Sandy Brown Jazz

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Full Focus

Mezcla

Volta

From the album Shoot The Moon

 

'Full Focus' is a series where musicians and others discuss a jazz track or tracks in detail. The idea is that you are able to listen to the track that is discussed as you read about it. This month, bass player / composer David Bowden writes about the track Volta from the Mezcla album Shoot The Moon.

mezcla Shoot The Moon

 

David Bowden is an award-winning bass player and composer based in Glasgow, working primarily in the fields of jazz, folk and contemporary improvised music. Originally from London, David studied at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and in 2017 he was named ‘BBC Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year’. He graduated with first class honours in 2015 and was awarded a Yamaha Jazz Scholarship. He has also spent time studying abroad in Amsterdam and Ghana.

David specialises in writing genre-spanning instrumental music for bespoke ensembles and for his main compositional project the world/jazz fusion ensemble ‘Mezcla’. Tying together modern jazz with influences from West Africa, Latin America and RnB music the band has appeared at festivals across the UK.

David Bowden

 

 

David is also a co-leader of the contemporary jazz quartet ‘Square One’ that won the Peter Whittingham award 2015 and who have since released two albums followed by a tour of the UK, Austria and Poland. As a sideman, David is a member of the Fergus McCreadie Trio. That band’s acclaimed album ‘Turas’ was shortlisted for the ‘Scottish Album of the Year’ award and was followed with appearances at venues such as Ronnie Scott’s, Oslo and Stockholm Jazz Festivals.

 

He has also been active outside the Jazz scene, regularly performing with acts such as Robin Adams, Avocet, Dosca and Finn Anderson, and as an educator, working for Glasgow CREATE, Dollar Academy, Edinburgh Jazz school, RCS Musicworks, SYJO, Fife Council and Sistema Scotland and as a 2016 National Youth Jazz Collective Ambassador.

 

 

In 2017, Mezcla released a self-titled EP (click here). At the time I wrote: ‘The fact that this is just an EP with 4 tracks might mean that it doesn't get the attention it deserves, and yet for a fiver (and only £4 digitally!), it is worth every penny. The compositions are so enjoyable and the arrangements well thought through so that the flavours of the music are tasteful. The musicians blend the ingredients so that you appreciate the complete dish. In Spanish, 'Mezcla' can mean a 'mixture' as in 'The chef used a delicious mixture of ingredients' hence my analogy. .... David Bowden's music is a worthy reflection of the Latin Jazz from Cuba that many people will enjoy. I hope there will be a full CD coming somewhere down the line …..’

Well, now that complete album has been released on 11th February 2020 with the title Shoot The Moon. You'll find it on the Ubuntu Music label (click here for details and samples). Mezcla are: Joshua Elcock (trumpet); Michael Butcher (tenor saxophone); Alan Benzie (keyboard); Ben MacDonald (guitar); David Bowden (bass); Stephen Henderson (drums) and Steve Forman (percussion).

 

Mezcla

 

I have found Shoot The Moon a really enjoyable album; the themes, 'arrangements', musicianship, engineering and mixing all come together to make this music to be heard more than once in different settings. With a solid foundation of bass, drums and percussion it is, with one, maybe two, exceptions very rhythmically driven. Don't expect your feet to keep still. I can imagine the energy they put out if you get to hear the band play live and the title track that opens the album puts down a marker for this from the beginning.

And yet, if that's where you hear it, and if you are conditioned to applaud after every solo, you will miss a lot. That's not to say you won't enjoy it, but you are likely to miss the nuances in the recording, like the guitar on Sami's Tune and especially the percussion from Steve Forman scattered throughout the album that has been captured particularly well in the mix. So if you go to a gig, buy the album when you are there and listen to it somewhere quiet on headphones afterwards so that you can appreciate the attention that has gone into the mixing. I shall not pick out any particular solo in writing this; there are many that imaginatively go towards creating each piece as a whole.

I mention two track exceptions that are not so rythmically driven. Winter Walk is a lovely ballad taking gentle time out from the party. Firefly, too, brings a change of pace and musical onomatopoeia in sounding like its title. Aukland Hill and Knockan Crag fool you into thinking they are going to be slow numbers and then the band reminds you that, as Jimmie Lunceford played long ago - 'rhythm is their business'. Click here for Mezcla's page on David Bowden's website.

