Emma-Jean Thackray – Tuning Fork: September 12, 2022

Emma-Jean Thackray stands beside an instrument stand holding a collection of boxes full of beats, loops and backing vocals.

She punches keys as she sings, filling out the sound made by her trio, in the absence of several other instrumentalists and singers who usually accompany her. At her feet is her trumpet, which she plays often throughout the set, with measured phrases that show her time in music school was well spent.  The sound she makes is a mixture of jazz, soul, hip hop, fusion and anything else that interests her.

Thackray comes from Yorkshire. As a child, the was playing cornet in a brass band before taking up jazz trumpet at the age of fourteen. She studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama under Keith Tippett, the jazz pianist, improviser and composer. Her musical interests broadened at music school, to include the hip-hop instrumentals of Madlib and J Dilla, alongside hard bop and classical music. She then studied for a master’s degree in jazz composition at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London.

She now lives in Catford, a South London suburb where new kinds of jazz happen. She is becoming one of the most prominent musicians of the new jazz scene in London. She has appeared on Jules Holland’s Later and has made two EPs. She now has an album, Yellow, released on her own label, Movementt, which is affiliated to Warp – the label of Aphex Twin, Autechre, Boards of Canada and Broadcast.

She also contributed a track to Blue Note Re:Imagined, the 2020 anthology of classics from the jazz label’s catalogue reinterpreted by the new generation of British jazz players. Her interpretation of Wayne Shorter’s

Speak No Evil, from his Night Dreamer album of 1964, was one of the highlights of her Auckland set, with her own voice and words transforming the instrumental work.

Thackray’s tour band comprises pianist Lyle Barton, bassist Matt Gedrych and drummer Dougal Taylor. All are accomplished musicians. Barton plays a Rhodes electric piano and a Prophet 6 synthesiser – a nice indication of the scope of his playing, from sixties jazz to contemporary electronica. Gedrych plays a five-string electric bass in fluid lines while Taylor drums energetically but with precision. The tuba player who is part of her band at home and her recorded music was not on the tour, but the bass and drums filled the gaps.

Thackray opens her set playing her trumpet. She sings as well. She has a message, about “music to move the mind, move the body, move the soul”. She introduces Speak No Evil with a few words about her Taoist beliefs, her  adherence to balance in music and in life.  Her songs are like incantations. In Say Something, she repeats, “don’t just speak, say something”, until you believe you must. In Golden Green, she tells us, “My baby’s gold, pure golden green, smells like biscuits, biscuits and weed.” In Our People, a song that has the makings of a Glasto anthem, she chants “My people, your people, their people, we are all our people.”

On an ordinary Monday night in Auckland,  this is heady stuff. The crowd loves it, dancing to the music and drinking wine by the bottle (this is  a middle-class night out). Emma-Jean Thackray will be welcome the next time she comes this way. In the meantime, she will go far.

Paul Litterick

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Brenna Jo Gotje:

Emma-Jean Thackray:

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