Features/Interviews (PP)

Omar + QCBA (new album ‘Live At Last’ – Ubuntu Music, released 11 February 2022)

A new live album “with a spur-of-the-moment vibe” from Omar, Quentin Collins, Brandon Allen, Ross Stanley Live At Last is released today. Feature by Lavender Sutton.

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In May 2021, just after the second lockdown eased, a packed house gathered at the Jazz Cafe in Camden to hear Omar + QCBA. For many, this would have been the first live music they’d have seen in months, if not a year. Now, eight months on, they’re releasing an album of the music recorded that night – Live At Last. Chatting to the band, it’s interesting to hear where the idea originated.

Omar Lye-Fook MBE, one of the best soul singers to come out of Britain in the last 40 years, has known Quentin Collins of QCBA for more than 20 years. They toured together with Omar’s band for many years around Europe. Collins and Saxophonist Brandon Allen have probably been working together for equally as long in many different capacities and the three seem to have become really great friends as well.

They spoke over video-call about how they started working together at different residencies around London, doing collaborations together and how Omar fit into the mix. “We’d started collaborating with lots of different singers during our residency at the Old Queen’s Head in Angel…we were called something else back then…” Allen chuckled nostalgically. “We played with singers like Liane Carroll, Amii Stewart and Cleveland Watkiss and of course, Omar. Then we did some touring around Italy together and started to build up a repertoire. That’s what we put together for this gig, plus a few new ones that you’ll hear on the record,” he continued.

Omar. Photo credit: Monika S Jakubowska

Their night at the Jazz Cafe had been booked long before anyone had heard of Covid and of course, had been rescheduled several times throughout 2020, to finally come to fruition in May 2021. Collins explained that the idea for a live recording came about only weeks before the final scheduled gig.

At the Jazz Cafe. Pboto Monika S. Jakubowska

When asked how the gig turned into a live album, Collins said jokingly “That’s Martin’s fault.” Ubuntu Music’s founder and mastermind, Martin Hummel, manages QCBA and has worked with Omar before. His last minute crazy idea turned into a possible reality quickly when the musicians all realised they had the material to make it happen. Why not?

Allen continued, “All the arrangements were spruced up for the recording and it gave us all an edge. We added a few tunes and decided we were going to do it all without [sheet] music [in front of us]…it added that little bit of spontaneity to the gig.”

Collins agreed, “You can definitely tell from the recording that it’s live. If you combine the [spontaneity] with the fact that we all hadn’t played in however-many months and there was no music, it’s got that energy about it.”

Omar was on the same page as well. “It’s jazz. You work to a framework and you see what pops out of it.” He went on to talk about how it felt to work with QCBA and let them arrange his music for the group. “It’s been good to get somebody else’s interpretation…their spin on my tunes. I think it really worked. Everybody gets their time to shine, so I can sit back a bit and really enjoy what they add. Of course they know how to turn it up a notch and stick an extra chord in there where I didn’t even know there was one.”

The three spoke more about how much they enjoyed the spur of the moment vibe that the album took on and how the audience contributed to that experience. There was definitely a good mix of jazz purists and true Omar fans in the room, all of whom were outed the second they played his hit tune There’s Nothing Like This.

The recording features Ross Stanley on organ, who sits firmly in the driver’s seat, as always and James Maddren on drums, whose role is integral to the group. His back beats and funk fills combined with Stanley’s playing are the bridge between genres that allow Omar and QCBA to excel collectively.

The album is released today, 11 February 2022, on Martin Hummel’s Ubuntu Music label. Album launch date is 31 March at the Jazz Cafe. Collins likened the date to a musical Droste Effect: a live gig to celebrate a recorded live gig to celebrate a recorded live gig…

Live At Last echoes the feelings of the whole world at the moment. And with a few tour dates booked for the summer already, Omar and QCBA fans can look forward to seeing them live again very soon.

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LINKS: Ticket Bookings for the Album Launch

Album Purchase Link

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