Interview: Vertaal

Experimental jazz funk duo Vertaal reveal what makes their boundary pushing sounds tick...


Vertaal are a progressive, jazz-funk duo, flirting with electronic soul, hip hop and all kinds of exotic musical stylings.

Featuring Bmus (Hons) Popular Music Performance student Ajit Gill and Theo Howarth, the pair cast their influences far and wide, taking sonic props from the a diverse list of characters including Yussef Kamaal, Haitus Kaiyote, Robert Glasper and Alfa Mist.

The pair’s improvised shows often see guest players stepping up and helping them push their original compositions into a variety of exciting, different shapes.

After the release of ‘The Spheric’ EP in 2017 and shows at venues such as Spiritual Bar, Camden, Mau Mau Bar, WoodFest Festival and regular appearances for Sofar Sounds London, the pair play Jazz Re:freshed this Thursday (26th April) and are gearing up to release their next EP, ‘Alcazar’… we get to know Ajit and his music a little better in our new interview... 

How did you first get into music? 

I started playing music when I was around eight and finally settled on drums around age 10. My initial inspiration to play drums was from my dad who was also a drummer.

Could you explain about Vertaal and how the group came together - what's the idea behind the project? 

Theo and I met as part of a disco covers band, Uncle Funk. After discovering that we both had very similar music tastes, we decided to get together and make some music that pushed us outside of our comfort zones to try to push our personal and musical limits.

How is the London music scene treating you? Are there plenty of opportunities for a new outfit like yourselves? 

The London jazz scene consists of some of our biggest influences. So far our experiences have been great, the people that have come to the shows bring a wicked vibe and are always up for getting into the music. Intimate venues such as Mau Mau bar and the Spiritual bar are great for our style of music where the audience can be a part of the musical experience.

There are lots of great jazz cafes in London that give up and coming artists such as us the opportunity to perform to a crowd who enjoy this style of music." 

Where do you look for musical inspiration? 

When I'm in need of some serious motivation, ‘Black Focus’  by Yussef Kamaal is the go to record. Otherwise I'd say my musical inspiration comes from anything but music, as I find inspiration through other hobbies/interests. I feel that strangely this makes me more motivated to play.

What have you learned from your time with ICMP? What led you to studying here? 

Being at ICMP has given me a deep insight into the music industry and has given me the resources to make contacts and build skills that will help me for the rest of my musical career."  

After finishing a music diploma at Hertfordshire College of Music, I decided I wanted to further my skills/knowledge in this field and decided ICMP was the place for me.

Have you a favourite piece of gear? 

My 24'' Meinl Byzance Big Apple Dark Ride is a BEAST! Super dark with an amazing wash.

How was the Sofar Sessions performance? How did you get the slot? 

The Sofar Sounds sessions have been going great, the respect for the music and the vibes the audience bring is great. We were invited to play our first show towards the end of January, in someone’s living room on the top floor of a block of flats in Shoreditch. Since then we've had a great response from the Sofar team and the audience. We were fortunate enough to have bagged a filmed session with them in early February, which will be out very soon.

Could you explain a little about your new EP - what's the thinking behind it? 

‘Alcazar’ is an attempt to capture our live performance and energy on a record. It shows our development from our last record from performance to production as we had learnt a lot during the recording process of ‘Spheric’ (our first EP). We wanted to make the EP feel like a story taking the listener on a journey creating imagery in their minds whilst listening.

What else does the future for you and your musical projects look like? 

We are looking to release 'Alcazar' towards the start of summer. Until then we will be playing frequent shows throughout London and will continue to work on new material. Lots of gigs in the diary for this year so staying busy playing with various bands and artists at festivals and venues up and down the country.

Find out more about Vertaal and get tickets to the Jazz Re:freshed gig.

Watch Vertaal's latest Sofar Session:  

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by Jim Ottewill
April 24, 2018
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