Ishmael Ensemble

Contact Details:

33 Queen's Road, Burley, Leeds, LS6 1NY

01132752411

Leeds Inspired

Ishmael Ensemble

17th October 2024

September 2024 sees the release of Ishmael Ensemble’s third longplayer ‘Rituals’, which marks a significant leap for the Bristolian musicians. With their live-instrumentation-meets-electronic merging of styles, the group were always broader than the ‘new UK jazz’ tag which they were often given, but here their scope and boundary-pushing ambition is more evident than ever before.

Still maintaining a blend of spiritual jazz, dub, experimental and electronic soundscapes, here those elements are vigorously whipped-up into huge cyclones of sound, more song-based and accessible than before, but also almost psychedelic in its euphonic blend of colours, textures, facets and moods.

Formed in 2017 by producer and saxophonist Pete Cunningham, their debut LP ‘A State Of Flow’ was Contemporary Album Of The Month in The Guardian and gained radio plays from UK tastemakers Gilles Peterson, Tom Ravenscroft and Mary Anne Hobbs. However it was their 2021 album ‘Visions of Light’ that saw the group reach wider acclaim – receiving glowing reviews in The Observer and Mojo, and the accolade of Huey Morgan’s Album Of The Year on BBC 6 Music. This was followed by a solid 3 year run of international touring including shows in Mexico and the US, as well as multiple sold-out tours in the UK and EU.

With recognition and plaudits growing in stature from press and radio alike, so too grew the stages they found themselves on, from Glastonbury’s famous West Holts stage to Brixton Academy, offering the band the opportunity to maximise their already vast cinematic music to fit their new surroundings, leaning into the luscious walls of sound and heady swirling electronics now synonymous with their live shows. With that in mind Cunningham set his sights on capturing this new-found energy, using it as fuel for LP 3.

Whereas ‘Visions of Light’ was born of the lockdown era; intimate, patient and brooding, ‘Rituals’ is the antithesis – celebrating the rush and energy of life back in the real world. Partly recorded in Mexico at the residential studio El Ganzo, and finished on home turf at Real World Studios near Bath alongside celebrated producer/engineer Ali Staton (Madonna, Lamb, Lewis Taylor), the record sees Cunningham and his bandmates at their most free and adventurous.

‘Rituals’ opens with Cunningham and Holysseus Fly’s soulful verses on ‘C’mon’ atop a tense backdrop of haunting drones and bubbling synths, before erupting into a wall of sub bass, post rock guitars and powerful strings, blowing the doors wide open for what’s to come. Holysseus goes on to deliver empowered calls of self-belief and strength in adversity on ‘Blinded’ and ‘Ezekiel’, as Cunningham flexes his electronic production skills, demonstrating his love for UK soundsystem culture.

While ‘Grounded’ and ‘Fever Dream’ draw inspiration from the early dubstep and drum & bass that soundtracked Pete’s formative years clubbing in Bristol, in ‘Leviathan’ and ‘Madrid’ there’re also nods to the acid techno of the dusty quarry raves where he cut his teeth as a teenage DJ.

The tracks that set the emotional tone and thus become the core of the record however, are those where the band members’ unique qualities come together. The collective experience of everything they’ve battled and achieved over the last 3 years, from entering parenthood to overcoming cancer treatment, inspired the emphatic, anthemic crescendos of ‘Dust & Butterflies’, the contemplative resolve of ‘Cold Light’, and the sentimental curtain call ‘In Time’.

With UK and EU tours set for October / November 2024 and sights set on wider international touring and festivals in 2025, ‘Rituals’ sees Ishmael Ensemble embrace everything they’ve achieved so far with outward facing optimism for the future.