Album Review

Ahmed, Yazz – “Polyhymnia” – [Ropeadope Records]

aarbor   4/14/2023   12-inch, Jazz

Born in London to a British mother and a Bahraini father, Yazz Ahmed spent her childhood in Bahrain before returning to London at the age of nine. She started playing the trumpet at an early age, encouraged by her maternal grandfather Terry Brown, a jazz trumpet player. In addition to the trumpet she plays the fluegelhorn and is a composer. This is her third album, released in 2019.  Polyhymnia is the Greek muse of music, poetry and dance, a character whom Ahmed describes as “a goddess for the arts“, it is a six-movement suite devoted to “six women of exceptional qualities, role models with whom [she] felt a strong bond”: Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, Ruby Bridges, Haaifa Al-Mansour, Barbara Thompson, and the Suffragettes. Most Americans know that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus in November 1955, but don’t know that the bus number was 2857, which is the name of the track devoted to Rosa. Ruby Bridges was also a Civil Rights activist. She was the first and only African-American child to enter the William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960, escorted by 4 Federal Marshalls, as a part of the integration of the New Orleans school system. An advocate for female education Malala Yousafzai was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace prize in 2014. Haifaa Al-Mansour is Saudi Arabia’s first female film director. Her wish is to empower women and girls to use the arts as a “gentle way to catalyse a change”. Barbara Thompson is one of the UK’s leading saxophone players who is also a bandleader and composer despite having Parkinson’s disease. Ahmed’s music brings in many elements: a New Orleans carnival for Ruby Bridges, the number 2857 represented metrically and melodically for Rosa Parks, reworking the Suffragettes’ protest song, “Shoulder to Shoulder” with jazz harmony, Arabic scales and rhythms for the track “Deeds not Words”. Her use of Arabic musical materials throughout are very distinctive and quite wonderful. She even had a quarter-tone flugelhorn specially made, to allow her to use scales specific to Arabic music. The musicians here are mostly women and from Tomorrow’s Warriors – Started by the Jazz Warriors it is the leading program producing the most exciting New London Jazz artists. AArbor

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