Ubuntu Music is a relatively new record label, which in its short life has already built a diverse and enviable roster of artists from widely differing creative backgrounds. The label was established by businessman Martin Hummel and renowned trumpeter Quentin Collins. During 2019 together they issued no less than 29 releases and achieved six ‘Album of the Year’ awards for artists including Leo Richardson, Dave O’Higgins and Rob Luft, Paul Booth and Collins himself. Along with these established names, the label is also home to some of the brightest of the rising stars including ‘Wandering Monster’ and ‘Bonsai Club’. I was particularly pleased to see the American pianist and long-time Kurt Elling collaborator Laurence Hobgood has a home with the label.
It was therefore exciting to hear that the debut release from ‘Meraki’ was slated for release in 2020. ‘Meraki’ is a trio comprising Jacky Naylor on piano, Nick Jurd on bass and Jonathan Silk behind the drums. The trio have strong connections with Birmingham; Naylor is a graduate of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and is equally adept at big band work as he is trio work having been awarded the Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition in the big band category. “He has a wonderful way of combining tradition with innovation……. and groove with lyricism.” Nick Jurd also has strong links with Birmingham and has shared the stand with Silk in the latter’s big band. Silk has worked with the likes of composers Vince Mendoza and Maria Schneider.
So, to the music, as the trio expertly “travel through the various moods, emotions and complexities of Naylor’s original contemporary music.” ‘Meraki’ is a word which describes what happens when you leave a piece of yourself (your soul, creativity, or love) in your work. The members of this trio have done just that. The shadow of the European stylists looms large and I’m reminded particularly of the work of EST. The music really does share some of the excitement of that much-missed group. There are also similarities with other Scandinavian piano trios. ‘43’ is a restless piece, pulsing and changing pace. The first ’Interlude’ is contemplative with wonderful washes of percussion and is all too brief and unresolved. ’Two Sides of the Same Coin’ is a lovely melodic piece, which like other pieces on the album will long remain in the listener’s memory. It includes a fine bass feature for good measure. Indeed, the keynote of this album is melodic accessibility. In contrast, ‘Sherpa’ is more insistent and isn’t afraid to swing. The influence of EST is evident again on ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. ‘Simple Things’ makes for a fine closing piece with crisp percussion work and more fine bass playing.
This is an album that reveals its pleasures slowly but will certainly repay repeated listening. I’m already looking forward to their next album.