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.