Guitarist Femi Temowo launched his second album Orin Meta at Under The Bridge, the venue that opened earlier this year at Stamford Bridge, under the Shed end of the East Stand, home to Chelsea football club. Temowo, best known for his work with Soweto Kinch who also appears on the album among a large cast of musicians and singers, attracted a goodly-sized Friday night crowd of around 250 people to the corporate-style venue. While the décor of Under The Bridge is pretty bland no matter how plushly fitted out it is, its horseshoe around the stage allowed fairly good sightlines with fine framed photographs of rock royalty above the alcoves and other seating scattered around with plenty of standing room. The excellent sound controlled by a huge desk that looked as if it was sufficiently equipped to launch a satellite into planetary orbit is a definite plus for a venue such as this that hosted Booker T, Dr John and Jamie Cullum during BluesFest back in the summer.
With Temowo were a quite superb band of Jean Toussaint on tenor saxophone and a rhythm section of pianist Grant Windsor, double bassist Karl Rasheed-Abel, drummer Troy Miller, talking-drummer Richard Olatunde Baker and, joining in the second set, another talking-drummer Ayan De First, the strings of Emma Smith, Lucy Railton and Vincent Sipprell and a cameo by singer Xantoné Blacq dressed mostly in white with a big Afro hairstyle whose hair Temowo referred to obliquely in the first set without mentioning whose it was. The very personable guitarist was in good company, and played as distinctively as ever, communicating superbly to the audience introducing the band generously (and with care) as he went along, pacing the evening. The British Nigerian surely has an original guitar approach, marking him out as a new jazz guitar star having absorbed his influences and come up with something new, honed in the past by performing with Soweto Kinch in the early J-Noir promoted days of Kinch’s career at gigs in the West End around 2003, and as a leader with his partly realised debut album Quiet Storm already under his belt released five years ago.
The Under the Bridge gig started with the band on stage in darkness while everyone watched a 10-minute video Temowo had put together recently with a video director to accompany music from the album. To be frank this killed the momentum at the beginning but when the band finally began it was grooving, jazz-style, from the off, with Temowo explaining as he went along the concept behind the album. He said that while ‘connected’ to his Nigerian roots, he was exploring more deeply his cultural background from the perspective of someone born in Nigeria but living as a British person in the UK. He undertook this by referring to his Yoruba cultural heritage and for more personal reasons, for instance the lovely ‘Felicia’s Song’ written for his birth mother.
With members of his family in the audience and many musicians also present including singer/cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson and the great Jamaican lovers rock singer Myrna Hague, the launch felt very much like an occasion and the audience responded by listening, applauding and talking to Femi when he prompted them. Temowo has a wonderful guitar technique, warm, very Wes Montgomery-inflected at times (he also told us about how much he admired Bobby Broom) on all the guitars he played on, especially on the big archtop, but delivered his own songs with a very distinctive, Yoruba jazz style of his own.
The second set had an intriguing song by Blacq, who used to work closely with the late Amy Winehouse, and was quite impressive not quite crooning, and not quite doing the soul thing although Isaac Hayes (Hot Buttered Soul period) sprung to mind in the extended worldless vocal improvisation. Within the band Jean Toussaint was perhaps the most prevailing influence in the first half as the senior in the group, while the increasingly known Windsor (who plays with José James and Nailah Porter among others) dug in well both on piano and Nord keyboards. Karl Rasheed-Abel, another Soweto Kinch connection, was quite superb and Troy Miller whose excellent 40 Days album came out five years ago and has since become a first call session drummer fulfilled his promise particularly on 'The Drummer's Call.'
– Stephen Graham
Orin Meta is released on Femitone Records