In Review: Alfa Mist - Bring Backs
East London producer, multi-instrumentalist, and contemporary jazz favourite Alfa Mist’s hip-hop roots are well documented at this point – both as a fan and as a creator – but there’s a reason that his love for the masters of the form (J Dilla, Madlib, Hi-Tek) comes up time and again, and it’s because those sensibilities have clearly shaped the music that he has made over the past few years.
That said, there’s a tendency to cast him simply as hip-hop head turned jazz musician in a way that doesn’t always reflect the intricacies of his musical output. And while these roots are certainly not absent on latest full-length project Bring Backs, his third album, they don’t come close to telling the full story of a record that is understated, introspective, and composed with a lightness of touch that creates a real feeling of meditativeness and (self) reflection.
Take Kaya Thomas-Dean collaboration ‘People’ for example, which finds the record at its most tender; the delicate guitar and sorrowful string arrangements of this soulful acoustic track bearing more resemblance to folk than to hip-hop beats or improvisational jazz. Equally, the beautiful ‘Once A Year’ is fundamentally a contemporary classical piece, where the strings take centre stage.
There’s plenty of space elsewhere for jazz improvisation though, the trumpet in particular given reign to roam on the likes of ‘Run Outs’. But still when the following track ‘Last Card (Bumper Cars)’ seems to be building towards more of the same, the voice of Alfa Mist interrupts – “wait wait, hold on, one sec” – and the song is drawn to a close, as the album meanders back towards the smoother, more relaxed sounds which open the succeeding song ‘Coasting’.
It’s a dynamic ebb and flow which permeates across the forty-minute runtime, elevating the melancholy and tempering the exuberance without detracting from the contribution of either to the overall mood of the record.
The wistful nature of the album is also given a greater sense of personal emotion and connection to its creator by the sparing vocal contributions of Alfa Mist, proving himself to be a more than capable rapper, his languid and conversational style betraying an obvious technical ability and lyricism that is allowed to shine through by virtue of its relative infrequency.
Similarly, Bring Backs finds even further cohesion by the interjecting extracts of a poem by Hilary Thomas which appear periodically, exploring ideas of belonging, identity and community; a device which, as well as adding to the theme of the album, once again seems to carry more weight than it would were it to bookend every single track.
All of this results in a record which excels in its understatement, and perhaps most of all in its balance – no single element becomes too overbearing or predictable, no one influence too prominent. It may not necessarily be striking or dazzling, but in its restraint and inexuberance, Bring Backs finds a captivating assuredness which reflects the obvious maturity of its creator.
Brings Backs is out now via Anti.