London-born saxophonist and composer Joshua Jaswon has undergone something of a transformation over the past three years. Following the disastrous results of Britain’s 2016 BREXIT referendum vote Joshua took the decision to leave London for Berlin and set about establishing himself in Europe’s creative hub and heartbeat. This journey of musical discovery has lead to collaborations with artists from Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam and Copenhagen and the formation of the Joshua Jaswon Octet.
Using powerful poems of protest as the basis for its music, the octet’s distinctive sound is lyrical, intensely rhythmic and steeped in the magic of storytelling. Their ambitious long-form compositions are brought to sonic life in Joshua’s first release for Ubuntu Music, Silent Sea, and feature the phenomenal Dutch vocalist Anna Serierse.
Each composition of the album is based on the text of a contemporary British poem, by writers Jackie Kay, Maura Dooley and Rachael Boast. The poems deal with the themes of Brexit and the environment and the album’s title originates from Boast’s poem.
Although Joshua has for many years been interested in the manifold relationships between literature and jazz – he cites writers such as Albert Murray, Stanley Crouch and Ralph Ellison as early musical influences – this is the first project where the composer has actively used text and written for voice. Poet Laureate Jackie Kay’s response to the project reflects Joshua’s talent and intuition for this area of composition:
“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. It’s a pleasure for a poet to have their words so thoughtfully put to music. I’m delighted with the result.”
Jackie Kay Poet Laureate of Scotland
Having grown up in London Joshua graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with a 1st class honours degree in Jazz Performance. While only in his second year he led the winning group in the Chartered Surveyors Jazz Ensemble Competition and on completing his degree was awarded a two-year Artists Fellowship at the conservatoire. Later he would go on to win a fully-funded place on the highly prestigious European Jazz Masters Course at the Jazz-Institut Berlin.
As a bandleader and sideman Joshua has made appearances in the London Jazz Festival, Copenhagen Jazz Festival, City of London Festival, Berlin Instrument of the Year Festival, performed at venues such as Ronnie Scotts, LSO St. Luke’s, Kings Place, The Vortex, The Elgar Room, Kunstfabrik Schlot Berlin, Brorson’s Kirken Copenhagen, Dokkhuset Trondheim, La Gare Paris and the Barbican Theatre; has been broadcast on Jazz FM and BBC Radio 3 and led educational workshops.
Joshua discusses the essence of Silent Sea: “This project is the culmination of two years of work that took place in four different countries and has brought together a group of musicians whom I admire and respect very much.
“Musically, it represents a heightened focus on extended composition and orchestration and my first exploration in composing for voice – it definitely won’t be the last!
“One of the challenges I had in writing for an eight-piece group was to utilise the timbral and compositional possibilities afforded by a larger ensemble without losing the intensity and immediacy that comes from small-combo interaction. Central to this has been working with the group’s rhythm-section of Aarón Castrillo, Sidney Werner and Johannes Mann. They powerfully shape the music’s narrative and momentum while being able to respond in the moment to the music’s shifting contours and directions. The playing of Miguel Gorodi, Marc Doffey and Jan Landowski throughout the recording shows their exceptional ability as improvisers and ensemble musicians, and the music lives and breathes through Anna Serierse’s voice.
“The nucleus of the project first took shape when I read a collection of twenty contemporary poems curated by Carol Ann Duffy. Each poem was written by a different writer, all of whom were assigned the task of writing a text that responded in their own way to the imminent and pressing climate crisis we all face. Art created about this topic in no way puts the artist on a pedestal – I definitely need to kick my carbon footprint down to size – but this project was an opportunity to engage with a theme that has significant meaning for me and moves beyond an exercise in abstract music making.”
Funded by the Berlin Senat for Culture, the octet will be recording its follow-up album in February 2022 with a release set for later this year.
“With his career seemingly pre-ordained by his name, Jaswon is a young alto saxophonist of rare thoughtfulness and poise…makes all the right choices about when to turn up the heat and when to stay cool.”