If Miles Davis was alive today and in the studio recording Bitches Brew, the results might, just might, resemble parts of London-based Yazz Ahmed's La Saboteuse. Other approximate reference points are, during the more reflective moments, Jon Hassell and Brian Eno's Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Volume 2 and Davis's In A Silent Way. But Ahmed's album is no knock-off of any of those discsthere are lengthy passages on which it does not sound remotely like either one of themnor is it built around the kind of shape-shifting production interventions employed by Eno or by Davis's producer, Teo Macero. It is a statement in its own right, and one with substance.
Foremost among the singular elements Ahmed brings to the music is her cultural background. Raised in Bahrain by her Bahraini father and English mother, she relocated to Britain at age nine. She tentatively explored her Middle Eastern roots on her 2012 debut album, Finding My Way Home. On La Saboteuse, her use of Arabic modes and scales is more assured and her improvisations upon them more jazz-based. The result is a genuinely transcultural music, rooted in Middle Eastern and jazz traditions yet also resolutely futuristic.
The band on La Saboteuse is bigger than the one on Finding My Way Home and newly assembled. The only returnees are Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet and Corrina Silvester on percussion. Among the featured new recruits are Lewis Wright on vibraphone, Naadia Sheriff on Fender Rhodes and Samuel Hällkvist on electric guitar. Martin France is a great choice of drummer. Most of the tracks were written by Ahmed, alone or with Wright. The only cover is Radiohead's "Bloom" (Ahmed and second trumpeter Noel Langley guested on the band's 2011 album, The King Of Limbs).
When In A Silent Way was released, one hostile old-school critic condemned it as "opium music." They know a thing or two about opium in the Middle East, and in parts of London too, but La Saboteuse is a life-affirming rather than a life-denying albumnot so much addictive as offering the kind of solace for the soul that repays being revisited.
Inhale; Jamil Jamal; Misophonia; The Space Between The Fish And The Moon; La Saboteuse; Al Emadi; Inspiration Expiration; The Lost Pearl; Bloom; Beleille; Whirling; Organ Eternal; Exhale.
Yazz Ahmed: trumpet and quarter-tone flugelhorn; Noel Langley: trumpet; Shabaka Hutchings: bass clarinet; Lewis Wright: vibraphone; Naadia Sheriff: Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer; Samuel Hällkvist: guitar; Dave Manington: bass guitar; Dudley Phillips: bass guitar; Martin France: drums; Corrina Silvester: percussion.
In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.