Photograph by Monika S Jakubowska

Trombonist, composer and bandleader Raph Clarkson has been involved in some of the most interesting and dynamic music of recent times. As leader of the orchestra known as the Dissolute Society, Clarkson is fearless in his approach to music and composition.

The is no music that is out of bounds, and all is fair game for his compositional flair and unique sense of melody and orchestration.

As Raph prepares to release a new recording with a new ensemble, Equal Spirits, Clarkson takes his music even further bringing together a global fanfare that encompasses jazz, electronica, dance grooves, spiritual and gospel music alongside the joyous music of South Africa.

In a broad sound palette Clarkson writes authoritatively for jazz ensemble, voices and church organ, and embraces South African drums and rhythms.

To get an idea of where he draws his influences from, Jazz Views invited Raph to pick select his top ten albums.

1.Kenny Wheeler – Music for large and small ensembles

My favourite record of all time. Stunning big band writing, free jazz excursions sitting next to detailed, tightly arranged large ensemble music – the genius interweaving of Evan Parker’s trademark sound world with a deep, wistful Norma Winstone-led song (‘Sea Lady’), Kenny Wheeler’s knack for timeless melody after timeless melody, many of which now sit amongst the British jazz standard repertoire. Somebody once described Kenny’s music as ‘joyous but with simultaneous pain and sadness bubbling under the surface’. This feels an apt summing up of his music which I feel does manage to capture the profundity and depth of human experience.

2.Count Basie – The Atomic Mr Basie

This is one of the first jazz records I ever owned, at the age of 11, and I’ve had it on repeat ever since. There is such joyfully powerful passion in the writing, arranging, ensemble playing, the improvising; but also dramatic contrasts, from the breathless up-tempo ‘Kid from Red Bank’ to Count Basie’s delicate, minimal piano comments in ‘Midnite Blue’, which has the most wonderful, slow burn build to a climactic key change before returning to relative calm. This album takes you on multiple journeys, it’s full of iconic tunes, and the genius of Neil Hefti’s arranging is at its height.

3.Tigran Hamasyan – Red Hail

This album continues to blow me away every time I listen. A mixture of contemporary jazz, Armenian folk music and heavy metal riffs, an eclectic record but also one with a clear overall style and vision. Tigran sings as well as bringing his unique, rich, rhythmic pianism, ably supported by Ben Wendel on sax as well as Nate Wood on drums.

4.John Dowland/The Dowland Project – in Darkness let me dwell

A disc of John Dowland songs, blending a historically informed, authentic approach to the renaissance troubadour’s songs but also presenting them in a fresh and modern way, using the free improvising stylings of bassist Barry Guy as well as the legendary sax and bass clarinettist John Surman’s melodic soloing next to Maya Homburger’s baroque violin and Stephen Stubbs’s lute. The songs are sung by John Potter who was also part of the famous collaboration between the Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek, ‘Officium’, also released on ECM.

5.Joshua Redman – Elastic

This album oozes class and is chock full of super catchy melodies, underpinned by incredibly inventive, groovy-as-hell drumming (Brian Blade) and the mesmeric skills of Sam Yahel on organ, playing simultaneous basslines with his feet whilst comping and soloing with his hands. Redman soars over the top with thoughtful, tasteful, expressive excursions. This trio absolutely nailed it!

6.John Taylor Trio – Angel of the Presence

I was lucky enough to be taught by John Taylor at York University- his generosity in sharing his music and that which he was passionate about (Kenny Wheeler, Ralph Towner, Stan Sulzmann) led me to falling in love with that sub-genre of British jazz, including John’s own music. This album featured his trio with Palle Danielsson on bass and Martin France on drums, long time collaborators (the album Whirlpool is another top session) and on top form on this record, playing some classic Taylor tunes (‘In Cologne’) as well as those by Kenny Wheeler (‘Intro to no particular song’).

7.Nat King Cole and his Trio – After Midnight

For me very few albums do a better job at presenting the great American songbook than this one. The trio features Nat at his relaxed, playful and vocally rich best, also swinging hard and bluesy as the band’s pianist. The album also features a collection of special guests, including trombonist Juan Tizol, and violinist Stuff Smith – purveyor of the grooviest swingiest jazz violin I am yet to hear!

8.Knower – Think Thoughts

Before hitting fame with projects under his own name, drummer and producer Louis Cole collaborated with vocalist Genevieve Artadi as the band KNOWER. This is one of their early albums, and my favourite as it is uncompromising in its rough, underground, rhythmic soundworld, earthy and trashy and sometimes hard edged, sparse – but also incredibly danceable and funky. There are some stunning featured guests including a wild thrill ride of a piano solo from John Escreet on ‘What did I do to you’.

9.Bheki Mseleku – Home At Last

This is simply a beautiful album full of classic Bheki Mseleku melodies , which are often marked by unexpected, playful harmonic shifts, and provide a generous vehicle for his unique pianism and that of his all-star collaborators, such as the great tenorist Winston Mankunku, and bassist Herbie Tsoaeli for me, ‘Monwabisi’ is an album highlight.

10.Rage Against the Machine – Rage against the machine (1992)

A friend made me a cassette of this album when I was about 12, and it blew my mind. I had it on repeat for years and years. Tom Morello’s riffs are some of the most satisfying, groovy, funky, dirty ever committed to record (for me!). The use of ‘Wake Up’ at the end of the Matrix led to a 15-year-old me screaming with delight. I also love how unashamedly political the band obviously is, and while music and art can often transcend politics, RATM are a useful reminder that sometimes cultural work must take a stand and fight for not only itself but the people that it is for- especially when under direct attack (c.f. The last 14 years of UK government).

Wise and Waiting by Equal Spirits is released on 26th April, and more information can be found on Raph’s website.

Concerts for the album launch of Wise and Waiting are at the following venues:

Saturday 4th May at Rich Mix, London and Sunday 5th May at Tobacco Factory, Bristol