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!
Outhouse Ruhabi @ RFH Clore Ballroom
Outhouse Ruhabi is an ensemble consisting of 2 tenor saxophones, bass, drums and 4 Gambian Wolof percussionists. Led by drummer, Dave Smith, the group started in Africa, and its members are spread around the world. Their sound is a juxtaposition of traditional Gaba drumming from Gambia, West Africa, and contemporary, avant-garde jazz... Well, not so much a juxtaposition, but more of a reconciliation; the project truly acknowledges and embodies the African roots of jazz. Saxophonist Robin Fincker described how when the band were touring in Africa, and playing in the villages, the entire population of those villages would come out to watch, and they would recognise their own rhythms and practices integrated within those of the jazz drummer - it is their own rhythms that have permeated jazz and popular music throughout the Americas. The ethos of Outhouse Ruhabi is effectively a reconciliation of the old and the new, the African and the American, the one informing the other in a generational dialogue that transcends time and space - a musical and cultural 'time warp'. The project is a evolutionary frontier, and a breaking of the boundaries, for it returns modern jazz back to its motherland.
The music was extremely spiritual, combining static, saxophonic chordal applications, revolving around crackling percussive layers, fractured by violent ruptures, and occasionally heightened by repeated, call-and-response, polyphonic vocal refrains. The saxophones seemed to float weightlessly at the surface, providing a smooth, airy contrast to the rumbling, wavering percussion. The spine-tingling, intricate, popping rhythms tickled the sinuses of my soul, and moved me in a way that I felt transfixed, lest anyone else know how intimately I was experiencing them.
While I have some knowledge of Afro-Cuban rhythms, my knowledge of West African rhythm is somewhat limited, so forgive me for incorrectly applying Cuban terminologies to a music that through lifelong study I would barely scratch the surface. The hierarchical layers of percussion added a three-dimensional quality to the music, and played an elastic yet robust rhythmic groove, which morphed seamlessly through different feels and tempos; sometimes a spirited, buoyant 6/8, at other times gnawing and sawing its way through a 4/4 meter, and occasionally a leaping rumba with a 6/8 lilt. The moods were sometimes sombre and processionary, breaking into complex, multi-faceted structures rotating like giant musical organisms; their cyclic hooks compelling you into a state of total absorption and contemplation. During the intense sections, the squealing saxophonic laments of Tom Challenger were egged on by the relentless onslaught of torrential percussion; their cascading tones manifesting themselves in a pure 'flow-of-consciousness' expulsion of the brain, and rippling in a frenzy of wild counterpoint.
The music incited a man to dance alone, which reminded me of the solo male dancer in the Cuban colombia - one of the oldest forms of rumba descended from the African legacy - in which the male dancer manifests himself as the orisha, dancing out the spirit. This man was lost in his own spiritual world, his eyes trance-like, and his mind apparently turned towards the heavens. In dialectic response, one of the drummers positioned himself in front of the stage and performed his own dance at the end, provoking spontaneous cheers and hand clapping from the audience. The percussion 'solo' towards the end was not really a 'solo'; it was a 'soli' yet it was all improvised - or so I understood. It was like your conventional jazz drum 'solo' yet all of the percussionists were improvising together as a unit! This incredibly integrated display, disciplined through generations and years of initiation and practice, is a miraculous phenomenon of human nature that since has manifested itself as a religious, recreational and social cohesive tool across many forms of music.
I only realised half way through the performance that, unlike most groups that I had witnessed in the jazz festival, there was no piano, guitar or equivalent harmony instrument. However, the music did not necessarily need this; there was enough substance to tantalise and tickle the senses, throwing the listener into an open, expansive, inharmonious void. Altogether, it was an energetic, spiritual performance that was very moving and humbling to watch. I have seen some amazing things over the last week that have truly been a measure of the human capability, but it is very rare to be able to simply drift into the Southbank Centre and to be immersed in music of such depth and richness, and to have the luxury of allowing its ripples to wash over you - an experience that cannot be felt at any other place or time.
F-IRE Collective @ RFH Clore Ballroom
F-IRE Collective is an exciting hotpoint of pioneering jazz, which fosters and cultivates emerging young talent both nationally and internationally through a school of like-minded composers and performers, inciting a vivacious wave of creativity bubbling up through the surface of London's jazz scene. I witnessed the F-IRE Collective big band on two separate occasions at the RNCM in 2005 and 2007, and on one occasion I was even lucky enough to play with F-IRE Collective graduates saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and trumpeter Tom Arthurs through the Manchester University Big Band, organised by Graham South. Today, I was fortunate enough to hear Porpoise Corpus, one of their newest ensembles, who incite innovative, electrifying and trailblazing original music; combining a wide range of influences, juxtaposing live acoustic and electronic instruments that crash and burn their way through explosive interludes balanced with languid pools of sustained piano and creamy saxophone, and integrating contemplative, sophisticated sensibilities with grooving material that has a sense of immediacy among listeners. The dissonant ballast antagonises itself between periods of tension and relaxation; swelling outwards, withdrawing inwards, and occasionally giving way to glistening, gleaming, diminished and inquisitive vibraphonic releases. The concert finale offered a glimpse inwards into the milky way, sailing outwards into a vast expanse of stellar, musical horizons.
