PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Dakhla Brass Murmur album launch (Kings Place, 6 October)

Dakhla Brass at the 2016 Montreal Jazz Festival
Photo: FIJM

Bristol’s DAKHLA BRASS already contrived a richly orchestrated sound when they were a three-horns and drums four-piece. Now they are exploring a richer sound palette, live as a sextet, and in the studio with producer Ben Lamdin. The results are on their fourth recording, Murmur, which they launch at Kings Place on 6 October and in Bristol on 18 November. Jon Turney asked drummer Matt Brown and baritone saxophonist Charlotte Ostafew about the band’s evolution.

London Jazz News: You began as a four piece (Brown, Ostafew, Sophie Stockham on alto and Pete Judge, trumpet), then added Liam Treasure’s trombone. Now bass player Riaan Vosloo is on board too, how is that changing things?

Char: It’s interesting because for this album, the double bass parts were added after most of the album had been written. Riaan managed to find space within the music to add the double bass lines. As we approached writing in the same way, we haven’t compromised our sound at all. The double bass adds a new dimension and tone.

LJN: What else is different on the new album?

Matt: Even though a lot of our pieces are intricately written and full of weaving melodies and rhythm we felt interested in exploring sonic space that was available to fill.

Just horns and drums is a brilliant thing that we will continue to enjoy. However one thing you can’t get acoustically from that line up is smooth bass frequencies and long smooth drones.  In the studio Riaan ended up playing synth, vibraphone, double and electric bass and I added percussion and timpani as well as a Marxophone (a kind of zither) on one song. When we got to the mixing those extra ingredients were used very subtly and sometimes covertly. This helped create aurally comforting roots for angular horn lines to flourish on top of.

LJN: But it’s still recognisable as Dakhla’s signature sound?

Matt: It still has the ingredients that make Dakhla but working with Ben Lamdin we have developed a wider cinematic spread aided by the extra instruments, added percussion, deeper grooves as well as some free textural approaches in solos and accompaniment. Ben’s input was super valuable and really helpful to have that extra set of ears to enhance compositions written before we got to the studio.  We are really excited to get this album out.

LJN: And how about the live set?

Matt: The bass adds roots and more groove to the sound live and we are currently working on adding bass to a bunch of old songs but we aren’t recreating the added parts from the new record (synth, vibes, percussion etc).  We are getting enough with bass and want to explore just that and keep things fresh with live versions of songs that grow with us.

LJN: Dakhla weaves many influences together beautifully. Is the “jazz” word a help or a hindrance? Should we say something else?

Matt: We have no idea what you should say! We’ve thought about it a lot and given up – though we’re open to suggestions if anyone wants to help… We just like to make music and keep everything as open as possible. We are six musicians that have hugely eclectic listening tastes and musical backgrounds from classical and jazz education to self-taught and it all goes together to create Dakhla.

As for the J word it has mostly helped and mildly hindered I think.  We are all massively influenced by jazz music and you hear that in our instrumentation and our improvisation in terms of horn solos. And as the drummer I get to explore and improvise different ideas every night. However the horn arrangements are very through-composed, and set in stone, which isn’t so jazz.  The problems have mostly been with gig bookings: some venues say we are too jazz and some say we aren’t jazz enough… We love playing in intimate sit down and listen ‘Jazz’ venues because we can explore our dynamic range, but we can tailor our set to festivals too.  We just hope people are moved, challenged and transported when we play our compositions.

LJN: The last two recordings have each increased personnel by one. You’ve commented on the more expansive production this time. Where might you take the band next? Do you have any dream collaborations, perhaps?

Matt: It will always be Dakhla Brass – we have no plans to bring in more members. But at some point I think all of us would like to explore a much bigger ensemble. And yes, we dream. Anything to do with Bjork, Thom Yorke, Tin Hat Trio, Tom Waits, Yo-Yo Ma and Medeski Martin and Wood would be ace. Studio Ghibli would have been fun too.

LJN: And in the meantime?

Char: In terms of future writing, I’m very intrigued about the next album, knowing that we have the bass now. In theory it frees me up a lot to move away from the bass lines, so I could explore other roles within the band. Then again, part of why and how the band formed was because I love playing the role of the bass, so I can’t imagine stepping too far away.

Matt: We have a London and Bristol album launch booked. Oct 6th at Kings Place in London and November 18th at The Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol,  Also we are playing in Cardiff on November 1st.  We will be getting on booking more gigs next and then a tour but that is just in the planning stages. We are proud of this album and excited to be exploring new approaches and sounds with the new line up so we want to get touring and writing!

The Dakhla Brass Murmur album launch is at Kings Place on 6 October

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