It’s no secret to those that follow jazz that London is one of the places to be right now. The English capital has an exciting young scene. Bahraini-British trumpeter Yazz Ahmed is extremely active within this scene, having released her sophomore record, the much acclaimed La Saboteuse, in 2017. La Saboteuse was composed of many original compositions that featured a potent combination of Arabic melodies, strong chops and forward thinking jazz fusion. In Polyhymnia, Ahmed returns with a more expansive version of her vision, aided by over 20 musicians throughout the album’s six tracks. The trumpeter’s unique brand of big band is dedicated to important women throughout history such as civil rights icon Rosa Parks (“2857”), prominent activist for female education Malala Yousafzai (“One Girl Among Many”), and the first female Saudi Arabian film director, Haifaa al-Mansour (“Lahan al-Mansour”).
“Lahan al-Mansour” begins with Ahmed’s eerily soft trumpet playing over the rumble and cry of drums and guitars in the distance. The band eventually locks into a strong Arabic melody that gives way to a more vast atmosphere that is perfect for the skillful spacey solos by Ahmed, Tori Freestone (soprano sax) and Alcyona Mick (fender rhodes). The tune is the perfect intro to Ahmed’s world, with the hazy, echo-filled production emphasizing the entrancing psychedelic qualities of her work. Towards the end of “Lahan al-Mansour”, a beautiful collage of horns is added to the main theme, a trait that resurfaces in the next track, “Ruby Bridges”.
“Ruby Bridges”, which boasts an appropriately African-American bop considering its subject matter, has a radically different soundscape from the album opener. Soulful piano lines and drumming with a strong head-nod factor combine to create an undeniable groove. The piece really leans into big band elements, featuring gorgeous horn arrangements that provide great accompaniment to each solo and have interestingly staggered melodic parts throughout the tune’s motif. It’s a composition with a lively style that makes it an instant attention grabber, sure to captivate listeners even before the soloists, most notably pianist Alcyona Mick, put in stellar performances.
Mick is again key in one of the more unexpected transformations on Polyhymnia, which can be found on “2857”. The opening half of the song is defined by a beautifully calming horn melody. Things change drastically when the piano introduces a rapid theme that is followed by a fierce period of collective improvisation, but what comes after is somehow even better. Ahmed’s trumpet solo is extremely impressive. She plays with a relentless energy and the rest of the band is galvanized by it, ending “2857” at a brilliant frantic pace. The frenzy of “2857” is immediately juxtaposed by the subtle percussion and drums that begin the next track, “Deeds Not Words”, a song named after the motto of women’s voting rights activist group The Suffragettes. The song succeeds in great part due to the winning combination of its cavernous nature and the sublime airiness of Ahmed’s trumpet playing.
With the breakthrough attention that La Saboteuse earned Ahmed, she could have easily just rested on her laurels for the next album. Thankfully, she has done the exact opposite, crafting a record that builds wonderfully on the interesting foundation of psychedelic Arabic jazz fusion that La Sabboteuse established. Polyhymnia is music that deserves to be celebrated.
Polyhymnia, the new album by trumpeter Yazz Ahmed is out now on Ropeadope Records.
Alcyona Mick – piano & Fender Rhodes
Alex Ridout – trumpet
Becca Toft – trumpet & voice
Camilla George – alto sax & voice
Carol Jarvis – trombone, bass trombone & voice
Charlie Pyne – double bass, bass guitar & voice
Chloë Abbott – trumpet
Corrina Silvester – percussion & voice
Gemma Moore – baritone sax
George Crowley – bass clarinet
Helena Kay – alto sax & voice
Johanna Burnheart – violin & voice
Josie Simmons – baritone sax & voice
Naadia Sheriff – piano
Noel Langley – trumpet, flugelhorn & voice
Nubya Garcia – tenor sax & voice
Ralph Wyld – vibraphone & glockenspiel
Rosie Turton – trombone & voice
Samuel Hällkvist – guitars
Sarah Tandy – piano, Fender Rhodes & voice
Sheila Maurice-Grey – voice
Shirley Tetteh – guitar & voice
Sophie Alloway – drums & voice
Tori Freestone – alto flute, soprano sax & tenor sax
Yazz Ahmed – trumpet, flugelhorn, Kaoss Pad & voice
Brian Kiwanuka is a writer‚ attorney and music nerd but not in that order. He digs Armand Hammer‚ Alice Coltrane and Stevie Wonder and occasionally subjects his friends to detailed rants about music. You can check out more of his writing on 93 Million Miles Above.