London Calling! Although this time around it’s not a rock’n’roll gang on the end of the line but a group of jazz cats. We Out Here draws on a colourful range of influences, from soul and afrobeat to fusion and electro. Shining the spotlight on the new generation, Brownswood Recordings (Gilles Peterson’s label) entrusted the album’s artistic direction to the scene’s most widely-publicised musician: saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings. Recorded over the space of three days, the selected musicians and groups crafted more of an essence of jazz rather than jazz itself, and the result is stunning. Drummer Jake Long and his group Maisha reveal a Pharoah Sanders-style voodoo masterpiece. Fela-esque afrobeat is used as a starting point for drummer Femi Koleoso's Ezra Collective and for Kokoroko (collective). Meanwhile, the charismatic Moses Boyd wraps his rhythms in hypnotic electro loops before returning to an invigorating free jazz. We also find tuba player Theon Cross on We Out Here (who also plays with Shabaka in the group Sons Of Kemet), Nubya Garcia, an incredible saxophonist whose lyricism recalls that of Charles Lloyd, and even Joe Armon-Jones, a mad scientist behind the keyboard who evokes the Herbie Hancock style… The lineup is as dynamic as it is eclectic.
We Out Here: A LDN StoryBrownswood Recordings
Saxophonist and clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings is a real glutton for sounds and fusions. He’s a sonic explorer, and each new expedition just goes to confirm his status as one of the best on the scene. Born in London in 1984, he grew up in sunny Barbados before returning to England in 1999 and enrolling in the prestigious Guildhall School of Music, before being spotted by saxophonist Soweto Kinch and hanging out with big names such as Courtney Pine and Jerry Dammers from The Specials. In 2011, Shabaka launched Sons Of Kemet, a brilliant quartet which uses his saxophone and clarinet as well as a tuba and two drums. The group have a truly unique sound, situated somewhere between fanfare and chamber orchestra, mixing jazz, Caribbean and African music, Egyptian flavours, and touches of New Orleans and even Ethiopia. Meanwhile, his aptly-named group The Comet Is Coming (which isn’t linked to Sons Of Kemet) constructs another conjugation in the language of jazz. Like a third-millennium electro-drenched Sun Ra, Shabaka (who goes by the stage name King Shabaka here) is joined by “Danalogue” on the keyboard and “Betamax” on drums and percussion. Together, they reveal an avant-garde programme set to powerful percussive rhythms and hypnotic brass improvisations. In short, very Sun Ra! In fact, it’s almost impossible not to think of the artist who was both venerated and hated for his prolific output and phenomenal, psychedelic performances, as well as his bizarre “cosmic” philosophy. However, Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery (The Comet Is Coming’s second album) is a piece of work that is firmly rooted in the present and Shabaka brings contemporary elements to his sound, like when he hands the mic over to rapper and slam poet Kate Tempest on Blood of the Past.
Sons of Kemet ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’ | Boiler Room x 2018 Hyundai Mercury PrizeBoiler Room
To span his debut on Impulse! in early 2018, Shabaka Hutchings chose to play with Sons of Kemet. As a politically engaged individual, it’s almost as if the British-Barbadian musician was destined for the prestigious orange-and-black-coloured label. “So many of my musical heroes including John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders have been housed under this record label so it’s an honour to join the family”. The saxophonist is involved in a series of projects with others (the Sun Ra Arkestra, Heliocentrics, Anthony Joseph, Floating Points) and he joins and creates groups with the appetite of an ogre. Since 2011, there’s been The Comet Is Coming, Melt Yourself Down, Shabaka And The Ancestors and now Sons Of Kemet. Here, he plays alongside Theon Cross on tuba and the two drummers Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick. His quartet’s unique jazz hardly cares for stylistic borders and the UK-based musician continues to explore and develop his identity. Recorded in London with guest stars such as jungle legend Congo Natty and poet Joshua Idehen, Sons of Kemet’s third album is a manifesto which denounces the British monarchy, viewing it as an oppressive political system that legitimises social inequality and racial discrimination. Rejecting this system embodied by the Queen of England, they propose an alternative one by celebrating other queens. “Our Queens led by action, by example, our Queens listened. Our Queens made bright futures out of cruel and unfair pasts.” Each track pays homage to a different sovereign: My Queen is Ada Eastman, My Queen is Harriet Tubman, My Queen is Angela Davis, My Queen is Yaa Asantewaa. Musically speaking, Your Queen Is a Reptile draws as much from the heritage of New Orleans as it does from London, the Caribbean and the Middle East. We even find rap, spoken word and dub in this multifaceted jazz record, giving a contemporary identity to the Impulse! brand - a label rich in stylistic fusions from the 60s and 70s.
