Camilla George ‘The People Could Fly’ LP/CD (Ubuntu Music) 3/5

One of the so-called Young Turks of the current British jazz scene, this is the second album recorded by the alto saxophonist, who has already reached the eyes and ears of the American jazz community, being reviewed no less by Down Beat in a recent edition. The music is in fact inspired by a 1985 book of African-American folkloric tales, hence the album title, and this recalls George’s own experiences growing up as a child in Nigeria when a combination of her mother and grandmother combined to recounted these same stories to her. Indeed, that Afro-jazz undercurrent is part of a more general trend among the younger generation of black British musicians who are eager to explore their own ancestral roots which vary from the African continent, in the case of Camilla George, to the Caribbean and beyond, as with the Sons of Kemet. In the case of Camilla George, however, it is the gap between the lofty rhetoric and the actual musical performances where the problem resides. In short, the music comes across as too light and breezy to convey the seriousness of the subject matter where some of the tales deal with the daily lives of African-American slavery. That is not to say that George has taken the subject matter lightly. Any such observation would be false and inaccurate. Rather the right balance between the message and the delivery has not been struck and, as a result, the listener receives a confused whole with which to navigate.

That said, if one does for a moment in time divorce the subject matter and the music itself, then there are aspects to admire in the album, especially the vocal-like quality to the leader’s own phrasing which recalls three of her seminal alto saxophone influences: Cannonball Adderley; Jackie McLean and Sonny Stitt. On this second outing, George is ably assisted by Sarah Tandy who operates on both acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes, and sounds more of an individual on the latter than the former, while guitarist Shirley Tetteh has a pronounced percussive style of playing on guitar. Vocalist Cherise Adam-Burnett guests on ‘Little Eight John’, and her phrasing hints at an operatic background, while Omar provides lead vocals on a cover of a Curtis Mayfield song, ‘Here But I’m Gone’, reflective of the social condition of African-Americans. Perhaps this ambitious project was simply a tad too soon in her already blossoming and promising career, and in defence of Camilla George, she has already gained a good deal of experience, working as part of the Nu Civilisation Orchestra, Jazz Jamaica and Courtney Pine’s Venus Warriors project. In fact, it was only in 2014 that George founded her own quartet. If the music does not quite match the lofty ambitions on this occasion, that is not intended as a put down for future projects that cover similar terrain. Camilla George is very much on a learning experience journey and this album hints at much more to come for the not too distant future. British jazz is in a healthy state right now.

Tim Stenhouse