10 Questions With… Ishmael Ensemble

10 Questions With… A series that delves into fresh new releases from some of our favourite artists. With a focus on our Melodic Distraction hosts and wider community, this lil natter gives us an insight into their musical escapades when they’re in their studio, not ours. 

Ahead of the release of reworks LP ‘Versions of Light’, we have a natter with Ishmael Ensemble’s Pete Cunningham! Following a breakthrough year that saw the release of second album ‘Visions Of Light’ bring critical acclaim to the jazzwise electronica group, Ishmael Ensemble return with ‘Versions Of Light’ – a collection of re-works, re-mixes and re-imagined versions. These tracks come from an exciting line-up of friends and family from the wider Ishmael Ensemble contingent, including Grove, Rider Shafique, Midlar and more. Read on to hear all about it…

Hey Pete! Before we get into all things Ishmael Ensemble, how did you first get into music?

It was always around the house. My parents had a great record collection and my dad played guitar, so it was only a matter of time before I started noodling around. By the time I’d joined secondary school, I’d already started DJing and experimenting with “Computer Music” and basically haven’t looked back since.

If you could describe your sound in 3 words, what would they be?

Hmm, Jazz-not-Jazz?

We love your most recent LP ‘Visions of Light’. What can you tell us about the upcoming Versions LP?

It’s been a real pleasure to put together. It was a really nice way to have the various collaborators on the record re-imagine their contributions, as well as getting other artists I really love to do their own re-works. I’m really pleased with the final result and I feel it really stands alone as a body of work, as opposed to just another club-based remix package.

Based in Bristol, do your surroundings have much of an impact on the music you make? How would you describe Bristol’s music scene?

Totally, the scene is so accessible. Everyone’s about, going to each other’s gigs, drinking in the same pubs etc. so collaboration comes really naturally. There’s also a lot of cross-pollination between scenes. From my experience there’s very little tribalism or cliqueness in the city, which makes for a really unique melting pot of sounds.

Would you say your sound has evolved much since your 2019 debut LP ‘A State of Flow’?

I think I’ve grown in confidence as a producer. I really enjoy the process of co-writing music with vocalists, which used to be quite a daunting experience. I think I’ve learnt to relax more and not worry too much about fitting into a certain sound or meeting someone’s expectations, instead really focusing on the process and making the experience both fun and challenging for myself.

What’s been your favourite live show to play to date? Dream venue/festival to perform at? 

We did an extensive tour for the release of ‘Visions Of Light’, which culminated in sold out shows at both the Thekla in Bristol and Jazz Cafe in London, which felt like a real turning point. The reception of the record had been amazing, but those gigs felt like a real tangible moment that brought it all home for us and has given us the energy to get stuck into the next thing.

The dream would be travelling to Japan. I’ve always wanted to go and there’s such an incredible scene, hopefully it’s only a matter of time!

What’s your favourite instrument to play? What would be your dream instrument to learn? 

Saxophone will always be my go-to. I’ve started incorporating fx pedals into my live setup, which has brought a whole new level of enjoyment to playing. If I could play anything, I think it would have to be piano. There’s a grand piano in the studio I’ve just moved into, so I guess there’s no excuse now!

Are there any upcoming artists from the UK jazz scene on your radar at the moment?

There’s an amazing keys player called Tom Sochas that I’ve been loving. Jelly Cleaver is a star in the making, she’s phenomenal. Also Chelsea Carmichael is killing it on the sax at the moment.

What was the last record you bought? 

Alabaster dePlume’s beautiful new album ‘Gold’.

What’s coming up next for you?

The ‘Versions Of Light’ album is out in June, followed by a busy summer of festival gigs. There’s plenty more to follow that but you’ll just have to wait and see!

‘Versions of Light’ drops on 17th June, featuring reworks from Grove, Medlar and more. Get a sneak peak and pre-order it below!