by Ian Mann
October 26, 2022
An ambitious and highly successful début album from Parkinson. She skilfully combines her many musical influences to create a unique ensemble sound.
Asha Parkinson’s Kalpadruma
Kalpadruma Productions KP1001)
Asha Parkinson – alto, soprano & tenor saxophones, vocals
Olivia Ziani – lead violin (all tracks)
Sam Vincent – cello (all tracks)
Daniel Swani – flute (all tracks)
Brenna Jean Carey – violin (tracks 2 & 4)
Serguei Gonzalez Pavolva – Violin (3)
Sally Belcher – viola (2,3,4)
Andrew Liddell – viola (1,5,6)
George Jefford – trumpet (2,3,4)
Josh Short – trumpet (1,5,6)
Joe Thwates – bass clarinet, baritone sax (2,3,4)
Simeon May – bass clarinet, baritone sax (1,5,6)
Harry Pearce – bass guitar (1,5,6)
Ali Watson - bass guitar (2,4)
Ben Crane – bass guitar (3)
Harry Baker – piano (1,5,6)
Tim Lallement – piano (2,3,4)
Charlie Heywood – guitar (1,3,5,6)
Emily Roberts – guitar (2,4)
Tristan Butler – drum lit (1,5,6), percussion (3)
Dave Adsett – drum kit (3)
Theo Guttenplan – drum kit (4)
Joe Park – percussion (2,4)
Eliza Oakes – guest vocals (2,4)
Elsa Hackett – guest vocals (1)
Gareth Lockrane – guest piccolo (1)
Konstantinos Glynos – guest qanun (5,6)
I first encountered the music of the young saxophonist and composer Asha Parkinson at the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival when she appeared as part of the Jazz Newblood showcase at the Iklectik venue (aka Waterloo Creative Studio).
This performance saw Parkinson leading a quintet featuring Tim Lallement on piano, Joao Menezes on guitar, Harry Pearce on electric bass and Joe Parks on cajon and percussion. This was a highly enjoyable set that also revealed Parkinson to be a highly accomplished vocalist.
The quintet was essentially a scaled down version of the twelve piece Kalpadruma, a collective founded by Parkinson in 2017 “to explore connections between Arabic, Turkish, Indian, Contemporary Classical and Jazz musics”
Parkinson’s album notes explain the meaning behind the nomenclature of the Collective;
“Kalpadruma is the wish-fulfilling, divine tree of life in Indian origin religions and mythologies, a source of pure inspiration. The music on this album comes out of four inspirational years leading and writing for my cross genre Kalpadruma Collective, four years seeking an authentic musical meeting point between our different sonic and cultural backgrounds”.
Parkinson studied at the Purcell School of Music and at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, graduating with first class honours. Something of a musical prodigy she has been performing in public and leading her own bands since her early teens and has been a member of the National Youth jazz Orchestra. She has twice been a semi-finalist in the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition and has recently been invited to play with, and write for, Issie Barratt’s all female ensemble Interchange.
A prolific composer Parkinson has written for orchestras and choirs as well as for jazz ensembles and her writing also embraces elements of so called ‘world music’, including Arabic maqam, flamenco compas and Indian tala. She spent time studying on an exchange visit in Spain and that 2019 Iklektik performance saw her singing convincingly in Spanish.
In 2021 she was one of four composers selected for Jazz South Breakthrough Commissions working on a small-scale collaboration with members of the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, to create an extended cross-genre work that was digitally broadcast from the Colyer-Fergusson Concert Hall Canterbury (a major venue in the Jazz South Region). She is currently working on extending the suite to include more Arab female voices of protest. This will culminate in a concert at the Spice of Life, Soho, London in April 2023.
Parkinson sums up her intentions for Kalpadruma as follows;
“Without supporting unique culture and identity, we suppress anything that is seen as different. Kalpadruma was founded to embrace all that I find unfamiliar. Through working with Syrian, Indian and Greek musicians, I’m constantly learning and absorbing more vitality.”
