2018: A Year In Food
In 2018, my gym coach assigned me to keep a food blog so he could track my meals. Through developing healthy eating habits to satisfy all of my nutritional needs and a rigorous exercise programme, I lost the 21 kg between January-August 2018 I'd gained on anti-depressants.
I wanted it to be somewhere more private rather than being shoved down people's throats (literally) through Instagram/WhatsApp. Hence I've posted my culinary creations here.
Being vegetarian and/or vegan always presents a challenge in terms of hitting the protein target so this was particularly the most interesting challenge for me.
I made a conscious decision to stop food blogging in 2019 (due to time restraints), but it's useful to have a year's diet documented as a reference and a source of inspiration!
Esperanza gave a charismatic, discursive delivery, proclaiming that she travelled '3000 miles to leave all smiles'. She certainly left audiences smiling 'on the inside as much as the outside' after their Monday night performance at KOKO to celebrate the launch of her new album 'Radio Music Society'. When I discovered that this concert was a sell-out, my intuition told me that I was onto a good thing. Sure enough, the venue was maxxed-out, and if you had a space to stand and see the stage, then you were very lucky. But arriving early was worth the wait. At face value, Esperanza Spalding may arrive as a something of a cross-between Kenny Wheeler and Beyoncé, but there is much more beyond this, for her sound soaks up the richness and goodness of R&B, soul and contemporary jazz, all complemented by her unique character.
This night, she was performing with her eleven-piece band, with a brass section consisting of three saxophones, two trombones and two trumpets. The horn writing is extremely detailed and intricate, especially in the opening composition, in which Esperanza, in unison with the brass section, scats out a melody that is so angular and light that it could have been plucked out of the breeze. Esperanza is so accustomed to singing over the big band, which reacts to her every nuance, without losing its juice. She is never outdone or out-phased by its wall of sound; her message never has to strain to be heard. Even in those moments where her voice is subservient to the rest of the band, it speaks through with a crystal clarity and immediacy.
The second composition ('Hold On Me') further displays the strength of her vocal technique. Esperanza sang the whole melody with solo percussion, hitting every note perfectly without any harmonic support, yet still managing to stretch out and embellish with glissando and Sprechgesang-style murmuring. When the brass arrived, she came in 'note-perfect', to spontaneous applause. However, it is not only her vocal technique that is astounding, but the way in which she assimilates this with her bass playing. Her vocals and bass are integrated together as one unit, a single musical voice and line of creative thought, like an internal dialogue, the one informing the other. Whether she is playing, singing or speaking, it does not matter; it is the substance of what she is conveying that is important.
In this composition, the striking muted trumpets converse with the shifting modal shapes in a kaleidoscope of movement and sensuality, brought into relief by the poignant stabs. Dynamically, the level of control is ultra-sensitive - the musicians are stoppered and never let loose (except when they really need to, of course; it is these moments that are really quite impressive). The individual solos transmit so clearly, taking the flow in different directions, buffeted by the layers of backing provided by the rest of the band which rise like a water table. The skin-ripping squeals and heightened moments are conceived with pinpoint precision and timing, underpinned by a boiling undercurrent, and inciting gasps of delight from the audience, amidst the epic, potentially infinite and creeping walls of harmonic sound.
Her music is permeated with dialectic interaction at all levels. Much of the drama unfolds in the dialogue between Esperanza the individual soloists, such as the alto saxophone in the third composition 'City of Roses', in which conceptual talk meets with abstract saxophonic expressions in a seamless integration of verbal and non-verbal discourse. The saxophone solo itself was impressive. Tia Fuller constantly played outside or barely within the harmony (which was almost playing 'catch-up'). This calibre of playing is exceptionally rare; frequently it is the reverse state of affairs, the saxophonist who is 'catching up' with the harmony. This one is, however, ahead of the game, her solo cascading upwards to stellar rhapsodies and cosmological heights, yet composed with soft inward centers and soulful interiors. The audience cried with delight at every twist and turn, at its every slight motion.
