Emma-Jean Thackrays Yellow is an inspired act of awareness raising

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Emma-Jean Thackray is the missing link between Yorkshire Brass Bands and spiritual jazz. As a teenager, she was a principal cornetist with the Tingley Brass Band, based in a village outside Wakefield. One day they prepare for a flugelhorn solo from Joaquín Rodrigos Concierto de Aranjuez, she accidentally downloaded Miles Davis’ version of his Sketches of Spain Album. It was an epiphany moment.

Guided by Davis’ restless spirit, Thackray has since established herself as an intrepid music writer. Based in London, she works as a composer, arranger, producer, band leader, soloist and DJ. The staff range from the post-punk band Squid to the London Symphony Orchestra. She has her own record label Movementt, an imprint of the electronic music label Warp Records. She is associated with London’s lively jazz scene, but her music draws on psychedelic soul, funk, dance music, afrobeat and abstract hip-hop. The idiosyncratic, imaginative path that leads from the Tingley Brass Band to their first full-length album is far-reaching.

Despite formal training in jazz trumpet and composition, she has the drive of being an autodidact. For an earlier record, 2018 Ley lines, she spent 10 minutes teaching herself how to play the clarinet before recording his voices. A similar have-a-go philosophy provides information yellow.

Instead of playing all the instruments by herself like she used to do Ley lines, she is accompanied by a large group of other musicians, including Lyle Barton (keyboard), Ben Kelly (sousaphone) and Dougal Taylor (drums) from her main band. The tracks create a fine balance between spontaneity and plot. Layers of instruments pile up, a swaying heap of stuttering drums, trumpet phrases, elastic basslines and shimmering synthesizer chords. But there is no risk of disorder. The feeling that anything could happen is overshadowed by suspicions that Thackray knows exactly what she wants. (She not only produced the album but also mixed it).

A strong 70s signal comes through the musical airwaves. The opening track “Mercury” is vintage space jazz, reminiscent of the time when space was an inspiring mystery, not the playground for rival rocket-building billionaires. “Say Something” sets free flowing jazz melodies to a tight disco beat. “Green Funk” revives the glorious controlled chaos of Funkadelic and Parliament. “Rahu and Ketu” resembles a classic blaxploitation soundtrack with a wah-wah guitar, tight percussion and organ riffs that flutter and clap like bell-bottoms.

The tracks are songs, not instrumentals. Thackray takes on the role of the singer and sings mantras about wholeness and universal love. “Be mellow, be yellow”, she intones the title track: “We’re all made of Sunshine”. These maxims come close to the pastiche, a reappraisal of the countercultural spiritualism of the 1970s for our administered age of mindfulness. But the New Age sentiments go well with the uninhibited nature of the music, its openness and dynamism – an inspired act of awareness raising.

★★★★ ☆

yellow‘is released by Movementt released


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