Mark Kavuma Crafts a Bigger ‘Banger’

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Mark Kavuma’s sophomore album, The Banger Factory, places him at the center of London’s rapidly expanding jazz scene.

(Photo: Courtesy Ubuntu)

Great art can emerge from any residency. A staple of jazz through the decades—from Ornette Coleman’s 1959 series at New York’s Five Spot to Steam Down’s raucous weekly jam at London’s Matchstick Piehouse today—the residency provides a simultaneously safe and challenging space to develop new songs and, crucially, gauge the reaction of fans.

That rich tradition is in full bloom on Thursday nights at the Prince of Wales pub in London’s Brixton neighborhood. That’s where 26-year-old trumpeter Mark Kavuma takes the stage with his Banger Factory band and routinely whips the room into a frenzy with a mix of standards and original compositions.

“Ninety percent of my songs are about a person or a place,” Kavuma said on a recent day in London. “It’s all driven through emotion and story. The residency has become the perfect place to test material. If it doesn’t bang, you know because the people aren’t dancing. And if it does bang, there’s no better feeling.”

Kavuma’s sophomore album, The Banger Factory (Ubuntu), places him at the center of London’s rapidly expanding jazz scene, which also includes saxophonists Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia, and tuba player Theon Cross.

Kavuma met Cross and other jazz players, like trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, as a teenager in the performance troupe Kinetika Bloco. “There was such a fun, communal feel to Kinetika,” he recalled. “Anyone could come and play—it didn’t matter how good you were—and it was amazing to see everyone develop together. We’re now touring the world and releasing records and yet still finding the time to go back and teach.”

Kavuma has nine cousins who are a part of Kinetika, paving the way for yet another generation of jazz players. “So much of the London scene is influenced by Kinetika—the sense of fun that [founder] Mat Fox would bring, that’s the energy you see onstage with people like Ezra Collective or Theon Cross now,” Kavuma said.

Fox died of a heart attack in 2014, and his is an unsung legacy, in Kavuma’s opinion. “There are so many mentors and leaders who have shaped us, from Mat to Gary Crosby, who leads [the jazz education organization] Tomorrow’s Warriors, and my own school music teacher, Joe Morgan,” Kavuma said. “These people all fought and continue to fight for musical education when there’s no funding for it and little glory in it.”

A sense of community clearly is conveyed in Kavuma’s work. During the 2018 recording sessions for The Banger Factory, Kavuma brought nearly 20 compositions to the studio—each one written for a specific member of his octet. “We know each other so well through the residency now, we know exactly how to play each composition without me even having to say,” he explained.

The result is the Ellington-like melodic softness of the ballad “Mussinghi,” the funky fusion of the title track and the big band grandeur of “Mrakpor.” (Each of the aforementioned tunes is named after a band member.)

“Mark has such a unique sound on the horn,” said pianist and organist Reuben James, who also contributes to the album. “He lets it all hang out in a very vulnerable way when he plays ballads and with such tasteful arrangements for an eight-person band.”

There is everything from Wynton Marsalis’ controlled precision to Roy Hargrove’s gutsy soul and Louis Armstrong’s bright optimism in Kavuma’s playing. Still, his greatest strength is in leaving space for his bandmates, as evidenced by vibraphonist David Mrakpor’s languid solo on his namesake tune and Mussinghi Brian Edwards’ tenor saxophone harmonies on his.

“We’ve got so much music,” Kavuma enthused. “Since we’ve been playing together for so long, it all feels so natural—and there is much more to say. We’re going back into the studio to record another album in October and it’s only onwards and upwards from here.” DB




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December 2019
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