Chumbo, Jasmine Quintet & Holly Flo Lightly
(Written Records Interchanges at Cluny 2, Newcastle. 27 Feb 2022. Live review by AJ Dehany)
Purists beware! — Interchanges, the inaugural live event curated by Written Records’ Evie Hill, was a sweet Sunday night programme exploring the cross-pollination and intersections between jazz, hiphop and spoken word that pleasingly exceeded expectations.
High quality musicianship and an open-armed embrace of fusion and sampling signposted where this most vibrant direction in the music could go. Evie Hill says “It’s so important to support artists who are just one gig away from real recognition” which is always true, but at Interchanges such recognition of young artists was especially easy to give.
Northeast quintet Chumbo (I’ll let you know when they change their name) sound like jazz beamed in from a few minutes into the future; very now but also strange. They embody the paradox of a vocal-led instrumental jazz group. Working with recordings from Obsidian Foundation hip-hop artist and broadcaster Repeat Beat Poet they engaged us in a technologised re-up of the live accompanied spoken word approach familiar to jazz audiences along the timeline from the beat poets drawling over bebop noodlings down to the raging fire of Moor Mother and Irreversible Entanglements.
Where the group really come into their own is in the use of samples: heavily integrated in the jazz group sound and used as intensely catchy hooks as well as musical themes. Their woozy use of bootlegged vocal material including an unattributed “You know how I feel” as an insistent hook in classic hip hop style, and a lost sample heard “while waiting to see D’Angelo play” was head-spinning—not least because the actual live playing acoustically replicated the J Dilla electronic paradigm of deliberately upsetting the continuity of the beat. It’s highly ambitious to intentionally court wonkiness but I absolutely got it. If they can refine and nail that challenging brief I think they are really onto something.
Jasmine Quintet were bigged up as “MF Doom inspired jazz instrumentalists” but I didn’t hear that, apart from some osmotic generational hiphop influence of course. They bring a strong modern atmospheric jazz sound that reminded me of Ravi Coltrane’s controlled tone in an atmospheric slightly spiritual feel. I was impressed with Leeds saxophonist and bandleader Jasmine Whalley’s control and taste, and the group’s appeal to audiences who might be both familiar and less familiar to jazz.
Jasmine is unafraid to say “I want to write music that makes people feel happy.” Augmented by Alice Roberts’ harp looming large onstage but underused in the set, the songs, including Horizons featuring Ben Hasking on guitar and The Promise with Jasper Green on piano, were written during the Lockdown Renaissance (or Jouissance) and are due to be released on a debut album in July, which I for one look forward to.
Holly Flo Lightly embodies the charisma of cross-fusion in performance, completing a three act arc after the vocal-not-vocal nu-jazz of Chumbo and the ruminative style of Jasmine Quintet. The London MC turned honorary Newcastle toon lass mixed up RnB, hiphop, jazz, and reggae directions with just a backing track. She works with a band called the Beyonders and has a delicious voice out of smooth jazzy RnB reminiscent of Arlo Parks, allied to a sassy and honed flow in her rap poetry. Her explanation of the tune telling her story about how she got into hophop sheds light beyond her own work: “Hiphop stretched two genres crossing over, so it makes sense that it would work with jazz.”
Her set also showcased that classic motif in both jazz and hiphop of the impromptu guest appearance, with a dreadlocked MC called Tex or Teks or Techs making a firebrand appearance in a firebrand set. The ear-worming hook of Holly Flo Lightly’s closing protest song “I call bullshit/ not about to get gaslit” was pure YASSQUEEN, if you know what I mean, and I can only salute another of her maxims: “I love making music about negative emotion cos by the end it’s positive, so good is restored.”
AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
Categories: Live review