It has been eighteen months since Brownswood Recordings released We Out Here. Three years since Moses Boyd released Rye Lane Shuffle. And 16 years since Adam Moses and Justin McKenzie founded Jazz re:freshed. Yet, at the turn of the decade, the UK Jazz Explosion continues to make the headlines.
2019 has seen a significant diversification of British Jazz. Manchester and Leeds with their respective ambient and experimental localities have emerged onto the national scene. However, this article, like Red Bull’s Round Robin event, aims to emphasise the jazz developments of the capital.
Re-watching We Out Here: A LDN Story, I experienced a feeling of uncontrollable pride to be from the South East. However, figureheads of the London scene including Nubya Garcia and Femi Koleoso explained that the ‘jazz explosion’ would not have been possible without Gary Crosby’s Tomorrow’s Warriors. This highly influential and egalitarian educational programme continues to churn out a host of talented young musicians, forming the next generation of British jazz.
This year jazz has taken significant steps towards securing the position of this future generation within UK club culture. The sea of jazz clubs in the streets of London, including Total Refreshment Centre, The Crypt and The Junction, have given pioneers such as Giles Peterson the impetus to extend jazz into the festival domain. For example, this summer saw the debut dates of both Brownswood’s We Out Here and The Jazz Café’s Maiden Voyage festivals.
Yet as artists such as Ezra Collective, infamous for their riot-like live experiences approach their fourth touring year, the scene looks ahead to what is next to come; Nubya Garcia states ‘it will never be the same again.’ For self-proclaimed jazz heads such as myself this comes as a shock to the system. But it’s okay. Red Bull have the answers.
Their Round Robin was possibly the most ambitious event I have ever been to. A five-minute tap-in, tap-out system of pure improvisation seemed daunting at first glance. The concept was not dissimilar from a WWE Royal Rumble or, even worse, the extreme anxiety of the London Underground’s Oyster card system. However, due to some highly impressive sound engineering as well as a strict time schedule, the event ran smoothly for the most part.
Yet I wish the logistics were this event’s most ambitious aspect. The central concept of fusing London’s electronic avant-garde with its jazz counterparts proved to be progressive. However, whilst long-time collaborators such as Joe Armon-Jones and Maxwell Owin thrived in this multi-genre spectacle, many of the artists found the contrasts in musical preferences difficult to negotiate. Exceptions to this included Femi Koleoso’s collaboration with Nik Colk Void, which brought together elements of London’s prominent techno scene with Koleoso’s unrivalled exuberance as well as his house and Afro-beat influences. Furthermore, Lapalux managed to exit the cycle of non-rhythmic improvisation by laying down a beat in the style of Aphex Twin, which Swindle effortlessly experimented over.
Oscar Jerome, who myself and James Lear managed to interview before the event exhibited his extreme versatility employing both his vocal and instrumental talents to negotiate the slow progressing soundscapes of Flora Yin-Wong. In our conversation, he divulged that living and studying in London, which he described as a ‘melting pot’ of musical styles, had been vital to his own musical development. To hear Oscar’s thoughts on issues including record labels, capitalism, race, gender and the use of technology in jazz check out the interview here
The most problematic element of this event was its marketing. The nature of the London jazz scene’s rapid explosion has resulted in its audience anchoring their interest on key figures such as Nubya Garcia and Swindle. Thus much of the crowd had assumed the Round Robin to be an all-star jazz showcase. Many were left restless and somewhat confused by the electronic production on-stage, despite the immersive experience created by EartH Hackney’s surround-sound architecture.
Nonetheless, Red Bull’s expedition into the digital age is an important first. As seen in the recently announced line-up for the first Boiler Room festival, jazz, electronic and bass music stand side-by-side. London jazz is at a pivotal point where increasing genre hybridity must be matched with a sustained focus on the foundations of jazz including improvisation. But, maybe not in five minute slots?
Co-Host: James Lear
Photography: Alex Leggatt (https://www.facebook.com/AlexLeggattPhotography/)
Collage Edit: Kojo Dwimoh (https://www.instagram.com/kojodwimoh/)