by Ian Mann
November 01, 2021
It’s easy to see why this highly skilled and very personable musician is so popular with audiences. A hugely exciting & highly successful event that was well worth braving the Halloween elements for.
Camilla George Quartet, From The Source Festival, Studio Theatre, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, 31/10/2021.
Camilla George – alto sax, Sarah Tandy – piano & keyboard, Jihad Dawish – electric bass, Rod Youngs- drums
This evening’s performance by alto saxophonist and composer Camilla George was part of the wider From The Source Festival, a series of events curated by the Serious organisation at Warwick Arts Centre. The series explores the influence of jazz on a range of other musical genres, among them soul, hip hop, electronica and performance poetry.
George’s music, which combined jazz and funk with aspects of her Nigerian heritage was perhaps the most conventionally ‘jazzy’ in the week long series of events. Other performances taking place under the From The Source banner have included shows from the innovative Anglo-Indian drummer, percussionist and composer Sorathy Korwar, Birmingham based hip hop artist Kofi Stone and spoken word artist Jasmine Gardosi, whose collaborators included trumpeter Sam Wooster and saxophonist Xhosa Cole. The biggest name on the bill is arguably Bristol born trip hop artist Tricky, once of Massive Attack and now an established solo artist. Tricky is scheduled to perform at Warwick Arts Centre on Wednesday November 3rd 2021.
Camilla George is an artist who has appeared fairly regularly on the Jazzmann web pages following my favourable review of her début album “Isang” in 2017, a quartet recording featuring the outstanding young talents of George, pianist Sarah Tandy, bassist Daniel Casimir and drummer Femi Koleoso. The album also featured a guest appearance by vocalist Zara McFarlane.
Album review here;
In February 2017 George brought the quartet featuring Tandy, Casimir and Koleoso to Kenilworth Jazz Club as part of the tour to promote “Isang”. This was a hugely accomplished and highly exciting performance and after the show I enjoyed speaking with Camilla and the members of her band. My account of that memorable evening can be found here;
“Isang” was very well received and in 2018 George followed this with “The People Could Fly”, her second album for Ubuntu Music. This featured the same core quartet and also incorporated guest appearances by guitarist Shirley Tetteh, vocalists Cherise Adams-Burnett and Omar Lye-Fook and trumpeter Quentin Collins, with pianist Andrew McCormack fulfilling the role of producer. Like its predecessor the album drew inspiration from the folklore of George’s native Nigeria and again received a positive reception from fans and commentators alike.
George studied at Trinity College of Music in London and with the Tomorrow’s Warriors organisation. Her saxophone tutors have included Jean Toussaint, Tony Kofi, Julian Siegel, Martin Speake and the late Christian Brewer.
Besides her illustrious mentors George also cites alto sax giants Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley as significant influences, but even more important to her are Fela Kuti, Sonny Stitt and Jackie McLean, with George naming Kenny Garrett as a particularly significant source of contemporary inspiration.
In addition to her solo career George has also been part of the Nu Civilisation Orchestra, Jazz Jamaica and Courtney Pine’s Venus Warriors project. She has also recorded with her great friend, vocalist and songwriter Zara McFarlane and has performed with vocalist China Moses, the late saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis and with the band Kokoroko.
Tonight’s event drew a near capacity crowd to the Studio Theatre at Warwick Arts Centre on a wet and windy Sunday night that also offered the alternate ‘attraction’ of Halloween. Well done to everybody who turned out and it was good to see so many young people in the audience and clearly loving the music. George is a confident and personable presenter who seeks to get her music and message ‘out there’, but in a manner that doesn’t look to compromise either the music or the message of hope and tolerance behind it. The success of tonight’s event suggests that she is succeeding brilliantly.
Tonight’s quartet featured the faithful Sarah Tandy on both Nord keyboard and the WAC’s resident grand piano, electric bass specialist Jihad Dawish, depping for the in demand Daniel Casimir, and the vastly experienced drummer Rod Youngs.
During lockdown George has recorded the music for her third album “Ibio-Ibio”, which is dedicated to her tribe, the Ibibio people of South Eastern coastal Nigeria. The album will feature the core quartet of George, Tandy, Casimir and drummer Winston Clifford with guest appearances from guitarist Shirley Tetteh, trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, trombonist Rosie Turton, pianist /vocalist Renato Paris and US drummer Daru Jones. The album also includes a contribution from the Birmingham based rapper Lady Sanity, who appeared with George at Warwick Arts Centre as part of the first From The Source Festival in 2019.
Inevitably the release of the new album has been delayed by the pandemic but it should eventually appear sometime in 2022. George is already performing material from the forthcoming record and the first set tonight was comprised of entirely new original music.
The quartet opened with the simply titled “Intro”, appropriately a great introduction their collective sound with George’s melodic alto improvising cutting a swathe through the funk and hip hop style grooves generated by Dawish, Youngs and Tandy on electric keyboard. Following George’s opening salvo Tandy took over, deploying a classic ‘Rhodes’ electric piano sound during the course of her adventurous solo. George’s second album saw her introducing additional funk and soul elements and these tendencies found expression in the Jaco Pastorius style bass soloing of Dawish, his virtuoso playing complemented by Young’s broken beats. An invigorating start that quickly got the audience on side.
