Nimbus Sextet - Dreams Fulfilled (Interview + Album Review)
Updated: Nov 10, 2020
Dreams Fulfilled is the stunning debut record from Glaswegian group Nimbus Sextet, set to be released on 23 October through Acid Jazz.
Led by pianist / keyboardist Joe Nichols, the contemporary jazz outfit play infectiously original music that blends relatable melodic hooks with driving grooves, sophisticated musicianship and episodic compositions. The first track 'Trap Door' instantly generates a buzz, with Nichols' piano gliding before the group start with a bang with a delectable horns riff that easily builds into fusion stomper. After Joe met bassist Mischa Stevens and drummer Alex Palmer at Edinburgh University, the rest of the group met in 2018 and use their wide variety of musical influences to incorporate into a sound that has elements of Herbie Hancock, Gil Scott-Heron, The Roots and Robert Glasper.
Second single 'Lilly White' features Anthony Thomaz on vocals that has a neo-soul feel to it as little touches like the arpeggiating horns phrasing compliment the different flavours going on in the track. 'Klara' is peaceful and the drop to allow for Euan Allardice's trumpet solo to build momentum at the end works wonderfully. The title track seems to continually gush out improvised juiciness and feels loose and free for the whole band to explore where they can go with their playing. 'Deep Dark Blue Lights' has a Snarky Puppy sound to it as the rhythm between the drums and bass is phenomenal, with the track returning to a phat, gurggly bass effect that adds extra meat to the solid beat and groove of the tune.
It's quite clear from their debut that Nimbus have only just started what seems to be a promising trajectory for their career as a group - their formidable ease to improvise around thought out and powerful grooves really resonate with you when you listen to their music. Ben chatted to Joe about the groups beginnings, their place in the Scottish music scene, and their quick rise that has captured support both home and abroad.
You guys met at Edinburgh University, right? How did the group all come about then?
Actually only three of us met at uni. I met Mischa Stevens, the bassist, and Alex Palmer, the drummer back in 2014, while I was studying history, and we basically established a musical relationship from that early point. We had a previous jazz funk project that was called Jambouree. We did that for a few years and some incredible things happened like supporting Cory Henry. That project laid the groundwork for essentially what Nimbus Sextet would become.
We all graduated in 2017 and for a while went our separate ways. At the end of uni, I wanted to go in a more contemporary direction than what I’d been doing previously. So from having been doing jazz-funk, and quite dancey funk stuff, to then moving into a more jazz direction was really important for me. And, essentially, that's how Nimbus formed because I knew that I wanted to start being more open minded and expressive with my own musical influences and bring them all into one place. And not just funk, not just jazz, but neo soul, hip hop influences, world music influences and all that stuff.
Did Edinburgh as a city have a lot of opportunities for artists? Is it different compared to Glasgow?
Glasgow is where Nimbus was formed, there's just a sort of legacy of the Edinburgh days from having Mischa and Alex onboard. And for me, being in Glasgow is a lot better, because there is actually more of an infrastructure for musicians to meet here, especially people who are into jazz. corto.alto and Fat-Suit, these are Glasgow based bands, and they're all pushing in a contemporary new jazz direction. And not just that, they're very open minded to different sounds. The RCS (the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) is a big part of it, in that you've got a lot of students that can meet there and can play together. That's a really, really good starting point.
But Glasgow's music scene is just so much stronger in so many ways. And that's not to diss the Edinburgh scene. Edinburgh has got a load of talented musicians, there’s just not quite the same infrastructure for musicians to meet and play in Edinburgh. Whereas in Glasgow, there really is an actual jazz scene. It's full of jazz talent, like Fergus McCreadie and AKU, and there's a load of other bands and individuals that are really pushing forwards and making waves in the national UK jazz scene coming from Glasgow especially.
Is there any other artists who have influenced you and your development from the Glasgow music scene?
I started out pretty detached from the Glasgow music scene. I think that had something to do with really discovering my musical feet in Edinburgh first, and being very involved in that scene, and then coming to Glasgow as a bit of an outsider. But, you know, I was looking at what Liam Shortall was doing, for instance, who's now corto.alto and was inspired by what he's done. But I mean, I think it's kind of worth emphasising that even though there is a big Glasgow scene and the RCS, we’ve actually done our own thing. A lot of the other jazz bands here were formed by RCS students and alumni. Martin Fell, our sax player, went to the RCS. Our guitarist James Mackay does too, who plays in corto.alto. I wasn't part of that particular scene myself though, and Alex, Mischa and our trumpeter Euan Allardice weren't either. Half of our members have nothing to do with that infrastructure. So we've kind of forged our own path actually.
