by Ian Mann
July 25, 2019
The playing throughout the course of the album is exceptional, with all of the musicians making telling contributions.
“The Banger Factory”
(Ubuntu Music – UBU0028)
“The Banger Factory” is the second album for Ubuntu Music from the London based trumpeter, composer and bandleader Mark Kavuma.
His 2018 début, simply entitled “Kavuma”, drew heavily on the classic hard bop or ‘Blue Note’ sound, and indeed this latest release includes a quote from the late, great trumpeter Lee Morgan on the sleeve, a clear indication of where Kavuma is coming from.
However this latest album expands on the promise exhibited on the début with an extended instrumental line up and an accomplished set of original tunes, all composed by Kavuma.
Born in Uganda Kavuma is a bright young presence on the London jazz scene. His current projects include the leadership of his own quartet and of the 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 Kinetica Bloco community band.
As a sideman he was worked with Jean Toussaint’s Young Lions, the Alan Weekes Quintet, 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 played with the visiting American jazz musicians Barry Harris (piano) and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (drums).
Kavuma has worked with the rock group Scritti Polliti, grime artist Kano, and 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 very impressed by what I heard
“The Banger Factory” is the name of a band as well as an album title. For three years Kavuma has led a residency at the Prince of Wales in Brixton, a weekly blowing session that has seen numerous musicians pass through the doors, with some staying around to cohere into a regular band as the evenings have become more formalised. “In my head I wanted it to be an organisation, a force to be reckoned with”, explains Kavuma.
With the exception of Kavuma himself none of the 2013 quintet have made it to the Banger Factory, which is centred around a core sextet of Kavuma, Mussinghi Brian Edwards (tenor sax), Artie Zaitz (guitar), David Mrakpor (vibraphone), Michael Shrimpling (double bass) and Will Cleasby (drums).
Keyboard duties are shared between Reuben James and Deschanel Gordon with tenor saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi also appearing on four of the album’s seven tracks.
This aggregation recorded eighteen tunes with engineer Ben Lamdin at London’s Fish Factory studio over the course of three sessions during September and December 2018, with the very best of these being selected for inclusion on the “Banger Factory” album.
Opener “Dear K.D.” is dedicated to the memory of another of Kavuma’s trumpet heroes, the late, great Kenny Dorham. It was written during a trip to New York with Kavuma explaining;
“I was listening to a lot of Kenny Dorham music at the time, practising and soaking up the Big Apple vibes. These are my reflections on the subject”.
The tune is introduced by the sound of unaccompanied piano as Gordon makes his recording début, his spacious intro leading into a kind of fanfare with Cleasby’s drums particularly prominent. The main body of the composition adopts more of a hard bop / gospel feel with James featuring on organ in a twin keyboard octet line up. But Gordon isn’t finished yet as he delivers a flowingly expansive piano solo, sharing the limelight with the leader’s trumpet and Zaitz’s guitar, these two exhibiting a similarly relaxed fluency.
The title track features a slightly different octet as Gordon drops out, to be replaced by Akinnibi on tenor, as James moves to piano. This is a more hard driving piece that is intended to be an encapsulation of exactly what the Banger Factory is all about. “Good times and dance music, celebration of good spirit and joy” explains Kavuma. It’s also designed to show just how tight the band has become during its three year existence. James delivers a tumultuous McCoy Tyner style piano solo, while the young saxophonist Akinnibi also impresses with a swashbuckling outing on tenor. Akinnibi was discovered by Kavuma among the ranks of Kinetica Bloco and looks to be a young musician with a great future ahead of him. Mrakpor also impresses on vibes as he takes his first solo of the set, combining very effectively with bassist Shrimpling and drummer Cleasby. Guitarist Zaitz then takes over for a concise but fleet fingered solo, full of darting melody lines and sophisticated chording.
An aside; I recall seeing a then very young Akinnibi guesting with the band Triforce at the Iklectik Art Lab in Waterloo as part of the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival. We even spoke briefly afterwards, too. I was highly impressed with his talent even then, and on this evidence he’s continued to make great strides (or should that be ‘giant steps’?) in the interim.
From a rising star to a comparative veteran. “Mussinghi” is Kavuma’s dedication to his bandmate Mussinghi Brian Edwards. Kavuma comments; “Mussinghi is my musical papa, he’s been there when I could hardly play, always encouraging. I had to pay tribute to his spirit”.
Appropriately there’s something of a ‘spiritual jazz’ feel to the intro as Edwards improvises above a rolling backdrop featuring the sound of James on Hammond. The mood subsequently becomes more languid and relaxed with Edwards and Kavuma soloing above a walking bass line and the swell of the Hammond, while Zaitz supplies discrete guitar embellishment. The piece then resolves itself with a gospel tinged coda.
“Lullaby to a Fading Star” is the first ballad to be written by Kavuma. A lament for a lost love it is ushered in by the sound of Mrakpor’s unaccompanied vibes but is subsequently treated to a lush octet arrangement featuring Hammond and two tenors. Kavuma and Edwards solo in suitably emotive fashion, the latter giving a masterclass in tenor ballad playing. Mrakpor then takes over with a stately, shimmering vibes solo.
Kavuma likes to dedicate compositions to his bandmates, emphasising Banger Factory’s sense of togetherness and brotherhood. “Big Willie”, his dedication to drummer Cleasby boasts an unfortunate title, but one suspects that this probably intentional! Impressed by the young Cleasby’s playing at Trinity College Kavuma promptly booked him for a gig - “that was how this whole thing started” explains the trumpeter.
Kavuma actually sits out as the band is pared down to to a quartet of Cleasby, Shrimpton, Mrakpor and Zaitz – the same instrumental configuration as vibraphonist Gary Burton’s classic quartets. Mrakpor and Zaitz trade thrilling solos in a manner that recalls Burton’s exchanges with the string of talented guitarists that passed through his band’s ranks – Larry Coryell, Jerry Hahn, Mick Goodrick, Pat Metheny etc. Meanwhile Shrimpton pumps out agile, propulsive bass lines and solos briefly, while Cleasby is a suitably busy and colourful presence behind the kit and also gets to enjoy his moment in the sun. There’s a real joie de vivre about the playing here.
The brief “The Songbird” is a brief but elegiac and uplifting piece, a kind of time poem in a chamber jazz style arrangement for septet, with the composer again sitting out. Edwards’ tenor, the sole horn, cast in the role of ‘ the Songbird’, is the lead instrument while James’ Hammond references Kavuma’s love of church music.
The album closes with the bebop flavourings of “Mrakpor”, Kavuma’s dedication to his group’s vibraphonist. Racing unison horn lines provide the springboard for a dazzling vibes solo from Mrakpor. Following the brief return of the horns Mrakpor plays us out with a final unaccompanied
Ultimately “The Banger Factory” is an improvement over its very admirable predecessor, being possessed of greater depth and with a greater emphasis being placed on ‘serious’ composition. Having said that the group’s sense of fun is never far away. There’s also a less overt reliance on the classic hard bop sound and the new album sounds more contemporary as a result.
As its leader has commented this is genuinely an ego-less band and Kavuma himself actually sits out two tracks entirely. He’s a highly accomplished soloist but this time round his role is primarily that of composer and facilitator. That said the playing throughout the course of the album is exceptional with all of the musicians making telling contributions. One would love to hear some of the other pieces recorded at those Fish Factory sessions.
As a band The Banger Factory is a very welcome presence on a burgeoning London Jazz scene populated by exciting young jazz musicians such as this. The album’s official launch gig at the Jazz Café in Camden on September 18th 2019 should be a highly entertaining and enjoyable event.
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