The title of “Ekpe” was inspired by a kind of Nigerian “secret society” and saw Tandy moving to acoustic piano. Nevertheless the music still retained a funky drive with George’s fluent alto soloing drawing on that acknowledged Kenny Garrett influence. Dawish followed on the bass, combining fleet fingering with an inherent melodicism.
Youngs, a powerful but receptive presence throughout was also featured, his solo hard hitting but accurate and underpinned by Dawish’s recurrent bass groove.
“The Long Juju Shrine of Arochuru” made further reference to Nigerian history and to the slave trade, but as George remarked the music itself was far from depressing. The piece saw Tandy moving back to the Nord for an expansive and feverishly inventive keyboard solo. Since I last saw her play Tandy has released her début album “Infection In The Sentence” and was also the recipient of the prize for ‘Best Instrumentalist’ at the 2020 Parliamentary Jazz Awards, so well done to her. Tandy’s keyboard feature was followed by a similarly imaginative solo from the leader on alto.
The first set concluded with “Abasi Isang”, the title approximately translating as “God of The Earth”. This was an appropriately powerful offering with George stating the theme and then soloing in impassioned fashion above a turbulent rhythmic backdrop featuring Tandy’s recurring piano motif and Youngs’ dynamic drumming. Despite her move to the acoustic instrument Tandy’s piano solo was similarly rumbustious, her torrential outpourings of ideas sometimes reminiscent of the late, great McCoy Tyner.
This was a great way to bring an energetic and dynamic first set to a close, with the quartet really earning their half time break.
After the interval George chose to feature more familiar material from her first two albums, and even surprised us by including a jazz standard, but more on that later.
The first piece we heard was “Mami Wata”, the opening track on the “Isang” album, and a piece inspired by a female West African water spirit, a kind of “evil mermaid”.
One of George’s most popular compositions, with its roots firmly in the jazz and bebop traditions, this featured the leader’s confident alto soloing above a loping electric bass groove and the polyrhythmic flow of Youngs’ drums. As on the recorded version Tandy positively sparkled on acoustic piano and the performance was rounded off by a dynamic drum feature from the consistently impressive Youngs, an experienced campaigner who has previously worked with saxophonists Denys Baptiste, Tim Whitehead and Dave O’Higgins, trumpeter Byron Wallen, vibraphonist Orphy Robinson, pianist Jonathan Gee, guitarist Rob Luft and many, many more.
The decision to include a ‘standard’ composition was only made during soundcheck, and the addition of pianist Horace Silver’s ballad “Peace” represented a welcome and inspired choice. Following a high octane first set and a spirited start to the second the inclusion of a genuine ballad represented a welcome change of mood and pace. George and her colleagues more than did justice to this venerable composition and it was good to see the band demonstrate a gentler side of their playing, with Youngs deploying brushes throughout. The plaintive lyricism of George on alto and Tandy on acoustic piano represented a genuine set highlight and demonstrated their growing maturity as musicians.
George turned to her second album for “How Nehemiah Got Free”, which saw the quartet upping the energy levels again with Youngs ushering the piece in at the drums and Dawish laying down a percolating funk groove. This proved to be the springboard for solos from George on alto and Tandy at the Nord, with Youngs’ crisp drumming also driving things along. Dawish was next to step forward with a typically agile electric bass solo, this followed by a playful drum feature from Youngs that saw him sparking ideas off his colleagues as he soloed above their collective vamping.
The evening concluded with a return to the “Isang” album and its closing track “Mami Wata Returns / Usoro”, which sees Mami Wata presiding over some kind of undersea party. Introduced by bass and drums an energetic funk groove emerged that proved to be the basis for solos from George on alto and Tandy on Herbie Hancock style electric piano, with Dawish also featuring on electric bass.
Again this was an excellent way to round off a well programmed set and the reaction of the crowd was overwhelmingly positive, although, sadly, no encore was forthcoming.
Nevertheless the success of the performance could be gauged by the length of the line that queued up to buy CDs, vinyl and merchandise from George after the gig. Virtually every item George had with her was sold and she was happy to sign autographs and pose for pictures. It’s easy to see why this highly skilled and very personable musician is so popular with audiences. Hers is a star that will surely continue to rise as live performance slowly starts to get into gear again.
I waited until the sales were over before speaking to Camilla and firming up some of the detail about the new music played in the first set, so my thanks to her for that.
It was also good to speak to Midlands based musician and promoter Wayne Matthews who was next to me in the queue. Wayne has previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages playing bass with bands led by pianist David Austin Grey and drummer Romarna Campbell and is currently promoting jazz in nearby Leamington Spa.
Thanks are also due to publicist Sally Reeves for providing me with press tickets.
It was good to explore Camilla’s new material and I look forward to hearing the finished album in due course. In the meantime this was a hugely exciting and highly successful event that was well worth braving the elements for.
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