The bi-annual Young Jazz Musician competition was launched by Britain's public service broadcaster, the BBC, in 2014. As with all arts awards, the final selection tends to be a lottery, with the judges tasked with picking a winner from among five close-matched contestants. 2020 was no exception. The final was televised on November 22 and the judgestenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia, vibraphonist and multi-instrumentalist Orphy Robinson and trumpeter Guy Barkerplumped for the London pianist Deschanel Gordon. But they could just as credibly have chosen the north England saxophonist Alex Clarke, whose three-song set started out strong and just kept on getting better. Check out her performance...
...and bathe in her command of rhythm and her gorgeous sound on alto and tenor. Clarke is no slouch when it comes to soloing either. She was accompanied by pianist Nikki Yeoh, bassist Michael Mondesir and drummer Mark Mondesir. In her closing remarks, Nubya Garcia, who had clearly been blown away by the performance, said that witnessing it had been "pure pleasure" and "a total joy."
In 2020 Clarke is still only 20 years old. She self-released her debut album, Mirage, in summer 2018. It is more than promising, with assured performances of two originals and versions of material by Tubby Hayes, Cole Porter, Sonny Rollins and Antonio Carlos Jobim. But what a difference two years has made.
In 2018, the BBC competition was won by the then 22-year old saxophonist Xhosa Cole. Firmly in the post-John Coltrane tradition, Cole is making a name for himself leading a band in and around his Midlands hometown, Birmingham, but has yet to release an album. Look out for it. And look out, too, for Alex Clarke's sophomore set. It promises to be a blinder.
Almost Like Being In Love; Wave; Mirage; I’ll Follow My Secret Heart; Sonnymoon For Two; What Is This Thing Called Love?; A Sleepin’ Bee; Tres De Catarce; Just The Way You Look Tonight.
Alex Clarke: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute.
| Year Released: 2018
| Record Label: Self Released
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz and editor of the style magazine Jocks & Nerds; he was previously the editor of Black Music & Jazz Review magazine; he is Afrobeat consultant for Partisan Records and Google Arts & Culture.