Alfa Mist

Jazzy Wayz*: Antiphon, Alfa Mist (Pink Bird Recording Company, 2017)

Personnel: Alfa Mist, Keys/piano, Kaya Thomas-Dye, Bass, vocals, Jamie Houghton, Drums, Rudi Creswick, Bass, Jamie Leeming, Guitar, Johnny Woodham, Trumpet, Maria Medvedeva, Alto Saxophone, Mansur Brown, Guitar, Gaspar Sena, Drums, Jordan Rakei, Vocals, Tobie Tripp, Violin/strings, Lester Salmins, Violin/Strings.

(Go to the Bandcamp album page to see detailed listing re tracks and musician performances)

Such a deserving record, this one, so worthy of the accolades, praise and attention. Released on the independent label based in East London, Pink Bird Recording Company - which is described as a label that works ‘with artists that create all types of music, ranging from Rock to Classical and everything in between’.

Outside the fact that this record has met with such justified success – I remember when it was first posted by the great Provocative Educative Youtube channel, one of my principal sources of new music online and have since watched it creep to nearly two million views following its release in March, only five months ago – it is also encouraging listeners to look at jazz afresh.

Of course, yes, there could be debates about what kind of music it is in fact. I have no real interest in making a case either way, but Alfa Mist’s Antiphon should be celebrated I believe in the way it gives life to the loosely framed genre of jazz, while adding hip-hop inflections.

Throughout the record there are samples of men (a man?) speaking. It’s difficult to make out exactly what the voice is saying, his voice is not highlighted, or brought forward – it’s just another element, just not a musical element – and this adds a definite warmth and human dimension to the music.

Of course this inclusion of a voice, or voices reflects a jazz lineage; throughout the 60s and 70s black American jazz musicians frequently used spoken-word elements in the work. One of the most dramatic examples of this is Archie Shepp's 'Malcolm, Malcolm - Semper Malcolm' from his 1965 classic, Fire Music (Impulse!). 

But the quality and role of this voice is different: it is self-conscious, poetic and presenting a message whereas the voice on Antiphon sounds like it's expressing thoughts in an informal, spontaneous way. It is a completely different register and level of intensity or intent. 

Descriptions of the record state that Antiphon was ‘created around a conversation with his brothers’ (and that it ‘blends melancholy jazz harmony with alternative hip-hop and soul’).

This idea of including voices, voices that are not presenting an argument, or making ‘a point’ or being funny or whatever it might be strikes me as a really interesting development in both genres – jazz and hip-hop. It reminds me of Mick Jenkins’ inclusion of conversations with his sister on his 2016 The Healing Component. See my essay on his track ‘Fall Through’ from this record that I published in March this year. 

These voices create something that is both personal and universal; specific and general, while adding a deep layer of intimacy to the music. One definition of the word ‘antiphon’ is: ‘verse or song to be chanted or sung in response’.

For me, the two stand out pieces of music on this record are the opener, ‘Keep On’ – the wonderful performance of drummer Jamie Houghton is often highlighted, but the work of the bassist Rudi Creswick is equally impressive. This is music where the give and take is central, see for example the kind of delicate ‘anti-solo’ almost between the principal instruments, see the two minutes from about 7’40, with Alfa Mist offering up his own accompaniment with an intelligent modesty.

and 'Breathe' (ft. Kaya Thomas-Dyke)

The only piece of music with vocals, provided by vocalist/bassist Kaya Thomas-Dyke; such a perfect evocation of desire, muted in a kind of dream-scape that never falls into cliché. And then just after five minutes, the entire mood shifts just like a beat switch in a hip-hop track, to then conclude with a piano-based coda of rolling movement as if it were an interlude.