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Emma Rawicz

Emma Rawicz Quintet,  The Spin at The Tap Social, Botley, Oxford, 28/03/2024.

by Colin May

April 10, 2024


A very enjoyable and engrossing night in which Emma Rawicz's musicality once more came over strongly, as did her ability to adapt her music to suit different line-ups.

The Emma Rawicz Quintet.
The Spin at The Tap Social, Botley,  Oxford, 28 March 2024

Emma Rawicz - tenor and soprano saxophones, Ivo Neame- electric piano, Asaf Sirkis- drums, Kevin Glasgow- electric bass,  Immy Churchill- voice

It’s taken The Spin some time to set this gig up and their efforts were rewarded with a full house to see one of the highest profile ‘rising stars’ (perhaps that should be ‘now risen stars’) of the British jazz scene.

It’s remarkable what 22 or 23 year old Rawicz has achieved especially from 2022 onwards. That year saw the self release of her debut album ‘Incantation’ while at The Royal Academy of Music which garnered very positive reviews, and her reaching the finals of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition, both of which led to the jazz world taking notice.

The Jazz Mann reviewed ‘Incantation’ and gave a detailed account of Emma’s jazz biography up to mid 2023 as part of a review of her gig in Shrewsbury. Both articles can be accessed below;

Rawicz is now signed to the prestigious German ACT label on which her second synaesthesia inspired album ‘Chroma’ (meaning purity of a colour) was released in September 2023. This earned her further plaudits. Leading lights of UK jazz have been ready to play with her, and she wrote the album with the all star line up with which she recorded it specifically in mind. (Ant Law guitar, Conor Chaplin acoustic & electric bass, Ivo Neame keyboards and Asaf Sirkis drums)

This year has seen the debut of Rawicz the big band leader, with the 20 piece Emma Rawicz Jazz Orchestra at Ronnie Scott’s in March. At the other end of the size spectrum, in June she performs in a duo with fellow ACT artist Gwilym Simcock in Germany. A visit to the past and future gigs pages of her web site shows she’s in high demand, hence perhaps it took a little time to set up this gig.

Rawicz was making a return to Oxford about eight weeks after her last appearance in the city in February in the unique environment of the Sunday night after college dinner concerts at Balliol College. Their Music Society concerts which usually are classical, are free for the public to attend but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get to this one.

However Emma has been a regular visitor to Oxford. I first came across her in 2022 in drummer and composer Myele Manzana’s band at St. John’s College Auditorium, when she stole the show. Two months later her talent was fully on display when she back at the intimate White Rabbit venue leading almost her full all star line-up, only Conor Chaplin was absent with Freddie Jensen deputising, in what was a terrific gig .

I reviewed both these shows for the Oxford based publication Nightshift Magazine. (Page 10) (Page 13)

Most recently, I saw her in November 2023 at the White Rabbit venue, this time as the free flowing Emma Rawicz Trio with the magnificent guitarist David Preston and Jamie Murray on drums.

The Spin gig was the third different formation I’d heard her leading. Kevin Glasgow’s earthy electric bass guitar was the only stringed instrument on stage, and it was the first time I had heard her with the voice of fellow Royal Academy of Music graduate Immy Churchill in the line -up. While Churchill’s vocals are on three of the tracks on ‘Chroma’, she was a greater presence tonight as her voice played a part in seven of the eight numbers played. While there were pieces from ‘Incantation’ and from ‘Chroma’ , it emerged that three of the numbers in the set list were new compositions.

The quintet opened with ‘Rangwali’ from ‘Chroma’, led off as on the album by a guitar taking the music for a walk but this time it was the electric bass of Kevin Glasgow instead of Ant Law’s guitar. Sirkis joined him, first playing drums with his hands before picking up his sticks. The rise and fall of Immy Churchill’s seductively lyrical vocals then took over echoed by Rawicz ‘s tenor sax, the two were in close synchronisation harmonically. Rawicz then led her colleagues in a frenzied, jagged almost free jazz section with Churchill now sounding ecstatic until an Ivo Neame keyboard solo ushered in a return to the initial theme and calmer waters.
Retrospectively I’ve come to see this number as having a narrative arc. This follows learning that Rangwali is not only a shade of pink, but Rangwali Holi is the name of the festival of colours and, as I understand, a day for enjoyment, fun, playing jokes and putting colours on each other. So the opening section is preparing and doing Rangwali at home. The more frantic middle section is out in the chaos of the streets with people throwing colours over each other and water bombs flying and the final section is the retreat to the calmer surrounds of home but still celebrating.

