Double bassist David Bowden talks about the many influences on jazz collective Mezcla ahead of their Glasgow Jazz Festival appearance
Its name is Spanish for “mixture”, and the recently formed, Glasgow-based jazz collective Mezcla certainly encompasses a bubbling broth of influences, from West Africa to Latin America, soul to folk. But it is also an amalgam of six of the many bright young talents emerging from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s jazz course, who hone their chops on the Glasgow session scene.
Mezcla, which launches its debut EP during the Glasgow Jazz Festival later this month, is led by double bassist David Bowden, who happens to be this year’s BBC Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year. The band also includes pianist Alan Benzie, who was the very first incumbent of that Young Jazz Musician title back in 2007. Other members are saxophonist Michael Butcher and drummer Stephen Henderson, fellow students during Bowden’s time at the Conservatoire. The line-up is completed by another Conservatoire graduate, trumpeter Joshua Elcock, and guitarist Ben MacDonald.
Bowden also plays with Henderson, as well as guitarist Joe Williamson and pianist Peter Johnstone (current keyboard incumbent at the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra) in the quartet Square One, which has attracted enthusiastic plaudits from various quarters, not least BBC Radio 3’s Julian Joseph.
The 25-year-old Bowden formed Mezcla, he explains, “to combine a lot of the elements that I particularly enjoy playing, so there’s west African stuff, Latin American – that kind of jazz fusion”. He was aiming more for “standing audiences” and it is, he agrees, a fun band, as opposed to the more “serious” material he plays in Square One and other collaborations (including pianist Fergus McCreadie’s trio).
A preview listen to the forthcoming EP suggests that Mezcla’s music certainly isn’t for sitting about: Chrysalis, for instance, maintains Latin-accented forward motion, keyboards chiming and horns chorusing over Bowden’s inexorably muttering bass, while Happy Monkey Dance bursts with townshippy bounce.
Bowden’s rise as a bassist has been auspicious. Apart from this year’s Young Scottish Jazz Musician accolade and leaving the Conservatoire with first class honours, he won a Yamaha Jazz Scholarship, while in 2015 Square One collected a prestigious Peter Whittingham Jazz Award. He has played with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and its “feeder”, the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra.
None of this might have happened, however, if Bowden, originally from London, hadn’t been pounced upon by the music department of his school, Alleyn’s in Dulwich, looking to fill a vacant double bass chair in the school orchestra. At that time, he recalls, he was a teenage bass guitarist hooked on soul and Motown.
An early idol, therefore, was James Jamerson, the hugely influential bass guitarist who played on innumerable Motown hits during the Sixties and Seventies. As Bowden graduated increasingly towards jazz, he drew inspiration from such American giants as Paul Chambers, Ray Brown and Brad Mehldau’s bassist, Larry Grenadier, while he credits his Conservatoire teacher, Scottish-based Brazilian Mario Caribe, as a major influence.
Expect highly danceable grooves and strong melodic hooks at Mezcla’s Glasgow Jazz Festival gig, at the Hug and Pint on 21 June, when they’ll be augmented by vocalist Rachel Lightbody and veteran percussionist (and Conservatoire tutor) Steve Forman.
This year’s festival, the 31st, will among other things mark a clutch of centenaries, with guitarist Martin Taylor and singer Alison Burns celebrating “Ella Fitzgerald at 100” on the opening night, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra paying tribute to legendary drummer Buddy Rich and another bassist, Callum Gourlay, saluting Thelonius Monk. Another drummer who remains a legend in his own lifetime presents “An Evening with Ginger Baker”, while other headliners include the multi-award-winning Neil Cowley Trio and ex-Empirical trumpeter Jay Phelps. Further home-grown talent includes saxophonist Laura MacDonald and Paul Harrison’s Sugarwork.
Trumpeter Theo Croker – grandson of the great Doc Cheatham – tops the bill on the festival’s closing night, which also sees the revived Scottish Jazz Awards ceremony at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall’s City of Music Studio.
The Glasgow Jazz Festival runs from 21-29 July, see www.jazzfest.co.uk