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The exciting cross-pollination of music, especially discernable around the sphere of contemporary instrumental and vocal jazz, has become a strong, progressive feature of today’s fresh, creative outputs. Keyboardist and composer Rebecca Nash is becoming increasingly visible in this area of the British scene; a major player in Entropi, Paradox Ensemble and Sara Colman’s band, as well as an educator with the National Youth Jazz Collective, Cheltenham Festivals, Birmingham Jazzlines and Birmingham Conservatoire.
In her first major recording as leader, Atlas’s debut release Peaceful King interlaces a panoply of strands – rock, drum-and-bass, ‘70s fusion, soul-jazz and electronica, alongside singer-songwriter influences – into a widening landscape of beauty of wonder. The regular line-up of longtime associates Nick Malcolm (trumpet) and Matt Fisher (drums) plus Thomas Seminar Ford (electric guitar) and Chris Mapp (electric bass, electronics) is augmented here on three numbers by the rich, intuitive vocals of Sara Colman.
Rebecca describes an album with collaboration at its heart. “Nick, Matt and I go way back. Nick and I both think about music in similar terms – he’s contributed greatly to this recording, often making artistic sense of the seemingly nonsensical! We just have that connection, and I’m completely obsessed with his improvising. Tom and Chris (of upcoming band Stillefelt) perform together often and are really creative with electronics, so they generate walls of sound which tune into the more cosmic vibes and abstract harmonies that I love; and Matt provides the band’s rhythmic energy and interest (I grew up in Bristol – hailed by many as the drum-and-bass capital of the world – listening to Portishead, Massive Attack, etc.).”
Illustrator/musician Ning-ning Li has incorporated impressions of Nash’s eight tracks into the album’s sumptuous cover art. A distinctive electric piano figure announces title track ‘Peaceful King’, whose electronic effects (by Paradox’s Nick Walters) maintain a positivity explained as a reaction to the current state of the world, while free-flowing ‘Tumbleweed’ buzzes and bleeps with a redolence of the Pat Metheny Group. Mainstream pop-grooving ‘Hot Wired’ carries Sara Colman’s melodious lyrics (about a “sassy, feisty female”) on a wave of flittering percussion and soulful keys before hazily-opened ‘Grace’ invites her Joni-esque vocal (“Look out for the grace that’s woven in the stories of our mystery”), complemented by Malcolm’s angular trumpet and Fisher’s powerful drumming. Continuing Nash’s penchant for interlocking chord structures, ‘Dreamer’ references the cyclic patterns of the late, great John Taylor, and ‘Lokma’ chimes to Seminar Ford’s bright guitar riffs and improv. Finally, the mellow auras of ‘Little Light’ lead to rocky ‘Inishbofin’, inspired by a turbulent boat trip to this western Irish island and portrayed through digital pulses, wave-slamming percussion, and even a hint of folksong.
“With its improvisational elements, categorizing Atlas’s music as ‘jazz’ is natural”, suggests Nash, “but I view it with a wider sensibility. That’s really important to me, as is writing for the listener, serving a greater purpose than just satisfying my own musical endeavours. Much of this music is written for special people in my life, and as a response to personal events. The sound arrived with the band, and I greatly value how it continues to evolve without me consciously controlling that. Playing with these guys, who I’ve met while living in different cities – Bristol, London, Cardiff, Birmingham – well… it feels like a kind of musical biography!”
London has become the epicentre of a new wave of jazz and jazz related sounds, and amongst the scene there is a deep pool of artists and labels who have all contributed to this shift in musical-direction. One such label is Whirlwind Recordings: a musician-owned and operated indie that has released an eclectic catalogue of over 130 albums since its inception in 2010, while garnishing a global following of fans and supporters. The label provides a platform for showcasing adventurous & visceral music that spans genres, is rooted in originality and has a key emphasis on the improvised. The artists on the label range from established masters to guiding lights of their generation to undiscovered stars in the making.
“Whirlwind Recordings gives modern jazz a fresh, new face. The label’s inspired roster of talent bridges genres, instruments and generations—a testament to founder Michael Janisch’s insight into not only where jazz has been, but where it’s headed.”