Camilla George Quartet ‘Isang’ (Ubuntu Music) 4/5

Saxophonist Camilla George has been steadily making a name for herself for a decade or so now, having worked with Tomorrow’s Warriors, Nu Civilisation Orchestra and Jazz Jamaica, to name but a few. “Isang” is the eagerly awaited debut album from the MOBO nominated musician. It’s been a while coming, and as George says herself; “It wasn’t until I joined Courtney Pine’s Venus Warriors and we played our debut gig at The Hideaway that I felt ready to lead my own band. That project inspired me and gave me the confidence I needed to branch out on my own.” And so in 2014 The Camilla George Quartet was formed, with rising stars Sarah Tandy on piano, Daniel Casimir on bass, and Femi Koleoso on drums.
“Isang” is an old Efik/Ibibio word that means voyage and symbolises the group’s musical journey. The choice of tunes, combined with the quartet’s love of fusing African and Western music works very well. George has a lovely tone to her playing; smooth and warm in a classic Blue Note kind of way, whilst still managing to sound slightly edgy and adventurous on occasions. The quartet compliment each other at every turn, with pianist Tandy particularly impressive. The general feel to the album is fairly laid back and quietly unassuming, but I really like that. Nothing appears to be forced and the confidence shines out in a way that is both mature and sophisticated, rather than there being any signs of the group trying to do too much and overplaying things. That said, my only minor criticism would be that perhaps overall, the album is a little too safe and could have been a tad more adventurous maybe.

The listener is treated to some wonderful playing throughout the album, from the driving blues of the opening track, written to celebrate the West African spirit Mami Wata, to Lunacity, based on one of the saxophonist’s favourite standards, It’s Only A Paper Moon, to the delicate ballad Song for Reds which is dedicated to her father, to the Kenny Garrett composition Ms Baja, to the silky groove of Mami Wata Returns/Usoro. It’s nice to hear George putting her own stamp on things, whether originals or covers, it’s her cool, stylish sound that fills the air with grace and passion.

“Isang” is a strong, accomplished debut from Camilla George. It’s a thoroughly listenable and enjoyable album which firmly lays down a marker for the saxophonist as one to watch as we head into 2017. Without a doubt it’s well worth checking this album out and looking out for the quartet’s live dates coming soon. For me personally, I’d love to hear her taking a few more risks on her next album, taking a chance or two on some less conventional tunes whilst developing her undoubted compositional talents even further. I for one can’t wait to see the band live though, here are the dates – go catch them live while you can.

22 February – The Lescar, Sheffield
23 February – Matt & Phred’s, Manchester
25 February – Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside
26 February – 7ARTS, Leeds
27 February – Kenilworth Jazz Club
28 February – Royal British Legion, North Wales Jazz
1 March – Dempsey’s, Cardiff
2 March – The Vortex, London

Mike Gates