Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019





by Ian Mann

April 10, 2018


The combination of electric and acoustic sounds is highly effective, the solos imaginative and inventive, and the ensemble playing tight and cohesive. A beguiling mix of the exotic and the accessible.



(Bahla Records)

Bahla are a young quintet based in London whose début recording was released in 2017 on their own record label following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

In 2016 I enjoyed a performance by the band at the 2016 Brecon Jazz Festival when they performed as part of the innovative Jazz Futures programme co-ordinated by Marc Edwards. My coverage of that event and other Festival performances can be read here;

Named after a city in Oman Bahla is a truly international entity and grew out of a collaboration between guitarist Tal Janes, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, and the Venezuelan born pianist Joseph Costi. Originally the pair performed as a duo but later added bassist Greg Gottlieb and drummer/percussionist Ben Brown to the ranks and adopted the group name Bahla. The album sees Gottlieb being replaced by the Italian born bassist Andrea Di Biase while the recruitment of Portuguese vocalist Ines Loubet Franco expands the group to a five piece.

Janes and Costi cite John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Bill Frisell as influences on the quintet’s sound but it’s their absorption of Jewish musical culture that is at the band’s heart and helps to give their music its distinctiveness.

On the album cover Bahla describe “Imprints” as being;
“A collection of songs inspired by different stories of migration and displacement. The music is home to many different influences but has kept Jewish folk traditions at its core. Music and culture are joined at the hip and, particularly in our current climate, we have been driven to show that it is not only possible for different cultures to meet peacefully but that these moments of collaboration can lead to something new and exciting”.

As if to prove the point Costi, Loubet Franco and Brown had all performed on the previous day at Brecon as part of Caravela, a group singing and playing songs from the Portuguese diaspora. As I wrote at the time in my review of Bahla’s performance;
“The presence of Costi and Brown just went to emphasise the sheer versatility of the modern jazz musician. Here they were twenty four hours later playing music from a different tradition totally convincingly and without dropping a stitch”.

The material on “Imprints” consists of five original songs by Janes and Costi plus arrangements of three traditional Jewish folk tunes arranged by these two. As at their Festival performance one is immediately struck by how contemporary the music sounds.

At the time of the Brecon performance a press release spoke of the group “sonically painting a picture from the broad spectrum of Jewish music traditions, drawing inspiration for new compositions from liturgical melodies, North African rhythms and Yiddish artsongs”.  From this I was expecting some kind of updated klezmer with fiddles, clarinets and accordions. The reality was very different, and pleasingly and thrilling so.

Besides the Jewish and other folk influences and the jazz inspirations of Coltrane, Hancock and Frisell Janes has also mentioned the influence of artists such as John Martyn, Radiohead, Polar Bear and Shai Maestro. The band’s approach is shaped by historical aspects of the Jewish diaspora  and the parallels between this and life in modern Britain, and particularly London.  The group have links with the charity Side By Side for Refugees.

The album commences with a Janes and Costi arrangement of the tune “Nigun Simcha” which combines folk melodies with interlocking odd meter rhythms and needling guitar in a highly beguiling way. Janes uses his guitar effects judiciously and combines effectively with Costi’s acoustic piano.  To Western European ears it’s exotic, highly rhythmic and strangely hypnotic. Loubet Franco’s wordless vocals introduce additional layers of melody later on in the piece, adding a calming influence as the energy and impetus gradually dissipates.

An arrangement of “The Paths Of Sirkeci / Pasha” follows with Loubet Franco singing in (I think) Ladino – she is also capable of singing in Hebrew, English and her native Portuguese. There’s more of a conventional song structure here with the singer’s confident vocal complemented by a flowingly lyrical acoustic piano solo from Costi. The music then takes a more contemporary turn courtesy of Janes ‘ guitar and the band sound becomes more aggressive with Loubet Franco’s soaring vocals underscoring a powerful electric guitar solo from the co-leader. Di Biase also plays a prominent role on this track, his melodic but powerful bass playing involving the deployment of both arco and pizzicato techniques.

