LIVE: Emma-Jean Thackray - Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, 24/02/2022 2

LIVE: Emma-Jean Thackray – Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, 24/02/2022

Who’s in the mood for some good vibes then? Yes? Excellent. May I direct your eager attention towards Emma-Jean Thackray, who makes a pretty good case for jazz fusion at Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach tonight.

Lyle Barton on keyboards and Matt Gedrych on bass
Lyle Barton and Matt Gedrych (photo credit: Emma Lou Lewis)

The place is pretty full, as it should be for such a notable alumnus of the nearby Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. The back rows even stop talking for part of the set, which is always nice. Hello, yes, you know who you are, thanks for coming.

Because Thackray really does deserve your respect and close attention. She’s here with a small band, Lyle Barton on keys, Matt Gedrych on bass and Dougal Taylor on the drums, with Thackray herself on vocals, electronics, percussion and trumpet. They’ve got some serious chops between them, taking us through a set that convincingly circles through P-Funk, soul, house music, Flying Lotus-ish hip-hop, and the more spiritual end of jazz fusion. There are occasional echoes of, say, Weather Report or Miles Davies, but Thackray doesn’t seem to be at home to the kind of obstreperousness and self-conscious difficulty of these artists and it’s clear from the first few bars that Alice Coltrane is a bit of a guiding light for her.

Emma-Jean Thackray has the power to make you feel very, very good inside. This cannot be stressed enough. Not so long ago, I might have utterly dismissed all this for being annoyingly bland and upbeat, but the last few years have gone a long way to convince me that it’s quite important to have music that doesn’t go out of its way to rub your face in unbearable sadness. 

Emma-Jean Thackray bringing the vibes
Emma-Jean Thackray (photo credit: Emma Lou Lewis)

Perhaps this realisation is not uncommon and could partly explain the ongoing resurgence of jazz. But Thackray shows us that the flexibility of a jazz mindset can contain multitudes. The way that ‘Venus’ twists from its sprawling overture into the sudden, clubby compactness of the verses is a genuine thrill, and the dubby bass-line that underpins her hymn to the euphoric pleasures of ‘Golden Green’ builds seamlessly into a sharp point of distorted, droning trumpet—tonight’s gig is packed with these quietly startling moments. It’s immensely enjoyable.

The material is very geared around presenting Thackray as a vocalist, and if you ask me, she should get the trumpet out a bit more often. Not that there’s anything wrong with her as a singer – she’s an engagingly owl-like stage presence and her words have a plain and simple clarity that cuts more song-writery stuff dead. ‘Spectre’ and ‘Our People’ are both unreservedly great songs, but show-stopping solos from Barton and Gedrych leave me hungry for a trip into trickier, more beard-strokingly improvisatory territory.

Luckily, no one shares this opinion. By the time Thackray leaves the stage, the crowd is bobbing around with satisfyingly wide smiles and the energy is palpable. It’s sincere and self-assured, and she has clearly learned more from her P-Funk influences than a few licks. Emma-Jean Thackray captures the feeling of her influences and has a clear-sighted sense of where that fluidity and open-endedness can take you. Right here, right now, that makes her a formidable live proposition. A light in the darkness. Musical vitamin D. A kumquat for John Coltrane. Call it what you will, but do your third eye a favour and get some.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.