“This is very new to me” \\ Ashley Henry on upcoming EP ft new 7 piece RE:Ensemble.
Ahead of his CHICAGOXLONDON show at Total Refreshment Centre on Thursday 19 October, Ashley Henry takes some time with EZH Founder Tina Edwards. Get tickets.
Ashley Henry’s 5ive EP didn’t sound like a debut; grooves were so deeply dug that you could slip yourself into them were the folds so tangible. The licks were sophisticated, but not in that wanky chin-stroking manner; imagine instead the resolve of a J Dilla beat that makes you nod and drop an “oh” in satisfaction.
Pianist Henry will be following his 2016 five track EP by releasing another with label giant Sony—the major who also represent Solange, NAO and Tyler, The Creator. Of the new album, Henry shares that there’s “horns, vocals and arrangements”. Beyond the obvious differences in his new setup however, he’s reflective. “This is very new to me”, he says. “This new record shows a different side of me musically and where I am in my journey as a musician”.
A couple of weeks ahead of CHICAGOXLONDON, I sit with Ashley Henry on a tattered leather couch in Total Refreshment Centre, Dalston. He’ll be playing with his new band in a co-headline with Chicagoan drummer Makaya McCraven on 19 October—eighteen months after the release of his first EP.
“I first moved back from University to London a few years ago”, Henry tells me. “Then soon as I got back—bang—everything happened really quickly. Next thing I know I’ve got a record out on Jazz re:freshed”. It was at Leeds College Of Music that Henry developed his style, before moving back to London where he grew up. “Every single musician I’ve worked with, I’ve met through a different setting”, he says. “It’s actually quite funny, you don’t normally remember how you met them, they just come into your life”.
One of the most noticeable changes to Henry’s music will be his band, which will fluctuate between a trio and a seven-piece with his RE:Ensemble. With drummer Eddie Hicks and bassist Dan Casimir at its core, his larger band also includes the likes of saxophonist Binker Golding (Binker and Moses). The EP is still getting its finishing touches, but he’ll be playing tracks from it live for the first time at CHICAGOXLONDON, which will feature some of the most hyped artists from both cities.
Movements develop when artists feature on each other’s records, and in each other’s line-ups. It couldn’t be truer in London, where the Jazz scene is far more than the sum of its parts; just look at Shabaka Hutchings for example, who plays as a sideman for a number as artists as well as being a core member of four external bands.
Whilst London artists like Henry and the aforementioned Golding, Casimir and Hutchings will be the go to musicians for their peers, they’re also the go tos for a wider live circuit; “A lot of my peers aren’t afraid to do tours with non-jazz related artists”, says Henry. “Everyone’s doing amazing things right now; Nubya [Garcia], Dan Casimir, Ezra collective, my boy Moses [Boyd]”. It’s true; whilst leading their own projects, Garcia has been touring with Congo Natty and Kiko Bun, Boyd with Sampha, and Ezra Collective’s Femi Koleoso with Jorja Smith.
Henry’s been evolving his sonic identity further since releasing his EP, all the while touring with China Moses. It was whilst he was in South Africa that he found a new direction; “When I was in Johannesburg I went to this place called The Orbit”, he says. Henry describes the music he heard as being “heartfelt” and “rhythm heavy”. Their approach to rhythm in fact has inspired the new record. In a “what a small world” coincidence, Henry caught a performance by local musicians—featuring Shabaka Hutchings; London gets around.
Perhaps it was these heartfelt performances that encouraged Henry to add a vocal element to his music, a strong sense of commentary. He’s invited Anthony Joseph to feature in his new material; a poet, novelist and musician who’s been described as “the leader of the black avant-garde in Britain”. Jazz has always been and continues to be a community’s mouthpiece. Henry explains; I always like my music to be a reflection of society”, adding, “I wanted to put across the importance of connection, spread love and positivity”.
The EP is set for release in 2018. With an exciting new band and the thrust of a major label behind him, I have a feeling that he’ll be a hard man to pin down in the coming months.
EZH | Tina Edwards