Report: Women in Jazz at Jazz Cafe Camden

Women In Jazz: Yazz Ahmed + Rosie Turton Quintet + Alina Bzhezhinska

Thursday 3rd October, 2019

Jazz Cafe, Camden

The last ‘Women in Jazz’ night at Jazz Cafe, was a kick ass triple bill from start to finish! Three female instrumentalists getting out of their comfort zones doing cutting edge original music that elevates the music scene.

     Spectacularly, opening the night was Alina Bzhezhinska, acclaimed harpist, playing solo in her first-ever Jazz Cafe gig. The audience was mesmerised and silently absorbed by her sound and jazz interpretations. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed the Jazz Cafe that quiet. Check her last CD funded by the PRS Women Make Music Award, dedicated to telling Alice and John Coltrane’s story on the harp.

     The second act of the night was trombonist Rosie Turton, a familiar face from her work with Nérija and Where Pathways Meet who recently accompanied China Moses on her last Ronnie Scott’s gig. This year Turton released new music with the Jazz Re:freshed label and was listed in The Guardian Best New Music of 2019 feature. A talented composer and instrumentalist, she led a joyful and groovy musical locomotive. Her band featured Johanna Burnheart on electric violin, Twm Dylan on double bass, Jake Long on drums, Ben Hayes on synths & effects and Maria Chiara Argirò on electric piano. There are very few (to none) references to the solo work of a female trombonist and that also makes Rosie Turton’s music relevant and quite essential.

     The last act of the night was acclaimed composer and trumpet player Yazz Ahmed with her project ‘Electric Dreams’. The performance was conceptualised as a spontaneous musical conversation. Ahmed’s beautiful playing was a perfect blend with the work done by guitarist Samuel Hällkvist from Denmark, Jason Singh on vocals and electronics, and Rod Youngs on drums.

     The group experiments by creating many different sonic landscapes, sometimes dominated by heavy electric guitar, always supported by a solid rhythm base, plus complemented by the outstanding performance of Jason Singh on his vocoder. Although Yazz Ahmed is frequently classified as a jazz musician and has been touring around the world on the jazz circuit, I feel that her music is much more open with a wider appeal.

     The Women in Jazz organisation supports and promotes female jazz artists. Last night should serve as an inspiration to other female instrumentalists out there. Women’s experiences bring a unique perspective to the jazz table. Blending is not enough, they should dare to stand out and go wild and creative in their content. There is nothing to lose, women in music are unfortunately already stereotyped.

     The issue of female representation is not just black and white, there are many sides to the problem and everybody should share a bit of the responsibility for it. Now, people seem to be talking more about it and determined to pursue some change. More than anything, this shift should be seen as an opportunity for female artists to change the narrative about what they can deliver.

     If we are brutally honest, female instrumentalists in jazz have been, since forever, underrated or simply ignored, unless they could sing. Even in that case, singers are frequently not regarded as musicians.

     Things look slightly better now, as there seems to be an increase in female jazz students, and we can find more female pianists, saxophonists, trumpeters leading in the scene, but very few leaders on instruments like tuba, trombone, bass, drums etc.

     Recently I voted at the 2019 British Jazz Awards nominations. I was surprised to find only 6 female musicians nominated among 64 total nominations. The award panel missed important names such as: Yazz Ahmed, Cassie Kinoshi (recently nominated at the Hyundai Mercury Prize for her work with Seed Ensemble), Nubya Garcia, Sarah Tandy, Rosie Turton, among so many other amazing female instrumentalists. It’s not just an issue of lack of representation but the fact that some of the best musicians in the UK scene, that by coincidence are women, are simply omitted from this award’s nominations. 

     It’s also up to all the female musicians to support each other, to find a way to be more inclusive and diverse in their own choices for band members, obviously without compromising their artistic values. It’s an uncomfortable process, change is sometimes hard but in this case, change is hugely important for the future of women in jazz.

 

Words & Photos by Patricia Pascal