Jazz Re:Freshed Provides Outlet for U.K. Innovators

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Shabaka Hutchings (seen here in a publicity photo) is among the artists to have performed at Jazz Re:Freshed’s weekly Thursday showcases in London.

(Photo: Courtesy of the artist )

For a glimpse of the current wave of young jazz talent bubbling in the U.K., particularly in its multifaceted black community, check out Jazz Re:Freshed’s weekly Thursday showcase at the Mau Mau Bar in London’s Notting Hill. With its bristling interaction of DJ culture and fashion, Jazz Re:Freshed has presented artists such as saxophonists Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia, pianist Alfa Mist, drummer Moses Boyd and the Vels Trio.

Justin McKenzie and Adam Moses formed Jazz Re:Freshed in the summer of 2003 with hopes of rejuvenating the city’s jazz landscape by providing alternative performance opportunities for young, mostly black U.K. jazz artists, who felt disenfranchised by London’s mainstream jazz scene. It also presented jazz within London’s black community instead of, say, the Soho district.

In many ways, Jazz Re:Freshed picks up the baton from London’s Tomorrow Warriors, which has a similar mission of developing young jazz talent. But whereas the Tomorrow Warriors focus more on teaching jazz to burgeoning talents, Jazz Re:Freshed concentrates on providing many of those same musicians with performance opportunities. “Jazz Re:Freshed gives the money to the band,” Garcia noted. “It’s not like you get a shitty cut or something. It’s quite important for what they stand for. They are there for you. They are there to bring you up, rather than, ‘Hey, here’s this amazing chance that we’re giving you. Do this for exposure.’ It’s not about that. It’s a proper family vibe.”

Boyd, who plays drums in Garcia’s band as well as leads his own ensemble, Exodus, claims Jazz Re:Freshed’s Thursday nights at the Mau Mau Bar as his favorite place to perform while also applauding their commitment to cultivating a viable black jazz audience. “We don’t necessarily have a built-in audience,” Boyd explained, “I’m not saying that there’s isn’t a black community that likes jazz here. But in this country, it’s not as strong as it is maybe in America. [Jazz Re:Freshed] has done an amazing job in kind of reconnecting our music to the people.”

“[Jazz Re:Freshed] has a really strong pull toward black bands,” Hutchings added. “For me, it was just a case where they said, ‘We’re going to represent people in our unit equally.’ It made me think: If you just have one organization that says, ‘We’re not going to exclude anyone but we are going to actively promote the fact that there are black musicians doing stuff,’ it made me realize how many venues here that are non-integrated.”

Hutchings, Garcia and Boyd were only three of the musicians who convened at London’s Clore Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall Southbank on Aug. 6 for Jazz Re:Freshed’s fifth annual Jazz Re:Fest. Very similar to its exuberant Thursday night jazz concerts, Jazz Re:Fest offered an enticing blend of forceful avant-garde-leaning jazz, leftist r&b and heady broken beat.

The eight artists presented offered succinct 45-minute sets that resembled Jazz Re:Freshed’s 5ive EP series, on which associated acts record a taster of five tunes. TriForce, a young quartet that germinated at Middlesex University, got the party started with a potent offering of serrated grooves that hinted at both broken beat and the skittering rhythmic patterns of the Robert Glasper Experiment. With recent member Mansur Brown on the guitar, TriForce sometimes boasted a bracing, rock-bluesy edge on such tunes as “Red Lagoon” and “Swank,” particularly when drummer Benjamin Appiah and bassist Ricco Komolafe propelled his economical melodies with noticeable muscle that’s lubricated slightly by Dominic Canning’s gleaming keyboards. But on slow, hip-thrusting tunes like “Righteous,” TriForce proved to be just as compelling on ballads as it is on balls-to-the-wall 21st-century jazz-fusion.

