by Ian Mann
March 01, 2017
Ian Mann enjoys a first visit to Kenilworth Jazz Club and the music of the Camilla George Quartet.
Camilla George Quartet, Kenilworth Jazz Club, Kenilworth Rugby Club, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, 27/02/2017.
Tonight’s performance was part of an ongoing British tour by the Camilla George Quartet in support of their acclaimed début album “Isang”.
Born in Nigeria but now based in London George studied at Trinity College of Music and has also been part of the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme. Her tutors have included fellow saxophonists Jean Toussaint, Tony Kofi, Julian Siegel and Martin Speake.“Isang” features liner notes by Jason Yarde, another champion of George and her music.
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 Sonny Stitt and Jackie McLean with George naming Kenny Garrett as a more contemporary touchstone.
As a performer George has been part of the Nu Civilisation Orchestra, Jazz Jamaica and Courtney Pine’s Venus Warriors project. In 2014 she formed her own quartet, the members coming together through encounters on the Jazz Warriors scheme and at the late night jams at Ronnie Scott’s. Joining George on “Isang” are pianist Sarah Tandy, bassist Daniel Casimir and drummer Femi Koleoso, the latter perhaps best known as a member of rising stars Ezra Collective, just back from touring in Italy. “Isang” also features a guest appearance by George’s long time friend, vocalist Zara McFarlane.
“Isang” was released to universally positive reviews, including my own, and the album seems to have created something of a buzz on the UK jazz scene. Tonight’s event was extremely well attended with around seventy people seated cabaret style in the comfortable function room at Kenilworth Rugby Club, effectively a capacity audience.
Tonight was my first visit to Kenilworth Jazz Club and my thanks go to organiser Dave Logan and his colleagues for making me so welcome. The Jazz Club meets once a month at KRFC and presents a varied programme featuring Midlands based musicians plus nationally known touring bands such as tonight’s quartet. I was very impressed with the set up with the Club producing a free programme for each event including brief biographical details of the night’s act as well as advertising events at neighbouring jazz clubs in Leamington, Coventry and Stratford Upon Avon. It was good to see this spirit of mutual co-operation, it’s not unknown for promoters to view nearby clubs as rivals. I very much enjoyed my visit and hope to return at some point in the future.
Spread over the course of two sets tonight’s show saw George, Tandy, Casimir and Koleoso performing the bulk of the material from “Isang”, albeit in a substantially different running order to the album. They commenced with “Lunacity”, a George composition loosely based around the standard “It’s Only A Paper Moon” that was also the title track of an earlier EP. Ushered in by Casimir at the bass his unaccompanied introduction directly referenced its inspiration. George’s tune also pays tribute to the Caribbean side of her ancestry with its calypso feel and quotes from Sonny Rollins’ “Don’t Stop The Carnival” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts”. Propelled by Casimir’s insistent bass motif the piece featured solos from George and Tandy, the classically trained pianist being obliged to use a Nord electric keyboard on which she adopted a ‘Rhodes’ electric piano sound as she soloed and also entered into an engaging dialogue with Koleoso prior to a more extended drum feature. This was an exciting start and elicited a great response from the crowd with Casimir arguably getting the biggest cheer when the band members were announced. Although now London based he’s a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and one sensed that some of his old Midlands friends may have been out in support.
Next came the only standard of the evening, George’s subtle and inventive arrangement of “The Night has a Thousand Eyes” which was introduced by the bass and drum pairing and included solos from Tandy, George and Casimir with Tandy this time choosing a more conventional ‘acoustic’ piano sound. Away from the George quartet Tandy leads her own trio, a group that also includes Koleoso.
George’s beautiful ballad “Song For Reds” was dedicated to her late father, the title a reference to his nickname acquired due to the propensity for his hair to turn red in the sun. The composer’s tender alto and Tandy’s lyrical piano were sensitively supported by Casimir’s languid bass undertow and Koleoso’s delicate brush work.
