Some music just has to happen and London producer/composer Adam Scrimshire’s latest, ‘Paroxysm’ (available now from Albert’s Favourites) falls into that exclusive clutch of necessary releases. Well established as a crafter and co-ordinator of cinematic soul-jazz inspirations, Scrimshire’s sound work has always grabbed attention from his early energetic Wah Wah 45s albums up to the lush sophistication of 2021’s ‘Nothing Feels Like Everything’. A creative force, a willing collaborator, here is an artist who thrives on activity, a musician who can be in several places at once but never lose focus on communication, Yes Scrimshire makes music with deep grooves but for him meaning seems to be always at the centre.
As a result, he’s no stranger to narrative rippling through the flow of funk, nu-jazz, beats and electronics which he regularly frees up from source. While on 2019’s ‘Listeners’ he anthologised the vocal stories of the likes of Georgia Anne Muldrow and Emma-Jean Thackray, the companion release ‘Believers Vol 1’ was more personal, reflecting on where his music comes from in a heartfelt paean to the restorative power of black music. Now comes ‘Paroxysm’ and a keener sharpening of focus in an expression of the more urgent and desperate. True to its title this is an album that intends to pull no punches.
Written during October last year the new songs are energised by a different kind of tension, Scrimshire’s response to a bigoted, divisive Tory government whose policies crushed and criminalised. Drawing from his faithful group of collaborators, Faye Houston, Idris Rahman, Tamar Osborn and Nat Birchall, it’s a record that’s determined to scour those fertile eclectic jazz landscapes and leave a more profound emotional imprint. He’s bravely not dabbling with concepts this time around, ‘Paroxysm’ is making a statement.
Permeate sets the scene, dark waves of electronics, whispers, voices and the hush of concealment, ghosting around a raw, primal drum dance. There’s an immediate sense of reduction in the sounds, a mix of weighty dystopian, These New Puritans atmospherics with chinks of melodic warmth echoing around the chambers. The mood then shifts with the desperate surge of Unity Gain, a track where the widescreen scale of the arrangement never loses grip on the message being conveyed. Scrimshire’s grasp of dynamics and detail distinguish this song as it kicks back to part gospel/part house piano then pushes up to a swirling synth crescendo. There’s a collective power at the core of this unquestionably big music that stresses togetherness and hints at hope.
As with previous albums, on ‘Paroxysm’ Scrimshire calls on a range of distinct voices to amplify the intended feelings but perhaps this time their input is used to refine rather than define the mood. Check in with Faye Houston’s emotive phraseology on Eyes Shut and you’ll find her resonant blues-moan adding to the already deep ambient seams of this trip-hop spiritual. More demonstratively hip-hop poet and emcee The Repeat Beat Poet (aka Peter deGraft-Johnson aka PJ) provides the essential commentary to the stark What Is The State Of Our State. The disconnect between the establishment and the powerless, the haves and the have-nots is spoken large. “Where’s the sales report for this year’s arms fair” …oh yeh!
It’s at this point that you realise the significance of Scrimshire’s ‘Paroxysm’…here we have an update, an extension of Sarathy Korwar’s ‘More Arriving’ or Kae Tempest’s ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’. The shift from Repeat Beat’s spoken word to the driving improv blowout of saxophonist Idris Rahman on act one closer Your Invasion Is A Lie makes for a key moment where the gravitas hits home. As the post rock intensity and post bop rush hurtles on you recognise that grooviness may be secondary on this formidable recording.
After Paroxysm’s frenetic opening sequence comes time to regroup with the pivotal jazz ballad Unforgotten, Unforgiven setting the tone. The cut has a yearning beauty, Nat Birchall’s evocative sax singing over the ripples of piano and synth, a central voice in this mournful blues which damns the callous political response to the plight of refugees. More subtle, restrained power underpins the quirky, quickstep of Flames. Don’t let the nimble samba vibes fool you, the song is a carnival march for progress. Amidst the willowy twists of saxophonist Tamar Osborn’s Balkanesque colourings and the uplift of those batucada rhythms, Faye Houston persuasively calls on ‘the fire in our souls’ with her hypnotic, spell-binding vocals.
That Scrimshire concludes his stunning narrative through an aura of resolution and possibility is a testament to his musical and artistic intuition. Instead of any predictable big bang Paroxysm closes with a more considered and impactful three-part composition, Refuge. From sonar signalling and clipped codes to steady piano minimalism, there is an air of Frahm-like calm curling around the tune. A gentle, trip-hop pulse, a glowing bass drone, Refuge suggests rest or maybe exhaustion or even loss as the fluttering synths pass and the piano slowly drowns in echo.
It’s an exemplary close to a record that courageously commits to putting its weighty message in a musical frame and does so with integrity. ‘Paroxysm’ is so much more than a random outburst. There’s insight and empathy at the heart of this song cycle that you only find in albums that make genuine statements. Fight the Power!
Get your copy of ‘Paroxysm’ by Scrimshire from your local record shop or direct from HERE