4 years on after the ground-breaking release of Antiphon, Alfa Mist remains one of the leading figures in the flourishing UK jazz scene. His new LP, Bring Backs, is a polite reminder that he still has a lot more to offer.
Very few artists can call themselves both jazz pianists and hip-hop rappers in the same sentence, let alone showcase the two unique skillsets in the same project. Alfa Mist does it without a care in the world, effortlessly flicking back and forth between poetic lyricist and poetic pianist. Whilst he’s not been afraid in the past to unleash different monikers to showcase his different musical talents, Bring Backs is a brave decision to incorporate the various sides of the musician into one single project, making it his most complete, and perhaps most Alfa, project yet.
Initially posing as a jazz album, Bring Backs eventually shows itself to be a masterfully crafted fusion of jazz and hip-hop, flirting with neo-soul rhythms and lounge-room jazz along the way. Opening track ‘Teki’ is a statement of intent, in a similar fashion to opening track ‘Keep On’ of Antiphon. The psychedelic guitar and crackling drum grooves give it a visceral flow and are cushioned by Alfa’s gentle piano chords, keeping listeners engaged but still warmly entranced in the groove.
The album is cleverly tied together by a delicate poem written by Hilary Thomas. Reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, the poem helps to glue the varying rhythms and song structures together. Despite any potential pressure that comes from being an exciting pioneer of UK jazz, it’s refreshing to see that Alfa is not afraid to take risks, and has the freedom to express himself in whatever way he feels is appropriate.
Our first exposure to Alfa’s jazz-rap comes in the third track of the album, where Alfa is joined by fellow rising star Lex Amor. This almost feels like the downbeat B side to 2016’s ‘If You Wouldn’t Mind’ (released under Alfa’s moniker ‘2nd Exit’), as the recurring Transport For London voiceover creates the imagery of Alfa sitting on the tube rapping with his signature baritone flow. The introspective lyrics (“Take my time, so they only see me in the right state of mind”) suit the mellow instrumental and the dark atmosphere that pervades the album, with Lex Amor taking over the second half of the track to express her own dark realities of life.
The hazy, muddy atmosphere is extended to the next track ‘Run Outs’, where the soulful chord progressions counter the distorted percussion to leave the listener somewhere in between. This is contemporary jazz at its very finest, with the melodic piano acting as the only continuous layer and the intricate drumming and trumpet solo making the whole piece that bit more profound. The surreal sense of tranquillity created highlights the collaborative nature of the project, as the various equally unique sounds work together to create something much greater than the sum of its parts.
At times, it does feel that some of the songs are filling space rather than adding to the overall piece. The highlight of the second half of the record is definitely ‘Attune’, a beautifully composed piece coming in at 7 minutes long. The alternating solos and playful interplay between the band members make it suitable for late-night jazz bars, and you’d be forgiven for mistaking it as coming off of a classic 60s Blue Note record.
There’s a lot of room for pretentiousness in jazz music. There’s a presumed abstract and inaccessible nature to every bit of music tied to the genre, and this can be difficult for artists of the current generation to shake off. Alfa Mist isn’t necessarily trying to do that specifically, but he is making music that is just as engaging as it is interesting, and that’s all we can ask of him.
Alfa Mist’s Bring Backs is released today, and is available to stream and purchase now. Alfa also heads out on a UK tour later this year, including a night at London’s Barbican Centre, for a full list of dates head here.