In the grand scheme of things, saxophone and drum duets are few and far between. You’ve got John Surman and Jack DeJohnette (Invisible Nature), Charles Lloyd and Billy Higgins (Which Way Is East), Max Roach and Anthony Braxton (Two in One - One in Two), Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell (Red & Black), John Zorn and Milford Graves (50th Birthday Celebration), Sonny Simmons and Billy Higgins (Backwood Suite) and – saving the best ‘til last - John Coltrane and Rashied Ali (Interstellar Space). And yet, this is the configuration that the tenor saxophonist Binker Golding and drummer Moses Boyd opted for. The young British duo aimed high for their second album with a double album lasting over 80 minutes, recorded over two days during the summer of 2016 with no after-editing! Those who have been to a concert where these two musicians come head to head will know that they construct a narrative through their music. The powerful Disc 1 of Journey To the Mountain of Forever is highly energetic and throughout the record it feels like Sonny Rollins is never too far away (especially on Fete By The River). For the second part, Binker and Moses combine with saxophonist Evan Parker, trumpeter Byron Wallen, harpist Tori Handsley, percussionist Sarathy Korwar and drummer Yussef Dayes in their supercharged escapade. The guest appearances blend perfectly into the warm improvisations of their young compatriots and in between the bursts of energy they prove that they are equally capable of creating spiritual and meditative atmospheres (Gifts From The Vibrations Of Light). Here are two real talents who pack quite a punch!
GoGo Penguin - Branches Break (Radio Edit)GoGoPenguinVEVO
Chris Illingworth, the pianist from GoGo Penguin, says that he chose the title Man Made Object partly due to his fascination for robotics and transhumanism. However, the music that the Manchester trio (formed in 2012) lay out here is very much human. While their DNA is largely made up of jazz, we also find traces of pop, classical and even electro. Like with v2.0, released in 2014, the Mancunians' third album - released at the start of 2016 - was recorded and produced by Joe Reiser and Brendan Williams at the Giant Wafer studios in the heart of Wales as well as at the 80 Hertz studios in Manchester. The album has an incredibly organic sound and the group show off their great ability to tame complex melodies. A special mention goes to the rhythmic section composed of double bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner who provide the group with masterful stability.
Far from the funky fusions that make up a large part of the British jazz scene, since 2007 Portico Quartet have been offering up a very unique approach - one stamped with exotic sounds; exotic enough to catch the attention of Peter Gabriel, who signed them to his label Real World. With Knee-Deep in the North Sea, released in November 2007, saxophonist Jack Wyllie, bassist Milo Fitzpatrick, drummer Duncan Bellamy and hang drum player Nick Mulvey took their jazz into uncharted territory. Steve Reich’s minimalism, jazz from old ECM records, Caribbean music and Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s neoclassicism come together to create a colourful symphony carried by a dialogue between the sax and hang drum. With this album the quartet unveiled a sound with adventurous melodic contours, which evolved into other textures over the course of their next albums.
Yussef Kamaal - Calligraphy // Brownswood Basement SessionGilles Peterson
Yussef Kamaal is not one person but two. When they decided to join forces in 2016, drummer Yussef Dayes and keyboardist Kamaal Williams probably didn’t imagine that they would soon give birth to one of the most successful albums of the new British jazz scene. Black Focus, released by Gilles Peterson on his label Brownswood, brings together all the various elements of the movement’s DNA. Yussef Kamaal's starting point and motivation is ultimately the same as all the other musicians in the movement: a huge passion for jazz, soul, grime, drum & bass, Afrobeat and even dub. Like their American cousins Robert Glasper and Thundercat, the British duo love the funky seventies sounds of the jazz fusion giants (ahhh that sweet sound of the Fender Rhodes!). The ghosts of Roy Ayers, Lonnie Smith, The Headhunters and the Brazilian group Azymuth seem to haunt Black Focus, a record created alongside trumpeter Yelfris Valdés, bassists Tom Driessler and Kareem Dayes, guitarist Mansur Brown and the inevitable saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings. The cherry on the cake is that Malcolm Catto (producer and co-founder of The Heliocentrics) avoids making this record sound overly vintage.
