(jazz re:freshed jrf0019: CD review by Mark McKergow)
Bassist Daniel Casimir and vocalist Tess Hirst hit a very jazz high spot with their debut CD These Days, reflecting current concerns with passion, style and a great deal of musical dexterity. Using lyrics and poetic extracts over some top-class playing, this is a real boundary-spanning buffet of beats and bop.
Daniel Casimir has been making a name for himself over the past few years as a double bass player with both skill and a strong musical sensibility. He is a graduate of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (where I saw him memorably tackling Chris Potter’s bass feature All By All with the composer only feet away) and was named Young Jazz Musician of the year by The Musician’s Company in 2016. He is not only a top-class bass performer (with Nubya Garcia and Jean Toussaint amongst others), he is also a skilful composer with a strong sense of how to put together extended chord sequences which give a superb depth to his writing. His debut EP Escapee was released in 2017 with fellow rising stars including Moses Boyd and Shirley Tetteh.
Tess Hirst is a School of Oriental and African Studies Ethnomusicology graduate as well as a talented vocalist, and combines her London roots with a strong sense of the critical and the political. She and Casimir have crafted a well-integrated set for this CD with a good and meaningful sense of its own identity. The opening Don’t Let Them (drawing on Charles Mingus’ jabs at segregationist Governor Faubus on his Ah Um album) strikes a dramatic note with Hirst singing the Mingus lyrics “Oh Lord, don’t let them shoot us…” as a solo before a rattling piano solo from Robert Mitchell. This is the first of many outstanding instrumental sections where the band takes flight, Olly Sarkar’s drumming playing a key role.
Security follows on with rapid shuffling beat-oriented drumming from Sarkar (breathtaking!) and words from Hirst about security “not being about what we own” with Tobie Carpenter’s fast-moving electric guitar adding impetus. Mitchell and Carpenter swap short solo passages in a way which keeps the momentum and interest going, though with most tracks around the five minute mark the whole affair is pretty punchy.
They Come Over Here is an instrumental giving some space to Casimir’s rich bass sounds, with a guitar-led tune over rippling Rhodes piano and yet more ear-bending drumming. We hear John Agard’s poem Listen Mr Oxford Don, a thoroughly subversive piece of work, spoken over bass and drums, leading into Magic Money Tree and Freedom, the latter bringing Tess Hirst’s vocals back to the fore, the sweetness of her tone at startling odds with her message about liberation. This mix of a strong political stance and top-notch music made me think that if Gil Scott-Heron were still with us, he would be sitting up and paying attention.
This collection of work stands very well as a unified whole. Don’t put it on ‘shuffle’, listen to it from start to finish and enjoy the architecture, the contrasts, the messages and the feeling of five superb musicians giving it large and whole-hearted.
Daniel Casimir and Tess Hirst have just been announced to appear at Love Supreme 2020.