FREESOUL SESSIONS featuring BEMBE SEGUE , MARK de CLIVE-LOWE and SAMMY FIGUEROA performing as part of BEATS, BREAKS & CULTURE at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West), Sunday (July 9), 4:30 pm. Free. 416-973-4000, www.harbourfrontcentre.com. Rating: NNNNN
Make way for Bembe Segue! Already a certified celebrity on the UK broken beat scene, the soulful scorcher's frequent "guest vocalist" credit has become the mark of quality for joints by everyone from Japanese dance-floor jazz crews Sleepwalker and Kyoto Jazz Massive to leading British club culture innovators IG Culture, 4hero's Dego and Mark de Clive-Lowe.
But the growing buzz surrounding her major-label collaboration with broken beat supergroup Bugz in the Attic for their forthcoming Back In The Doghouse (V2) - due out July 24 - suggests that Bembe Segue is standing on the verge of getting it on globally. Having written and vocally blessed five of the Bugz album's 15 tracks, including the first two catchy singles, Booty La La and Once Twice, she could be an international broken beat superstar by the end of this month.
"But I don't want to be a broken beat superstar," she chuckles only half-joking from her Vancouver hotel room. "I want to be a serious cosmic jazz artist.
"The initial plan for the Bugz album was to make a broken beat album that could cross over to the mainstream, and I was asked to contribute some songs for other vocalists to sing. But they wound up using my guide vocals on the finished album. The Bugz guys wanted me to come on tour and put myself out front, but the music I'm doing for my solo album is so very different that I'm concerned it might confuse everyone. So I'll be doing just a few select dates with the Bugz, but I won't be putting on the hot pants to sing Booty La La every night. As much as I love working on all of these various projects - I couldn't live without them - my heart is really in my own album."
After hearing a few demos of songs slated for that forthcoming album (now tentatively scheduled for early 2007), I can say that it sounds like an intriguing update of the soulful spiritual jazz concept of Doug & Jean Carn's 70s Black Jazz recordings given a sample-enhanced broken beat tweak. The net result is much more forward-looking than backward. It definitely won't sound like any contemporary neo-soul album currently available, which has an upside and a downside from a marketing perspective.
"There are definitely some elements of broken beat there, although it might not be what the term 'broken beat' has come to represent today. The overall sound leans toward cosmic or spiritual jazz - those Black Jazz recordings of Doug & Jean Carn and also the Ensemble El-Salaam LP were hugely influential for me - but there's definitely a modern flip to it. I can already see how some tunes could work on the dance floor, and if there's any question, Dego is the executive producer, so he can always do a remix, and there's the club single.
"So far I haven't been approached by anyone from a major label, but neither have I brought anything to them. My hope is that someone will recognize the potential in what I'm doing without being put off by the fact that it doesn't sound like conventional contemporary R&B. The recent success of a Japanese jazz group like the Soil & "Pimp" Sessions suggests that this music doesn't need to exist only on a cult level. The time might be right for my album. All through this my mantra has been 'Cosmic jazz is the new pop music.... cosmic jazz is the new pop music."
Before completing work on her new album, Bembe needs to finish writing and recording tracks for her latest collaboration with Mark de Clive-Lowe, called the Politik. Originally conceived as a full-service composition and production operation after the two discovered how well they worked together in the studio on 2004's Tide's Arising and Legends Of The Underground (Kindred Spirits) discs, they've since been at work shaping Kiwi soul-jazz chanteuse Cherie Mathieson's new album and producing a funky electro-bent album of their own set for release in early 2007.
"We first met back in 98 while working together on an IG Culture session just after I moved to England from New Zealand," recalls de Clive-Lowe. "But it wasn't until years later when I asked her to sing on a track for my Tide's Arising album that I discovered what an amazing creative synergy we had. That one-song collaboration turned into a whole album, and we've been partners in crime ever since.
"The Politik thing started because we felt we should have a joint creative project completely separate from everything we do individually and just let it develop an identity of its own. It's all about collaboration from the ground up. Bembe is so incredibly fast and prolific as a songwriter that once a song idea is there, she'll have a great chorus and the rest of the lyrics soon after. We have similar tastes and reference points, so very little ever needs to be discussed."
The near telepathic connection they share is certainly an asset when performing their Freesoul Sessions, which will serve as the climax of the Beats, Breaks & Culture festival at Harbourfront Centre Sunday (July 9). With de Clive-Lowe programming beats for each jam from scratch and former Miles Davis sideman Sammy Figueroa adding percussion while Bembe scats searing sweetness over top, the Freesoul Sessions are about as close as programmed electronic music gets to the spontaneous thrill of live jazz.
"These Freesoul Sessions are among my favourite things Mark and I do together," enthuses Bembe. "You get some amazing surprises while you're up there creating on the spot, and having a genuine percussion don like Sammy Figueroa with us just enhances everything."
"What I do is kind of similar to what a freestyle rapper does, or perhaps a jazz improvimentalist... wait, heh heh, that isn't a real word, is it? But I want to get the 'mentalist' bit in there because you practically need to be a mind reader to keep up with Mark."
BEST OF BEATS, BREAKS & CULTURE
Friday (July 7)
8 pm The Juan Maclean , Harbourfront Centre mainstage
9:30 pm Prefuse 73 , Harbourfront Centre mainstage
11 pm MSTRKRFT and DJ Juan Maclean , Brigantine Room
Saturday (July 8)
3:30 pm Tumi and the Volume , Harbourfront Centre mainstage
8 pm Jamie Lidell , Harbourfront Centre mainstage
9:30 pm Konono Nº1 , Harbourfront Centre mainstage
11 pm Cadence Weapon and Shad K , Brigantine Room
11 pm Citizen Kane and Headnodz ( Nick Holder & Kaje ), Lakeside Terrace
11 pm Chilly Gonzales , Studio Theatre
Sunday (July 9)
3 pm New Cool Collective , Harborfront Centre mainstage
4:30 pm Mark de Clive-Lowe featuring Bembe Segue and Sammy Figueroa , Harbourfront Centre mainstage