As well as having a discernible musical gift, Esperanza has a real talent with words and conceptual ideas. Improvised poetry and spoken word were as much a part of her upbringing as her musical discipline, and Esperanza exudes emotion and personality from every single note and phrase - stating 'I believe in poetic justice'. Throughout the course of the performance, Esperanza freely intersperses running commentary and compere with melodic passages and lyrics, creating a fluid continuum of the cognitive and the abstract. At times, she steps out of the musical flow to verbally observe and comment on what is going on. She does this with a sharpness, wit and clarity that is so accessible to the listener, at one point, summarising the moment in the phrase 'music speaks louder than words'. The second ('Hold On Me') and third 'City of Roses') compositions are thematically opposed; the second representing 'what happens when things go wrong' and the third representing 'that silver lining'. It is incredible how Esperanza sometimes captures the entire Dionysian abstract in one Apollonian sentiment, especially when the music has no words, or, at least, no narrative sensibility.
Furthermore, Esperanza transforms like a chamelion or a phoenix, adopting different characters and sentiments between compositions. The fourth composition ('Smile Like That') talks about 'that mechanism that you make with your mouth' - a smile being the 'innocent way of describing it' - revealing a flirtatious curiosity, and a sweeter, more feminine side to her personality. The music is rhythmic, even when there is no meter; retaining its rhythmic potential, event when there is seemingly no rhythm. In those moments where the improvisation degenerates into sheer noise and confusion, the audience is still shaking and moving. From the farthest reaches of improvisational complexity, at the slightest touch, the band comes back in together as a collective. It is at this point that Esperanza plays with your expectations, commenting that 'maybe you thought I was innocent'.
Before the fifth composition, Esperanza declares that 'you just walked into the quiet after the storm'. It made me think that the whole set was an essay, or, at least, one continuous composition rather than a set of individual compositions. Their unfolding logic, which unravels itself in intimately connected paragraph-like themes is clear and methodical, yet leaving you compelled to see what transpires next.
Before the sixth composition ('Crowned & Kissed'), Esperanza talks about the 'little things that you forget to notice, which are sometimes right in front of you...' Coincidentally, this composition emphasises the finer, positive aspects of life within a world that over-stresses the negative, and it fills you with a wonder and optimism that makes you think and re-evaluate your life. Her music is, again, all-inclusive and interactive - it is as much about YOU as it is about them. Esperanza and her band work with the energy of the audience, its spontaneous whooping and cheering becoming an integral part of the performance. It is as if the entire performance were written and expressly performed just for YOU, on this very night, and it makes you wonder how much of it was composed and how much of it was improvised. The mention of 'kings and queens' is punctuated by a brassy fanfare, seemingly spontaneous yet executed at the optimum moment, evoking a regal imagery that prevails in the background until the end.
In the seventh composition ('Black Gold') Esperanza is joined by a male vocalist, adding an alternative personality to the mix, with his lamenting, melismatic excursions interposed with supporting comments from the former female presence, adding 'a little medicine for your soul'. This composition reminds me that her music has roots and foundations as well as staggering heights, with its soulful R&B and danceable grooves, executed with an immersive jazz sensibility. The male and female vocals combined added a shimmering richness, and the brilliance is enhanced by the classic key change, which takes the momentum up another notch and empowers it onto another plane.
The eighth composition ('Vague Suspicions') blends gliding cross-rhythms with kaleidoscopic rays of harmony, coloured with silky, cocoaesque vocals, soprano saxophone and flute; with swishing piano and gentle cymbals crashing under swathing sheets of texture. The music never lingers too long on a particular vibe; like Esperanza herself, it is forever shifting and evolving through seemingly endless subjects, from within itself, growing and transforming. And just when you think that it cannot get any higher or go any further, it surprises you again and throws something new onto the table.
Some compositions such as the ninth ('Cinnamon Tree') do not necessarily make narrative sense, but they do not always need to; it is the sensations that they transmit which is integral here, the means rather than the ends. Esperanza is as much a romantic as she is a voyeuristic, her abstract poetry pleasing those young couples who are only too happy to waltz with one another in contemplative bliss. Esperanza refers to each composition as a 'scene' - almost like the concert is a moving film or motion picture that submerges your ears into a fabulously warm ocean of sounds and sensations. The distinctions between compositions are subtly blurred, as the pacing is very fluid, yet each composition still maintains its own cognitive boundaries.
