Album of the Day: Yazz Ahmed, “Polyhymnia”

 

Polyhymnia, the third album from British-Bahraini trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, has been more than five years in the making. It began after Ahmed was commissioned to write a suite that premiered at the WOW! International Women’s Day festival in London in March 2015. Ahmed’s work focuses on five courageous women, as well as the Suffragette movement, with compositions that are as bold and diverse as the figures who inspired it.

“Lahan Al-Mansour” (for the pioneering Saudi film director Haifa Al-Mansour) features the sinuous Arabic musical textures Ahmed explored on La Saboteuse in 2017; featherbedded by electric violin and a pair of Fender Rhodes, its burbling textures recall Miles Davis circa Bitches Brew. On “2857,” the number of the bus where Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her seat, Naadia Sheriff’s geometric piano motif bridges the song’s stately opening with the tumultuous tones that develop as it progresses.

Throughout, Ahmed balances the grandeur of a big band with the incisiveness of solos and small-ensemble interactions. While the closer, “Barbara” (for influential saxophonist Barbara Thompson) is most notable for its lithe arrangement and languid horn voicings, it’s the fiery interplay on “2857” and “Deeds Not Words” (for the Suffragettes) that stand out, showcasing the individual prowess of Ahmed and saxophonist Tori Freestone in particular. The album is named for the Greek muse of music, poetry, and dance, and Ahmed’s kinetic, kaleidoscopic jazz perfectly reflects that inspiring spirit.

-Britt Robson

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