Alabaster dePlume review – an uplifting, spiritual jazz adventure | Jazz

Alabaster dePlume doesn’t know what he’s doing. He says that at the beginning of his set.

“I Know I Should” behave like I know what I’m doing,” adds the saxophonist, vocalist, performance poet and bandleader, before continuing with the sound of a distant toilet hand dryer. Later, he will conduct his band a cappella with a fingerless hand, pointing to the notes in the air, repeatedly congratulating his audience on the fact that they are still alive.

Born Gus Fairbairn 41 years ago in Manchester but now based in London, dePlume talks and sings effusively about the performance itself as he performs, questioning himself and the performer’s role. At one point he introduces a new song, Oh My Actual Days. He leads the band, and the audience, through how it should be. “If not,” he says, with the wild intensity of a cult leader, “YES!”

The song starts like many of the best DePlume songs do: simple, like a pensive sax motif. The rest of the band – tonight two drummers, a bassist, an electric guitarist and a synth player, a 50/50 split of genders – finds its way in, with backing vocalist and percussionist Donna Thompson, singing guitarist Marcelo Frota and vocalizing drummer Momoko Gill picks up the wordless chorus, sad and sultry at the same time. “Stay!” recommends DePlume. And while the band stays in a set pattern, its saxophone line only goes off until the whole ersatz public rehearsal dissolves, very nicely.

For several years now, DePlume has been on the cusp of improv collaboration and what you could call ‘spoken word with instruments’. But his last two albums, both released on the respected American avant-jazz label International Anthem, have marked a contextual step forward in DePlume’s complex offering and name recognition.

To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol 1 (2020) composed a series of stately, compelling compositions dedicated to two of the adults with intellectual disabilities with whom Fairbairn worked for several years in Manchester. Many of these instrumentals (often previously released on the Lost Map label) found its serpentine saxophone and a host of guest musicians forging a sort of abstract, ambient, spiritually leaning jazz, brimming with emotion.

Tonight, next to the mic, DePlume’s reed playing feels fresh, non-canonical and instinctive. (He’s quite happy to tell the interviewers that he got into jazz through the soundtrack of the Japanese anime Cowboy Bebop.) Everyone in the Ethiopian compilations of vintage East African jazz will find much to swoon over in its tone, in the luscious, intoxicating beauty of its inner weather.

DePlume and band in Komedia, Brighton. Photo: Sonja Horsman/The Observer

And yet, as the tempo picks up, his staccato phrasing recalls the rousing blare of Shabaka Hutchings, an associate and associate of the Total Refreshment Center in north-east London, one of the centers of the last decade of London’s prolific scene. . Tonight, the intoxicating dub snarl of the set’s climax, Broken Like, finds previously incumbent bassist Rosetta Carr on her feet, leading the thrill during this raging party-jazz workout.

But there is the other side of DePlume. He is a garrulous, heart-on-sleeve rioter, an anti-cynic bent on reducing the fourth wall to rubble. His album from last April, Gold: go forth in the courage of your love, was also enthusiastically received. It brought the focus back to DePlume’s earlier, more declamatory style, in which personal and political themes alternate while a dizzying array of collaborators rumbles beneath.

Live he is both combative and delighted; stick to a way that fuses traditions, such as the Scottish poet Ivor Cutler or the Fall’s Mark E Smith declaiming the works of Gil Scott-Heron for the cost of living. The tone is unmistakably 2022. “I went to fight fascism,” reads another of DePlume’s more frontline works, a rant against complacency he originally recorded with the band Soccer96. It lists many understandable, but ultimately weak reasons why a person should not act according to his principles. (“I had a lot on,” goes one line; it’s important to note that DePlume scolds himself just as much as anyone else.)

Tonight the track has been reworked for laughs, but not for laughs either. “I was going to fight fascism,” DePlume yells, “but I was really mad at all the other people who were fighting fascism the wrong way, so I went on Facebook instead!” All of this goes hand in hand with a flurry of supportive affirmations. Don’t wait for permission to unleash your own special gifts on the world, he insists.

Don’t Forget You’re Precious is Gold’s totem melody, an exhortation to remember that people are vulnerable. It also acts as a plea for unity in the face of division. Because, notes DePlume, a lot of energy is put into firing the division. “We’re going to need each other for what’s to come,” he says with a bewitched look. “And I don’t mean my last song.”

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