Music

Composer Cassie Kinoshi: 'Understanding one's own mental health is of utmost importance to me'

New album gratitude is an appreciation of the small moments of joy in everyday life

Cassie Kinoshi

Cassie Kinoshi. Image: PR Supplied

The music I love can be divided pretty cleanly into two categories: accessible and instantly gratifying, or reciprocal; the kind of music that offers a return in proportion to how much time and attention you’re willing to give it, like that of Cassie Kinoshi.

During the UK’s Covid lockdown in 2020 I lost a lot of my freelance work and found that using the spare hours I’d gained to sit with the albums that required me to put some effort in was not only a good use of my time, but a godsend for my mental health.

When Floating Points’ beautiful collaborative album with Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra, Promises, started to gain huge amounts of attention upon its release the following year, I realised I wasn’t the only person feeling more receptive to ‘reciprocal’ music. The album consists of one long piece in nine sparse movements with a repeated motif – as background music it barely registers, but it will reward your full attention richly.

I’ve noticed more and more similarly meditative, earnest records being warmly received since then, and UK jazz artists have been capitalising on this space and freedom to stretch and expand and let the music take its time. I approach certain gigs now with a standard of self discipline, knowing if I let my attention wander, I’m missing the point. 

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British saxophonist Kinoshi’s new album, gratitude, recorded with seed. (formerly known as SEED Ensemble) and the London Contemporary Orchestra appears to be borne out of this renewed patience and hunger for spiritual stimulation. In fact, Cassie Kinoshi has described it as a reflection on the development of her own “introspective practices”.

Released on Chicago label International Anthem, known for its focus on progressive, atmospheric sounds, gratitude captures a live philharmonic concert performed by the group at Southbank Centre last year. Personnel includes the award-winning turntablist NikNak, guitarist Shirley Tetteh and pianist Maria Chiara Argirò, who I encountered on the mentorship programme at Montreux Jazz Festival last year along with Kinoshi’s former Kokoroko bandmate Sheila Maurice-Grey. Cross pollination between similarly accomplished artists is fundamental to Kinoshi’s work with seed. “The binding concept 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,” she says. “It is the one environment where I feel extremely comfortable being able to experiment with sound authentically.”

Cassie Kinoshi is well established as a composer and bandleader, having formed SEED Ensemble the year after she graduated from the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in 2015, writing for theatre and orchestra and gaining Ivor Novello and Jazz FM Awards along with a Mercury Prize nomination in the years since.

Sonically, seed. are best known for blending traditional jazz with African and Caribbean music, but gratitude leans far more towards theatre, storytelling and soundscapes. Each track unfolds like a musical tableau, apposing the warmth of the orchestra with birdsong and other organic sounds. Notably, it’s not the classical instrumentation which creates the most drama in the record, but the clever overlay of NikNak’s turntablism.

“[I] and the other members of seed. met NikNak at Marsden Jazz Festival in 2019,” Kinoshi says. “NikNak was opening for us before we performed… we all spent a bit of time in our shared dressing room sharing jokes, stories and chatting about politics and everyone clicked instantly.

“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.” The easy conversational connection is evident between the entire ensemble, particularly on track IV (most of the pieces are untitled), where drums give way to brass which give way to strings as though each is holding court in turn around the dinner table. 

The album was inspired by Cassie Kinoshi’s mother’s practice of keeping a gratitude book, and the music is intended to encourage an appreciation of people and experiences that bring small moments of joy to everyday life. It is unapologetically warm and sincere, offering a personal perspective on the intersection of music and mindfulness, and reflects on Kinoshi’s own desire to live contentedly.

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

gratitude by Cassie Kinoshi and her seed is out on 22 March on International Anthem .

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