Before returning to the studio to continue recording with Hifi Sean of the Soup Dragons with whom he is working on an album, singer David McAlmont who has a fine new retro jazz album out with pianist Alex Webb called The Last Bohemians takes time out to talk to marlbank.
Described in publicity material as his ''deepest foray into jazz'' the singer says that he has been involved in jazz since Set 1: You Go To My Head, which goes back a decade and a half, although that was ''not played by jazz musicians.''
By contrast The Last Bohemians is, and with bassist Andrew Cleyndert, known for his work with Stan Tracey producing, and the erstwhile Abdullah Ibrahim saxophonist Tony Kofi, Simians of Swing trumpeter Andy Davies, drummer Pete Hill and guitarist Jonathan Preiss among the album personnel, that altered tilt in the input shows. McAlmont has immersed himself in the jazz scene in London for some years, and has for instance appeared among other venues to perform upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s where Davies hosts the hard bop jam on Wednesdays.
McAlmont tells me about his love of the great composer-arranger Billy Strayhorn and later in the conversation says that besides his affection for ‘Lush Life’ he also likes ‘Sophisticated Lady’ and ‘Satin Doll’. He clearly has a great love and regard for the composer. ''Not everyone knows that Strayhorn wrote 'A Train'. People think it was Ellington. I like the fact that a black gay man was instrumental in the Ellington sound.''
As for his own collaboration with pianist and arranger Alex Webb, McAlmont says Alex ‘‘taught me about vintage jazz. He is like a hep cat from Los Angeles in the 1950s. He plays with appetite.''
McAlmont enjoys playing at clubs like south London's Hideaway in Streatham where he has worked with pianist Janette Mason and has strong interest in the songs of Billie Holiday and Bond-themed material the latter deriving from a collaboration with David Arnold.
McAlmont talks too a little about Courtney Pine and how the pair collaborated on a version of John Martyn’s ‘Bless the Weather’ on the saxophonist’s acclaimed album Devotion dating back to the early-noughties. ''Courtney has a most interesting wall full of kung-fu figures in his studio and we spoke about [the athlete] Linford Christie and having to stretch ourselves to master our craft.''
In the course of the conversation David mentions more than once ‘’daydreaming’’ a lot, and says that he was in a ‘’daze as a child’’ and was always ‘’feeling like a fish out of water’’ growing up in Croydon as ‘’the only black boy in the class’’ and later Norfolk. In Guyana where he also lived as a child he was the ‘’only English boy in the class'' and recalls that ‘‘Guyana was hot, mosquito-infested and poor,’’ although adds that things have improved as he has discovered returning to visit there in recent years.
Now in his early-fifties McAlmont is most famous for his collaboration going back to the 1990s with guitarist Bernard Butler formerly of Suede. Later in the conversation he says how sad he was that the drummer Makoto Sakamoto they performed with and who was lesser known but part of the sound died last year. Butler and McAlmont have kept in touch and worked as recently as 2016 together when they played with some members of The Magic Numbers.
McAlmont has an amazing voice no doubt about it, a high alto that soars majestically and can be very intimate even on the flimsiest of material. His sound stands comparison with the great Jimmy Scott who made his name with Lionel Hampton. And certainly The Last Bohemians is full of bygone atmosphere led by McAlmont’s stirring vocals that certainly makes the case for his strong consideration as a jazz singer of prowess, sensibility and skill.
On The Last Bohemians the Suede cover ‘The Wild Ones’ (borrowing ‘’the groove,’’ McAlmont says, ‘’from Lou Rawls’ ‘’Oh, What A Lovely Morning’’) is covered among a number of excellent covers. Best of all for sure and also the most unlikely is his treatment of the Freddie Mercury song ‘Love of My Life’. McAlmont says that he has loved the song since first hearing the Queen album A Night at the Opera, which was released in 1975.
The Last Bohemians, issued on Lateralize, also features McAlmont originals that are co-writes with Webb: ‘The Look’; and ‘The Next Spree.’
David says: ''For ‘The Next Spree’ Alex had music and didn’t have a home for it.’’ As for ‘The Look’ ''it was commissioned for a portrait of black queer Britons that involved lectures put to music.''
As for the covers on the album McAlmont says these are songs that he always wanted to do and was ''waiting for an opportunity''. Alex decided to do The Beatles song ‘I’m So Tired’ and the Radiohead ‘No Surprises’ while McAlmont brought the REM song ‘Find the River’ to the table. The last of these really works well and again is a standout.
Thinking back to the Britpop days McAlmont explains that he suffered from ‘’imposter syndrome’’ but yes he was glad that he was part of it. ‘’Indie music was very straight and very white but I enjoyed it.’’ Interviewer: Stephen Graham
Coming up in on Tuesday 19 November McAlmont and Webb play the Hampstead Jazz Club during the EFG London Jazz Festival. Venue for details..