NYJO Staff Picks | Sounds from Lockdown

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In the midst of Lockdown #2 we've checked in with different members of NYJO staff to find out what tracks have been keeping them going.

What have you been listening to during lockdown?

Well, this is exactly what we asked NYJO staff members this week. Some are usual suspects, others are far more surprising choices (in the best way). Read below to see what they came up with – maybe you’ll find something new to get stuck into while you’re stuck inside!

NYJO Staff Picks | Sounds from Lockdown

Marcus Strickland – Joy Song

This song never fails to put a smile on my face, and a spring in my step.  I’ve found myself listening to it quite regularly this year and it’s always done the trick.  If anyone is feeling down during this second lockdown, then give this song a listen!

For me this song also has happy memories of university. I first heard it around 2010, whilst studying at RWCMD and, as a saxophone player, it started an obsession with Marcus’ tone and trying to achieve something similar in my playing. I spent hours transcribing him and studying his playing inside out.  Sometimes that forensic process can take away the visceral reaction you had on first listening, but not with this piece. The pure joy always comes through.

Charles Mingus – Fables of Faubus

This was the first tune I heard that really grabbed me and sparked a proper interest in jazz. I vividly remember the day Malcolm Edmonstone brought it in for our jazz class at Bedford Saturday Music School to play.  I’d been studying the events of Little Rock in my GCSE History class, so this musical response to the actions of Governor Faubus, brought it all to life and showed me the power of expression through music.  Naturally, we completely butchered our rendition of the tune – but it was still an important lesson.

Whilst this tune is now over 60 years old, it’s still as relevant as ever. I’d recommend everyone listen to it, and also to explore current UK artists using their art to make a statement about racial inequalities – such as Moses Boyd and Renell Shaw.

NYJO Staff Picks | Sounds from Lockdown

Hamilton: The Musical

Outside of NYJO, I write for theatre and more recently librettos for musical theatre. I was a little late to the party with Hamilton but it’s often on loop at home now. I’ve even got “Guns and Ships” down. It’s influential because someone stepped up to the plate to offer something different to musical theatre audiences, which doesn’t happen often.

The way Miranda uses the music; he loops and revisits motifs for characters in different situations, so you get this complete sense of a character’s personality, journey and development, whilst the story continually moves forward. Lyrically, it’s just as brilliant.

Aaron Burr: “My mother was a genius. My father commanded respect. When they died they left no instructions, just a legacy to protect…I am not falling behind or running late. I am not standing still, I am lying in wait.”

Lafayette: “Sir he knows what to do in a trench. Ingenuitive and fluent in French, I mean- sir you’re going to have to use him eventually. What’s he gonna do on the bench, I mean- no one has more resilience or matches my practical tactical brilliance.”

Alexander Hamilton: “I’ll write to congress and tell them we need supplies, you rally the guys, master the element of surprise. I’ll rise above my station, organise your information ‘til we rise to the occasion of our new nation Sir!”

This album just makes me jealous of Lin-Manuel’s genius!

NYJO Staff Picks | Sounds from Lockdown

Earth Wind and Fire – Fantasy

I first heard this when I was a first-year music student. I still remember having that incredible feeling of joy at hearing it for the first time but then the frustration of thinking “but I could have been listening to this for years!” It was on ‘The Best of Earth Wind and Fire’ and I remember the first track was also amazing to me – an arrangement of the Beatles’ ‘Got to Get You Into My Life’.

This still represents for me a real sense of liberation. A great mix of groove, harmonic colours, amazing production and performance and brilliant presentation of a global African consciousness – reaching back to ancient Egypt and forward into the realm of science fiction. I love music that has the ability to grab you and move you but then becomes even more satisfying when you begin to understand the craft and intricate detail that makes it tick. At about the same time me and some friends formed a funk band (’The Space Cake Bakery’) that had a residency every Saturday and it was such a great buzz to play for an audience into the music and dancing to it.

J.S. Bach – Magnificat

I sang this as a schoolboy in my school choir and it was a total revelation to me: in particular hearing this recording was stunning – I still remember my music teacher (Mr Hooker) playing it to us in a rehearsal. The singing and playing is amazing – quite early in the ‘period instrument’ movement but so crisp and energetic.

It has so much in common with jazz for me, but also an elegance and focussed sense of celebration that befits a setting of the Magnificat for Christmas morning! When we performed it a really great professional band had been booked and I still remember how the first trumpet player came in, looking pretty ordinary with a newspaper for all the times when he wasn’t playing and a rather tarnished (but pretty cool-looking) piccolo trumpet. I think up to the point that he began to play I had assumed that playing the trumpet parts in this piece was somehow done by magic on the recording.

Hearing it done live was just extraordinary and was one of the things that inspired me to want to be a professional trumpet player. I really loved how he looked like a normal guy doing his job, but what an amazing job it was, how amazing he was at doing it, and what an effect it was having on everyone listening. It also means a lot because recently my son sang it with his school choir and they had a great orchestra playing it too. I know from my own memories how valuable these experiences are and how deeply they affect you for the rest of your life. I suppose one of the reasons why I am in music education is because I think everyone deserves to be moved as deeply by music as I have been in my life and to have the opportunities I had (all for free and funded by the local authority) to play and sing great music to a high standard. (Ps 14.59-15.30 is the moment…)

NYJO Staff Picks | Sounds from Lockdown
Mariana is impossible to get images from, so here she is at 5 years old.

