REVIEW: Yazz Ahmed’s Family Hafla at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Left to Right: Shabaka Hutchings, Yazz Ahmed,Dudley Phillips, Naadia Sherrif,
Martin France, Corinna Silvester

Yazz Ahmed’s Family Hafla 
(Pizza Express Jazz Club, 7th September Lunchtime. Review by Alya Al-Sultani)

This is only the second outing of trumpeter Yazz Ahmed’s new project, Family Hafla, which will be performing twice at this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. The project will also result in a new album.

Ahmed’s concept is musician before music, handpicking the musicians that inspire and excite her and writing music with those players in mind. Her original compositions are an exploration of the interplay between Ahmed’s jazz education and her Bahraini musical heritage, which she has recently been drawn to.

Her compositions succeeded in achieving a delicate balance in the incorporation of Arabic maqam into a jazz frame while avoiding pastiche orientalist themes. There were instances of an over-emphasis on the scales which sounded studious rather than expressive, particularly in the hands of musicians new to the music. However, this is expected when any musician begins to explore new musical references and is remedied through familiarity with the tunes and more reliance on the ear. These are early stages, and greater familiarity cohesion is bound to develop rapidly.

The set was cleverly devised to emphasise the Arabic influences in Ahmed’s own music through interspersion of complimentary but distinctly Western music, including a complex arrangement of Radiohead’s Bloom and a rousing end to the performance with Organ Eternal, a song from These New Puritans with whom Ahmed recently toured. The inclusion of Naadia Sherif’s beautifully melodic and tender A Light Heart Lives Long in the middle of the first set seemed to help to settle the band and was definitely a turning point in the confidence of the performance.

Despite not being familiar with some of the musical language, the ensemble approached the tunes, particularly as the set progressed, with gusto. The solo of the night came from Lewis Wright on vibraphone on Ahmed’s The Lost Pearl. Breathtaking virtuosity, energy and melodic diversity.

Martin France (drums), Corinna Silvester (percussion) and Dudley Philips (bass) handled the complex rhythms and time signatures with commitment and courage. Silvester’s experience of Middle Eastern rhythms shone through. Naadia Sherif on keyboards showed rhythmic and spatial sensitivity and ensured that the richness and complexities of jazz harmonics and melodies remained consistently present throughout the performance. She delivered many welcome surprises throughout. Ben Castle (bass clarinet), depping for Shabaka Hutchings, showed special chemistry with Ahmed, despite this being his first experience with the band, and delivered solos sensitive to the music. Ahmed herself was on top form both as bandleader and player and the addition of a Koass pad added hypermodern texture and tension to great effect.

Overall, a fascinating musical experiment which even in its infancy, delivered evocative, complex and memorable music. The future is bright for this new ensemble.


Ben Castle - bass clarinet
Naadia Sheriff - keyboard
Lewis Wright - vibraphone
Dudley Phillips - bass guitar
Martin France - drums
Corinna Silvester - percussion
Yazz Ahmed - trumpet, flugelhorn and Koass Pad

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