Line-up: ANTHONY JOSEPH vocal; JASON YARDE (MD) alto,soprano sax, keys; ROD YOUNGS drums; ANDREW JOHN bass; THIBAUT REMY guitar; DENYS BAPTISTE tenor sax, bass clarinet; COLIN WEBSTER sax
“afro-blue to astro-black and what glimmers in between” – The Times
“One of the most talented and engaging purveyors of the music right now” – Mojo
After having recorded his last album in his home country, Trinidad , Anthony Joseph is back in studio, melting with the energetic and young London Jazz scene.
The new opus is produced by Jason Yarde (Jazz re-freshed) and featuring Shabaka Hutchings.
British-Trinidadian poet/musician/author Anthony Joseph’s latest album contains multitudes. Operating as a dedication to poetic ancestors and a coming together of musical generations, The Rich are Only Defeated When Running for their Lives is also an almighty jam. Recorded live last August, it shows off the prowess of a team of master musicians from Paris and London. Jason Yarde, who also produced Joseph’s 2018 album is credited as producer/composer/arranger – to startling, albeit intimate, effect.
Running throughout the release are inter-connected themes: memory, place, belonging and acts of homage. Opener, “Kamau” pays respect to the lauded Barbadian poet, Kamau Brathwaite who passed away in February last year. Brathwaite was an important influence on Joseph – the two writers met several times. On “Kamau” Joseph compellingly conveys not only the nature of Brathwaite’s aesthetic, but the full potential of a Black surrealist poetics, in an urgent, clipped diction against a rousing musical soundtrack.
When asked to convey the essence of Brathwaite’s “energy” in a 2018 interview, Joseph used the words “audacious … muscular,” while also noting the late poet’s capacity to “give voice to the voiceless.” A similar description might be used for Joseph’s new album, in its evocation of the post Windrush generations’ search for belonging — a story that soon becomes Joseph’s own (“Calling England Home”), in the recounting of familial grief (“The Gift”) and in the expansive grooves and storytelling on “Maka Dimweh”, a poem/song that universalises the tale of a Guyanese soldier.
One of the album’s most striking cuts, “Language (Poem for Anthony McNeill) once more memorialises another key figure in the Caribbean literary landscape: McNeill, a Jamaican poet known for his radical modernist aesthetic, deeply influenced by jazz, who died before his time in 1996. The 10-minute plus groove shows the band to full effect, as Joseph compellingly conjures something of McNeill’s gift and the potential of “language rooted in the drums…the cry of the horn.”
In fact, the entire album might be understood as part of Joseph’s engagement with his Caribbean musical and literary roots; the somewhat mysterious album title, for instance, comes from the Trinidadian writer, philosopher, historian and socialist activist, C.L.R James’ book on the Haitian revolution, The Black Jacobins (1938).
To Yarde and Joseph’s credit the musicianship never falters, even when conjuring deeply contrasting moods. See, for instance, the foregrounding of a formidable horn section of top-level saxophonists of very different aesthetic stripes (Yarde, Colin Webster – a longstanding Joseph collaborator and Denys Baptiste, whose credits include McCoy Tyner and Billy Higgins). “Calling England Home,” for example, is carried along by a sleepily evocative 60s horn-driven dancehall ambience, entirely in keeping with the song’s lyrical focus.
Note too, Rod Youngs’ sensitive drum parts, which coalesces to great effect with Andrew John’s bass throughout the album. Youngs is a previous Gil Scott-Heron collaborator, while London-based bassist and composer John has played on six of Joseph’s previous albums. Guitarist Thibaut Remy, who composed ‘Calling England Home’, performs with the Awalé Jant Band. There are the fragile interruptions of French jazz pianist, Florian Pellissier, while contributions from veteran percussionists Roger Raspail and Crispin Robinson provide further grit, delicacy and depth.
Anthony Joseph has released seven previous albums – six on Heavenly Sweetness - and collaborated with Archie Shepp, Keziah Jones and Meshell Ndgeocello who produced his album, Time in 2014. While often compared to Gil Scott-Heron in interviews – a writer Joseph says he discovered in the 1990s after he’d been writing for many years – a better parallel, in terms of this release, might be made with Shepp’s poetic forays, thanks to the often highly expressive - even expressionistic - jazz foundations that centre Jason Yarde’s own multi-award winning pedigree in the genre.
Yarde’s track record is equally matched by Joseph’s own impressive run of awards and accolades, not only as a musician, but as a poet and author often dubbed the “leader of the Black avant-garde in Britain.” Joseph’s 2018 novel, Kitch: A Fictional Biography of a Calypso Icon that recreates the life of Lord Kitchener was shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize, the Royal Society of Literature’s Encore Award and longlisted for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. In 2019, Joseph published his third novel, The Frequency of Magic through Peepal Tree Press. The same year, Joseph was awarded a Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship, with translations of his books appearing in Polish and Spanish. In 2020, he received a Paul Hamblyn Foundation Composers Award.
Outside his work as a musician and author, Anthony Joseph has a PhD in Creative Life Writing and lectures in Creative and Life Writing at De Montfort University, Leicester.
“There has always been a correlation for me between music and poetry, I see both as part of the same process which carves air into complex aural shapes. Poets and musicians share similar concerns; we speak of lyric, rhythm, verses, melody. Poetry for me is a spoken form of music and I’m conscious of this musicality, as most poets are, when I write. There is no separation between music and poetry, at the root, only in the process of its delivery. When I work with music, I allow the music to become itself, then I find words to fit, then, everything begins to gel together, in a mutual process of compromise and assertion.
…People like Mikey Smith, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Amiri Baraka and Allen Ginsberg also have this kind of urban griot vibration about them.
In Trinidad, our first poets and orators were enslaved peoples who arrived in the Caribbean during the slave trade and found a way, through music and poetry to comment, to ridicule, entertain and inform. These were the first calypsonians of the late 18th and early 19th century. So, the calypso, the music they created, and which I think is still the most potent musical resonance we have in Trinidad, was always concerned, at its core, with what was being said or spoken. It was all about the lyrics. If you had a good voice, great, but it was really about the words. I think that calypso has been one of the most important aspects of our literary culture and it definitely inspired and continues to inspire me, rhythmically and thematically. But this is only part of the story. I’m also influenced by European literatures, by Surrealism, by Beat writers, by Language poetry. I guess in a way being Trinidadian, I’m in the process, as I move through the world of somehow creolising these forms.”
“No Separation: Anthony Joseph on Music, Poetry and Caribbean Culture” – Band on the Wall interview (2017)
New Album “The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives” Out May 7th, 2021
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