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Fortnightly Highlight 10: IN·​FLO·R​ES·C​ENCE Unfolding

Dear friends,

Since IN·FLO·RES·CENCE launched two weeks ago I’ve had the chance to take a beat and reflect upon the learning of new storytellers, the listening to boundary-breaking rhythms, the talking about how to transcend distances and disciplines…

When approached by my co-curator and project commissioner Reece Ewing to help create a platform where sound and art can cross-pollinate, with The Showroom and our Director Elvira Dyangani Ose, I knew what a gift this project was. In a time when I was seeking ways to reach those I missed and ground myself in the healing power of sound, here was an opportunity to connect the two; to create constellations and conversations with a greater community.

In this Fortnightly Highlight, we are thrilled to present three of the ten international composers involved in this project, whom I’ve learnt so much from during the past few months. I’ve learnt from Pianist Thandi Ntuli how to anthropomorphise sound; from Vibraphonist Corey Mwamba how to embrace the limitlessness of time; and from Drummer Sarathy Korwar how to trust in others to interpret your voice, beats and ideas. Furthermore, from Artist-in-Residence Pianist Elio Villafranca and Journalist Kevin Le Gendre, how to actively listen and create both personal and socio-political connections across a global diaspora of jazz.

Indeed Reece Ewing initially imagined this platform as an art initiative whereby jazz could be shared and discovered in a context focusing on gathering, communion, critical discussion, provocation and joy. The structure of multiple voices at the core of this project is inspired by an inflorescence: a complicated cluster of flowers arranged on a stem referencing the budding of blossoms – the process of flowering, a moment of unfolding, the stage of development full of possibility and production. This anatomical concept is also eponymous with the 1989 avant-garde album by American Pianist and Poet Cecil Taylor (1929–2018), and in thematic reference to the Alone / Together performances that American Violinist Jennifer Koh has digitally commissioned to help rebuild her musical community. A call and response. Sonic power.

I hope that through its multiple voices, portals for active listening and opportunities for resonant responses, IN·FLO·RES·CENCE will create a space for us all to breathe, listen, create and connect.

All my best,
Katherine

Katherine Finerty
Assistant Curator and Communications & Development Manager
The Showroom

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This month we have started presenting the first group of interviews and performances introducing the ten participating composers: ​J.D. Allen​,​ Bokani Dyer​, Sarathy Korwar​,​ Nduduzo Makhathini​,​ Siya Makuzeni​,​ Elaine Mitchener​,​ Corey Mwamba​, Thandi Ntuli​,​ Luis Carlos Pérez​ and ​Leyanis Vald​é​s Reyes​. Each of these musicians were invited by Reece Ewing to create a piece for solo piano around one minute in length responding to the changes to daily life during the global coronavirus outbreak. These individual pieces have all been interpreted and performed by the project’s first Artist-in-Residence, Cuban New York-based Pianist, Composer and Band Leader Elio Villafranca, throughout the duration of the project. The platform begins with:

THANDI NTULI

South African jazz pianist and vocalist Thandi Ntuli hails from a lineage of rich musical heritage. Since the release of her debut album The Offering (2014) and recent projects Exiled (2018) and Thandi Ntuli: Live at Jazzwerkstatt (2020), she’s made an imprint on the global jazz community as one of the leading voices of modern South African jazz, displaying capabilities as not only a composer and performer, but as an arranger with the remarkable facility to weave the imagery of her stories with each note.

Thandi's composition, Gently As The Sower Reaps, takes us back to about four years ago, when she went through what is often called a 'Saturn Return' – an astrological period where the Saturn is said to return to the position it was at one's birth. 'This was a great catalyst for incredible self-discovery and the beginning of a journey of self-love.' Thandi shares, 'New life is always vulnerable. Yet its potential inspires care-givers to nurture it to its fullness. I see myself, in this newness, as a budding plant, where my work involves being nurtured and surrendered as The Creator beckons me to "Go Gently As The Sower Reaps".'

MEET: Thandi Ntuli

WATCH: A conversation between Thandi and journalist Kevin Le Gendre where they discuss her interpretation of inflorescence, her commission Go Gently As The Sower Reaps, life during lockdown in South Africa and channelling a feminine energy

EXPERIENCE: Elio Villafranca performing Thandi's composition Go Gently As The Sower Reaps

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COREY MWAMBA

Born and based in Derby, UK, Dr. Corey Mwamba's commitment to jazz and improvised music in Britain and Ireland drives all aspects of his work, whether through making, presenting, promoting, or researching music. Mwamba predominantly plays vibraphone, as well as dulcimer, and utilises audio processing software. He is recognised as a highly creative improviser and composer working across a wide range of jazz and contemporary music with a distinctive approach and tone: a potent blend of pure sound, highly melodic phrases and ethereal textures; barely whispered chords and ear-piercing robotic screams.

