PopCult: The Obsessive Journal of Quality Pop Culture

How did British jazz get so cool all of a sudden?

In Ray Davies’ somewhat infamous track-by-track review of the Beatles’ Revolver, he tackled “Got To Get You Into My Life” by declaring: “Jazz backing – and it just goes to prove that Britain’s jazz musicians can’t swing.”

While sweeping generalizations about any aspect of life are usually better left unsaid, it is true that only a handful of British jazz artists have made an impact in the U.S. And they gained much of their attention starting back in the ’70s, such as drummer Ginger Baker, guitarist John McLaughlin, and bassist Dave Holland. But as a sub-genre onto itself, “British jazz” hasn’t been something that you could readily identify.

I might be late to the party, but I think that’s definitely changing with a new era of young, multicultural jazz musicians. In fact, if a score of fairly recent releases are any evidence, the British jazz scene is pretty damn lively. And it swings like hell.

Let’s start with the Kokoroko Afrobeat Collective just to get things rolling:

Then we have Binker and Moses’ 2017 double LP release, Journey to the Mountain of Forever—which may look like it’s going to be a prog-rock extravaganza in the Yes tradition, but is actually rough and ready sax-and-drums riffage. While sides three and four explore more exotic sounds via tabla backing, this is the sort of exuberant, raw jazz you might hear from impromptu street musicians. It’s a lovely package of fun (yes, fun!) jazz issued by Gearbox Records, a London recording studio that devoutly puts out all-analog LPs.

Want more frenetic, driving jazz powered by tuba playing that might have dropped in from a New Orleans second line? The Sons of Kemet deliver the goods on their brand-new release on Impulse, Your Queen is a Reptile.

But there’s much more!

Dip into a  world of spiritual afro jazz with Wisdom of Elders by Shabaka and the Ancestors. London tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings recorded this double album in Johannesburg, promising “a psalm in nine parts… an episodic unfurling of a sonic journey across the Atlantic.” And it is! Also beautifully packaged, Elders was put out by Brownswood Recordings—an independent label led by famed DJ/record collector Gilles Peterson that’s also furthering the British jazz scene.

Or how about some electro down-tempo jazz funk? Try Yussef Kamaal’s Black Focus, also out on Brownswood.

I’ve only scratched the surface of what appears to be a burgeoning jazz scene. I foresee much further exploration.

Coury Turczyn

Coury Turczyn is a concerned consumer of popular culture. Got an interesting story idea or an amazing financial opportunity to share? Contact him at coury@popcultmag.com.

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