ALBUM REVIEW: Scrimshire – ‘Believers Vol.1’: eclectic soul-jazz bliss that’ll wash you clean


ADAM SCRIMSHIRE, the London-based artist and label co-founder who steps into the recording studio and your record racks by his surname, has got the muse. And when you have the muse, you use it, you run with the flow.

As one idea begets another, so the recording of his last album opened the floodgates for a new one – and beyond, to another.

We last heard of him with 2017’s Listeners, a wide-ranging and blissful set for which he pulled in a host of fine collaborators, including Dorset’s blissful soul voice James Alexander Bright, jazzer Emma-Jean Thackray, Afro-reggae voyagers Soothsayers.

If it passed you by, you missed gems like “Theme For Us” and “The Socials”. It really is a work that aims for your intelligence and your groove gland, with a sound that can only stem from the brilliant cultural exchange of our capital: Afrobeat, jazz, Britsoul, hiphop lyricism, all sparking and fusing. Take a memo: don’t miss the new one.

Adam says of Listeners and beyond: “Writing and producing my last album … opened the floodgates for me. I’ve written more in the last 18 months than in years.

“Practising for the live band levelled up my playing and opened up possibilities in writing I couldn’t find before. Since then I’ve written more than two albums worth of Scrimshire songs.

“But I really wanted to try and focus the experience and separate between music that represented the positivity and optimism I’ve experienced in recent years against my more introverted and angrier instincts. 

Believers Vol.1 represents warmth and hope. Everyone I worked with early in lockdown seemed to want to express those longings for physical and emotional connection too. The whole album reaches out; I think it’s full of long embraces.

“But it is also, for me personally a love letter to black music and the black artists that shaped everything I care about sonically, from my very first memories of music until now. 

“It draws from sounds I grew up around in the early to mid-Eighties, classic records from the Seventies that I’ve never tired of, but important dance records from the late Nineties and early 2000s that celebrated and subverted those ideas, too.”

Now that sounds good. In a year absolutely blasted from its moorings by dark forces – epidemic, xenophobic, &c; a good, honest dose of love and positivity is a tonic. Is music getting you through? It is me. And Believers Vol. 1 operates on the level of Adam calling in the believers, another fantastic cast of vocalists and musicians from the salon of the London scene and beyond; but it also offers us a reason to believe  – in the music, in a better way.

And this way through, this route for believers, opens in “Anadwo”, a sun-bright slice of Afro groove written in collaboration with K.O.G. – Ghanian musician Kwaku Sackey. It opens in a distant, overheard, melody, stops; begins to take shape once more in whispers and a warming piano. It triggers off an irresistible central riff, around which organ, amassed chanting and pacey hiphop lyricism, dropping in and out of English and the Ghanian language, Twi; ‘Anandwo’ meaning evening or midnight. A time to loosen up and commune and bond, the day done.. It shimmers at you and beckons you join; it’s a music of humanistic common purpose.

Stac drapes grace over the questioning “Where Are We”, her voice by turns rousing and mellifluous. “Am I good enough? / Do you want it?” she calls; “I can only hear what you intend to say.” There’s muted, vamping guitars, a backwards-masked organ drone fading up in ear-tickling delight; Brit souljazz nuance that glides up a gear with the wrap of choral harmonising.

The effortless groove of “Lost In Space & Time” was a single drop back at the browning leaves end of the summer. Brighton’s Bessi takes the mic and hushes her lover: “I’m gonna let your soul know that you need to sit down, down, down”; like a cool breeze on a stuffy day, Scrimshire takes building blocks of acid jazz and modern British soul and fashions up a tune that slides to your aural pleasure centres like honey. That’s what we said when the single was released, anyhow; and to disagree with ourselves over such a matter would be madness. It’s three and a half minutes you need to pay attention to; we’ve embedded it below so you can see what we’re saying. Oh, we’ve also embedded the lyric video down there at the end, by the purchase links.

Norwegian-Filipino wordsmith And Is Phi brings glorious, languid soul to “Chance Me”:  it’s a luxurious organ and vibraphone shimmer into which her voice blends. Think 4 Hero at their most laidback, most soulful. On “Transformation,” Tamar Osborn brings beautiful reed and woodwind cadence to a heathaze of an instrumental that’ll put you in mind of Paul Horn, or Pharoah Sanders roundabout the time he was collaborating with Alice Coltrane. It has bags of melodious mystery and evokes an Afrojazz dawn; that moment when the world is holding its breath.

The album stays off-island for the future Latin groove of “Tanto Tiempo” (‘So Long’). Staccato piano figures with space for the swing to ease into builds into a forward-looking Latin jazz, married with spacey synth melodies and swirls to trippy effect. Penya are in the hot seat for a track that shifts gears through a brass exposition and into a breathless polyrhythmical sweep, heading skywards.

Just how much creative talent Adam can assemble is illustrated by “Love Is Loving”: British soul legend and MBE appointee Omar brings his unmistakable vocal smoke to a smooth jazz glide, with XANA and Faye Houston guesting on rhymes. As the track climaxes, that jazz piano pushes ever further outside the pocket on complex extended chords, nudging the tune into harmonically exploratory territory. 

The elegant and spiritual instrumental “Peaceless Peace” closes a tour-de-force of British black music. It’s an odyssey through scifi-soul backing vocals, sudden key changes, clicking percussion nuance, gently soothing you down.

There’s whole worlds on display in Scrimshire’s Believers Vol. 1. The story behind his label, Albert’s Favourites, is it was named for his grandad who always got the family together to make a compilation tape of everyone’s tunes of the moment for the car when going on holiday; and that’s what the tape would be called. 

You can see a similar musical logic at play in Believers Vol. 1; he’s assembled a cast of both established and upcoming talent to accompany him on a multi-hued but utterly cohesive journey through the musics of the London scene; in that sense, under the current administration, I guess it’s therefore also small- and large-p political. It illustrates everything great and forward-thinking and exciting about a city as culturally cosmopolitan as the capital is.

Another thing’s for certain: listening to Believers Vol. 1 among the circumstantial dirt and viral grime and societal schisming of 2020 – it’s like having your brain washed and massaged. It’s inspiring and lovely and reminds you there are good things to be had. If any of the aural worlds spinning off British soul-jazz are your thing, you need this record to bring its balm.

Scrimshire’s Believers Vol.1 will be released by Albert’s Favourites on digital, CD and vinyl formats on November 13th, and may be pre-ordered from the label’s Bandcamp page, here.

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