Led by alto saxophonist, and composer Cassie Kinoshi, the ten-piece SEED Ensemble boasts a stellar line-up, made up of London’s most exciting young jazz musicians including tuba player Theon Cross (Sons of Kemet), trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey (Kokoroko) and guitarist Shirley Tetteh (Maisha).
“I’m super excited,” Cassie Kinoshi told me. “I love travelling up north and this will be great. It’s the first time. We’ve played a few festivals outside of London but we haven’t played much around the UK at all, so definitely a first.”
Cassie formed SEED Ensemble, with members that cut across race and gender, in 2016 shortly after graduating from the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London.
“Some of the musicians I met at uni, some I met through (artist development organisation) Tomorrow’s Warriors, friends and people I’ve known for years. It’s a really lovely community in London. Everyone’s friends, everyone’s supportive of each other. it’s less of a scene and more of just friends making music together,” says Cassie, adding that the structure of the group allows them to feed off each other. “Everyone brings composition to the band, it’s everyone putting their voices to it and responding to each other.”
SEED Ensemble’s debut album Driftglass was released (via Jazz Re:freshed) in 2019 to much acclaim and was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize. Combining jazz with inner-city London, West African and Caribbean influenced groove, the album explores a blend of genres through original compositions and improvisation and features the track Afronaut (feat. XANA) which won the Ivors Academy Award 2018 (formerly known as BASCA, British Composer Award) for Jazz Composition For Large Ensemble. The album, Cassie explains, is the culmination of several years of work.
“The first composition I wrote for that was in 2014. I wrote The Dream Keeper for my final portfolio at Laban on my composition course. Then, in 2015, I saw Yazz Ahmed’s band perform at the South Bank Centre. She’s just released Polyhymnia and that’s what I saw her perform. I realised you could create a large ensemble sound and formed SEED Ensemble soon afterwards.
“I’ve been writing a lot of music. Specifically, I wanted to write music which was politically focused or about personal experiences in the UK and I tied it in with my interest with science fiction and Afro-futurism.
“There are a lot of issues in Britain that require constant highlighting and need to be talked about. There’s a lot that gets swept under the carpet, or just becomes non-issues, because they don’t affect the majority of the country. Driftglass was written to highlight the experience of being a young, black British citizen and to highlight a lot of historical wrong-doing that the nation has embedded in the fabric of our society.
“We wrote all of that music in 2015 and then it was October 2017 when we recorded it. I never intended to be a voice for my generation, or anything like that, just to write about things that are important to me and my friends and a lot of the people that I know.”
Since graduating from Laban, the 27-year old has a host of theatre, film and advertising composition credits to her name and has picked up a string of awards and nominations. These include Jazz FM’s Breakthrough Act of the Year Winner 2019 and Parliamentary Jazz Award 2017 for Best Newcomer, for her work with all-female jazz septet Nerija.
Cassie grew up in a music-loving household, in Welwyn Garden City, and has had much support and encouragement from her parents.
“My parents listened to a lot of music, I always enjoyed dancing and I had the opportunity to study piano at school, lessons. My uncle played jazz piano, so I’ve always been in that kind of world. I started with piano when I was 6, clarinet when I was aged 11 and saxophone
when I was 13 – because it’s a bit more fun!
“My parents had a lot of jazz records. We’d always listen to Jazz FM except for Sunday when it was Classic FM,” she laughs. “Lots of music of all types.
“I really wanted to be a journalist, encouraged by my English teacher. I was always into writing. I would still be writing music but it more of an escapism thing until I got to A-Levels. Then I was told I could actually go and study composition at a higher education level. I guess it was then that I realised I could actually mould it into something properly.
“Even when I realised that you could study composition, I always wanted to try to be a film composer. I wanted to be the next John Williams. Film, theatre, TV, it’s something I always aimed to do. Coming to London gave me more opportunity to meet the right people who could push me in that direction.