Kairos Ensemble

Rejoicing Blues

Freedom is found throughout music, but it is particularly prevalent in Jazz. Music is all about expression, from the lyrical prose of rap to the distorted, fiery chug of an inflammable power chord. It is forever there, in all kinds of music. Charles Wright, one of America’s founding fathers of funk, once voiced this freedom with his soul hit, “express yourself”, encouraging everybody to come and be moved by music. It was a battle cry, one soaked in positivity.

Since then, the times have changed – but the message in the music has not. Jazz is perfect for expression – melodic lines are frequently let loose and improvisation becomes less of a scale-born, repetitious phrase and more an exercise in the outer realms. Dissonant, ‘outside’ notes are made to feel welcome, included into the music with a real sense of value, and extended, often exotic chord voicings intertwine in an effervescent, ebullient dance. The notes come from the heart and soul. The usual, teacher-strict 4/4 time signature and the standard set-ups that we have perhaps grown used to become claustrophobic confines – there is no better way to rejoice than through Jazz.

Kairos Ensemble certainly exercise their expertise and enjoyment on Rejoicing Blues, their fourth album, producing a fresh and vividly colourful sound that will never fade away. The quartet is made up of Peter James (keyboards and piano), Dan Foster (alto and tenor saxophones), Richard Fox (tuba) and Tom Hooper (drums and percussion). The very air is painted with the sound of the silky saxophone, the cool, contrasting piano and the melodic, grounded tuba; three melodies that undulate concurrently.

The quartet aren’t afraid to push the boat out and jump into unsearchable waters – it’s one of the reasons why their music is so fresh and innovative. It’s a colourful, tonal safari – the place ‘Where The Deep Blue Sea Meets the Azure Sky’ – where the sound not only smiles but positively beams, without straying into the saccharine. The quartet’s musicianship is incredibly tight, in the pocket, but more important than that is the language the music speaks – the language of love. Rejoicing Blues brings together the music that Kairos often play live, but has never before been set to record. Kairos Ensemble’s repertoire is as colourful and as uplifting as the brilliant blue on the cover, a glorious decade that began with 2002’s The River.

The beautiful blue artwork, streaked with white, is enough to capture the imagination, but there are brilliant flashes of colour in the music, too. They are sprayed by the saxophone’s lilting tones and the flourish of the piano, both of which are played with so much soul that they could be classed inside the genre along with the aforementioned Charles Wright , decorating the many musical branches like Christmas lights on the tree…and it’s as cosy and as warm as the season.

The fourteen compositions spend their time in the healthy tan of the sunshine and the depths of emotional pain (the ‘blues’ of the title). Rejoicing Blues traces with kindness the highs and the lows, but it is ultimately an uplifting body that teaches us to let go of our fears and rejoice in the beauty of life that we have been given.

Opener ‘Curiosity’ takes its inspiration from South America, and from the spicy Latin rhythms of Argentinian musician Astor Piazzolla. A second in, and the album is already warm. The temperature rises, with its sultry climate seeming to come from south of the equator. The drumming is superb, the soft, syncopated touch transitioning smoothly to the lightest rustle of a brush stroke. The piano, played masterfully by Peter James, is as smooth as ice, but it is also a warm light that shines through the dark, illuminating the music like a sole candle during a power cut.

Running through the music’s soul, like arteries to the heart, is the strong desire to give and to share. It seems like it is second nature to the band, so much so that it instinctively makes up much of their DNA. This can be seen in the deeply personal approach the band took when writing and recording  – ‘Mr Tom’ is dedicated to the quartet’s drummer, the first, faint blossom of new love plays its song on ‘First Signs’  and, with heart-wrenching beauty, on ‘Lost Property’, which is dedicated to Fox’s departed brother, Graham. Fox wrote ‘Dad’s Happygail’ as a dedication to his newly born daughter, Abigail – and so the ups and downs on the rollercoaster ride that we call life are brought into focus, but gently so.

It goes further than that, though, because ‘Underground (For The Saints)’ is a poignant prayer for the suffering Church and the persecution of Christians worldwide; no matter the nation, it is a cry and a calling for the past, the present and the future. The hand-clapped rhythm brings another personal, human touch (literally), the sound coming from the very body, urged into action by the plight of fellow brothers and sisters all over the world.

The solemnity of ‘Lost Property’ – “a lament for the loss of what we thought was ours” – is a spacious, meditative piece, toning it down with an important reminder that we can never hold onto the present moment, that we should appreciate what we have while we still have it. Things become brighter on the sedate ‘Laval’, a track that conjures the mood of a quiet, French town (Foster spent six months living in the medieval town of Laval, Western France). The track evokes an unhurried way of life, a stress-free passage where time slows down. It is a way of life that has almost become obsolete and forgotten in the West, but the orange-apricot glow of the sunset reminds us of the deep need to pause and reflect.

The obvious camaraderie makes the music even warmer, lit by the fire of friendship. Kairos Ensemble’s love for the music shines through brightly, as does the love and respect they have for each other. There’s even a very cool tuba solo on ‘In Step’, a wonderful, uplifting melody that suggests everything is fine, aligned just the way it was supposed to be; it is the thrilling revelation of your destiny and the good plan unfolding before your eyes. Kairos have a lighter side; the track is a slice of fun, something that many musicians need to look up in the dictionary.

‘Wedding Song’ is not just a dance of happiness, but of pure euphoria. The joy just cannot be contained. ‘The Water Is Wide’, the traditional English piece, tails the album with its mellow melody, a running river of peace, lit by keys of serenity. Kairos are in another league – the music soaks itself with fresh rhythms and melodies, glorious improvisations – where you will find the essence of musical freedom – and a dazzling splash of colour, a place of refuge painted with a smile.

Yes, life is a journey – there is no escaping the fact that, from time to time, it can weigh you down with its melancholic anchors. But it is also one of limitless freedom, and one of ultimate triumph. Rejoice in the fact!


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