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  • Writer's picturehwandawa

Journey Through the New Era of Jazz

Jazz, birthed out of the melting pot of sounds brewing in New Orleans. An exciting and experimental form of musical expression at its core, it's no surprise that swarths of young musicians around the world are choosing jazz as an outlet to produce some of the most forward thinking music around today.

When talking about the current jazz renaissance, it would be remiss to not mention London. A scene that is bursting with a spirited energy, the essence of which was best cultivated at the debut of We Out Here Festival. Spearheaded by jazz afficiedo, Gilles Peterson, the festival served as a testament to the capital's thriving scene, drawing in an equally rambunctious crowd for its live homegrown acts as it did for internationally renowned DJs.

Moses Boyd, a skilled south London drummer who graced the We Out Here main stage, has spent the last few years exploring the depths to which jazz can reflect the sounds of his city. Rising to prominence with Rye Lane Shuffle, a song he wrote when he was just 17, Boyd has already solidified himself as an important force in London's take on jazz. Fusing afrobeat and the 2-step sound which permeates through the UK's homegrown sounds of grime and garage, Moses Boyd's music is a melody of the UK underground's most influential genres combined with jazz elements for a dancefloor ready feel.

His latest album, Dark Matter, feels like a homage to the darker shades of the London scene. This album sees Boyd team up with some of the main proponents on the cutting edge of jazz in the city.

Stranger than Fiction, features a sultry, fluttering saxophone, with a heavy and slightly ominous tuba from Sons Of Kemet's Theon Cross. Boyd's drums stagger and hi-hats jitter throughout the track, the two combining to give a very tough and gritty feel.

2 Far Gone; a track that feels like an ode to the post dubstep era, sees Boyd adopting a gltichy, broken sounding drum pattern. In this, he teams up with fellow jazz innovator Joe Armon-Jones who softens the ominous track with floaty glittering keys.

BTB; a song born out of his trip to South Africa, explores the afrobeat reaches of jazz; with rhythmic horns taking on a call and response style, slick high bass licks, impressive solos from the horns section to bring a sense of urgency and attitude, and a ferocious bongo. All rooted by Boyd's tightness on the drums.

Shabaka Hutchings is probably one of the hardest working stalwarts of London's jazz fusion movement, holding down three separate projects that each take a differing approach to re-interpreting jazz; Sons of Kemet - influenced by soca this project features high energy jams, The Comet Is Coming - an exploration into synth heavy, spacey electronic jazz, and Shabaka and The Ancestors - a group he formed with South African musicians which seeks to explore the complexities of the African diaspora.

The exploration of blackness, and in particular black Britishness, is something that Hutchings doesn't shy away from in his musical ventures, devoting a whole album to just that as Sons of Kemet.

Defiantly titled, Your Queen Is A Reptile, the album rejects the British monarchy and its relevance to black Britain, instead paying homage to influential black women throughout history and Hutchings' own life. Each track aims to embody its namesake through its composition as well as skillfully weaving together melodies familiar to the black British diaspora.

Your Queen Is A Reptile opens up with a tribute to Hutchings' great grandmother, Ada Eastman, a woman who heavily inspired Hutchings through her relentless hard work against adversity throughout her old age. The fast and prominent drums together with the deep constant rhythm of Theon Cross' tuba in My Queen Is Ada Eastman is an apt portrayal of the struggle and urgency to succeed that Ada Eastman surely faced. Paired with a gentle and soulful sax from Hutchings, a sound akin to the comfort and sweetness that can only be exuded from a wise old soul, the song comes together to present to us a picture of true female greatness.

My Queen Is Harriet Tubman embodies the fight to escape slavery with urgent cowbells, and a call and response horns section to create a conversation between the tuba and sax akin to afrobeat, which becomes increasingly frantic as the song progresses; a musical mirroring of Harriet Tubman's own fight to escape slavery.

The blending of sounds that have been pulsating through the London underground is seemingly defining the type of jazz coming out of the city. One man, however, who is taking the sound of London jazz to another level is IG Culture. Welding together broken beat and jazzy melodies with effortless mastery, a new genre has stemmed in the jazz macrocosm - Bruk. Releasing a slew of bruk remixes under the moniker, Shall I Bruk It, familiar soul, hip hop and disco songs are fitted out in an off beat reimagination.

IG Culture injects attitude into Nina Simone's Blackbird as rich percussions race around Simone's sultry vocals, turning this soulful classic into a head bobbing, attitude laced hitter, something that wouldn't be out of place on the dancefloor.

