Features/Interviews (PP)

Daphna Sadeh-Neu (EP ‘Magic of the Moment’, 33Jazz, released today)

“I have always been an instrumentalist but I reached a point where I realised I wanted to say something in words,” says Israeli-born, Bristol-based bassist, composer and bandleader Daphna Sadeh-Neu. In her new EP , Magic of the Moment, released today, she has added her own voice. Profile by John Bungey.

Photo Credit: Raphael Neu 

“It was the best self-therapy, I can tell you that,” Daphna Sadeh-Neu says with a smile. She’s talking about her new EP, Magic of the Moment, painstakingly recorded over 18 months, and the first time the double bassist has added her voice. Over a simmering jazz-fusion score she recites poetry – some self-composed, one piece by the 12th-century Persian poet Rumi.

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It’s an intriguing turn in a career that has included touring world music in the Middle East, recording for John Zorn’s label and writing a unique Arts Council-funded piece that melds jazz, Middle Eastern music and baroque.

“I have always been an instrumentalist but I reached a point where I realised I wanted to say something in words.” The pieces on Magic of the Moment address the musician’s alarm at how we treat the Earth. “I’m talking about global warming, climate change, the way we behave on the planet. I think the pandemic is one symptom of it all.”

Verses were written with a Trinidadian poet, Patricia Lashley-Charles, and as well as Sadeh-Neu’s speaking voice, an Israeli jazz vocalist, Gani Tamir, sings choruses. The poem by Rumi is The Breeze at Dawn – “His words seem so relevant today even though they are 900 should be :  800 or so years old.”

The intricate instrumental parts were built up over long hours in a Bristol studio. “With Mark Smulian, the producer, we did a lot of experiments with sound; we spent hours and hours making one layer, then another layer on top of it.” It was a completely new way of working for the bassist, who had always recorded live, and she found it an involving journey.

In addition to Daphna Sadeh-Neu herself (spoken word, double bass, bass guitar, keyboards) the album features Gani Tamir: (vocals), Stewart Curtis (saxophone, recorder, oboe), Myke Vince (percussion) Mark Smulian (bass guitar, guitars, keyboards)

It’s the latest twist in a playing career that began in her teens living near Tel Aviv. “Music found me, I didn’t find music. It was the last thing I thought I’d be when I was a teenager,” she says with a smile. Having rejected parental pressure to play the flute (“they thought it feminine”), the bass guitar seemed much more exciting. Within three months she was on stage playing Irish folk music with a band. “That was a pretty frightening experience. Everything happened so quickly.” The sound of jazz drew her in: “I heard Light as a Feather by Chick Corea and thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ Stanley Clarke is one of my heroes.”

Photo credit: Catherine Stewart 

Sadeh-Neu went to study double bass in New York at the Manhattan School of Music with the great classical bassist Homer Mensch. His many students included Ron Carter and Mensch played on a Jaco Pastorius album. She toured widely with the Israel-based East West Ensemble, all the while absorbing Arabic and Middle Eastern music. She also co-led the all-female Eve’s Women playing jazz, klezmer and rock.

After moving to London and making a solo album she formed a group, Daphna Sadeh & the Voyagers, whose second album, Reconciliation, was released on John Zorn’s Tzadik label. She says she never met Zorn in person. Recording was “an interesting experience. I’m grateful I had the opportunity.” Then came Born in Parallel, her ground-breaking baroque-world-jazz album. “The Arts Council said, ‘Come up with something that you’ve never done before.’ They said the idea was amazing. I went home and thought, ‘Oh my God, why did I have to say that?’ That was a challenge but it was wonderful.”

She is planning to bring Magic of the Moment to the stage as part of a wider new venture, the Lockdown Project. Music and poetry tell the stories of individuals from diverse communities, their challenges and their insights over the past year. “It talks about human experiences during the exceptional time we are living in.”

Sadeh-Neu may now be settled in Bristol, where she also teaches, but the music of the Lockdown Project continues to reflect a peripatetic past. “I trained in New York but I’m not a bebop player,” says the bassist. “I love it but as an artist who creates her own music I wouldn’t choose bebop as my thing. My background is so mixed – Arabic music, Jewish music, contemporary music. I studied classical so I’m well established in terms of ability as a classical player. It’s fusion music. I’m a fusion person.”

Magic of the Moment is released today, 7 June 2021 by 33Jazz Records. PP features are part of marketing packages.

The EP is available through 33jazz.com, on iTunes, Spotify and Deezer.

Music composed by Daphna Sadeh-Neu

Recording and Production: Mark Smulian / Lydianstream, Bristol

Spoken Word/Poetry: Daphna Sadeh & Patricia Lashley-Charles, Zohar Neu, Rumi

Daphna Sadeh-Neu’s website

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