British soul came more to the fore when quartet Trope took the stage. Fronted by singer Cherise Adams-Burnett, the combo performed music from its two Eps—Butterflies And Dragons and Trope’s 5ive. Adams-Burnett wielded an expansive alto that articulated swaggering bebop-centric melodies on the swirling “Wind It Up,” summoned gale-force hollers on the declamatory “Let Go” and serenaded gently on “Your Truth” with equal conviction. Keyboardist Andy Bunting wrote most of the band’s rugged arrangements. Perhaps his most ingenious were the surprising makeovers of Prince’s “I Feel For You” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”

The Sunday afternoon returned to more jazz with three brief performances from keyboardist Alfa Mist, who led his quintet through a melancholy jazz-meets-rap-meets-noir set that was brightened by Johnny Woodham’s sterling trumpet improvisations; tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia, who mesmerized with her suite-like set on which she fronted a splendid quartet while employing her steely Coltrane-eque improvisations across a wide sonic landscape that included ’60s modal jazz, soca and hip-hop rhythms; and guitarist Femi Temowo, who delivered an opulent set, which found him exploring pliant Nigerian rhythms and melodies in collaboration with the Engines Orchestra, a 19-piece strings and bass ensemble.

After singer and guitarist Tawiah treated the swelling audience with an enchanting set of avant-soul songs that combined the stargazing wonder of Janelle Monae with the raw emotions of Tracy Chapman, the stage gave way to the evening’s two biggest headlines—singer Omar and the jazz quartet Sons of Kemet.

Omar was the festival’s undisputed elder statesman, having solidified an internationally acclaimed reputation in the underground U.K. soul and jazz scene that dates back to the early ’90s. He certainly had the deepest catalog of the evening to dig from. And he did that superbly, as he powered his gruff baritone on such favorites as “The Man,” “Saturday,” “I’m Still Standing” and of course, his breakout 1990 hit, “There’s Nothing Like This.”

The explosive Sons of Kemet closed the festival with an unrelenting vigor. Led by acclaimed tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings, the intriguing quartet—also composed of dueling drummers Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford, and anchoring tuba player Theon Coss—blasted through such gripping pieces as “Inner Babylon,” “Play Mass,” “All Will Surely Burn” and “Beware,” from their two discs, Burn and Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do. With Hutchings’ biting, acidic tone and spiky riffing coupled with the battle-like drum rhythms and Coss’ jolting bass lines on tuba, the music possessed a Caribbean-meets-New Orleans danceable albeit apocalyptic vibe, especially when Hutchins’ chant-like melodies erupted into torrential multiphonics shrieks and cries.

For much of their existence, Jazz Re:Freshed has been wholly self-sufficient. That was until it acquired funding from the Arts Council England of £95,000, beginning in April 2015, which helps on a variety of operational and programming endeavors. That funding also helps keeps Jazz Re:Fest a free event.
Jazz Re:Freshed has recently received funding from the Arts Council England to support its Outernational Project, which presents some of its associated artists to events outside of the U.K. Earlier this year, Jazz Re:Freshed’s Outernational Project presented Boyd and Hutchings’ respective bands. On Aug. 26, its Outernational Project returns to the U.S.—this time in Brooklyn as part of the Afropunk Festival.

Also forthcoming in early 2018 is an all-star recording billed as We Out Here, released on Gilles Peterson’s Brownwood Records. For three days, a coterie of kindred-spirits such as Garcia, Coss, Boyd, pianist Amané Suganami, trumpeter Sheila Maurice Grey, guitarist Shirley Tetteh, and others rotated through the Fish Factory studios in London’s Dollis Hill district.

Hutchings, who recorded one song during the sessions yet presided as musical director throughout, sees the forthcoming We Out Here album as a way of codifying the city’s current young jazz scene. “We got a lot of young people getting into jazz and playing at a really high level, and they are attracting their own audience,” Hutchings said. “Bands are starting to play where they are getting higher recognition from outside of England and throughout the mainstream press. This album is trying to say ‘Yes, there is something happening!’” DB



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October 2019
Poncho Sanchez
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