Born in Bahrain but based in London since the age of nine, Yazz Ahmed is a young jazz trumpeter, flugelhorn player and composer. Having already collaborated and recorded with a wide array of artists and bands to date – Radiohead, Lee “Scratch” Perry or These New Puritans to name a few – the musician has undertaken over the last few years a journey of self-discovery stimulated by her own dual cultural background. Following on her début Finding My Way Home in 2011 and released on Naim Records on 12 May 2017 last, La Saboteuse sees Yazz Ahmed pursue her quest surrounded by an impressive line-up of musicians.
Expertly produced by Noel Langley and earning flattering comparisons with Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew-era recordings, La Saboteuse is a wonderful fusion of Eastern-inflected compositions, free-flowing improvisation and modern jazz-rock. The eclectic line-up of instrumentalists and collaborators, the stunning cover artwork by Bristol-based illustrator Sophie Bass, the exhaustive liner notes and an impeccable execution all point to a superb record underpinned by a remarkable artistic vision.
The recording is bookended by two flugelhorn and vibraphone improvisations, “Inhale” and “Exhale”. These pieces not only refer to the ancestral tradition of pearl diving in Persian Gulf countries and further explored on “The Lost Pearl”, but both tracks also signal a deep musical and spiritual introspection for the musician.
Originally released in 1992, Lebanese-born oud player Rabih Abou-Khalil’s Blue Camel is “a record that changed my perspective on jazz” notes Yazz Ahmed.
Here were the sounds and flavours of the music which, as a child in Bahrain, had deeply entered my psyche, but now blended with the jazz disciplines I had been studying for so long. Something really clicked and I felt compelled to explore this new world.
Over the last few years, the musician started playing the traditional Arabic maqams and explore its nuances on the violin. She began learning to read and write in Arabic. Emulating French-Lebanese jazz trumpet player Ibrahim Maalouf, Yazz Ahmed also switched to a quarter-tone flugelhorn – thus unlocking “the gateway to the Arabic traditions of expressive melodic improvisation.”
Recorded between 2013 and 2016, La Saboteuse features a diverse combo of young jazz musicians met at various recording sessions and collaborative projects – Lewis Wright on vibraphone, Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet, Naadia Sheriff on Fender Rhodes, Dave Mannington and Dudley Philips on bass guitar, Corrina Silvester on percussion, Martin France on drums and Samuel Hällkvist on electric guitars.
Interspersed with five ethereal and ambient spontaneous compositions for flugelhorn and vibraphone, La Saboteuse also introduces electronica and loops (“The Space Between the Fish and the Moon”), complex and multi-layered horn, percussion and guitar sections (“Al Emadi”) and even spoken word on the title track (Yazz Ahmed’s Arabic teacher Fartun Tahir).
The ensemble playing truly shines on the energetic “Jamil Jamal” where bass clarinet, Fender Rhodes and flugelhorn trade choruses. Having contributed to the recording sessions for Radiohead’s The King of Limbs (2011) and having toured with These New Puritans following the release of their 2013 album Field of Reeds, Yazz Ahmed revisits “Bloom” and “Organ Eternal” respectively with a contemporary and refreshing jazz-rock perspective.
Extrapolating visually over four drawings the music heard on La Saboteuse, illustrator Sophie Bass captures to perfection the intoxicating tapestry of sounds arising from Yazz Ahmed’s multifaceted arrangements for an inspired collective.