The particularity of jazz and its prime power is that it touches us through music, most of the time, with no words. The notes of a piano, the metallic sounds of a saxophone and the warm harmonies of bass are still incomprehensible to me. Still, jazz music which is officially almost more than 100 years, was born in unique, tragic, traumatic circumstances but is also full of life. Jazz music is rich by its origins which are afro american. Jazz has birthed a lot of phenomenal genres of music such as r’n’b or blues. It seems right that jazz has the right to re-invite itself and thanks to a new generation of artists. In fact, the arrival of Jazz music in Great Britain is also not new. Jazz became famous in UK thanks to the tours of the Dixie Land Jazzband and many American jazz artists in the 1930’s. Following this event, fellow famous American Jazz artists performed in the UK as Louis Armstrong. What is really impressive with jazz music is the way it was rapidly adopted in the entire world. Throughout the years, I felt upon so many young jazz artists and it came to me that they were almost all British. It’s a surprise to no one that British music is a mix of many different cultures, which arrived from the entire world from India to Ethiopia and Jamaica. Today in this article, I wanted to enlighten a question that I have had in me for too long : why is the British jazz scene so strong and slowly guiding the way .
The British scene is pushing the barriers, so is the American and especially the Californians with Kiefer, Terrace Martin or Kamasi Washington. Now considered as young legends, musicians such as Cleveland Watkiss, Courtney Pine or Orphan Robinson for example. The new British jazz scene alters with the previous one. Those new musicians are linking different worlds : the multiple communities in London and Great Britain and many communities in the whole wide world.
A PRECEDING UNTAMED JAZZ GENERATION
The 80/90’s jazz scene was leading the way for the actual one. It was already guided by this desire to open jazz music to new genres and affluences. We can see that throughout the musicians. Courtney Pine jazz DNA is a majestic and very diverse musician : the saxophonist sounds queasy on different rhythms and melodies. His first album « Closer to home » (1992) is a dedication to « world music ». We can hear reggae (« Get Busy » and « Kingston ») or even hip hop with the song « Modern Day Jazz » in his « Underground » album (1997). The same spirit is felt with the jazz vocalist Cleveland Watkiss, who easily navigates into the malleable spectrum of techno and garage music. And what of the rhythmic jazz of Ronny Jordan. The guitarist mixes rap and mellow silky jazz melodies in his « The Antidote » album, that reminds of a 90’s New Yorker hip hop vibe and particularly new swing groove. And the list goes on from the prodigies : Julian Joseph to Jason Yarde. One thing is totally present in this generation of jazz artists : the insolence and freedom. Jazz is also a vector of liberty and mind liberation. Buffs and solos are regular and written as totally normal.
« The first rule of jazz: stand up to the « jazz police ». We can’t let these geezers keep trying to control what jazz is. They’re a group of very negative individuals who want it one way, for it to be all chicken in a bun. But jazz is not a dictatorship ».
Courtney Pine, from his Guardian interview, 2013
The mark is placed and stayed within the new generation. The 2010 and now, 2020 British Jazz scene is more than eclectic, mixed and openminded than before, in the image of British society and the entire world. Mixed cultures and ethnicities are inevitable today and amazing sounds and musical genres are born thanks to those odd yet legitimate meetings.
THE GALAXY OF LONDONERS NEW GENERATION JAZZ MUSICIANS
As said previously, as a 97 baby, jazz music was a far and unfamiliar thing. The existence of jazz music was in me but it seemed different as a teenager to see jazz music as a fresh and futurist music even though jazz has evolved its entire existence. Its evolution continues within the musicians that allow it to exist and shine. And the day when my curious ears heard Alfa Mist « Antiphon » album on the Proved Records Youtube Channel (anciently called Provocative Educative) on a rainy august night of summer 2017, something peaceful and kind grew in me, like an organic and inner renaissance.
« Antiphon » (2017) feels old but also familiar and soothing. The songs on the album are prestigious, long and sound cathartic, sometimes tormented as the song « Errors », letting place for intense buffs. I was preparing my departure for a semester in Leeds and this discovery felt like a godly sign. Alfa Mist‘s music is extraterrestrial but very natural, it’s classic and alternative at the same time. His music and those underground neo-jazz, soul and funk Youtube Channel were my new peaceful garden. The pianist has since released many projects : « Structuralism » album in 2019 and lately, in summer 2020, the « Epoch » album , a gem of r’n’b jazz music, with the singer Emmavie. The artist is really engaged with British artists from diverse music genres : Barney Artist, Tom Mish or Emmavie and his astral long friend, the singer Jordan Rakei.
