Saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael this week released their debut album whilst being signed to Shabaka Hutchings’ (The Comet Is Coming, Sons of Kemet, Shabaka and the Ancestors) new label Native Rebel Recordings. The River Doesn’t Like Strangers is a myriad of genres and influences as you listen to the nine sublime tracks that swerve us through jazz, funk and world music.

Originally from Warrington, Chelsea is a Conservatoire-trained musician who has already been part of a Mercury-nominated band – she played on SEED Ensemble’s 2019 Driftglass – and currently plays with Theon Cross, the Neue Grafik Ensemble and arranges for her own Chelsea Carmichael Ensemble. Following a performance together in May 2019 at the Total Refreshment Centre-affiliated Church of Sound with South African band The Brother Moves, Shabaka noted Chelsea’s potential and invited her to record the first release on the new label and I think it’s safe to say that none of us are disappointed by this bold move.

Engineered at London’s iconic RAK studios by Will Purton and recorded with Eddie Hick (Sons of Kemet), Dave Okumu (The Invisible) and Tom Herbert (The Invisible; Polar Bear), The River Doesn’t Like Strangers from start to finish is jazz mastery at its finest. The title track was inspired by the words of Chelsea’s dad on the Rio Grande in Jamaica: the river that goes through the centre of his home village of Grants Level, in the parish of Portland.

Despite mostly being a jazz record, there is ample going on with this LP; the intertwining of skilled players and different genres invokes the movement of the Rio Grande throughout. Playful, unpredictable and masterful, it’s a record that will surprise you with every bend. There Is A Place (That’s Not Here) is a slow builder before immersing us inti the unanticipated jazz that we will be immersed within for the next thirty minutes or so. The reflective and beautifully expansive Bone And Soil, the skittish Myriad and the hauntingly pensive title track, The River Doesn’t Like Strangers which incorporates delightful double bass.

Inspired by the lineage of black music making and the Caribbean Diasporas, Chelsea felt right it only natural to reference the lineage, and what has always been inside her even before even playing saxophone. Fresh and exciting, adding a sound with that sax that takes this record beyond jazz, with many sub texts and references that take us on a smooth journey. Surprising and exuberant, Carmichael’s record leaves us gagging for plenty sax, and for that we will just have to wait.

The River Doesn’t Like Strangers is out now, via Native Rebel Recordings