 

For this month's Full Focus article, David takes time out to write about, Volta, one of the tracks from the album:

Listen to Volta.

 

 

 

I often get asked why there’s such a strong West-African influence in the music I write for Mezcla. This is a fair question, given that I was born in London and have lived in Scotland for the past eight years, so it’s not the most obvious influence to have. I think that one the great things about being a musician today – in “the streaming age” – is that anyone can listen to any kind of music they want at any time, regardless of where they are in the world.

Since about 2016'ish, I’ve spent a fair amount of time listening to West-African music, particularly the music of Mali and artists such as Oumou Sangaré, Fatoumata Diarawa, Habib Koité and Toumani Diabaté. While I would definitely not proclaim to be an expert on West African music (far from it!), playing certain albums on repeat has had a big effect on the music I write, particularly from a groove standpoint. The music of Mezcla is very much a combination of these influences into a Jazz/fusion sound - with a healthy dose of soul/RnB and pop music mixed in as well.

The tune Volta is directly inspired by my time studying in Ghana in early 2017. I spent a month in Ghana studying at the Tafi Cultural institute in the village of Tafi Atome in the Volta region (hence the name…). I went over with a group of about 15 musicians/ DJs/ artists from Glasgow and we stayed in the village learning about the music of the Ewe people, specifically the styles of ‘Borborbor’, ‘Agbadza’ and ‘Akpi’. We learned through drumming, singing and dancing (majorly out of my comfort zone).

This was a very formative musical experience for me, as I was just out of music college at the time and was still in that mentality of everything having to be correct and judged against a certain ‘standard’. Music is so entrenched in the Ewe culture – you’ll find people drumming and singing everywhere you go – and there’s no concept of ‘not’ being a musician. It’s not about being good or striving to excel, it’s something they do because they love it. I now try to approach music in the same way. I worry much less about judgement and just try to make the music that I want to make.

Ewe drummers

 

The Ewe drumming consisted of learning various patterns in each style, some short, some very long. The three bigger drums would play these set patterns, with scope for improvising around them, whilst a couple of smaller drums would play a consistent ‘offbeat semiquaver’ pattern at all times. The drum pattern at the beginning of Volta is something that got stuck in my head when I got back from Ghana and, while it wasn’t one of the patterns, it is reminiscent of the type of thing those big drums would play in Borborbor music.

 

Ewe drummers

 

This tune is a bit of an outlier for me, in that I wrote it entirely on the bass. Normally I write on piano, but for this I set up that drum loop using a loop pedal (just hitting the strings), and started messing around on top of it. I put some hip-hop inspired chords down and then started improvising simple melodies, landing on the one you hear in the 'A' section.

 

The second section, with its syncopated unison line is rhythmically lifted from an Agbadza drum pattern, I simply put some pentatonic ‘bluesy’ notes to it. It serves to build back into the 'A' section and gives us some respite from the same chord.

As far as how we play this tune as a band, there is no featured soloist and everyone is free to play pretty much anything they want. This is a big part of the Mezcla dynamic. I write melodies, grooves and chord sequences fairly specifically, but I don’t necessarily arrange them in the way that you normally would for an ensemble of this size. I generally let the guys come up with their own parts, which I think allows for a more enjoyable process and gets the band away from the sheet music.

The improvised section in the middle of Volta is an example of this group improvisation. We build slowly as a band, collectively starting by playing long, flowing tones, eventually moving to choppier, more complex phrases. This has taken some time to master as a band – the art of playing together without playing ‘over’ each other. When the vibe has reached boiling point we cue on to that riff from the 'B' section before a complete break, leading us back to the main theme.

To end the song, we play around on that initial groove as a band and collectively fade out. On live gigs this section sometimes stretches out and can go to some interesting places! We also often use this section to segue into other songs. On the track you hear some amazing textural sounds from Steve Forman on percussion – we were initially going to have a ‘fade-out’ on the track, but the stuff that Steve and Stephen Henderson (on drums) was so good that I couldn’t bring myself to lose it.  

 

Steve Forman


Steve Forman

Click here for Mezcla's page on David Bowden's website.

 

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2020

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Visit some of our other Full Focus pages:

Dario Napoli - Masks
Matthew Read Trio - Burke and Hare
Zac Gvi - Waltzin' In
Mark Pringle - GMLN

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