LJF 2018: Camilla George

Roger Farbey catches a truly memorable concert from Camilla George and her band and reckons they might be jazz superstars in the making

Alto saxophonist and composer Camilla George (pictured right) is wowing audiences and made a big impact two years ago with her debut album Isang released on Ubuntu Music. As part of November’s London Jazz Festival, George appeared with her band to promote her new album The People Could Fly (Ubuntu Music, 2018) which has received similarly enthusiastic plaudits.

George, a graduate of London's Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, recruited some of London’s finest musicians for both her records and this gig at the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room on Friday 23 November. Her band included Sarah Tandy on keyboard and acoustic piano, guitarist Shirley Tetteh, Sheila Maurice-Grey on trumpet, Daniel Casimir on acoustic and electric bass, drummer Winston Clifford and vocalist Cherise Adams-Burnett and for this show she was joined by guest virtuoso kora player Kadialy Kouyate.

The evening opened with a short-ish set by pianist Sarah Tandy (who, post-interval, returned to join the Camilla George ensemble). Tandy (pictured below left) who, like George, has worked with Jazz Jamaica and Nu Civilisation Orchestra will be releasing her own debut album within the next few months. Her playing was lyrically mesmeric and the first three tunes, all unnamed, were followed by the concluding number Just You, Just Me made famous by Nat King Cole, who, Tandy reminded the audience, was not just a talented singer but a fine pianist too. Tandy is an excellent pianist who exudes imagination and dexterity in equal measure and won over the full house audience with graceful ease.

Camilla George’s set mostly comprised numbers from her most recent album The People Could Fly, and started with the groove-laden Tappin The Land Turtle which featured vocalist Cherise Adams-Burnett who immediately won the audience over with her incandescent singing. Solos also ensued from Sheila Maurice-Grey on trumpet and George herself. Bruh Bear, Bruh Rabbit, was an instrumental for quartet featuring George on alto. Adams-Burnett was heard again on the moving ballad Little John Eight where Tandy was on Steinway grand piano. Next up was the catchy instrumental title track, George introducing a seductive melody and some deft guitar from Shirley Tetteh.

George explained to the audience that the album’s titles derived from a picture book of folk tales by Virginia Hamilton portraying the plight of African slaves and how they could escape their oppression by flying back to their homeland. Thus A Most Useful Slave, which featured Adams-Burnett on vocals, included the sound effect of drummer Winston Clifford’s deployment of a large chain as a daunting percussion instrument. Some shades of Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite here. The only non-original number (but also featured on the album) was Curtis Mayfield’s Here But I’m Gone again with vocals and coruscating trumpet from Sheila Maurice-Grey. To ramp the sound up, Casimir transferred from double bass to Fender bass and remained on it for the rest of the concert.

The final three numbers featured the guest soloist, Senegalese kora player, Kadialy Kouyate whose articulate and often surprisingly bluesy playing was simply breathtaking. But Kouyate wasn’t using just any old kora, this was an electric kora. The second of the three pieces was a joint composition between George and Kouyate entitled Compoation 101, chiefly, George admitted, because the title was a misspelling. The finale was Mami Wata Returns, taken from George’s debut album Isang. There was no encore but judging by the audience’s genuinely ecstatic applause, there was no need as the final track left the evening on a palpable high, with more than a hint of some jazz superstars in the making and a memory of a truly brilliant concert.

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