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Mike De Souza

Slow Burn


by Ian Mann

October 25, 2019


An impressive début. The mix of electric and acoustic elements works well and the writing is intelligent and multi-faceted, with the trio embracing a variety of moods and musical styles.

Mike De Souza

“Slow Burn”

Mike De Souza is a young jazz guitarist and composer based in London and the self released “Slow Burn represents his album début as a leader, following in the wake of the earlier EP “Road Fork” (2018).

De Souza first came to my attention as a member of the quartet Big Bad Wolf, appearing on that group’s critically acclaimed début album “Pond Life” (2017).
Review here;

Big Bad Wolf also features guitarist (and occasional vocalist) Rob Luft, trombonist Owen Dawson and drummer Jay Davis. On “Pond Life” De Souza played a Fender Bass VI electric bass, but he primarily regards himself as a guitarist.

De Souza studied at Leeds College of Music and at London’s Royal Academy of Music. His guitar tutors have included such leading exponents of the instrument as John Parricelli, Mike Outram, Mike Walker, Phil Robson and Gilad Hekselman. Other musicians with whom he has studied include saxophonists Iain Ballamy and Will Vinson, pianist Nikki Iles and vibraphonist Matt Moran.

As a sideman he has worked with US trumpeter Terence Blanchard as part of the Inner City Ensemble. Other regular engagements include work with groups led by three different saxophonists; Phil Meadows’ Beware of the Bear, Martin Speake’s Charukesi and Ronan Perrett’s Twospeak.

De Souza’s own trio features him on guitar with fellow Wolf Jay Davis at the drums. Bass duties are assumed by Huw V Williams, who is something of a rising star, and a bandleader in his own right.

De Souza acknowledges the influence of such jazz guitar greats as Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Kurt Rosenwinkel, plus adventurous rock bands like Radiohead and Deerhoof. “Slow Burn” attempts to blur the boundaries between the typical low key and intimate ‘jazz guitar trio’ record and the more orchestrated and produced sound of an alternative rock album. To this end acoustic and electric guitars are layered and judicious use is made of uncredited synths, piano and wordless vocals, all presumably overdubbed by De Souza and the other members of the trio.

Of his compositions for “Slow Burn” De Souza states;
“All the music I composed for “Slow Burn was written at the guitar. My mission was to reconcile my earliest musical influences with my more recent ones. It was an exciting challenge – how could I combine the energy of rock with the harmonic and rhythmic complexity of jazz whilst also creating something personal and honest?”

The title refers to the “lifelong path of growth for all musicians” with De Souza adding; “This describes my personal journey from rock music to jazz through blues and fusion, releasing ‘Pond Life’ with Big Bad Wolf, then my first EP ‘Road Fork’, to now, with the release of my début album”.

The material included with my review copy of “Slow Burn” includes De Souza’s album notes, which offer further insights into his working methods and influences and the sources of inspiration behind the individual tunes.

Opener “Living With Nuns” is one of two tracks to draw inspiration from Olivier Messiaen’s “Modes of Limited Transposition”. It’s a lively piece that makes judicious use of electronic effects, keyboard overdubs and wordless vocals and which combines spiky contrapuntal instrumental interplay with a discernible rock energy and urgency - with the leader spectacularly cutting loose on electric guitar in the second half of the piece.
Conceptually the tune is linked to the later “Late for Breakfast” as De Souza explains;
“The titles of both these tracks refer to an incident that took place in Graz whilst on tour with Big Bad Wolf, when we were provided with accommodation in a nunnery. The nuns warned us not to be late for breakfast, but we inevitably were!”.

“Going Places” takes its inspiration from the Deerhoof song “The Galaxist” and initially promises to be a rather gentler affair with De Souza featuring acoustic guitar alongside the bass clarinet of uncredited guest Sam Rapley. But soon the music is changing direction with some chunky, angular electric guitar riffing on a constantly evolving piece that takes in many moods, styles, time signatures and textures. It represents a successful attempt to mirror certain aspects of Deerhoof’s music, the constant evolution, the unexpected twists and turns, the effective blending of wildness and cohesion. The use of soaring wordless vocals and the episodic quality of the writing may also remind some listeners of Pat Metheny.

“Morning Mind” is the most obviously ‘jazz’ piece on the record and draws inspiration from the playing of De Souza’s one time tutor Gilad Hekselman, and also from one time Gary Burton guitarist Julian Lage, particularly with regard to their use of two part counterpoint. There’s an agreeable air of intimacy about the playing of the trio on this track, the music always sounding warm and melodic despite its complexities. Williams’ warm. woody, melodic bass is the perfect foil to the clean sounding ‘jazz’ guitar of the leader and Davis’ delicate brushwork is tasteful and supportive throughout.

