The rhythm continues: the new messengers of British jazz | Jazz

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With a concert at the Proms, a nomination for the Mercury Prize and a great success for his first album, Source, Nubya Garcia had a very good year. More importantly, the saxophonist is one of many young black British jazz musicians who are bringing new listeners to the genre and serving as a role model for future musicians. Garcia’s fellow saxophonists Camilla George and Cassie Kinoshi, vocalists Zara McFarlane and Cherise, and the five-piece Ezra Collective are just a handful of other artists who have made an impact beyond the UK. over the past five years or so, appearing at major festivals and on radio and television. They are in demand.

Such visibility is most welcome considering that jazz, after a century of existence, can still be confusing, even intimidating, for listeners frightened by songs with shifting time signatures and extended solos. These artists have not abandoned the core tenets of the genre of rhythmic ingenuity and complex harmony, but they often share a strong dance sensibility that reflects their lived reality as Insta Generation improvisers of African heritage and Caribbean. This means exposure to afrobeat, dub and soundsystems, in addition to an entire internet network of big names in American jazz such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders.

The pianist-rapper Alfa Mist. Photography: Johny Pitts

That said, there’s a noticeable difference between Garcia’s Caribbean lightness and the solid hip-hop snap of another rising star: pianist-rapper Alfa Mist. Meanwhile, both producer and drummer Moses Boyd investigates grime heavy subsonics with his project Exodus, but negotiates a distinctly more abstract acoustic realm when he appears in a free duet with saxophonist Binker Golding. .

These players developed their talents in small venues across the UK capital in the 2010s, from the Total Refreshment Center in Dalston, east London, to Mau Mau in Ladbroke Grove, west London. The musicians also organized their own parties. Empirical, a superb quartet with saxophonist Nathaniel Facey, held a free residency in Old Street tube station while trumpeter Mark Kavuma did the same at the Prince of Wales pub in Brixton. A collective called Steam Down has turned the Buster Mantis cafe in Deptford into a vibrant hub. The young, multicultural audiences of these artists were built from the ground up.

Doreen Lawrence of Sons of Kemet, My Queen is.

As with many past jazz scenes, several actors have become links in a larger chain. Drummer Eddie Hick and tuba player Theon Cross, who were part of Steam Down, also joined Sons of Kemet, one of several groups led by saxophonist-clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings, who at the age of 37 is a little older than Garcia and co, who are mostly in their late twenties or early thirties. Infused with the incendiary carnival energy of a marching band, Sons of Kemet is a formidable live act, and which unabashedly celebrates Blackness; their 2018 album Your Queen Is a Reptile celebrated African American and Caribbean women such as Angela Davis and Doreen Lawrence.

One musician who has had a long association with Hutchings is bassist Neil Charles. They collaborated in the experimental trio Zed-U 14 years ago and the saxophonist now appears on Charles’s captivating Breathe Suite, a multi-styled EP under his producer name Ben Marc. Although he lives in London, Charles is originally from Birmingham, a city where Hutchings also lived and another hotbed of British jazz talent. Looming Large is another avant-garde musician the two have worked with: saxophonist-rapper-songwriter Soweto Kinch. He’s been a lightning rod on the local scene since the 2000s, featuring jam sessions such as The Live Box and the all-day cross-genre festival, The Flyover Show, which was designed to rehabilitate Hockley’s image, a city center region with a large black population historically reduced by the double scourge of high unemployment and bad press.

Kinch, 43, whose upcoming White Juju project responds to Black Lives Matter among others, has legendary status on the Midlands scene, and is a tireless champion of emerging talents such as trumpeter Alex Polack, pianist Ashley Allen, singer Lucy-Anne Daniels and drummer Romarna Campbell. However, it’s the gifted 24-year-old saxophonist Xhosa Cole who is currently making the most waves.

Saxophonist Xhosa Cole.
Saxophonist Xhosa Cole. Photograph: Tim P Whitby / Getty Images / Bauer Media

Winner of the prestigious BBC Young Jazz Musician Award in 2018, Cole possesses the rich expressive range and technical skills that characterize important soloists. His recently released debut album K (no) w Them K (no) w Us sees him give an imaginative twist to innovative American composers Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman and Woody Shaw, who paved the way in the 1950s and 1960s on which the contemporary players are still walking. Cole finds modernity in tradition.

Still, if it’s no surprise that many black jazz musicians are popping up in Birmingham, with its long-established Afro-Caribbean areas such as Handsworth (Cole’s birthplace and which includes Hockley), then it is also important to recognize that several other important musicians came from cities with relatively fewer people of color. Oxford is the home of one of Britain’s greatest composer-improvisers, the astonishing pianist Pat Thomas. Derby is where you’ll find inventive vibraphonist Corey Mwamba and multi-reed virtuoso Jason Yarde hails from Hastings.

Besides the fact that they all live outside the big cities, these artists make music that falls largely, but not exclusively, in the avant-garde school of jazz (Yarde is decidedly eclectic) and for the most part have a fairly limited commercial appeal. In addition, they are in their forties, fifties and sixties; in other words, they do not fit the dominant profile of British jazz that has caused a stir in recent years, which raises an interesting debate about what the image of British jazz should be. Unlike pop, jazz musicians entering their seventh decade are not necessarily “old” and can still excel, primarily because mastering their instrument is a never-ending mission and the experience of life is a source of inspiration. rich and raw inspiration.

But now that the spotlight is on the ‘new wave’ (a powerful narrative in any business), this is the perfect opportunity to bring others out of the shadows and broaden perceptions of what we hear when we speak. let’s talk about british black jazz, hence it turns out who plays it what it sounds like. The art form has never been reduced to one thing – and neither has Black Britain.

Kevin Le Gendre is a journalist and author of Soul Unsung and Don’t Stop the Carnival: Black British Music.


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