‘A plethora of cross-rhythmical and cross-cultural influences ensured they truly brought the Friday night groove.’
Arriving at Ninety One Living Room for the first Friday of the EFG London Jazz Festival 2019 (15th Nov.), it was clear that this medium sized club was going to offer an atmosphere that was much bigger the venue would suggest. For those of you who haven’t been there, it’s a truly wonderful place to hear live jazz and while you may choose how to experience it, the dimmed lighting and welcoming atmosphere made it the perfect place for Waaju to showcase their musicality.
Chatting with the band ahead the performance, it was clear they were excited to be part of the London Jazz Festival, especially for the opening night. There were indeed so many other venues hosting music that night, but it was clear this was to be a busy one. No more was this highlighted than it being so busy that the doors had to close to new audience! There was most certainly a true buzz and with the drinks flowing from the bar, and the waiting staff moving stealth like to serve guests, it was time for the set to begin.
Showcasing the experimental, yet structured centre of their sound, the opening track ‘Ali’s Mali‘ blossomed into a mix of percussion-led sections from Ben Brown and Fabio de Oliveir, and expressive, at times frantic musicality of saxophonist Sam Rapley. Delivering swirling solos and changes of energy it perfectly set up something that was to become a running theme: Interest. Never were we to be bored. If anything, it was to get even more captivating and with each member coming across in a way that was relaxed, yet self-assured, it was an early sign of them achieving the perfect balance in all areas.
Continuing this approach through the first part of the set, the quintet offered further contrasting sensations with the indulgent, saxophone-centred beginnings of ‘Kaolack‘ juxtaposing with the percussively driven, self-titled ‘Waaju.’ Bringing improvisatory interplay in abundance, it really did take the musicianship to another level. Each member knew what to bounce off. Each member knew the musical quirks of the others. And each member was beaming at the opportunity they were having. It was indeed exactly what you would expect a great night of jazz to be. However, the fact that bassist Greg Sanders and aforementioned percussionist Fabio De Oliveira weren’t part of the usual line up, made it all the more impressive.
Building on this impression, and with the crowd getting into the groove of the night, the insane levels of syncopation within ‘Maroc‘ heightened this further. Truly displaying the ensemble’s musical prowess, and teetering on the edge of hectic, the chord infused rhythms featuring guitarist Tal Janes ensured that anyone who hadn’t been rhythmically infected already, now was. Honestly, take a listen and try to keep still. However, ensuring that it wasn’t to be all about hectically stylish musicality, a few minutes of calm were to be brought to the venue.
Delivering a more delicate, softer sound ‘Wassoulou’ saw a brief departure from the full-on energy. Setting up a trio of currently unreleased tracks which would close the set, it saw the earlier hints of intimacy return while retaining an inferred groove. Beautifully contrasting with what had been, it perfectly proved that Waaju aren’t all about the energy and with the crowd responding appropriately, they appreciated this side of the musicality just as much. However, the appreciation was about to return in the clearest and most enthusiastic form.
Heading back toward the former sound, the first of the planned releases for May 2020 was followed up by ‘Moleman’ and ‘Listening Glasses’. Both bringing a wealth of complex musicality and showcasing the plethora of cross-cultural influences which lie at the centre of Waaju’s sound, they made the fullest of impacts. Therefore it was little surprise that with everyone letting the rhythms consume them, the incredible mood which had run through the night, turned completely into a Friday night groove.
All photos copyright of Listen to Discover. See more from the night at: Gig Photography: November 2019