Greentea Peng has always been ambitious. Part of a wave of neo-soul indebted vocalists emerging from the UK, she’s perpetually sought out fresh sounds, attempting to push herself further and further, removing the barriers in front of her in the process. Debut album ‘MAN MADE’ was constructed during the long, strange months of 2020, and it’s the sound of a spirit operating in a totally free manner, a conglomerate of astral soul sounds presented in a mosaic of creativity.
From the opening Ron Carter-esque bass lines on ‘Make Noise’ the possibilities suggested by jazz remain a key touchstone on Greentea Peng’s debut album. Yet this isn’t jazz as a style, so much as embracing improvisation as methodology – the far more up-front ‘Free My People’ for instance couldn’t be mistaken for a Blue Note session, but it retains the elastic groove and special awareness of early 70s Herbie Hancock.
A huge undertaking – ‘MAN MADE’ stretches to 61 minutes of music across its 18 track span – Greentea Peng is both curator and conductor of the sounds that surround her. Executive produced by Earbuds, elements are produced by Brownswood artist Swindle, others by SAMO & KIKO, while Digital Mystikz guru Mala also has a hand in some of the record’s cavernous bass depths.
‘Earnest’ is a gorgeous, synth-led listen, while the exhilarating creativity of ‘Mataji Freestyle’ dwells in resolute possibility. Carefully structured, ‘MAN MADE’ is able to caress the spartan sonics of ‘Away We Go’, for example, before plunging into the revelatory rock guitar of ‘Sinner’. In bringing such diversity together, the central creator is able to span opposites, and build bridges that perfectly amplify her touching lyricism.
A project of such immense detail must be a difficult thing to bring into focus, yet somehow ‘MAN MADE’ never loses sight of its purpose. A continually engaging song cycle that tackles grief, societal prejudice, and matters of the heart, Greentea Peng’s songwriting is able to embrace both the micro and the macro, while continually seeking out catharsis.
Commissioner Gordon – who also mixed Lauryn Hill’s seminal debut album – is on hand to provide the final mixdown here, and it’s a bold gesture. Aligning herself to one of the greats, Greentea Peng seems to implicitly suggest that such gravitas should be afforded to her own artistry – with such evident excellence as this, it’s only right that she be granted the dignity her art sorely deserves.
Words: Robin Murray
- - -
- - -