These Days - Daniel Casimir & Tess Hirst (Album Review + Interview)
Updated: Oct 31, 2019
Daniel Casimir & Tess Hirst
Album Rating 5 / 5
Live Potential 5 / 5
Solo Performances 5 / 5
Diversity in Songs 4 / 5
Favourite Songs Representation, What Did I Do?, These Days, Uncle James
These Days is the debut album release from bassist Daniel Casimir and vocalist Tess Hirst, in which they utilise elements of traditional jazz with soulful vibes to produce an exquisite release that observes and reflects on contemporary politicised narratives in the UK.
Casimir's passionate and powerful playing on the double bass coupled with Hirst's introspective lyricism and magnificent vocals makes this album a fantastic progression from Casimir's successful 2017 EP Escapee, of which Hirst also features on. Having both studied outside of London, Casimir told me that whilst he was at the Birmingham Conservatoire, he learnt "nobody cares about your degree on stage. Therefore being taught by the likes of bassists such as Mark Hodgson, Arnie Somogyi and Dave Holland and many other musicians who teach but are actually working/living musicians is priceless. They were able to give real-life experience (sometimes from just the night before) on how to be a working musician. I also feel that Birmingham leads itself more to musicians finding their own voice easier compared to being in London".
Hirst too reflected about her studies on returning to London after stints in Leeds and LA, having studied ethnomusicology at SOAS. "I studied Cuban and Atlantic African music and ended up researching UK hip hop working with Awate, Reveal Poison, Lowkey and Sarina Leah (of Native Sun) who are all still huge inspirations on my own work. They use their words to make this all mean something. One of my lecturers said that ethnomusicology was ‘hearing something and asking why?’. Whilst studying I learnt to ask why to challenge and gain a new perspective. I try, at least, to do that in everything". Fittingly, Hirst's ability to challenge and look at the outside world with a different lens is reflected within These Days.
Having first met each other at school in Greenford, West London, Hirst said "it felt natural to continue working together after Escapee. We had other things to say. There's a couple of references to our upbringing on the album too". The second single on the album, 'What Did I Do?', has Hirst singing she 'don't recognise Greenford anymore'. Hirst remarked "the track is a comment on the changing landscape of our city. It speaks to the gentrification and nostalgia many cities are facing. When home starts to disappear we ask London, What Did I Do?". It's understandable for Hirst to include the lyrics 'time travelling, my mind is unravelling' to help explain the notion of nostalgia as the rest of the group elicits that feeling wonderfully through the soulful 3/4 time feel they play in. Casimir's bass solo is an extremely poignant addition to the song that is just as powerful as Hirst's words.
The politicised narrative continues in the lead single, 'Security', as Hirst points out that the song "highlights the essential need to trust other people. That our safety lies in the hearts of those around us. London has a record number of security cameras; this track is a comment on the type of security we commission as a society as well as how we protect ourselves personally". The track's reflection on the capitalist world is reflected with a busy drum beat (Olly Sarkar) throughout as the neo-soul vibes on the keys (Robert Mitchell) at the start change to a frenzied, illuminating piano solo which alternates with the equally deft guitar solo (Tobie Carpenter).
The theme of looking at the political culture of London and the UK is a constant throughout, as Hirst asserts "we wrote about things we were observing. How could we not? The visible and the invisible changes taking place in society. The things that were happening at the time, the big things and the seemingly ordinary. I’m not sure if it was a conscious choice to write politicised narratives or more of a sense of duty. The political landscape in the UK at the moment is terrifying and especially affects our generation. I think the truth isn’t always hopeful but the telling of it is. We’re adding our voice".
That feeling of a generation being significantly affected by the state of politics right now is heard in 'Representation', as the electronics glisten ominously at the start. The whispered vocals magnify the eerie soul-ness of the song, whilst Casimir's bass solo is amplified by the fantastic comping from the keys and drums to intensify the feeling. 'They Come Over Here' has an equally atmospheric sound as Carpenter's stirring guitar bends and drones alongside the rhythm which has a low-end power that emanates from Casimir's bass, accompanied by the intricate drums Sarkar plays throughout. The title track stands out amongst the impressive collection of songs, driven by a sumptuous groove with a hypnotic rhythm during the chorus where Mitchell plays the piano formidably at speed as Casimir's bass sits underneath it all prodding it along with ease.
'Magic Money Tree' has a very slick bass line to accompany the slight Latin-feel when the drums enter, whilst 'Freedom' exudes a brilliant soul vibe as Hirst's use of the whispered vocals over the guitar solo is sensational. Their live session of 'Freedom' performed back in December 2018 at jazz re:freshed is an insightful glimpse into the whole group's quality when they play live together (watch below).
The three interlude tracks use the spoken words of the poet John Agard, to nicely split up the album. Casimir recalled "Tess and I studied John Agard's poem 'Half-Caste' which dealt with the prejudice of the term. His work instantly came to mind when writing this album as it fits perfectly with our theme".
'Uncle James' finishes the album superbly as Casimir wrote this tribute to his brother-in-law. He stated, "the album, in general, is about life and societal change, and the passing of James is such a significant personal change for myself and my family that it had to be marked through the album". The contrast to the rest of the tracks is evident in the relaxed nature of the piano notes reflecting the mellow vibes, as the effect is enhanced by the high-pitched bass plucks and the brushes which turn into light percussion after the piano comes in with a new riff.
Casimir and Hirst have created a beautiful album that really pushes them to the top of the leaders coming through the UK jazz scene. Casimir notes that what he enjoys about the London scene especially is "it's openness on the definition of jazz. I feel that it has allowed for people’s personality to come through in the music even more so. The support from the London venues has really nurtured this open mindset". The 'openness on the definition of jazz' might not be stretched so much in this album, but the many riveting compositions in These Days ooze grooves that flow seamlessly between jazz and soul, alongside Hirst's natural storytelling which narrates their way through the current political and cultural landscape magnificently.
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Daniel Casimir - Double Bass; Tess Hirst - Vocals; Robert Mitchell - Keys / Piano; Tobie Carpenter - Guitar; and Olly Sarkar - Drums.