By Gilles Peterson
There’s an exciting DIY mindset in the UK live scene that recalls the buzz around jazz when I DJed at Dingwalls in the 80s
It’s really exciting to see so much new, influential British music being made by jazz artists. As I write this, I’m listening to a white label of Matthew Bourne and Nightports: a solo jazz pianist reimagined by an experimental, Hull-based production group. Simply the fact that this could be released on vinyl in 2018 fills me with positivity about where the music scene is at.
For me as a DJ, it’s especially exciting to see the new connections being made between club culture and live jazz. It’s a link I’ve been trying to make, in one way or another, for the past 30 years. Now more than ever before, it feels as if that boundary is finally being broken down.
Lots of these artists don’t attach the same kind of baggage to the word ‘jazz’ as previous generations.
It’s especially true of London, where every week there seem to be more shows taking place outside the traditional spots. An important example is Jazz Re:freshed, promoters who have been putting on live jazz in west London every week since 2003. They come from a background of DJing hip-hop and broken beat, and often put that side by side with the acts they present live. A newer addition to the scene is Stoke Newington venue Total Refreshment Centre, where mad, avant-garde live bands go side-by-side with big club nights. This inventive mindset, along with the newfound DIY mentality of so many of the groups and venues, is something that’s really coming through in the music.
My label, Brownswood Recordings, has just released We Out Here, a new collection overseen by young London saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, to clearly document this wonderful open-eared movement. It’s a selection that ranges in its influences from the west African sea breeze of Kokoroko to the guitar-fuzz freedom of Triforce. There are hints of trap, New Orleans, free jazz and straight-up post bebop à l’anglaise, all recorded in one studio over three days last summer.
Lots of these artists are really young, and don’t attach the same kind of baggage to the word “jazz” as previous generations. They’ve reclaimed it, and they’re bringing all their other influences into the mix, too. In the same way that Odd Future injected that DIY spirit into hip-hop, these artists are doing it all themselves: promoting shows, mastering their records, orchestrating their social media.
Even more important is the musicianship that underpins it. Most artists went to prestigious music schools such as Trinity Laban and Guildhall. And what makes the real difference is that all of them are regularly playing live. They’re constantly playing in each other’s bands or touring with other artists, and that experience has meant they’ve got chops: that quality and craftsmanship really comes through in the music.
But it’s also important to recognise the legacy that has led us to where we are now. From Joe Harriott and Tubby Hayes in the 50s, there’s a longstanding culture of innovative jazz. That has run through artists such as the New Jazz Orchestra and Don Rendell in the 60s, up to the generation – most comparable to the current cohort – of Loose Tubes and the Jazz Warriors in the mid-80s. An important shoutout needs to go to Tomorrow’s Warriors, spawned from the latter, who have mentored a lot of the new generation, from Nubya Garcia to Zara McFarlane.
Around that time, between 88 and 89, I was performing at the London venue Dingwalls and trying to make people dance to jazz records. I’ll never forget the afternoon where I saw Pharoah Sanders watching from the shadows as the jazz dancers were battling it out over a McCoy Tyner tune played full-blast by my DJ partner Patrick Forge. His eyes lit up like it was the first time he’d seen such a thing: this was northern soul on steroids.
It was then that I co-compiled two jazz compilations that tried to follow on the buzz surrounding jazz at that time, and connect some of the dots between club culture and jazz. The title of the second was Freedom Principle, and featured artists as diverse as David Toop and Philip Bent. In a way, not much has changed in 30 years. But in another, it feels as if that freedom principle is finally being realised – bringing those two worlds together seems closer than it ever has been before.
Gilles Peterson is a BBC 6 Music DJ and founder of Brownswood Recordings. We Out Here is out now.