Yazz Ahmed — La Saboteuse (Naim, 2017)
It might sound like cheesy marketing, but the Bandcamp Daily can be a good tipsheet for the music available on the site. Recent posts have included a master class on Buckethead and a tour through the Sun Ra treasure trove that’s now available on multiple online services.
Better still, the monthly jazz column, written by Dave Sumner, turns out to be quite thorough. He doesn’t shy away from the avant-garde, happily reviewing the likes of Matt Mitchell, Steve Coleman, and Brooklyn Raga Massive.
It’s through Sumner’s column that I discovered British trumpeter Yazz Ahmed and La Saboteuse, only the second album she’s released as a leader. I’ve had it on rotation in the car for a few months now, and I was glad to see that Wire magazine columnist Phil Freeman put it at the top of his Best of 2017 list for jazz and improv.
The composing and overall atmosphere here will please mainstream ears, but the album is chock full of creative touches: odd time signatures, tasteful electronic frills, and a middle-eastern tinge drawn from Ahmed’s Bahraini heritage. It’s a wistful journey, with Ahmed giving ample spotlight time to ace bandmates including Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet, who turns in a fantastic solo on “Jamil Jamal,” and vibraphonist Lewis Wright, who is integral to “Organ Eternal” and to the gentle moodiness of “The Space Between the Fish and the Moon.”
The track I’ve been enjoying the most is “Bloom,” which turns out to be a Radiohead cover that’s surprisingly close to the original — surprising to me, that is, because I’d never heard the original and did not expect to discover that Ahmed actually plays on it. I think she’s also in this live version.
Here’s the Saboteuse take on “Bloom:”
I go through periods of seeking out more “normal” jazz, but I still prefer to hear something that’s forward-looking: thoughtful compositions, creative intricacy, exploratory sounds. The Australian jazz trio Trichotomy is the latest band to scratch that itch, but it’s La Saboteuse that’s still top-of-mind in this category, even a year after its release. Ahmed’s creation has staying power.
Here’s a live version of “Organ Eternal,” prefaced by a BBC interview.