The quintet went straight from ‘Rangwali’ into the spacey keyboards and tinkling percussion opening of ‘Xanadu II,’ one of three comparatively short ‘Xanadus’ that are interleaved between longer numbers on ‘Chroma’ . Xanadu as a colour is green. But it’s also a metaphor for an opulent place, it was the name of Citizen Kane’s estate, and I heard the tinkling of finely cut glass ornaments dangling from crystal chandeliers. The number then morphs into something more fractured and dissonant with Glasgow’s stabbing electric bass prominent as if this opulent place is creaking and even about to break apart and the chandeliers come crashing down.

Then came the first of the new numbers ‘Wide Wide Sea’, inspired by a Michael Murpurgo book. There was an appealing short ballad like solo from Rawicz before a more stormy passage, with Churchill’s vocals making a strong contribution and the others not holding back, whereas earlier on I thought they might out of a concern they might drown her out. The number then took an introspective turn which was sustained to the end and was at one with the full title of Murpurgo’s book, “Alone on a Wide Wide Sea”.

The first half finished on an up beat note with a very chirpy rendition of ‘Mantra’ from the debut album ‘Incantation’ . There were solos from Rawicz now playing soprano sax, Neame and a typically driving and sophisticated drum solo from the excellent Asaf Sirkis.

The second half started with the only number that Immy Churchill sat out, another of the new ones ‘Cowboys and Aliens’ with Emma still on soprano sax and Neame’s Vintage Vibe keyboard sound seeming to float above the Spin venue, possibly representing the aliens.

Then came the tribute Rawicz wrote for her dad,‘Middle Ground’, It’s a melodic ‘chilled’ ballad that slowly unfolds. It started with Glasgow and Neame swapping roles, Glasgow playing at the top end of his instrument’s range (taking the space occupied on the recorded version by Ant Law’s guitar) underpinned by Neame’s keyboard playing the bass line. Neame’s then took over the main melodic line his keyboard sounding as if it was a vibraphone, before giving way to Rawicz playing very lyrically and tenderly with Immy Churchill adding vocals and then, for first and only time, lyrics, “You’re the light everywhere”, that she’d written since this number was recorded for ‘Chroma’.` The Spin crowd had responded positively to everything but the gently melodic ‘Middle Ground’ received the warmest reception so far.

‘Quirky’ the last of the three new numbers with Emma back on tenor for a soaring sax solo, was a showcase for Immy Churchill. Up to this point her vocals had been almost entirely lyrical. But for this number she used a variety of extended techniques: staccato rhythm, click click sounds, and a buzzing as if a sworn of bees had got into The Spin. It was different , refreshing and fun. The number developed a very strong groove with a funky solo from Ivo Neame’s keyboard and then a
‘hot’ drum solo which took the number to the finish. This is already a strong number but perhaps could become even quirkier the more it is played. It would be fascinating to hear it in about a year to see if it has.

The final number was ‘Vera’ Emma’s tribute to her grandmother from ‘Incantation’. It opened with a soulful unaccompanied solo from Emma that once more displayed both her fine technique and feel for the music as she switched with great rapidity between the top and bottom registers of her tenor sax. When the rest of the quintet joined it became a jaunty tune that eventually subsided delicately to a conclusion.

It had been a very enjoyable and engrossing night in which Emma Rawicz’s musicality once more came over strongly as did her ability to adapt her music to suit different line-ups. The Spin crowd loved what they had heard. They’d have liked an encore, but the last train back to London could not be missed.


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