Yazz Ahmed: Polyhymnia

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
Yazz Ahmed: Polyhymnia
The British-Bahraini trumpeter, flugelhornist and composer Yazz Ahmed went clear in 2017 with La Saboteuse (Naim). The album is an otherworldly mix of jazz, electronics and Arabic folk music which carries traces of Miles Davis' In A Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) and Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) and Jon Hassell's Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Volume 2 (E.G., 1981), all wrapped in a modern sensibility. With it, Ahmed outstripped Ibrahim Maalouf as the high priest of psychedelic Arabic jazz.

Polyhymnia is not so much otherworldly as purposefully earthbound. It is a suite inspired by six courageous and influential women: Lahan Al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia's first female film director; Ruby Bridges, who aged six was instrumental in desegregating the New Orleans school system; Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani advocate of female education who survived an assassination attempt; Rosa Parks, the US civil rights activist; the Women's Social and Political Union (aka The Suffragettes); and Barbara Thompson, the pioneering British female saxophonist and composer.

(Intermission: Thompson, incidentally, has a great sense of humour. From 1967 until his passing in 2018, she was the wife of Jon Hiseman, leader of the jazz-rock fusion band Colosseum. An interviewer once observed, "Your husband is a musician, too, isn't he?" "No, he's a drummer," said Thompson).

La Saboteuse was made by a ten-piece band, around half of whom return as part of the twenty-six-piece collective lineup heard on Polyhymnia. The personnel list reads like a who's who of London's happening woke jazz scene, of which Ahmed has been a key player since its first stirrings in 2013 (her debut album, Finding My Way Home, was released on Suntara in 2012). Among the luminaries are alto saxophonist Camilla George, keyboard player Sarah Tandy, guitarist Shirley Tetteh and tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia. Solos, which are as striking as you would expect from such a lineup, play an important role—Shirley Tetteh's in "Barbara" can bring tears to your eyes—but much of Polyhymnia's focus is on ensemble work.

Jazz, electronics and Arabic folk music remain part of Ahmed's mix, and this time out so does contemporary classical, Welsh hymn music (on "Deeds Not Words," dedicated to the Suffragettes), spoken word (on "One Girl Among Many," which recreates parts of a speech Malala Yousafzai gave to the United Nations in 2013) and New Orleans funk (on "Ruby Bridges").

In A Silent Way was described by a hostile contemporary critic as "opium music" and, in a wholly positive way, so is La Saboteuse. When it hits, you feel no pain. Polyhymnia is restorative, too, but it is also bracing, as befits its subject matter.

Track Listing

Lahan Al-Mansour; Ruby Bridges; One Girl Among Many; 2857; Deeds Not Words; Barbara.


Yazz Ahmed: trumpet, flugelhorn, handclaps, Kaoss Pad, voice (1-6); Camilla George: alto saxophone, voice (1, 3, 4); Helena Kay: alto saxophone, voice (1-6); Tori Freestone: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto flute (1-6); Nubya Garcia: tenor saxophone, voice (3, 4); Gemma Moore: baritone saxophone (1-4); Josie Simmons: baritone saxophone, voice (3, 5, 6); George Crowley: bass clarinet (6); Noel Langley: trumpet, flugelhorn, Fender Rhodes, voice (1-6); Becca Toft: trumpet, voice (1-4, 6); Alex Ridout: trumpet (1, 3, 5, 6); Chloe Abbott: trumpet (4); Carol Jarvis: trombone, bass trombone,voice (1-6); Rose Turton: trombone, voice (3, 4); Johanna Burnheart: electric violin, voice (1, 3, 4, 6); Samuel Hällkvist: guitar (1-6); Shirley Tetteh: guitar, voice (1-4, 6); Ralph Wyld: vibraphone (1, 4-6); Sarah Tandy: Fender Rhodes, piano, voice (1, 3, 5); Alycona Mick: Fender Rhodes, piano (1-6); Naadia Sheriff: piano (4); Charlie Pyne: bass guitar, voice (1-6); Sophie Alloway: drums, voice (1-6); Corrina Silvester: percussion, handclaps, voice (1-6); Tom Jenkins: synth programming (4); Sheila Maurice-Grey: voice (3).

Album information

Title: Polyhymnia | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Ropeadope

Post a comment about this album



Shop Amazon


Another Land
Dave Holland
Native Sons
Los Lobos
Dewa Budjana
The Last Call
Larry Coryell & Philip Catherine
Palette of Feelings
Karolis Šarkus
A Centering Peace
Brian Woodruff Sextet
Five Down Blues
Kyle Asche Organ trio


All About Jazz needs your support

All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded albums and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, limited reopenings and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary step that will help musicians and venues now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the sticky footer ad). Thank you!

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.