How did you get signed onto Acid Jazz Records for your debut LP release? I've seen your manager is Wayne Dickson as well, the head of Groove Line. How did that all come about?
I met Wayne basically in 2018. After five months or so as a gigging band, we landed a support slot for Giles Peterson at the Sub Club, which is a dance music institution in Glasgow. Rebecca Vasmant provided us with that opportunity, who's a DJ and promoter / producer who operates in the sort of new jazz circles and has a show on Worldwide FM. We played that gig and Wayne came down, Martin actually knew him already. Wayne has managed bands before, he runs his own labels and stuff. So we invited him down to the gig.
He came down and saw us play, and sort of said to me more or less straight afterwards, although we'd barely met, he said "I reckon I could get you guys signed to Acid Jazz, they would dig your sound." And then we actually sat down, had a chat about it. Two or three months later, we punted our debut self-released single ‘Seance’, and some live recordings from the Sub Club to Acid Jazz and other labels. Lo and behold, the next minute we were in actual discussions with Acid Jazz about signing a record deal, and they decided to take on our debut album. That was just really exciting!
I think part of this coming about is actually having that relationship with Wayne personally as well, who like me ha very much forged his own path, and I think there's a sort of like mindedness spiritually there that, you know, really helps inform our sound and has led to the way things have gone for us. Yeah. I think DIY is the way to go. Things really can happen naturally.
You toured the UK before lockdown right?
Yeah, we did actually and we were so grateful that we did. We did a UK tour starting in the end of February. Our first tour date was for Edinburgh Jazz Festival, alongside Fat-Suit. And then we played dates in Bristol, Norwich, Nottingham, Brighton, and Manchester alongside London nu-jazz group Cykada. We finished the English leg of the tour at Servant Jazz Quarters in London. It was really really good to debut there and to get a sense of the buzz for the band in London. Hopefully that'll be the just one of many times that we end up playing down there, once we can get back to gigging. I'm very, very grateful to have the opportunity to be releasing this album with Acid Jazz, which allows me to actually keep all this momentum going through these treacherous times.
How do you approach writing your songs?
It is a very grassroots process. For us, let's say actually for me, I'll write a piece like 'Trap Door', I might sit on at least one part of what eventually will become the full composition for about three or four months before the next part comes to me. And then just suddenly, out of leftfield, another idea will come in and complete that tune. I'll then take it to the band. The band and I will then, quite literally just workshop things. And while I'll have the set ideas there, the tunes are always mutating live and during rehearsal. Once they’re introduced to the band, my tunes become band compositions. And also, even when we're playing live, we play them differently each time and we're rewriting because we see new things that we can do with the tunes. And we always want to find fresh, new ways of expressing ourselves. To have that as part of the composition process is really important. And that's real jazz. Workshopping the music in the moment and expressing yourself freely. Jazz is a byword for improvisation and freedom of expression.
You've got guest vocals on a couple of tracks from Anthony Thomaz and Steve Forman on percussion - are collaborations something you're looking more towards doing?
Absolutely yeah. Working with Ant on 'Lily White' was eye opening, as was working with Steve, because it showed that others can always contribute to your music, you know, they can be guests, and they can take the music different directions. And when it comes to doing a second album, which, you know, I'm trying to plan for now... I've already got plenty of ideas for people I want to work with and, you know, people that can expand that sound. Not only that, but I want to find the people that, you know, best express what I’m trying to say through the music. Martin wrote 'Lilly White' and 'Klara', two of the tunes on the album. Martin wanted to work with Ant on both of them because he felt that Ant was able to express his sentiments of what both tunes were about, especially on ‘Lily White’.
I think what Martin wanted to achieve with 'Lily White' was to emulate the machine rhythms that you hear when you are on a train. He wrote and conceived it when he was on a train from Glasgow to Leeds. The groove kind of built from that idea, and the melodic ideas built from seeing snow falling outside the window when he was on the train. Martin wrote this beautiful falling, kind of lilting, melody, and Ant singing that line really brought that melody to life. Ant also does some spoken word in the tune. He reminds me of Gil Scott Heron, and he's really good at adding a poeticism to the music and being very sensitive to instrumentation. That's why we wanted to work with him. He really elevated our concept of what Lily White was going to be, because it started as an instrumental, and then Ant, and also Martin, wrote some lyrics.
