Shez Raja Collective:
In between Esperenza Spalding at the Barbican and the surplus of evening gigs at South Bank, the city already decked with Christmas lights, one of my own personal highlights during the London Jazz Festival in 2013 was a visit to the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho.
The intimacy and the perfectly pitched acoustics of the venue contribute a sizeable ballast to Soho Live by the Shez Raja Collective, a collection of eight numbers, some of the titles of which mirror the unleashing of exuberant and bravura jazz: Adrenalize, Karmic Flow, Junk Culture and Chakras On the Wall.
The Shez Raja Collective, an assemblage of top notch talent by bassist Shez Raja, on this recording is made up of ten musicians, bringing to mind Troyk-estra at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, or the Pat Metheny Group. And there, comparisons end.
Soho Live is high octane stuff, immediately addictive, with a cacophony of styles and influences, but never to the detriment of the band’s ability, track after track, to soar, to conquer and to spring surprises.
Raja, who produced and wrote all the tracks, sets out his stall with the street smart and exceptionally groovy Adrenalize, with phenomenal and trade mark bass licks, but he allows generous space for other mesmeric solos, such as Hutchings on clarinet.
After the mellow FNUK, Quiverwish opens with vernaculur bass by the British-Asian Raja and best exemplifies what the collective is about: storming funk and magnetic ragas, with the most cohesive of rhythm sections (Chris Nickolls on drums) and fabulous interplay between Gilad Atzmon’s tenor saxophone and Aaron Liddard’s alto saxophone.
Many of the musicians are well known in jazz across the water: Soweto Kinch (rapping on Karmic Flow) on alto saxophone, Hutchings (Melt Yourself Down) and Jay Phelps (trumpet on the exquisite Freedom), while Raja, classically trained on the violin when he was a boy, has toured with Loka and even Elephant Talk, whom I saw one boozy night twenty years ago in the Clonakilty pub owned by Jimi Hendrix’s bass player, Noel Redding.
This collective was forged in 2007 and has been busy in the smithy of merging Indo-jazz and thundering grooves reminiscent of Jaco Pastorious and, dare I say it, the percussive slap bass work of Mark King from Level 42 (cue Chakras On The Wall, with Monika Lidke on vocals).
This is a recording to treasure and if you have trouble getting out of the sack in the morning, then I recommend either Eastern Revolution or Freedom (Jay Phelps magnificent on trumpet) with Kinch on sax, with Raja echoing the four string ingenuity of Bakithi Kumalo.