On Infection In The Sentence the young pianist shows an open mindedness when it comes different forms of expression – both past and present – and the maturity required to chart the course ahead.
The long-term residency has been an integral part of the development of many a significant musician. A chance to play in the same venue for a number of weeks – sometimes months in the heyday of swing and bebop – can enable a bandleader and accompanists to gel as a unit, and, in the best case scenario, forge their own sound. London pianist Sarah Tandy has no hesitation in naming a regular session at the cosy basement bar Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston, on the east side of the capital, as a key moment in her career to date. “Yeah, that was really important to me,” she confirms emphatically, pointing to the leap forward made by her quartet – drummer Femi Koleoso, bassist Mutale Chashi, trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey and saxophonist Binker Golding. “We knew about five tunes at the start, but I liked the fact it wasn’t really a jazz aficionados club. It gave us a lot of freedom to explore while we were playing, and it also taught me a lot about putting a set together, pacing etc. I did a lot of my musical growing-up there.”
Tandy’s debut album, Infection In The Sentence is proof positive of her maturity. It consolidates the strong impression she has made in the past five years on the British scene as a member of groups such as Jazz Jamaica, Nu Civilization Orchestra, and Camilla George’s quartet. The daughter of a classical pianist, Tandy started playing at a young age, and was exposed to American jazz legends Basie and Brubeck as well as European composers. She cites Errol Garner as a key figure in her embrace of improvisation, which she pursued more seriously at university, having previously studied classical music. Her compositions are rich, melodically and harmonically, but perhaps most pleasingly of all, Tandy has channeled a wide range of rhythmic strategies that reflect an interest in many ‘traditions.’ Put simply: there is tough groove and hard swing. As far as she is concerned the way she relates to aspects of the jazz aesthetic that reach back to the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s, when flying quarter notes had as much currency as stabbing eighths, is simply a question of perspective and honesty, especially in light of the attention lavished on the UK scene in the past year or so.
“I have strong feelings about this. It’s incredible jazz is having a renaissance, it’s really an incredible thing. The danger is when you have mainstream music journalists writing about this music, and they don’t really know the history, there can be a lot of misconceptions. The number of articles I’ve read where people are pathologically afraid of swing, as if it’s something that belongs in the past, well I find that really strange because everything that made me fall in love with jazz in the first place was swing! I mean Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley … that hard, driving rhythm … it’s incredible. Femi is known for his afrobeat and Tony Allen influenced style, but when we did Servants he was listening to Blakey. For all of us that’s what we really love about jazz. It’s such a defining element; it was something you could dance to, and have a lot of people just being completely taken by that sound and all the energy.
“I suppose part of my mission with the record was just to write tracks with some swing,” Tandy argues with conviction. “As this rhythm can sound just as good as the other things that we can hear and use, and it shouldn’t be discarded.” Having said that she is by no means against backbeats and electric sounds, and the moody, dub infused moments on Infection In The Sentence where Tandy uses a Nord keyboard or Fender Rhodes reflect her earnest desire to be able to have “more palettes to play with.”
Delving further into the world of state-of-the-art technology and the rich science of the studio is something Tandy foresees in the near future. She is impressively composed about where she is and about what she may well cross on the long and interesting road ahead.
“This is a first step … me just saying hello to the world,” she says. “The whole process of doing an album has raised more questions than answers. Definitely in the next few months or so I’m gonna get to grips with the production side because it will just give me more options. I’m also interested in dong a solo thing, just a small thing, probably not a full album because solo piano is such a massive undertaking … but maybe a low key thing … just record a few tracks and see what I come up with.”
Sarah Tandy – Infection In The Sentence (Jazz re:freshed)