Voices Of Bishara
is one of the top three jazz albums of 2022 so far and it would take the second comings of John Coltrane
, Charles Mingus
, Horace Silver
and Lee Morgan
to threaten to dislodge it. Before going into the particulars, the backstory....
An epically cross-genre drummer, Skinner has lit up avantist British jazz and related musics for around twenty years. He emerged among the cohort of musicians loosely grouped around the self-help collective F-IRE (Fellowship for Integrated Rhythmic Expression) which energised the London jazz scene in the early 2000s. Notable early sightings included Skinner's involvement in the now Brooklyn-based tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock
's calling card, Some Times
(Candid, 2001), and her breakthrough album, Forensic
Since then, Skinner's several c.v. landmarks include, in 2011, co-founding Sons of Kemet
with Shabaka Hutchings and, in 2021, co-founding the Smile with Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood. A less widely celebrated but equally groundbreaking project was the left of centre London/Nairobi dance band Owiny Sigoma Band during the 2010s.
The Voices Of Bishara
band spans the F-IRE generation and the standard bearers of London's post-2016 alternative jazz scene. Bassist Tom Herbert
is Skinner's near contemporary and in the 2000s was a member of the influential Polar Bear
and Acoustic Ladyland
, both intricately intertwined with Laubrock's lineups. From the school of 2016 come tenor saxophonists Shabaka Hutchings
and Nubya Garcia
and cellist Kareem Dayes
. As jazz supergroups go, this is the coyote's cojones. Voices Of Bishara
grew out of a Played Twice session the quintet performed at London's Brilliant Corners. The regular event had a winning format: a classic album was played in full through the bar's audiophile sound system, after which an elite ensemble improvised their response. The night in question focused on drummer Tony Williams
' Life Time
(Blue Note, 1965) and the results were so good that Skinner decided to write the material which became Voices Of Bishara
The album was recorded live in the studio and then Skinner got busy with the editing scissors. He applied them with gusto, rather in the manner of disco auteurs such as Theo Parrish, who in the late 1990s began creating tracks in a process which was as radical as William Burroughs' literary cut-up technique, though without the element of random chance. "It was really empowering to fuck it up a bit," says Skinner. "To mess around with the music and see what happened."
What happened is just over thirty minutes of exalted jazz. It is by turns tumultuous, when Hutchings and Garcia unleash their broken-note strewn tenors, and meditative, when Hutchings switches to bass clarinet, Garcia to flute, and Dayes' sonorous cello steps forward. Skinner and Herbert have been playing together for over twenty years, and they lift, propel and anchor things in immaculate close-formation.
The album title was inspired by the American cellist Abdul Wadud
's solo album By Myself
, which he released on his own Bisharra label in 1978 and which Skinner listened to repeatedly during 2020. Although Skinner's title uses the more conventional spelling of the Arabic word, they both translate as "good news." Sadly, Wadud passed in 2022. One hopes and guesses he would have been tickled pink by Skinner's salute, for the news on Voices Of Bishara
is as good as it gets. Check the YouTube clip below for a taste. Trainspotter Note 1
: This is the first time that boss tenors Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia have been heard playing together on record. Trainspotter Note 2
: Cellists are still uncommon in jazz. Another album which includes one is Ingrid Laubrock's aforementioned Forensic
. Unbroken the circle is.
Bishara; Red 2; The Journey; The Day After Tomorrow; Voices (Of The Past); Quiet As It’s Kept.
Tom Skinner: drums;
Kareem Dayes: cello;
Tom Herbert: acoustic bass;
Nubya Garcia: tenor saxophone, flute;
Shabaka Hutchings: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet.
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