Album reviews

Soccer96, Byron Wallen… – ‘Transmissions from Total Refreshment Centre’

Multiple artists – Transmissions from Total Refreshment Centre (released 17 Feb)
(Blue Note 4536398. Album review by Dan Bergsagel)

Blue Note doesn’t often release work from another record label, but Transmissions from Total Refreshment Centre is a rare exception. This LP is an opportunity for Blue Note to share the unique sounds of Total Refreshment Centre. Founded by Alexis Blondel, this recording studio and occasional event space on an unassuming side street in Stoke Newington serves as a meeting place for London’s jazz scene. The seven tracks selected for Transmissions are a concise audio update on the North East London jazz scene: a real comfort with electronics, a disregard for perceived boundaries of genre, a conversation with hip-hop, and the constant promotion of percussion and rhythm to a central role.

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Byron Wallen’s piece “Closed Circle” is the most traditionally aligned Blue Note track of the record; a formal compositional structure which could lean on the Jazz Messengers. It opens and closes with layered strings with a mythical Smalltown Supersound tonality, .with a contemporary jazz filling in between. The filling is a looping bouncing sax line with an unhurried trumpet solo, the same structure repeated again with the horns reversed, before the triumphant horns return together – their lines interwoven with a lower tenor shadow. “Plight” from Chicago-based Resavoir channels a similar spirit but over a more propulsive beat. The group, having formed around leader Will Miller’s efforts to compose for the city’s hip-hop community, combine set piece horn cadences with piano and sax improvisation.

Nubiyan Twist horn player Jonny Enser’s ‘solo’ project Matters Unknown leans into rich orchestral horns on “Eloquence”, one of four of the seven tunes that feature a vocalist. Another is Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange’s Isa, based on drummer and bandleader Ziggy Zeitgeist’s shimmering dance beat, the percussion building the piece up from a relaxed spiritual funk to a full party, replete with samba whistle. Crescent is drummer Jake Long’s horizontal super slow beat, pairing meandering saxophone solos and clean guitar.

The two standout tracks of Transmissions pair beats with London vocalists with reassuringly local accents. “Black” by Neue Grafik features Brother Portrait (this is not their first collaboration) delivering clipped, sharp and punctuated spoken word. There are sax breaks, at first clean and then doubled – thick in reverb. “Visions” combines an anthemic synth start with relaxed drums and Kieron Boothe’s light rap flow. Cool muted trumpets set back in the mix (almost back in another room) go with a busy bass line and fuzzy synths in the break. This Soccer96 track is Transmissions’ single – less frenetic than their normal work, and less barnstorming than their trio partnership as The Comet is Coming, but recognisable nonetheless.

The musicians on Transmissions are not all Londoners – they hail from Chicago and Melbourne, and bring with them vocalists from across Europe, Africa and the Pacific. The reason I love this part of London is this – they all are Londoners. Collected together as a seven track LP, Total Refreshment Centre produces a sort-of local cohesive sound; a community with a compelling musical identity; an identity cohesive enough for one of the world’s most storied jazz labels to put out their mixtape and use their enormous promotional loud-hailer to share that identity with the rest of the world.

Living in NYC I don’t often go wanting for jazz, but the current London scene – with the TRC community at the heart of it – is one of the things that makes me pine for the London stretch of the A10 and the music life along it. If you are in London, show up and be a part of it.

Track Listing

  1. Soccer96 “Visions” featuring Kieron Boothe
  2. Byron Wallen “Closed Circle”
  3. Jake Long “Crescent (City Swamp Dub)”
  4. Matters Unknown “Eloquence” featuring Miryam Solomon
  5. Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange “Isa” featuring Noah Slee
  6. Neue Grafik “Black” featuring Brother Portrait
  7. Resavoir “Plight”

LINK Buy Transmissions from Total Refreshment Centre at Presto Music

Release date is Friday 17 February

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