Kansas Smitty’s draw from over 100 years of jazz, Debussy & Eno
British seven-piece and residents and proprietors of East London jazz venue of the same name release new album Things Happened Here on June 26th and in anticipation release single and video Judgement drawing down on the rhythmic, chanting style of the gospel quartets of the 1940s and 50s
Judgement is the third single from Kansas Smitty’s much anticipated and rescheduled album, Things Happened Here, to be released on newly resurfaced label Ever in conjunction with !K7 on 26th June.
Led by American-Italian alto-saxophonist/clarinettist Giacomo Smith, and featuring a wide array of young and exciting British jazz talent, Kansas Smitty’s astutely bridge traditional and modern jazz forms in seamless and sublime fashion. Having sold out shows at Ronnie Scott’s and The Jazz Café, a headline show at Omeara in London in May was on the cards before you know what happened, and the album release was postponed to early July.
Drawing influence from over one hundred years of jazz history, from Django Reinhardt to Ahmad Jamal, and the vivid musical landscapes of Debussy and even Brian Eno, the group have been racking up supporters from across the jazz divide from BBC Radio 2’s Jamie Cullum and Claire Teal to Gilles Peterson’s online selectors at Worldwide FM.
Reflective, like a concluding moment after a long journey, physical or spiritual, Judgement is a song that can make you nostalgic for not only the places you’ve experienced, but those you’ve dreamed of. It has a cathartic and cleansing feel that both concludes and reignites our desire for fulfilled experience.
Things Happened Here – The Album
Referring to the feeling one gets when walking into an old house, ancient temple, abandoned factory or any space once lived and familiar, now foreign and contrasting, Things Happened Here is the culmination of years spent defining a sound steeped in jazz history, yet present and future-facing to the sounds of tomorrow.
“Once in a while, you feel this overwhelming sense of a memory that you aren’t able to describe but that transports you immediately back to a time and space”. Says Smith. “Like the smell of your grandma’s living room when you were a kid, the faint sound of the train passing by your first apartment’s window at 5AM, or meeting a friend’s child that resembles a long lost friend. Only you can feel that, and only very few things bring you back to that space. It’s not everyday this happens. This is the kind of feeling I wanted to create for the record”.
Having moved to London from Montreal, Canada in 2011 after years spent playing in bands with traditional and gypsy jazz roots, Smith found himself at the centre of a thriving scene of jazz musicians in the UK capital. Concurrent to the lauded, dancefloor-oriented sound that cultivated the likes of Joe Armon-Jones and Nubya Garcia, Smith discovered an expansive and disparate group of musicians from an even broader jazz listening background, that would go on to lay the foundations for the group’s formation in 2013. However, it wasn’t until 2015, that Kansas Smitty’s took on a whole new meaning.
The influence of the diversity of jazz scenes in London led Smith to launch a live music-focused bar under the same name (Kansas Smitty’s), with the view of establishing a music venue that would showcase the entire breadth of jazz music coming from the capital, from the hip-hop/broken-beat infused sounds of Moses Boyd to ‘Swing to Bop’ jams with band guitarist, Dave Archer. To this day, jazz and music lovers alike converge on Broadway Market in Hackney, East London, to hear the latest jazz ripples out of London (Shabaka Hutchings, Ezra Collective’s Femi Koleoso and Kokoroko bandleader, Sheila Maurice-Grey all have performed), alongside the band and their many musical offshoots, all in one place.
It is a key space for the band to write and record new material, from the group’s self-titled debut in 2015 to the group’s latest and fourth studio album Things Happened Here. On nine original compositions written and produced solely by Smith, deft individual playing and vivid, dynamic composition meet at a crossroads of influence, unique to many of those operating on the UK jazz scene today.
Smith’s wandering bass-clarinet led Riders has a 1960s French film soundtrack feel not dissimilar to horn-led Sambre Et Meuse, a Dizzy-esque groover, inspired by a World War I battle ground and two famous converging rivers in Belgium. The Middle-Eastern-facing Temple of Bel, a pre-Roman temple destroyed in the Syrian war conflict, showcases the talent of Pete Horsfall (trumpet) and Alec Harper (tenor sax), with its cascading horn-led hook, whilst Sunnyland honours Mississippi blues pianist, Sunnyland Slim with great flare and style.
Elsewhere, Dreamlane has a Yussef Lateef-like celestial and transcendental quality, as does the mesmeric and meandering title track, followed by the blues-inflected final track Judgement, a multifarious and fitting closer to a skilfully punchy and gripping LP.