‘I just want to raise certain topics with my projects, rather than provide any sort of answers – topics that aren’t necessarily discussed or even just brought up, whether you think one way about it or not. I’m not saying one way or the other, I’m just kind of saying, “Hey! Let’s talk about this, let’s bring it up”. I’m not qualified to give any sort of answers, I just make music. That’s what I like doing. That’s how I get what I think across.’
Alfa Mist for an interview for Nitelifeonline.com, 12th May 2019
I have continued my way and every 3 months, new jazz artists comes to my ears. The phenomenal crew KOKOROKO set the tone for many groups. KOKOROKO is a nigerian dialect word which means « strong », which pretty much explains the mojo of the group : mixed cultures as an asset. The group KOKOROKO is composed of 8 members, members of different ethnic backgrounds as West Africa or West Indies : the leader and trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey ; the famous guitarist Oscar Jerome ; the saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi ; the drummer Ayo Salawu ; the trombonist Richie Seivwright ; Yohan Kebede playing the synthé ; the bassist Mutale Chashi ; the percussionist Onome Edgeworth ; the trumpeter Ms.Maurice. The major song of the group is of course « Junction Abbey », a delightful and melancholic ballad present on the « WE OUT HERE » album. The album is illustrated by this caricatural London street, which came from a 1940 Broadway scene decor. In the middle of this street, a fox, the emblematic animal of London’s nights streets. The crew embodied a very hype and solemn jazz, sometimes ambiant, progressive and some other times, swayed and electric. Their EP simply named « KOKOROKO » is extremely inspired by Afrobeats and Western and Eastern African rhythmic melodies. A large place is given to saxophone and trumpet, a perfect symbiose. The Londoner group is also very fond of latin and caribbean harmonies like the song « Ti-dde » proves it, a very bossa nova type of pace, which conveys a very sensual musical piece. The group is manifesting the premises of jazz music : a mix of african, west indies and afrolatino music identities. KOKOROKO already has a broad group of listeners and is often playing in venues in many non english speaking countries.
Circa the end of 2018, I discovered Ezra Collective. The diverse crew is also a great example of the power multiculturalism. The group has 5 members : the leader Femi Koleoso (drums) ; his younger brother TJ Koleoso (bass) ; the brillant Joe-Armon Jones (keyboard) ; Dylan Jones (trumpet) and James Mollison (saxophone). Their album « Juan Pablo : The Philosopher » (2018) is an epic new wave sound experience. Sometimes close to Sun Ra‘s universe, the project is astral, ancient and new, it’s a musical gate between the past and the future. Some songs like « Dylan’s Dilemma » or « People in Trouble » bring back classical jazz, with a fantastic bass games. Ezra Collective tends to give a proper place to each musician. But one of the best parts of the group is its affiliation to Afrobeats. The group clearly emphasizes Fela Kuti‘s legacy. We can clearly hear a lot of Central and West African sonorities, as in the song « Space is the place ». And even caribbean rhythyms like in the song « Red Whine » from the « You Can’t Steel My Joy » album, a mellow reggae and jazzy song. Ezra collective and KOKOROKO are the proof that jazz music is a vessel of a multitude of cultures, especially caribbean and african cultures.
Those 2 multiethnic crews of exceptional individuals and musicians contribute to the expanse of British and international jazz. Antiracist and engaged, the two groups are real examples that a collective is still a source of harmony and positivity. Sometimes very rhythmic and close to a transe state. And other times, they deliver something very relaxed and subtle with some reggaeton and sensual vibes. I saw Ezra Collective last year at the Paris Pitchfork 2019 festival and they showed us a unique and orgasmic performance, they stay true to their talents wherever they are.
The Camden native saxophonist is one of a kind. Nubya Garcia is issued of caribbean mix : a guyanese mother and a british-trinidian father. The musician is often described as a radical jazz artist. It’s clear that her music is lively and strong. Nubya Garcia has a strong and singular jazz identity. Her jazz practice is not radical, it’s uncommon. The artist harmonizes very well with her band and appears to love long songs and melodies. Her first album « Source » that came out in August 2020 is a musical treasure. The artist presents herself with a cover album closed to an Afrofuturism spirit. The « Source » album is rich and mystical, it’s a long journey through different worlds and planets. The album touches subtly the grace of beauty and harmonics. The songs « Source » and « Stand With Each Other », accompanied by an orchestra and talented voices, lead the way. The song « Inner game » is tender, tense and cryptical. Nubya Garcia has clearly introduced us to a magical part of her identity and this part is golden. The musician applies an organic way to perceive and play jazz, as she should and it feels like we are in the room with her. Her previous EP « Nubya’s 5 Five » (2018) warned us of the talent of the Londoner. Nubya Garcia is centering herself in a new generation of jazz women musicians, a new generation of women showing how it can be done.
