Edinburgh Jazz Festival review: Yazz Ahmed, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

Backed by a superb quartet, Yazz Ahmed’s impressive Edinburgh Jazz Festival debut culminated in A Shoal of Souls – her epic commemoration of the refugees who have perished crossing the Mediterranean. Review by Jim Gilchrist

Yazz Ahmed
Yazz Ahmed

Yazz Ahmed Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh ****

British-Bahraini trumpeter Yazz Ahmed’s music is often referred to as “psychedelic Arabic jazz” and, yes, her expansively stated themes on trumpet or flugelhorn can sound distinctively Middle-Eastern and things could certainly get pretty trippy in her Edinburgh Jazz Festival debut, as she and her superb quartet deployed electronica, with the towering arch above the stage in this former Lady Glenorchy’s Church lending an additional whiff of gothic.

A lengthy opening trio of three linked numbers from Ahmed’s award-winning Polyhymnia album demonstrated impressively the band’s vivid tonal palette and powerfully interactive dynamics, with vibraphonist Jonny Mansfield responding to Ahmed’s phrases as well as embarking on glittering excursions of his own or generating shimmering background miasmas. Dave Mannington’s five-string bass guitar was a constantly muttering propulsive undercurrent while industriously creative drummer Martin France steered the band with exuberant panache through frequently shifting time signatures.

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    At times, Ahmed’s compositions were dramatically cinematic, at others she might sample a trumpet or flugel phrase, to leave it hovering as a background pulse, or skewed into a yawing electronic wail, while France cracked up the rhythm. Again from Polyhymnia, her album dedicated to inspirational women, Deeds Not Words saluted the Suffragettes, incorporating, ingeniously if incongruously, the melody of Men of Harlech, a tune which the Suffragettes themselves adapted.

    Whispering Gallery included both a thoughtful bass solo from Mannington and crisply military-sounding snare work from France. The last number, apart from a punchy encore of The Lost Pearl, was A Shoal of Souls, Ahmed’s epic commemoration of the refugees who have perished crossing the Mediterranean, progressing from a beautiful vibes solo from Mansfield, through call and response between trumpet and bass, to take on a grimly inexorable, drum-driven advance.

    The Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival runs until 24 July, see https://www.edinburghjazzfestival.com/