Bahrain-born, UK-based multi-instrumentalist Yazz Ahmed, like Kamasi Washington in the United States, is reintroducing a new generation to modern jazz. Ahmed has worked with These New Puritans and Radiohead (she plays flugelhorn throughout ‘The King of Limbs’), and in her solo music, she combines her British and Arabic roots through jazz and electronic experimentation. Even if you’re not familiar or terribly interested in jazz, Ahmed’s music deserves your attention, and she’ll most likely make you second guess your thoughts on jazz.
From Ahmed’s Bandcamp bio:
“[Yazz Ahmed’s] new album ‘La Saboteuse’ [out May 12, 2017] is a deep exploration of both her British and Bahraini roots. Ably assisted by musicians including Lewis Wright on vibraphone, MOBO-winning new jazz kingpin Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet and Naadia Sherriff on Fender Rhodes keyboard, it’s composed of undulating rhythms, Middle Eastern melody and Yazz’s sonorous trumpet lines. The record sounds like the passage of a desert caravan, bathed in moonlight. The theme of ‘La Saboteuse’ is the sense of self-doubt that Yazz feels when she is creating, personified in a female saboteur, an anti-muse that spurs her into action.
‘La Saboteuse’ will be released in four chapters incrementally, unraveling the story, before the full version is available. Each chapter has its own cover, with beautiful illustrations by Bristol artist Sophie Bass.”
My favorite thing about Undecimber Fin. is that I don’t know how to classify its sound. “Gravity” starts off as an ambient indie groove with scattered electric beats and a gentle acoustic guitar. But then it sidesteps into a jazz swing with disorganized pianos and blasts of distorted guitars that sound more like tiny noise bombs. The music then takes another left turn with the return of the slow, gentle singing and the acoustic guitar picking that now wouldn’t sound out of place on Radiohead’s In Rainbows. When all the pieces come together, the song is a calm yet distinct mosaic.
Speaking of mosaic, if you take a look at the band’s SoundCloud you’ll see cryptic cartoons as the covers of the few songs the band has uploaded on its profile (I haven’t found any full-length releases yet). These cartoons are like the stills from a strange dream, which isn’t a bad way to describe the band’s atmospheric yet urgent sound. Also, does anyone have an idea what the band name means?
Regardless, as I learn more about Taiwan’s music scene, Undecimber Fin. gives me great hope for what else I may soon discover.
Now that I’m over A Moon Shaped Pool, I can go back and listen to interesting Radiohead.
(I kid of course; All of Radiohead’s music takes a little time to grow on me. I hated The King Of Limbs on first listen and now I enjoy it. I liked A Moon Shaped Pool on first listen and I’ll grow to love it more.)
Pablo Honey is Radiohead’s cursed debut album. I say cursed because it’s only known as the album with “Creep,” which from the start almost doomed the young band to become a one hit wonder. Nearly everyone, including the band, dismissed it as early as 1995.
Which is a shame, because Pablo Honey is such a beautiful album with plenty of great songs that never touched “Creep” in exposure or debate. It’s more enjoyable than it is interesting, and there’s no denying that Radiohead made their first great leap forward with their following up album, The Bends, which perfected their stadium-sized melancholy. But this was a time when Radiohead still wrote songs with melodies (remember those?), and there’s nothing wrong with writing safe songs if they sound as great as this.
Just listen to “Vegetable” and imagine what it takes from Morrissey. It won’t change your life, but you’ll have some new songs to add to your wishful nighttime playlist.