David Bowden’s Mezcla, A Review, #GlasgowJazzFestival, 21 June 2017

 

Mezcla, brought to us by award winning bass player and composer David Bowden, were recently described as encompassing “a bubbling broth of influences, from West Africa to Latin America, soul to folk” by Jim Gilchrist of the Scotsman. This gig took place on the first night of the Glasgow Jazz Festival in The Hug and Pint* on Great Western Road. It was the evening of the summer solstice so I was expecting there to be magic in the air. The first sign of magic was that there were more musicians crammed onto the tiny stage than I had imagined there could be. The second was that one of them was Steve Forman with his cabinet of percussive delights. Thirdly Mezcla had guest vocalist Rachel Lightbody sprinkle some vocal magic over the evening.

The band were launching their first EP and they featured all 4 tracks on the night.  The venue was busy and the band started with Sami’s Tune followed by Knockan Crag which took us on a musical journey from Scotland to South America with some latin sounds coming in as the piece developed. Michael Butcher gave us a sax solo on Chrysalis but he really came into his element after the break when we were treated to some beautiful tenor sax playing. On Mindsweeper we heard an excellent guitar solo from Ben MacDonald. The first set finished with Auckland Hill.

The second half of the night really showcased each musician’s skills. Everyone did solos, communication was excellent and we heard  how the music of Oumou Sangare from Mali had influenced David’s composition on a track named Oumou. This tune also featured a percussion solo from Steve (see video here). This was followed by Shoot the Moon and then the final three tracks were Malarone Dreams, North Cape and Happy Monkey Dance. During the last track Stephen Henderson and Steve Forman had a good natured, energy filled percussion and drum battle and the night definitely finished on a high.

You can read more about Mezcla in a short interview I did with David Bowden below:

How do you feel about playing at Glasgow Jazz Festival this year?  What’s your experience of the festival?  Since I moved to Glasgow in 2011 I’ve been going to things at the festival every year and it’s always been inspirational. Particular highlights have included seeing Fly Trio last year and performing with Square One at the Old Fruitmarket supporting Joe Locke, also last year. This is my first gig as a leader at the festival so it feels like significant step up and I’m looking forward to it!

What opportunities has winning Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year brought to you? Part of the award was a recording session at Edinburgh Napier studios, which I used to record the Mezcla EP. The other parts of the prize were this gig at Glasgow Jazz Fest, a gig at the Blue Lamp in Aberdeen in August (part of the Aberdeen International Youth Festival) and a gig at London Jazz Festival in November. The award has definitely come in useful for me as far as launching this new band, as it’s immediately put some great gigs in the diary which has forced me to get everything together (compositionally and organisationally) to a tight deadline. I’ve been wanting to put a band like this together for a while, so the award has been a great catalyst for that! I also feel like the award has also been useful in my freelance career –  since winning I have played in the Konrad Wiszniewski Quartet at Aberdeen Jazz fest and this weekend I am playing on Gordon Macneill/Malcolm Macfarlane’s new record.

 

You have just launched an EP , does Mezcla have a recording contract? The EP is self titled and it is available to buy on https://mezcla.bandcamp.com (download and physical copies available). It’s a 4 track EP which showcases a lot of different sides to the band’s sounds from the heavily West African influenced ‘Malarone Dreams’ and ‘Chrysalis’ to the rock influenced contemporary jazz ‘North Cape’ to the upbeat party track ‘Happy Monkey Dance’ The EP is a self-release.

How did you chose the band’s name? Mezcla means mixture in Spanish. I could come up with a load of reasons why it’s relevant but basically I just like the word – I have done ever since doing Spanish in school. I also figured it kind of works because the music has a diverse mixture of infuences – jazz, latin, African, funk/hip hop, rock, soul etc.

How would you describe your sound?  I would describe the band’s sound as a blend of soulful jazz fused with energetic grooves from West-Africa and Latin America. I listen to a lot of pop music and to me it’s very important for music to have strong melodic hooks and I hope that the music will stick in people’s heads after they leave the gig. I’d like the music to appeal to everyone – not just Jazz fans.

How have you been shaped as musicians?  All of the guys in the band have varied influences, which is part of what gives the band such a diverse sound. I write all the music but all of the musicians bring their own elements to the table as far as shaping the overall end product. Personally I’ve been very influenced by a lot of the musicians in the Glasgow Jazz Scene but also very much by pop music – compositionally I like to make sure that my music has a singable ‘song-like’ quality to it. At the beginning of this year I spent a month in Ghana studying the traditional music of the Volta Region (Borborbor, Agbadza) etc, which has been a big influence on some of the music I have written. It was also significant in terms of my outlook – all of the musicians there play simply because it’s what they love to do and it’s totally entrenched in their culture. I try and draw from that by simply playing in the way that I want to and not to prove anything – just playing and writing in the way that feels most natural and in the way that I think will be most fun for myself and those around me.

What do you hope to achieve when you play live?  I want the music to be fun for the audience to listen to. I think the music is very groove based and hope to get some dancing going in the crowd! I hope that the music will appeal to all music lovers and not just those that have studied jazz specifically.

I think the jazz audience is getting smaller partly because a lot of music seems to be written to appeal solely to other musicians. What I hope is that this music will connect with a wide range of people and hopefully convert some people who may not think of themselves as jazz fans!

