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Jason Jaswon
Silent Sea

by Howard Lawes

 

 

 

Joshua Jaswon

 

 

We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner)

 

The result of the 2016 EU Referendum came as a disappointment to the London-born saxophonist Joshua Jaswon and he took the decision to leave London for Berlin where he completed his musical education and set about establishing himself in what some say is Europe's creative hub and heartbeat. Jaswon's first album Ribbons, recorded in 2013, received encouraging reviews and as an alto saxophone player, Jaswon himself promised something a little different from the crowd.

Silent Sea is his second album and it has been some time in the making; quoting from Joshua Jaswon's website “The nucleus of the project first took shape when I read a collection of twenty contemporary poems collated by Carol Ann Duffy"  These poems were published on a daily basis in the Guardian newspaper as part of its Keep It In the Ground project prior to the international conference in Paris which resulted in the Paris Agreement in December 2015 to combat climate change.  Jaswon has selected three of the poems to use as the inspiration for his composition and also to present them in a musical context as songs - Silent Sea by Rachael Boast, Extinction by Jackie Kay and Still Life with Sea Pinks and High Tide by Maura Dooley. Jackie Kay (Scottish Poet Laureate), commenting on Jaswon's interpretation of her poem said: “It is moving, fresh and thought-provoking and the music perfectly mirrors the poem’s anxiety and satirical humour, the jazz music fits the poem like a hand to a glove, and the rhythms and tempos capture the heightened sense of time running out, of seizing the moment.” 

 

Listen to Ruth Wilson reading Rachael Boast's Silent Sea.

 

 

 

The Joshua Jaswon Octet has Anna Seierse with vocals, Jaswon (alto and soprano saxophone), Marc Doffey (tenor and soprano saxophone), Miguel Gorodi (trumpet and flugelhorn), Jan Landowski (trombone), Johannes Mann (electric guitar), Sidney Werner (double bass) and Aaron Castrillo (drums).

 

A brief introductory video to the album.

 

 

 

Poetry is as old as language itself and exists in most cultures all over the world. In many cases early poetry was sung but there are clearly similarities between spoken poetry and music such as rhythm, dynamics, mood, perhaps even melody, and nowadays of course genres such as hip-hop or rap very successfully combine poetry and music.  Using music and song to highlight political issues does not have such a long history but jazz music and song has been a channel for protest about Joshua Jaswon Silent Seaabuse and discrimination from its very beginning; three of the best known are probably Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit, Mississippi Goddam sung by Nina Simone and The Revolution Will Not Be Televised spoken by Gil Scott Heron.  However in the case of this album it is probably true to say that the poetry has inspired the music rather than music providing a backdrop for a recital of the poems - the poems are beautifully sung but most listeners will probably hear the music first and then be inspired to read the poems, or listen to them being read.

The first track on the album, Maurice, is reminiscent of a dance, perhaps a dance to the music of time emphasising the cyclic nature of life on earth, it is also a piece that introduces each band member through their music.  The next seven tracks are presented as a continuous suite, the Reduce / Reuse / Recycle Suite, and true to his word Jawson recycles the three songs as "single versions" at the end. The title track, Silent Sea, as printed in the booklet accompanying the CD, includes a reference to Samuel Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner wherein, during a voyage on a sailing ship, an albatross is killed and mysteriously the wind drops and the sea falls silent.  Rachael Boast's poem highlights the folly of wasting the earth's resources, the resulting harm that occurs and seemingly describing planet earth sailing through space as a metaphorical ship of fools. Extinction is a reaction to the result of the UK referendum about membership of the European Union and how unilateralism and xenophobia could jeopardise international efforts to protect the world from damaging pollution. The third poem, Still Life with Sea Pinks and High Tide, has two tracks, parts 1 and 2, that together last more than 13 minutes for a poem of only 9 lines, the poem is a warning that time is running out, sea levels are rising due to manmade climate change while all we do is talk.

 

 

Listen to James Franco reading Maura Dooley's Still Life with Sea Pinks and High Tide.

 

 

 

Listen to the second part of the music for Still Life with Sea Pinks and High Tide.

 

 

 

The poems become lyrics and are sung by an exceptional young vocalist, Anna Serierse, but the original structure of the poems is changed with repeating lines, musical interludes and solo improvisations that provide some really good and intelligent jazz.  Silent Sea is played slowly, the exquisite singing beautifully accompanied by guitar before speeding up in an Interlude with guitar and alto saxophone solos.  The track, Extinction has already been very well described by the author of the poem, it becomes increasingly frenetic, dynamic, with frequent changes of tempo and great vocal improvisation as well as solos from trumpet, tenor and alto saxophones. 

 

Listen to the music for Extinction.

 

 

 

After another short but beautiful, vocal interlude Still Life with Sea Pinks and High Tide is divided into two parts, one with vocals, one without; it starts with some rather relaxing guitar and flugelhorn but the song part is syncopated and staccato in nature followed by a very nice trombone solo.  The second part reworks the syncopation with a stabby alto saxophone solo while the last track of the suite is a reprise of Silent Sea.

This is an album that sounds great and it can certainly be enjoyed simply for the music, but it is only on further investigation and by reading the accompanying booklet that you realise the important message that is being communicated. The pan-European Joshua Jaswon Octet is an object lesson in international co-operation and as such is a poignant comment on recent political events in itself, but the powerful words remind us all once again that there are world-wide problems that require urgent solutions. It is to be hoped that the album Silent Sea will in some way assist in focussing minds to provide those solutions.

 

Click here for details of the album Silent Sea.

 

Joshua Jaswon Octet

 

 

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