At the end of this month, our good friends at On The Corner Records release the debut single from Collocutor. A new solo project from Tamar Osborn, a saxophonist and multi-wind instrumentalist who has performed with the likes of Dele Sosimi’s Afrobeat Orchestra, The Fontanelles, The Emanative live band and of course, our very own Jessica Lauren, Collocutor promises to be an intriguing glimpse into the musician’s original instrumental music and so far, from what we’ve heard, it all sounds rather lovely. ‘Archaic Morning’, the lead single to be taken from the forthcoming album due out later this summer, is an excellent seven and half minutes of modern modal jazz, pairing as it does flute, trumpet and tenor sax to create a track that resonates with Eastern promise. We certainly think that it’s a stunning introduction to the hard-working musician’s music, and so it seemed only right that we caught up with her to have a chat about her career so far and what we can expect from her début album. It turned out to be quite an in-depth discussion.
Good morning Tamar, should we perhaps start at the beginning? When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in music?
I started playing when I was really quite young, and my older brother is also a musician, so music has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.
So aside from your brother, did anything else in particular influence you?
I was lucky enough to have very supportive parents and grow up in a place (Bedfordshire) which at the time had an incredibly strong county youth music scene, so I had the opportunity to perform in orchestras and jazz bands from the age of about 11 through to my early 20s. I also went to a very arts-oriented sixth form and was in bands doing funk and blues pub gigs in my late teens. So although I had other interests when I was younger (I’m very good at starting projects but not finishing them!) music really was the one constant throughout. It was the natural choice when it came to deciding what to do as a career! Although if I’d been able to do an Archaeology A-Level it might have been a different story…
Looking at your website, it seems you have been pretty busy since you graduated from the Guildhall School of Music &, Drama in 2000, seemingly collaborating and contributing to a number of projects over the years. How did you go about building out your CV in the beginning?
Well I don’t really remember ever having a solid long-term plan or goal, and had fairly broad musical tastes, so took the route of doing everything I could and working out what I really wanted to do by a process of elimination! I found myself in some unexpected and challenging musical situations, but those are the ones which probably helped me the most as they pushed me out of my comfort zone. Those kind of challenges still come, particularly when working with musicians from different traditions, and they are often the most rewarding musical experiences and can lead to unexpected career branches!
Do you have any advice for young musicians now who might be setting out now and looking for gigs?
Thinking about it, probably most of my work has come through recommendation or someone seeing me perform, so my advice to young musicians who have similarly broad interests and want to build a varied career would be: do everything that looks even faintly interesting (initially at least), keep your musical ears open, always do the best job you can, don’t be afraid of challenges, get on with people, and make the most of any skill that sets you apart in some way (without being obnoxious about it!!).
Over the course of your career you’ve worked extensively with Dele Sosimi as part of his Afrobeat Orchestra. Can you tell us how this opportunity first arrived?
It came about through an old friend and colleague who I’d worked with on various projects and is Dele’s trumpet player. He knew I had an interest in this kind of music and suggested me when Dele was looking for a baritone player. It all worked out well and I’ve been there ever since! So big thanks to him and Dele, as playing in that band is a fantastic musical and personal experience, and has really opened up other opportunities and new musical worlds.
It must be great to work with so many talented musicians. Do you prefer playing in larger ensembles or do you find there some benefits to keeping things small?
I don’t have a preference to working with large or small ensembles – both have their own rewards. In a larger ensemble there are more colours and textures to play with from the instruments available, and a satisfaction to be taken from how your part fits in to the whole. And in the case of Afrobeat, a huge enjoyment in being part of such a powerful sound! In a smaller ensemble there is a closer, more immediate connection with all the musicians involved which makes listening and responding to each other more fluid.
In terms of your work with the Afrobeat Orchestra as well as with other artists and bands, it looks like you’ve had the opportunity of being a part of some memorable gigs in the past. Is there an event that particularly stands out for you in your career so far, and looking to the future is there anyone you would really like to work with?
This is a difficult one to answer!! I’m going to pick two fairly recent experiences. The first is playing the BBC Radio 3 stage at Womad with Dele in 2010. Every time I glanced out in to the audience there were more people, and the atmosphere was amazing!
The second is the Africa Express train trip around the UK in 2012. Not just one gig, but a week spent on a specially commissioned train with around 80 musicians from all over Africa, the UK, Europe, the US and beyond. Six big gigs and many smaller community gigs. All rehearsed on the road (or the rail track in this case!) or made up on the spot. I had the chance to perform with some amazing artists such as Rokia Traore and some new favourites including the Krar Collective.
But one of the undoubted highlights was an impromptu version of ‘Kashmir’ (Led Zepplin) put together by the trombonist and some of the guitarists, featuring just about as many musicians and MCs as could fit on the stage (including John Paul Jones himself!). It was near the end of the trip (Bristol) so we’d all got used to how to make these things work with the bare minimum of (or no) rehearsal and it was just the most huge sound! I think it’s out there on Youtube. We did it again in London on the final night and would have taken the roof off had the gig not been outside!
Actually I have to mention one last experience, playing with Indian/German group Taal Tantra in Kolkata about nine years ago. Getting to grips with the Indian classical elements of the music was a huge learning curve but very rewarding, and they were a great and welcoming group of musicians! It definitely had a lasting impact on my musical tastes and informed the approach to some of the Collocutor tunes.
In terms of the musicians I would love to work with, the first that immediately springs to mind is Mulatu Astatke. I can’t emphazise enough how influential his music has been!
Turning our attention now to your new Collocutor project, can you tell us how you set about writing material for the album? Was it straightforward or was it more a case of collating your thoughts over a series of months?
