Released October 11, 2019
Jazzwise Top 20 Releases of 2019
“This album is a
celebration of female courage, determination and creativity. In 2015, the
Tomorrow’s Warriors commissioned me to write an extended work, to be performed
by members of their Nu Civilisation Orchestra, for a concert at the Women of
the World Festival, in London’s Southbank Centre, on International Women’s Day.
Whilst gathering ideas for my composition, I came across the character of Polyhymnia, the ancient Greek Muse of music, poetry and dance: a Goddess for the arts. Perhaps inspired by her, I conceived the form of a suite of movements, each dedicated to women of outstanding qualities, role models, with whom I felt a strong connection. Whereas La Saboteuse, the embodiment of my inner-destroyer and the catalyst for the creation of my last album, could be viewed as my anti-muse, maybe Polyhymnia herself became my Muse, inspiring an intense period of creativity, which resulted in the six pieces on this album.
Since its conception, composed and arranged over the six weeks leading up to the first rehearsal for the premiere, the music has evolved and expanded. During the recording process I began incorporating new elements and drawing on a wider pool of artists, including members of my own Hafla band, alongside some of my favourite musicians working on the London scene.
By sharing my musical response to the stories and achievements of these exceptional women, and celebrating the creativity and talents of my co-contributors, I hope to inspire others, in the words of Malala, “to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realise their full potential”
1. Lahan al-Mansour (Yazz Ahmed) 09:57
2. Ruby Bridges (Yazz Ahmed) 09:41
3. One Girl Among Many (Yazz Ahmed) 09:33
4. 2857 (Yazz Ahmed) 08:30
5. Deeds Not Words (Yazz Ahmed) 08:52
6. Barbara (Yazz Ahmed) 10:25
Yazz Ahmed: trumpet, flugelhorn, Kaoss Pad & voice
Noel Langley: trumpet, flugelhorn & voice
Camilla George: alto sax & voice
Tori Freestone: alto flute, soprano sax & tenor sax
Helena Kay: alto sax & voice
Josie Simons: baritone sax & voice
Gemma Moore: baritone sax
Nubya Garcia: tenor sax & voice
Becca Toft: trumpet & voice
Alex Ridout: trumpet
Chloe Abbott: trumpet
Carol Jarvis: trombone, bass trombone & voice
Rosie Turton: trombone & voice
George Crowley: bass clarinet
Alcyona Mick: piano & Fender Rhodes
Nadia Sherrif: piano
Sarah Tandy: piano, Fender Rhodes & voice
Samuel Halkvist: guitars
Shirley Teteh: guitar & voice
Johanna Burnheart: violin & voice
Charlie Pyne: double bass, bass guitar & voice
Ralph Wyld: vibraphone & glockenspiel
Sophie Alloway: drums & voice
Corrina Silverster: percussion & voice
Sheila Maurice-Grey: voice
Recorded in August and November 2016 at Session Corner, Luton, by Nick Pugh
Samuel’s guitars were recorded in 2019 in Copenhagen by Katrine Amsler at Valby Station and by August Wanngren at Virkeligheden Studio,
Ralph, George and Naadia were recorded January 2019 by Marco Pasquariello at Snap Studios, London
Additional recording, overdubbing and editing during 2017 – 2019, at Tatami Studios by Noel Langley Produced by Noel Langley and Yazz Ahmed
Mixed by Tom Jenkins
Mastered by Robin Morrison
Biographies and cultural research by Emily Curran.
Artwork by Sophie Bass
Art Direction by Sacculi
A slow cook of a release, its roots deep in a 2015 concert piece commissioned by Tomorrow’s Warriors with support from PRS Women Make Music, Polyhymnia is a celebratory paean to the brave, the gentle, those that won’t back down. We’ll all tip our hat to that: but what’s the music like? Well, as you ask, it’s rich, sonorous, big, melodic, puts a kick in your heels and a smile on your face. Worthily dull it’s not.
Music that’s so studio based, so long in the pot, can grow fussy, over-egged: but, helped by partner and producer Noel Langley, Ahmed has kept a light touch, mixing large ensemble themes with threads of electronics, a little anarchy from her Kaoss Pad, and an array of soloists, notably women, who contribute spark and edge. There’s also a diversity of styles that keeps the listener curious and surprised. ‘Lahan al-Mansour’, dedicated to Saudi’s first female film director, most obviously draws upon Ahmed’s Gulf roots, but her full-toned flugelhorn also echoes Kenny Wheeler’s contributions to Rabih Abou-Khalil’s great albums like Blue Camel. But on ‘Barbara’, dedicated to Barbara Thompson’s ongoing creativity despite her chronic illness, there are jazz rock themes, a playing with tempo and rhythms that echo yet develop Thompson’s work over the decades.
Other surprises abound: bet you don’t see ‘Men of Harlech’ coming on the Suffragette-inspired ‘Deeds Not Words,’ or the brass spikes that crunch against the Mardi Gras piano rolls of ‘Ruby Bridges’. If you want an album that can make you dance and think, explore and exult, sing and sigh then look no further than Polyhymnia.
Andy Robson (Jazzwise)
➜ Read our Yazz Ahmed interview: “Music has helped me identify who I am”