What is so thrilling about the music presented by Equal Spirits is the way it touches on all our emotions from the from sadness to joy, thought provoking texts that both stimulate and fuel the mind and lift the spirit.

Ubuntu Music UBU0157CD

NoZaka, Nosihe Zulu VOCALS, SPOKEN WORD; Raph Clarkson TROMBONE, VOCALS; Yonela Mnana PIANO, VOCALS; Amaeshi Ikechi DOUBLE BASS, ELECTRIC BASS, VOCALS; Siphiwe Shiburi DRUMS, VOCALS; Chris Batchelor TRUMPET, FLUGELHORN;
Mark Lockheart TENOR SAXOPHONE;  Judy Treggor FLUTE, PICCOLO; Sophie Cameron, Naomi Burrell VIOLIN; Alison D’Souza VIOLA; Zosia Jagodzinska CELLO; Phil Merriman KEYS, SYNTHS, HAMMOND ORGAN, CHURCH ORGAN; Chloe Morgan SOPRANO VOICE; Rosie Middleton ALTO VOICE; Michael Solomon Williams TENOR VOICE
Ben Rowarth BASS VOICE; Jeremy West CORNETTO, TENOR CORNETTO; Sue Addison ALTO SACKBUT, TENOR SACKBUT; Rosie Bergonzi TUBULAR BELLS, HANDPAN
Junior Alli-Balogun PERCUSSION; Yuval ‘Juba’ Wetzler SPD-SX/ELECTRONIC DRUMS
Elliot Galvin SAMPLES/ELECTRONICS
Recorded at Sumo Sound Recording Studio, Johannesburg:
25-27 Feb 2020, 19-20 Nov 2020
Fish Factory Studio, London: 2 Aug 2020, 7-10 Dec 2020
The Nave, Leeds: 3-4 Feb 2021
Merton Park Church, London: 13 Jan 2021… and remotely

Raph Clarkson is a trombonist, composer, arranger and instigator. Not one to be short on ideas, he likes to think big, Clarkson has spearheaded some of the most imaginative projects over the last few years that should not necessarily work but do. And then some!

After writing and releasing three albums with the 15-piece Dissolute Society, Clarkson is back with what is probably his most ambitious project to date with a new band Equal Spirits. For the band, the trombonist has brought together an amalgamation of no less than 24 musicians from the UK, Europe and Africa in a joyous celebration of jazz and South African township music. If this is thinking big on Clarkson’s behalf, think bigger as the sound palette at his disposal utilises acoustic and electric instruments, a vocal choir, strings and church organ. And not forgetting Eliot Galvin’s samples and electronics.

What is so thrilling about the music presented by Equal Spirits is the way it touches on all our emotions from the from sadness to joy, thought provoking texts that both stimulate and fuel the mind and lift the spirit.

The grooves and percussion feed the ensemble passages, and vice versa. The solos are declamatory and make their statements quickly and concisely as the music moves on. The use of the voices is what really captured my attention, the solo voice that rises up out of the sound and clamour of the band, and the magnificent way in which the voices meld into a choir that is uplifting and heart-warming.

The opening ‘Back Again’ sets the tone for the album with an inspiring arrangement, rhythmic groove and the blending of the voices, while Nosihe Zulu takes lead vocal duties on the infectious ‘Skip’. From a simple piano introduction, ‘Hymn’ opens out into a glorious composition for the voices that is deeply moving and quietly stirring, and the spirit of one of South Africa’s finest musicians, Bheki Mseleku is never far away.

The celebratory aspect of the music is captured on ‘Tlang Re Keteke (Oh Come Yea, Let’s Celebrate) with some exquisite writing for the strings and Chris Batchelor on trumpet says al lot by playing very little. Lockheart’s tenor saxophone is a more verbose but equally lyrical, but it is the combined efforts of the ensemble that bring a smile to your face.

‘To Jo’burg’ celebrates to a different groove while the title track and ‘Travail’ once again finds unusual textures and sounds in the ensemble and brings the album to a magisterial close.

This is a long album at seventy-six minutes in total, and there is a lot of music to digest. Remarkably no dead spots and repeated listening is rewarded. Initially the appeal of the beautifully packaged double LP is that the music is divided up into smaller segments, with the choice of whether to flip the side over or save for later, however as the music takes hold the desire to flip the record over becomes ever stronger.