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Zara McFarlane: Arise!

Chris May By

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Zara McFarlane is a London-based singer and composer with a voice like an angel and a style that reflects her cultural roots in the Caribbean and in the mash-up that is modern metropolitan Britain, where jazz, grime, hip hop, reggae and other musics of black origin are hybridising and shape-shifting with joyful abandon. She is an alumnus of Tomorrow's Warriors, the band and outreach organisation co-founded by bassist Gary Crosby in 1991 with a special focus on young jazz musicians from the Caribbean and African diasporas. McFarlane also took a master's degree in jazz studies at London's Guildhall School of Music.

Arise is McFarlane's third album, following Until Tomorrow (2011) and If You Knew Her (2014), which were also released on Brownswood. The new disc is a collaboration with the much feted drummer and producer Moses Boyd, another graduate of Tomorrow's Warriors, and the band includes some of the brightest stars on London's young jazz-scene—bass clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings, tenor saxophonist Binker Golding, trombonist Nathaniel Cross, bassist Max Luthert, keyboard player Peter Edwards and guitarist Shirley Tetteh.

Arise explores the intersections between jazz and rhythms from Jamaica, in particular reggae, kumina and nyabinghi. But the music eschews simply sticking jazz vocals and instrumental solos on top of Caribbean rhythms. It goes much deeper than that. The result is spellbinding. Special mentions go to "Silhouette," a Shabaka Hutchings feature, and "Allies Or Enemies," on which McFarlane overdubs a layered vocal-arrangement of exquisite beauty, accompanied by acoustic guitar and percussion. "Fisherman," a cover of the opening track on Jamaican vocal group the Congos's Lee Perry-produced treasure, Heart Of The Congos (Black Ark, 1977), and the only non-original on the album, also deserves a salute for its arrangement, this time featuring violinist and violist Ruth Elder and cellist Carola Krebs.

Since Arise was released in late 2017, a succession of other exceptional albums has showcased London's newly buoyant jazz scene. First out of the traps was We Out Here (Brownswood), featuring around 35 members of the community in various guises: Maisha, Ezra Collective, Triforce, Kokoroko and line-ups led by Moses Boyd, Shabaka Hutchings, tuba player Theon Cross, saxophonist Nubya Garcia and keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones. Hard on its heels was Your Queen Is A Reptile (Impulse!) by Hutchings's Sons Of Kemet, Loveplaydance: 8 Scenes From The Floor (Brownswood) by Toshio Matsuura Group, Starting Today (Brownswood) by Armon-Jones and The Return (Black Focus) by keyboardist Kamaal Williams. All these albums have previously been reviewed here.

There is a feast of remarkable jazz coming out of London in 2018 and the state of the music is healthier than it has been for around 30 years. It is an exciting time to be a jazz fan.

Track Listing: Ode To Kumina; Pride; Fussin’ And Fightin’; Peace Begins Within; Stoke The Fire; Freedom Chain; Riddim Interlude; Allies Or Enemies; In Between Worlds; Silhouette; Fisherman; Ode To Cyril.

Personnel: Zara McFarlane: lead vocals, backing vocals, arrangements; Pete Eckford: percussion (tracks 1, 2, 4, 6-12); Moses Boyd: drums (tracks 2-7, 9-12), djembe (tracks 5, 11); Max Luthert: double bass (tracks 2-4, 7, 9, 10, 12), electric bass (tracks 5, 6); Neil Charles: double bass (track 11); Peter Edwards: Rhodes (tracks 2, 5), claps (track 3), grand piano (tracks 3, 9-11), organ (tracks 3, 4, 6, 7), melodica (tracks 4, 5, 7, 11), clavinet (track 6); Shirley Tetteh: electric guitar (tracks 2-4, 6, 7, 9), acoustic guitar (track 8); Binker Golding: tenor saxophone (tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 12); Nathaniel Cross: trombone (tracks 1, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 12); Shabaka Hutchings: bass clarinet (tracks 1, 10); Ruth Elder: violin (track 11), viola (track 11); Carola Krebs: cello (track 11).

Title: Arise! | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Brownswood Recordings

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