Alice Browne reviews Alfa Mist, who played at the indie venue last week.
If you mentioned jazz when someone asked you to describe your music taste a decade ago, you’d most likely be met with an awkward giggle and not-so-subtle eye rolls. Previously something typically confined only to the library of music snobs and pretentious men on first dates, the last ten years have proved to be a transformative period for the jazz scene in the UK.
Birthing talents like Ezra Collective, Sampha and KOKOROKO, London has become the territory for some of the most innovative talent in country, with a wealth of fresh new faces enabling a long needed reinvention of the genre to place it firmly back within the reaches of a younger, more open minded crowd. One of the strongest contenders from this burgeoning scene, multi-instrumentalist, rapper and producer Alfa Mist played to a sold out crowd at Leeds indie hotspot Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen, transporting the smooth sounds of London up north for the night.
Nestled into the left hand side of a dimly lit stage, Mist’s lowkey presence advocated for a sense of egalitarian collectivity on stage. Though undoubtedly running the show, his core band, made up of Jamie Leeming (guitar), Kaya Thomas-Dyke (bass and vocals) and Johnny Woodham (trumpet), were as much of an integral part of the show as the man himself. With each member showcased in full light as we were guided seamlessly through each track, Mist wove their talent together to move as a singular, united force. Each solo was welcomed with open arms, with Mist’s announcement that it was actually Woodham’s birthday prompting an eruption of cheers from the crowd that felt like a glaring reminder of how far jazz has moved away from the too-cool arrogance of the past.
As they slipped effortlessly between layered instrumentals and chilled out, soulful rap, a homage to Alfa’s roots producing hip hop and grime, the room was hanging onto every hazy beat. Mind The Gap, a standout track from recent album Bring Backs that boasts a collaboration with fellow London based rapper Lex Amor, translated flawlessly onto stage. Pensive lyrics coupled with brooding brass trumpets reverberated through the room, settling us into a near trancelike state that crept through the duration of the gig. A meditation on ambivalence and apathy in the capital, Mist’s lyrics speak to the relatable frustration of youth. Fan favourite Breathe placed bassist Kaya’s ethereal vocals into the spotlight, showcasing the bands ability to preserve an essential delicacy alongside their robust instrumentals.
Bursting with a warm vibrancy that rippled across the bar, the gig was a reminder of the quiet sense of unification found only in live music. As Hillary Thomas’ poem played over some of the band's more subtle melodies, the line ‘opportunity still short but support still bringing unity’ resounded. Ambient and dreamy yet devoid of any semblance of pretense, the earnest intimacy of Alfa Mist’s gig makes a strong claim on behalf of the entire blossoming neo-soul scene, clearly now reaching out from the confines of the capital and into the nation beyond.
Words by Alice Browne
Image credit: Johnny Pitts