What are the bands plans for the future?  We have a slot at Mugstock festival (in Milngavie) at the end of July – I’m looking forward to seeing how the band goes over in a non-jazz setting, it should be fun! We’re also playing the Blue Lamp in August and London Jazz festival in November. I’m hoping to book a series of dates around Scotland/possibly the UK in the run up to the LJF gig. We are also planning a double bill gig in the autumn with Graham Costello’s Strata band, who are contemporaries of ours from the RCS, although this is TBC at the moment.

What are you listening to currently? Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of singer songwriters – artists such as Lianne La Havas, Kwabs, Tom Misch and Ady Suleiman. What I like about all these artists is that their music is a combination of all the things I like the most – great melodies with nice grooves and interesting harmonies.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of music from around Africa, artists like Thomas Mapfumo, Toumani Diabate, Tinariwen, Oumou Sangare and others. I’ve also been listening a lot to a band called Susso which is a collaboration between London based jazz/electronic musicians and traditional musicians from the Gambia.

In terms of Jazz, I always come back to Hank Mobley’s Soul Station along with the classic Miles Davis Quintet albums (Relaxin, Cookin etc.), they’re the albums that got me into jazz in the first place. In terms of contemporary jazz – I love Aaron Parks’ music as well as Brian Blade Fellowship and Jonathan Kreisberg. I’m also a big fan of Snarky Puppy.

 

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*The Hug and Pint is a vegan bar, eatery & music venue and since it opened two years ago they have aimed to provide a friendly atmosphere and have regular gigs of well-established and up-and-coming local artists.

 

Glasgow Jazz Fest Top Picks!

The Glasgow Jazz Festival has just released its vast and varied programme for the festivities in June.   The festival was founded in 1987 and has hosted many of music’s greatest performers. Over the past few years the programming has been great and there is something for everyone during the event.

There is always a buzz around the city’s venues when the festival is on.  If you can get there I would highly recommend it.  Tickets are on sale from today.  These are my top picks for the fest:

The Neil Cowley Trio, Thursday 22 June Piano, drums and bass. Contemporary, melodic, and energetic.

The Greg Foat Group, Thursday 22 June I love a Hammond organ! This jazz keyboard player and his band will be joined by Clark Tracey (drums), Phil Achille (bass) and Konrad Wiszniewski (tenor saxophone). The live music will be augmented by DJs Euan Fryer (Athens Of The North) and Andrew Divine (The Funk Room / Jazzman), who’ll be spinning who will be spinning some tunes, aimed squarely at the dancefloor.

Sugarwork, Thursday 22 June I have fancied seeing this band for a while.  I met Phil Bancroft last summer but haven’t heard him play live yet, only on CD.  Will contain improvisation!

Michael Janisch, Thursday 22 June  This is my top pick and if I can get to only one thing I hope it is this. This musician always seems to be doing something interesting with music and has many strings to his bow.

If you like drumming there are a few great events.  I like these two; Tony Allen Friday 23 June and Scottish National Jazz Orchestra on Saturday 24.

Big Band Festival Saturday 24 June. Support the big bands, great tunes and breeding grounds for so much more. A nice daytime number.

Calum Gourlay Sunday 25 June A project celebrating Thelonious Monk. Having heard Calum play quite a few times mainly in big bands  I’d like to see him play in a smaller venue and reckon this will be good. I like his playing, its warm and accomplished.

I would love to hear one of Rebecca Vasmant‘s DJ sets. She has a monthly slot on Radio Scotland on The Jazz House and I always enjoy what she plays. She often plays really great Latin tunes and always creates a really great vibe to dance to (June 22, June 24).

All information on the festival and how to buy tickets can be found here.

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Glasgow Jazz Festival ‘Come and Try’ session

This 40 minute long session for children in the recital rooms at the Glasgow City Halls was pitched just right for the younger ones.  Most of the kids attending were probably well below age 9 and attended with enthusiastic parents.   As a parent I take my hat off to Glasgow Jazz Festival for having sessions such as this and other family friendly events  in their programme. In the current climate of of cuts to music lessons in schools I feel affordable sessions like this are important to expose the young ones to as much live music and music education as possible so we went along.

Paul Towndrow and Michael Owers led this interactive session for children. The promise was they could take part in a fun-filled music lesson with two of the top jazz musicians on the Scottish music scene.  Both Paul and Michael perform in multi-award winning four piece horn section Brass Jaw and are integral members of Scotland’s flagship jazz orchestra, The SNJO as well as being involved in other music projects. Towndrow has toured and performed with a wide range of artists including Ben E King, Jack Bruce and Martha Reeves, with Owers has played alongside the likes of Capercaillie, Hue and Cry and Texas.

We were treated to a potted history of the roots of jazz and told what improvisation is with excellent examples including a story about Spiderman stuck down a well!  (You can see a short video of that here).  We also learned about the different types of instruments that are popularly played by jazz musicians  and we were treated to the story of the drum kit (which is a thing that jazz musicians invented apparently). Then the main, noisy attraction, getting to play the instruments!  Some tips on how to use your mouth and facial muscles to get the correct position on the mouthpiece and we were off! There were a few naturals in the room and lots of effort and enthusiasm was displayed by the wee ones.