The original composition “Piyut” is introduced by Brown’s percussion, this soon joined by acoustic guitar and Loubet Franco’s emotive vocals (in Hebrew this time, I think). The overall sound is unmistakably Middle Eastern / North African with Janes’ oud like acoustic guitar contrasting well with the trill of Costi’s Fender Rhodes.
Janes subsequently switches to electric guitar, delivering a spiralling solo against a backdrop of soaring vocals before the piece resolves itself with a more impressionistic passage of Fender Rhodes and guitar electronica, this acting as a segue into the following “Pierogi”. This is another richly atmospheric piece with Loubet Franco’s droning wordless vocals underpinned by Costi’s slow paced acoustic piano and the ethereal shimmer of Janes’ guitar FX. With the addition of bass and drums the piece builds slowly to embrace more of a wide-screen cinematic feel.

The title track features an English lyric, delivered by Loubet Franco with a combination of quiet passion and technical assurance.  A simple rhythmic motif frames an expansively lyrical acoustic piano solo from Costi, the music again building in terms of dynamics and emotional intensity as the piece progresses. Finally a peak is reached and the composition resolves itself as quietly as it began with Loubet Franco delivering a reprise of the opening verse.

The all instrumental “Aman” highlights the chemistry between Janes and Costi, the duo at the heart of Bahla. Ably supported by Brown and Di Biase their understated, intelligent interplay is showcased on this piece together with extended solos from both musicians, Janes on electric guitar going first, followed by Costi on acoustic piano.

The co-leaders’ arrangement of the tune “Beneath Soreles Cradle” continues to illustrate the rapport between the group members. Also wholly instrumental it begins with a brief passage of unaccompanied acoustic piano before opening out to embrace further solos from Di Biase, Janes and Costi. The pace is unhurried, the overall feel wide-reaching and cinematic.

Singer Loubet Franco returns for the closing “Masah”, her yearning wordless vocals well served by a combination of acoustic piano and acoustic guitar in an intimate and chillingly beautiful trio performance.

I was very impressed with Bahla when I saw them at Brecon and looked forward to hearing them on disc and I’m pleased to report that this album doesn’t disappoint. The appointment of the excellent Loubet Franco, who had so impressed at Brecon with Caravela, adds a new dimension to the music and she performs superbly throughout, her vocals an effective combination of raw emotion and great technical expertise. A highly flexible, expressive and admirably multi-lingual vocalist she looks set for a bright future.

Meanwhile Bahla’s instrumentalists also shine, both individually and collectively, with all making strong contributions. The combination of electric and acoustic sounds is highly effective, the solos imaginative and inventive and the ensemble playing tight and cohesive.

Co-leaders Janes and Costi also impress with their compositional and arranging skills. Both the traditional and original tunes are highly melodic, a beguiling mix of the exotic and the accessible. As I observed at Brecon the music is sometimes unexpectedly powerful with Bahla making effective use of dynamic contrasts in their compositions and interpretations.

It’s fun to play spot the influence when listening to Bahla’s music. In addition to the group’s stated influences and inspirations I also got hints of Pat Metheny (strong melodies, the use of wordless vocals) and even ‘Canterbury Scene’ bands like National Health and Hatfield & The North ( wordless voices again, spiralling, feverishly inventive guitar solos a la Phil Miller) although it’s possible that Bahla may never even have heard of these.

At Brecon I also compared the band’s approach with that of New York based Jewish / Israeli musicians such as saxophonist John Zorn and guitarists Eyal Maoz and Gilad Hekselman. 

At the end of the day Bahla have come up with a contemporary music that is highly distinctive and very much their own as the melodies of the Jewish folk tradition are merged with elements of jazz, rock and even electronica to create a unique amalgam that is capable of appealing to a wide range of listeners.

I expect to hear a lot more from this talented young group of musicians in the coming years, both with this project and with others. In the meantime Bahla’s debut album is thoroughly recommended.


From Tal Janes via email;

Just wanted to a say a big thank you for the very lovely and in-depth review of imprints! I get the feeling most people rush their way through reviews so thank you for taking the time.




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