Drummer Yussef Dayes Wants A Challenge

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Yussef Dayes is among the 25 artists DownBeat thinks will help shape jazz in the decades to come.

(Photo: Bunny Bread)

​“If you’re not working with people that are pushing you,” said drummer Yussef Dayes, “then it’s missing something.”

A serial collaborator, the London native has followed a distinctive path, weaving his sound through underground jazz and left-field popular music. He first gained recognition during the mid-2010s as a member of the socially conscious quartet United Vibrations. Dayes’ progressive duo with keyboardist Kamaal Williams—named Yussef Kamaal—sculpted the milestone album Black Focus for Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label in 2016, helping to define the sound of London’s contemporary jazz scene. And in 2019, he released Duality (Good Grief), a sultry and electronic-driven two track EP. Most recently, Dayes teamed with guitarist/vocalist Tom Misch for the album What Kinda Music (Blue Note)—a fluid ride through jazz, electronica and hip-hop that includes a guest spot by rapper Freddie Gibbs.

“Genres and stuff ... I don’t really put things into boxes like that,” Dayes said. “For me, I’m inspired by Black music; that’s where I come from. It’s about letting people decipher for themselves what they want it to be.”

Dayes’ skills as a live performer have elevated his status as a performer to watch. At his mostly improvised shows, motifs from his best-known works are combined with fresh ideas, as the drummer revels in call-and-response; the seeming ease with which he devises complex but danceable rhythms is stunning. Regardless of tempi or genre, he can flirt with time, hold back beats and elasticize the air. Dayes seems determined to reach drumming nirvana and bring the audience with him.

With his swagger and unpredictable stage persona, the drummer exudes rock-star appeal. What he does next is anyone’s guess—but this we can bank on: “I’m gonna be dropping something with my trio—[bassist] Rocco Palladino and [keyboardist] Charlie Stacey. The [songs will] all interrelate in some ways—but they’re all very different. It’s my time, now.” DB

This story originally was published in the November 2020 issue of DownBeat. Subscribe here.