Corey's composition fellowred is based on an archaic word from an old Scandinavian root meaning 'partner, business associate, companion, comrade, spouse, collaborator, ally' – namely, intimate companionship. Although Corey uses standard Western notation for this score, there are certain elements removed, such as a time signature – indeed, time in general. The composition is about a deep intimacy of communication and companionship, where the score itself states 'take as much time as you need'.

WATCH: A conversation with Kevin Le Gendre discussing Corey's respect for Cecil Taylor's experimental ethos, special commission fellowred, life during lockdown in Derby, staying connected whilst distanced and the power of breath.

EXPERIENCE: Elio Villafranca performing Corey's composition fellowred

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SARATHY KORWAR

Sarathy Korwar is a US-born, Indian-raised, London-based drummer, producer, composer and bandleader. His music is predominantly based in jazz and Indian classical music, but also incorporates elements of hip-hop and electronic music. Having been mentored by the likes of Gilles Peterson, Fourtet, Floating Points and Emanative, through the Steve Reid Foundation he has established himself as one of the most original and compelling voices in the UK jazz scene.

His piece Internal Monologue started with giving Elio Villafranca, a set of instructions requesting the pianist to respond to the upcoming music, which then became the finished piece. Sarathy asked him to 'get ready with both your left and right index fingers on the C keys on the piano, any octave of your choice. Start playing when you hear the music and stop playing when the music ends." A drum piece followed and Elio’s piece responded – a call and response between two percussive voices.

LISTEN: Sarathy's instructions to Elio Villafranca

WATCH: A conversation with Kevin Le Gendre discussing Sarathy’s recent creative output, his interpretation of drumming as harmony and layering, his communication of an Indian diaspora experience in contemporary Britain and emerging out of isolation.

EXPERIENCE: Elio performing Sarathy's composition Internal Monologue

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IN-CONVERSATIONS

These musical offerings will be activated by the commissioned musicians through conversations with Journalist ​Kevin Le Gendre​ and a group of creative professionals whose practices are deeply informed by sound, including: The Showroom Director and Chief Curator ​​Elvira Dyangani Ose​​; Jazz Musician ​​Jason Moran​​; Composer Pianist ​​Vijay Iyer​​; Theorist and Filmmaker ​​Kodwo Eshun​​; Curators Christine Eyene, Katherine Finerty, Andrea Giunta, Brinda Kumar,and Temi Odumosu; multimedia Artists including ​​Phoebe Boswell, ​Andrew Pierre Hart​, Evan Ifekoya​, ​Laura Lima​​ and​ ​Charmaine Watkiss;​ ​and more. The community created will flower into multiple, growing conversations serving as a living archive for expanding jazz within personal, collective and creative contexts. This series begins with:

KEVIN LE GENDRE

Kevin Le Gendre is a journalist and broadcaster with an interest in black music, literature and culture. Since the late ‘90s he has written about soul, jazz, African and Caribbean musicians and authors for many publications, including Echoes, Jazzwise and Times Literary Supplement Online. He contributes to Radio 4’s Front Row and also presents Radio 3’s J To Z. His latest book is Don’t Stop The Carnival; Black Music In Britain, winning the 2019 ARSC award for Best Historical Research In Roots And World Music.

LISTEN: To conversations between Kevin and all the participating composers – more to be presented throughout August

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JASON MORAN

On Wednesday 26 August at lunchtime BST we will present the first interdisciplinary discussion with special guests Jazz Musician Jason Moran and Artist-in-Residence Pianist Elio Villafranca, in conversation with The Showroom Director Elvira Dyangani Ose and Co-Curators Reece Ewing & Katherine Finerty. Focusing on the cross-modality of sound and object, next week’s discussion will unfold as a call and response: Elio responding to the ten international composers; Jason responding to Elio's performances; and the curators responding to both of these musicians' own arts practices and experimental approaches to rhizomatic forms of storytelling.

Jazz pianist, composer and artist Jason Moran was born in Houston, Texas in 1975. His activity stretches from his 15 critically acclaimed solo recordings to collaborations with artists from Cassandra Wilson to Kara Walker to Ava Duvernay showcase his reach. This boundary-bursting artist grounds his practice in the composition of jazz, bridging the visual and performing arts through spellbinding stagecraft. Jason transmutes his personal experience of the world into dynamic musical compositions that challenge the formal conventions of the medium. His experimental approach to art-making embraces the intersection of objects and sound, pushing beyond the traditional in ways that are inherently theatrical.

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