China Lane (Whirlwind Recordings)

Alice Zawadzki

Released June 16, 2014

The Guardian 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2014




Amongst the burgeoning talent on the London alternative music scene, singer-songwriter, violinist and pianist Alice Zawadzki stands out from the crowd. The past few years she’s acquired a buzz from musicians, critics, club owners and fans alike, the result of her ability to communicate through her music with simple yet profound purity; she’s being talked about as one of the most infectious singer/songwriters to appear in some time. Her diverse background and ability to perform across genres- while retaining her own intelligent musical style- give her a unique accessibility. Says London Jazz about Zawadzki, “The range of textures and colors, the expressive possibilities seemed more or less infinite.”
China Lane is the debut album from Zawadzki. Written and arranged over five years it encompasses a rich collection of influences: from ancient Sephardic songs about loss, exodus and prejudice to Zawadzki’s modern fairy tales full of mischief, whimsy, obsession and magic, as well as Bartok-inspired folk stories about young love, with magnetic ballads and groove-infused delights. Zawadzki, who wrote most of the material on the album and performs as vocalist (singing authentically in multiple languages), violinist and pianist explains: “I finished writing the title track ‘China Lane’, in Berlin, in the summer of 2012. I had started writing lyrics for it in my old home of Manchester, moved by the beauty of the city at sunset and a deep sense of nostalgia. A simple description of what I could see soon became, in some way, a homage to living in the moment. The gentle background sounds of humming beer fridges mixed with passing Manchester buses on the recording makes me smile.”
And the supporting cast on China Lane features a combination of new bandmates and long term collaborators in Alex Roth (guitar), Kit Downes (Hammond), Andreas Lang (bass), and Jon Scott (drums). Each bring playfulness and cohesion to the repertoire, with an evidently natural empathy. The purple sounds of Kit Downes’ Hammond permeate the trip-hop inspired ‘Cat’; “it’s something of a modern fairytale to me”, says Zawadzki. “The ghost of a murdered feline finds it’s way into the body of a woman with excellent consequences.” Fantastical notions continue into ‘Ring of Fire’, with driving interplay between Scott and Lang eventually bringing the detailed folk melodies into a soulful jam. Darker episodes, however, have their place in ‘You As A Man’, described by Adrian Stevenson of the Manchester Jazz Festival as “a brave and touching expression of feelings on the topic of obsessional love that most singers would struggle to get close to.” Compositional influences from Steve Coleman’s M-Base serve to intensify the songs poignant lyrics.
The album is carefully augmented with layers of cello, violin and and additional voices. Cellist Shirley Smart features in one of the Sephardic interpretations. A brooding and languorous introduction between the cello and violin later gives way to Smart’s virtuosic sound, full of intent and unique language. This ancient tradition is just one of many influences to be found on the record; it’s subject matter just as relevant today as when it was written. “As any kind of artist, you are dead when you stop putting yourself in other peoples shoes,” says Zawadzki.
The joyfully simple, cinematic and powerful ‘Low Sun; Lovely Pink Light’, features vocalists Emilia Mårtensson and Fini Bearman, with soaring wordless vocals and the delightful rises and falls of Alex Roth’s solo guitar. Inspired by the tiny island of Strynø in Denmark, Zawadzki writes: “It was deepest winter and the landscape was harsh and witchy. The sky, sea and land had all turned the same color, as if a painter had taken their brush and swirled the scene in circles with water until all blurred into one. And in the distance the sun was rising, amber and rose, the most beautiful I’d ever seen.”
A uniquely expressive performer and a gifted storyteller, Alice Zawadzki’s star is set to rise with the release of China Lane. It’s a brave and assured debut which takes the listener on a journey of love, compassion, conflict and joy.

Track Listing:

1. Ring of Fire 07:05

2. Cat 06:25

3. Indome Para Marsillia 05:53

4. Dicho Me Habian Dicho 07:59

5. Low Sun, Lovely Pink Light 07:14

6. You as a Man 09:18

7. China Lane 05:57


Alice Zawadzki: vocals, violin, piano
Alex Roth: guitars
Andreas Lang: double bass
Kit Downes: hammond organ
Jon Scott: drums

with guests:
Shirley Smart: cello
Emilia Martensson, Fini Bearman: vocals
Eva Thorarinsdottir, Steven Proctor: violin
Lucy Nolan, Tahan Stevens: viola
Peggy Nolan, Rosie Toll: cello

Recorded by Les Mommsen at 4AM Productions & the Union Chapel
Track 7 recorded by Ben Cottrell at Matt and Phreds Jazz Club
Mixed by Alex Bonney
Mastered by Peter Beckmann
Produced by Alice Zawadzki
Co-Produced by Alex Roth
Executive Producer: Michael Janisch


No disrespect to Michael Janisch’s excellent Whirlwind label, but Alice Zawadzki (a gifted young singer, violinist, pianist and composer sometimes linked with London’s Chaos Collective circle) sounds as if she might find her way to ECM one day. She is a genuine original with a pure, pealing voice that can darken into brooding low tones, and twist with the flexibility and harmonic awareness of a jazz singer. She is also a composer of gliding, melodically unorthodox tunes that connect to contemporary classical music as much as jazz or pop, and an expressive lyricist. She likes unexpected changes, so the opening Ring of Fire starts as a delicate choral sway over soft percussion and Alex Roth’s acoustic guitar, but winds up closer to In a Silent Way as the guitar goes electric, and Kit Downes unwraps slithering Hammond organ sounds. The Cat is an ethereal, gothic fantasy, but two Sephardic traditionals (sung in Polish) mix folk-song themes, Bartók, string quartet and softly throbbing undertows from the rhythm section. Low Sun; Lovely Pink Light is quiet, spacious and hymn-like, You as a Man is a solemn and then fraught tale of obsession, the Manchester-celebrating title track is closer to a pop song. This debut took five years, and it’s plainly very close to Zawadzki’s heart.

John Fordham (The Guardian)