Jessica Lauren ‘Almería’ LP/CD/DIG (Freestyle) 4/5

From Freestyle Records we have Jessica Lauren’s new album, ‘Almería’. The reference to the Spanish city gives you an idea of the cultural location of the this music but it doesn’t stop at Mediterranean influences. Each track explores a different aspect of world music and latin jazz and can easily switch from Brazil to Turkey and anywhere in between.

The album opens with a lusciously recorded grand piano playing a deceptive introduction giving nothing more than movements of fifths. It’s not until the drums and vocals start that you get a sense of what is about to come. The piece slowly unravels to introduce double bass, baritone sax and rich percussion. Introductions have been made and we now experience the true sound of this collective. It’s a fun sound and although there’s a lot going on rhythmically, Jessica manages to keep her minimalist approach to composition with floating lines and hypnotic grooves. There’s some simple, emotive playing from Jessica here and great use of space. The vocals are sweet and soulful in a Angélique Kidjo kind of way.

I enjoyed the extended technique of baritone saxophonist Tamar ‘Collocutor’ Osborn. The use of harmonics and micro tones on the bari sends the music further East and changes the geography from Afro Jazz to a more worldly sound. The solos tend to stay relatively diatonic which along with mostly common time rhythms, helps with the accessibility of the album. I would personally like to hear more harmonic contrast but then my ear likes to be taken on journeys in that way.

Percussion has a big part to play on this album and the task is taken on successfully by Richard Ọlátúndé Baker, Phillip Harper and drummer Cosimo Keita Cadore. There’s a great mix of ethnic instruments, pitched percussion and polyrhythmic interplay.

A stand out player is bassist Neville Malcoms. His tone and stability ground the group and adds bags of groove.

There’s a nice 7 in a bar feel in the third track ‘Amalfi’ and the overall feel is reminiscent to the laid back latin jazz of the 1960’s and Henry Mancini’s film scores.

The music spins between club like grooves (which are crying out for some inventive remixes), lesser known Blue Note albums of the sixties and the cultural melting pot of inner city London. Whilst not ‘staying put’ in any one genre, the mix of world music is refreshing and nicely produced. The fusion of styles mixed with a smattering of jazz and the keyboard led harmony is pleasant and conjures feelings of summer vibes which I think is the aim.

Leaving the introduction to ‘Chocolate Con Churros’ allows us a more intimate introduction to the group. The ‘live’ sound and organic nature of this tune is a great addition to the album but perhaps feels more like a bonus track. Especially when followed by the atmospheric and structured last track, ‘Argentina’. This is a beautiful melody and the subtlety in Jessica’s touch is exquisite. Slightly let down by the recording quality compared to the rest of the tracks but its a nice closure to a fun and thoughtful album.

Jay Riley