« I love doing my own tour and know exactly what energy I’m trying to go for and then I love going on other people’s tours and bands I’ve been a part of for years and taking a different role, but it’s not one or the other for me. It doesn’t mean more to me to be a band leader or a side person. They’re two different sides to the same coin of being a musician. It’s important to learn how to communicate in as many ways as possible musically ».
Nubya Garcia for thefortyfive.com, an interview from October 12th 2020.
The pianist from London is excelling in his own genre. Ashley Henry‘s jazz practice is philosophical and almost mathematical. The pianist musical DNA is very rhythmic. Each of his song is composed a certain way. His first album « Ashley Henry’s 5ive » is a tribute to sensational jazz from the 50’s, very casual and almost possessed. On the other hand, his last project « Beautiful Vinyl Hunter » (which came out in September 2019), is softer. The project is incarnated by this structuralism cover, with a Basquiat‘s hair aspect being or maybe a surrealist representation of Ashley Henry. « Beautiful Vinyl Hunter » introduces us to some special singer and artists such as Judi Jackson and Milton Suggs. Ashley Henry‘s piano touches are floating around, giving a strong presence to each song. The album tilts from an excited jazz to a Foreign Exchange type beat as the song « Between The Lines » confirms it. From hip hop and neo-soul to sometimes lo-fi and ambiant, Ashley Henry‘s musical worlds have no boundaries. His remake of « Cranes In The Sky » by Solange Knowles, is pretty pristine : the piano is the voice of the song, it has a real presence. Ashley Henry has not finished to reveal his potential.
MANSUR BROWN / KAMAAL WILLIAMS
What would the article be without those 2 prodigies. Mansur Brown and Kamaal Williams are going further than jazz music. They are connecting jazz to electronic and sometimes rock music. Mansur Brown « Shiroi » (2018) project is extraterrestrial and psychedelic. The musician is using electronic instruments to amplify his music. « Shiroi » is strange, the songs are sometimes dismantled. Mansur Brown gives a big place to guitar and particularly electrical guitar. The song » God Willing » is galactic and the strings of the guitar confers a fantastic symphony. « Motions » is also very odd and unique. Mansur Brown communicates a way of doing jazz without the famous instruments. His songs balance between dark and light, even if Shiroi means white in Japanese, the musician is maybe trying to find the way to catch and embrace this bright light.
Kamaal Williams is going beyond. The Londoner’s music universe links so many things. The musician is without any objection one of the best actor of alternative jazz. His debut album « The Return » (2018) is scriptural and sounds like a mind maze. Kamaal Williams embraces airy sounds. Like a scientific, the musician is not afraid to assemble and create new musical hybrids. The title « Catch The Loop » has no direct line, the song is choosing its way, like a star or a source of light. On the contrary, the title « Aisha » is sensual, the use of keyboard is fantastic, reminding of a 70/80’s disco musical environment. « The Return » announces very well the ascendance of the musician, an artist who is not afraid to differ from the rest. Kamaal Williams‘ last album named « Wu Hen » (2020) is even more threatening. The musician/producer reveals some different kind of feelings. The album is sometimes aggressive and dazzling. « Wu Hen », which means « despite » in Mandarin, got some violin parts, close to classical music : the single « 1989 » is a perfect mix of jazz and classical music. It sounds like the musician walking through a catastrophic way, like a great epic. And as listeners, we are travelling next to him, feeling his moments of pain and happiness.
These two musicians are clearly contemporary jazz artists. They do not do jazz like others and it’s maybe those differences that make them real jazz musicians : they welcome jazz with kindness and non conformity, that is jazz real mojo : the freedom to create.
Those 9 artists and groups of the British jazz scene are already making the history of modern jazz. Great Britain has already showed the entire world his tremendous artists, within the last decades : from David Bowie to Disclosure, Adèle, Craig David or Skepta, it’s a land of unfailing talents. British jazz music is not new but the emergence of so many young British jazz artists is clearly not to be ignored. The new generation is seeing in Jazz an issue to escape reality or to sublimate it, to transfer their cultural environments and inspirations in their music, with or without words but certainly with chords, guitars, synthesizers and saxophones. And finally, this new generation of Londoner jazz musicians is more unified than ever. The common compilation « We Out Here » released freely on Youtube, in 2018, shows it.
The project reunites many jazz artists from the British scene such as Nubya Garcia, KOKOROKO or Joe-Armon Jones and TRIFORCE. It’s a wide shout for the world to recognize London as a main scene of current Jazz music and to never forget about it. Community and sharing is the key to navigate and create a new scene as diverse and spectacular. As in hip hop and rap, team spirit is taking over and it seems normal to assemble forces for the common good.
Great Britain has not finished to surprise me and I’m waiting for the next musical phenomenon to capture me.
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