From Buddy Rich to Billy Cobham, jazz drumming (as opposed to pop-rock) has been a predominately masculine affair, and something which perhaps remains so even to this day – which isn’t to say that women are excluded from the club entirely. Drummer Billie Davies began her career in Europe, performing extensively across the continent, before immigrating to America, until eventually she made her way to New Orleans in 2014, teaming up with IRIS P (vocals), Evan Oberla (electric piano, trombone) and Oliver Watkinson (electric bass) to form A Nu Experience in 2016.
On Hollywood Boulevard is the Belgian born and award winning musician/composer’s sixth album, and consists of seven compositions that are both fresh and engaging. Recorded live in front of a small intimate audience in attendance, each performance was captured in one take at Cobra Basement Studios in her home town of New Orleans.
Davies describes the inspiration behind her latest release as being about “the people that live there, the environment, the atmosphere, and how it all comes to life everyday… I lived right in the middle of it all for 5 years on Hollywood Boulevard.”
First track “On Hollywood Boulevard 1” is an intriguing blend of electric piano, drums, spacey electronics and haunting trombone, as if continuing from where Get Up With It period Miles Davis ended. For almost ten minutes, Davies’ not only keeps time but also stretches it, successfully adding a few additional dimensions via her drum kit in the process. Things dramatically change pace with the utterly enchanting “The Girl In The Window,” where the instruments delicately interweave to create an intricate web around IRIS P’s exquisite vocals. Similarly “Jacaranda,” another slow, seductively timeless number centred round IRIS’s siren-like inflections.
But it is Oberla’s electric piano that is the politely dominant instrument throughout this record, whose playing is full of subtlety and nuance, be it on the iridescent “Palm Trees,” or the largely spoken word “Yellow Sunshine,” each of these compositions sparkle and glisten with a compelling yet unassuming sophistication.
The social diatribe that is “Hollywood Boulevard,” delivered by IRIS behind a modern funky avant-garde backbeat, wouldn’t seem out of place on either a Gil Scott-Heron or Patti Smith record, while final number “On Hollywood Boulevard 2,” seamlessly shifts between free-jazz and more time-honoured jazz territory, highlighting the communicative synergy between all four artists.
Clearly Billie Davies and A Nu Experience are a class act, one full of bold inventive and inspired interplay. Let us hope it won’t be their only project together, and that there will be more adventurous music to come.