Phronesis @ Southbank Centre Front Room
Phronesis Big Band mix instruments with vocals in an interesting combination of free jazz improvisation and structured arrangement. Their music has an authoritative, auspicious quality to it, and it almost materialises a fantasy film score with a prophetic undertone, tinged with seclusion, mystery and awe. Its lines ebb and flow with magic, effortlessly interchanging between brass and vocals, and transporting you on a whirlwind ride through a sequence of through-composed, programmatic soundscapes. Structurally, it is loose and free in some sections, whilst in others, the material is tonally and rhythmically centred. Occasionally, it is reminiscent of the music of American composer Charles Ives, synonymously juxtaposing a multitude of layers; liturgical, choral curtains with a stratosphere of sparkling piano clusters and gently spattering percussion - engendering a transcendental texture wherein the past and present seem interchangeable. Towards the end, the integrated clapping textures intermingling with the scatted vocal ostinato patterns manifest the most fundamentally and organically human forms of musical expression, gripping the heart and lifting the soul. This clears the way for mirrors of piano sheen, and flourishing brass improvisations among hissing, rumbling percussion.
Phil Bancroft - Small as the World @ Southbank Centre
Saxophonist Phil Bancroft gathered together a host of musical friends for a cosy coffee time session in the front room of the Southbank Centre. The show reflects on the home, what home means to different people and how our perceptions of 'home' change as we develop through life. The result of these seemingly random yet thoughtful considerations is a delightful, humorous display of live jazz interspersed with topical talk and video. Like the home, the music (for the most part) had its own rhythmic and harmonic home (the only exception being the free jazz second piece, about childhood, which perhaps signifies a playful rebellion against the home). The lineup consisted of Edinburgh-based Phil Bancroft on the alto saxophone, Glasgow-based Paul Harrison on the piano, with trumpet, violin, guitar, bass and drums. You can tell that these guys are from Scotland, as there is a poignant Celtic undertow to the music - I can tell, being an ex-patriot born in Aberdeen and raised in the highlands. While the first piece 'Swim, Jenny, Swim' has a definite Michael Brecker edge to it, the folky, modal melodies revolving around a rolling 5/4 groove maintain a rootsy, tonal and rhythmic 'home'. The timbral combination of saxophone, violin and trumpet in the second tune almost reminds me of the bagpipes and the fiddle in traditional folk music, while the long, held notes sing a gentle lullaby. In terms of 'home' this brings me right back home to the music that I was brought up with, with its soothing, tranquil melodies - calm, like the surface of a lake. The third piece brings into play the issues of childhood - both remembering childhood from an adult's point of view, and actually being that child, playing with a group of friends. In contrast to the second piece, this piece takes the music to the opposite end of the spectrum; relying heavily on free improvisation in response to the childhood images projected on screen, and bringing out a different dimension to the band's oeuvre. This piece fluctuates between order and chaos; the 'order' being a swinging zig-zag motif initiated by the saxophone, and echoed by the other instruments, which grooves momentarily before collapsing again and clearing for the 'chaos' - the individual soloists, sometimes two instruments in interplay with one another. The effect is of a game; at times, inspired and motivated, while at others tense and frustrated - as if the music is the reenactment of a group of children discovering a new game, breaking the rules, getting fed up with one another and then moving onto the next thing (this was my interpretation, anyway). The tail off ending was a nice touch, perhaps this was deliberate? Finally, to raise the issue of technology in the home and to explore the influences that it has had on our lifestyles, the live musicians played an improvised composition with another two musicians, at home, via Skype. The result was laughable, but perhaps not exactly what they had intended. However, I thought that this is an area in jazz which could be experimented with a bit more, so I was much obliged that this group opened the front door. Moreover, I found the musicians and the band genuine and personable. Nothing was absolutely polished; I found that the rough edges and quirky imperfections had a charm in themselves, and made for a very human performance. Overall, one would never have thought to theme a musical performance on the home. Nevertheless, I thought that the musicians did a Sterling job (excuse the pun), and raised a number of interesting questions and ideas. An insightful and stimulating performance - utterly bonkers but brilliant.
