Kay Grant’s 2013 Round-up

Kay Grant is a vocalist, songwriter and free improviser whose work is informed by experience in a broad range of styles including jazz, opera, pop and rock. Her last release, Fast Talk with Alex Ward on clarinet, is out on Emanem (http://www.emanemdisc.com/E5021.html). 

Here is my top ten for 2013: a collection of experiences, milestones, meaningful events and best recommendations, in order of appearance.

1. The Non-Verbal Voice: 

Back in Jan I gave a lecture at London College of Communication on ‘The Non-Verbal Voice’. I came upon so many amazing and entertaining examples of songs and pieces with voices but without words it’s hard to choose one, so here are three which have stuck with me: 

Drops of Melting Ice (Inuit Throat Songs and Drumming)

Yakety-Eeph (Jimmie Riddle)

Circlesong 1 (Bobby McFerrin)

2. Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater – “Cujus Animam Gementem”

I’ve been singing with Ad Libitum Chamber Choir, and in Feb we presented ‘Italian Masterworks’, which included Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. I hadn’t heard this piece before, it’s simply stunning, depicting as it does Mary’s anguish at the foot of the cross. Even better I got to sing the solo “Cujus Animam Gementem” with an ensemble of period instruments. Here’s a version of this short aria from the National Chamber Choir of Armenia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3HpIxUXeGg

3. The Hauntological Orchestra

 In the words of Resonance 104.4FM’s Ed Baxter, The Hauntological Orchestra ‘offers a mix of radically arranged but crowd-pleasing cover versions, immersive electronics, a bit of bombast, bricolage and plentiful musical brio’. One of my contributions to our gig in Feb was “Anyone Who Had A Heart” by Burt Bacharach. Cilla Black’s version is the best known on this side of the pond, but the tune was penned for Burt’s muse Dionne Warwick, and hers was the original and most soulful rendition. Here’s a real gem of an early live recording with Mr Bacharach introducing her himself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_42QFD6zy7g

4. Mark Ribot guitar solo

Though best known for his work with Tom Waits, Mark Ribot has had a multifaceted career as a composer and bandleader with an extensive discography. I was lucky enough to know Mark from my days in New York, and his rare solo appearance in March at Cafe Oto was deservedly packed to the proverbial rafters. He is a charming, genuine and generous performer, with a unique guitar style about which our mutual friend and fellow guitarist Elliott Sharp once said ‘only such a virtuoso could play so loosely and make it sound so together’. Here’s a beautiful video of his version of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was The Night (Cold Was The Ground)”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QLbi4E3-hI

5. Olie Brice Quartet

In a city like London, brimful of brilliant bassists, relative newcomer Olie Brice is a notable presence. He’s an alternating current of musical dynamics; his tone, rhythm, power, sensitivity, open mind and a stream of melodic ideas make him a deservedly popular player. I caught his own quartet at the Amersham Arms in March, with the outstanding lineup of Mark Hanslip on tenor, Alex Bonney on trumpet and Jeff Williams on drums. Here’s a recording of them live at Charlie Wright’s (with pianist Leon Mitchener rather than Alex Bonney): https://soundcloud.com/olie-brice/the-olie-brice-quartet-the

6. Mopomoso On Tour

Mopomoso is the ‘longest running unbroken series dedicated to free improvisation in the UK’, thanks to the tireless efforts of guitarist (and National Treasure) John Russell. It hit 21 years in 2013 and was justly celebrated with a seven-city tour at the end of April, superbly supported by Sound and Music. My duo with Alex Ward was one of the five acts which had the honour to play for sold-out, enthusiastic houses – a rare treat for an improvising musician! It was a positive and memorable experience. Read all about it on the Sound and Music website: http://www.soundandmusic.org/projects/mopomoso-tour

7. Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth

In July BBC 4 screened this inspiring documentary of the extraordinary artist and humanitarian Alice Walker. Directed by Pratibha Parmar, the film traces her turbulent life and struggle for her own truth and personal vision to be accepted. ‘All of Alice’s writings urge us to think differently, and to think critically about those things we most take for granted’ says activist and author Angela Davis in the film. A must-see. Watch the trailer: http://www.alicewalkerfilm.com/teaser/

8. Climate Radio on the Balcombe blockade

An entire village took control of their own destiny in August when they resisted the company Cuadrilla’s attempt to force fracking upon them. After years of conventional opposition had been ignored and all democratic means had been exhausted, the people of Balcombe – supported by thousands of concerned and conscientious citizens – physically stopped the plan from proceeding. Climate Radio was there, as it has been in so many crucial moments of the fight against climate change, covering the stories and facing the hard facts which we simply must face if we want to secure a future for our civilisation and the survival of many other species on our planet threatened by the corporate onslaught of short-term shareholder profit-making. This is courageous radio doing what the medium does best and giving a hearing to those voices which the establishment media shamefully ignores. Listen to this show (and all the others from all the series over the past decade) online: http://climateradio.org/reclaim-the-power-3/

9. Duo with Ntshuks Bonga

This is a duo which has been evolving for a few years and in December we had our first live duo performance, which was a blinder. Ntshuks Bonga is a reed player of rare talent with an incredible ear, technical flexibility and a sackful of soul. He thinks clearly and plays passionately. We are looking forward to a release this year. You can hear us play on Monday 3 February at the award-winning floating concert series Boat-ting (www.boat-ting.co.uk). I’ll be putting some of our December gig online in the new year too, but in the meantime here is a track we recorded last year with Mr Bonga playing bass clarinet: https://soundcloud.com/kaygrant/kay-grant-ntshuks-bonga

10. The Genius In All Of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent And IQ is Wrong, by David Shenk

Okay, I confess this one is not in chronological order, as I read it over the course of the year. But it’s a suitable one to end on, summing up as it does the twin – and entwined – mythologies of talent and genetics, the ingrained belief in an outdated system of understanding human potential and an even more outdated science. Epigenetics has shown that very little of us is engraved physically, but rather is the product of an ongoing conversation between our genes and external stimuli. Nature and nurture are interdependent. Nothing is pre-determined. What we become is a fluid process: a living improvisation. We are all ever becoming.


Find out more about Kay’s music on her website here and Twitter page here.

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