Calabashed – Behold A Black Wave
(Purple City PURP004 vinyl/download. EP review by Mark McKergow)
Eclectic London project Calabashed present an ear-catching set of soundscapes on their debut EP including harp, saxophone and analogue crunch alongside spoken word and beats with nu-jazz influences. There is plenty here to enjoy over repeated listening.
Calabashed is fronted by poet/vocalist Joshua Idehen and composer/saxophonist Alabaster dePlume (aka Angus Fairbairn). They met at London’s Total Refreshment Centre in Dalston (which today continues as a creative hub recording studio, albeit closed for live gigs), and have co-opted colleagues from TRC in the making of this 20 minutes-or-so of fascinating music.
The work is described by Idahen as ‘a seance to beseech Alice Coltrane’, and it certainly succeeds in a dark and harp-inflected vibe that builds through different moods. The harp, which I understand is fitted with its own effects pedals, comes courtesy of Marysia Zofia Osuchowska, who lays down some beautifully varying and dynamic textures.
The EP works well as a through-listen, with the tracks melding together and building from gentle start to strong finish. The first section is Ode To Jazzman John Clarke with a floating introduction leading into a spoken piece inspired by the London jazz poet who died in 2018. Idehan’s delivery is beautifully paced and rhythmic, as befits the subject, and the backing varies throughout with tape contributions from Raimund Wong. The music slides into Still Want More, developing a persistent and forceful pulse with some lovely tonal shifts under the vocal that had me in mind of Dan Casimir’s compositional style. The quality and variation of the music throughout is exceptional, showing a true jazz sensibility in responsiveness and improvisational quality – the group eschews the easy stick-a-loop-on option and produces some outstanding and sustained subtlety.
All Of The Lights opens a new tonal feel with sparse saxophone, guitar from James Howard and treated voice. There are acres of space here, touched by instrumental embellishments carefully assembled by producer Danalogue (Dan Leavers) who LJN readers may know as one third of The Comet Is Coming with Shabaka Hutchings. The shifting sophisticated textures are shattered by Take It Outside, a tough take on threatened violence with rap from poet/MC Adam Kammerling and some powerful drumming from Betamax (also Comet Is Coming) and Donna Thompson, who also performs elsewhere with Grammy nominated artist Nao. It’s quite a shock to realise that 80% of the recording has elapsed before the drums appear, which only enhances their impact and force.
This is a truly bewitching set with complex arrangements and harmonies, different feels and a great overarching structure that finishes with a metaphorical kick to the kidneys. Let’s hope to hear more from this creative collective.