Speaking earlier today from his home in the Greenwich and Deptford area of south-east London bringing us up to speed about his upcoming album The Now Jay Phelps was busy over the weekend gigging at the Vortex jam last night across in Hackney and at singer-pianist Theo Jackson's Hidden Jazz Club in Waterloo. 'Finding Centaurii,' the trumpeter says speaking of our new track-of-the-week from his upcoming Platoon/Black Lives in Music release is sci-fi like in its explanation. The constellation quest is to ''find beings from the Alpha Centauri, able to produce a signal to come to earth.''
Inspired the Canada born long time Londoner says looking from his balcony at home he ''sees planes in the night, 20 planes in the sky - in my mind - finding centurii in the mystical category - the musical you.''
Then there's another track 'The Malleables' - a ''meta track'' he explains. ''We as the band were jamming on that song: we were malleable at the time.''
As for 'Sanctuary' (not the Miles Davis Bitches Brew composition in case you were wondering) but an original inspired it emerged from a Corona time working title 'Screw Corona' type melody a saxophonist friend of his who goes under the moniker Kate Deal on Instagram created. The sanctuary Jay explains ''kind of resonated. We felt like we were in our sanctuary, homes, that time.''
Locking in on the upcoming album - personnel include pianist Nicola Guida, guitarist Tom Ford, bass guitarist Menelik Claffey, vibes player the incredible David Mrakpor, flautist Ruta Sipola, drummer Jack Robson and percussionist Jansen Santana. Standout track 'Through the Clouds' came during a long on-hold wait for the tax people HMRC - eg hearing this ditty - that Jay transcribed and transformed recreating the frantic riffery that was playing down the phone on hold for that hour and a half duration. It is to be the next single - and is probably the catchiest thing on this very fine record that reaches out beyond jazz but also easily connects with even the approach of grand fromage Euroclubber favourite Erik Truffaz who is that bit more obviously Milesian.
The album title track stems from 41 year old Jay's ''love of baile funk'' - Brazilian funk which he demonstrates with a vocalised ding of a cha-cha-CHUNG: ''I thought I'd utilise that half time but double time at the same time sound juxtaposing Detroit four-to-the-floor house. It sounded so right now, the sound of now.''
Jay plays a handcrafted Eclipse trumpet and has been playing the same Luton Leigh McKinney-founded brand since he was 19. He uses AMT wireless clip mics when he needs to and in terms of mutes uses a classic Harmon for example on 'Through the Clouds.'
Beyond active playing and bandleading Jay runs an agency called SoulEndvr which casts for TV, film, advertising and theatre focusing on diversity for such clients as Netflix and Amazon and will he says be the first jazz artist on the Apple owned record label and distributor Platoon partnering for the release with ex-NYJO executive Roger Wilson and his organisation Black Lives in Music.
The Now was recorded at Dollis Hill recording studio Fish Factory and recorded before Platoon came on board.
Around the London scene since bursting on to the national jazz specialist media radar in 2007 as an original member of the multi award winning Empirical whose self-titled debut was produced by Courtney Pine, Jay is incendiary live - we caught him most recently as part of Birmingham saxophonist Xhosa Cole's band playing Larry Young's Unity that had new piano star in the making Noah Stoneman channelling Hammond on a Nord C3 at the Vortex back in 2020 - and thinking back further a few more times including a decade earlier at a place Ronnie's owner Sally Greene used to run called the Waterloo Brasserie circa his debut as a leader Jay Walkin' when pizza loving bass don Tim Thornton was in his band. Final word and plenty of food for thought from this original thinker Jay feels that the next generation of jazzers are ''interested more in groove than in standards from the 1950s''. His new much clubbier direction is certainly in keeping with such non chin-stroking London jazz-reality philosophy. SG
MORE READING AND ESSENTIAL LISTENING:
On Live at the Cockpit - 2020
Jay Phelps, photo: press. The Now (Platoon) is out on 23 June