Collaboration is one of the founding tenets of jazz. As much as improvisation is jazz’s unique identifier, without collaboration the dialogue of improvisation would be silenced. From the legendary Blue Note sessions of the 1960s which produced albums from the likes of Bobby Hutcherson, Lee Morgan and Miles Davis, to the early 1970s free jazz sessions on Impulse Records, the confluence of talent and place has seemingly created countless periods or zeitgeists, pushing the genre forward and keeping its evolution unpredictable.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that in London now such a zeitgeist is occurring, and it isn’t just the creation of music writers. Centred around venues like The Total Refreshment Centre and Church of Sound, and organisations like Jazz Re:Freshed, a close-knit group of musicians have been making the genre accessible to a new generation, without conservatoire training or its attendant snobbery.
Celebrating this scene, Gilles Peterson has teamed up with Shabaka Hutchings to release a compilation on his Brownswood label. Both historical document and statement of future intent, ‘We Out Here’ is a formidable introduction to the collaborative talent of artists like Nubya Garcia, Theon Cross, Moses Boyd and Joe Armon-Jones. With Hutchings as musical director, the album was recorded over three days in August 2017, mirroring the collaborative creativity of the aforementioned Blue Note and Impulse sessions.
Beginning with the cosmic lassitude of Maisha’s ‘Inside the Acorn’, led by drummer Jake Long, the record soon transitions into the afrobeat-inflections of Ezra Collective’s ‘Pure Shade’. Their keys player Joe Armon-Jones shines on a rhythmically-charged Rhodes solo and also showcases his own composition on the Dilla-esque ‘Go See’. Rather than becoming an echo chamber, by allowing this group of musicians to present their work on different projects on ‘We Out Here’, Hutchings and Peterson highlight their capacity to surprise the listener.
Drummer Moses Boyd lays down a jittering, sci-fi odyssey on ‘Sirens’, reflecting his electronically-influenced solo productions, while saxophonist Nubya Garcia opts for a straighter jazz take on ‘Once’, building from an insistent bassline to a keening horn solo, all the while backed by a frenetic pace of drumming.
An elder statesman of the group, having attained success over the last five years in groups like Sons Of Kemet, Polar Bear and his own Ancestors project, Shabaka Hutchings doubles up on counterpoint clarinet in his arrangement ‘Black Skins, Black Masks’. While the soft lilt of the clarinet provides a satisfying melodic core, the driving bassline and meandering, intertwining harmonies set the composition off-kilter, highlighting an eerie unease beneath the musical restraint.
Another highlight is the beautifully meditative closing number ‘Abusey Junction’ performed by afrobeat collective Kokoroko. Spotlighting guitarist Oscar Jerome’s lyrical playing set atop a soothing backing of rumbling congas and soporific vocalisations, it provides the perfect ending to a compilation full of surprises, yet one that is uniquely identifiable as the sound of London jazz. Finding difference in repetition and originality in the patchwork mire of influence, this is surely jazz for the future.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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