Yazz Ahmed @ National Portrait Gallery
Yazz Ahmed's music combines her Arabic heritage from her native Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, with 1950's jazz. The result is a smouldering hotpot of mystical improvised music played with the exotic instrumental setting of vibraphone, flugelhorn, bass and percussion. The first piece begins with milky, ambient vibraphone gently pulsating through the atmosphere, eventually joined by the rest of the ensemble in a rustic, gyrating groove. The melodic lines, which grow biologically, have a hypnotic, almost ritualistic quality to them. The improvisations are sparse, leaving much space and clarity, while the bass and percussion maintain a vivacious bubbling of movement and viscosity below the surface. The piece begins and ended with an angular, unfocused bass ostinato, which throws the listener into a trance-like void of uncertainty. The second piece was more avant-garde; a jazz waltz permeated with diminished and tritonal harmony. The third piece is, again, more folky sounding. The interesting 15/8 meter, subdivided into 4+4+4+3 creates a smoky, intoxicating and heady dynamic, and lending itself to sizzling improvisation. Yazz Ahmed's flugelhorn has a husky, breathy and almost papery tone to it. Its haunting inflections and fluttering middle-Eastern scales throw a certain sonority and spirituality into the music - it simply draws you in. This is complemented by the sweet glucose of the vibraphone, whose improvisation glistens with viscosity and restlessness; the clear, foil-like quality softening and sweetening the sultry sound of the ensemble. These voices are underpinned by the rough, abrasive sounds of the percussion and bass, creating a sound world that is rich, delicate and exquisite. The entire gig was enchanting, seducing and sensual, but not without its soulful personality - which, at some times, lulls you into a false sense of security, while at other times, bristles with attitude and assertiveness.
The only weak point of the performance was the choice of space. I think that the performance would have worked much better in a larger space. I found the art gallery staff quite disruptive, because they were persistently asking people to move on when they were standing in the wrong place, and in doing so, they were talking over the music. Had the gig been in an alternative, larger space, then we would not have had these restriction issues - which I found quite off-putting. Apart from that, the performance was magical.
Peter King @ QEH
Long-time award winning saxophonist, Peter King, led an outstanding quartet in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Demonstrating his virtuosity on arrangements of tunes by Billy Strayhorn, Chick Corea and John Coltrane, along with some of this own compositions, Peter King played an excellent set. His fluid, quicksilver alto saxophone sound is well-projected, and resonant with crystal clarity. His finger-work is extremely nimble and dexterous, with elaborate, scalic improvisations that spiral, cascade and twist and turn with the smoothness and muscularity of a rattlesnake. On the Chick Corea tune 'Inner Space', these were complemented by the chunky and playful improvisation of pianist Steve Melling - with a delightful quirkiness yet a sophistication to it that would leave many contemporary pianists standing. Steve's composition 'Bees Groove' is a sultry, almost cheeky blues, with a swinging, easy feel and elegantly elaborated melody. His own piano solo contained that classic sophistication yet sleazy, stumping swing that has been mastered as an art in itself, while the saxophone sang freely in an elastic, bird-like improvisation. The bass solo by Geoff Gasgoyne was florid and polyrhythmic. Peter King followed this with his own take on the Billy Strayhorn tune 'Lush Life' which he completely improvised on the sax - apart from the last few bars. He has an incredibly intricate inner-ear, his fingers translating the orchestra inside his head onto the keys of the saxophone, with lightning-fast fluency, slipping through the chord changes with ease. The improvisational style is thoroughly elaborated, leaving more attuned ears to discern the melody amongst the ornamented leaps and runs - a very elaborate rendition. The piano entered at exactly the right moment, and was soon joined by the percussion and base in a sensitively-timed wash of colour. 'The World of Trane' presented a montage of the music of John Coltrane; beginning with the arhythmic, modal, profoundly spiritual hymn, amidst with the collateral of improvised percussion and the sweet, silky, swirling textures of the piano; leaping into the 'Giant Steps' chord changes before dissolving again into a free arhythmic pool or mirror-like, cascading finesse; finishing with the haunting and bewitching 'My Favourite Things' jazz waltz. Peter King had just enough time to do one more; his burning bebop arrangement of Joshua, spinning off into 3/4 sections was very tightly carried, with flaming licks and crackling exchanges between the saxophone and drums. While the bebop sections were always progressing towards a definitive climactic point, the 3/4 sections offered a glance inwards at an alternative, introspective world (for a few split seconds per time). The cataclysmic energy of the ending brought the set to an explosive finale, which paved the way perfectly for Roy Haynes. Stylishly done.