Roy Ayers – Everybody Loves the Sunshine

Every year, when the days start getting shorter and I find myself doubling my Vitamin D supplements’ dose, I can always count on this tune to bring me joy. This year, there seems to be an extra need for it. So, Roy has been playing in the background while I work, study, exercise, cook, and everything in between.

Everybody Loves the Sunshine is an ode to happiness, and I find it impossible to listen to it without smiling. I hope it helps you see the sun shining too! For some added extra Ayers heart-warming vibes, his NPR Tiny Desk Concert is delightful too!

NYJO Staff Picks | Sounds from Lockdown

Sault (anything by…)

Back in the olden days; long before we all had to watch Tiger King, or download an app called House Party, which we only used for 8 hours before deciding to commit our entire existence to Zoom; and definitely before we realised that driving to a national heritage site was somehow a legit reason to test your eye-sight – I was at a party, with real people. It was called February 2020. It was at this part that I first heard the album “Five” by Sault.

It’s a special time that seems to happen less the older (and more cynical) we (I) get, but this was one of those moments where you cannot believe you’ve been living in a world without the music that is absolutely blowing your mind. I had that back in February with this album as it danced between disco, funk, breakbeat and soul (amongst others). In fact, its best quality could be its genre-less-ness and constant ability to keep your own your toes as a listener.

Since May 2019 they’ve release 4 albums (yep) and throughout this prolific streak, they’ve somehow managed to maintain their anonymity as a band. Physical copies of the first three albums credited Inflo as producer (best-known as the producer of Little SimzGrey Area and co-writer of Michael Kiwanuka’s Black Man in a White World – both of which won him an Ivor Novello award). Kiwanuka was also a guest artist credit on their last album, Untitled (Black is), released in June. As did Laurette Josiah, the founder of a north London children’s charity (who’s apparently Liona Lewis‘ aunt).

The only other available fact is that proceeds from the latest album “Untitled (Rise)” will be going directly to charity. Speculation about the collective’s other members has neither been confirmed nor denied, nor has anyone claimed responsibility for music that’s thus far been uniformly praised on both sides of the Atlantic.

This astonishing creativity is compounded by the fact that this is clearly conscious music, rebel music, protest music (whatever you prefer to call it) largely written and recorded in response to race related issue, such as the murder of George Floyd (Untitled (Black Is) was released less than a month after the event). Art as its very best is responsive to current events, giving a voice to those who are struggling to make theirs heard – but to do so with an entire album of this quality in such a short space of time is truly astonishing. I could go on and on – just go check them out.

NYJO Staff Picks | Sounds from Lockdown

The End – Allt Är Intet

Allstar casts rarely deliver on their promise of glittering rewards. Most often they leave you with the vague feeling of being cheated: a strange emptiness; a feeling that all the brilliance gathered serves only to distract from a fundamental lack of creative purpose, a black hole at the centre of the galaxy, a void where something akin to a musical idea should live but cannot be found. These records are not that. 

The End is that rare treat where battle-hardened veterans assemble with ferocious intent, and the sonic maelstrom of Allt Är Intet is both bludgeoning and hauntingly beautiful. Featuring Norway’s Kjetil Møster (Møster!, Zanussi 5), Ethiopian-born vocalist Sofia Jernberg (Fire! Orchestra, Seval, PAAVO), Sweden’s Mats Gustafson (The Thing, Fire! Orchestra), Norwegian noise-jazz guitarist Anders Hana (MoHa!, Ultralyd, Noxagt), and Norwegian drummer Børge Fjordheim of Cloroform now replacing Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier, it’s a smorgasbord of Nordic talents. Released only last week it’s not had enough play to give up all its mysteries, but I’m sure it’s a record any discerning listener will be returning to for years to come. Jernberg’s vocal control, from searing howls to delicate laments is arresting. This is an album of contrasts, deeply textured, delivered with fierce poise. 

You can check it out on BANDCAMP HERE.

The Golden Age of Steam – Tomato Brain

The duo of saxophonist James Allsopp & drummer Tim Giles has been a forceful engine in the UK contemporary jazz scene since Fraud launched on to the scene, winning the BBC innovation award, back in 2008. They have played in multiple guises since then, landed the accolade of Blue Note recording artists for their work with indelible pop pianist Jamie Cullum, but it is here in Golden Age of Steam’s forthcoming Tomato Brain we hear their riotous return to form. It is the group’s first since 2012’s Hunter S. Thompson-inspired Bat Country, and marks a radical shift in direction. Joined as they are by ECM recording artist and Mercury prize nominee Kit Downes on Keyboards, Melt Yourself Down bassist Ruth Goller, Leverton Fox producer Alex Bonney on electronics the all new and impoved GAOS is akin to some lost gem from the Radiophonic workshop, a kaleidoscope of sonic technicolour, finessed with Allsopp’s trademark wit.

The album comes out on 4th of December on Andrew Plummer’s Limited Noise label. It’s worth the tenner just for the beautiful Basquiat-esque artwork from Sly & The Family Drone bandmate Kazland.

You can check it out on BANDCAMP HERE.

What have you been listening to in lockdown? Let us know by sending a us a message. We’d love to hear from you and add your suggestions to the office playlist!

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