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“IT’S a symbol of tragic beauty, a message conveyed in ominously dark material. Watching its gradual creation inspired me to compose music which merely touches on the myriad of emotions experienced in such devastating loss of life.”
That’s what jazz violinist Faith Brackenbury says of The Knife Angel, the powerful 27-foot tall creation of sculptor Alfie Bradley, who lives near her in Shropshire.
A protest against the knife-crime epidemic, it’s the catalyst for her 30-minute KnifeAngel suite, recorded with a jazz sextet of maturity and youth — alto saxophonist Martin Speake, pianist Alex Maguire, bassist Oli Hayhurst, violinist Brackenbury, drummer Will Glaser and guitarist Rob Luft.
Observing The Knife Angel from its early stages of creation and seeing mothers, girlfriends, sisters and grandmothers — mostly female relatives — coming to inscribe messages to their lost sons, boyfriends, brothers, fathers on its blades, had a big impact on Brackenbury.
“I could see their enormous pain,” she recalls. “I wanted to write something that would express these emotions as well as help bring awareness to the issues of knife crime in our country. I'm a single mother myself and my boys are my life.
“Witnessing the pain of these women and their families, I found a wish in some way to bring change.”
The last movement of her suite is “a meditation and resolution of hope,” she explains. “That is what the sculpture portrays alongside its despair –— that one day, hopefully soon, the social and political issues will be tackled with the urgency that is needed.”
Brave and beautiful, KnifeAngel is a musical elegy for lost urban youth and, like Bradley’s sculpture, it resonates with pain and a determined, relentless hope — a demonstration of how the visual and sculptural can move organically towards the sonic.
The mix of youth and maturity of the musicians played a massive part in the suite’s raw energy, she says. “Speake, Maguire and Hayhurst are widely experienced virtuosi, with Luft and Glaser brilliant young contenders. The music was very spontaneous, unrehearsed, with the energy of youth combined with the understanding of a different, older slant on life and its fragility.”
The recording is in support of Birmingham mother Alison Cope’s creation of the Joshua Ribera Achievement Awards. In memory of her late son, it encourages young people excluded from school to develop their artistic talents.
“Expression through music and the arts is hugely motivational and beneficial,” Brackenbury asserts, “especially for young people from excluded backgrounds. Sadly, it is at the bottom of the list of our education system or it’s wiped out altogether and it’s having a huge negative effect.”
Brackenbury is pretty clear that musicians today ought to provoke reflection, consciousness and action about key issues like knife crime. “Musicians now have a lot to be making music about!” she says. “There is rich material in the state of things, not just in this country but around the world and the state of our planet. Music is a far-reaching vehicle, an accessible and universal language.”
She tells how she tries to convey some of the sculpture’s “awe and despair, darkness and light” in her music and, listening to the suite, the line from Lycidas, John Milton’s great elegy for lost youth, comes to mind: “Look homeward angel now, and melt with ruth.”
Both a lament and shout of protest for every urban Lycidas cut down in the streets of our cities, Knife Angel sharpens the consciousness with its inspired beauty and incisive relevance.
Knife Angel is released on Lonely Duck Records.
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