More than months! Some of the material had been kicking around as sketches and short ideas for a few years but had never found the right home, some developed quickly after the initial ideas were written.
I’d taken a bit of a break from composing, but writing a couple of tunes for The Fontanelles (the band I’m in that developed from doing the Fela! show at the national Theatre a couple of years ago) kick-started ideas again, and I was inspired by playing with the Yuriy Galkin Nonet – it reminded me to not be afraid of complexity in music!
I was also introduced to the Yusef Lateef ‘Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns’ – a wealth of information about modes from around the world. I was playing through the material, improvising around some of the modes, and found a few that inspired me – the tune ‘Archaic Morning’ actually draws its name from an archaic Greek mode and an Indian morning raga which had the same pattern of intervals and formed the basis of the tune.
So some of the tunes are based on specific modes, and in these cases I decided to set myself restrictions – I could only use the notes in those modes, and any harmony had to also result purely from those pitches. I also tried to stick to this when improvising, so had to practise the modes quite hard!
Sounds like a lot of thought was put into the planning. Obviously ‘Archaic Morning’ is quite deep and meditative in terms of sounds and, as you’ve discussed, seems to draw influence on a global scale. Is this a common theme throughout the LP?
Other tunes had other inspirations – one is named after a Mediterranean island and tries to evoke the strong sunlight, stark but beautiful landscape and ancient temple remains left by a slightly mysterious civilisation. Another grew from a combination of an unusual pendant on a necklace and listening to Jessica Lauren’s ‘The Name Of Fela Will Always Stand For Freedom’, then realising I’d written something way too similar to the groove on that track and having to make significant changes which led the tune in a new direction!
As the concept for the recording progressed I also wrote with specific musicians in mind and tried to incorporate moments which played to their strengths. In the case of the percussion I actually wrote very little as I knew the musicians I’d asked could come up with something far more interesting than I could write – mostly I said which instruments I preferred and gave a few sketches for ideas for rhythmic patterns and structure, and then said do what you do best! Choices could then be made in rehearsals as to what worked and could be expanded on.
I’m drawn to modal, hypnotic music wherever it’s from, so that really informs the album. The tunes draw on most of my musical experiences and interests so far, so incorporate influences from western classical music (Debussy, Stravinsky and Bernstein are favourites!), jazz (particularly 60s and 70s modal jazz), Afrobeat, Indian classical, Ethiopian music, a touch of mediaeval choral music, psychedelia and several other things buried somewhere in my subconscious!
I’m fascinated by the places where cultures meet, exchange ideas and blend, both historical and current (for me I think it might have been started by exploring my mixed heritage and growing up in a very multicultural town). And musical influences have very much been the groups and musicians who have taken inspiration from different traditions or genres and combined them to create something new or transform their own tradition (Mulatu, Shakti, Miles Davis, Fela, Alice Coltrane, the Beatles!). The idea behind the name Collocutor is that music is a conversation – between the composer and performers and audience, and between the individual musicians themselves and all their influences. The act of conversation transforms the ideas. Hopefully some of all of this comes across in the music!!
The album does sound fantastic, are you excited for what lays ahead after it’s released in the summer? Do you have any other plans or projects you are working on this year?
Absolutely, on both counts! I’m planning to take Collocutor live around the time of the vinyl album release so I’m very much looking forward to that, and we’re working on a possible collaboration with Emanative for the Steve Reid Foundation, The Fontanelles are busy gigging and promoting our album that came out at the end of last year, Dele has a busy summer lined up and we have the regular London ‘Afrobeat Vibration’ as-much-like-being-at-The-Shrine-in-Lagos-as-possible regular series of gigs, as well as some new London venues and other collaborations.
I also started performing with the fantastic new Jessica Lauren line-up last year so there will more of that to come, and was recently part of the UK band for Kelis’ live gigs – again, hopefully more of that to come! And there are one or two other things in the pipeline.
Thanks Tamar, we look forward to checking out the project in full later in the year!
You can pre-order ‘Archaic Morning’ ahead of its official release on March 25th via the On The Corner Bandcamp page and we should all look out for an LP to drop (on vinyl no less!) this summer.
If after all that you would like to delve a little deeper into Collocutor’s world, then Tamar has very kindly supplied a two-hour selection of some of her musical influences to add to our ever-growing virtual box of mixtapes. As you would expect it’s fairly deep and spans a whole gamut of jazz styles picked from all over the world. Peep the tracklist and stream the mixtape via the Mixcloud app below.
Le Trio Joubran – Laytana
Karl Hector & The Malcouns – Followed Path
Joe Henderson – Fire
St Petersburg Kirov Orchestra & Valery Gergiev – Le Sacre du Printemps: II. The Augurs of Spring (extract) Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – I Don’t Live Today
Miles Davis – Black Satin
The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows
Owiny Sigoma Band – Gone Thum Mana Gi Nyadhi
Fela Kuti & Africa 70 – Shakara
The Fontanelles – Gaia’s Revenge
Dudu Pukwana – Baloyi
Emanative & Ahmed Abdullah – Love In Outer Space
Afel Bocoum – Buri Baalal
Shakti – Mind Ecology
Benny Goodman & Columbia Jazz Band – Prelude, Fugue and Riffs
Johnny Harris – Stepping Stones
Roy Budd – Main Theme – Carter Takes A Train
Tamba Trio – Barumba
Arthur Verocai – Sylvia
Hu Vibrational – Ninety-Six Lotus Blossoms
Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble – Petite Fleur
Nitin Sawhney – Prophesy
Hariprasad Chaurasia – Short Alap & Gat In Teental