ishmael ensemble

5 minutes with: Ishmael Ensemble

Hitting Yellow Arch Studios on Thursday May 16th are Bristolian quartet Ishmael Ensemble, who release their debut album, A State of Flow on May 3rd. Combining jazz with minimalism the troupe are led by saxophonist Pete Cunningham, who caught up with Leo Burrell ahead of the UK tour to discuss ideas, the Bristol jazz scene and their influences.

Congrats on the album! It’s absolutely brilliant, I’ve had it on repeat for weeks. For those who don’t know you, can you describe it three words?
“It’s absolutely brilliant” 

It features a few of your previous singles from the past two years as well as a bunch of new material. How does it feel to finally have an album out?
It’s a massive milestone for us. It was a great opportunity to collaborate with some of our favourite musicians and artists in the wider Bristol scene and hopefully present them to new audiences. It’s been a long journey and I just feel so thankful to have the support to make it a reality. I can definitely hear your Bristolian roots in there. Were you around for the trip-hop phase?
Definitely as a kid, Portishead, Massive Attack & Roni Size were all a huge part of my musical foundations. I grew up in a village 12 miles south of Bristol and was lucky enough to know a few older guys that introduced me and my friends to them. 

It’s great to see you guys bigging up the Bristol scene. I was born there! You’re bringing your mates Waldos Gift up to Sheffield with you for your show at Yellow Arch Studios on Thursday May 16. You’ve spoken about how despite not collaborating with each other, the Bristol scene shares the same ideas over pub tables. What ideas exactly?
Just an enthusiasm for each others projects. Writing & conceptualizing music or art can be quite a lonely experience so to know there’s a support network around you is a huge boost of confidence. There’s no hierarchy or “dog eat dog” mentality, we’re all in it together and stronger for it. 

You recently won session of the year at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards, after your sublime Maida Vale set. How much do you see yourself as a part of the wider UK jazz revival? You do seem in your own world somehow.
Yeah I wouldn’t directly associate ourselves with what’s going on in London per se but i see some parallels. Much in the same way that a lot of those London groups have been playing together for years, I’ve known and played with the guys in the ensemble since school, Jake & I started our first band 19 years ago! You can’t fake that connection and I think an audience really resonates with that. 

What material can we expect to hear at Yellow Arch Studios? Will the stuff on the album be improvised at all?
Every track on the album has become something different in the live show. We’re all about presenting our music in a new and exciting way for both ourselves and the audience. Luckily we don’t have “hits” that people want to hear note for note so we’re kind of left to our own devices which makes the experience all the more fun and unique! 

Who’s in the band for the tour?
Myself on Sax, Keys and Bleeps, Jake Spurgeon on Keys, Bass & Modular Synth, Stephen Mullins on Guitar & James Vine on Drums. 

Who you gonna call for a collab’ on your next release? I’m picturing and requesting…Yves Tumor or serpentwithfeet? Or Lord Echo perhaps?
Ha all great! Our collabs seem to happen quite naturally, it’s rare to have someone in mind before starting a track so I like the idea of just seeing what’s right at the time. There are more than enough amazing people in Bristol to keep us inspired for the time being.

Ishmael Ensemble hit Yellow Arch with Waldos Gift on Thursday May 18th. Tickets are available from £7.70 here.

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