The Dream Jazz Manifesto - Jelly Cleaver (Album Review)
Updated: May 23, 2019
The Dream Jazz Manifesto
21 May 2019
Album Rating 4 / 5
Live Potential 4 / 5
Solo Performances 3.5 / 5
Diversity in Songs 4 / 5
Favourite Songs Renny’s Poem (Yarl’s Wood Reprise), Song That He Wrote, What Is Understanding
London guitarist, singer-songwriter and producer Jelly Cleaver has released her debut album The Dream Jazz Manifesto which displays her DIY jazz-punk-soul style with aplomb, as her vocals and lyricism resonate the power of the social movements she is inspired by.
After releasing her debut EP Cure for an Existential Crisis in 2017, Jelly Cleaver is growing in stature throughout the London scene and has been around the jazz scene through playing guitar in Tomorrow’s Warriors Female Frontline. Described by Supreme Standards as ‘the next artist to make an impact on London’s jazz scene', she states that the album has the message ‘about building a better world and finding your own purpose and meaning in it’ and this is built upon a reflection of existential and Buddhist philosophies as well as feminist and decolonial analysis.
The debut single, 'VI II V', was premiered by Moses Boyd on BBC Radio 1xtra and has received regular airplay by Worldwide FM and Jazz FM. The song’s lyrics are sombre but hopeful and this transforms into a graceful soulness as the bass features excellently along with a backdrop of strings dropping in and out in equal measure with the horns, as well as Cleaver providing a simple but catchy chorus. The video is very conceptual and has imagery heavily influenced by surrealist and symbolist artists like Salvador Dali, Gustav Klimt and Odilon Redon which is reflected in masked birds, the use of mirrors and sad clowns to present her stream of consciousness poem.
‘Yarl’s Wood’ is the second single that pounds down straight away in a punk style that reflects Cleaver’s activism against the deportation and detention centre and has the ‘set them free’ echoing in the background. The addition of the saucy synth part to connect the sections seems slightly out of place but kind of works in the eclectic approach to the song as there are sections of neo-soul on top of the punk. The preceding song ‘Renny’s Poem (Yarl’s Wood Reprise)’ discusses life at detention centres and creates a sense of fear and apprehension with the jangling piano and long saxophone blows that adds a verve to the poem. The sax solo that follows emanates a similar lyricism from the poem and reinforces the message admirably.
The title track ‘The Dream Jazz Manifesto’ has an indie-lo-fi jazz feel with a horns section that adds to the slightly dark mood before Cleaver builds up a swerving guitar solo with good effect. ‘Song That He Wrote’ is more upbeat with the use of the glockenspiel and this moves into a rapturous rhythmic groove that really demonstrates the whole of her band’s skill on their instruments. The song does change sections a lot for a short song but still manages to capture the sound Cleaver creates as the strings add a layer of uplifting spirituality.
Cleaver continues the use of spoken word with ‘What Is Understanding’ as the strings become more emotive as the poet professes ‘he becomes a slave to his own creation’ before the thudding tension escalates until Cleaver enters with an addictive ‘I’ll be standing under the sun’ line. The progression to a neo-soul-funk vibe with the use of the organ and horns section adds a summertime feeling before it returns to the poet and strings once more. ‘Ego’ somehow moves well from uplifting verses to heavy overdrive choruses despite their obvious differences in sound and mood and leads to a potent and energetic outro. ‘Angela’ again epitomises this unique style of soulful melodies mixed into heavy sections that allows her voice to erupt.
This album certainly sets Jelly Cleaver aside from her contemporaries in the jazz scene in a very positive way. As she cites Joni Mitchell, Esperanza Spalding and James Blake as her influences, she has a completely unique style that utilises elements of punk, soul, funk and jazz and uses a full array of instruments and powerful lyrics to distinguish her own identity clearly. With performances at Jazz Stroud, DJazz and around London upcoming in the next few months, Jelly Cleaver will surely leave her mark on the jazz scene as someone who creatively explores new ways to produce powerful music.
Jelly Cleaver – Guitar, Vocals, Keys, Bass, Percussion, Production; Loucin Moskofian – Vocals; Roella Oloro – Piano; Isobella Burnham – Bass; Lorenz Okeno-Osengor – Keys, Synth; Kaidi Akinnibi – Saxophone; James Vine (Track 2) – Drums; Shakira Arwen (Track 8 ) – Drums; Rhiannon Dimond (Tracks 2 & 8) – Violin; Julia Vaughan (Tracks 2 & 8) – Viola; Miranda Lewis (Track 2 & 8) – Cello; Lettie Leyland (Tracks 2 & 8) – Trumpet; Beth Hopkins (Tracks 2 & 8) – Alto Saxophone; Will Heaton (Tracks 2 & 8) – Trombone.