Tenderlonious is a producer, beatmaker, composer, label boss, and multi-instrumentalist who has been at the forefront of the bleeding-edge music that poured out of the studios and clubs of London during the second decade of the 21st century. A self-taught saxophonist, he leads three groundbreaking bands -- Tenderlonious, Ruby Rushton, and 22archestra (the latter named for his self-sufficient boutique label 22a) -- and spends as much time crafting a new vision for the club dancefloor as he does playing clarinet and saxophone in jazz groups. He draws jazz and global music inspiration from Yusef Lateef, sampling strategies from J Dilla, and his studies with Gilad Atzmon and Pat Crumly. In 2011, his Ruby Rushton collective cut their debut album Two for Joy, featuring live-in-studio recordings of instrumentals fueled by their love of Coltrane, Lateef, and Fela Kuti as well as more contemporary artists like Slum Village and future soul collective Sa-Ra; it wasn't released until 2015. Tenderlonious' debut EP, a self-titled split with Al Dobson, Jr., came out that same year, wedding soul-jazz to deep and left field house and West African-inspired grooves. Almost immediately afterward, he veered deep into post-space age jazz territory with his On Flute mini LP from 2016, a collision of Afro-beat, jazz-funk, downtempo, deep house, and broken beat. It included radical -- and very popular -- readings of Horace Silver's classic "Song for My Father" and the jazz standard "Autumn Leaves." In 2017, Ruby Rushton delivered a two-part sophomore outing entitled Trudi's Songbook, Vols. 1 & 2. The following year, the 22archestra issued its debut long-player The Shakedown, while Tenderlonious guested on recordings by EABS, Nick Walters & the Paradox Ensemble, and James "Creole" Thomas.
Cawthorne was born into a military family and moved around a lot as a child, including prolonged stays in Germany and Cyprus. His family moved to the U.K. in the mid-'90s, and Tenderlonious set down roots in Woking. His early musical endeavors were in hip-hop and grime as well as dance music, and his interest in jazz derived from his sampling appetite in his home studio. He would lift saxophone or flute licks and slap them on instrumental hip-hop or grime tracks. He also made a bit of house through experimentation early.
As a young DJ, he often sampled jazz, particularly the music of Lateef, whose equanimous global approach appealed to him. Almost entirely self-taught, Cawthorne began playing soprano saxophone in 2007 at age 23, after seeing one in a music shop window. He hooked up with musicians he had met at Goldsmith's University in a rehearsal classroom. He named the band Ruby Rushton after his artistic polymath grandmother. The lineup changed, the musical direction shifted, but the name remained. The original lineup included Cawthorne on flutes, saxes, percussion, and synths, trumpeter Nick Walters, and keyboardist Aidan Shepherd, with first drummer Yussef Dayes. They cut their album after being together only a few months, pressed it in a limited quantity, and sold it at gigs. In addition to jazz, Tenderlonious continued his DJ gigs and productions. It turned out Detroit techno, house, and neo soul were as important to him as jazz, and that desire pushed him to start 22a in 2013. While his own single with Dobson was the kickoff for the project, he soon issued recordings by Henry Wu, Mo Kolours, Jeen Bassa, Dennis Ayler, and others in addition to his own work.
International DJs such as Gilles Peterson, Benji B, Osunlade, Lefto, and Alexander Nut, acclaimed the work, played his records, and asked him to mix live on their programs. Tenderlonious began to produce mixes and music on other labels, too, including Ninja Tune, Brownswood Recordings, Sounds of the Universe, and Yoruba Records. In 2015, Ruby Rushton was well-established, and with 22a up and running, Tenderlonious tweaked and reissued their debut long-player and began playing gigs across the U.K. In 2016, he issued On Flute, juxtaposing his rearrangements of three jazz standards, with three originals of post-bop and spiritual soul-jazz meeting broken beat and grime.
Tenderlonious was also deeply involved with running 22a, and put the larger 22archestra together as a studio band as well as a live group. Co-existing with his solo career and Ruby Rushton, the group's sound continued to evolve as they became one of the more integrative and groundbreaking bands on the London scene through singles such as "The Shakedown," "Yussef's Groove," and others. Their second long-player, The Shakedown from 2018, placed on a number of year-end lists, even as Tenderlonious worked with Ruby Rushton on its two Trudi's Songbook volumes and with Nick Walters & the Paradox Society. Just before the end of the year, Tenderlonious guested with the future jazz ensemble EABS for their 12" "Kraksa"/"Svantetic."
In early 2019, Ruby Rushton released Ironside, their third album on 22a that drew accolades from across Europe and Asia as well as the U.K. and U.S. Simultaneously, Tenderlonious was shifting his focus. Tenderlonious' debut solo album, Hard Rain, appeared in the summer and was inspired not by modern jazz masters but by the history of Detroit and Chicago electronic music exemplars like Carl Craig, J Dilla, Larry Heard, and Blaze. The album drew universal acclaim and made DJ sets internationally. ~ Thom Jurek