Band on the Wall brings the UK jazz sensation Alfa Mist back to Manchester for a show at the stunning RNCM Concert Hall to mark the release of his new LP, Variables.
“I’ve been focused on who I am in my music, but now I’m exploring where I am,” Alfa Mist says. “I’m asking: how did I get here?”
This is the journeying question that underpins Alfa’s fifth album, Variables. Traversing luscious, big band swing, head-nodding boom-bap rhythms and yearning vocal melodies, the record is expansive, soulful and moving, in both body and spirit. On Variables, his second release for ANTI-, Alfa achieves his most fully-realised, expressive musical work to date, coupling his keen ear for looping, memorably emotive piano melodies with intuitive grooves and a free-flowing jazz improvisation.
The musical mood spans the Duke Ellington orchestral feel of opener “Foreword” to the rhythmic thump of “Borderline”, where Alfa spits verses on the battle between our nature and how we are nurtured, the dark introspections of groove-heavy “4th Feb (Stay Awake)”, and the seven-minute free improvised expressions of “BC”.
Variables also features several standout appearances. Longtime collaborator Kaya Thomas-Dyke sings on the soul-inflected “Aged Eyes”, blending her gossamer vocal over a finger-picking guitar melody to swell into a strings-laden, cinematic chorus. While South African folk singer Bongeziwe Mabandla pens the yearning love song “Apho”, producing a call-and-response through his crystalline falsetto that skips over drummer Jas Kayser’s frenetic beat. There is even a family affair on the incantatory “Genda (Go Away)”, where Alfa’s nine-year-old niece sings a polyrhythmic chant that harks back to the Ugandan phrase his mother would softly tell her children.
Throughout, Alfa questions how it is that he has landed in a position of artistic success when other peers have not, or are even incarcerated. “What makes us all go into completely different directions when we come from the same place?” he asks. “There is luck, your upbringing, so many different factors. I’m glad I found music as my purpose early on – it is the voice that calms the chaos. It’s my one focus.”
Since the release of his first full-length project Nocturne in 2015, Alfa has established himself as one of the UK’s most focused, in-demand and distinct musical voices. He has worked with the likes of Jordan Rakei and Tom Misch. Artists look to him for his unique blend of intimate bedroom production and expansive jazz group orchestration, since Alfa is yet to be boxed into a specific genre. His music spans everything from hip-hop beat-making to producing for artists such as rapper Loyle Carner, composing neo-classical works for the London Contemporary Orchestra, and reworking tracks from composer Ólafur Arnalds and pioneering jazz label Blue Note.
A seated show. On sale 10am 3rd March.