Steve is actually an RCS tutor and has retired from his session career. He had an amazing career performing with Cat Stevens, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and on Saturday Night Fever among others. He's such an awesome guy, who has a huge wealth of experience in the music industry, percussion, percussion-making, and rhythmic theory . We asked him "do you want to come down and record on this?" And we thought ‘we're not gonna be able to afford it’. And he was like "Oh, no, no, it's fine. I'll just come down. All you have to do is pay the travel expenses!"
You mentioned Rebecca Vasmant on Worldwide FM before, but you've been getting loads of support out of England as well from Dublab Brasil, Face Radio in New York, SonicSoul in Germany; you had a video on Jazzed as well as support from Craig Charles on BBC Radio 6 and Jazz FM and BBC Radio Scotland Jazz - what's it been like getting all this support?
It's amazing! With 'Trap Door' in particular, I just knew somehow that it was going to hit people. It's got an accessible melody, there's a focus on relatability on the hooks, on the groove, but there is also a nod to jazz fusion, Latin American rhythms, even like a soul verging on disco sound. I mean, the response to that has exceeded my expectations. Our Trap Door video premiered on Jazzed as well, which was fantastic, because that reached a whole different audience and led to a surge of interest in our social media and in the following for the band. It's been brilliant to have a team behind me that is really enthusiastic about Nimbus Sextet, not just Wayne but also Lee Bright, our publisher.
The fact that buzz for the band really started with Trap Door, that matters a lot to me, because it was something I'd been working on for a long time. So it feels amazing to have that response to the band at this point. And now we've got 'Lily White' too, which came out as our second single. That has an altogether different musical expression. It's more mellow, it's more jazz oriented, it's more neo soul, hip hop oriented. I'm hoping that all this momentum will continue now that our debut album, Dreams Fulfilled, is out on Acid Jazz.
How do you think your music and the way you approach making music has changed over time? And has it changed significantly since Nimbus got together?
I think when you're an artist, you just subconsciously go through the entire experience of music-making. It's like a spiritual process that I let come to me; I don’t force creativity. Letting the music come to me is something I’ve really come to appreciate since starting Nimbus Sextet. I've also really reflected on how things have changed. I first learned to play piano when I was 11. You know, when I was 15, I hoped that one day I could play jazz! I was listening to Headhunters (Herbie Hancock), Horace Silver’s Song For My Father and a whole load of other records. I went to the jazz festivals in Scotland. I grew up in Aberdeen, so I went to Aberdeen Jazz Festival a lot, and I saw Kenny Garrett play when I was 17 I think. I knew even then that what I really wanted to do was write and perform my own music, to jazz audiences and beyond, like he was. When I formed Jambouree, I was focused on jazz funk largely, but even then I was already writing tunes that were setting me up for Nimbus. And I was listening to a lot more contemporary jazz stuff, and just a whole load of stuff towards the end of uni that really pushed me in a more jazz direction.
The title of the album is Dreams Fulfilled - is this album part of the process for the band to fulfil your ambitions?
Yes, I would say I am trying to express my own musical ambitions in the album, and indeed the band’s. Over the course of the album, we convey the very ethos I was just talking about, so freedom of musical expression, and just freedom of expression as a whole. Each track is so different on the album when you listen through to it as a cohesive piece; it never stays in one place. It's opening different musical doors all over the place. That's why the first tune 'Trap Door' is called trap door. You have the pensive piano intro at the beginning. The next minute you're straight into hard hitting funk. It's making the statement that we won't be pigeonholed musically. There's no elitism, there's no constraints, we want to do our thing and let the music dictate to us where it wants to go.
The album finishes with the piano outro on ‘Dreams Fulfilled’. The fact the album begins and ends with piano is making a personal statement; ‘Dreams Fulfilled’ is the story of me realising the dream of finding my own sound, and finding my feet musically. And so, for me, that arrival at an open-minded, welcoming sound with the band and my own musical voice is a dream fulfilled, if you like. Jazz is just one term of music that embraces a lot of different sounds. And that's what I’d essentially discovered was at the core of the Nimbus Sextet sound, by the time I wrote 'Dreams Fulfilled' itself. It felt like the perfect title for the tune and the album, because it was the last thing that I wrote on the album. It was very, very new when we recorded it. That tune just seemed to encompass everything that we loved about music, and everything we wanted to express to the world through our own music.
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Nimbus Sextet are:
Keyboards, Piano, Mellotron: Joe Nichols Saxophone: Martin Fell Trumpet: Euan Allardice Bass Guitar: Mischa Stevens Drums: Alex Palmer Guitar: Luca Pisanu