Ashley Henry sees jazz as plural; mixing tradition with soul, funk, rap, afrobeat, grime and Caribbean. Born in November, 1991, and graduating from the Royal Academy of Music in 2016, the London pianist has already worked with various world-renowned artists, including rapper Loyle Carner, singers Christine & The Queens and Zara McFarlane as well as jazz legends such as Terence Blanchard, Robert Glasper, Jean Toussaint, Jason Marsalis and Anthony Joseph. For his first real studio album (released in September 2019) Henry signed off on a sincere musical self-portrait detailing his education and mixed-race heritage. “My music is a clear expression of what I am, of what London is in all her glorious diversity. The immigrant in me has roots that go back to the 17th century. It’s important to me that my music today reflects that lineage, through different styles of music and different generations.” And that’s exactly what he does, with bountiful energy and vigour, in the company of drummers Luke Flowers (from The Cinematic Orchestra) and Makaya McCraven, trumpeters Theo Croker, Jaimie Branch and Keyon Harrold, saxophonist Binker Golding, bassist Dan Casimir, drummer Eddie Hick, percussionist Ernesto Marichales, singers Judi Jackson and Milton Suggs, and rapper Sparkz. Like a modern Herbie Hancock, Ashley Henry spreads a warm groove and coats everything he touches with naturalness - even when he slips in a cover of Solange’s Cranes (In the Sky)! No over-calculations, just the pure, simple joy of sharing music.
Joe Armon-Jones - Starting Today (Brownswood Basement)Brownswood Recordings
A young mad scientist behind the piano, Joe Armon-Jones featured on the compilation album We Out Here. As a co-founder of Ezra Collective, Starting Today is his first album as a leader. Much like his peers, Armon-Jones was bottle-fed on a thousand different genres: jazz, of course, but also fusion, club music, afrobeat, hip-hop, neo-soul, acid jazz, dub and funk… Anything goes on this funky record, which features Nubya Garcia, Moses Boyd, Ras Asheber, Oscar Jerome, Big Sharer and Kwake Bass. Starting Today (which, in the classical sense of the word, cannot strictly speaking be classed as jazz) echoes the sounds of the late seventies and early eighties, when soul and funk was infiltrating the genre, for better or for worse. Roy Ayers, Bernard Wright, Ramsey Lewis, Ronnie Laws, Ronnie Foster, The Blackbirds, The Headhunters and Alphonse Mouzon often come to mind. However, Joe Armon-Jones doesn’t forget to remind us that he is firmly rooted in the present. So, instead of smelling like mothballs, this debut album feels more like a groovy highlights reel.
There’s no need to check whether Alfa Mist has read Roland Barthes, the father of structuralism... Behind his keyboard, the Brit produced Structuralism with a more modest objective: “I have been affected by my environment. My upbringing has shaped me in a way where I do not know how to communicate. Structuralism is about ‘I am who I am’ because of the structure of society I grew up into. Now I need to learn how to communicate.” What Alfa Mist communicates (and communicates very well) with this second album is an innate sense of soft groove and a vital need for dialogue. This record, which explores soul, funk and hip-hop, is yet more proof of the vitality of Britain’s current jazz scene. It was hip-hop that spaned the first chapter of this young musician’s story. After spending his days making beats for grime and rap artists, the Londoner discovered jazz via samples and deconstructed albums by the likes of J Dilla, Miles Davis and even film score composer Hans Zimmer, one of his greatest idols. As a self-taught musician, Alfa Mist has immersed himself in the world of piano and keyboard. With the help of a Fender Rhodes and a classical piano, he draws out the contours of melancholic and sensuous soul jazz. The result is an atmospheric groove with palpable influences from Herbie Hancock and Robert Glasper, which he creates alongside trumpeter Johnny Woodham, drummers Peter Adam Hill and Jamie Houghton, guitarist Jamie Leeming, bassists Kaya Thomas-Dyke and James Rudi Creswick, violinists Katie Neaves, Simmy Singh and Lucy Nolan and cellist Peggy Nolan, not to forget Jordan Rakei on the song Door. This pastel-coloured score confirms the huge talent of a musician who’s certainly one to watch.