Gilles Peterson’s universally respected independent record label Brownswood returns in the early part of 2018 to release ‘We Out There’, a nine track set of original recordings by some of the current crop of young UK jazz composers and musicians. The recording sessions took place in a north London studio over three days in Autumn 2017, and thus, the compilation features all specially recorded and previously unreleased material rather than consisting of cherry picked compositions of older works.
The collection begins with ‘Inside The Acorn’ by Maisha, who are led by drummer Jake Long, but this is not a drum-heavy affair but a relaxed modal spiritual jazz experience with splashes of piano runs, bass clarinet and delicate flute soundscapes. The five piece Ezra Collective offer ‘Pure Shade’, which initially seems to be Hustlers of Culture ‘Flip Jack’ part two with its uptempo rim shot, kick drum and bass introduction, before the Afro beat influence permeates and a later downtempo J Dilla-esque coda section resolves the number. The band includes drummer Femi Koleoso, bass player TJ Koleoso, Joe Armon-Jones (more later) on piano, saxophonist James Mollison and Dylan Jones on trumpet. Drummer Moses Boyd moves into a slightly more electronica framework here with ‘The Balance’, a piece that could have been produced by Jazzanova but with some heavy alto saxophone additions from Nubya Garcia (also, more later) within the final two minutes. Tuba player and Sons of Kemit band member Theon Cross offers a bustling and lively composition with ‘Brockley’, which has both tuba and sax lines providing catchy melodies over the almost broken beat (acoustic) drum pattern.
Nubya Garcia’s own piece ‘Once’ possesses a perfect balance between song writing duties and improvisational performance, with pianist Joe Armon-Jones (still, more later) being particularly effective in supporting Nubya and the other players, which also includes Daniel Casimir on double bass and Femi Koleoso on drums. Shabaka Hutchings’ ‘Black Skin, Black Masks’ incorporates numerous influences, from Afro beat, contemporary jazz, be bop and more, with Shabaka’s bass clarinet guiding the composition over its 7-minute duration, which also has George Crowley on clarinet, Ruth Goller on bass, pianist Alexander Hawkins and Tom Skinner on drums. Triforce (who are a quartet) and ‘Walls’ is a performance of two halves, with the first 3 minutes featuring an escalating electric guitar solo from Mansur Brown, before the piece changes in direction into an almost hip hop form containing slow 808 drum machine beats and synth-like pitch bends. Initially, the composition seems upside down but with additional plays the arrangement very much makes sense.
The omnipresent Joe Armon-Jones leads a large cast for ‘Go See’ – the longest piece on the album which leaves room for numerous solos from the ensemble cast including the hard-working Nubya Garcia, Dylan Jones (trumpet), Kwake Bass (drums), Mutale Chashi (bass) and guitarist Oscar Jerome, which all gel together via the exquisite electric piano of Joe Armon-Jones. And finally, the Afro beat sonics of Kokoroko and ‘Abusey Junction’, may be rhythmically lighter than some of the material of the West African diaspora as this is a more contemplative number, but it still possesses the ideals of Afro beat with its hypnotic rhythm track and musical space and openness for performance opportunities. The collective is led by trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey and their live shows are certainly worth experiencing.
‘We Out Here’ is a vibrant and exciting project containing exceptional performances by its contributors with recent Impulse! Records signee Shabaka Hutchings acting as musical director. Performances of note include Nubya with her five contributions and Joe Armon-Jones with three, and it’s this cross-pollination that will support and drive the development of the jazz scene in the UK, something that possibly many of their predecessors failed to accomplish effectively. A large number of the musicians here are bandleaders in their own right or often collaborate on outside projects, and thus, it can be difficult to keep up with the musical output of these players and others – but that is a positive. But there is a propensity for the more underground music ‘scenes’ to be embraced by the media for a short period and then discarded when the initial excitement has dissipated, and the modern tendency for ‘trending’ has to be a slight worry here. But the most fundamental component is that the music and performances are strong – and that is a given here.
