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Jack-of-all-trades jazz musician releases EP 'Jelly Cleaver and The Forever Presence'

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, HOST:

Musician Jelly Cleaver is a jack-of-all-trades. She's a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist making waves in the South London jazz scene with her band and their self-titled EP, "Jelly Cleaver And The Forever Presence."

(SOUNDBITE OF JELLY CLEAVER'S "FOREVER PRESENCE: PT. 1")

KURTZLEBEN: Cleaver also plays guitar in an all-female disco band, All Day Breakfast Cafe, that released their debut EP last month. And she's been recognized for her music, winning the 2020 Steve Reid Innovation Award, a grant for emerging musical artists.

Jelly Cleaver joins us now from London. Welcome to the program.

JELLY CLEAVER: Oh, thanks so much for having me.

KURTZLEBEN: So we were just listening to the title track for this project, "Forever Presence: Pt. 1." What does that phrase mean, and what does this composition mean?

CLEAVER: This composition is quite important to me because I wrote it after losing a loved one. And while dealing with the grief, it kind of got me thinking quite deeply about, you know, how we view life and death and how love survives when somebody passes. And so the idea of the forever presence is this idea that kind of love is eternal. It exists outside, you know, normal time and space, and love can survive death.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. And I think a lot of people listening can relate to that idea of collective grief right now, a year and a half into a pandemic. How can music move our mourning and processing of grief forward? How does it move it forward for you?

CLEAVER: Well, that was really the purpose of recording and putting out this EP for me. Through the writing of the music, it was kind of a cathartic way for me to at least look at my emotions and then try and start processing them. And I think the beautiful thing about music is that it's a way for humans to connect. And obviously, I think grief can be very isolating. It can just completely throw you. And so I really hope that - you know, with music, with art in other ways - that it allows people to connect, for one thing, and to maybe start to examine some of those difficult-to-process emotions.

KURTZLEBEN: Well, as I understand it, this EP was recorded in a single day's session.

CLEAVER: That's right.

KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. I mean, what kind of synergy does that require between all of you in the studio together?

CLEAVER: Yeah. Incredible musicianship from all my band. It's the first time we'd played together as a band. So it really was a kind of - I put the music in front of them, we played through it once or twice and then we just pressed record. So it was extremely of the moment, and it just felt very natural. So I was really blessed to be working with those people.

KURTZLEBEN: All right, I want to get back to the music. Let's listen to another song called "Black Line."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK LINE")

CLEAVER: (Singing) Black line run from the belly of a gun. Black line spread over the seabed. Black line...

KURTZLEBEN: It's a very haunting song. And as I understand it, it's about the fossil fuel industry. What's the message of it?

CLEAVER: Well, I mean, the black line is symbolic of, I guess, the line that we're about to cross in terms of there being irrevocable change to our planet, and we won't be able to go back. It's also - you know, I just think the black line is very symbolic of, like, death or the end. And unfortunately, that's kind of what the fossil fuel industry has done to a lot of especially indigenous communities, poor communities, people of color. And I specifically reference the Ogoni Nine and the Sioux of Standing Rock. But, you know, right now, there is the Line 3 protesters who are trying to stop oil spills in their territories. So it's a really ongoing fight, unfortunately.

(SOUNDBITE OF JELLY CLEAVER SONG, "BLACK LINE")

KURTZLEBEN: Well, to change gears here, let's talk about this other band you're in. As we mentioned earlier, you're in this all-female disco band called All Day Breakfast Cafe. You all released an EP in October called "Builder's Brew." Now, I take it - is that a Miles Davis reference?

CLEAVER: Indeed, it is, yeah (laughter). We all met on the London jazz scene, which is just hugely eclectic. You know, in jams we'd play, you know, maybe, I don't know, John Coltrane, definitely some Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard - you know, all the greats. We also love listening to people like Chaka Khan, Amy Winehouse, Erykah Badu. You know, we kind of listen to jazz and soul throughout the ages.

And I DJ sometimes, and I just had a burning desire to create the music I was DJing - which is all, you know, soul, funk and disco - as a live project. And, you know, I was kind of paused by the pandemic. But I'm just so happy that I was able to get a group of my, you know, closest friends and, again, incredible musicians. And we can just make really, really fun, happy, joyful music together.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. Well, I want to get to the happy, joyful disco music. Here's a bit of a song called "Old School Struggling."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD SCHOOL STRUGGLING")

ALL DAY BREAKFAST CAFE: (Singing) We're just old school struggling. We're just old school hustling. Yes, trying just to make it. We're just old school struggling. We're just old school hustling. Yes, trying just to make it.

KURTZLEBEN: Tell me about this song. It's such a joyful song.

CLEAVER: Yeah. Well, this was actually our first single that we released, and the track is inspired by the fact that, you know, we're all in our 20s. A lot of us have day jobs alongside music. So we'll be practicing in the morning, rehearsing in the evening, squeezing in some sleep and maybe a meal at some point. And, you know, at the end of it, we give all our money to our landlord and start counting the pennies for the next month. And, you know, while it is, you know, young and romantic and stuff, it's also so much hard work for young creatives to make a living in a lot of major cities. And so I just wanted to kind of put this universal message for a lot of young people into a way that we could dance.

I think that's what disco was so incredible for doing in the '70s. You know, there was a lot of communities, such as gay, LGBT and Black - people of color communities, and they'd get together on the weekend and they'd sing about heartbreak and about how - you know, how difficult their lives were. But they'd just celebrate and be joyful and have a great time. So that's what we're trying to do now in our present day.

KURTZLEBEN: That's artist Jelly Cleaver. Her new EP is "Jelly Cleaver And The Forever Presence." Jelly, thank you so much.

CLEAVER: Oh, thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.