The tenth composition ('Endangered Species') is a Wayne Shorter composition that was 'perfect just how it was', but is now enriched with lyrics, again, presenting us with something new and unexpected, and revealing another side to her personality. Esperanza exploits the power of the voice as an 'instrument' as much as for its lyrical potential. Sometimes, especially when it is subservient or equal to the rest of the band, it resonates with the subconscious rather than the conscious, and you do not always notice it, but if you tune your ears and mind, then you realise that it is omnipresent. The overall forms and instrumental combinations are like auditory illusions; you can listen to the music in a million different ways, and would probably still make sense if it were played backwards, because the unity and structure is so integral. Listening through its multitude of layers, you can hear internal structures interacting with one another at different levels - not limited to the surface. The trumpet solo in this composition is languid and circuitous. Igmar Thomas' fragmentary passages twist and turn, winding around themselves and creating an internal, unfolding logic, hot-wired into a bed of electronic and acoustic dissonance, and free, grooving interplay. The rest of the brass backing once again enters in apocalyptic style, propelling the trumpet to stellar heights, provoking spontaneous rapture from the audience and leaving you dizzy with euphoria.
The overall show seemed to have no beginning or end - even the free improvisatory 'warm-up' grew organically into the opening number. The compositions tap into streams of consciousness that are already there, like telescopes uncovering entities that were always lingering beneath. This is a testament to the strength of her music, and to the compositions in themselves, which transcend technical boundaries and become a platform for social engagement and improvisational mastery.
Krystle Warren uses a very interesting juxtaposition of banjo, string quartet and trumpet, creating a New Orleans / West Country meets folk and blues vibe. The show has a very Bugsy Malone / Speak Easy sound with its decadent 50's style trumpet and comic, almost incidental mood. The compositions combine lilting jazz rhythms with wistful, storybook (non-musical folk, please excuse me) subdominant minor six to tonic major progressions, each song presenting short, sweet moments and situations that never linger longer than they need to - the timing is just right. The lyrics are swishy and poetic, combining lighthearted skat with pragmatic attitudes and old world charm.
Unlike a lot of contemporary music, the compositions of Krystle Warren are not overly reliant on grooving rhythm; it is the timbral combinations and lyrical explorations that are the key interest here. Krystle displays a great range of vocal styles and techniques, utilizing the voice to exploit and tease out all emotional intent. Her voice is rich and gritty, especially with the velvety low notes which are reminiscent of Nina Simone or Joan Armatrading. The backing vocals are used to great effect and enhancement, and provide a sweet counterpoint to her soulful excursions.
Angelique Kidjo is a prolific and internationally-recognised African music star. Her childhood influences were as diverse as James Brown and Carlos Santana, as well as the music of her native Benin. Appearing onstage for the first time at the age of six, Angelique went on to become one of the most important forces in African music - not to mention one of the most influencial African women, politically and socially, as well as musically. Her music and charismatic stage presence act out a story that interweaves all of these struggles and triumphs, and sets the stage for an incredibly rich celebration of life and living.
The compositions are a melange of driving African and Latin rhythms, with contemporary touches of R&B, soul and jazz; combining effortless rhythmic mastery with lush choral textures and lofty vocals. In their rhythmic, harmonic and textural innovation, the compositions preserve a balance of old and new, a reconciliation of past and present.
From the first two songs, I was captivated beyond words. Such a famous and distinguished voice. I have heard her sound so many times - it is that emblazoned in the international music world - but just hearing it live was something really special. The acoustics in the RNCM Theatre were crystal clear, and they provided the perfect depth for Angelique to fill with her iconic voice, which soared freely over a sonic vista of piano, guitar, bass, drums and percussion and the choir providing a shimmering sheen of richness. It was a real luxury within which to bathe my ears and mind.
The Manchester World Voices Choir, featuring singers from around Manchester brought together for this concert, was breathtaking, especially during its opening number 'Fifa'. All around me, I felt the audience mood lifted and transformed. The choir really added that magical ingredient to the evening - every individual moving with the spirit of the collective.
