by Ian Mann
June 25, 2018
Vibrant, energetic and eminently enjoyable. The playing, from some of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, is excellent throughout.
(Ubuntu Music – UBU007)
Born in Uganda the trumpeter and composer Mark Kavuma is a bright young presence on the London jazz scene. His current projects include the leadership of his own quartet and of the sextet The Banger Factory, an extended edition of the smaller group. He also leads the Floor Rippers, the hip hop infused house band at The Hootenanny in Brixton. As an educator he acts as a professional tutor for the Kinetika Bloco community band.
As a sideman he was worked with Jean Toussaint’s Young Lions, Jazz Jamaica and the Nu Civilisation Orchestra. He has also been featured as a guest soloist with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra and has toured with world music stars Mulatu Astatke and Salif Keita.
He has also been part of the pit orchestra at several theatre productions.
In 2013 I briefly witnessed the playing of Kavuma at that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. He was playing on the Barbican Freestage as co-leader of a quintet also featuring saxophonist Ruben Fox. Effectively the group were supporting the Wayne Shorter Quartet, who later appeared in the Barbican’s Main Hall.
The Kavuma / Fox quintet also featured pianist Rick Simpson, bassist Mark Lewandowski and Empirical drummer Shaney Forbes.
I was impressed by what I heard remarking at the time;
“A sharply dressed band playing in the punchy be-bop/hard bop style made famous by the Blue Note label. Fox and Kavuma proved to be bright, hard hitting soloists with plenty to say and pianist Simpson excelled as both soloist and accompanist. The music was propelled by the driving rhythms of Lewandowski and Forbes and proved to be extremely enjoyable. In keeping with the spirit of the day the quintet’s set included a number of Wayne Shorter compositions alongside pieces by Miles Davis and other jazz and bebop standards. I’d wager that this energetic and highly promising young quintet is a popular live draw in the jazz clubs of the capital”.
My observations are endorsed by the press release accompanying this album which references the influence on Kavuma and his colleagues of classic Blue Note and Prestige recordings of the 1950s.
Those colleagues include his old school friends, saxophonist Ruben Fox and guitarist Artie Zaitz. The personnel that appears on this recording also includes bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Kyle Poole plus a second saxophonist, the comparative veteran Mussinghi Brian Edwards. Rising star pianist Reuben James appears on all but one of the album’s seven tracks while tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman guests on the closing track, “Church”.
Kavuma’s original writing is rooted in his life experiences. Opener “Into The Darkness” was first conceived when Kavuma was still in his teens and commences with a salvo of unaccompanied drumming, courtesy of Kyle Poole. Kavuma’s riff based theme, with James prominent in the arrangement, then provides the jumping off point for powerful solos from Edwards on tenor, Kavuma himself on trumpet and Fox on second tenor. All three play with a remarkable intensity and fluency with the shouts of their bandmates urging them on. The album’s liner notes mention the influence of Wayne Shorter on this composition but there’s also a Coltrane-esque intensity about the soloing while the busy, energetic Poole drives the music forward in a manner that channels the spirit of the great Art Blakey.
Kavuma’s version of the song “Carolina Moon” was inspired by his and Edwards’ shared passion for the music of Thelonious Monk. Originally written in the 1920s by Joe Burke and Benny Davis the song was first recorded in 1928 by the crooner Gene Austin before becoming a pop hit for Connie Francis some thirty years later. Somewhere along the line Thelonious recorded a version of it which Kavuma and Edwards discovered on a Monk box set. Kavuma’s group take Monk’s arrangement as the basis for their interpretation and the master’s influence is obvious throughout.
There’s some excellent ensemble playing and an agreeably Monk like quirkiness within a swinging arrangement that includes agile, eloquent solos from Edwards and Kavuma. The inclusion of a new musical voice as Zaitz solos on guitar, an instrument not present in Monk’s arrangement of the tune, helps the Kavuma group to stamp their own identity on the piece.
“Modibo” was written in honour of an elderly Malian musician who befriended Kavuma and Edwards during the course of a tour. It commences with the virtuosic unaccompanied bass of Chaplin, who subsequently combines with Poole to set up an irresistible groove as the horns combine to generate an arresting, Blue Note style head. Out of this emerges Zaitz’s scintillating, fleet fingered, blues infused guitar solo, his fluency and eloquence reminiscent of the great Grant Green. Kavuma picks up the baton and runs with it as he delivers a concise, but impactful, trumpet solo. The conversation is then taken over by the two tenors in a series of earthily fluent exchanges.
By way of contrast to the rollicking, celebratory “Modibo” the next piece, “Babar G” is a lush, beautiful ballad that presents a very different side of Kavuma’s writing and playing. Here the trumpeter’s tone is initially plaintive and vulnerable, but still eloquent and fluent. James also impresses with his lyricism at the piano and there’s also some smoky, tender tenor sax balladeering.
The music gradually builds in intensity before falling away again to resolve itself in a solo trumpet cadenza.
“Papa Joe” is dedicated to one Joe Morgan, Kavuma’s first music teacher. The piece announces itself with a Blakey like drum roll that helps to establish the mood of this lively swinging piece, that Blue Note and Prestige influence again obvious throughout. The leader takes the first solo in bright and incisive fashion. His individual influences aren’t mentioned but one suspects that Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard are both in there somewhere. Fox follows on gruff, soulful tenor while James also impresses at the piano, with liner note writer Jake Zaitz mentioning Errol Garner as an influence.
Kavuma grew up with church music and the album includes an arrangement of the 19th century hymn tune “Abide With Me”, the text written by Henry Francis Lyte and the tune by William Henry Monk, the latter presumably not related to Thelonious! This version begins with an extended, expertly constructed solo drum passage from Poole that ranges from great delicacy to an almost elemental power. The later horn fanfares carouse in the spirit of Charles Mingus, Lester Bowie, Charlie Haden and Carla Bley. Kavuma’s Christian faith is obviously very important to him, but to these ears there’s also a degree of subversiveness about the arrangement.
The album concludes with a track titled “Church” that actually pays homage to the late night jam at The Haggerston in East London, an event that has taken place every Sunday for the last twenty years. Kavuma has been part of this nocturnal congregation since he was a teenager. This alternative ‘church’ gives the tune its title. There’s a joyous, celebratory feeling about the music with tap virtuoso Lerman dancing a series of aurally dazzling swift heeled breaks, accompanied only by the, huge, swinging sound of Chaplin’s double bass. These episodes are punctuated by similarly spirited outbursts from the horns with more conventional jazz solos subsequently coming from tenor sax and trumpet. Poole enjoys a further series of drum breaks, this time on his own, before the whole band, including Lerman, jam on the outro prior to a rousing, almost New Orleans style coda. Great fun.
And fun is what Kavuma is all about. Here is a jazz musician who unashamedly wants to give his audiences a good time. It’s an admirable sentiment that finds its way into the music. As an album “Kavuma” may be unapologetically derivative and wear its Blue Note influences on its sleeve but it’s also vibrant, energetic and eminently enjoyable. Kavuma also brings plenty of himself to the proceedings, particularly on the final two tracks, which are actually the most distinctive on the album. The playing, from some of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, is excellent throughout and the vitality that the players bring to the music once again reflects their prowess as a live act.
Audiences will get the chance to check this music out in the live environment when the album gets its official launch at Ghost Notes in London on 19th July 2018.
Please visit http://www.markkavuma.com for further details.