The Brownswood Recordings label formed by Gilles Peterson in the mid-2000s celebrated turning ten this month by releasing a twenty-one-track compilation. The release optimises Peterson’s ongoing vision of Brownswood as a platform for new leftfield acts and features artists from the Brownswood family, such as the Mercury Award nominated Ghostpoet and UK DJ/Producer Ben Westbeech.
Yussef Kamaal, the jazz and bass-driven project from drummer Yussef Dayes and the prolific Kamaal Williams, are also on the release with the track ‘Lowrider’. The track is lifted from Black Focus, the trippy album that landed on the label in the second half of 2016.
The band — which tours as a five-piece — made the news music recently after half of them were denied entry to the USA as they journeyed to SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, following the tightening of immigration and VISA laws.
Luckily Manchester is more welcoming than 2017 America, forgetting regressive conservative politics, and Band on the Wall in particular focuses on creation and expression. Group leader Henry Wu, stage left on this occasion, leads the band. He’s the most well-known of the five thanks to his involvement in the South London underground music scene, along with the likes of Bradley Zero and NTS Radio, all of which push diverse world sounds from south of the Thames.
But it’s Yussef Dayes, mesmerising on drums, whose performance is the most impressive; lauded after multiple encores, a bow and a lengthy and appreciative applause. His hard work in the rhythm section laid the foundations for bass and guitar, then keys, to explore wider mellow and denser up-tempo jazz.
Towards the end of the sold-out gig, local Manchester duo Children of Zeus were welcomed on stage to lay down words and vocals, impressively collaborating with the band on a track for the first time, something we were led to believe was without any prior rehearsal. The natural chemistry between the duo itself and additional members is clearly visible, as is their unwavering ability to effortlessly intertwine rhythm and bass-heavy keys with fervour and precision.
The press release accompanying the Black Focus album release stated Herbie Hancock, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Thelonius Monk and Kaidi Tatham as influencers. So, while you’d be able to guess that it sounds a little jazz-like — which it does — those names mean that you’d probably struggle to put your finger on just what the record, or indeed the live band sound like.
The gig felt like South London had descended upon Band on the Wall. Why not, though, if America doesn’t want them, venues across the city and wider Europe will queue up to showcase artists like Yussef Kamaal. The band transcends musical boundaries, race and religion in a way reality stars turned leaders of the free world, sadly, just wouldn’t understand.