Brittany Anjou: Visionary Soul

Paul Rauch By

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AAJ: Did you expect the reaction the record has received? Outstanding reviews at All About Jazz, Downbeat, and Jazz Times. Widespread radio airplay. It has been quite a whirlwind of attention.

BA: It's crazy! I thought I had a good record, I took the time to carefully release it. I hoped I would have the opportunity for more work after-that's all I hoped for. It's so wonderful to be seen and heard. My goal is to play for them live. Connecting with people in a room is strong and important to me.

AAJ: Are you going to continue the trio explorations? What's next on the horizon?

BA: Yes, I really just want to tour in the coming years and I'm putting out new projects. I have this more explicit body of vocal and piano plus ensemble work that I've been planning to record under my punk band Bi TYRANT. And there's a challenge in that I have this gig in the Middle East where they have a lot of censorship rules. I've been doing it solo, duo, in piano trio, and was able to do it with an octet with support by Winter Jazz Festival in 2018, myself shout-singing at the piano with the trio of Shirazette Tinnin (drums) and Mali Obomsawin (bass), plus Jackie Coleman (trumpet), Rose Rutledge (sax), Angela Morris (sax), Viva DeConcini (guitar) and Rich Bennett aka Valerie Vetere (guitar). Last April I secretly left the Middle East for 36 hours to play a Bi TYRANT solo show in Berlin without anyone at work knowing, while trying to let everyone who I know in Berlin know. Life is getting weirder and weirder.

Enamigo Reciprokataj is definitely an ode to fifties and sixties piano jazz trios, which are my favorite. Now I feel I'm in a place to take more risks and to be vocal about whatever is going on deep and get more creative across genres without worrying about validation, because for the first time in my life, with the release of the album, I feel heard and seen as a jazz pianist just having it out there, and that's enough for me to feel complete and whole as a pianist in the world and now maybe I can be myself and get more work. The first Bi TYRANT record, getting to experience metal vocal catharsis on stage and in the studio was the most powerful thing I've done, shattering the misogynistic narrative for myself that was learned in my early early years in jazz that women instrumentalists can't be vocalists without being pigeonholed—one I long feared to ever embrace singing as a woman who wanted to work as an instrumentalist with jazz being my first love. So for years I felt a duty to deny any proclivities to singing and other art forms, especially 'feminine' or queer ones that are marginalized and looked down upon in straight ahead lion jazz scenes. Doing that record, making a punk and metal album freed me. Taking voice lessons helped shatter decades of internalized misogynistic jazz stress I didn't even know I was subjected to, challenging my own identity as an instrumentalist jazz pianist, vibraphonist woman coming out of male dominated jazz schools while shouting my identity as queer metal vocalist slash multi-instrumentalist—where I'd seen no combination of previously—enabled me to call bullshit on it all and move forward.

So all that brought me to singing and shouting about vaginas and clits at the piano with a jazz octet at Winter Jazz Festival at Zinc Bar. It was a freeing dream come true, right in the backyard where I went to jazz school. That was the thing—that it was where I went to school.

When I showed up to the gig, it took me back to that time on that night for some reason. I remembered that when I was eighteen and never would have felt comfortable writing or rehearsing my own shit like that in jazz school as the only woman to graduate in my class in a program of eighty men, and fat chance wouldn't have been taken seriously. In fact, the jazz program director used to make frequent comments about how lucky I was to have the women's bathroom all to myself. So, I couldn't have dreamed of the conversation.

Thank goddess for Brice Rosenbloom and Winter Jazz Festival. The obstacles you come across and grow the most from when you do music. Taking more risks with lyrical content—some of these things can be quite explicit. Anyway, my hope, for my work in the future, is to be myself at the piano, as a composer, songwriter, improviser, and human, and that the next generation of young women and non-binary folks can feel freer and safer to trust their guts, and be themselves in jazz, in music, in school, on stage and in the field.

AAJ: You have a new project as well with Ghanaian xylophone master Alfred Kpesaane.

BA: I have a new recording project I've been producing called Nong Voru with Alfred Kpebsaane, who is a master of Ghanaian xylophone, or gyil. After Alfred moved from Ghana to New York in 2017, we started jamming at my apartment in Park Slope, then playing out, and then we did a residency at Barbés last summer. It's an eclectic world music venue in Brooklyn. We are almost finished with the record, Alfred on gyil and vocals, and I'm playing synths, organ, vintage Casio 1000P, and Rhodes. It's going to be a mixture of really beautiful xylophone music. Alfred is a quirky cat on gyil. It's all his music and traditional gyil tunes. I'm producing it and playing keys on it, with producer/ engineer/ guitarist Rich Bennett at his studio, Acme Hall Studios in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I have a musical relationship of thirteen years with Alfred that started by studying gyil with him at Bernard Woma's Dagara Music Center in Medie, Ghana. April Centrone is on drums on the record. Beza Gebre has been playing drums on live shows, and pianist Alla Faberova joins us live too. On the record, Oren Bloedow guests on electric bass, and Michael Clemow on live computer processing electronics, using samples of what we recorded live and syphoning them back into the cyber console like little ping pong balls made of acoustic gyil fist bumps, using some crazy wizardry programs and Gleetchlab. The album is called Nong Voru, which Alfred came up with. It means fake love. Coincidentally, he didn't know about my jazz album, nor that Enamigxo Reciprokataj meant reciprocal love in Esperanto. But there it was-love is always central.

Gyil elders probably wouldn't approve of it as traditional gyil music. In fact, I'm really sad Bernard Woma isn't around any longer to tell me what's what about it, or to share it with him. But I think the fun part of this record is we're combining traditional Ghanaian gyil music with a blend of all this new western technological stuff. We have a few traditional funeral folk tunes, but mostly Alfred's original styles coming from the Dagara tradition, and a cross collaboration that resulted in a trip hop reggae jam we call "The Women Are Taking Over The Men." As for the project, Alfred calls it Afro-jazz-beat, Rich Bennett and I call it avant-gyil. It's a journey from this ancient world to the present. Traditional gyil music is funeral music meant to honor the dead.

AAJ: There is a lot of that in the origins of jazz as well. The funeral march with a brass band lead to marching bands and second lines.

BA: Second lines, yes. I just went to New Orleans for the first time this year and having studied Ghanaian music, I was just so blown away by the similarities between second lines and Ghanaian costumes. When someone dies in Ghana, you mourn for a month, and everyone dresses in red and black. They dance and celebrate, and the music has dancers, drummers, and everyone is dancing in a circle. You honor the dead by acting out scenes of experiences you had in your life with the person who died. In June, I went and saw Dr. John's memorial, my friend Chloe and I rushed down to the second line. I saw everyone with red and black was marching in this just brilliant marching band. Insanely tearing it up! I was overcome with emotion, I was losing my mind. We went around the corner near the cemetery, and the band played a slow march. I started crying when I saw the hearse go past. I couldn't believe I was there.
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