Chelsea Carmichael – The River Doesn’t Like Strangers
(Native Rebel Recordings. Album review by Adam Sieff)
Over the last few years since graduating from Trinity Laban Conservatoire, the Manchester-born and London-based tenor saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael has carved out a powerful presence touring alongside key new generation artists Theon Cross and Joe Armon-Jones and as a member of Cassie Kinoshi’s SEED Ensemble and Neue Grafik Ensemble. She also gets down in the trenches to play with big bands such as the Nu Civilisation Orchestra and Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra as well as leading her own quartet which played some excellent jazz re:freshed shows including a righteous evening in Margate. She has also established herself as an educator and was Musical Director of the NYJO Jazz Messengers.
She delayed recording her own music for some time for fear of being pigeonholed stylistically by one album, but has finally taken the plunge with The River Doesn’t Like Strangers which was produced by Shabaka Hutchings and is released via his Native Rebel Recordings, a new label formed with Metropolis Songs’ Matt Smith. Hutchings provides Carmichael with the creative and technical infrastructure of musicians and engineers that have made his projects, including Sons of Kemet, so distinctive, inventive and successful.
All the music was recorded over three days with no prior rehearsal by Will Purton at RAK Studios (the St John’s Wood facility where Native Rebel is based), and was cowritten by Carmichael, Hutchings and the musicians – guitarist David Okumu, bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Edward Wakili-Hick. The results were mixed by Dilip Harris at his Mancrush studio and mastered by Guy Davy at Electric.
Needless to say, it sounds pretty special – modern, dubby, spiritual and vital. Carmichael’s playing has the strength and personality to make the most of the highly produced soundscape and is at the centre of everything. The opening statement of There is a Place (it’s not here) is powerful and played with conviction while the first single Myriad has a playful horn line that builds into a mesmerising roller coaster. There’s beauty in the theme for the majestic Bone and Soil and real urgency in the frenetic There is You and You. The rhythm section of Herbert and Wakili-Hick is constantly inventive and explosive, relishing in the delays and Harris’ dense and exciting mix treatment. Okumu has been a monster guitar player for many years and adds colour and groove while his soloing is always inventive.
The 10-minute title track at the heart of the album was inspired by something Carmichael’s father said about the Rio Grande river that runs through the centre of his home village of Grants Level in Jamaica. Carmichael says, “I feel that the way that I play on this record draws inspiration from the lineage of black music making and the Caribbean Diasporas. It only felt right to reference my own lineage, and what has always been inside me even before a saxophone was put in my hands”.
What will be interesting is what comes next, as judging by her work with others there are more aspects of her musicality than are apparent here. But if a record is truly a snapshot in time, this will serve her well and, whatever happens, Chelsea Carmichael is surely on her way.
LINKS: Chelsea Carmichael’s website