Album Review: Sarah Tandy – Infection in the Sentence

Sarah Tandy

Infection in the Sentence

(Jazz Re:freshed)

Sarah Tandy has quietly been positioned as one of the movement’s most credible forces, emerging from the fertile South London scene as keys player for Nu Civilisation Orchestra, Maisha, Where Pathways Meet, Camilla George, Nubya Garcia, Nerija, and many more, and earning a ringing endorsement from the Guardian’s John Fordham as an ‘artist to look out for’ in 2018. In an earlier incarnation she was a finalist in the BBC Young Musician Of The Year – a strictly classical gig – and traces of this can be heard both in her technical chops and in a rhapsodic quality to her playing which makes her stand out from the crowd.

If 2018 was the year for the promise of the new London thing to gain media attention, then 2019 is the year to deliver on that promise, and this album is in the vanguard. The session matches Tandy with some of her most accomplished associates for some heavy blowing over a series of original compositions that allow everyone sufficient room to showcase their abilities while keeping proceedings tight and focussed.   

Tenor man Binker Golding is best known as half of the groove-heavy Binker And Moses duo, but here shows his mettle as a fierce post-bop improviser; his tough, chewy tone and rhythmic precision recall Joe Henderson, as does his ability to slide confidently from cerebral altered harmony to R&B-influenced wailing and back again. Femi Koleoso is the powerhouse drummer behind Ezra Collective; he too seems to revel in the opportunity to show his versatility, from the mutated one-drop of Snake In The Grass to the straight ahead burn of Under The Skin; he turns in a bravura performance on the riotously uplifting second-line swagger of Bradbury Street and simmers down for the closely written downtempo Light weight. Trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey adds some effective, full-toned interventions, and Mutale Chashi’s well judged contribution holds down the low end to keep things solid. 

Tandy’s own playing is assured, creative and powerfully confident throughout, whether on piano or the inevitable rhodes, with a nicely controlled touch that makes for some effective dynamics – Bradbury Street shows her matching a swift and fluent right hand to an imaginative harmonic conception and an urgent delivery to create some satisfying fireworks. There’s the kind of hip, modal, beats-based stuff that you’d expect from this scene that’s been nurtured in the club as much as the conservatoire, but enough post-bop sophistication on offer to allay the suspicions of any of the jazz establishment who may have been moved to question the ratio of talent to hype among an excited press. In fact, with its acoustic-plus-rhodes format, a mix of influences from Tyner to Henderson and a muscular approach to mixing classic jazz with contemporary rhythms, the overall sound is reminiscent of the last wave of highly-touted UK Jazz Warriors of the late 1980s, whose successive Tomorrow’s Warriors organisation prepared the fertile ground for the current crop. A satisfying debut and, we hope, a harbinger of more to come.

Eddie Myer