Cassie Kinoshi's seed.
International Anthem
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In March of 2023 composer, arranger & alto saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi premiered a commissioned suite of music in front of a sold out crowd at London’s Southbank Centre. She wrote the piece – gratitude – for her flagship large ensemble seed., in a special augmented formation that also featured turntablist NikNak and the London Contemporary Orchestra (LCO).

Followers of UK Jazz know Kinoshi from her previous work with seed. (including the Mercury Prize-nominated album Driftglass, released by jazz re:freshed in 2019), or as a former member of Kokoroko. But her compositional résumé also extends deeply into orchestral work for concert hall, contemporary dance, film, visual art, and theatre, with high profile collaborators including London Sinfonietta, Philharmonia Orchestra, and the London Symphony Orchestra. That depth of experience is on full display on gratitude, with the textural and dynamic flexibility of her large ensemble covering musical ground from groove-focused modal melancholia to anthemic brass and string themes. Striking upon first listen and even richer on repeat visits, gratitude scores the soul of contemporary Black London with philharmonic craftwork in the tradition of legendary jazz arrangers like Mary Lou Williams, Oliver Nelson, and Carla Bley.

Similar to those keystone writer-arrangers, here Kinoshi wields the power of a large ensemble to convey nuanced human emotion. “gratitude was written as a means of guiding my own healing,” says Kinoshi. “My mother told me that she keeps a gratitude book where she writes one thing, no matter how big or small, every day that helps to re-focus her mind on practicing gratitude. The examples that she gave were seeing the flowers that she'd recently planted in her garden bloom and a kaleidoscope of butterflies that she saw flitting about a tree in her garden.”

Inspired by her mother’s focus on natural beauty and the meaningful minutiae of everyday life, Kinoshi was driven to work through her own relationship with mental health and to pour that into composition. “I was spending a lot of time on my own, often at my desk writing continuously,” says Kinoshi. “At 3pm everyday, the winter sun would be positioned opposite my window and shine directly onto my face. The task of writing this piece was one of the most difficult I've endured – because of the headspace that I was in at the time – and this would be the one thing in the middle of the day that would bring me a very deep sense of contentment… my first attempt at consciously practicing gratitude for something that I so often take for granted.”

“At this point in my artistic career, highlighting the often overlooked subject of mental health and what it means to move towards creating healthy, positive and introspective practices in regards to both understanding and regulating one's own mental health is of the utmost importance to me.”

Throughout the writing process Kinoshi had the privilege of knowing that her composition would eventually be interpreted by seed. — an ensemble of players she founded in 2016 and whose collective talents she knows through and through. “The binding concept of seed. has always been to have a creative outlet that allows me to express and highlight subject matter important to me alongside musicians that I deeply respect, admire and enjoy spending time with,” explains Kinoshi. “It is the one environment where I feel extremely comfortable being able to experiment with sound authentically. Over the years, it has evolved in the sense that the more comfortable the band members get with interpreting my music, and the more we develop a creative language together, the more honest the music sounds.” That profound musical and personal trust helped make the ensemble a perfect vehicle for a composition augmented by new collaborators — in this case the LCO and NikNak.

Kinoshi and seed. first met turntablist NikNak at the Marsden Jazz Festival in 2019. After spending some time talking politics and sharing jokes it was clear that a creative relationship was possible. “I find that working with formidable artists that I get on well with on a personal level always leads to my best work, and knew as soon as I met NikNak that I wanted to work with them.”

On the genesis of her collaboration with the LCO, Kinoshi says: “I have always wanted to combine seed. with electronics and orchestral elements, as I have always envisioned the band performing multi-disciplinary works. I have long admired the members of the LCO and their way of successfully melding orchestral arrangements and improvisation with more contemporary artists. I was introduced to them via Lexy Morvaridi during his time at the Southbank Centre. It was through his support, creative insight and trust that we were able to make this project happen.” The beauty and harmony of these communal connections plus the depth and deftness of all the musickers involved truly made Kinoshi's dream of this composition a reality.

Running confidently at 21 minutes and 33 seconds (not including the album’s B Side / final track “Smoke in the Sun,” which was recorded separately at Total Refreshment Centre) and going straight for the heart, gratitude is an evolved, emotionally attuned, creatively ambitious and compositionally exquisite philharmonic expression of post-millennial UK jazz.