De Souza doesn’t say anything about “Nunchucks”, so we’ll never know if the title is reference to that nunnery in Graz – the mind boggles!. The tune itself draws upon the world of experimental rock with its combination of chunky riffing and odd meter rhythms with more impressionistic, ambient passages. De Souza solos with a smouldering intensity, while Williams’ loping electric bass grooves and Davis’ crisp drumming provide the necessary support and propulsion.

The title track is a musical illustration of the meaning behind it, as outlined previously. The piece unfolds over a full nine minutes, gradually developing from quiet beginnings featuring interlocking guitar and bass arpeggios. The main melody draws inspiration from the music of Radiohead, and particularly the voice of Thom Yorke. De Souza’s own wordless vocals are included in the mix as the music continues to evolve via an acoustic guitar solo. As is typical of De Souza’s episodic and multi-faceted compositions there’s a sudden shift into a more dynamic ‘fusion-esque’ section with the leader delivering a searing solo on electric guitar, strongly supported by bass and drums.

“Late for Breakfast Intro” begins quietly, as if the lads are slowly awakening from their slumbers. Sequenced as a separate track this leads into “Late For Breakfast” itself, a far more urgent, scurrying affair that perhaps depicts the rush to the breakfast table. De Souza mixes acoustic and electric guitar sounds and the piece eventually slows and becomes less frenetic, a pause for reflection after the repast, perhaps? Williams’ acoustic bass plays a leading role in this section, but in a final twist the pace and intensity increases prior to a ‘widescreen’ finish featuring electric guitars and a veritable ‘wall of sound’.

The album concludes with “Veritas Lux Mea”, the Latin title translating as “Truth is my Light”, an entirely acoustic live performance that begins in almost ‘free jazz’ fashion with the sound of Williams’ bowed bass forming the backdrop for De Souza’s acoustic guitar pickings and scrapings. The piece then evolves into a more formal acoustic trio performance, almost folk like at times, with the sound of acoustic guitar and pizzicato double bass now augmented by Davis’ delicate and atmospheric brush work. There’s a calming quality about the music that befits the tune’s title, at times it almost sounds like one of Ralph Towner’s recordings for ECM.

“Slow Burn” represents an impressive début album from De Souza. The mix of electric and acoustic elements works well and the writing is intelligent and multi-faceted with the trio embracing a variety of moods and musical styles, often within the boundaries of a single piece.

After only previously hearing De Souza on electric bass it’s good to be able to finally appreciate his wide ranging talents as a guitarist. His technical expertise on both the electric and acoustic versions of the instrument is impressive throughout.

It’s very much the leader’s album but both Williams and Davis offer crucial and impeccable support. De Souza is also quick to thank mixing engineer Alex Killpartrick, who had previously worked on the Big Bad Wolf album, for his contribution to the soundscaping elements on selected tracks. This aspect of the music, allied to the use of wordless vocals, represents a clear link between the sound of Big Bad Wolf and De Souza’s own band.

“Slow Burn” is rich in terms of both colour and texture and the music ranges far beyond the usual parameters of the usual ‘jazz guitar trio’ recording thanks, to its embrace of other elements including rock, folk, classical and electronica.

The Mike De Souza Trio is currently touring the album extensively in the UK with dates in late October and throughout November 2019. One would imagine that a live performance from this line up would be a fascinating, exciting and enjoyable experience. Dates (in receding order) are listed below;

1st – Mike De Souza Trio @ Jazz at John’s, Cambridge
29th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Leeds College Of Music (Workshop 1-4pm)
20th – Twospeak @ Jazztrain, London
16th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Jazz at HEART, Leeds
15th – Mike De Souza Trio @ JATP Bradford
8th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Listen! Cambridge
5th – Mike De Souza Trio @ The Mad Hatter, Oxford
4th – Mike De Souza Trio (‘Slow Burn’ Album Launch) @ Pizza Express Dean Street
31st – Mike De Souza Trio @ Peggy’s Skylight, Nottingham
30th – Mike De Souza Trio @ The Lescar, Sheffield
29th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Parr Jazz, Liverpool
28th – Mike De Souza Trio @ NQ Jazz, The Whiskey Jar, Manchester
27th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Jazz NE, The Bridge Hotel, Newcastle

Slow Burn is available for purchase from Mike De Souza’s Bandcamp page;

Also available for digital download at iTunes, Spotify, AppleMusic etc.

For further information on Mike De Souza please visit

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