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Hot-on-the-heels of their performance on BBC 6 Music, for Gilles Peterson's ‘UK Jazz Special’, at the hallowed Maida Vale studios (alongside Nubya Garcia, Joe Armon-Jones and Fatima), Ishmael Ensemble bring their Bristol-inspired ‘Severn Songs’ project to a triumphant finale.
‘Severn Songs 3’ pays homage the mighty river itself, in both title and mood. Field recordings from the banks of another iconic river - the Ganges - made by keyboardist and co-writer Jake Spurgeon meander in and out of focus, whilst celestial percussion ushers in the full-bodied tone of celebrated jazz trumpeter Yazz Ahmed's horn. The track climaxes in true Ishmaelian fashion with a whirlwind of pulsating synthesizers, crashing drums and hypnotic brass flurries, before easing back into the dulcet rhythm of oars lapping through water.
On the flip, a reprise takes the listener on a much gentler ride. However, the tension and dynamics of this twin version are still very much apparent. Throughout the release, an array of new instruments open up in Cunningham's armoury; most notably bass clarinet, alto-flute and the sarod – leaving the listener just a few strings shy of a full orchestral experience.
As a whole, the ‘Severn Songs’ project has seen Cunningham develop an already diverse palette into something more focused. Tiptoeing between the current British jazz boom and Bristol's rich musical ancestry, the group have found a truly unique and refreshing voice.
‘Severn Songs 3’ follows media praise, radio airplay and DJ support for the first two 7”s in the series, from the likes of Dan Snaith (Caribou), Gilles Peterson, Tom Ravenscroft, DJ Mag, Complex, Self-Titled, The Vinyl Factory and XLR8R. Prior to that, 2017 saw Ishmael Ensemble’s first EP ‘Songs for Knotty’ released on Banoffee Pies, followed by an official remix of Carl Craig’s ‘The Melody’ for Infiné.
With rumours of an album ‘round the corner, a busy touring schedule and continued support from international tastemakers, 2019 is shaping up to be an ascendant year for this talented producer and his Bristolian troupe.
Pete Cunningham: saxophone, synths, keys
Jake Spurgeon: modular synth, keys, sarod
Yazz Ahmed: flugelhorn
Ross Hughes: bass clarinet, alto flute
Rory O'Gorman: drums
Stephen Mullins: guitar
Jackson Lapes: percussion
The River (reprise)