Damian Wilkes Rating 5/5
In the current new release market that is overly saturated and poses a major dilemma for DJs and reviewers alike of which items to select and how to keep abreast of everything new with potential artists consequently overlooked in the process, here is an excellent way to both showcase new talent and provide a wider perspective on an underground music scene in a given city, in this case London and more specifically the south of that city. The music cuts across boundaries with various styles of jazz, with elements of post-bop and free, and even a stunning Afro-jazz cut, but what unites them is a younger generation eager to attract a wider audience and who regularly perform on each other’s recordings as well as in a live context. For those of us who do not reside in London and are unable to regularly view the musicians, this is an ideal way to discover the richness of talent out there. In the 1980s Gary Crosby was at the heart of the Jazz Warriors collective out of which many talented young musicians emerged. This new recording captures the younger generation of 2018 and as such is an important indicator of where that new generation of musicians is presently at.
A growing collective of musicians has emerged on the London scene over the past few years and some are already well-known and regular contributors to jazz on radio, while others are still relatively unknown. Shabaka Hutchings and Moses Boyd are among the best known and are heard here both as leaders and sidemen. Flautist and saxophone player, Nubya Garcia, is a relatively new name, but one who has a very promising future ahead of her, and the same can be said of several musicians, who, as a whole, have reinvigorated the jazz scene and imbued the music with newer elements while still respectful of the jazz tradition, reflecting in turn their own musical influences.
It is the cosmopolitan nature of London-based music that caught this writer’s ear with ‘Pure Shade’ by the Ezra Collective, a fine example of how a more pared down Afrobeat influence can be added to without sounding like a pastiche of the original. Here, the use of collective horns, inventive drum pattern and subtle Fender Rhodes, by Joe Armon-Jones, creates a different type of vibe, with a fine trumpet solo by Dylan Jones. On a Moses Boyd-led number, ‘The Balance’, contemporary drum beats and a guitar riff create a more layered texture, with electronica culture and dub horns all featuring prominently. Simply put, these musicians are reflecting the myriad sounds they hear on a daily basis in the metropolis that is twenty-first century London and these include genres that encompass dance music and world roots as well as jazz. In the case of Nubya Garcia who offers up ‘Once’, this writer especially liked the overall sound which had shades of the Latin tinge in the piano, with Chick Corea’s influence prominent, and the evident empathy that exists within the quartet. A larger ensemble sound is a feature of ‘Go See’ by Joe Armon-Jones, which has a dream-like feel and some wordless vocals that one might expect on a Brazilian record, or maybe a mid-1970s Earth, Wind and Fire recording. Once again electric piano operates with good deal of sensitivity. Standing out with a strong nod to contemporary jazz guitarists such as John Scofield and a change of direction from the rest is electric guitarist Dominic Canning and his group Triforce who contribute ‘Walls’.
In a more experimental vein, Shabaka Hutchings has explored new territory on ‘Black Skin, Black Masks’, the title a probable reference to the pioneering work of Martinique born writer Frantz Fanon who explored issues of racism and colonialism in his work, and it is the unusual combination of reeds, bass clarinet for the leader and clarinet from George Crowley that stands out, both playing off each other, with a tight rhythm section propelling them. If anything, the music as a whole comes across as the kind of music that would be ideally suited to a film soundtrack and here the possible influence of Michel Portal comes into play. Boyd is present also on the experimental trio of Theon Cross and the piece ‘Brockley’, that combines the tuba playing of the leader, the tenor saxophone from Garcia and drumming provided by Boyd.
Last, but by no means least, is a wonderful Afro-roots flavoured piece by Kokoroko, ‘Abusey Junction’, that is receiving heavy air play and appealing to a wider audience and from the outset the gentle intro builds into a strong dancefloor number. The fusion of West African rhythms, dub reggae horns and a nod to historical influences that range from Ambrose Campbell to the early 1960s work of Fela Kuti, combine wonderfully, for a fitting finale to the album as a whole. The title, incidentally, refers to a place in the Gambia.
Hopefully, this will be one of several volumes of this praiseworthy attempt to chronicle the young Turks of the London music scene. Detailed liner notes comes courtesy of Teju Adeleye and the creative artwork of Gaurab Thakali is worth a mention.
Tim Stenhouse Rating 4/5