SONG #21 to SONG #25 by Romarna Campbell


Birmingham-based drummer Romarna Campbell has recently released 25 new pieces of music for her 25th birthday, collaborating with some amazing jazz musicians and celebrating the UK jazz scene. Campbell began releasing her 25 new tracks in December 2020, and has just released the final installment in January 2021 – the sheer volume of this output is impressive, let alone the quality of the music itself. But in fact, the prolific and creative variety which Campbell has managed to produce and curate, whilst managing to maintain a sense of cohesion across all 25 releases, is staggering. The songs are organised in sets of five, the final installment being songs #21 to #25 – every set of five has something new to offer, but the final installment feels most relevant, being Campbell’s newest release. We can’t believe that it hasn’t garnered more attention!

‘SONG #21 (Sweet Dreams)’ opens with beautiful, ambient electric guitar chords and a laidback drum groove. The track fits with its title – it feels warm and sweet, and is a really accessible track. Yet, it’s still extremely musically interesting as Campbell subtly adds lots of interesting hits and fills without making the song too busy. The B section has some great chromatic harmony from the synths, and the return to the guitar melody creates a wholeness to the track which makes for a really satisfying listen. SONG #21 is definitely a feel-good, summery tune – and considering every track is written and produced by Campbell herself, it’s incredible to see the contrast between this piece and the other releases. ​

“the prolific and creative variety which Campbell has managed to produce and curate, whilst managing to maintain a sense of cohesion across all 25 releases, is staggering”

‘SONG #22 (Falling UP)’ immediately grabs us as listeners, as it opens with an interesting drum groove and trumpet melody. The irregular time and bar structure of this track reveals how accomplished Campbell is as a drummer – it’s difficult to pull off these rhythmic ideas, yet she makes it sound so easy. The trumpet solo from Alonzo Demetrius is extremely laidback and tasteful, yet consistently engaging and refreshing. Following this, Ed Riches’ solo on guitar meets the energy already established by the other musicians and features some really compelling lines. Campbell’s style becomes clearer as you listen to more of her music; she uses a lot of busier cymbal sounds like big splashes of colour on a canvas, yet manages to still remain tight in every groove. The track ends with very intense, high-suspense synth playing and a very abrupt ending, allowing this tension to be released. The track’s title ‘Falling UP’ describes it perfectly. ​

‘SONG #23 (Spaceships)’ opens with an unusual rhythmic idea, which moves into a really cool 7/4 groove and neo-soul synth chords. Fitting with the song’s title, the rhythmic ideas feel elliptical and the synth sound is cosmic. The track moves between 7/4 and 4/4, as Campbell challenges our rhythmic expectations – although many of the tracks feel experimental at times, their head-nodding grooves allow them to remain extremely accessible. In contrast, ‘SONG #24 (Fear Nothing)’ features electronic elements which challenge listeners and add grit to this track in a way we haven’t heard before. The drums are minimal in the opening, yet there is a clear sense of anticipation and tension – Campbell is showing us another, darker side to her writing. Caroline Davis solos on flute, using experimental sounds both tonally and melodically. SONG #24’s bass and electronic ideas feel as though they would fit into a drum and bass set as much as a jazz one – Campbell’s influences are clearly eclectic, and it adds to our curiosity surrounding her music. ​

“Her perspective is refreshing, and it’s amazing to see her work begin to unfold”

‘SONG #25 (FALLEN)’ is the final release of this epic set of 25 tracks, and it’s definitely more experimental than some of the previous releases. Electronic elements and rubato drums are accompanied by a child’s voice stating ‘we have fallen into the place where everything is music’, ‘we are losing control’ and ‘but who am I?’ Campbell’s busy drumming style is embodied in this track, as she seems to give everything to the 25th release. Although this track is disorientating in some ways, featuring a shredding electric guitar solo which comes out of the blue, the soundscape is overwhelming in a compelling way. The piece finishes with just synth and vocals humming, leaving us feeling both content and yet questioning. It’s a perfect end to the huge output which Campbell has created in the past year.

Everyone who loves jazz and who loves music should go and listen to Romarna Campbell’s new releases, as there’s 25 very different tracks to choose from – what ties them together is Campbell’s incredible drumming and composing. Stylistically, Campbell’s writing reminds me of London jazz collectives like Ezra Collective and Kokoroko, yet her ideas are more experimental and expansive in many ways. Her perspective is refreshing, and it’s amazing to see her work begin to unfold. We can’t wait to hear her next release.

​Review by Evie Hill​​​

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