Live review by Louise Goodger – Jelly Cleaver at The Canteen, Bristol, 22/03/19

In 2016, Erin Wehr, feminist and author of ‘Understanding the experiences of women in jazz: A suggested model’, put to paper a model underlining the issues all too many women face in collective musical environments and the music industry as a whole. When placed in a mixed group, music women enter into a constant battle with tokenism, the fear of confirming negative stereotypes and resulting swipes at their self-efficacy and -worth; in all-female groups, a battle against ingrained competition. While addressing the issues faced by women in jazz, this is by no means exclusive.

I think we can all agree there is still a long, long way to come. Nonetheless, you can feel change in the air. Through listening to each other, our stories and those of our musical predecessors, nurturing each other in supportive environments and simply gritting our teeth and pushing like hell to break the cycle, the resulting power is tangible.

Last Friday I witnessed a performance in which this power was palpable, a positivity and optimism for the future of female performance mingling with the absurdly complex strings of chords. Performing at The Canteen, Bristol, in light of the release of her critically acclaimed single ‘VI II V’ and in anticipation of her upcoming album, the charismatic Jelly Cleaver joined forces with some of the brightest new faces behind the London Jazz scene. Accompanied by the multi-instrumental and -skilled Kapurna on the bass, the sublime Berlklee-attendee Roella Orlo on keys and Tomorrow’s WarriorsTasha Keery on drums, Jelly Cleaver brought into being an hour of not merely the highest musical standard but a reverberating positivity.

For a band’s first outing, they were unbelievably slick, transitioning seamlessly between gems from her upcoming album, her unconventional reharms of classic jazz standards and her mic-dropping ‘VI II V’. Consistently communicating with and applauding their fellow band members and allowing freedom of expression, trial and error on the stage not only created a stage environment in which the musicians and their talents positive self-efficacy are nurtured but one that drew The Canteen’s lively Friday crowd into the group themselves. All the while, Jelly’s endearing charm and gently political musings were lapped up even by those leaning by the loos at the back.

Especially during the dire days of British politics we keep finding ourselves in, it’s an exciting thing to feel the hairs on the back of your neck tingle with a little hope. While aiming to assist our understanding of the issues music women face in a male-dominated environment, Wehr’s model projects the building-blocks by which we can nurture each other and use the power gender wields to drive performances and each other. Just five minutes of Jelly Cleaver is enough to keep a little faith.

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