La Saboteuse (Naim Records)

Yazz Ahmed

Released May 12, 2017

The Guardian Highest Rated Jazz Albums of All Time




Bahraini-British performer, Yazz Ahmed, is transforming what jazz means in 2017. This trumpet and flugelhorn-playing artist has worked with Radiohead and These New Puritans, experiments with electronic effects, and combines sounds from her shared heritage to author a new narrative for the genre. Part of the new wave of artists credited with stirring up the sound, including Kamasi Washington, Yussef Kamaal, Sons of Kemet and The Comet is Coming, Yazz Ahmed is thrilled by the possibilities of making something new. “I feel like I’m a part of modernising jazz and connecting it with audiences today,” Yazz says. “It’s exciting.” 
Her new album ‘La Saboteuse’ is a deep exploration of both her British and Bahraini roots. Ably assisted by musicians including Lewis Wright on vibraphone, MOBO-winning new jazz kingpin Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet and Naadia Sherriff on Fender Rhodes keyboard, it’s composed of undulating rhythms, Middle Eastern melody and Yazz’s sonorous trumpet lines. The record sounds like the passage of a desert caravan, bathed in moonlight. The theme of ‘La Saboteuse’ is the sense of self-doubt that Yazz feels when she is creating, personified in a female saboteur, an anti-muse that spurs her into action. “Giving ‘her’ a name has really helped me to identify those negative voices we all get,” she says. “I know what it is and I know how to combat it.” 
‘La Saboteuse’ will be released in four chapters incrementally, unravelling the story, before the full version is available. Each chapter has its own cover, with beautiful illustrations by Bristol artist Sophie Bass. “I feel really touched, nobody’s created art from my music before, it’s really special,” Yazz says. 
Yazz spent her early childhood in Bahrain, her paternal homeland, before moving to London with her English mother at the age of nine. There, she became fascinated by her grandfather’s trumpet playing, and vowed to learn the instrument herself. “My grandfather, my mum’s dad, was a trumpet player, and I was quite taken by him, inspired. I wanted to learn the trumpet at school.” Jazz became her chosen form of expression, because “I loved the spirit of the music, the freedom. There’s a lot of joy, mystery. I connected with it”. Yazz’s sound is unique. Her take on jazz weaves in Arabic melodies to evocative, cinematic effect. “I love the sounds of Arabic music. The traditional folk singing is so heartfelt, elemental and passionate. I absorbed it as a child, but only in the past few years has it come to the surface in my playing and writing. I want to embrace my culture and my British jazz heritage, the music my grandfather played to me.” 
Jazz has traditionally been a male-dominated sphere, though Yazz is challenging that notion. To start with she found it a hindrance, but has been empowered by a new wave of women musicians. “There are more female jazz musicians and attitudes are changing,” she says. “People see that women can play just as well as the men. But there are still areas that haven’t caught up with the rest of society. It’s getting better, but we can do more.” 
Future-facing and fascinating, Yazz Ahmed is part of a glimmering new constellation in the jazz firmament. And her next project is destined to take her further into the stars. “I’m planning to write a piece inspired by the ever-changing structures of the universe,” she concludes. 

Track Listing:

1. Inhale (Yazz Ahmed / Lewis Wright) 1:21

2. Jamil Jamal (Yazz Ahmed) 8:12

3. Misophonia (Yazz Ahmed / Lewis Wright) 1:13

4. The Space Between teh Fish and teh Moon (Yazz Ahmed / Lewis Wright) 5:02

5. La Saboteuse (Yazz Ahmed) 4:31

6. Al Emadi (Yazz Ahmed) 6:15

7. Inspiration, Expiration (Yazz Ahmed / Lewis Wright) 1:01

8. The Lost Pearl (Yazz Ahmed) 7:19

9. Bloom (Colin Greenwood / Jonny Greenwood / Ed O’Brien / Selway / Thom Yorke) 5:07

10. Beleille (Yazz Ahmed) 7:22

11. Whirling (Yazz Ahmed / Lewis Wright) 0:42

12. Organ Eternal (George Barnett / Jack Barnett / Thomas Hein) 7:22

13. Exhale (Yazz Ahmed / Lewis Wright) 1:26


Yazz Ahmed: trumpet and quarter-tone flugelhorn

Noel Langley: trumpet

Shabaka Hutchings: bass clarinet

Lewis Wright: vibraphone

Naadia Sheriff: Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer

Samuel Hällkvist: guitar

Dave Manington: bass guitar

Dudley Phillips: bass guitar

Martin France: drums

Corrina Silvester: percussion

Fartun Tahir: voice (5)

Recorded April 18, 2013 at The Cow Shed: May 28, 2013, at Urchin Studios (4, 8); September 6, 2013, at Eastcote Studios (2, 5, 9, 10); March 2, 2016 at Session Corner, Tatami Studios, and Valby Station, Copenhagen (6)

Produced by Noel Langley and Yazz Ahmed

Mixed by Tom Jenkins

Mastered by Robin Morrison

Artwork: Sophie Bass


She’s played with everyone from Radiohead to Lee “Scratch” Perry, but the 2012 debut by this Bahrain-raised, London-based trumpeter was a spartan collection which tried, tentatively, to fuse the maqam melodic modes used in Arabic music with Miles Davis’s modal jazz. This time, however, Ahmed improvises more fluently in these Arabic scales. It adds a futuristic, Fourth World dimension to the textures created by an unorthodox, Bitches Brew-style line-up that features Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet and Naadia Sheriff on Fender Rhodes piano. Riff-based tracks such as Organ Eternal and a cover of Radiohead’s Bloom resemble the slightly clinical post-rock of Jaga Jazzist or Tortoise, but Ahmed works better when she’s being less strident. On the space age jazz waltz The Space Between the Fish and the Moon, her haunting solo is elegantly mutilated by FX pedals until it sounds as though her flugelhorn is melting before our very ears.

John Lewis (The Guardian)