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Soon after Jazz Re:Freshed’s fifth annual Jazz Re:Fest concluded in August at London’s Royal Festival Hall Southbank, several of the festival’s performers—including drummers Moses Boyd and Tom Skinner and saxophonists Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia—gathered at the Fish Factory studio in London’s Dollis Hill district for three days to record the important compilation We Out Here (Brownswood Recordings), which will be released on Feb. 9.
The rotating sessions featured more than 30 musicians, most of whom are associated with both the formidable Tomorrow Warriors, a jazz education program spearheaded by bassist Gary Crosby and his partner Janine Irons, and Jazz Re:Freshed, an expansive jazz-meets-DJ culture platform that hosts weekly showcases at London’s Mau Mau bar.
Given the worldwide critical acclaim of some of the aforementioned musicians and Jazz Re:Freshed’s recent showcases outside of London (including stints at last year’s SXSW Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas, and Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn), We Out Here is a victory lap of noteworthy interconnected underground scenes in London that are primed to make stronger imprints across the globe.
The compilation is the brainchild of Gilles Peterson, the iconic music impresario and co-founder of Brownswood Recordings. “I wanted to showcase this confident generation at an early period in their careers and tell the story of interconnectedness of the people involved,” Peterson said.
Hutchings, who fronts the MOBO (Music of Black Origin) Award-winning ensemble Sons of Kemet and the equally formidable Shabaka and The Ancestors, acted as the sessions’ musical director. While in the engineering booth listening to tubaist Theon Cross and his band record his hypnotic tune “Brockley,” Hutchings commented on the significance of We Out Here. “We got a lot of young people playing jazz at a really high level, and they are attracting their own audience,” he 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.’”
“It’s incredibly exciting to document where we all are music-wise,” added Garcia, whose band Nérija won the 2017 Jazz Newcomer Parliamentary Award. “It’s exciting to have us all on this collaboration. We’ve all grown up together in the past few years. These sessions document what we’ve been doing for a couple of years.” Emphasizing the eminence of We Out Here were the presence of photographer Adama Jalloh and videographer Fabrice Bourgelle, who crafted an accompanying film documentary.
The nine tunes on We Out Here offer an enticing glimpse of how many of the British scene’s young jazz musicians reconcile modern jazz with other elements such as Afrobeat, Caribbean rhythms and menacing garage dance music.
The disc opens with Maisha’s “Inside The Acorn,” a haunting spiritual-jazz invocation on which Hutchings’ bass clarinet and Garcia’s flute unravel solemn melodic improvisations atop of a swelling, gospel-laden accompaniment, marked by Amané Suganami’s rumbling piano, Jake Long’s symphonic drumming, Tim Doyle’s atmospheric percussion and Twm Dylan’s throbbing bass notes. The song echoes the music captured on Strata East Records in the early to mid-’70s.
From there, the album takes on various fascinating paths such as Moses’ grimy, pulsating jazz electronica offering “The Balance,” Garcia’s undulating modal jazz nugget “Once” and Triforce’s guitar-centric ballad “The Wall,” which nearly could pass as an outtake from Prince’s Purple Rain soundtrack.
In many ways, We Out Here mirrors the Jazz Warriors’ 1987 LP Out Of Man, One People, which helped introduced Courtney Pine, Steve Williamson, Julian Joseph and many other young black British jazz musicians to international acclaim. After many of the artists associated with Jazz Warriors signed to major labels, the collective dissolved. Out of those ashes rose the Tomorrow Warriors, one of the strongest connective tissues binding about four generations of black British jazz musicians.
A decade ago, many of the Tomorrow Warriors such as saxophonist Soweto Kinch and late trumpeter Abram Wilson gained worldwide applause for their discs released on the Tomorrow Warriors’ now-defunct Dune Records.
The Jazz Warriors, the Tomorrow Warriors and the Jazz Re:Freshed collective all rose out of the frustrations of being disenfranchised from the U.K.’s mainstream jazz scene.
“It’s still a work-in-progress,” Crosby said. “Education-wise, I think we’re making great leaps and bounds. But on the performance side, it’s still hard work. We don’t have enough uncles and aunties running [jazz] clubs and arts centers that can give [many black British jazz musicians] that extra leg up.”
Peterson nonetheless applauds the entrepreneurship that has powered the evolving legacy that came out of the Jazz Warriors. “This music comes from a genuine community that has furrowed its own path, and as such is less associated with the more traditional jazz network,” Peterson explained. “That’s a good thing because it has given this generation a voice of its own, as much inspired by grime, Afrobeat, garage and jungle as jazz traditions of the past.”
For more info on Brownswood Recordings, visit its website. DB
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