity of different relationships, and getting trapped inside cycles of emotional baggage. This gives an extra understanding to the richly sonorous, layered soundscapes he has created and which are all the more soul-pervading to hear live.
From the liquid opening notes of the trumpet, played throughout with incredible skill and grit by Johnny Woodham, it’s clear that this is going to be a special experience. They predominantly played tracks from the album, alongside arrangements of Sampha’s Plastic 100°C and a J Dilla track “of many titles”. The vibe is distinctly Alfa throughout though, with the atmospheric flow and ebb between instruments, rhythms and tempos that makes his sound so exciting and so calming all at once.
From support act (and “lifelong friend”) Barney Artist through to encore tracks, the night was full of music that has personality and meaning at its core. Jamie Leeming on guitar and Pete Hill on drums both added some serious sweat and emotion to the fresh, textured sounds. A standout moment though had to be when bassist Kaya Thomas-Dyke stepped up to the mic for an extended version of Breathe. Her vocals are so pure and ethereal and, initially accompanied with just the rich harmonies of the keys, you could have heard a pin drop as her melodious lines commanded an avid attention throughout the room.
If there was one small thing that could have made the gig even better, it would have been seeing a few more smiles amongst the band. Perhaps it was a desire to appear to be taking the music as seriously as it deserves, or perhaps they were simply tired after a run of shows, but it felt like the energy levels didn’t quite match the quality of the music. That kind of contagious enthusiasm you often get with jazz music connects the musicians both together and with the audience and it was a little lacking on this occasion.
A small detraction though from what was otherwise a truly mesmeric performance, leaving the audience humming haunting melodies that surely filtered into many a dream last night.