In 2017 the still teenage Parkinson founded the Voices Beyond Divisions scheme, a project that she describes as; “bringing young people from all faiths and none together to sing and make music to promote peace and mutual understanding”. It’s a mission that also informs the music of Kalpadruma.
The six compositions that comprise “Onwards”, Parkinson’s début album, feature a core twelve piece ensemble (or dodectet) sourced from the pool of musicians listed above. The line up is augmented on selected tracks by guest performers Elsa Hackett and Eliza Oakes (vocals), Gareth Lockrane (piccolo) and Konstantinos Glynos on qanun, a zither like stringed instrument found in much of the Middle East, North Africa, West Africa, Central Asia, Armenia, and Greece and with its origins in the old Assyrian Empire.
Although she is an accomplished singer herself Parkinson leaves the vocal duties to guest Elsa Hackett on the opening “El duende me protégé” which features Spanish lyrics and which seeks to capture the “spirit of duende”. Hackett’s passionate singing is complemented by the unusual instrumentation of the dodectet - saxophone, flute, bass clarinet, trumpet, string quartet, guitar, piano, bass & drums. The piece also includes the airy piccolo of guest musician Gareth Lockrane, the track’s featured instrumental soloist.
Eliza Oakes takes over the vocal duties on the atmospheric “In The Mist”, this time singing in English. Strings, piano and muted trumpet feature in the arrangement, bringing a melancholy feel to the music.
A quintet version of “Alright Then” was performed at the 2019 Iklectik set. Parkinson describes the five piece version of Kalpadruma as playing “in a less fully notated way than the dodectet”, thus placing a greater emphasis on improvisation and spontaneous creativity.
The full band version is a similarly punchy affair featuring the leader’s alto sax and vocals, her quick-fire, almost rap style, delivery of the lyrics offering an assertive and feisty challenge to the vicissitudes of everyday life. Ben Crane’s electric bass fuels an almost funky groove and the performance also includes instrumental cameos from George Jefford on trumpet and Daniel Swani on flute. Parkinson’s arrangement skills also ensure that the strings remain a vital and effective part of the ensemble, even within this more aggressive musical environment.
With lyrics inspired by the writings of Omar Khayam “Snowdrift on the Sand” was another song that was performed at Iklectik, albeit under the truncated title “Snowdrift”. The recorded version features the vocals of guest singer Eliza Oakes and a brace of saxophone solos from the leader, on tenor this time, I think. It’s yet another piece that skilfully combines a variety of musical elements as Latin rhythms combine with classical style strings, the string players deploying both bowed and pizzicato techniques.
The title track introduces the extraordinary sound of the qanun, played by guest Konstantinos Glynos, on an all instrumental piece that also features the distinctive soloing of Parkinson on soprano and Charlie Haywood on guitar.
Glynos also features on “Integrate?”, which closes the album on an optimistic, upbeat note. Others to feature include pianist Harry Baker and baritone saxophonist Simeon May. Strings and flute also play a vital role in creating a unique ensemble sound.
“Onwards” represents an ambitious and highly successful début album from Parkinson. She skilfully combines her many musical influences to create a unique ensemble sound that feels unforced and genuinely organic, with her pool of musicians fully buying into her vision. The way in which she integrates the ‘classical’ instruments (strings, flute) into the ensemble sound is particularly impressive and praise is also due to the players themselves with lead violinist Olivia Ziani playing a key role in the overall success of the project.
All of the guest performers make distinctive and successful contributions and although the leader contributes a number of fluent solos her saxophones in no way dominate the overall group sound. This is very much a team success.
Kalpadruma’s music is driven by an overall philosophy of integration and tolerance, something that is reflected both in the lyrics and in the diversity of the music itself. “Onwards” represents a remarkably mature statement from such a young musician and composer and there is surely much more to come from Asha Parkinson.
Having enjoyed witnessing the performance of the Kalpadruma quintet I’d love to have the opportunity of seeing the full dodectet in action. London based readers will be able to do just that when Parkinson brings a fourteen piece version of Kalpadruma (including Glynos) to Ronnie Scott’s on the evening of November 2nd 2022. Details and tickets here;
For further information on Asha Parkinson and her music please visit;
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