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A Bahraini-British performer,Yazz Ahmed, is giving a new meaning to nowadays jazz. This trumpet and flugelhorn player has worked with Radiohead and These New Puritans, experiments with electronic effects, and shapes her own musical universe from that legacy. Part of the new wave of artists who are eager to break the old codes of jazz, such as Kamasi Washington, Yussef Kamaal, Christian Scott, 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 music, through which she seeks to blur the lines between jazz, electronic sound design and the music of her mixed heritage, has been described as ‘psychedelic Arabic jazz, intoxicating and compelling’.
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.”
Yazz spent her early childhood in Bahrain, her father’s 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.”
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.
Yazz Ahmed – trumpet
Ralph Wyld – vibraphone
David Manington – bass
Martin France – drums