May 28, 2024

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CD review: Michael J McEvoy – The Jazz Sapiens Remembrance: 1955 to 1963 – 2023: Video, CD cover

The Jazz Sapiens Big Band is an exciting new collective made up of London’s finest jazz musicians. Between them they have played with a Who’s Who of leading contemporary music artists including Jamiroquai, Incognito, John McLaughlin, Laura Mvula, Gregory Porter, Steve Winwood, The Brand New Heavies and the James Taylor Quartet.

The music is an eclectic mix of contrasting moods: from reflective to intense, the spontaneity and virtuosity of the band’s live performances will keep you enthralled.

The band came together to record the original score for the Peabody Award-winning documentary, ‘The Jazz Ambassadors’. The themes composed by Michael J McEvoy, were inspired by events that took place during the civil rights movement when African American musicians were sent overseas by the US State Department to perform in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

This album is a live studio recording of the main themes composed for the film with extended solos and expanded arrangements by Mike and saxophonist Paul Booth. Album artwork was designed by Jules Bigg.

Dripping with atmosphere – it’s been so long since we have reviewed anything by Michael J McEvoy – nearly a decade since The Long Way Home in fact. Different this time around, The Jazz Sapiens Big Band is the formidable juggernaut who drive the tunes hard, an incredible collection of top UK players – drummer Mark Mondesir, bassist Karl Rasheed Abel known for his work with Soweto Kinch, McEvoy on piano, trumpeters Kevin Robinson, Freddie Gavita and Tom Walsh, saxists Paul Booth, Graeme Blevins and often crucially in the arangements great trombone from Robbie Harvey and Richard Henry.

The band assembled to record the score for the documentary, The Jazz Ambassadors and McEvoy’s score inspired by African American musicians sent overseas by the US State Department to perform in Africa, the Middle East and Europe is in focus here recorded at London’s Air-Edel with the music expanded by arrangements of the composer’s and by Paul Booth. Written in such a way that there is room for some fine soloing notably the sax playing on ‘Valley of the Kings’ it’s one of the finest UK jazz big band releases of 2023 full of tenderness, narrative development and plenty of sheer power. Anyone interested in the idiom needs to hear this right away.

The compositions on the new album are based on themes I composed for a documentary film, ‘The Jazz Ambassadors’ that was broadcast in 2018 and won the Peabody Award. The versions composed for the film were very short and the director, Hugo Berkeley, was very supportive and encouraged me to go ahead and expand the themes for live performance. We occasionally perform the score with a ten-piece big band alongside a screening of the film. The film is a wonderful document to the power of music! It tells what happened when the U.S. state department sent American jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck overseas between 1955 and 1963 to perform in Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, to demonstrate American values during the Cold War. Most of the musicians who performed on the album also performed on the score for the film, and I’ve worked with many of them on and off over many years. Some I hadn’t worked with before, but I’d seen them perform in London with friends or with artists I have great admiration for. I first heard drummer Mark Mondesir playing with Jason Rebello who’s an incredible pianist and friend of many years. Mark has also performed with John McLaughlin, John Serry, and saxophonist, Chris Potter. One of the musicians, saxophone player, Paul Booth, has worked with me on many projects and was an enormous help with the arrangements. He’s an awesome musician! – an interview with me said pianist Michael J McEvoy.

We recommend that you definitely own this CD and enjoy it.

01. Michael J McEvoy – God’s Band (feat. The Jazz Sapiens)
02. Michael J McEvoy – Bandung Conference (feat. The Jazz Sapiens)
03. Michael J McEvoy – No Justice for Emmett Till: Mourning Song (feat. The Jazz Sapiens)
04. Michael J McEvoy – The State Department (feat. The Jazz Sapiens)
05. Michael J McEvoy – Valley of the Kings (feat. The Jazz Sapiens)
06. Michael J McEvoy – Trouble in Little Rock (feat. The Jazz Sapiens)
07. Michael J McEvoy – A Different Kind of Diplomacy (feat. The Jazz Sapiens)
08. Michael J McEvoy – Reflections (feat. The Jazz Sapiens)
09. Michael J McEvoy – Will Change Ever Come (feat. The Jazz Sapiens)
10. Michael J McEvoy – The Power of Music (feat. The Jazz Sapiens)

Mark Mondesir (Drums)
Karl Rasheed Abel (Dbl Bass)
Mike McEvoy (Piano)
Kevin Robinson (Trumpet/Flugelhorn)
Freddie Gavita (Trumpet/Flugelhorn)
Tom Walsh (Trumpet/Flugelhorn)
Paul Booth (Tenor Sax)
Graeme Blevins (Alto Sax)
Robbie Harvey (Tenor Trombone)
Richard Henry (Bass Trombone)

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