The first set closed with “Mami Wata”, the tune that actually opens the “Isang” album and celebrates a West African water spirit, a type of murderous mermaid who thrives on human sacrifices. Nice. Introduced by Casimir and Koleoso the piece iwas powered by by the chatter of Koleoso’s drums and Casimir’s deep bass grooves. Combining blues, hard bop and African influences the piece had a semi-modal feel and evoked a lengthy alto solo from George, her playing a characteristic blend of passion and fluency. Tandy embraced the electric piano sound once more, again trading ideas with Koleoso as the Rhodes like shimmer combined with the sound of sticks on rims. The piece was crowned by a flamboyant, polyrhythmic drum solo from Koleoso that the crowd loved. This was a great, high energy way to conclude an impressive and absorbing first set.
The second half kicked off with the title track from the “Isang” album with George, Casimir and Koleoso playing in saxophone trio mode. The tune itself was an infectious blend of African and Caribbean rhythms and a Rollins like calypso style melody. The interplay between bass and drums was stunning and offered yet another example of Casimir’s muscular yet melodic bass playing. The young bassist is something of a rising star and his list of credits includes work with saxophonists Chris Potter and Jean Toussaint and drummer Clark Tracey.
Tandy returned for the wistful “Dreams of Eket”, an invocation of George’s birth place in Southern Nigeria. The pianist’s twinkling Rhodes sound combined effectively with Koleoso’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers on the atmospheric intro. George’s alto evoked a feeling of nostalgia as she probed gently but deeply, augmented by the always melodic sound of Casimir’s bass.
The album concludes with the rousing “Mami Wata Returns/Usoro” -the latter word meaning “party” - although this wasn’t to be the last tune here. For tonight’s version the group embraced an African influenced funk groove with bass, drums and electric piano combining to great effect. Solos came from George on alto and Tandy on funky Fender Rhodes plus Koleoso with a second ebullient and crowd pleasing drum feature.
“Isang” includes an arrangement of the Kenny Garrett tune “Ms Baja” which features a wordless vocal performance from Zara McFarlane. With the singer not present on the tour George chose to play another Garrett tune, “Wayne’s Thang”, presumably a dedication to the great Mr. Shorter. Garrett is obviously a great hero for George (“I’m stalking him” she joked) and the quartet had great fun with his tune which was powered by an insistent bass and drum groove and saw Tandy deploying both acoustic and electric piano sounds. Solos came from George on alto and Tandy on Rhodes and there was a final drum feature from the irrepressible Koleoso. The quartet also teased the audience with a series of false endings and it was good to see four young musicians playing with smiles on their faces. Their enthusiasm for the music was infectious.
Once again the quartet was rewarded with an excellent reception from the audience. Sadly an encore wasn’t forthcoming but they had performed a whole album’s worth of material so nobody felt too short changed. The only downside of a full house was that even on a wintry evening the room was stiflingly hot and the musicians were eager to step outside for some fresh air.
My thanks to Camilla and the band for speaking with me afterwards. 2017 is shaping up to be a big year for Camilla George. The “Isang” album has been very well received and the tour is going well with almost all of the shows attracting large audiences. There are still a couple of dates to go and the quartet is also due to support Courtney Pine at The Barbican and to appear at Cheltenham Jazz Festival. George also hopes to take the band on the road in Europe at some point in the future. In the meantime she’s been driving the tour van all over the UK - who said the jazz life was glamorous?
CAMILLA GEORGE QUARTET - FORTCOMING LIVE DATES:
Dempsey’s Jazz, Market Tavern, Cardiff http://www.jazzatdempseys.org.uk
The Vortex, London http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk/event/camilla-george-quartet-2/
Supporting Courtney Pine at The Barbican https://www.barbican.org.uk/music/event-detail.asp?ID=20530
Cheltenham Jazz Festival http://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/jazz/whats-on/2017/camilla-george/
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