Roy Haynes @ QEH
It would be impossible to do adequate justice to a maverick musician such as Roy Haynes, within such a limited review. The way in which he was welcomed onto the stage with the rapture of an encore is enough to release a hint. With a career spanning well over sixty years, Roy Haynes has played pretty much every avenue within jazz - including swing, bebop, fusion and avant garde - not to mention pop, soul, and his own personal genre 'Snap Crackle'... He began the concert with an amazing drum solo - with his feet! The first composition with the full rhythm section had a light, breezy, almost suburban sounding smoothness to it, which reminded me of the modern jazz group Oregon, with the cosmopolitan flavour of American gospel, blues and soul. I could tell from the playing that Roy and his band were experienced and versatile across many genres. Roy Haynes seemed to feel his way through the groove, blending effortlessly with the rest of the ensemble and enhancing what the others were doing with their solos. His timing was the epitome of precision-point tightness, and he played with an extraordinary level of elasticity and subtlety - following every twist and turn of the phrasing, responding to its every shade and mood, and embossing it with his unique style. The rhythmic interpretation of the saxophone was so relaxed, that it was almost out-of-sync, but it was always pulled back in by the irrepressible magnetism of the ensemble. The stunning interplay between the saxophone and the piano, following each other as they spiralled upwards, was always brought back into play with the recurring motif. The pianist and saxophonist seemed to be able to read each others' minds, and they were always finishing off one another's phrases - the saxophone tending to escape the harmonic framework before being drawn back in by the piano. Jazz on another level.
Dunajska Kapelye @ Vortex
Piotr Jordan led this passionate and danceable ensemble for a night of hot jazz at the Vortex. When I arrived, I was welcomed in to a warm, festive atmosphere in the club - a vibe of healthy fun and debauchery. The delivery was confident, virtuosic and stylishly flamboyant, with bags of charm, wit and personality. In the dance numbers, the rhythm section naturally pushed ahead with momentum, launching the string players into an emotionally rousing frenzy, prompting spontaneously hand clapping and foot stomping from the audience. The highlight for me had to be the Transylvanian folk song, a work of wonderful wizardry. These players came together through their joy and love of the musical tradition which has been passed down from generation to generation, and enjoyed by all in the decade to come. Devilishly delightful.
Down to the Bone @ Hideaway
Down to the Bone is a young, hip and cool group of musicians combining a diverse melting pot of influences - funk, soul, rock, Latin and Brazilian - in an exhilarating live experience. The pumping, percussive disco beats are beefed out with thick, crusty congas and juicy, electrified samba piano and pulsating, psychedelic rhythm guitar. The musical content is groove-based, containing flexible, open platforms that really allow the horn players to stretch out and to explore their musical territory through vibed-out, improvised solos, over slinky jazz harmony chord changes. The band radiate a heated, vibrant energy. They command the stage with such ease and a have great natural fusion which gets the audience going, creating a carnival atmosphere. By the end of tonight's gig, they left the busy club screaming and pleading for more, and the atmosphere was tingling with fiesta fever. Their highly energised 'Supercharged' combines a throbbing lead guitar playing the melody, interspersed with chunky brass riffs which are catchy, whilst not being cheesy or corny, making it impossible not to dance. The alto saxophone solo towards the end displayed fluent improvisational skill, springing with life, vitality and flavour, with nicely structured builds and extensive use of timbral trills, flittering in and out of the changes. The rhythm section were truly working up a sweat in this tune. After the encore, the band had everyone in the club on their feet for a standing ovation.
Samara @ 606
I made it just in time to catch the end of this set, with this beautiful Brazilian band. Being a dedicated Brazilian music lover, the rush was definitely worth it. The band combined heavy, rock solid percussion with clinging, clamouring piano solos and an explosive melt of saxophone and vocals. The highlights were hearing two songs by a couple of my favourite artists 'Cravo E Canela' (Milton Nascimiento) - check out the George Duke version - and 'Come With Me' (Tania Maria). Vocalist Jandira Silva brought the sunlight of her native Brazil into this basement club, displaying a natural vivacity, radiance and charm - which was a pleasure to witness. Saxophonist Steve Rubie nailed the arrangements and the improvisation, leading a super-tight band, which had everyone up dancing all night. Moreover, it is such a great feeling to hear such gems of tunes being played in public, after only hearing them on record. Tight, sophisticated and funky, I would definitely recommend this band.
I have to say that out of all the jazz clubs that I have experienced in London this week, the 606 has to be my favourite. This south-west London establishment may be a little off the beaten track, but it is busy enough to create a great atmosphere where the guests intermingle freely with the staff, yet spacious enough not to be completely maxxed-out. Furthermore, when I came here last Saturday to see Christian Garrick, I recalled that the staff were extremely welcoming and accommodating. When I arrived tonight, slightly out of breath, I was treated to a complimentary orange juice and friendly conversations with the landlady and front-of-house girl, which really made my experience here. Definitely my new hangout!
Out of the Cool - Trinity Laban Contemporary Jazz Ensemble
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.