‘This is close your eyes music’ - Ishmael Ensemble thrill a sold-out crowd at Trinity Centre in Bristol

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
‘I’d seen them at festivals before but this was a new level of jazzy-fantasticness’

I arrived very early as ever at the Trinity Centre for this one as I was really keen to see what the night had in store and to catch some new music - on the bill was Bristol’s own Ishmael Ensemble, supported by solo jazz/blues artist Jelly Cleaver.

As Jelly Cleaver came on I took my spot at the front left of the stage. I was immediately taken back by her subtle, stunning vocals which were perfectly backed by a soundscape of recorded sounds she controlled through a laptop and foot peddles.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Cosmovisions is a song I stored straight away to revisit. This song swoops and sways around, picking you up and putting you back down where it found you, reassuring you ‘everything will be ok’.

Making the setlist up as she went, Jelly Cleaver then nailed her version of Blues Run the Game; a song I heard first when the great Nick Drake sang it. Like with any good cover version she cut it up and put it back together her own way to great effect. She then invited then got the crowd involved in a thought exercise during Dream Manifesto to imagine their version perfect world.

Jelly Cleaver can really play. During Mirrors the crowd starting yelping randomly, the kind of thing you do without thinking when you see something so impressive or great you have to make some sort of noise. A great way to start any night. She was perfect for what was to come.

There wasnt too long to wait before the sold-out crowd in what is quickly becoming my favourite venue would get to see the main act,  Ishmael Ensemble. The noise and queue at the bar had definitely got bigger,  with people (me included) rushing to get to there and back as to not miss anything. I timed it perfectly, the atmosphere and the temperature definitely heightened in anticipation, and all grumbles about queuing at the bar were forgotten as we settled in.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The lights went down and jazz music came up. Within a couple of songs, namely Chapel and Full Circle, I could see why Ishmael Ensemble are are tagged with so many genres. They can be haunting in one song, then heavy and challenging the next.

Grove appeared for vocals on Wax Werk with Ishmael Ensamble (Photo credit: Khali Ackford)Grove appeared for vocals on Wax Werk with Ishmael Ensamble (Photo credit: Khali Ackford)
Grove appeared for vocals on Wax Werk with Ishmael Ensamble (Photo credit: Khali Ackford) | Khali Ackford

During one song, Wax Werk, they introduced Grove, who is new to me but probably not to others in the crowd. They was the first in what seemed like an eternally revolving door of stunning vocalists and artists. That song builds to an epic crescendo of squealing saxophone and Grove’s energetic, frenetic rhymes create the perfect mix.

There was a big white harp centre stage throughout this show and I found myself getting impatient as I wanted to hear it! When they did ‘crack open’ the harp it sounded glorious with songs Identity and Empty Hand making full use of it. 

The crowd around me had definitely livend up by this point and once again I had managed to be surrounded by the super fans. One fan right at the front was jirating and grasping the stage, appearing to have an outer body experience with his friend who he hugged to bring him back to earth, or maybe wanting to get to his level.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Rider Shafique then came on to lay some spoken word over a backdrop of Ishmael Ensemble’s music.

It struck me that their music fits so many different vocal styles that it makes sense to have so many guests to flex their obvious musical prowess. Ishmael Ensemble vocalist Holysseus Fly (check out her solo stuff if you havent already) is note perfect and performance perfect. I was wondering what it must be like to have that sort of range and nail it. I can see why fans were having spontaneous bouts of dancing and heavy swaying as she took to crowd on a journey with her.

Bethany Stenning performing with Ishmael Ensemble at the Trinity Centre. Photo Credit: Khali AckfordBethany Stenning performing with Ishmael Ensemble at the Trinity Centre. Photo Credit: Khali Ackford
Bethany Stenning performing with Ishmael Ensemble at the Trinity Centre. Photo Credit: Khali Ackford | Khali Ackford

This is ‘close your eyes’ music, music to expand your imagination its both vast and succinct when it needs to be. With new song Rebuke being a perfect example of this. The crowd were now in their own space dancing, flailing their hair around and grooving as this resembled a dance floor at a club not a gig. Hold on to your Wiper and True Kaleidoscope!!

The energy was reciprocated on stage especially during Soma Centre where I saw a guy doing air guitar to a keyboard solo and the band erupt towards the end of this song. I loved it when you feel ‘this is what live music is about when crowd and band become the same thing’.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I glanced to my left and saw Jelly Cleaver beaming from the side of the stage clearly as in awe as we were in the crowd. Ishmael Ensemble clearly also loved the adoration of a hometown crowd.

And then it was over, I was left in awe; sweaty and fulfilled. I’d seen them at festivals before but this was a new level of jazzy-fantasticness. I’ll look forward to the next tour and the next album.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.