Echo In The Bones (composer: Renell Shaw, producer: Kathianne Hingwan)
At the height of lockdown this summer, in the brave new world of zoom and remote recording, Renell Shaw’s Windrush Suite provided a revitalizing burst of energy emotionally, intellectually and musically. His reflection on the priceless contribution made to contemporary British society by post-war Caribbean migrants, such as his grandmother, was particularly welcome in light of the UK government’s shameful decision to deport several incumbents in 2017 and send shockwaves around the black community as a result. Shaw plugged into all this outrage and turned it into great art.
Needless to say that episode is part of a litany of injustices committed against ethnic minorities that are woven into the fabric of our national history. This new work by the bassist-composer broadens the framework of inquiry and creates a historically vast tableau of the black British experience that touches on slavery, colonialism, and the essential modern day question of belonging, not to mention power dynamics.
With a an eclectic band that includes elders such as his former mentor Orphy Robinson on vibes, and youngers, vocalist, Sahra Gure, MC-percussionist Afronaught Zu, saxophonists Cassie Kinoshi and Taurean Antoine-Chagar, trumpeter Mark Crown, drummer Samson Jatte and guitarist Charlie Laffer, Shaw presents another ambitious suite that draws extensively on African-Caribbean and black British musical vocabularies without falling in any clearly defined boxes. The creative highpoint that illustrates this in no uncertain terms is a thrilling tap dance-marimba exchange between Delycia Belgrave and Robinson. It takes us right back into ‘hoofing’ traditions that were prevalent in the first stage of the development of jazz.
Elsewhere Zu’s vigorous cadences and potent rhymes that inveigh against tyrants who would sell freedom to another human being give the audience much to think about. This is a project with a very wide scope and the running order of the movements could possibly be altered to plot a stronger course through the varied thematic territory– ‘Lotus’ feels more like a coda than anything– but that is a minor misgiving. Shaw has proven he has the ability to match his ambition as well as his convictions.
Kevin Le Gendre (broadcaster and journalist)