The title of Tom Skinner’s first release under his own name is a reference to cellist Abdul Wadud’s ultra-rare 1978 solo album ‘By Myself’, which Skinner listened to repeatedly during lockdown. Wadud’s album was privately pressed on his own label, Bisharra, and whilst Skinner’s title uses the more conventional spelling of this common Arabic name, they both have the same intention or meaning: it translates as ‘good news’, or ‘the bringer of good news’.
This is a classic-sounding record that connects backwards to Skinner’s 2017 Hello Skinny collaboration with American composer and Arthur Russell-collaborator Peter Zummo on ‘Watermelon Sun’. It links sideways to Makaya McCraven’s beat maker-inspired treatments of jazz sessions, and it offers a musical bridge to Sons of Kemet’s most meditative moments.
‘Voices of Bishara’ began life when Tom Skinner asked some musician friends to join him for a Played Twice session at London’s Brilliant Corners. The regular event had a simple format: play a classic album in full through their audiophile system and then have an elite ensemble improvise their response. The night in question focused on drummer Tony Williams’ 1964 Blue Note album ‘Life Time’ and the music he and his friends conjured up was so special that it inspired Skinner to write an albums-worth of phenomenal new music.
Skinner, a cellist, a bass player and two saxophonists recorded the results classic album-style, with everyone in the same room. He took the music home and it was put to the side, occasionally coming out for some attention in between Tom’s many other creative projects. This was a slow burn creation, and gradually, a new album began appearing as he embraced the studio recordings and accentuated their sublime idiosyncrasies.
“I took a very liberal approach with the scissors and started going really hard into the edits between instruments. It breathed new life into the music. I was taking my cue from the great disco re-edits, people like Theo Parrish chopping up tunes and looping sections. I’m not a purist. I don’t want to get hung up on the past. It was really empowering to fuck it up a bit, to mess around with the music and see what happened. It felt right”
The result is a tight, hypnotic and unique 31-minutes of music. ‘Voices of Bishara’ is sculpted around timeless and deeply emotional music that contains masses of movement and exceptional harmonic depth and texture. It sweeps and soars through soundworlds, rich in musicality and always anchored by the deep doubling of cello and bass. It also, of course, contains Skinner’s percussive magic – drumming skills that have brought artists from Grace Jones to Jonny Greenwood to request him on their records and tours.
“We’re individual voices, coming together collectively. The idea was that we could collectively bring something more positive to the table. It’s the start of something.”
Tom Skinner and ‘Voices of Bishara’: bringers of good news.