Culture / Music

Rhythm at the centre of everything – an evening with Yussef Dayes

Rhythm at the centre of everything - an evening with Yussef Dayes

When rhythm is at the centre of everything, a primal urge that is in our heartbeat, it seems strange that drummers are seldom the primary performer in contemporary groups. Often the glue that holds a band together behind the showmanship of a lead guitarist, or the ego of a frontman, seeing Yussef Dayes perform in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, was a refreshing change. The South London-based producer, composer and drummer was at the epicentre of his sonic world, redefining band roles and even the genre, he loosely calls ‘jazz’.

There was certainly an air of anticipation before Dayes and his band – made of Malik Venna on saxophone, Elijah Fox on keys and synth and Rocco Palladino on bass – took to the stage. Front and centre on his riser, Dayes charmed a full Concert Hall with rhythms that are far beyond my technical ability to describe. What was obvious to all in the room was the extreme synergy and unifying love for music that the band shared as they took turns to hero their instrument, whilst never losing sight of the piece of music being performed.

The physicality of the band was prevalent, with keyboardist Fox – or as he is known in the band, Mr. Octopus – moved from piano to synth in the same bar, dancing and feeling every note simultaneously. Palladino proved my theory wrong, that all jazz players only played fretless, as he punctuated the set with virtuosic solos with the gravitas of a Berghain bouncer, effortlessly cool and wearing sunglasses at night. Saxophonist Venna was perfectly 'South London' in his oversized adidas tracksuit as he demonstrated what his instrument was capable of; from textural whispers to full blown expressive melodies. The audience was charmed when Venna returned to perform with the group, having popped up in the aisle halfway through the set, playing his way back to the stage.

It is no wonder that Dayes boldly called his most recent album, Black Classical Music, having been tutored by Miles Davis’ drummer, Billy Cobham, from the age of four. The music is as much psychedelic dub as it is what we think of as ‘jazz’, with Dayes himself admitting on stage that it was just a handy box to describe the music that he makes. Whilst not frequently on the mic, speaking to his attentive audience, Dayes attributed the spiritual nature of his music to his mother, who opened his eyes at a young age and has a practising yoga studio. Dayes was championed by the late great visionary and creative director Virgil Abloh, who had the musician front multiples shows and working multidisciplinary collaborations between 2019 and 2022 for Off-White and the Louis Vuitton Foundation.

Dayes and the band reached a glorious musician fruition when they were joined on the stage by guitarist, Ivy Alexander, who added an extra layer of nuance with her dexterous fingers and a white Strat. Bringing the audience to their feet to enjoy the last three songs of the set, Dayes had all of the congregation worshipping at the altar of rhythm.

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