The band, consisting of Thierry Vaton (piano), Lucian Zerrad (guitar), Rody Cereyon (bass), Gregory Louis (drums) and Charly Obin Yapi (percussion) moved effortlessly as a unit. Angelique would sometimes bring one band member out into the forefront to become the primary musical feature, which would serve to highlight their creative accomplishment and add different dimensions to the show.
Angelique herself is an immanently musical person, through and through, right from the very intimate vocal solo at the beginning of the concert, to her climactic moments with the full band and choir; she captures your heart, and every cell in her being radiating warmth. Her charismatic delivery was an energetic outpouring of colour and personality. Angelique moves with such vivacity and flourish. What immediately struck me is the integrity of her music; music that is so honest, true to the heart and full of humanity - music that does not try too hard to be one thing or another, but music that just IS. Angelique has had an incredibly unique, turbulent life as representative of many women in Africa, and her music is as much an unfolding story, taking you every step of the way. Yet even through all of these experiences, Angelique retains an integral youthfulness, enthusiasm, warmth and zest for life, which is at once inspiring and uplifting. A true artist of the world and fulfilling musical landmark.
Angelique Kidjo will be performing with the band and the choir at BT River of Music in London on Saturday 21 July. Another glorious opportunity to catch this significant musical convergence.
Lead singer Ana Bachalau is as much an actress as she is a vocalist - bringing to life a range of moods, colours and flavours - from delicate, bittersweet saudade to cheeky imitations. As a performer, she is extraordinarily individualistic and charismatic, bringing comic melancholy, wavering wantation and the humourous streaks of slapstick and irony to the stage, enflamed in the heat and warmth of the Portuguese song form. Her delivery is confident, not to the point of overdoing it, but with the downright defiance and sweet girlyness of a diva whose eyes and facial features draw you right in and fool you into thinking that you're being seranaded in a bar, pub or fado house in Lisbon (or, at least, that you're receiving a private performance). Her voice has so many different facets and characteristics, with its melismatic slides and wavering vibratos, its gutsy projections and almost recitativo outbursts, which are executed with jaw-dropping control, beauty and authenticity.
The band as a whole gave a dramatic performance, almost like a pantomime or piece of musical theatre in itself, for it delighted the eyes and mind, as much as it did the ears and soul. You don't have to speak Portuguese or know the lusophonian world to appreciate this music - it speaks in its own heart-warming vessel that trickles playfully around your heart and draws you into its curious little conundrums. With each song, I was enchanted by its magic. The songs tell tales of loved ones over the ocean, smiles that can transform the lowest of moods and charicatures who boast false, exaggerated claims but who are actually very small, insignificant people (she sighs, crouching right down so that she is on her knees).
The accompaniment of guitar, cavaquinho and bass with intricately interwovan around the lilting vocal style, immaculately finished with the little stops and pauses, held chords, rallentandos and even some backing vocals, giving the texture its own breath and movement. Deliciously devourable.
No doubt about it, Ceu has style. Performing in a night dress and slippers amidst cups of herbal tea, this band is a haunting powerhouse of everything that central Brazilian contemporary music has to offer. Blending elements of minimalism and avant garde with dark, erotic songwriting, gritty rock and voyeuristic MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira), her delivery was raw, timid and humourously neurotic, brimming with nervous energy and the weight of intellect.
There was no lack of variety in grooves and textures between the songs, which incorporated everything from Mexican cha-cha-chá, Jamaican reggae, West African highlife and Brazilian funk, overlaid with subtle electronics and cool, airy rock. The ouevre was intelligent, weightly and mentally charged. An unusual and captivating performance.
The usual sambistas and Bossa Nova aficionados may have not got quite what they bargained for, but it certainly did not disappoint. Ceu reveals an alternative, darker side to the face of contemporary Brazilian music - at least from an international perspective - one that was true, honest and manifestant of the turbulent dynamics emerging from this amazing sub-continent.
Rory spent the first few years of his life in an ice cave, carving out his palace of wonder. He's a bit of a love doll, but he who melts the ice shall have their reward.