IG Culture isn't alone in the bruk scene, bringing with him a congregation of proponents through Selectors Assemble, a collective dedicated to pushing Bruk to the forefront. One member, Cengiz has been putting out some smooth numbers like Experiences and On and On, whilst Danvers explores the darker reaches of the genre.

IG Culture has also started to explore the live instrumentation sounds of bruk through LCSM, a concept formed in 2019 which encompasses afro-futurism, jazz, bruk and broken beat. The newly released album from this project, Earthbound, is an absolute master class into the realms of which jazz can be pushed to, breathing a unique freshness into the genre.

Weapon X manages to be dreamy yet unquenchably danceable, with its irregular bouncy drum pattern, gentle organ and free flowing sax.

More Brilliant Centre, the opening track of Earthbound, is a beautiful tropical trip, where funky bass licks and broken drum kicks, meet spacy synths and seductive horns.

The Box could be described as a jungle jazz jam, with scattering drums and percussions mixed together with smooth keys and a powerful, attitude laden horns section, providing jazz experimentalists with proof of why breaking out of the box is essential.

Africa is also laying down its fair share of jazz architects who are cementing distinctly African musical sensibilities to the genre.

Over in South Africa, the Johannesburg based band Mabuta, is breaking traditional jazz boundaries by incorporating electronica and African rhythms. The band is led by Shane Cooper, a man who has sunk his teeth equally into jazz and electronic music; being an award winning jazz bassist and producing under his live electronica alias, Card On Spokes. Cooper brings this intrinsic knowledge together with his long time collaborators turned bandmates to deliver emotive and ambient undertones, rich percussions and a soulfulness that permeates through the band's 2018 album Welcome To This World.

The lead track is a smooth, ethereal marriage between jazz and electronica, rooted equally in each other. Gentle rolling drums and floaty keys echo around fervent horns, eventually culminating to make way for an impassioned sax solo courtesy of Sisonke Xonti.

The electronic influence behind the band is more pronounced in Fences, a track featuring London's Shabaka Hutchings on tenor sax. His lyrical-esque expressiveness is complimented by wild drumming and a deep and choppy bass. A cosmic like feeling is also brought to the table with reverberated keys and stabbing synths.

Continuing to carry the torch for African jazz is a country which seems to be in the midst of a jazz revival akin to the UK; Kenya. Jazz festivals are dominated by young ears who are fueled by the young musicians pioneering the new danceable brand of jazz coming out of the country.

Nairobi Horns Project are one of the many championing this sound, reinventing classic Kenyan pop songs and refining them for their generation, as well as original recordings centered around, as their name suggests, horns. The result is relentlessly energetic jazz with an African twist.

Dance Like Your Life Depends On It will leave you with no choice but to. Drenched in African rhythms, from its bouncing bass and ecstatic bongos, to its striking horns and call and response improvised instrument solos.

Shamsi Music are another fresh faced band injecting Kenyan flair into modern jazz in an attempt to create music that mirrors the sound of their motherland. Their sophomore album, Afrosynthesis is a celebration of Africaness, with the precursor - a series of parties with the backdrop to the music being Kenyan cuisine, abstract art and Matatu - setting the tone for the empowering and unapologetically black tone of the album.

Okaka begins with a narration of the story of a great fictional African warrior who led his people into freedom. The narration ends with mentions of key figures central to the liberation of Africa seemingly to claim that they - and later all Africans - equate to such immeasurable greatness that it could only readily be imagined as a fictional superhero. The song then crescendos into a joyous explosion of horns, drums, a percussive melody and sharp electric guitar.

The notion of celebrating and appreciating heroes, especially those that live inside of us, is further propelled in Supa Juma. Embodying the essence of being a hero with its soaring vocals, bright horns and distinctively African jerking bass.

Throughout its history, the pivotal moments in jazz have often been shaped by young black artists experimenting and reimagining what it could be. Miles Davis' Kind of Blue reinvented improvising by doing so around modes rather than chords for more artistic freedom, John Coltrane challenged the ordinary when he created what is now dubbed the Coltrane changes; something that eventually became not just a jazz standard but also a rite of passage to be able to improvise around, and before his untimely death at 34, Charlie Parker brought bebop to the masses.

This experimentation and mixing of indigenous sounds by black musicians is what created jazz and ushered its evolution to the familiar form we are now used to. It is fitting that whilst jazz is undergoing such a prominent change the markers that existed and defined jazz's most exciting advancements are present now.

Globally, black musicians are enthusiastically shepherding unique flavours of jazz, enticing a fresh flock of devotees. It is fair to say that the new era of jazz is well and truly here to reclaim its notoriety.

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