From the very first seconds of “The Light”, we hear the soft voice of a child swathed in the crystalline notes of a dreamy synth. The voice is that of Yussef Dayes’ daughter. After more than a decade of shining on London’s buzzing jazz scene, the drummer based in Lewisham, in the south-east of the British capital, has finally decided to release his first solo album, Black Classical Music, on Gilles Peterson’s label, Brownswood Recordings. Well ‘solo’... yes and no... Because, as always with Dayes, music is all about sharing and collaboration. The result is a stellar line-up of guests including saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, Jamaican singers Chronixx and Masego, soul sister Jamilah Barry, guitarist Tom Misch, pianist Elijah Fox, trumpeter Sheila Maurice Grey, the Cross brothers Nathaniel and Theon, not forgetting the Chineke! Orchestra, the first pro orchestra in Europe to be made up of predominantly black and ethnically diverse musicians.

Yussef Dayes feat. Tom Misch - Rust [Official Video]

Yussef Dayes

The diversity of these characters ultimately lays the foundation for this stylistically diverse release. The DNA of this Qobuzissime album by Yussef Dayes may be viscerally jazz, but it’s a farandole of sounds in your ears! Jazz fusion or smooth jazz, reggae, nu soul, new age, R’n’B, there’s nothing missing from the mix. The musician recently spoke about his eclecticism in an interview with the monthly magazine The Face. “Some tracks are more for listening and relaxing, others you can dance to and move to. It’s open to interpretation, this album can appeal to everyone. I don’t want it to be set in stone. That’s what’s so great about instrumental music.”

Before Black Classical Music, Yussef Dayes had his hands full. This fan of Tony Allen (Fela’s legendary drummer) and Carlton Barrett (another genius drummer with Bob Marley’s Wailers) picked up his first drumsticks at just 4 years old. His name began to catch on in the early 2000s when he launched United Vibrations with saxophonist Wayne Francis, and his brothers Ahmad Dayes on trombone and Kareem Dayes on bass. A quartet who became known for their blend of afrobeat and cosmic jazz. But the real breakthrough came in 2016 when Dayes teamed up with keyboardist Kamaal Williams under the name Yussef Kamaal to record Black Focus, a masterpiece of fusion that awakens the ghosts of Roy Ayers, Lonnie Smith, the Headhunters and Brazil’s Azymuth. Yussef Dayes’ latest major achievement is his duo album with guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Tom Misch, What Kinda Music, released on Blue Note in 2020. A Qobuzissime record, a magnificent laid-back trip through soul, pop and jazz.

In the end, everything Yussef Dayes touches revolves around a multi-faceted approach to rhythm. With ease he is able to string together beats from multiple worlds. A diversity no doubt linked to the kaleidoscopic aspect of jazz. “What is jazz? Where does the word come from?” asks the English drummer. “Birthed in New Orleans, born in the belly of the Mississippi River, rooted in the gumbo pot of the Caribbean, South American culture & African rituals. Continuing a lineage of Miles Davis, Rahssan Roland Kirk, Nina Simone, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong ~ music that is forever evolving & limitless in its potential. The groove, it’s feeling, the compositions, the spontaneity, with a love for family, the discipline & dedication in maintaining the very high bar set by the pantheon of Black Classical Musicians. Chasing the rhythm of drums that imitated one’s heartbeat, the melodies for the mind and spirit, the bass for the core. A Regal sound for this body of music.” With Black Classical Music, jazz fusion, smooth jazz, soul, reggae, funk and Caribbean music, all these sounds are one. A family united in its diversity. And while we’re on the subject of family, the album closes with “Cowrie Charms”, at the end of which we hear the voice of a woman giving a yoga class: it’s that of Yussef Dayes’ mother, who died of breast cancer in 2015. An intense tribute. Intense, like an album made to last...

Yussef Dayes - The Light feat. Bahia Dayes [Official Video]

Yussef Dayes